The Ambler

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Futureshock: Stories from the devastated zone

February’s meeting of the Western Front Association was marked by a short re-opening ceremony of the function room at Alnmouth Ex-Servicemen’s Club following its refurbishment by branch members of the WFA and Royal British Legion.

Our speaker, Rob Thompson, gave a short address to mark the occasion before delivering his talk, ‘Futureshock: Stories from the Devastated Zone’.

Operation Alberich, the 1917 German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line is one Rob demonstrated with film, photographs and detailed research, is pivotal to understanding the Allies’ eventual successes in 1918.

The Hindenburg Line formed part of what, then, was a new system of ‘Defence in Depth’ with few actual trench lines rather three zones – Outpost; Battle; and Army – which stretched up to 20 miles in depth.

The need for the Germans to shorten their lines was paramount after the Battles of the Somme andVerdun, so throughout 1917, mainly during March and April, they withdrew from large parts ofArtoisandPicardyfor up to 55 miles leaving in their wake total devastation.

Virtually every building and bridge was destroyed; every road and railway was made unusable; every large tree was felled; every cross-road mined; every well, & the land generally, was poisoned; all able-bodied men and women were removed to forced labour camps leaving the old, sick, disabled and young as a burden on the Allies; and there were enormous numbers of mines, IEDs and booby traps, many with delayed timers.

While they reaped a reward in 1917 the Germans paid a heavy price in 1918. Their Spring Offensives targeted the weakest British sector in the devastated zone which had no strategic military value and in which they sustained enormous casualties – on 21 March 82,000 men were lost, far more than the 60,000 lost by the British on the first day of the Battle of the Somme which is etched so deeply into the British psyche

So, when the tide turned and the Allies moved onto the offensive having learnt from their experiences in 1917, the Germans could do little but retire albeit generally in good order.

Rob hypothesized that far from the 11 November 1918 Armistice being a political decision it was a much more pragmatic one because the Allies could not have continued their offensives and pursuit beyond mid-November without running out of their own lines of supply. He ended by re-emphasising the importance effective and efficient logistics and engineering played in the final victory in 1918.

The WFA’s next talk, on 26 March, will be delivered by Clive Bowery who will relate the story of the 8th Battalion,Durham Light Infantry and the Battles of theLys.

For the 23 April meeting there will be no formal talk rather members and guests will have plenty of opportunities to share their interests and reflections on the First World War.

Held at Alnmouth Ex-Servicemen’s Club, WFA meetings start at 7:30 p.m. for 8:00 p.m. Visitors and new members are always made most welcome. The suggested minimum donation is £1 to include a light buffet supper.

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