WARRIOR 100 YEARS ON
Warrior fans will be in France this week as Friday 30th March is the 100th anniversary of his finest hour. It was the day he and Jack Seely and the 1000 horses and men of the Canadian Cavalry checked the advancing Germans at Moreuil Wood, five miles short of Amiens at a stage when catastrophe seemed on the cards.
Hundreds of visiting Canadians will join assorted ceremonies around the town and the battlefield that will include a re-enactment by members of Lord Strathcona’s Horse of the famous cavalry charge in which Lieutenant Gordon Flowerdew won a posthumous VC.
My cousin Patrick Seely and I will be there as Jack Seely’s grandsons for an engagement which he, as the General Commanding the Canadian Cavalry later effusively dubbed “The Greatest Battle In History.” Grandpa was not one for modesty but it’s still hard to exaggerate the concern after Operation Michael, the last great German offensive broke through the allied lines on March 21st and swept the Fifth Army, before causing chaos and panic amongst the allies as the opposition crumbled in front of enemy advance.
“The cavalry are doing their best to keep a line,” General Rawlinson said to Winston Churchill, who was on hand as a direct link to Prime Minister Lloyd George, before gloomily admitting that his troops were “dead to the world from want of sleep or rest. Nearly all the formations are mixed or dissolved. They are completely worn out.”
Churchill then asked the General whether he would still be in position next day. “He made a grimace,” Winston recorded with majestic understatement, “the dominant effect of which was not pleasing to my mind.”
Nevertheless Warrior and the Canadians did check the Germans that day through some of the bitterest fighting imaginable, not just the famous doomed cavalry charge but brutal hand-to-hand combat with no quarter asked or given and hundreds of bombs being hand dropped from allied aircraft circling overhead. In the thick of it with his bayonet was Fred Harvey, an Irish born rancher from Fort Macleod, Alberta and an archetypal heroic figure having returned to his homeland in 1912 to play full back for Ireland against Wales at the Arms Park and later winning a VC for knocking out a machine gun single handed at Guyencourt in 1917. Despite having a distinguished career after the war he never wrote a word about his exploits although was once recorded as saying quietly, “I don’t know about Guyencourt, but I think I did a VC’s worth at Moreuil Wood.”
There will be much for us to remember this Friday.