The Last 100 Days

 

 

 

The Last One Hundred Days of the War

 

 

 

August 8, 2018 marked the centenary of the opening day of the Battle of Amiens, the first action of the 100-day offensive that brought an end the stalemate of trench warfare and ultimately led to the end of the Great War. It is a battle that is now almost forgotten, overshadowed by the battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, names now synonymous with the carnage of the Western Front.

 

In 1928, ten years after the beginning of this momentous battle, Henry Williamson was asked by the Daily Express to write a series of articles to mark 'the principal events of the last hundred days of the war'. Williamson's name had news appeal in 1928: Tarka the Otter has been published the year before to critical acclaim, and just two months previously, in June 1928, he had been awarded the Hawthornden Prize.

 

Nine articles were published, but there were also three that for some reason remained unpublished. They make remarkable reading, and are given an immediacy that is effective even now, for Williamson, unusually, wrote them in the style of reportage.

 

To mark the centenary, the Henry Williamson Society is making these all articles available on the anniversary of their date.The first (unpublished) article is dated August 8, 1918, and the corrected typescript is shown below.

 

The first published article, 'The Last 100 Days', headed August 11, 1918, was printed on August 11, 1928 and can be read here from August 11, 2018. 

 

Dates of the the complete articles are:

 

August 8, 1918: 'The Last Hundred Days of the War' (unpublished typescript)

 

August 11, 1918: 'The Last 100 Days' (Daily Express, August 11, 1928)

 

August 18, 1918: 'With the 4th Army' (Daily Express, August 18, 1928)

 

August 21, 1918: 'The Last Hundred Days' (unpublished manuscript)

 

August 23, 1918: 'Tanks in Action' (Daily Express, August 23, 1928)

 

August 27, 1918: 'Last Hundred Days' (unpublished manuscript)

 

September 1, 1918: 'So why fight on?' (Daily Express, September 1, 1928)

 

September 26, 1918: 'Breaking through . . .' (Daily Express, September 26, 1928)

 

September 29, 1918: 'We break through the Line' (Daily Express, September 29, 1928)

 

October 27, 1918: 'Towards the armistice' (Daily Express, October 27, 1928)

 

October 31, 1918: 'Sick of the war . . .'(Daily Express, October 31, 1928)

 

November 4, 1918: 'There is talk of peace . . .' (Daily Express, November 3, 1928)

 

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August 8, 1918:

 

 

100days August8a

 

100days August8b

 

 

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August 11, 1918:

 

 

100days August11

 

 

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August 18, 1918:

 

100days August18

 

 

This is the first (and only surviving) page of the draft manuscript for the above article (they were numbered by HW in sequence, so that this is the third written although the second to be published):

 

 

100days August18MS

 

 

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August 21, 1918:

 

This article remained unpublished, though, like the first, it is not known why. HW's handwriting not being the easiest to read, the manuscript below is followed by two transcripts: the first shows the crossings out, while the second is an easier-to-read revised text.

 

 

100days August21a

 

100days August21b

 

 

Transcript:

 

4th article

 

The Last Hundred Days

 

21 August, 1918.

 

Today the 3rd Army has planned to launch an attack to the north of the Ancre with the object of getting within striking distance of the main enemy defensive position which is to be assaulted in two days time.

 

From eight o’clock onwards until the previous night until 2 a.m. this morning, the troops infantry have been assembling on the tape-lines, the tanks waiting at their jumping-off points, the guns gunners working out the “lifts”of the barrage, the airplanes testing engines and machine guns ‒ for the attack on the enemy position along the twenty odd miles of the Albert‒Arras railway.

 

At 4.55 a.m. hours the sky above the chill white ground mist bubbled and roared with light, troops the infantry rose up & moved slowly forward at the arranged rate of 100 yards every th 3 minutes, and the tanks began to churn their way forward into the enemy barrage counter-barrage and hissing criss-cross fire of hundreds of machine guns. The mist hid everything within from sight outside three or four yards, for until nearly 11 hours (i.e. 11 a.m.).

