One of the most iconic photographs of the Great War is that of the Territorials of 137 (Staffordshire) Brigade lining the eastern bank of the St Quentin Canal while being addressed by their Brigade Commander, Brigadier John Campbell VC, from the rampart of the Riqueval Bridge. Beyond the photographs of mud and slaughter that epitomise what many think of the war, this photograph, taken late in the day on 30 September 1918 – the day after these men had stormed and broken the German defences of the Hindenburg Line – symbolises the victory that was about to be achieved. And this was to be the greatest of victories.
What had been anticipated as another “sacrificial stunt” by the 46th (North Midland) Division, while the Americans and Australians in the north achieved the expected breakthrough, was a stunning success. David Lloyd George, not known for heaping praise on his Army, called this “the greatest chapter in our military history”.
Jim Tanner tells the story of the Brigade’s successful assault, against the odds, within the context of the 46th Division and the wider context of the Allies’ ‘grand offensive’ in the autumn of 1918.