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Herbert Howarth – Killed in Action 1917

Cambrai Memorial


Herbert Howarth enlisted with the 1/5 Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and went to the front in February 1915. Herbert was killed in action at Cambrai, on 30th November 1917, when his battalion became the main target of a large counter attack by the German army, where over 400 men of his battalion were reported as missing. Herbert was aged 20 and the son of  of Robert and Sarah Howarth, of 32, Bengarth Road, Southport, Lancashire.


Battle of Cambrai – 20 November – 30 December 1917

A British attack, originally conceived as a very large scale raid, that employed new artillery techniques and massed tanks. Initially very successful with large gains of ground being made, but German reserves brought the advance to a halt. Ten days later, a counter-attack regained much of the ground. 

The attack was launched at 6.20am on the 20th November. The British Divisions in the front line were, from right to left, the 12th (Eastern), 20th (Light), 6th, 51st (Highland), 62nd (West Riding) and 36th (Ulster). In immediate support was the 29th, and ready to exploit the anticipated breakthrough and sweep round Cambrai were the 1st, 2nd and 5th Cavalry Divisions.

The Tank Corps deployed its entire strength of 476 machines, of which more than 350 were armed fighting tanks. They were led by the Tank Corps GOC, Hugh Elles, in a Mk IV tank called ‘Hilda’.

The attack opened with an intensive predicted-fire barrage on the Hindenburg Line and key points to the rear, which caught the Germans by surprise. Initially, this was followed by the curtain of a creeping barrage behind which the tanks and infantry followed.

On the right, the 12th (Eastern) Division moved forward through Bonavis and Lateau Wood, and dug in a defensive flank to allow the cavalry to pass unrestricted, as ordered. On the extreme right of the attack, the 7th Royal Sussex got into Banteux, which had been subjected to gas attack from Livens projectors.

The 20th (Light) Division captured La Vacquerie after a hard fight and then advanced as far as Les Rues Vertes and Masnieres where there was a bridge crossing the St Quentin Canal. Securing the bridge was going to be vital for the 2nd Cavalry Division, planning to move up to the east of Cambrai. However, the weight of the first tank to cross the bridge, ‘Flying Fox’, broke its back. Infantry could cross slowly by a lock gate a couple of hundred yards away, but the intended cavalry advance was effectively halted. An improvised crossing also allowed the B squadron of the Fort Garry Horse to cross, but they were left unsupported and withdrew. For no good reason, it was not noticed that further canal crossings at Crevecoeur-sur-Escaut were very lightly defended, until too late in the day.

The cavalry were hampered by uncertain communications regarding progress and the collapse of the canal bridge at Masnieres under weight of a passing tank did not help, either, as there were few crossing points. But it seems that the cavalry was indifferently commanded. Lieutenant General Sir Aylmer Haldane (VI Corps) assigns blame to Cavalry Corps commander, Lieutenant General Charles Kavanagh, “who was vague as regards his intentions”.

The 6th Division, once it had crossed the Hindenburg Line, moved forward and captured Ribecourt and fought as far as and through Marcoing. The 5th Cavalry Division advanced through them but were repulsed in front of Noyelles.

The 51st (Highland) Division had a very hard fight for Flesquieres, but its failure to capture it and keep up with the pace of the advance on either side left a dangerous salient which exposed the flanks of the neighbouring Divisions. Much has been written about the failure of the Division to move on Flesquieres and the apparent unwillingness of its commander, Major General George Harper, to support the idea of a tank attack and the new infantry tactics to go with it. This has its roots in criticism by Baker-Carr and Liddell Hart in 1930 (eight years after Harper’s death), comprehensively demolished by John Hussey in his article ‘Uncle Harper at Cambrai’, Stand To! The journal of the Western Front Association, 62 (2001), pp.13-23, reprinting from British Army Review, 117 (1997).

On the left of Flesquieres, the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division fought hard through the ruins of Havrincourt, up to and through Graincourt and by nightfall were within sight of Anneux in the lee of the commanding height crowned by Bourlon Wood. The division had covered almost five miles from their start point, and were exhausted. (This was later claimed to be a record advance in the Great War for troops in battle).

