James Owen of Penrhos

and his descendants

South to Cambrai

This map shows the Battle of Cambrai in detail.

In October, with the return of the CO, the Battalion moved back to an area about twenty miles south west of Cambrai. Morgan spent the last fortnight in October on leave. A period of training in advancing in open order, village fighting and map-reading was geared towards their next action on the morning of 20 November at Maznieres about eight miles south of Cambrai.

By 1917 Cambrai had become one of the most important railheads and towns behind the German lines. In front of it lay the immensely powerful Hindenburg Line, the fortifications of which included stretches of barbed wire, many yards wide, concrete emplacements and underground works. The innovative plan to capture Cambrai involved a surprise attack, breaking through the Hindenburg Line, capturing the dominating heights of Bourlon Wood to the left, and exploiting the breakthrough by sending three cavalry Divisions across the St Quentin canal to encircle the town. Fundamental to the plan was the use of massed tanks. These, together with six divisions of infantry would advance over a seven-mile front. Tanks had not been entirely successful in 1917 and many questioned their value. Nevertheless, almost 400 tanks were deployed in this operation.

Before the advance, three companies of Morgan’s Battalion occupied the front line trench astride the Villers Plouich-La Vacquerie Road, less than ten miles south-southwest of Cambrai, with one company in support. On 20 November at 6.20 a.m. they advanced, covered by a screen of scouts, along the northern slopes of the La Vacquerie Valley, with machine gun and stoke-mortar support. It took about an hour of fierce street fighting for C Company to capture La Vacquerie. Several machine-gun posts and snipers tried to slow the Division’s progress but the sight of tanks and massed infantry pouring down the valley in lines of platoons caused many of the Germans to flee or to surrender. There were pockets of resistance; B Company had to outflank one strongpoint, forcing the garrison of about 150 to surrender, in order to achieve their objective.