Please note: this a change to our originally published programme for 2018 due to Charles Messenger being unavailable.
The Battle of the Sambre, 4 November 1918, was a decisive British victory. The battle has, however, been largely neglected by historians: it was the last large-scale, set-piece battle fought by the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front: the Armistice was only one week away. Seven Victoria Crosses were won and the poet Wilfred Owen was killed in action. In scale it was similar to the first day of the Battle of the Somme: thirteen divisions of the British Third and Fourth Armies led the assault on a frontage of approximately twenty miles, supported by over a thousand guns, with initial plans presuming an involvement of up to seventy tanks and armoured cars. The German Army was determined to hold a defensive line incorporating the Mormal Forest and the Sambre-Oise Canal, hoping to buy time for a strategic withdrawal to as yet incomplete defensive positions between Antwerp and the Meuse river and thereby negotiate a compromise peace in the spring of 1919.
Derek Clayton was born in Yorkshire. He graduated from the University of Birmingham in 1979 with a BA in French and German and went on to teach Modern Languages in three Birmingham schools before retiring in 2015. His fascination with military history began in childhood, but the discovery almost thirty years ago of photographs of his great-uncle in his KOYLI uniform and his grandfather in the RFC focussed his interest squarely on the Great War. Following the publication of his battalion history: From Pontefract to Picardy: the 9th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the First World War, he returned to the university in 2004 and completed his MA in British First World War Studies. He was awarded his PhD in 2016. This talk is based on his doctoral thesis. He is currently working on a history of the 21st Division in the Great War. Derek is a member of the Western Front Association an lives in Worcestershire.