The Battle of Cambrai - Havrincourt



The Battle of Cambrai - Havrincourt


Second Lieut Harry Hartley


Letter, transcript, message pad despatches, items from battalion and brigade war diaries (from National Archives)


Second Lieutenant Hartley served with 2/7th Duke of Wellington’s. Within a few weeks of taking command of his platoon he led it into action on the opening day of the Battle of Cambrai (20th November 1917). The account of this battalion’s experiences on 20-22nd November forms Appendix I to the November War Diary of 2/7th Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment (WO95/3087/2). The War Diary for 186th Infantry Brigade (WO 95/3084/2) also contains maps showing the dispositions of the brigade’s elements for 20th and 25th November. 2/7th Duke of Wellington’s was 62nd Division’s reserve brigade on the morning of 20th November. After 185th brigade had cleared the way to the east of Havrincourt village, 187th Brigade moved northwards along the Hindenburg Support Line to a position west of Bourlon Wood. The War Diary account can now be supplemented and elaborated from materials in Harry Hartley’s possession. B Company’s commander was wounded very early on in the advance so Hartley took command of the company. When he got out of the line and into an encampment in Havrincourt Wood he wrote a euphoric letter to his family recounting the events of the previous day. The letter is faint and fragile, so Michael Berry’s transcription is given here.

This letter is particularly interesting for the absence of any mention of the use of tanks, which was a major feature of the Cambrai plan of attack. It also contains an apparent reference to the killing of Germans who surrendered (not by Hartley’s unit). Furthermore, Hartley retained his copies of the messages he sent to his battalion adjutant. Unfortunately they are not all decipherable, nor did he give the time and date of all them so it is difficult to place them in their correct sequence. Nevertheless they seem to confirm his letter. We will find out in the next post what use Harry would later put these messages to.

Hartley’s battalion was relieved by 185th Brigade, but would soon be back in action at Bourlon Wood.


20-22 November 1917


Havrincourt, Cambrai, France


Michael Berry

Collection Day

City Hall, Bradford (2/2/2019)

This item was submitted on April 8, 2019