First World War Project

Home News - May 1917

The Western Front arrangements of fighting strength 1916 to 1917A change of theatre map (right), even if no great change in front lines! This map shows the major formations confronting each other over the Western Front in the run up to April 1917 (click map for enlarged image). Immediately following the Close of The Somme, military formations were reorganised, men entered into training in more flexible formations. However, assaults and attrition continued to take their toll on our local men; mostly on the Western Front, but as this period unfolds, naval losses also account for more local casualties. As 1917 unfolds we witness very costly actions for our communities to bear - in May 1917, the Creekside Cluster suffered 12 losses with most happening on the the first day of the Third Battle of of the Scarpe (Second Battle of Arras) - 3rd May. Half of these losses were borne by Lynsted Parish alone, eight served in Battalions of The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). The suffering would have been known about at home simply through the return of soldiers injured or on leave.

The German retreat from the Somme to the "Hindenberg Line" was complete, bar the shouting.

The 'game changers' waiting in the wings were:

During 1917, through the competing navies, there continued the desire to disrupt and strangle supplies to fighting forces and demoralise home populations. 1917 saw losses of shipping that included civilian and hospital shipping following the German implementation of "unrestricted submarine warfare". Not to ignore the Austrian part played during the war, on 15th May there was an action with British naval light forces in the Straits of Otranto during which 14 British drifters sank. On 26th May, the British hospital ship "Dover Castle" was sunk by a submarine in the Mediterranean.

On 17th May, the British Admiralty, following on a Cabinet decision, appointing a Committee, in conjunction with the Ministry of Shipping, to draw up a plan to convoy merchant ships.

In the air, on 7th May, London experienced the first night air raid by a single aeroplane by moonlight. One week later (14th), a German airship "L.22" was destroyed over the North Sea by British warships. Later in the month, 25th, the first great aeroplane raid on England (Kent and Folkestone) to cause heavy casualties. Total 290, over half of which were civilians.

American Engagement: On 28th April, the United States Congress had passed a Bill to raise 500,000 men. 4th May saw the welcomed arrival of the First U.S. destroyer flotilla at Queenstown, Ireland. There were six destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Joseph K. Taussig. On 10th May, Major-General J. Pershing was appointed to command the United States Expeditionary Force. The U.S. Government announced their decision to send a Division of the U.S. Army to France at once (they were to arrive on 25th June 1917).

In France, General Foch succeeded General Petain as Chief of the French General Staff of French Ministry of War on 15th May.

Statistics - Gun ammunition measured by Battle

Comparative Statement showing the Gun Ammunition expended by the British Army in France during certain periods of Intensive Fighting
Battles Periods Approximate Expenditure
Rounds Tons
Somme 26th June to 9th July, 1916 3,526,000 75,000
Arras 9th April to 16th May, 1917 4,261,500 109,800
Messines 3rd June to 10th June, 1917 3,258,000 85,500
3rd battle of Ypres 30th July to 7th October, 1917 2,011,000 (Average weekly) 53,400 (Average weekly)
Autumn Offensive 18th August to 27th October, 1918 2,203,400 (Average weekly) 53,100 (Average weekly

† - Sixty Third Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 1st May 1917.

Lance Corporal, Ernest Walter ABBOTT (of Luddenham), Killed in Action aged 21 years
Memorial: Duisans British Cemetery, Etrun
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving in: 1/16th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen's Westminster Rifles ). Died of Wounds, probably inflicted between 9th and 12th April during a trench assault near Arras.

