Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery
You are now in the Faubourg d’Amiens Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. During the First World War this was a working cemetery, right next to the citadel of Arras - the original defensive system designed in the 17th century by Vauban. What is fascinating about this cemetery is that if you go to the far end, to your right, and work your way forward, you can trace the chronological loss of the 26 New Zealand tunnellers and those who were assisting the tunnellers throughout the war. You can start at the earliest death recorded here and work your way through, assessing what was happening when each man was killed.
Even though the New Zealand Tunnelling Company was one of the smallest units, and not working as part of the New Zealand Division, these 400 men played a major role - with the tunnels they developed, which is recorded both in La Carrière Wellington and here in this cemetery. In a sense, what we’re seeing here is technology evolving through warfare. In the case of the tunnellers it’s old technology.
But over Arras you also had the Royal Flying Corps, going head-to-head with the Imperial German Air Force - which was completely new technology. Aircraft were increasingly used in combat, and progressed from being used for reconnaissance into deadly fighting machines - as the battle for dominance in the skies escalated.
Air attacks began with the pilots dropping medieval-type steel darts, known as flechettes, from above, and then more modern, hand-held bombs. Pilots were first armed with pistols - for shooting at enemy aircraft. But as all-out aerial warfare developed, machine guns were fitted and interrupter gear - allowing for firing between the propeller - was introduced. Newly fitted with automatic weaponry, fighter aircraft would swoop down through the air and directly attack artillery horses, supply columns and infantry on the move.
Dominance of the sky became increasingly important. This became the age of the flying ace, with those who shot down five aircraft earning the prestigious title of ‘Ace’. New planes with experimental designs were constantly being created, and the weapons and tactics changed with them. ‘Fighter’ planes evolved for speed and manoeuvrability, while ‘bombers’ were produced for flying long distances and delivering larger bomb payloads. Germany began bombing over Britain and the Western Front with zeppelin airships and Gotha Bombers, and the Allies soon retaliated.
Here, in Arras, is where this new technology came to a head in the month of April 1917 and it became known as ‘Bloody April’. The Royal Flying Corps met the Imperial German Air Force for the first time in large numbers. They concentrated 25 of their squadrons, totalling around 365 aircraft. But the Germans were too good. Their superior aircraft, tactics and leadership including that of the ace, Manfred von Richthofen - the ‘Red Baron’ - led to many British casualties. They lost 245 aircraft and 211 aircrew killed or missing during that fatal month.
To a New Zealander in the trenches, flying an aeroplane through the skies represented a chance to escape the misery and boredom of life below. Many New Zealanders who served as infantry applied to join the Royal Flying Corps and were accepted. They created a name for themselves, and pilots like Keith Park became both an air ace and a squadron leader on the Western Front. During 1917 he was based in La Basseville, near Arras, with the 48th Squadron. Park went on to be a major figure in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and played a key role in the Battle of Britain.
There is also George Masters, who served at Gallipoli, before joining the Pioneer Battalion on the Western Front. In 1916 he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps as an observer. He flew in the front seat of an R.F.C. Farman Experimental Two, manning a Lewis Gun and spotting troop movements and artillery positions. He was shot down in March 1917 and survived, but the following month he was shot down again and his body was never recovered. His is one of two New Zealand names on the Arras Flying Services Memorial. This memorial commemorates those who served with the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force during the First World War. And - this area of Arras, these skies above you, and the caverns and tunnels underneath, saw much fighting. They also saw the methods and instruments of war develop in ways that had not been imagined in 1914.