Hundred Days: The End of the Great War
by Dr Nick Lloyd
Thursday November 26th 2015
Members of the Society and guests were treated to a talk from Dr Nick Lloyd, Senior Lecturer in Defence Studies at Kings College London, ( based at the Joint Services Command and Staff College in Shrivenham
His theme was the last 100 days of the Great War, a period neglected by historians in comparison, say, to the opening days of the War. And yet the Allied advance which began on 18th August 1918 was on an enormous scale, and the casualties on both sides were huge: about 700,000 on the part of the allies, and even more on the German side.
Nick started on a personal note. His great-uncle, George Thomas Cotterill, had been killed during the offensive (at Gouzeaucourt on 27th September 1918). Nick also named some of the 39 men from Evesham and the Vale who had been killed during that short period before the armistice. All deaths in war are tragedies, but it always seems, to this reviewer at least, particularly sad to hear of young men being killed within a few days or weeks of the armistice.
Nick then described the events leading up to the German capitulation, their soldiers battered by the allied armies from all sides, and decimated by two epidemics of Spanish flu, an outbreak during the summer of 1918 followed by an even more devastating attack of the disease during the autumn.
At this period of the war, the growing use of tanks had rendered barbed wire ineffective as a deterrent to enemy advances. The Hindenburg Line, the main German defensive position, was based around the Saint-Quentin Canal. It was at the canal, on 29th September, that the 46th (North Midland) Division covered itself in glory, breaking through the line. In particular, a party from the North Staffordshire Regiment secured the road bridge at Riqueval, storming the German position before the men had time to set off the explosive charges that had been placed on the bridge to prevent its falling into allied hands. From that point, the German High Command opened negotiations with the Americans (under the impression that they would deal more leniently with them).
Nick intrigued his audience with the story of this battle, and of the Canadian victory at Mont Houy near Valenciennes, when one Canadian brigade advanced against three German brigades supported by one of the most intensive artillery barrages of the war. During the attack, seven tons of high explosive were fired every minute along a front of less than 2 miles.
The interest provoked by the talk was reflected in one of the longest question and answer sessions in recent memory.