The 36th (Ulster) Division moved up the dry excavations of the Canal du Nord, and lay alongside the Bapaume-Cambrai road by nightfall. By recent Western Front standards, the advance was little short of miraculous, and victory bells were pealed in Britain on the 23rd. In the light of subsequent events, this was indeed ironic.

Successful though the day was, with an advance three to four miles deep into a strong system of defence in little over four hours at a cost of just over 4000 casualties, it was on 20 November that things began to go wrong, leading inexorably to failure ten days later. Third Army failed to fulfil its objectives, notably in that the cavalry had been unable to push through a gap at Marcoing-Masnieres and on to encircle Cambrai itself. Nowhere had the Masnieres-Beaurevoir line been convincingly penetrated, and the key Bourlon ridge, dominant of the northern half of the battlefield, remained firmly in German hands.  No fewer than 179 tanks had been destroyed, disabled or broke down. By the afternoon, the attack had already lost its early impetus.

The German plan was simply to cut of the neck of the salient by attacking on each side, with the strongest blow to come on the southern side. The blow fell at 7.30am on the 30th November, and was devastatingly fast and effective. By 9am, the Germans had penetrated almost 3 miles towards Havrincourt Wood. Byng’s Third Army faced disaster, with the real prospect of several divisions being cut off in the trap. The first attack fell on the 55th (West Lancashire) and 12th (Eastern) Division on the south-eastern side of the salient. The Germans climbed the slope to re-take Lateau Wood, pushed up the complex of shallow ravines south of Banteux, moved through Villers Guislain and past Gouzeaucourt. Amongst the troops defending the artillery positions at Gouzeaucourt were the11th United States Engineer Company. The direction of the assault was across British divisional boundaries, and the command structure rapidly broke down as the troops became mixed up.

Three German divisions attacked to the north, supported by an intense Phosgene barrage, intending to cut the Bapaume-Cambrai road near Anneux Chapel. They were repulsed by the machine gun barrage of the 47th (London), 2nd and 56th (London) Divisions, who had relieved the 36th and 40th. No Germans reached the road. Fierce fighting continued in the southern area for Gonnelieu, Les Rues Vertes and Masnieres.

War Diaries of 1/5 Battalion Loyal North Lancs Regt. November 1917

Relieved by 1/5 Bn. South Lancs Regt. and proceeded to Bugade Reserve.
‘B’ Company 2 Platoon – LIMERICK POST
‘B’ Company 2 Platoon – HILDARE POST
‘D’ Company – MEATH POST
Clearing up etc.
Provided Working Parties and Improving Dugouts
Raid Party practiced for Raid on HONNECOURT WOOD
Provided Working Parties.
Relieved 1/5 South Lancs. Regt. DISPOSITIONS – ‘A’ Coy right front , ‘C’ Coy left front, ‘B’ Coy support, ‘D’ in reserve
Casualties; 1 Other Rank at duties
A Coy reconnecting Patrol encountered large German Patrol near end wire. Hand to hand fighting ensued but our patrol managed to reset our lines. 4 German Stretcher cases were observed as leave his line next morning
Casualties 1 Other Rank Killed, 1 Other Rank Wounded (accidental)
‘C’ and ‘D. Coys carried out raid on TONNECOURT WOOD. Raiders under 2/Lieut. Hollensake & Akeson divided into 3 parties, RED, BLUE & WHITE. Preliminary bombardment successful and raiders reached enemy wire but Bangalore Torpedo’s failed to explode. Party returned without achieving their objective.
Casualties 2 Other Ranks wounded.
Inter Company reliefs: – B relieved ‘A’ Coy Right Front, ‘D’ Coy relieved ‘C’ Coy Left Front, @c’ Coy Support, ‘A’ Cor Reserve
casualties & 2 Other Ranks Wounded, including 1 OR at duty
6:30 Heavy bombardment opened, followed by attack by British troops. Division on left, ie 12th formed Right flank of attack which extended over a front line of about 8 miles. Attack highly successful. At the same time 164 Infantry Brigade carried out arch on GILLEMONT FARM and the KNOLL – after remaining in the German Front trenches at GILLEMONT FARM for a few hours they withdrew to original line, Casualties 1 OR. Killed, 2 O.R. Wounded
Light enemy shelling of FAWCUS AVENUE. Inter Coy. reliefs: – ‘A’ Coy relieved ‘B’ Cage Right front, ‘C’ Coy relieved ‘D’ Coy Left front, ‘D’ Coy Support, ‘B’ Coy Reserve
Casualties; 1 OR Wounded
Increased Enemy Air activity
FAWCUS AVENUE intermittently shelled.
Inter Coy. reliefs: – ‘B’ Coy relieved ‘A’ Cage Right front, ‘D’ Coy relieved ‘C’ Coy Left front, ‘A’ Coy Support, ‘C’ Coy Reserve
Enemy shell front line, STORAR AV,GLOSTER RD and LEITH WALK.
Germans. shell front line and GLOSTER RD at intervals during day as though registering,
Heavy German bombardment along whole of front line, followed a strong flank attack. Front Line Coys. surrounded, nothing definite know as to what exactly happened. Enemy seen approaching GLOSTER RD from direction of SHERWOOD in great numbers at about 8am. BATT. HQ made stand in GOSTER RD. until 8.30 am. Seeing themselves outflanked on both sides by the enemy they were forced to withdraw to Fourteen Willows where they dug in.
Casualties: 3 Officers wounded, 2 Officers wounded and missing, 16 Officers missing, 2 O.Rs. Killed, 27 OR. Wounded, 384 Other Ranks Missing

Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was formed as part of the Childers Reforms of 1881 by the amalgamation of the 47th (Lancashire) Regiment of Foot, 81st Regiment of Foot (Loyal Lincoln Volunteers), 3rd Royal Lancashire Militia (The Duke of Lancaster’s Own) and the 11th and 14th Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps.[1] The Loyals were one of seven county regiments recruiting in Lancashire. The depot was at Preston, and the regimental district also included the towns of Bolton, Chorley, Farnworth, Hindley, and the Isle of Man. As part of the Cardwell Reforms, the 47th and 81st regiments were linked. The depot for the linked regiment was Fulwood Barracks at Preston. Beginning in 1873, the regiments which would eventually be re-designated as the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment were brigaded together and began moving their depots to Fulwood. However, it would not be until 1877 that the moves were completed when the required facilities were completed.

The barracks themselves had been completed in 1848 and served as the station for a number of units between 1848 and 1881. Notably, in the 1860s, it was occupied by the 11th Depot Battalion, which served as depot unit for 11th Hussars and of the 1st/10th, 2nd/10th, 1st/11th, 32nd, 41st and 55th Regiments of Foot.

The Regiment raised a number of extra war service battalions during The Great War. In all the Loyal North Lancs expanded to 21 battalions of infantry for service at home and abroad. Of these, there were the two regular battalions (the 1st and 2nd Battalions), the Special Reserve (former militia) battalion (3rd (Reserve) Battalion), ten Territorial Force battalions (1/4th, 1/5th, 2/4th, 2/5th, 3/4th, 3/5th, 4/5th, 1/12th (Pioneers), 2/12th and 14th Battalions), and seven service battalions of Kitchener’s Army (6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th (Reserve) and 15th Battalions), as well as a home service battalion (13th (Home Service) Battalion).

1/5th Battalion
August 1914 : in Bolton. Part of North Lancashire Brigade in West Lancashire Division. Moved in August 1914 to Chipping Sodbury and on in November to Sevenoaks.
February 1915 : left the Division and landed at le Havre. On 13 February, placed under command of 16th Brigade in 6th Division.
11 June 1915 : transferred to 151st Brigade in 50th (Northumbrian) Division.
21 December 1915 : transferred to 26th Brigade in 9th (Scottish) Division.
8 January 1916 : transferred to 166th Brigade in 55th (West Lancashire) Division.
4 June 1918 : transferred to 170th Brigade in 57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division, absorbing 4/5th Bn.

The battalion was not involved in the division’s attack on Guillemont Farm on 20 September, which was a diversion to assist the British attack at Cambrai. The division then took over a wider front, which left it stretched and vulnerable to the German counter-attack. On the morning of 30 November 1/5th Loyals was holding the sector from Banteau Ravine to Wood Road. At 07:00 the Germans opened a heavy bombardment on the divisional frontage, keeping all the roads under fire and cutting off communications. They then attacked through a heavy mist and penetrated the line on the battalion’s left, threatening Villers-Guislain. 1/5th Loyals made a stand and suffered heavy casualties, but delayed the enemy advance. In the afternoon they were forced to withdraw, but Limerick Post, held by a composite party of 1/5th Loyals and the Liverpool Scottish held out, despite being surrounded. A counter-attack by 1/4th Loyals coming from reserve saved the situation, briefly retaking Villers-Guislain and eventually digging in at Vaucellette Farm before nightfall. The party at Limerick Post made their way back to British lines at 05.00 the following morning. 1/5th Loyals’ casualties had been appalling: only two were known to be killed and 30 wounded, but 402 were posted missing.

