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What is the significance of the Monchy-le-Preux Newfoundland Memorial?

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While the population of Newfoundland was about 240,000 in 1914, is known that more than 6,000 men enlisted in the Newfoundland Regiment which served in France, Belgium, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Germany and the United Kingdom during the First World War. The Regiment had gained a solid reputation for its courage and tenacity and one of their best-known engagements during the war was at the village of Monchy-le-Preux, France, where the Newfoundland Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel James Forbes-Robertson, was part of Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig's spring offensive attacking eastward from Arras on a 22-kilometre front. As part of a two-battalion attack launched against Infantry Hill behind a creeping barrage, the Newfoundlanders pressed on to occupy the enemy's forward trenches and were counter-attacked from three sides. Despite heavy losses, they stood firm and held one of the most vital positions on the whole battlefield. The Monchy-le-Preux Newfoundland Memorial is located on the eastern edge of the village and the site for the caribou was carefully chosen by the Regiment for its historical significance. As shown in the photograph, the caribou - an important symbol for Newfoundlanders - stands erect upon the ruins of a German strongpoint and gazes proudly toward Infantry Hill, where ten gallant Newfoundlanders held off massive German counter-attacks on 14 April 1917.

The day's encounter is well described on the commemorative plaque found on site: "This memorial honours the courage and sacrifice of members of the Newfoundland Regiment who, on the morning of April 14, 1917, pressed into a salient that a thin British artillery barrage had created in the German line immediately east of this point. This action led to the first allied encounter with the German "elastic defense in depth", a tactic which, by alternating strong and weak defenses along the front, sought to entrap advancing troops and render artillery barrage ineffective. After advancing to "Infantry Hill", the elevation towards which the caribou faces, the assault troops of Newfoundlanders were cut off by an encircling German counter-attack. The defense of Monchy-Le-Preux was then left to a score of men who had been manning a Battalion Headquarters within the village. Moving forward through streets pounded by German guns in preparation for assault, only ten men were able to make their way to a protected bank of earth just on the village outskirts. From this vantage, these men were able to prevent the enemy from mounting an attack by pinning down the German advance troops within the forward trenches. The ten sustained this defense for four hours until relief troops finally arrived. A British General later declared that, had these ten not held Monchy-Le-Preux, 40,000 lives would have been expended in its recapture. One hundred sixty six (166) men of the Newfoundland Regiment gave their lives in the actions here described, while a further one hundred forty one (141) others were wounded and one hundred fifty three (153) fell into enemy hands. No gains were made, but the experience of the elastic defense in depth ended all plans of staging a small front offensive from Monchy-Le-Preux."

On this day, 14 April 2022, we commemorate the 105th anniversary of the engagement at Monchy-Le-Preux by the Newfoundland Regiment.

André M. Levesque

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