The Story of the 28th Battalion - 1914 - 1917

by G. E. Hewitt

Lens

ATTACK AT LENS-28TH IN SUPPORT.

Operating in close support to battalions in attack is no holiday. It demands exercise of the sterner qualities in the troops who undertake it-of application, of strenuous endeavour, of untiring energy, of doggedness and coolness, and heroism.

Such qualities were displayed by the men of the 28th in their next important action, in front of Lens, where they helped to make successful a further offensive operation of the 6th Brigade in August, 1917.

In July, the Battalion had moved up from the Vimy sector of the line towards the mining town of Lens, held by the Germans, and ostensibly in danger of becoming encircled by the Canadians, who had launched a powerful and successful attack against its strongly-fortified approaches and suburbs on August 15-Hill 70. This attack had resulted in the downfall of the formidable defences of Hill 70, which resisted the British attack in the battle of Loos in September, 1915, and had since that time been improved by every method and device known to the enemy. The operations of August 21 in which the 28th played such a prominent part were a continuation of the excellent work commenced by regiments of another Canadian Division on the earlier date, and were equally successful.

The attack was delivered in the early morning from the direction of Cite St. Elizabeth on the north and Cite du Moulin on the south-east, two of the most important of the environs of the mining town. It began under unusual circumstances. The Germans had intended counter-attacking at exactly the same time, and the trenches at the edge of Lens were full of troops. Their first wave of infantry started from the north simultaneously with the Canadians, and the opposing forces met in " No Man's Land." A fierce struggle followed. The Germans did not realise their situation until the Canadians were upon them-it was a misty morning and barely light-and before they could rally against the shock they were being bayonetted and split into little groups. Their officers tried to make them stand, and some of the Germans fought quite stubbornly, but they were pressed back into the trenches they had left and among the reserve battalions massed there to follow up the first attack. The Canadians scrambled on the parapet, where the men grappled with each other and flung bombs into the crowded alleyways below. Parties of still bewildered Germans sought to retreat down the communication trenches, but they were also choked with troops and the casualties inflicted on this confused mass of fugitives were exceedingly high.

The operations of the 6th Brigade, in which the 28th behaved with great dash and gallantry, though engaged in support to the 27th and 29th, were directed against two unusually strong German positions known as Nun's Alley and Cinnabar trench. Both were held in formidable force by the enemy and only fighting of the most desperate description finally gained the day for the Canadians. At various times the attacking parties were in difficulties which threatened the ultimate success of the advance, but characteristic resource and pluck pulled the game out of the fire, and the men of Winnipeg and Vancouver reached their objectives after paying a heavy toll in officers and men.

One platoon of the 28th, termed the "Piccaninnies" on account of their extremely youthful appearance, especially distinguished themselves during the action and earned the plaudits of the whole Brigade. The intention had been, so says the official narrative, to keep them in reserve as much as possible, but circumstances forced them into the limelight, where they played their part like veterans.

The gallantry of each company which took part was in keeping with the traditions of the battalion, and the commanding officers of those units to which they gave their support paid eloquent testimony to their efforts. "The conditions obtaining throughout the action," says Lieut. O'Brien, who commanded "A" Company, "were characterised by the most intense activity on all sides, and I can say no more than that the conduct of all was worthy of the best traditions of the 28th North West Battalion."


28th (North-west) Battalion Headquarters is © Copyright 2001 Robert Lindsay. All Rights Reserved