Vimy Ridge 2

The Great War: Vimy Ridge
George Van Wyck Laughton, M.C.

Canadian - Serving in the British 3rd Army, 34th Division,  
26th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Irish)

                               


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This page last updated on February 01, 2013

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The Battle of Arras, Vimy Ridge (April 9-12, 1917)

As noted on the main page we have now broken down the Vimy Pages into two separate pages, on of which deals with the history of the battle and the second which provides the report as seen through the maps and notes of Grandfather Laughton.  Each are important to the story.

This is the story as told by George's records:

 

Historical Documents        Comments from Richard Van Wyck Laughton (grandson) based on research conducted to date:       

 

This is an extract of the area map which appears as the inside front cover, taken from the following book:
"Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War - Canadian Expeditionary Force", Colonel G. W. L. Nicholson, C.D., Army Historical Section, Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationary, Department of National Defence, Ottawa CANADA 1962. 
The book is listed as in 1962 as Price $5.00, Cat. No. DA3-4462  57281-8.  I was able to retrieve this book on Interlibrary Loan, thanks to the assistance of the Milton Public Library.  To purchase this book now, used format, is $650 Canadian.

For complete information on all components of the Nicholson text, as well as the various ways to obtain the information from the book, please refer to our main Nicholson page located here:

Nicholson Connection Page

 

The battle area of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was depicted in MAP 7 of the Nicholson book.  As I quickly realized in my research of the CEF, my grandfather had somehow become assigned to the Northumberland Fusiliers, 34th Division, 26th Battalion of Field Marshall Haig's 3rd Army.  However, this map enabled me to determine that on April 9th 1917, the 26th NF was fighting to the right of the CEF in the area between the junction of the road and railway, near the Village of Bailleul.  I was able to relate this to the trench map, as shown in the picture which follows.

   
(old scan)


  

The personal effects of George Van Wyck Laughton were passed on to me by my father, Charles Van Wyck Laughton, Q.C., Lt. RCNVR.  Unfortunately a number of other items were destroyed, along with our house, in a horrific fire in June of 1967.  The trench map (Rolincourt 51B N.W.1), probably survived as it was still with my grandmother in London (Canada).

You will note that the objectives for the attack on Vimy Ridge are clearly marked on this section of the trench map, which correspond to the Nicholson area map as shown above.    Shown here are the Blue Line, First Brown Line, Second Brown Line and the Green Line.  To go along with this map, I have the private notes of George Van Wyck Laughton that were prepared in the weeks prior to the attack.

Click on either map for a larger scale version of the actual map.

  (new scan, May 2006)

In late March 1917, George's brother Harry wrote to him from Toronto CANADA and although I did not intend to post this letter, I realized after more careful review of the original document that it contained important aspects that related to what the families at home knew about the war.  Pages 6 and 7 of the letter are most informative as they talk about key issues of the time in Canada:

 

  1. voluntary versus forced enlistment
  2. the status of affairs in Russia
  3. Kitchener's comments on the war
  4. the impending "big chase"

For a complete copy of the letter, click here for the Adobe PDF file.

 

 

 

 

The "Field Message Book" of George Van Wyck Laughton contained a number of the original documents plus the "carbon copies" of documents and letters that had been delivered.  A number of these documents are posted on this web site.

 

 

 

   

Personal notes of George Van Wyck Laughton for the Battle Plans for Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, pages 1 and 2.  The text of these pages (written on March 28, 1917) is as follows:
At zero hours we leave our assembly trenches and push forward as soon as possible.  The whole idea being to get into "No Mans Land" before Hun barrage starts.  24th & 25th take first two german lines.  Short yards at first line.  Barrage works back until it reaches Black Line. At 0+34 barrage lifts and 20th B takes Black line. Meanwhile we lie at N front line trench.  Each cmp then move up without orders to German 3rd line and try and re-organize.  Do not bother about straightness of line but follow the barrage. Barrage halts about 300 yards in front of black line and remains about 1 hr.  * 24th B organize and as barrage they creep forward at 0+2.6 .  15 minutes before this A & B leave Black Line and move forward to within 100 yards of Barrage.  As A & B leave black line we immediately push forward into it.  When we get into BLACK we immediately organize and consolidate.
...............
Frontage
Brigade - 600 yards
Battalion - 300 yards
26th Battn - 600 yards
...............
* Insert here.  Each cmp sends up one platoon to take over strong point so as to leave 24th & 25th free.

