Just before midnight on April 14, 1917, the Newfoundlander Regiment moved to the firing trenches on the outskirts of Monchy-Le-Preux.
“Early that morning they were bombarded and (it) just about wiped out the battalion of Newfoundlanders,” said Si Thompson, president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 12 in Grand Falls-Windsor. “There were 460 causalities and a quarter of their regiment in Monchy at that time were taken prisoner. Basically the unit was just about annihilated except for these 10 individuals.”
These 10 he refers - , Lt.-Col. James Forbes-Robertson (Commanding Officer), Lieut. Kevin J. Keegan (Signalling Officer), Sgt. J. Ross Waterfield (Provost Sergeant), Cpl. Charles Parsons (Signalling Corporal), Lance-Cpl. Walter Pitcher (Provost Corporal), Pte. Frederick Curran (Signaller), Pte. Japheth Hounsell (Signaller), Pte. Albert S. Rose (Battalion Runner), Pte. V. M. Parsons (1st Battalion - Essex Regiment), and Battalion Orderly Room Corporal, Cpl. John H. Hillier (who crawled in to join the groups after being temporarily knocked out by a bursting shell) - were left to hold off a full battalion of German soldiers until reinforcements arrive.
Two of them, Hounsell and Pitcher, were enlisted from Grand Falls, as they were living and employed in the town, and went overseas from there.
“The story goes is they had minimal amount of ammunition so every shot had to count,” Thompson said. “So any movement on the line on the German side, it was actually taken out. These were not infantry people. Actually fighting on the ground with rifles wasn’t their job. But they kept the Germans at bay until reinforcements came.”
When the allies came back in to reinforce those 10 people and they captured the Germans, they thought at that period of time that there was at least a battalion of soldiers defending Monchy-le-Preux.
“The general at that time said that if Monchy-le-Preux was not held, it would take 40,000 troops to regain that hill, and the 10 Newfoundlanders, two from Grand Falls, were part of the contingent that kept the Germans from getting into the Monchy.
“The significance of Monchy is not underestimated, but it’s underestimated when it gets the scale of Beaumont-Hamel. We talk about Beaumont-Hamel a lot, and rightly so, but on the scale, Monchy-le-Preux was at least comparable to what happened at Beaumont-Hamel.”
Monchy Road in present day Grand Falls-Windsor is named in recognition of the historic battle.
Sgt. Pitcher died in battle November 20, 1917. Lance-Cpl. Hounsell died in battle April 13, 1918, one day short of the first anniversary on Monchy-le-Preux.