Battle of Chérisy, 27-28 August 1918
Part of the Battle of the Scarpe, the battle for the village of Chérisy was an example of the bloody fighting that the Canadian Corps faced in the days leading up to the battle for the Drocourt-Quéant Line. The 5th Brigade was part of an advance meant to break through the Frenses-Rouvroy Line, another fortified defence leading up to the larger D-Q Line. The 22nd Battalion (the Van Doos) were assigned to capture Chérisy, along with the 26th and 24th Battalions. Rain and poor conditions delayed their jumping off time, and the battle did not start until 10 am.
They were fiercely resisted by the German 132rd Infantry Regiment, whose machine guns mowed down the advancing Canadians, but the village was captured by midday. The Van Doos lost many of their officers in the initial attack on Chérisy and defense of their position was organised by the highest-ranking officer left, Major Georges Vanier, in cooperation with the 24th Battalion. That night, divisional command informed the officers of the 5th Brigade, that they would not be relieved and would be expected to fight on the next morning to keep driving the Canadian sector further towards the D-Q Line.
In the attack on 28 August, Vanier was wounded and command of both battalions passed to the commanding officer of the 24th Battalion, Lt-Col. William Clark-Kennedy, who continued to hold a position in front of Chérisy until they could be relieved the next day. At roll call on 29 August, only 39 members of the 22nd Battalion answered; casualties were 634 killed, wounded, or missing, including all the officers.
Chérisy was one of a series of smaller set-piece battles, smaller engagements to move across large distances, that bridged the gap between Amiens on August 8 and the Drocourt-Quéant Line on September 3. Currie and the Allies in general made use of set-piece engagements to avoid the problems that came with distant objectives; they were increasingly employed after the Somme in 1916 and employed the idea of ‘biting and holding’ to chip off small pieces of enemy territory.
The battle at Chérisy illustrated however, one of the challenges facing the Corps in the days after Amiens. The pace of battle since August 8 made it increasingly difficult to co-ordinate support, and in combination with the poor weather on August 26 meant that the battalions participating in the battle for Chérisy did not have sufficient counter-barrage support.
The German artillery was able to continue to fire on them, and embedded machine gun nests in the village created havoc for the advancing troops as they were delayed by uncut barbed wire and uneven ground. If Currie’s Corps was to succeed in the battles to come, which moved even more quickly, the question of providing timely support was a crucial one.
Chérisy was a desperate battle and there were many acts of bravery that have gone unrecorded during the two days of conflict; however, two Canadians stand out.
Major Georges-Philéas Vanier, the highest-ranking officer left at the end of the August 27 advance. Vanier organised the attack for the next day, knowing that it was not likely that he would survive, and led his soldiers over the top at 12:30 on August 28. He was shot in the stomach and his leg shattered by a shell, but was evacuated and survived the battle. Vanier recovered from his wounds and went on to serve as Governor General of Canada. Click the image below to access his service file from Library and Archives Canada.
Lt-Colonel William Clark-Kennedy, the remaining senior officer of the 24th Battalion, gathered the remains of the 22nd Battalion and held their position outside of Chérisy until they could be relieved. Though seriously wounded, Clark-Kennedy refused to leave his men and continued to command the battle until both units were removed. He was awarded the Victoria Cross and lived out the rest of his life in Montreal. Click the image below to access his service file from Library and Archives Canada.