Taken Prisoner: The action at Telegraph Hill near Arras July 1918

A cartoon shows prisoners at the Rennbahn camp as old men doing exercises in 1946, alluding to their worry about when they might be free. (Chris Rands/CBC)

July 1918 found the 18th Battalion in the Arras Sector. The threat of Operation Michael in March had passed and the Battalion found the first of this month in an extended stay in reserve from the 1st of July to the 14th in the Latre-St-Quentin area. During this extended period 14 officers and 150 men went to Tiques to attend the Canadian Corps Dominion Day Sports event.[i]

After the 1st of July the battalion was involved in extensive training, bath parades and an inoculation parade.[ii]

Rested and refit, but with no significant increase in the complement of the Battalion, approximately 650 men, of a normal 1,110 men complement, left the rear for Dainville and the Telegraph Hill area of Arras.

The maps below will give some orientation of where this action occurred.

The Google Earth map below has several features of note which borders the Telegraph Hill area of this action:

  1. Note the village of Tilloy-les-Mofflaines to the north. The larger town of Arras is immediately to the north of Tilloy.
  2. Note the town of Beaurains to the west.
  3. Note the village of Neuville-Vitasse to the south.
  4. East of this area is a road marked D37E1.

Modern Google Earth View

The next map, updated on June 28, 1918 shortly before the action, shows the detail of the area in which the 18th Battalion was stationed. The red trenches are Allied and the blue Trenches are German. Tilloy is immediately to the north and the area of interest is bound roughly by Stokes Lane to the north; Tilloy Trench to the east; Telegraph Lane to the south; and Crest Trench to the west by the landmark designated as Telegraph Hill. Note the German trench named Ayr to the east.

Close Up of Map

From the night of the 14th to 27th the 18th Battalion was involved in aggressive patrolling of their sector of the trenches. An roll of the complement by Adjutant Lieutenant C. Cook gives the battalion strength as 641 men of all ranks as of 14, July 1918.

The patrols from the 14th to the 17th involved Battalion scouts under the leadership of Lieutenants MacRae and Stokes, as well as Sergeant Mamby [sic][iii]. No contact or significant casualties seem to have been experienced except Lance-Corporal W.L. Callander, a sniper, is noted for shooting a German soldier on the 17th.

The disposition of the 18th Battalion is outlined in detail in this map and legend.

Legend for map.

Legend for map.

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The left flank of the battalion boundary is just north of Fusilier Lane with “D” Company on the left; “B” Company in the center; “C” Company in support of “D” Company and Battalion Headquarters behind “B” Company in the center. Note Tilloy Trench is a prominent feature of both maps and runs north and south demarcating the front line of the Allied trenches in this sector.

“A” company on the right flank and has an area of responsibility on the right flank of the Battalion and is roughly bound by Telegraph Hill to its rear with Telegraph Lane and Tilloy Trench as its area of concentration. Note the Lewis gun located in a pillbox at Tilloy Trench (denoted with a dot with an arrow) at the forward area and the post in front of it ahead of Tilloy Trench. This may be the outpost described in the action at coordinates N.7.d.45.15.

The morning of the 18th brought a German trench raid:

“8.50 a.m. party of enemy made a stealth raid on an “A” Coy. Post situated 200 yds in advance of front line, coming along old C.T.[iv] to block in trench where post was situated at N.7.d.45.15, killing one, wounding two & taking 2 O.R.s prisoners.”[v]

This short entry brings to light the incident where 18th Battalion soldiers were taken prisoner. This was a rare occurrence for the Battalion. It is certain that one solder was taken prisoner, Private James Thomas Fishel, reg. no. 929039 service record confirms this. It appears that Private Henry Jack, reg. no. 651736 was the other prisoner, albeit temporarily and with tragic consequences for him. Also lost in the action was Private James Collie, reg. no 928739.

“Duty Nobly Done” records that Private Henry Jack, reg. no. 651736 was also taken prisoner and that he was killed in an attempt to escape.[vi] Private Jack must had made it back to the outpost or close to the vicinity of the 18th Battalion lines before he was killed or his Company made an effort to find him after the action as his body was recovered and was eventually interned at the Wancourt British Cemetery, 8 kilometers south of Arras.

Private Collie’s death is recorded as: “Was one of a party of eleven holding an outpost in front of Tilloy Trench, when the enemy made an attack, and Private Collie was shot through the head and instantly killed.” He was buried at the Wanquentin Communal Cemetery Extension 12 kilometers west of Arras.

Private Fishel was taken prisoner and survived the war. He was an American citizen who joined the 153rd Battalion in Windsor on March 6, 1916 at the age of 41. He was a plumber residing at 819 St. Jean Avenue, Detroit, Michigan at the time of his enlistment and indicated that he had 3 years of experience in the United States Infantry. He was taken prisoner unwounded and was repatriated to Dover, England on December 4, 1918, demobilized and returned to his native state of Pennsylvania where he died March 29, 1935.

This brief encounter with a German “stealth raid” is of interest because the raid occurred in daylight and because of the acquisition of prisoners by the Germans. The weather was recorded[vii] by the 20th Battalion in the Tilloy sector as being, “…bright and warm.” The ability of the German troops to catch an outpost of 11 18th Battalion soldiers unawares at that time of the morning and apparently under circumstances where the weather or other operational conditions would give the German troops an advantage is curious and the War Diary does not give any indications as to the exact nature of the raid, other than allowing that it involved “stealth”.

This raid also resulted in on member of the 18th Battalion being taken prisoner with another taken prisoner and then killed in an escape attempt. Private Collie was to be killed in actions also.

The next day the Battalion was relieved by the 14th Battalion to General Headquarters Reserve at Ansin-St.-Aubin where it went into reserve and was engaged in more training for the rest of the month.

[i] http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e045/e001100185.jpg

[ii] http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e045/e001100203.jpg

[iii] Note that War Diary spells the last name as Mamby. Most likely Frederick Ernest Manby, reg. no. 54274.

[iv] This abbreviation, C.T., is unclear at this time.

[v] http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e045/e001100187.jpg

[vi] http://www.bruceremembers.org/Soldiers/401

[vii] http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e039/e000960840.jpg

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