Ors: 4th November 1918

Ors from the Communal Cemetery

The village of Ors was captured by the 32nd Division, whose units moved to the edge of the village along the Oise-Sambre Canal to launch an attack as part of the Battle of the Sambre on 4th November 1918. The attack across the canal would be led by the 2nd Battalion Manchester Regiment on the right, and 16th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers on the left. Both units were assisted by the 218th Field Company Royal Engineers who supplied bridging and raft parties to enable the crossing. Coming under heavy fire from the opposite bank, both battalions crossed and reach their final objectives by the end of the day. 

The fighting here cost the attacking units dear, with the casualties being buried in a battlefield cemetery close to the canal - Ors British Cemetery - and also in the Ors Communal Cemetery. Among those killed with the 2nd Manchesters was war poet Wilfred Owen. Recently awarded the Military Cross for bravery on the Fonsomme line, Owen was killed on the canal bank mustering his men for the crossing. Arguably one of the most important 'voices' of the Great War, his poetry is considered amongst the best the war produced and is still part of the British school curriculum. Members of the Owen family visit his grave on a regular basis, as do members of the Wilfred Owen Association.

A number of Victoria Crosses were awarded here:

ors007.JPG (157335 bytes) 2/Lt James Kirk VC
2nd Bn Manchester Regiment
4th November 1918, aged 21.

Son of James and Rachel Kirk, of 530 Edge Lane, Droylesden, Manchester. Born at Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire. (A-22)

An extract from "The London Gazette," No. 31108, dated 3rd Jan., 1919, records the following:- 
" For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty North of Ors on 4th Nov., 1918, whilst attempting to bridge the Oise Canal. To cover the bridging of the canal he took a Lewis gun, and, under intense machine-gun fire, paddled across the canal on a raft, and at a range of ten yards expended all his ammunition. Further ammunition was paddled across to him and he continuously maintained a covering fire for the bridging party from a most exposed position till killed at his gun. The supreme contempt of danger and magnificent self-sacrifice displayed by this gallant officer prevented many casualties and enabled two platoons to cross the bridge before it was destroyed."

Web Link: Kirk VC

ors008.JPG (207526 bytes) Lt-Col James Neville Marshall VC MC/Bar
16th Bn Lancashire Fusileirs
4th November 1918, aged 31.

Officier Order of Leopold, Chevalier Order of Leopold, Croix de Guerre (Belgium). Husband of Edith Marshall, of Lascelles Lodge, Matching Green, Harlow, Essex.

An extract from "The London Gazette," No. 31178, dated 13th Feb., 1919, records the following:- 
"For most conspicuous bravery, determination and leadership in the attack on the Sambre-Oise Canal, near Catillon, on the 4th November, 1918, when a partly constructed bridge came under concentrated fire and was broken before the advanced troops of his battalion could cross. Lt. Col. Marshall at once went forward and organised parties to repair the bridge. The first party were soon killed or wounded, but by personal example he inspired his command, and volunteers were instantly forthcoming. Under intense fire and with complete disregard of his own safety, he stood on the bank encouraging his men and assisting in the work, and when the bridge was repaired attempted to rush across at the head of his battalion and was killed while so doing. The passage of the canal was of vital importance, and the gallantry displayed by all ranks was largely due to the inspiring example set by Lt. Col. Marshall."

Sapper Adam Archibald
218th Field Company Royal Engineers
Ors 4th November 1918

Adam Archibald was born in 1879 and originally served with the Durham Light Infantry before transferring to the 218th Field Company RE. His received his award from George V in 1919, and died at Leith in 1957.

The citation from the London Gazette reads:

"On 4 November 1918 near Ors, France, Sapper Archibald was with a party building a floating bridge across the canal. He was foremost in the work under a very heavy artillery barrage and machine-gun fire. The latter was directed at him from a few yards distance while he was working on the cork floats. Nevertheless he persevered in his task and his example and efforts were such that the bridge which was essential to the success of the operations was very quickly completed. Immediately afterwards Sapper Archibald collapsed from gas poisoning."

Visiting Ors Today

The best place to start is on the Sambre Canal; you can park your car outside the church and walk up to the Lock bridge. Here you will find a memorial to Wilfred Owen, erected by the Western Front Association. The memorial inscription is a little misleading as it implies Owen died this side of the bridge; although he actually died several hundred yards further along on the opposite side. You can walk along the canal tow-path to where Owen was killed.

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Wilfred Owen Memorial, Ors. Close up of inscription. View in the direction of where 2nd Manchesters attacked.

Back in the village you can drive to Ors Communal Cemetery. This is a French civil cemetery and contains more than 60 wargraves, almost all from the fighting on 4th November 1918. Wilfred Owen, James Kirk VC and James Marshall VC are all buried here.

ors009.JPG (69549 bytes) ors010.JPG (66396 bytes) ors002.JPG (152276 bytes)
Ors Communal Cemetery. Ors Communal Cemetery. Wilfred Owen's grave.

Leaving the village on a minor road from the area of the Church, follow CWGC signs for Ors British Cemetery, but first takeors006.JPG (92386 bytes) the first road on the right at la Rue d'Houis. This is a dead end (although there is room to turn round); walk across the footbridge to the canal edge, and here you are standing exactly on the right flank of where the 2nd Manchesters crossed the Sambre canal on 4th November. Owen was killed just a few yards from this spot (see photo - right). Return to the minor road and continue to the cemetery; it is a walk across the fields and it's GPS location is 5006.457'N, 338.559'E. Ors British Cemetery was begun in November 1918. It was enlarged after the Armistice when graves were brought in from Chateau Seydoux British Cemetery, Le Cateau, Flaumont Churchyard, Jenlain Churhcyard and St. Python Communal Cemetery. The cemetery contains 107 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, six of which are unidentified. A number of the Highland Light Infantry and Royal Engineers graves are due to the crossing of the canal near the cemetery on 4th November 1918.

From here continue into the forest and turn left onto the D959; continue to the housing of the former military base here. There is a 'Foresters House' here, in the cellar of which it is said that Wilfred Owen and his men sheltered before going up to the attack at Ors. The local commune hope to open this as a Wilfred Owen Visitors Centre in the near future.


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