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Wilfred Owen's Places: The Sambre-Oise Canal - The Lock at Ors (Looking South)

The Sambre-Oise Canal - The Lock at Ors

The Canal Successfully Crossed.

This photograph was taken looking south from a road bridge which crosses the lock at this point, the village of Ors being to the right hand side of the photograph. The attack by the Manchesters across the canal took place behind the camera position.

Prior to the 4th November 1918 this bridge had been destroyed and a plan of action was drawn up which involved a platoon of the 1st Bn. Dorsetshire Regt. and some men of the 206th Field Company Royal Engineers charging forward at 5.50 a.m.(from right to left in the picture) to the broken bridge carrying material with which to span the gap. Unfortunately, they were mown down by an enemy machine-gun firing straight across the bridge (from left to right in the photo.) and the task had to be abandoned. However, the rest of the Dorsets were holding positions close to the canal south of the lock and were able to give covering fire to protect the Royal Engineers of the 206th Field Company, who unobserved, were rapidly building a floating bridge across the canal just south of the lock (where the canal bends to the left in the photograph). Immediately it was completed two companies of the Dorsets rushed across it (from right to left in the picture) spread out north and south of the canal and formed a sizeable bridgehead. The first man across was 2nd Lt. Francis Robins (who like Wilfred Owen, had at one time been an officer cadet in the Artists Rifles). He was awarded the Military Cross for this exploit.

Meanwhile it was clear that the Manchesters and the Lancashire Fusiliers north of the lock were taking heavy casualties and that their attempts to cross the canal there were not going to succeed. Orders were given for both these battalions to make their way through Ors village and then to cross the canal by the floating bridge set up by the 206th Field Company R.E. just south of the lock. By 8.30 a.m. they were on the other side of the canal and in action.

Their attacks were immediately resumed. In the case of the Manchesters and Lancashire Fusiliers-in the region of La Motte Farm-their original objectives. This strongpoint was vigorously defended by German soldiers from Prussia, but eventually they were overwhelmed and the positions captured.

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