British Initiative in the Arras sector

Belfast News-Letter of 4th May 1917
Renewed British Offensive. "SIR DOUGLAS HAIG, in his first despatch yesterday, reported the resumption of the offensive in force against the German positions on the lines of the battle of the Scarpe – that is, from the Vimy-Acheville road, 3½ miles south-east of Lens, south to the Hindenberg line at Queant. This first despatch went no further than to notify that our troops were making progress, and had already – that is in the first rush of the morning attack – captured a number of hostile positions. The second despatch, which did not come to hand until after midnight, may be regarded as taking the operations up to the evening. It indicates plainly that there has been very heavy close fighting all day all along the whole battle front of fourteen miles. The enemy employed large reserves of men and guns, and delivered repeated counter-attacks. Their masses of troops were caught by heavy fire from the concentrated British artillery and machine guns both while assembling prior to the attack and during the actual assault. This is a feature of the battle of the Scarpe which distinguishes it from the whole of the preceding British offensive. It is a sequel to the radical differences which have been brought about in the relative positions of the opposing forces by the battle of Arras. The ground gained by the British on the Lens-Arras front during Easter week put the Germans, for the first time in all their combatting with the British, at the disadvantage of acting on the defensive with the British in possession of high ground that gave them observation not only of the German front line, but of all their rear for a long distance behind. From a number of points on the Vimy Ridge, behind which the British heavy artillery is screened, the whole Douai plain lies under direct observation, while the valley of the Scarpe and south to Queant is likewise visible from the hill on the top of which the village of Monchy is perched. No movements of troops on the plain below and along the valley can be screened from the observation posts on these high points. That is why the preponderance which the British now have in weight of artillery and in munition supply has made. And will continue to make, the German defence in the battle of the Scarpe so costly; that is why, despite the stubbornness with which the Germans are meeting the attacks of our troops, the fighting is so heavily in favour of the offensive, despite the comparatively slow progress of the British advance. Yesterday the first ground gained was on the extreme left; the Canadians captured the village of Fresnoy, which is a mile and a half north and slightly east of Oppy. The value of the capture of Fresnoy lies in its veering upon Oppy, which yesterday, as on Monday and Tuesday, held out against all attack. The ruins of this village are so heavily fortified, and the ground around it is so favourable for defence, that it was not attacked frontally yesterday. The German lines on each side of Fresnoy on a front of two miles were, however, taken, and that means that Oppy, which on Monday was turned on the south by the advance north from Gavrelle, is now turned on the north. Satisfactory as the fighting was on the left wing, it was even more so on the right. The official report is to the effect that our troops, in face of obstinate resistance, penetrated a sector of the Hindenberg line west of Queant, and maintained themselves there all day against constant and powerful counter-attack. "West of Queant" means the Queant-Bullecourt sector, a front that has withstood all attack for the past six weeks, the first front on which the Germans counter-attacked in force after the retiral from the Bapaume-Commecourt lines. The Queant-Bullecourt sector is the position at which the Hindenberg line makes contact with the Wotan line, which runs north to Brocourt; it is a pivot, or rather hinge sector, forming a sharp salient in the Lens-Quentin front; therefore a position which is vital to the whole line. If this hinge sector is cut through there must be a considerable retiral on both sides of it to regain the continuity of the line. Sir Douglas Haig reports further progress in the neighbourhood of Cherisy, astride the Cambrai-Arras road and on the right bank of the Scarpe where positions which have changed hands several times are now in our possession. This is the sector just to the left of the Queant-Bullecourt sector. The Press Association's correspondent at the Front, writing yesterday afternoon, says the battle here, sough of the Sensee, developed into a most successful sweeping movement, our troops reaching Cherisy, which converging tactics upon Riencourt "carried our advance across the Hindenberg line." In a later message he indicates that there has been some ebb as well as flow in the Sensee Valley fighting, that the Germans have recovered ground at Cherisy and at Bullecourt, so that we must take the official news as giving the safe impression. Several hundred prisoners were captured in the course of the day. The probability is that this, the third violent phase of the battle of the Scarpe, is continuing today with full intensity, for the situation in which the Germans now are is critical on both wings of the 14 mile front from above Fresnoy to Queant. The fact that units of several fresh divisions were identified in the counter-attacks yesterday emphasises the big fact of the situation - namely, the rapidity with which the German strategic reserves are being used up by the co-ordinated Allied offensive. The French communiqués tell of nothing beyond weakened German counter-attacks yesterday on the Chemin des Dames ridge and of heavy reciprocal artillery activity.

† - Sixty Fourth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 2nd May 1917.

