St Quentin Canal

(C) 2020 Mike South Photography

It’s late September 1918 during the thickest fighting of the 100 Days Offensive. The Allies have been launching a series of successive attacks deeper and deeper into German controlled lines. The Germans have at last been pushed back to their fallback positions of the Hindenburg Line. With momentum on their side the Allies refuse any respite and drive a spear into the heart of the enemy defences.

One of the heaviest defended sectors of the line comprises part of the St Quentin Canal, reinforced with a termite hill of bunkers and trenches, lattices of machine guns and artillery. Within that defensive structure, a seemingly impenetrable canal tunnel, 6km long being used as an immense bunker holding vast numbers of troops.

On the 21st September, the 10th Essex are thrown into a hastily prepared attack on the German positions at Tombois Farm. It is a disaster and the battalion suffer some 280 casualties. Ordered back from the line to resupply and rest, only 8 days later, the exhausted and depleted forces of the 10th Essex are once again thrown into the bloody maelstrom. The British target, the village of Vendhuile and a crossing over the canal.

The remains of 10th Essex are on the northern flank of the attack. The men, their equipment, and their patience are worn down. After over a solid month of assaults and offensive manoeuvres, the men are drained, but it is once again down to the dogged 18th Division to lock horns with the enemy. The Essex are pushed into a wood overlooking the canal, the hinge of the door about to be kicked in.

These pictures capture a small isolated section, beleaguered and tired, caught in the midst of that almighty fray. After two days fighting, on the 1st October, the 10th Essex are finally sent back towards the wrecked town of Albert to recuperate. The sounds of high explosives rumbling like rolling thunder and the chattering staccato of the mechanised rattlesnake still in the distance. The Hindenburg Line broken, it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel for the Essex, and for once that light wasn’t a train coming the other way.

All photos are courtesy of Mike South –