Less than a month after Lieutenant Alan Thomas Selbourne Holt’s repatriation, the War Office requested a statement of the incidents leading to his capture as a Prisoner of War at Cherisey. Alan Holt’s Statement provides a useful account of the failed assault at Heninel, near Aras, particularly the disorganisation, individual commitment and underlying bravery of the men concerned.
STATEMENT regarding circumstances which led to capture:-
“At 4.45 am on April 23rd 1917, the 17th Manchester Regt. attacked the enemy position in front of Cherisey (S.E. of Aras). Our trenches ran just east of Heninel. The position to be attacked was sixteen hundred yards distance, & the morning was dark & misty. I was in command of a company in support (A coy. ?) and owing to shortness of notice of the attack it was impossible to make any reconnaissance beforehand. During the advance the men lost their way & went on all directions. I kept on as straight as possible for about a thousand yards till I arrived at a trench full of water at the bottom of the valley. Here I found Capt. Cartman*, whose company I was supporting, and about ten unwounded men; there were many wounded & dead in this trench. We were under somewhat heavy rifle & machine gun fire to which we replied as best we could with rifle fire and a Lewis Gun which soon became useless on account of the butt breaking off. While firing the Lewis Gun I became stuck in the mud and while being extricated by two of my men, I had my right knee badly bruised and was unable to walk. Shortly after I was hit in the neck with a piece of shrapnel from a shell or grenade. Captain Cartman then told me to go to the Dressing Station and also to give a message to Battalion Headquarters in the rear on the way back. I started back, crawling, and after about five minutes’ progress I got into a trench which seemed to run in the direction of out assembly trenches. I continued a little way along the trench and turning a bend in it, came straight on a party of about ten Germans. They immediately raised their rifles and made signs for me to hold up my hands. This I did, as I had lost my revolver & was totally unarmed. After keeping me there a few minutes, two of them carried me in the direction of their lines which were being heavily bombarded. They put me in a shell-hole about four hundred yards in front of their lines & left me there with one man. This man told me that he himself had been taken prisoner that morning with about thirty other Germans but that owing to the mist & darkness the two English soldiers, who were escorting them, had marched them into another party of Germans on their lines. He said he would come back to the British lines with me. This was impossible to do owing to my knee & the wound in my neck which was now extremely painful and causing my shoulders to stiffen. Also I did not know & could not find where I was. I was now certain that the attack had failed, but hoped that it would be renewed that I should be rescued. After about four hours in the shell-hole I saw, about a mile up the valley, a number of our men retiring under very heavy shell-fire. The German then left me & soon returned with two other men who carried me into their lines where I remained another four hours in a dug-out before I was taken further back to Douai hospital.
Alan T S Holt
Transcription courtesy National Archives – Crown Copyright.
*Alan Holt and Captain Thomas Cartman – as mentioned below – were awarded Military Cross after the action. Alan Holt’s citation probably relates to his persistance with machine gun “…When in the second line of the enemy position with only a few men, he succeeded in holding the position. When he was wounded, he encouraged his men to carry on the work and gave directions for the defence before withdrawing.” Thomas Cartman’s citation confirms his role in command of the forward line “…He showed … courage in organising the consolidation and defence of the position under very heavy fire. Although wounded, he continued to direct operations until compelled to retire.”