Battle of Cambrai
16 RIR working on Canal du Nord Tank Crossing
16th Btn. Royal Irish Rifles - Pioneers.
Defence was not allowed to dominate the British High Command and November saw the start of planning for an attack on Cambrai and for the Pioneers a move to road work in both improving existing and preparing new roads to help move attacking forces forward.
No. 3 Company started work on the Metz to Havrincourt Road.
No. 4 Company on the Metz to Trescault road,
No. 2 Company on the road from Hermies
Most of No. 1 Company went to work on Slag Heap to Windy Corner road.
In preparation for the attack the following moves took place.
No. 4 Company moved from Metz to Havrincourt Wood.
Nos. 1, 2 and 3 Companies moved to a tented area near the beetroot factory in Metz and Headquarters moved to Harvincourt Wood.
The Battle of Cambrai – 20th November 1917.
For this battle the 36th Ulster Division along with the 51st (Highland), 56th and 62nd Divisions were part of IV Corps. The Corps objectives were to secure the capture of the Bapaume to Cambrai road and the possible capture of Bourlon Wood. The 51st Division were on the right, with the 62nd division in the centre and the 36th Division on the left with the task of advancing east of the Canal du Nord and seizing crossings at Moeuvres.
Battle commenced at 0620 on the 20th November with the pioneers, under Corps directions situated on the right supporting the 51st Highland Division tasked with constructing a 20ft wide track for cavalry use to Ribecourt and repair/improvement of the road to Ribecourt for use by lorries. This work was to be carried out in conjunction with the Divisional Engineers. Following clearance of the track, the working parties were to divide and provide round the clock operations.
At 0950 all companies moved forward. 1 and 2 Companies to commence the work allotted to them, 3 and 4 Companies to the rear of Trescault to await the opportunity to start their work which was possible from 1030. The Track was completed within two hours as scheduled, but enemy action prevented its planned usage.
Roadwork continued throughout the day despite enemy shelling. On the 21st the Highland Division made further ground leaving the Pioneers clear of artillery range and better progress was made. With the road now being used by lorries, the Pioneers were moved to a camp north of the cemetery near Hermies on the morning of the 23rd November.
On the left side of the battle line, the 36th Division had not been doing so well and with the weather worsening the Pioneers were moved to provide much needed support. Once again the opening and repair of roads were tasked. By the 23rd November the Division was at the outskirts of Moeuvres and on the night of 23/24th causeways were completed across the Canal.
The 36th Division were relieved by the 2nd Division on the 25th November but as usual the Pioneers had to stay in their positions to support the new Division.
The Germans had begun to recover and their response was now more effective so the Pioneers were diverted to strengthening wiring and building strong points for defensive purposes.
1st November Officers 41 Other ranks 789
30th November Officers 40 Other ranks 944
Other ranks 1 killed 2 wounded