 

The front line was taken so easily that it was realised the enemy reserves were being kept for strong counter-attacks behind a lightly-held outpost line. The field enemy guns were scanty, too: obviously they had been withdrawn.

 

Very suddenly, at 11 hours, the mist lifted thinned & vanished, revealing to our men the Arras‒Albert railway line. It proved to have been prepared as the enemy’s main defence, being commanded at point-blank range by the many field-guns; & all places that tanks could cross – where the line lay level, neither embanked

 

[MS p. 2]

 

nor laid in a cutting in the chalk – were not only carefully registered, but were blocked with by concrete and anti-tank stockades made of the well-known Hindenburg-line pattern ‒ a lengths of rail emb set close together & rising diagonally out of huge concrete blocks.

 

Immediately At once whirlwinds of fire & earth centred about the tanks, & within a few minutes thirty seven tanks were burst smashed & on fire in flames. Aeroplane But if the German gunners could at last see the tanks, the British ’planes could see the gunners, & dive at them with bomb & machine-gun fire.

 

The fight continued d lasted until the afternoon, when many of the tanks’ crews became unconscious and memory-losing in the great heat; which caused and in others the ammunition to swelled & jammed in the guns, sometimes exploding. Steering wheels were unbearably burned the hands, & were unholdable. owing to

 

By nightfall the line of the railway was gained all almost entirely, with several villages & 2000 prisoners; and preparations for the main attack of on 23rd were being sped across hastened all roads & tracks were thick with preparation men and mules & engines for the main assault in two days time.

 

 

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Revised transcript:

 

4th article

 

The Last Hundred Days

 

21 August, 1918.

 

From eight o’clock onwards the previous night until 2 a.m. this morning, the infantry have been assembling on the tape-lines, the tanks waiting at their jumping-off points, the gunners working out the “lifts”of the barrage, the airplanes testing engines and machine guns ‒ for the attack on the enemy position along the twenty odd miles of the Albert‒Arras railway.

 

At 4.55 hours the sky above the chill white ground mist bubbled and roared with light, the infantry rose up & moved slowly forward at the arranged rate of 100 yards every 3 minutes, and the tanks began to churn their way forward into the enemy counter-barrage and hissing criss-cross fire of hundreds of machine guns. The mist hid everything from sight outside three or four yards, until nearly 11 hours (i.e. 11 a.m.).

 

The front line was taken so easily that it was realised the enemy reserves were being kept for strong counter-attacks behind a lightly-held outpost line. The enemy guns were scanty, too: obviously they had been withdrawn.

 

Very suddenly, at 11 hours, the mist thinned & vanished, revealing to our men the Arras‒Albert railway line. It proved to have been prepared as the enemy’s main defence, being commanded at point-blank range by many field-guns; & all places that tanks could cross – where the line lay level, neither embanked

 

[MS p. 2]

 

nor laid in a cutting in the chalk – were not only carefully registered, but were blocked by anti-tank stockades of the well-known Hindenburg-line pattern ‒ lengths of rail set close together & rising diagonally out of huge concrete blocks.

 

At once whirlwinds of fire & earth centred about the tanks, & within a few minutes thirty seven tanks were smashed & in flames. But if the German gunners could at last see the tanks, the British ’planes could see the gunners, & dive at them with bomb & machine-gun fire.

 

The fight lasted until the afternoon, when many of the tanks’ crews became unconscious and memory-losing in the great heat; and in others the ammunition swelled & jammed in the guns, sometimes exploding. Steering wheels burned the hands, & were unholdable.

 

By nightfall the line of the railway was gained almost entirely, with several villages & 2000 prisoners; and all roads & tracks were thick with men and mules & engines for the main assault in two days time.