 

Personal notes of George Van Wyck Laughton for the Battle Plans for Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, pages 3 and 4.  The text of these pages is as follows:
 
Barrage remains in front of Blue Line for 0 + 6 hours. 46 min.  If we are more or less a complete battalion 26th & 2th will take Brown line 1200 yards beyond BLUE LINE.  When orders are received we will move up beyond Blue Line and organize for attack.  At 0 + 6 hrs + 31 will move up under barrage and will then work forward about 1000 yards.  Each cmp ? on 2nd Platoon front with each platoon in two lines.  27th move up on our left.  Moppers Up will move up with leading company and clean up trench ?.  Blue and Brown lines and stick there until other two platoons come up and then act as reserve. 

Two leading companies take two lines 

in BROWN Line and third cmp remains in first trench of Brown line and mop up.  Barrage halts in from of Brown line and we send out patrols and LEWIS GUN sections sent forward to dig in and at night these positions will be connected up and eventually will become our front line.

Flank Platoons must keep touch with people on their flanks whenever we halt in a trench.  The best way to do this is to crawl along top and best way to get Hun is to crawl along parapet and shoot him in the bottom of the trench.   (Here remind Lewis Gunners that they must use ? bombing fight).  Also impress men of importance of rifle and bayonet.

 

Personal notes of George Van Wyck Laughton for the Battle Plans for Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, page 5.  The text of this page is as follows:

Each little section freeze until any little bit of ground they get hold of and try and get touch with remainder of platoon.  Bombs carried forward by men are not for his own use but he is merely a carrying parties.  At Brown line collect all bombs, very lights, etc. etc. into dumps.
Prisoners.  be careful that man is sincere.  IF prisoners show slightest objection leave them there.  One man ought to be enough to take care of 10.
Trophies.  none to be collected until orders are given.
Tricks.  no helmets, flags, etc. to be collected
Pea Bombs.  Throw one down entrance and stand at other.
Dugouts.  see that everyone is clear.

 

Planning notes of April 5, 1917 (NF = Northumberland Fusiliers)
Do not use word RETIRE.
Must dig steps in Cemetery Alley.

Latrines and Water - must be economical with water.
Do not let every man open his "Billy Tin" but make them share it.
A Cinema Operator is coming over with us.

Packing of Haversack
See that they do not stuff a lot of stuff in.
See that w. sheet is well tucked up under flap.

Grey coats rolled in back.
Water proof sheets on haversack.
On Left
132 Inf. Brg. - 6th Gordons.
? - ?
Brigade Reserve - 5th Gordons
On Right
102 Inf Brg - 22nd NF up tp and including Blue Line
Blue Onwards - 23rd NF
Brigade Reserve - 24th NF
R.D. - Message Received. Bayonet fixed and waved from side to side.
Tank Wanted - Helmet on Bayonet.

 

Planning notes of April 5, 1917
Aid Posts
Chalk Farm
Lawrence Ave.
Cecil Ave.
Divisional Prisoners ?
Send prisoners to Battalion Hdqtrs.
"C" Battalion Hdqtrs.
At First - Father's Foot Path
After Capture Black Line - Kasmn Gr & Kirchner Grad
After Capture Blue Line - Werk Ulm & Gaul Weg
Before advance from Blue Line - Gaul Weg & Blue Line
After Capture of Brown Line - Gaveller Weg 7 Gaul Weg or in Railway Cutting
C will move at Zero.
Establish itself in Third Line.
No. 2 will take strong points.
String patrols pushed east of Brown Line to secure best Observation in front of Brown Line. This will be dug as F. Line.
Until ? consolidation Lewis Gunners will be sent forward to cover consolidation. Must follow barrage closely.
Flare only when called for:
24th - R.W. .-..--
25th - RK?
26th - RY -.--
27th - RZ

 

Planning notes of April 5, 1917
Dumps
S.A.A. - Blue Flag
Grenades - Yellow Flag
I.M.C. - Green Flag
Food Rations - Board RATION
Water Rations - Board WATER

Must sterilize water with tablets if it is obtained from German Trenches.
<men will draw> - sentence deleted

You must have a letter and number to every message.

Time - must time every message.

 

Planning notes of April 5, 1917
Tank to INFANTRY - Can signals to be read from top down.
Green - Come on or Wire Cut
Red - Danger or Wire Uncut
Red/Green - Wait a bit
Red/Red - Enemy in Strength
Red/White - Enemy in Small Numbers
Red/Red/Red - Broken Down
Red/Red/White - Enemy is using Gas Shells
Red/Red/Green - Enemy is Counter Attacking
Red/White/Red - Enemy in Dug-Outs
Red/White/White - Trench Unoccupied
Red/White/Green - Enemy is Retiring

On Green Disc or Light being shown the infantry should invariably follow.

