During this year’s battlefield’s tour with Jeremy Banning we went back to the area around the
Wancourt tower above the river Cojeul. I had a vivid memory from a previous occasion of Jeremy reading Second Lieutenant
Sidney Greenfield’s account
of part of the battle of Arras and the capture of the tower.
This October as one of our party was not able to walk very far I had the chance to go up the hill on my own, reading Sidney’s report as I did so.
Extract from memoir byMajor SR Greenfield MC – 05/8/1
The lane which he will have had to follow to get to the tower is still as it was with the bank alongside, although the cubby holes are no longer there.
“As it was essential to know what was happening the colonel told me to go and find out instructing me to take two orderlies instead of the usual one. As we approached the barrage, the shells were falling all around us. It seemed as though they were throwing everything they had from ‘coal boxes’ to ‘whizz bangs’. I noticed that at some time during the advance little cubby holes had been dug in the bank by the side of the road so I pressed forwards darting quickly from cubby hole to cubby hole until I was through the barrage. Here I found McCubbin and his platoon in a larger hole dug into the bank.”
On my walk I was accompanied by thrushes and blackbirds flitting through the hedge and feasting on the hawthorn rather than the shell barrage which Greenfield endured. There is no sign of the tower, just a crossing of the ways on the high ground commanding the surrounding land and an excellent position.
Greenfield writes of his return journey from the tower,
“I have always been convinced that here I saw the most ghastly sights of my life. Lying against the bank was just the torso of a man. Head, arms and legs had been blown off I have often tried to persuade myself that this was just my imagination and that it was really a bundle of khaki clothing but I was quite sure at the time. The situation was a critical one and there was no time to think about anything apart from getting through. My concern was to keep alive and get on before the next shell exploded.”
|View from Wancourt Ridge
Greenfield survived the war. He had been underage (17 years) when he’d enlisted in September 1914. He was badly wounded during the battle of Passchendaele in October 1917 and was visited by his parents in France before he was able to return home.