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Introduction

Nine kilometres east of Arras, the village of Monchy-le-Preux crowns a conical hill about a kilometre north of the main Arras-Cambrai road. At the eastern edge of the village, standing erect upon the ruins of a German strongpoint, the caribou of the Monchy-le-Preux Newfoundland Memorial gazes proudly toward Infantry Hill, where a handful of gallant Newfoundlanders held off massive German counter-attacks on April 14, 1917.

Monchy-le-Preux

The encounter took place during Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig's great spring offensive in which the British First and Third Armies attacked eastward from Arras on a 22-kilometre front. The 88th Brigade's operation was to be a two-battalion attack launched against Infantry Hill behind a creeping artillery barrage. The Newfoundland Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel James Forbes-Robertson, was on the right and the 1st Essex Battalion on the left.

At 5:30 a.m. on April 14, the British barrage opened and the two battalions began their advance. At the end of 90 minutes the Essex had taken their part of the Infantry Hill objective. But as the Newfoundland companies advanced, they were raked by machine-gun fire. Suffering heavy casualties the Newfoundlanders pressed on to occupy the enemy's forward trenches in front of Infantry Hill.

Ten men hold the battlefield

As they reached the high ground of the Hill, a fresh German battalion met them. Second and third enemy battalions moved in and the Newfoundlanders were counter-attacked from three sides. Little knots of men held out until they were killed or captured.

At 10:00 a.m., Lieutenant-Colonel Forbes-Robertson received a report that not a single Newfoundlander remained unwounded east of Monchy and that some 200 to 300 Germans were advancing less than half a kilometre away. Quickly collecting all available men of his headquarters staff, he led them forward under fire to a trench on the village outskirts. They at once opened a series of rapid-fire bursts of rifle fire on the approaching Germans who, believing themselves opposed by a powerful force, speedily went to ground. For the next four hours these ten resolute men represented (to quote the British Official History) "all that stood between the Germans and Monchy, one of the most vital positions on the whole battlefield."

The Germans are driven back

Every bullet fired by the defenders was made to count and by picking off scouts sent forward to appraise the situation, they kept the enemy in ignorance of their pitifully weak numbers. Relief came at mid-afternoon as British reinforcements arrived at Monchy. A final enemy attempt to launch an assault on Monchy was frustrated as heavy guns of the corps artillery bombarded German assembly areas in the Bois du Vert and the Bois du Sart.

Monchy had been saved, largely through gallantry and determination of ten men, but the Newfoundland Regiment's losses in the day's fighting had been severe. Total casualties for its part in the battle numbered 460 all ranks, including 153 taken prisoner.

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