 

 

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 August 23, 1918:

 

 

 100days August23

 

 

This is the first (and only surviving) page of the manuscript for the above article:

 

 

100days August23 MS

 

 

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August 27, 1918

 

This article too was unpublished, though, like the other two, it is not known why. Only the first page of the heavily revised manuscript survives. HW's handwriting not being the easiest to read, the page below is followed by two transcripts: the first shows the crossings out, while the second is an easier-to-read revised text.

 

 

100days August27 MS

 

 

Transcript:

 

6th article  

 

Last Hundred Days

 

27 August 1918

 

Tonight the Germans continue their withdrawal to fa Today the German Army Group shaken commanded by Von Boehm, shaken by cease[less] Allied attacks continue their withdrawal from their old battlefields of the Somme giving up, under the ceaseless British & French Allied attacks, ground which down south, on the old 1916 battlefields – land which, two years ago, was behind heaved up and raked over, again & again known as the “Blood Bath of the Somme” – [.] At night the eastern sky battlefields are strangely quiet at night The night is strangely quiet: only the occasional crack of a sniper’s intermittent pop of a sentry’s rifle, and the stuttering bursts of machine gun fire in the wilderness. There is no regular line of flares soaring up, to drift down slowly, spreading a pallid greenish wavering light as they fall; there are no gun flashes on below the horizon, no chromatic whining of & buzzing of heavy shells. Jerry is ‘pulling out’, leaving rearguards in the among the long grass & the rusty wire to fire move up and down and fire [crossed out word not decipherable, possibly ‘rifles’] from many points, to give the impression that his trenches are fully held.

 

The rose col ruddy glow eastern sky is lit a glow with ruddy in the direction of Bapaume and Peronne is lit up with a the ruddy glow which is seen to of burning dumps. Sometimes the glow a tawny stain spreads to the zenith, to sink as to hang seeming to hang and tremble in the sky before sinking down, & rising again. Twenty, thirty, forty seconds afterwards come the dull rumbles of shells exploding miles away. The enemy is going far, falling back on the general line Quéant – east of Bapaume Bois de Havrincourt (Old “Mossy Face Wood” of the old Flying Corps, owing to its resemblance, from the air, to the ace of spades) – east of Peronne – Hav …

 

 

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Revised transcript:

 

6th article 

 

Last Hundred Days

 

27 August 1918

 

Today the German Army Group commanded by Von Boehm, shaken by cease[less] Allied attacks continue their withdrawal down south, on the old 1916 battlefields – land which, two years ago, was known as the “Blood Bath of the Somme” – [.] The night is strangely quiet: only the intermittent pop of a sentry’s rifle, and stuttering bursts of machine gun fire in the wilderness. There is no regular line of flares soaring up, to drift down slowly, spreading a pallid greenish wavering light as they fall; there are no gun flashes below the horizon, no chromatic whining & buzzing of heavy shells. Jerry is ‘pulling out’, leaving rearguards among the long grass & the rusty wire to move up and down and fire [crossed out word not decipherable, possibly ‘rifles’] from many points, to give the impression that his trenches are fully held.

 

The eastern sky in the direction of Bapaume and Peronne is lit up with the ruddy glow of burning dumps. Sometimes a tawny stain spreads to the zenith, seeming to hang and tremble in the sky before sinking down, & rising again. Twenty, thirty, forty seconds afterwards come the dull rumbles of shells exploding miles away. The enemy is going far, falling back on the general line Quéant–Bois de Havrincourt (“Mossy Face Wood” of the old Flying Corps, owing to its resemblance, from the air, to the ace of spades) – east of Peronne – Hav …

 

 

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September 1, 1918

 

 

100Days September1

 

 

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September 26, 1918:

 

 

100days September26

 

 

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September 29, 1918:

 

 

100days September29

 

 

 

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October 27, 1918:

 

 

100days October27

 

 

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October 31, 1918:

 

 

100days October31

 

 

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November 4, 1918: 

 

 

100days November4

 

 

 

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