- Name: Robert Gordon McBEATH
- D.O.B: 22nd Dec, 1897
- D.O.A: 20th Nov, 1917
- Award: Victoria Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Lance Corporal, 1/5th Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs, Duke of Albany’s)
- Book: The Complete History - Volume 2
Cambrai, France 20 November 1917
20 November 1917
The First World War 1917
On 20 November 1917, six divisions of General Sir Julian Byng’s Third Army, attacked the German Front south-west of Cambrai along a line running south for about six miles from the Canal du Nord, west of Havrincourt, to Villers-Guislain. In this opening stage of the Battle of Cambrai 378 British tanks took part in the advance, which in the course of the first day had penetrated four miles. However, the British lacked the resources to capitalize on their success. On 30 November, the Germans counter-attacked the British salient and broke through in the south. By early December 1917, when the battle ended, the British had lost half of the ground they had gained. On the first day of the battle 51st Highland Division attacked the Hindenburg Line from the Trescaut spur. 1/5th Battalion The Seaforth Highlanders secured their first objective and then reached the railway line running east from Havrincourt to Ribécourt and on to Marcoing beyond. Lance Corporal R G McBeath distinguished himself by his gallantry in combatting German resistance from the direction of Ribécourt. On their right flank, 29th Division advanced on Marcoing, three miles south-west of Cambrai. 1st Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 87th Brigade, crossed the Canal de St Quentin by the lock east of Marcoing copse. Acting Lieutenant Colonel J Sherwood-Kelly played a prominent role during the crossing of the canal and in leading the attack against the enemy defences on the far side. Meanwhile, two companies of 1st Battalion The Border Regiment crossed the canal by the railway bridge at Marcoing and one at the lock by the railway station on the north-eastern outskirts of the town. Sergeant C E Spackman attacked a machine-gun which threatened this advance. 88th Brigade had advanced on Masnières, a mile or so east of Marcoing. The intention was that once the tanks were across the Canal de St Quentin, the Cavalry Corps would then cross. Unfortunately, the main bridge at Marcoing collapsed under the leading tank. The first cavalry unit, the Fort Garry Horse, Canadian Cavalry Brigade, began to make its way across the canal by a lock and an order to return to the Allied side of the canal failed to reach it. Effectively operating behind enemy lines, the Fort Garry Horse charged an enemy battery south-east of Rumilly-en-Cambrésis. In this action Lieutenant H Strachan was to the fore. The survivors then occupied a sunken road east of Rumilly until nightfall, when they were able to return on foot to British lines across the canal. 20th Division had advanced along the Gonnelieu spur and Welsh Ridge between Villers-Plouich and La Vacquerie. In the 60th Brigade, 6th Battalion Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and 12th Battalion The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, with 18 tanks of A Battalion The Tank Corps, secured the first objective, which ran beyond the first three trenches of the Hindenburg Line. They then advanced to the second objective behind the Hindenburg Line at the bottom of the ridge in the direction of Marcoing. In this action Rifleman A E Shepherd distinguished himself.
For most conspicuous bravery when with his company in attack and approaching the final objective, a nest of enemy machine-guns in the western outskirts of a village opened fire both on his own unit and on the unit on the right. The advance was checked and heavy casualties resulted. When a Lewis gun was called for to deal with these machine-guns, L./Cpl. McBeath volunteered for the duty, and immediately moved off alone with a Lewis gun and his revolver. He located one of the machine-guns in action, and worked his way towards it, shooting the gunner with his revolver. Finding several other hostile machine-guns in action, he, with the assistance of a Tank, attacked them and drove the gunners to ground in a deep dug-out. L./Cpl. McBeath, regardless of all danger, rushed in after them, shot an enemy who opposed him on the steps, and drove the remainder of the garrison out of the dug-out, capturing three officers and thirty men. There were in all five machine-guns mounted round the dug-out and by putting them out of action he cleared the way for the advance of both units. The conduct of L./Cpl. McBeath throughout three days of severe fighting was beyond praise.