The War on the Western Front, 1914-1918

Taken from a plaque inscription at the Orchard Dump Cemetery, Near Vimy, France.


In the First World War the Western Front – a battle line extending from the Channel coast to Switzerland along which, four years, millions of men fought and died – was the principal and vital theater. Against the German army were arrayed the armies of the British Commonwealth, France, Belgium and, latterly, the United States. The first two months, a war of movement, saw the containment and partial repulse of the initial German thrust. There then followed three and half years of static trench fighting – war of attrition – during which defensive power was paramount. Neither side could effect a breakthrough and great battles were fought for small territorial gains. The last seven months were again a war of movement culminating in the Allied offensive, starting in August, which finally achieved the breakthrough leading to the armistice of November 11, 1918.

the six divisions of the British Expeditiary force which went to France at the outset in 1914 were deployed amongst the French Armies and played their full part from August 23 in the battles of Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and the Aisne. The next three weeks, during which the battle line moved every day, were a highly critical period in which the German plan for ending the war at a stroke was foiled and the issue deferred.

In the first two weeks of October the BEF was moved from the central sector of the front to Flanders. this move shortened it’s lines of communication, which ran through Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne, and enabled it to protect these ports which were vital both to its own supply and reinforcement and to the Royal Navy’s command of the Channel. Over the next four years, during which its strength rose to fifty British and twelve overseas Commonwealth divisions – Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian and troops from Newfoundland, the British West Indies and other Territories – the BEF progressively took over more of the Northern sector of the allied line and fought a series of battles of attrition of which the greatest was the First Battle of the Somme in 1916.

After the German offensives of late March to mid July 1918 had been contained the advance to victory began on August 8 with the battle of Amiens, continued on a broadening front with the Second Battle of the Somme and of Arras and, in September, extended to the Ypres Salient. The advance swiftly gathered momentum and by the day of the armistice the front line ran fifty miles or more Eastward of the starting points. Nearly 750,000 Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airmen died on the Western front – 200,000 in Belgium and over 500,00 in France. They are commemorated upon headstones marking graves in over 1000 war cemeteries and 2000 civil cemeteries, or on one of the six memorials in Belgium and twenty in France which carry the names of more than 300,000 who have no known grave.

Orchard Dump Cemetery

The cemetery was started in April 1917 during the First Battle of Arras and was used until the following November. It was reopened after the armistice for reburials from the battlefields. It contains the graves of 2694 British, 326 Canadian and 1 South African soldiers and sailors.

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