Personal Life

Herbert Howarth was born in 1897 to Robert and Sarah (nee Horrocks) Howarth at Bolton, Lancashire, England. His father was an Insurance clerk.

Herbert was age 14 and living with his parents in the 1911 UK Census on 2 Apr 1911 at 482 Chorley Old Road, Bolton, Lancashire, England where he was a scholar.

He served in the military Regiment: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment; Rank: lance Corporal; Service number: 240646 1914/15.

Herbert was killed in action on 30 Nov 1917 at age of 20 years in and is commemorated on Panel 8 at the Cambrai Memorial, Louveral, France.

His father died on 14 Jan 1927 at age of 61 years and his mother died on 13 Jan 1935 at age of 67 years both in Southport, Lancashire, England.

Census Records

Grave Details

Cambrai Memorial

His war grave details can be seen here.  This links to the Commonwealth Grave Commission’s website.

Remembered in Birkdale Cemetery.

Herbert Howarth

DIED JAN 14th 1927, AGED 61 YEARS.
“And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts,
in that day when I make up my jewels.”
1/5 Loyal North Lancs Regt.
“A Soldier of Christ.”

DIED JANUARY 13th 1935


Cambrai Memorial

The small village of Louverval is on the north side of the D930, Bapaume to Cambrai road, 13 kilometres north-east of Bapaume and 16 kilometres south-west of Cambrai. The Memorial stands on a terrace in Louverval Military Cemetery, which is situated on the north side of the D930, south of Louverval village.

The Panel Numbers quoted at the end of each entry relate to the panels dedicated to the Regiment served with. In some instances where a casualty is recorded as attached to another Regiment, his name may alternatively appear within their Regimental Panels. Please refer to the on-site Memorial Register Introduction to determine the alternative panel numbers if you do not find the name within the quoted Panels.

The CAMBRAI MEMORIAL commemorates more than 7,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South Africa who died in the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917 and whose graves are not known.

Sir Douglas Haig described the object of the Cambrai operations as the gaining of a ‘local success by a sudden attack at a point where the enemy did not expect it’ and to some extent they succeeded. The proposed method of assault was new, with no preliminary artillery bombardment. Instead, tanks would be used to break through the German wire, with the infantry following under the cover of smoke barrages.

The attack began early in the morning of 20 November 1917 and initial advances were remarkable. However, by 22 November, a halt was called for rest and reorganisation, allowing the Germans to reinforce. From 23 to 28 November, the fighting was concentrated almost entirely around Bourlon Wood and by 29 November, it was clear that the Germans were ready for a major counter attack. During the fierce fighting of the next five days, much of the ground gained in the initial days of the attack was lost.

For the Allies, the results of the battle were ultimately disappointing but valuable lessons were learnt about new strategies and tactical approaches to fighting. The Germans had also discovered that their fixed lines of defence, no matter how well prepared, were vulnerable.

The Cambrai Memorial was designed by Harold Chalton Bradshaw with sculpture by Charles S. Jagger. It was unveiled by Lieut-General Sir Louis Vaughan on 4 August 1930.

The memorial stands on a terrace at one end of LOUVERVAL MILITARY CEMETERY. The chateau at Louverval, was taken by the 56th Australian Infantry Battalion at dawn on 2 April 1917. The hamlet stayed in Allied hands until the 51st (Highland) Division was driven from it on 21 March 1918 during the great German advance, and it was retaken in the following September.

Parts of Rows B and C of the cemetery were made between April and December 1917 and in 1927, graves were brought in from Louverval Chateau Cemetery, which had been begun by German troops in March 1918 and used by Commonwealth forces in September and October 1918.

The cemetery now contains 124 First World War burials.

You can view the details for this cemetery on the Commonwealth Grave Commission’s website here.

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