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The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Part 3.—Concluding Stage

Part 3.—Concluding Stage.

1st Brigade five miles to the east of Le Quesnoy by the evening of November 4th—2nd Brigade troops pass through and advance a further four miles, November 5th—New Zealand Division relieved—The Division's recent achievements—General advance continued—Maubeuge taken, November 9th—Canadians take Mons, early morning, November 11th—The Armistice, 11 a.m., November 11th, 1918.

The advance of the 1st Brigade, followed by the 2nd, had continued methodically throughout the day, all resistance being quickly overcome, and by evening these troops were five miles east of Le Quesnoy. Taken altogether the 4th of November was probably the most successful day for the New Zealand Division during the war. There had been a total advance of six miles; in addition to Le Quesnoy, the villages of Ramponeau, Villereau, Potelle and Herbignies had been taken; and the captures included nearly 2,000 prisoners, sixty field-guns, and several hundred machine-guns.

At daybreak on the 5th, the 2nd Brigade passed through the outpost line of the 1st Brigade and continued the advance through the Mormal Forest, the troops fighting their way from tree to tree until eventually, when night fell, they established the line along its north-eastern fringe, having by this time covered four miles of difficult country.

So far as the infantry were concerned this was the New Zealand Division's last fight. Towards midnight the 42nd Division commenced to take over the sector from our three Brigades, but the artillery, remaining in line to cover the relieving Division, did not return till the 11th.

The achievements of the 4th and 5th of November constituted a fitting crown to the New Zealanders' record of activity during the great advance to victory. Between August 21st and November 5th the Division had captured nearly 9,000 page 466prisoners, 145 guns, 3 tanks and 1,263 machine-guns, besides vast quantities of other war material; and of the total advance of 56 miles on the Corps' front, commencing with the thrust in front of Hebuterne in the middle of July, its troops had fought through no less than 49 miles.

The enemy now began to fall back at all points of the line; and throughout the following days the British infantry and cavalry pressed forward with scarcely a check, maintaining always close touch with the rapidly retreating Germans. On November 7th the outskirts of Maubeuge* were reached, and that city was entered by the Guards and the 62nd Division on the 9th. The Canadians were approaching Mons, in the neighbourhood of which the enemy was offering strong opposition; but early on the morning of November 11th that historic town fell to the Canadian Division, the whole defending force being either killed or taken prisoner. This, the last engagement of the war, was fought on almost precisely the same site as that battle in which the "Old Contemptibles" first impressed upon the Germans the fact, afterwards repeatedly emphasized and now completely demonstrated, that to prosecute ambitious plans of conquest and subjugation without reckoning on the spirit with which the British people are instinct is a policy fraught with danger, short-sighted in the extreme, and indicating a total disregard of those lessons which stand out clearly from the pages of the nation's history.

At 11 a.m. on November 11th hostilities were suspended.

"The military situation on the British front at that hour can be stated very shortly. In the fighting since November 1st our troops had broken the enemy's resistance beyond possibility of recovery, and had forced on him a disorderly retreat along the whole front of the British Armies. Hereafter, the enemy was capable neither of accepting nor of refusing battle. The utter confusion of his troops, the state of his railways, congested as they were with abandoned trains, the capture of huge quantities of rolling stock and material, all showed that our attack had been decisive. It had been followed on the north by the evacuation of the Tournai salient, and to the south, where the French forces had pushed forward in conjunction with us, by a rapid and costly withdrawal to

* See p. 343.

page 467the line of the Meuse. The strategic plan of the Allies had been realized with a completeness rarely seen in war. When the armistice was signed by the enemy his defensive powers had already been definitely destroyed. A continuance of hostilities could only have meant disaster to the German Armies, and the armed invasion of Germany."*

* Sir Douglas Haig's Despatches.