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2nd Dragoons (The Royal Scots Greys) and the Battle of Arras (9 April – 16 May 1917)

By April 13, 2017 History No Comments
[2nd Dragoons (The Royal Scots Greys) near Brimeux, May 1918. Although dating from 1918, this photograph displays the Greys much as they would have appeared in April 1917. G358.]
[2nd Dragoons (The Royal Scots Greys) near Brimeux, May 1918. Although dating from 1918, this photograph displays the Greys much as they would have appeared in April 1917. G358.]

For the 2nd Dragoons (The Royal Scots Greys) the Battle of Arras involved great hardship for both men and horses, from the enemy and the weather. Arras would also be where the Greys showed how adaptable they could be in their dual role of mounted cavalry and infantry.

At 9.30am on 9 April, some four hours after the British had begun the offensive, the 5th Cavalry Brigade (2nd Dragoons, 12th Lancers and 20th Hussars) marched off from Grincourt-les-Pas ‘principally at the trot’, with the Greys taking the lead.1 After a march of some 18 miles, the Brigade reached Ronville, a suburb of Arras, and its first position of readiness.2 From here, the Brigade followed the ‘cavalry track’ to ‘The Harp’, a network of trenches only recently taken from the Germans and about half a mile south of Tilloy-les-Mofflaines.3 As the Brigade moved on to the high ground immediately beyond Tilloy, several German shells fell upon them, the first killing two of the Greys’ horses and wounding four men.4 The soldiers and horses of the Brigade then had to wait, seeking such cover as they could manage to find from the deadly rain of shells falling about them.5 After waiting for the remainder of the day to be called into action, it was not until 11pm that the Brigade was ordered to billets at Wailly, about four miles south of Arras.6 Over the course of 9 April, the Brigade had covered about 25 miles without water and the horses had been saddled-up for 19 hours.7

At 9am on 10 April, the 5th Cavalry Brigade stood-to at an hour’s notice to move.8 Although it was the day after Easter Monday, the weather was anything but spring-like. It was very cold and heavy snowstorms were buffeting the men in the midst of the Arras offensive.At 1pm, the Brigade finally moved off at great pace via Ronville and the ‘cavalry track’ to ‘The Harp’, arriving there at 3.45pm.10 At about 5pm, the Brigade received orders to move to its second position of readiness, about one mile north-west of Wancourt, and at the same time to send out patrols to make contact with British infantry in the trenches.11 The Greys were now close to the German lines and the three patrols dispatched came under heavy fire, with the officers of two of them (Lieutenants Lawson-Johnston and Filmer) being hit.12 The third patrol, under Lieutenant Lance Ernest Cecil Dale-Lace, succeeded in making contact, with Dale-Lace reaching 2nd Bn., The Royal Scots in 3rd Infantry Division.13 Not much information could be garnered from The Royal Scots so Lieutenant Dale-Lace pushed on further down the trench towards Wancourt where he made contact with 7th Rifle Brigade in 41st Brigade, 14th Division.14 The battalion had been forced to retire, owing to Wancourt still being in the hands of the enemy, when attempting to take a position north-east of the town.15 Lieutenant Dale-Lace was able to send back information to 5th Cavalry Brigade of the situation regarding Wancourt, including machine-gun and artillery positions.16 As a result, when the Brigade came over the high ground between Tilloy-les-Mofflaines and Wancourt, the three regiments were ordered into line of columns of troops and rode onward at the gallop, suffering few casualties and few horses being hit.17 Fortunately, at the moment of the advance of 5th Cavalry Brigade, a heavy snowstorm began and partially concealed the mounted regiments, though at the same time making it difficult for the officers to keep control of the situation.18 The Brigade made it to its objective, dismounting and taking up positions within shell holes, with the horses distributed into groups of four to six and sent to the rear. The Regiment was located 150 yards from the British infantry who were about 200 yards from the enemy.19

During the night of 10/11 April there was almost constant shelling, causing high casualties throughout the Brigade.20 It was during this night, which he spent tending the wounded, that Captain Walter Elliot Elliot, Royal Army Medical Corps (Special Reserve) attached to the Greys, earned the award of his Military Cross.21

Lieutenant Dale-Lace was still with the 7th Rifle Brigade and was continuing to report to the 5th Cavalry Brigade despite being subjected to sustained enemy fire.22 Lieutenant-Colonel William Fellowes Collins of the Greys sent four Hotchkiss light machine-guns from the Regiment to support 3rd Infantry Division, in case the Germans should launch a counter-attack.23

At dawn on 11 April, German shell-fire became even more intense, leading to further casualties being sustained.24 Fortunately, at 7am the Greys were ordered to withdraw as British artillery was to lay down a barrage to the west of Wancourt.25 The Regiment made its way first to Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, then to ‘The Harp’ and finally, after a further two hour march, it arrived back at its billets at Wailly.26

The horses had been saddled for 28 hours, during that time receiving only two very small feeds.27 The horses had also gone without water from the morning of 10 April to the evening of 11 April.28 The toll on the horses was great: over the three days 9-11 April, 56 were killed, 6 were missing, 23 were wounded and 31 died from exhaustion or had to be destroyed – a total of 116 casualties. Over the next several days a further 39 would die or have to be sent away to the base.29 For the three days 9 April – 11 April, the casualties in men for the Regiment were 2 officers and 26 other ranks killed or wounded.30

After 12 April the Greys played no further part in the Battle of Arras, instead taking up billets at Lucheux on 16 April before moving up to Havernas on 10 May on their way to the Somme and into bivouac just north-west of Hamel.31 Here the Regiment formed a complete dismounted battalion of three squadrons of 100 men each, to take position in the trenches as and when required.32

For its involvement in the Battle of Arras, the 2nd Dragoons (The Royal Scots Greys) was awarded the battle honours ‘ARRAS 1917’ and ‘SCARPE 1917’: the former honour is borne today on the standard of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.33

Written by Paul Newman – Assistant Curator

  1. Bickersteth, p.55, and Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  2. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  3. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  4. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  5. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  6. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  7. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  8. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  9. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  10. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  11. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106.
  12. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.106-107.
  13. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.107, and ARRAS APRIL-MAY 1917.
  14. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.107.
  15. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.107.
  16. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.107.
  17. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.107.
  18. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.107.
  19. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.107-108.
  20. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.108.
  21. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.108.
  22. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.108.
  23. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.108.
  24. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.108.
  25. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.108.
  26. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.108-109.
  27. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.109.
  28. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.109.
  29. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.109.
  30. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.109.
  31. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.109-113.
  32. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.113.
  33. Hardy, S.J.. et al, p.180, and 1971 standard of SCOTSDG.

Sources of information
– Bickersteth, Lieutenant J.B., History of the 6th Cavalry Brigade 1914-1918. (Phillips & Co., Limited, London, 1920).
– Hardy, S. J.. et al, History of The Royal Scots Greys (The Second Dragoons) August 1914-March 1919 (no publisher’s details, 1928).
ARRAS APRIL-MAY 1917, (the website of The Royal Scots Museum, 2017). Available from: http://www.theroyalscots.co.uk/823-2/
– 1971 standard of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. The Regimental Museum of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards.