- Name: John SHERWOOD-KELLY
- D.O.B: 13th Jan, 1880
- D.O.A: 20th Nov, 1917
- D.O.D: 18th Aug, 1931
- Award: Victoria Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Acting Lieutenant Colonel, Norfolk Regiment Commanding 1st Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 87th Infantry Brigade, 29th Division
- 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 and fearless leading when a party of men of another unit detailed to cover the passage of the canal by his battalion were held up on the near side of the canal by heavy rifle fire directed on the bridge. Lt.-Col. Sherwood-Kelly at once ordered covering fire, personally led the leading company of his battalion across the canal and, after crossing, reconnoitred under heavy rifle and machine gun fire the high ground held by the enemy. The left flank of his battalion advancing to the assault of this objective was held up by a thick belt of wire, whereupon he crossed to that flank, and with a Lewis gun team, forced his way under heavy fire through obstacles, got the gun into position on the far side, and covered the advance of his battalion through the wire, thereby enabling them to capture the position. Later, he personally led a charge against some pits from which a heavy fire was being directed on his men, captured the pits, together with five machine guns and forty-six prisoners, and killed a large number of the enemy. The great gallantry displayed by this officer throughout the day inspired the greatest confidence in his men, and it was mainly due to his example and devotion to duty that his battalion was enabled to capture and hold their objective.