Arras 1917 & 1918

London Boys, Sleep on.

London Boys, sleep on.

“As for comments on Cheerful Sacrifice, I know Jon Nicholls and can’t think of anyone alive who knows more about the fighting at Arras than him. He is also great fun to visit the Arras battlefields with”
Jeremy Banning
Historian, Author and Battlefield Guide,
Great War Forum 2009

Jon says,
“I met an old soldier called Bill Hay in 1978 in West End Lane London, when ‘on patrol’. He had served with the ‘Dandy Ninth’ (Royal Scots) during the Great War. He told me about a mysterious place called the ‘Chemical Works’ at Roeux, where his battalion had been decimated and he lost all his chums. This was the Battle of Arras 1917. ‘Scotland’s pride and Scotland’s mourning’. I was determined to find out more and advertised in the very first edition of ‘Stand To’ – the Journal of the fledgling, Western Front Association for soldiers who had fought in that battle to contact me. I heard from around 30 within a month!  I therefore followed this up with letters to Daily & Provincial papers and ended up with over 300! This led to letters to Canadian, South African & German newspapers, which brought in more contacts. Cheerful Sacrifice was born. I wish I knew then what I know now about the battlefields. Leo Cooper was the first publisher to read it and he took it immediately. The book was far too long and I had to cut it in half. Hence the  criticism that there was ‘no analysis of the battle’ and ‘not enough about Bullecourt’, because all that is in the bin. I now have a permanent base in Arras. I have walked and cycled the Arras battlefields too, which are practically unchanged.  The more remote but very beautiful cemeteries, like Cuckoo Passage and The Rookery, are right out on the Hindenburg Line, impassable in winter (unless you have a 4×4) and probably receive less than a dozen visitors a year. The stunning Vimy Ridge of course, which marks Canada’s proudest day, is always busy and attracts thousands of visitors each month. The Arras Tourist Office have done a brilliant job in developing and opening the tunnels at the Wellington Quarry and they really are worth a visit. These have recently been opened thanks to the hard work and ingenuity of the charismatic archeologist, Alain Jaques, Jean-Marie Prestaux (retd) and Isabelle Pilarowski and her enthusiastic young team.  I really love wandering around the little roads, sleepy villages and remote cemeteries of the 1917 and 1918 Arras battlefields and not seeing another soul.  Some of the most beautiful cemeteries on the Western Front are here. The Arras battlefields hide long forgotten stories of heartbreak and gallantry. That too he secret keeps.”