Why Cambrai?

Private John RAE, 2nd Scots Guards, fell in action on the 28th November 1914, aged 29. He came from Ellon in Aberdeenshire and his wife was from Guernsey. His DCM was awarded for gallantry on numerous occasions whilst engaged on scouting duties. On the night of the 27th/28th November, while the battalion was in trenches near Sailly-sur-Lys, it carried out a raid on the right of its line under the command of Sir Edward Hulse. Accompanied by eight other men, the group negotiated 200 yards of no man’s land without being spotted. The raiders then entered the enemy’s trench where they fired off several rounds. The battalion history of the Scots Guards doesn’t record why firing broke out, but one man was killed, four were wounded, and two more were reported missing. By any standards, that equates to a very high casualty rate given the scope of the operation. The next day Privates Rae, Ferguson and Robertson went out in daylight to search for the missing men. Unfortunately, Rae was spotted close to the German trenches and was shot dead as he tried to return to our own lines. Rae held the honour of being the first man in the battalion to draw blood after shooting a member of an Uhlan patrol just east of Ghent on 9th October. 

According to the CWGC notes, the Cambrai Memorial commemorates those who fell at the Battle of Cambrai who have no known resting place. Exactly why Rae’s name appears on this memorial rather than the memorial at Ploegsteert is therefore a bit of a mystery. He is the only 1914 casualty on the memorial for Cambrai. After that, the earliest death commemorated on it is the 7th November 1917, the latest being the 30th December 1917. His inclusion on the Cambrai Memorial is therefore highly unusual.

Sir Edward Hamilton Westrow Hulse, 7th Bart, was killed in action at Neuve Chapelle on the 12th March 1915 and is buried at Rue David Military Cemetery. A collection of his letters written from the front between September 1914 and his death was privately published in 1916 and the originals are now kept at the Imperial War Museum. He also witnessed and wrote about the famous Christmas truce in 1914, in fact extracts from his letters pertaining to this period appear throughout “Christmas Truce” by Brown & Seaton, always an excellent read, but especially as we draw closer to the festive season.