After the culmination of the Battle of the Somme, troops on the Western Front dug in for an icy cold winter. The sub-zero temperatures froze food, drink, blankets and clothes: many men suffered from frostbite and trench foot. Shelling continued throughout the arctic weather conditions.
Fonquevillers (known to the troops as Funky Villas) became the headquarters for the 46th Division in June 1916. After suffering appalling casualties on July 1st 1916, the division stayed in the sector during the harsh winter months and continued to experience losses.
January 24th 1917, Fonquevillers. Death of Private 4368 John Vellam Stafford, 8th Bn., Sherwood Foresters, 139th Brigade, 46th Division. He lived at The Green, Radcliffe on Trent and was killed, age 19, near Fonquevillers village, 18 km S.W. of Arras.
The Hindenberg line was built by the Germans during the winter and stretched from Arras to the Aisne. The Germans carried out a strategic withdrawal to the line from March 14th – April 5th 1917, destroying everything behind them, to form a more powerful defensive position.
The Canadian Field Artillery, 2nd Division, was fighting north-west of Arras in early March, in the vicinity of Bruay.
March 18th 1917, Le Treport. Death of Driver William Roberts, Ammunition Column, Canadian Field Artillery, 2nd Division. He had been a regular soldier in the past and his mother lived in Radcliffe. He emigrated to Canada in 1911 and died, age 41, in a military hospital at Le Treport, near Dieppe.
Battle of Arras, France
April 9th – May 16th 1917
The Battle of Arras was a combined British and Commonwealth offensive involving troops from Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Newfoundland and Australia. The troops attacked German defences near the city of Arras. Major gains on the first day were followed by stalemate. First, Third and Fifth Armies were present. The outstanding success of the battle was the capture of Vimy Ridge by four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force whose well planned strategy enabled them to take the high ground.
Canadians returning from action at Vimy Ridge. From Library and Archives Canada, image PA001270
April 28th 1917, Arras. 2nd Lieutenant Percy Cox, 25th Bn. (Tyneside Irish) Northumberland Fusiliers, 103rd Brigade, 34th Division, was killed near Arras, age 21. He was from Chestnut Grove, Radcliffe. The 25th Battalion were involved in the fierce Battle of Arleux from 28th–29th April which involved repeated counter-attacks by the Germans and great losses.
An unofficial report dated April 28th 1917 from Corporal W.A.P. Rogers describes how Percy Cox met his death:
He was my M/G officer. You never met a finer man. He was of medium height but well built. On April 28th during the fighting I had one L/G team in a shell hole and on my left we had another gun. The Lieut. had given some instructions to the team on my left and as I saw him running towards me I stopped firing. About half way between he was hit in the neck and killed on the spot. There were snipers, fixed rifles and M/G everywhere . It could not have been hotter, As the attack was not a success, Mr. Cox would be left. This was on the left of the chemical works, Arras. Corporal Rogers 47048, Northumberland Fusiliers, 25.C., L. Gun school, 3.8.1917, Etaples (source Percy Cox’s service records held at the National Archives).