THIS IS TO BE KEPT ABSOLUTELY SECRET.
G. V. Laughton 2/Lt.

 

Planning notes of April 5, 1917 - details to follow

This is UNIQUE as this map (sketch of what appears to be the attack plan on the trench map) could hardly be seen on the original document. Scanning the document made it clearly visible!

 

There a 8 pages in the "Field Message Book" of George Van Wyck Laughton for which there are no original pages, just the carbon copy pages as they appear here.  These appear to be the step-by-step actions of the attack on Vimy Ridge that stated at 5:30 am on Easter Monday, April 9, 1917: (see accompanying Trench Maps with Lines marked)
 
Zero Time Actual Time  
Z night Report to Bn Hdqtrs when in assembly position.
+4 5:34 Barrage lifts off front
+7 5:37         "            "    2nd Line
+10 5:40         "            "    3rd Line
+34 6:04         "            "    Black Line
24th and 25th Hdqtrs. to Kommandeur
Trench and thence to Black Line
24th and 25th reorganize and send out patrols
16th Hdqtrs. to Kommandeur
Trench where corps report
When in position in Kommandeur Trench
+ 1 hr 6:30 1 Platoon ...?...  16th to Black Line
Black Line ready to light flares when called for.
+2 hrs 7:30 24th 25th formed up ready to attach Blue Line
26th begin to move to Black Line
See this link for reference to "Z time": http://www.curme.co.uk/arras.htm#Arras

 

Zero Time Actual Time  
+2+12 7:42  Black line Protective barrage lifts.
+2+43 8:13 Barrage lifts off whole Blue Line
2 F.A. Bdes move to R ..?... Valley
26th reorganizes and corps report when in position
26th in Black Line
26th Hdqtrs. moves to Black Line as Black Line is taken.
Orders issues to Corps for attack on Blue Line.
+3-10 8:40 Front Line prepare to light flares when called for.
+6-30 - 26th & 27th formed up to attack Brown Line.
+6.46 - Blue line prot? barrage lifts.
26th Hdqtrs. moves to Blue Line.
Zero Time Actual Time  
+7.42 Barrage lifts off 1st Brown Line
+7.40 - Barrage ............ 2nd Brown Line
26th Hdqtrs. move to Gaveller dep or railway. Corps report to 13th Hdqtrs. result of attach on Brown Line
4 Vickers guns come up tp Brown Line
2 F.A. Bdes move to about G 6
+7.52 - Barrage 300 east of Brown Line
+8.10 - Front line prepared to light flares when called for
+8.12 - Guns search east slope of spur well beyond Green Line to allow patrols to go out and Spurs to be consolidated
+9.15 - Green Line prepare to light flares when called for
This page immediately follows the preceding pages in the booklet and based on other information in the notes, it would appear that this note was made on April 8, 1917.  We known now that the battle of Vimy Ridge was to have commenced on Sunday April 8, 1917, but it was delayed to Easter Monday, April 9, 1917.  The text of this page is:

No. 1 moves at 6:45
Tea will be a 6 pm
Stretcher bearers accompany Corps Black Line. Close behind to front line.
Black Line **llected 13th Hdqrs (Headquarters?).

 

This page is clearly dated April 8, 1917 and since it follows the previous pages in the book it suggests that those pages were in fact written before the battle of Vimy Ridge.  It is interesting to note that there will be "tea" and the "parade" scheduled on this most significant evening.  The text says:

8.14.17
Orders for No. 1 Platoon
1/ Tea at 6 p.m.
2/ Parade

Parades
Parade at 6:35 p.m. ready to proceed to trenches.  Cpl. Peart will remain behind with platoon commander.  Platoon will move under Lt. Herrod.

G. V. Laughton 2/Lt.

 

This page is date April 9, 1917, Easter Monday and the date of the advance on Vimy Ridge.  Although there is no time on this page, we can tell by the content that they are in the heat of battle, as runners are being sent back to get stretcher bearers.  The text of this page is:

9.14.17
From: ?? No. 1 Platoon (obviously from G. V. Laughton)
To:  O.C. ? 26th N. Fus. (26th Northumberland Fusiliers)

Please send stretcher bearers for seven (7) urgent cases.  Would report that battalion strength at present to be approximately 60 men.  We are being subjected to intense artillery fire.  Runner will show stretcher bearer's in.

