The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment
The Battle of Arleux
28th April 1917
After a ten days out of the line the 12th (Eastern) Division went into forward positions between the north east of Monchy and the River Scarpe.
On the 27th April 1917 the 35th Brigade were given orders to capture Bayonet Trench and Rifle Trench situated to the south Roeux. The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, along with the 5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, were given the task of leading the attack. After the first objectives were taken the 7th Suffolks would pass through to the second objective and the 9th Battalion Essex Regiment were placed in reserve.
Zero Hour was at 0425 a.m. began with a two minute intense artillery bombardment to which the Germans made a furious response and the 5/R.Berks advanced close behind the barrage and captured their objectives in Bayonet and Rifle Trenches without difficulty and began consolidation.
The 7th Norfolks were less successful. They had “A” and “B” leading with “C” and “D” attempting to gain contact with the lead companies. This failed and the Norfolks came under heavy machine gun fire from their flanks.
The 7th Suffolks also found themselves unable to proceed against heavy machine gun fire when they attempted to pass through the 5/R.Berks lines at 0505. At this point the Berkshires still held Bayonet Trench and 150 yards of Rifle trench but the Germans still held Rifle Trench as far as Harness Lane.
Due to the heavy fire both the 7/Norfolks and the 7/Suffolks were still in their original positions. One company of the Essex was sent to help the Berks hold on to their gains. Attempts to capture the rest of Rifle trench with bombing from both flanks failed.
An SNCO in the 5/R. Berks noted,
‘As we had lost all our officers in my company except one I was detailed with my platoon to take up bombs, ammunition, rifle grenades etc to another company of ours (C Company) Having collected all my men together and issued to them these different stores we left our trench at about 3 am under very heavy shell fire. I had been given orders by my company officer to get there at all costs as they had run short of nearly everything. I succeeded in reaching them after a very hard struggle as the Boche were giving us hell with his shells and machine guns. C Company were greatly relieved when they heard that I had arrived with a fresh supply of trench stores, which were quickly issued out. I discovered on my way that there were a lot of bombs, shovels and picks lying spare in a trench that I passed. I succeeded in collecting them and was waiting to get through again to C Company when the Germans succeeded in blowing part of the trench in, cutting us off from C Company. We had to remain in this trench, where I had got my men, when the Germans started to shell us unmercifully, and continued at it all day long without a break, causing a good many casualties. I told my men to stick it and that as soon as it became dark we would chance it and make another attempt to reach C Company. I had succeeded in dodging these shells all day and was just on the point of starting to C Company when a big shell burst about six yards in front of me, which wounded me and also buried me.’
“D” Company from 7/Norfolks had come up against uncut wire and “A” and “B” Companies had to take cover in shell holes. The war diary noting,
‘The remainder of the day our men lay out in shell holes being sniped by the enemy. As soon as it was dark all those that could returned to our lines and stretcher squads went to try and bring in the wounded. During the whole of their work they were continually under enemy M. Gun and rifle fire which was done with the aid of extremely bright Verey Lights. The fire was so heavy and accurate that it was impossible to bring in many of our men who were badly wounded and close to the enemy’s trench.’
The war diary noted that casualties were especially heavy in “C” and “D” Companies.
Another attack was ordered on 29th April and the 9/Essex advanced and took Rifle Trench supported by flanking fire but were driven out by two German counter attacks.
In this attack 12 officers 223 other ranks were lost. In total the CWGC records the loss of 92 men killed on 28th April 1917. Like the 1st Battalion at La Coulotte many of them have no known grave and are commemorated on the Arras Memorial.