Euston Road Cemetery
You’re standing at Euston Road British Cemetery. With the collapse of Russia in late 1917, the Allies were now anticipating a large enemy offensive. The Germans now had the ability to move 48 divisions from the east, and eight divisions from the Italian front, across to reinforce the Western Front. Finally they were in a position to continue what they couldn’t finish in 1914, a drive, deeper into France - cutting the British and French in half.
Ludendorff prepared for this by taking the cream of the German army and forming them into Stormtrooper Divisions. These stormtroopers would attack in small groups with flamethrowers, bombs and machine guns, coordinated with intense artillery bombardments. Using the element of surprise, and carrying the minimum of kit, and sacks full of potato masher grenades - they were a formidable fighting force.
In late March, the New Zealand Division was called down here to help stop this attack. The Germans were moving along a wide front towards you, and there was a gap in the line that the Allies desperately needed to fill. The New Zealanders came by every form of transport available train, bus, trucks, and on foot. In many cases the battalions had to march 30 or 40 kilometres. To your left on the skyline you can see a church spire - that’s Hebuterne. On the high ground in the distance in front of you, you can see the telegraph pole and a prominent farmhouse on the skyline which is central to this story - La Signy Farm.
Now, if you follow the skyline to the right, you can see a rooftop - that’s the area of the old sugar refinery, and at that junction the road continues down out of sight to Auchonvillers or ‘Oceanvillas’ as the troops called it. That gap between the refinery and Hebuterne was the gap that the New Zealanders were trying to block, and the Germans were heading towards where you stand now - coming towards the New Zealanders.
The British had been trying to stem the advance of the Germans, but were falling back all along the line and the Germans were climbing up the slopes of the Ancre valley which is beyond La Signy Farm. The New Zealanders were initially positioned at Auchonvillers as a covering force, and then they were sent up where they met the first of the German elements coming across their front. There was sporadic fighting and the New Zealanders seized and held the refinery area, forming a defensive block, stopping the Germans moving to the right. They then pushed forward, in the area of the church spire, to your left - which is Hebuterne, and they also got up the road to Euston junction, in front of you, but stopped there, as their path was blocked by German machine guns.
The Australians went in and took Hebuterne, but the New Zealanders were needed to hold and fill the line here. On 27 March, the Canterbury Battalion attacked, and quickly advanced to their objectives, along the road between Colincamps and Hebuterne.
Fighting continued here, all along that road. The New Zealanders were trying to seize the road, and plug the gap, which eventually they did. Slowly they pushed forward, with the Germans falling back, and as they advanced, machine guns were brought up, and Whippet light tanks rolled in, they then took that high ground around La Signy Farm.
If you look at the graves in front of you, you will see that the dates are from 26 to 29 March. They are the men from this battle.
The German advance on Amiens had been stopped. The New Zealanders sorted themselves out, reorganised and returned to their proper brigades. They coordinated with the Australians, who were then replaced by a fresh British Division. It was an aggressive defence. Fighting patrols kept the Germans off balance and tried to take the high ground, at La Signy Farm. The New Zealanders, along with the British, consolidated their positions, and prepared for what was to come next.
On 5 April, the Germans launched another attack. They poured artillery fire and gas on the British and New Zealand positions, and then attacked with infantry. The New Zealand artillery and machine guns opened up and shot them down. In some areas there was hand to hand fighting, but the Germans couldn’t break through. With a strong defensive line, and the German advance defeated again, the New Zealanders were now confident that the enemy could not break through here.