Bombardier, William Albert EVANS (of Oare), Killed in Action aged 32 years.
Memorial: La Targette British Cemetery, Neuville-St. Vaast
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving in: 123rd Battery, 28th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (of Oare). Killed in Action, in gun-pit hit by artillery shells at Bois de la Ville, Vimy Ridge.

† - Sixty Fifth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 3th May 1917.

Private, Amos John BROWN (of Lynsted), Killed in Action, aged 35 years.
Memorial: Arras Memorial, Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving in: 6th Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
Killed during the opening day of the Third Battle of the Scarpe, Battle of Arras.

† - Sixty Sixth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 3rd May 1917.

Trooper, William GAMBRILL (of Lynsted), Killed in Action aged 27 years.
Memorial: Roeux British Cemetery, Pas de Calais.
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving In: 4th Division Household Cavalry. Died during the assault on Roeux during the Third Battle of the Scarpe, Arras.

† - Sixty Seventh Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 3rd May 1917.

Private, Stanley Monkton CLEAVER (of Lynsted), Killed in Action aged 21 years
Memorial: Arras Memorial, Faubourg-D'Amiens Cemetery, Panel 2
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving In: Royal East Kent Yeomanry and 1st Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Died from initial wounds almost certainly inflicted in early pitch darkness and confusion close to CHERISY the same day that he died.

† - Sixty Eighth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 3rd May 1917.

Private, MacDonald DIXON (of Lynsted), Killed in Action aged 31 years.
Memorial: Arras Memorial, Faubourg-D'Amiens Cemetery, Panel 2
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving in: 7th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Almost certainly killed in the early pitch dark and confusion experienced close to CHERISY.

† - Sixty Ninth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 3rd May 1917.

Private, Reginald Douglas WEAVER (of Lynsted), Killed in Action aged 23 years.
Memorial: Arras Memorial, Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery, Panel 2
: France and Flanders
Serving In: 6th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Killed during the opening day of the Third Battle of the Scarpe, Battle of Arras.

† - Seventieth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 3rd May 1917.

Private, Harry FILMER (of Newnham), Killed in Action aged 30 years
Memorial: Philosophe British Cemetery, Mazingarbe
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving In: 1st Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Died during a relieving operation in Right SubSector trenches in Hulloch Sector - two O.R.s died in the process.

† - Seventy First Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 3rd May 1917.

Private, William Henry LAKER (of Teynham), Killed in Action aged 30 years.
Memorial: Arras Memorial in the Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery
Theatre: France and Flanders.
Serving In: 7th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Died during an assault on German positions to the east of Cherisy village under rifle and machine-gun fire.

† - Seventy Second Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 3rd May 1917.

Private, George POTTS (of Teynham), Killed in Action aged 35 years
Memorial: Arras Memorial, Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving In: 6th Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment)
Died during an unsuccessful attack from Monchy toward Jigsaw Wood

Local Jacobean Mansion goes up in smoke - Norton

Kent Messenger of 12th May 1917
MANSION BURNED TO THE GROUND. On Sunday [6th May] the residence of Captain Howard, R.N., a fine old Jacobean country house, situated at Rushett, Norton, Sittingbourne, was burned to the ground. A gale of wind was blowing at the time and although the Sittingbourne, Faversham and Teynham and Lynsted Brigades were in attendance they were helpless, as no water was available. A few articles of furniture were saved from the lower rooms, but the roof fell in quickly and several Sittingbourne and Faversham firemen received injuries.
The damage is estimated at £3,500. Several presentation articles, which are, of course, irreplaceable, fell a prey to the flames.

Fire Brigade Report

† - Seventy Third Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 8th May 1917.

Corporal, Harry KING (of Doddington), Died of Wounds, aged 23 years.
Memorial: Bethune Town Cemetery (Pas de Calais)
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving in: 88th Battery, Royal horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery. Killed when 88th Battery was shelled (H.E. & gas).

† - Seventy Fourth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 11th May 1917.

Trooper, Henry Thomas CARRIER, 1737, (of Lynsted). Killed in Action aged 31 years.
Memorial: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais
Theatre: France and Flanders
Serving In: 4th Division, Household Battalion. Died during attack on Cemetery to North-East of village.

