3 December 1917 – Renewed Counter-Attack At Cambrai
A Centenary Action

“About 8 kilometres beyond the Hindenburg Line, where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment made such a gallant stand against the German counter attack on November 30th., 1917.”
Credit: The Rooms. “The Canal at Marcoing”, Series , Item VA 36-38.7.

On this day in 1917, the Germans renew their counter-attack in front of Cambrai. Still holding on at Marcoing since 30 November, the Newfoundlanders came under horrific shellfire, with entire sections of trench being flattened and the men “blown out of their posts” (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 422). Refusing to lose ground to the enemy, Sergeant Leo Fitzpatrick, of Conche, Newfoundland, would earn the Distinguished Conduct Medal by day’s end.

Sergeant Leo Joseph Fitzpatrick, DCM, MM.
Credit: Dennis Ruhl, Great Canadian War Project, 2012.

Having already earned the Military Medal eight weeks prior during the Battle of Poelcappelle, Sergeant Fitzpatrick now volunteered to lead a squad in re-taking a lost section of trench. During the ensuing action, he rescued an officer that had been wounded and left behind, retreated, and then returned with grenades and proceeded to bomb the hostile party out of the trench (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 422).

Despite being pushed back to the western side of the lock along the canal, the Newfoundland Regiment managed to hold on to Marcoing for the day. For their actions, many of their ranks would receive the Military Medal, including three stretcher bearers – Privates William Fowlow, Hubert Dibben, and John Hennebury (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 422). For their stand that day, the Newfoundland Regiment suffered one officer killed and seventy other ranks killed, wounded or prisoner.

The next day, 4 December 1917, General Byng ordered a general withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line’s Support System, establishing what was considered a stronger line for the winter, but at the loss of many of the hard-won objectives from the Cambrai offensive (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 423). For the Newfoundlanders, who had been relieved on the night of 3 December, it would have been difficult to physically witness the withdrawal from Marcoing and Masnières.

“A British tank of “F” Battalion after it had crashed into St Quentin Canal destroying the vital bridge at Masnieres. Field Marshal Haig’s Cambrai Despatch gave the collapsed bridge at Masnieres as the reason for the cavalry’s failure to cross the canal in sufficient strength.”
© IWM (Q 568296