G. V. Laughton 2/Lt.
? Runner

 

In 1962 the Canadian Department of National Defence published the official history of the Canadian Army in the First World War, entitled "Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1918".  The booked was written by Colonel G. W. L. Nicholson, C.D. of the National Defence Army Historical Section.  This authoritative and official account of the CEF was originally to have been an eight volume history by Colonel Duguid, that never materialized (perhaps as a result of the Second World War).  This work was started in 1956 and finished in 1961.

I have extracted the relevant parts of this text as it relates to the Battle of Arras and Vimy Ridge as it ties in well with the field notes of George Van Wyck Laughton.  The book is no longer in print and few copies are available on the Internet (at a cost of more than $650 Canadian).

Click here to read the extract from pages 244 to 267 from the Nicholson text.

For all other details regarding the text, maps, sketches, and appendices, please refer to the Nicholson page here:

Nicholson Page

To be transcribed once I figure out what this relates to, although it is shown in the order that it appears in the notebook.
This is the last page in the series and may in fact be notes taken at some other time.  I have included this here as it has soldier's names and serial numbers, which may be of importance to other researchers.  These three (3) soldiers had reported sick.

See also on this web site:

Platoon Records

 

Letter home April 1917, to George's sister Louise (who we all knew as "Auntie Tot"), who as far as I know was the only sister in a family of some 8 brothers.  This is some 18 days after the previous letter written prior to Vimy Ridge.  It appears that this letter may never have been mailed as it was shortly after this that George was reported as "Missing In Action".

27.4.17
Dear Sis:

Just a type ? or two today as I have an opportunity to get a letter away.  For the past week I have been hourly engaged in this "??" and you get few opportunities of writing or of posting letters.
I have not had a wash or a shower for a week so you see I am a most lovely looking specimen of humanity.  The wild man of Borneo is nothing compared to me.  In these last 5 days I have had approximately 6 hours of sleep so I am not absolutely the keenest person on the face of the earth.  We expect to go out for a rest in a couple of days and it will be a most welcome one I assure you.
I have had no mail for ten days but of course it may be held up some place on it's long journey. I may get a letter when tonight's rations come up to us.
At present we are sitting 30 yards from the Hun and it is quite nice as the  Boche can not shell us as he might hit his own line.  We shell his line though just the same.
Hope everyone at home is feeling fit and happy and having a grand old time.  It won't be so very long until I shall be there too.  Please excuse this short note but you understand don't you!  Love to al and always ? for yourself.

George
France

Letter home the night before the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the text of which says the following:
(my note:  Great Uncle Fred was his brother who I never met and Great Aunt Myra looked after us for years as children until she passed away in the 1970's).

8.4.17

Dear Fred & Myra -

I received a letter from you the other day and also a fine parcel.  Thanks so much people it does make one feel great to receive a parcel from home.
Today is Easter Sunday and a most beautiful day.  The sun is shining and a mild breeze is blowing.  Just at present to 9.2" Howitzers are firing just outside our door almost 30' away and they make a most unearthly row.

 

Tomorrow morning brother and sister I go in an attack against the Boche.  The inevitable task of leading my platoon into action has come.  By the time  you receive this letter you will know what success I had.  If I should pay a soldier's forfeit I want you to know that  I did it as a man and with Mother by my side.  The chances are of course that I will come through all OK.

I wrote Sis yesterday but of course told her nothing about this.  I have known it for three weeks but of course could not tell you.  I am moving up to the line with my platoon in a few minutes so must close for a while.  Will write you again in a few days.  Heaps of luck and heaps of love and may Sister never be lonesome.

George

 

Notification of "Missing In Action" sent to George's brother Fred Van Wyck Laughton in Parkhill, Ontario CANADA.  This appears to say December 5th which suggests (see medical records that he was injured twice, once in the April or May 1917 battles and again in December.  The document states:

Regret to inform you 2 Lieut. G. V. W. Laughton Northumberland Fusiliers reported missing December fifth.  This does not necessarily mean killed or wounded.  Any further news sent if received.


Secretary War Office

 

Notice of Hospital Ship transport, May 1, 1917 (apparently from France to England) which would agree with reports of injury in late April 1917.

 

 

Notice of Hospital Ship transport at another date, I am not sure.  The notes say that this one relates to the injuries he sustained while buried with only his mouth and nose exposed for five days, perhaps when he was on patrol with the Sergeant who was killed by the shell, as mentioned in the dispatches.

On June 11, 1966 George Van Wyck Laughton died after he had undergone and survived brain surgery for an aneurysm.  This was one of the first such surgeries at Victoria Hospital in London, Ontario by, I believe a Dr. Drake.  Unfortunately, some days later he died when a blood clot in his leg broke loose, apparently one that had been there since the injury to his leg as reported on this tag.

 

 

 

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