Early on 20th November 1917, as a thousand heavy guns opened fire and two hundred aircraft flew overhead, three hundred British tanks rumbled forwards ground towards the across dry, unbroken barbed wire and trenches of the Hindenburg Line. They were followed by the infantry and, by nightfall, the British Third Army had advanced nearly four miles. Back home, the church bells rang out to celebrate. The German line, however, had not been broken. It still held and there were no more men or tanks to take advantage of this victory at Cambrai. On 30th November, the Germans counter attacked and Roland Bradford VC MC was just one of the many to be killed in action that day.
The German attacks continued, the 14th (Service) Battalion DLI, with a fighting strength of about four hundred and fifty men, was sent across the Scheidt Canal at Masnieres to take up a new defensive position and, before dawn on 3rd December 1917, "A" Company found itself in a badly positioned trench running down to the canal. This trench had been hastily dug and was barely three feet deep, and there was no defensive tangle of barbed wire in front. Shortly after 10 o'clock that morning, German guns and trench mortars opened fire and soon grey-uniformed infantry began to attack the battalion's positions. That night, when the battalion was finally ordered to withdraw, there were less than two hundred men left alive and unwounded. One of the wounded was Captain Arthur Lascelles of "A" Company, whose "conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty" [Citation] during the action was soon to be recognised with the award of the Victoria Cross.
Arthur Lascelles had been wounded in the head at the start of the German bombardment, along with many others of his company, as their trench gave little or no protection from the shell fire. Then the German infantry began to attack "A" Company and the trenches south of the canal, and there was no time for him to leave to have his wounds dressed. He later described the action to a reporter of the "Western Mail" -
"My company was on the right side of my battalion and the position had become so precarious that had my company given way it would have meant that the whole of the battalion would have been enfiladed and the Boches enabled to get round to the rear."
Rifle grenadiers directed by Lance Sergeant Albert Wilson of Boldon Colliery broke up this first attack but -
"Shortly afterwards the enemy renewed the attack and there ensued a period of bitter fighting. there was no question of retiring - it could not be done. Very soon the Boche smashed my right bombing post, which enabled him to enfilade the whole trench occupied by my company. Two machine-guns were in action, and at 11 o'clock, after an hour's fighting, the trench for a distance on the right of 250 yards was non-existent...... and several of my men were captured."
Something had to be done immediately before the whole position was lost.
"About fifty yards to my rear I saw a number of Germans advancing. 1 sent a Corporal and three men to try to hold them...... Meanwhile, what now remained of my company had ago I at once jumped on the parapet and followed by only twelve men, rushed across under heavy machine gunfire and drove about sixty of the enemy back."
As the headlong charge began, Captain Lascelles was badly wounded in the elbow, but his men, despite being out-numbered and despite the heavy machine- gun fire, drove the Germans back. They then worked to prepare the trench for the inevitable counter attack. They were unable to call for artillery help as all the signal wires had been cut by the bombardment. At about 11.30am, the Germans attacked again, seized a house by the canal lock, which they immediately turned into a machine-gun post, and forced "A" Company back.
Arthur Lascelles, weak from loss of blood and totally exhausted, was taken prisoner.
"When I recovered consciousness, after exhaustion, a big Hun rook possession of my glasses and all I had, struck me with his fist and kicked me."
Meanwhile, the Commanding Officer of the 14th Battalion DLI, Lieutenant Colonel Rosher, ordered his last reserves to counter attack. Despite the machine-gun fire pouring from the lock house, the Germans were once again driven back. In the confusion, Captain Lascelles escaped and rejoined his men.
Just after midday, the Germans attacked again and 14 DLI, running short of grenades, was forced to retreat. Finally, taking advantage of lull in the battle, Lieutenant Colonel Rosher withdrew his men across the canal. This was not, however, the end of the battle. At about 4 o'clock, the Durhams re-crossed the canal, using barges as a bridge, and re-occupied part of their old position. The fierce fighting continued until, at last, at 10.15pm, the order to withdraw was given and the survivors of 14 DLI crossed the canal for the last time. It was the end of a terrible day.
On 11th January 1918, the London Gazette announced the award of the Victoria Cross to Captain Lascelles. "The remarkable determination and gallantry of this officer..... afforded an inspiring example to all" [Citation] On 23rd March, he was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace. Arthur Lascelles knew, however, who were the real heroes of the battle.
"It was due to the untiring devotion of a body of miners, mostly from the North, with a number from the South, that we were able to hold the ground. A more heroic company of men no officer could wish to command."
He was born at Streatham in London on 12th October 1880, the son of John and Mary Lascelles of Penmaen, Machynlleth, North Wales and was educated at Uppinghain School and Bangor College, in 1899, he went to Edinburgh University as a medical student but left in 1902, for reasons not known, and emigrated to South Africa. There he enlisted as a Trooper in the Cape Mounted Rifles and fought with this unit, which later became the 1st South African Mounted Rifles, in the early months of the First World War, against the Boer rebels and the Germans in South West Africa. In October 1915, Quartermaster Sergeant Lascelles was discharged and left South Africa for home with his wife Sophie, whom he had married in 1907, and only son, Reginald George, who had been born in 1909.
On 28th December 1915, Arthur Lascelles, aged thirty-five years, was commissioned, as a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion DLL He possibly chose this Regiment because his younger brother, Reginald George, had been an officer with the DLL before he had been drowned in an accident in India in 1904. After training, Arthur was attached to the 14th (Service) Battalion DLI and joined this unit in France in July 1916. He was wounded for the first time on the Somme in September 1916.
On 15th June 1917, Second Lieutenant Lascelles led a daylight raid near Loos. Under cover of mist, his forty raiders crossed no-man's-land and entered the trenches, killing twenty Germans and taking five prisoners.
"He conducted operations throughout with great coolness and it was largely due to his fine work that the withdrawal of' the whole raid was carried out without a casualty. He was last to leave the trench. The success of the raid was largely due to the valuable reconnaissance carried out by this officer before the raid." [Military Cross Citation]
He was awarded the Military 'Cross for his "great courage, endurance and initiative" [MC Citation] but this was not announced in the London Gazette until 1 st January 1918, just ten days before his Victoria Cross citation was published.
After the presentation at Buckingham Palace, Captain Arthur Lascelles VC MC went home to his wife and son at Olton in Warwickshire. Whilst Sophie worked in a munitions' factory canteen, Arthur slowly regained his strength, though little could be done for his damaged right arm. Always restless, he could not cope, however, with months of inaction and volunteered to return to France, joining the 15th (Service) Battalion DLI at Inchy on 27th October 1918. The war, however, was almost over. The Western Front was collapsing and the Germans on the verge of defeat.
On 5th November, 15 DLI advanced through the forest of Mormal, meeting no opposition. On 7th November, the battalion crossed the River Sambre, south of Maubeuge, and moved east. At Limont-Fontaine, some Germans stood and fought but the village was quickly taken after a bayonet charge and a short but savage hand-to-hand struggle.
This, the last battle fought by 15 DLI, cost the battalion over one hundred men killed or wounded. Amongst the dead was Captain Arthur Lascelles VC MC. He was buried in Dourlers Communal Cemetery, south of Limont-Fontaine. He was just thirty-eight years old. Four days later, on 11th November 1918, the First World War ended.
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