23rd May - Confirmation that Soldier's rations are reduced

Answers in Parliament: Commons: Soldiers' Rations. - Mr Forster, replying to a question on May 23, said that some modifications in the scale of rations for soldiers had been made, the principal of which were as follows:- For troops at home as from March 1 the bread ration had been reduced from 16 oz. to 14 oz.; for troops in France no change has been made in the previous scale of 1lb. of meat and 1lb. of bread in the firing line; for line of communication units, however, the scale has been reduced as from April 17 from 16 oz. to 12 oz. of meat, from 16 oz. to 14 oz. of bread, from 3 oz. to 2 oz. of sugar, from 4 oz. to 3 oz. of bacon.

26th May - British Western Front Report

The Army and Navy Gazette of 26th May 1917
British Western Front – On May 16 the Germans, who made a hard fight to retain Roeux, which we recently captured, made determined efforts to recover the village. From Gavrelle to the north bank of the Scarpe for a time they forced back our troops by weight of numbers, but we soon regained all the ground temporarily lost after the enemy had suffered exceptionally heavy casualties. Our hold on positions in the Siegfried line, which is referred to in British reports as the Hindenberg line, was extended by a thrust north-east of Bullecourt, which village came into our possession on May 17. German Headquarters, in admitting the loss of Bullecourt, say that the village "was evacuated according to command without disturbance by the enemy." On May 19 the Siegfried line was attacked north-west of Bullecourt, between the remains of that village and Fontaine, about three miles distant. Our troops established themselves in the line on a front of over a mile. Through-out the day there was severe fighting, but every attempt of the enemy to regain their intricate fortifications was unsuccessful. We took a number of prisoners and inflicted heavy casualties. On May 21 our new positions in the line between Bullecourt and Fontaine were made secure. In air fighting on May 20 eight Germans machines were destroyed, one of them by anti-aircraft guns, and eight others were driven down out of control. Four British aeroplanes were reported missing.

Recent War in the air and at sea

The Army and Navy Gazette of 2nd June 1917

Army: "Nothing specially notable last week-end [27/28th May] on the Western Front, but consolidations and roundings off and repulse of hostile offensive returns were all being faithfully and successfully attended to."
"British Western Front.- A successful minor operation was carried out on May 24 by the British near Loos, in which our troops captured a further portion of the enemy's front trench system and took some prisoners. On May 25 we advanced our line slightly near Croiselles and carried out a successful raid near Wytschaete, securing some prisoners. Near St. Quentin British troops carried out a successful raid on May 26, capturing 18 prisoners, and later in the day our troops gained further ground by an attack near Croiselles."

Navy: "The air raid on Folkestone last Friday (25th May) evening has naturally become the centre of public attention, and although but indirectly connected with the war at sea, may be dealt with here. So far as the sequence of events is concerned there appears to have been a series of actions, almost continuous from the Sunday when the German destroyer flotilla was turned back from Dunkirk by the French patrol. There had been reports, not all official, of a renewal of attacks from sea and air on Zeebrugge, and on Saturday the Admiralty announced that a raid had been carried out by naval aeroplanes on the aerodrome at St. Denis Westrum, near Bruges on Friday morning. The same evening a large squadron of enemy aircraft made an attack upon Folkestone, in broad daylight, and under the most favourable atmospheric conditions. Although it was the business part of the town, and the civilian population which suffered from the explosion of the bombs, the operation clearly had a military purpose, and was in the nature of a counter-offensive."
"On Saturday last [26th May] the German Government issued a notice concerning the alleged use of the hospital ships of the Allies for the conveyance of troops and war material, and announced its decision to close the Mediterranean to hospital ship traffic...... As usual the Germans were as bad as their word, and on the very day that their notice was issued torpedoes another hospital ship, the Dover Castle, in the Mediterranean without warning.... Fortunately, with the exception of the people killed by the explosion, all the patients and hospital staff, with the crew, were safely transferred to other vessels. The Dover Castle is the seventh British hospital ship to have been sunk this year, about two of which there is some uncertainty as to whether their destruction was due to mine or torpedo.

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