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battle of arras

Despite it being early spring the weather at the start of the battle

was bleak and wintry, icy rain turning to sleet, then snow, with frequent

blizzards. Prior to the battle many thousands of troops were sheltered

in deep underground caves and tunnels, notably on Vimy Ridge on the

outskirts of Arras and in deep cellars in Arras itself, though protection

from the weather was not the primary motive.

This bitterly cold weather persisted for several days making conditions

extremely difficult. Even so, the opening day of the battle witnessed some

notable successes. In the centre of the battlefield, immediately north of

the River Scarpe, the British were able to advance three and a half miles.

Much of this was achieved by the 9


(Scottish) Division, supported later

in the day by the 4


Division. It represented the biggest advance to date

against entrenched positions on the Western Front.

One of the things that characterised the Battle of Arras was its sizeable

Scottish element. The writer, John Buchan, working at the time as the

government’s Director of Information, noted that 38 Scottish Battalions

had crossed the parapet on the opening day of the battle, which was more

than the entire British force at Waterloo and seven times the number

that Robert the Bruce had commanded at Bannockburn. The ‘Official

History’ also notes that 44 of the 120 Battalions that made up the 10

British front line Divisions on the morning of the 9


April were Scottish,

and even that total fails to take account of a number of Canadian

Battalions with affiliations to Scottish Regiments. The 13


, 15


, 16


, 42





, 72


and 73


Battalions of the Canadian Corps all had affiliations to

Scottish regiments.

John Buchan’s brother, Alastair, died of wounds, aged 22, on the

opening day of the battle, serving as a Lieutenant with the 6



Scots Fusiliers. He is buried in Duisans British Cemetery. To compound

Buchan’s pain his close friend and business partner Tommy Nelson was

also killed in action that day.