Prisoners rounded up by Canadian Cavalry. Battle of Amiens. 9 August, 1918. Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002928
The goal of the attack on Amiens was to recapture an important rail junction that had been taken by the German army in their spring offensive. Preparations were made in secret, and there was no artillery barrage before the start time of the battle. The Canadians in the south, and the Australians in the north would attack side by side.
At 4:20 AM over 2,000 artillery pieces fired at once, some on registered enemy strong points, some at enemy artillery, and still others in a creeping barrage. At the sound of the guns the Canadians advanced, supported by 168 Mark V tanks. The Canadians made good time, advancing quickly to the suburbs of Amiens. At exactly 6:23 AM, the artillery barrage lifted on Amiens and the Canadians attacked the city itself, taking it after bitter house-to-house fighting.
With the support of tanks, artillery, captured enemy guns, and even tactical air support, the infantry bounded forward. The attack on Amiens was a truly modern combined arms attack. When one unit made it to its objective another unit was close behind to bound forward and continue the attack. When the tanks were disabled and the artillery was out of range, the infantry used fire and movement tactics to pin down defending German troops. By the evening of August 8, the Canadians and Australians had advanced 13 kilometres, their greatest single day victory of the war. After the war, German General Erich Ludendorff wrote, ‘August 8th was the black day of the German Army in the history of the war.’
When all was said and done, the Allies advanced nearly 24 kilometres and took 30,000 prisoners between August 8 and 14. The Canadians themselves had fought parts of 4 different divisions, capturing 9,300 prisoners. Three whole divisions had been destroyed and were written off the books by the end of the month. The gains had been costly, however, and of the 102,000 Canadians involved at Amiens, 11,822 had been killed or wounded.
A captured German briefing document from the summer of 1918 read, ‘The Canadian Corps, magnificently equipped and highly trained in storm tactics, may be expected to appear shortly in offensive operations.’ By 1918, victories at Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, and especially Passchendaele, had gained the Canadian Corps the hard-earned reputation of being the ‘Shock Troops of the British Empire.’
From August 8 until the end of fighting on November 11, the Canadian Corps, along with French, British, American, Commonwealth, and Belgian forces, scored a series of victories that delivered the knockout blow to the German Army. This quick series of victories became known as the 100 Days Offensive, marking the end of trench warfare, and the return of mobile battlefields with a fluid front.
Having just turned 17, Billy Alcock enlisted in Kenora on November 12, 1915. Born in Rat Portage (Kenora), he was the son of George and Emma Alcock who farmed in nearby Jaffray.
Underage, Billy went overseas with the 94th Battalion, later transferring to the 52nd. On December 19, 1917 he was awarded the Military Medal for ‘through incessant artillery and machine gun barrage… successfully delivering despatches of the utmost value to Headquarters’ at Passchendaele. Word of mouth from a veteran, the ‘despatches’ were grenades, delivered by Billy in what was considered a suicide mission.
Gassed at Amiens on August 8, 1918, resulting in lung damage and thus ending his service overseas, Billy returned to Kenora only to be killed in an accident at the local mill in 1924.
Known as the ‘Kenora Kids’, Harry and his friend Albert Bull, trained at Camp Hughes before going overseas with the 203rd Battalion in October of 1916. Both lads were later transferred to the 44th Battalion. Born in Liverpool, Harry had immigrated to Kenora with his parents and siblings in 1908.
Following the Battle of Amiens, Harry, resting with his Company in the trenches near Rosieres, was hit on the forehead and killed instantly by a fragment from an exploding enemy shell. With no known grave, his name is inscribed on the ramparts of the Vimy Memorial. Also listed on the memorial is buddy Albert Bull, missing and presumed dead in May 1917.
Less than three months later, Harry’s brother John died of his wounds, a terrible price of victory paid by this family.
Harold Howell Hilliard was born November 26, 1889 in Rat Portage (Kenora), Ontario. His father was Louis Hilliard, who ran the Hilliard Hotel and Hilliard Opera House.
Hilliard enlisted with the 52nd Battalion in Kenora on June 7, 1915 and arrived in France in February 1916. Hilliard battled illness in France and bounced between the front lines and the hospital.
The final time he joined his unit was in August, 1918. Hilliard was killed by enemy shell fire in the vicinity of Hourges just before ‘jumping off’ to attack Dodo Wood. From the Diary for the 52nd Battalion: ‘Zero hour was at 4:20 AM and very soon after, the Battalion commenced to move forward through a very heavy enemy barrage…. During the attack the Battalion’s casualties were, unfortunately, fairly heavy.’
Harold Howell Hilliard is buried in the Hourges Orchard Cemetery in Domart sur la Luce, Somme, France.