1917-1918

On 28th December 1917 at Hill 70 John had twice led reconnaissance patrols into No Mans Land in the snow wearing white sheets as camouflage. He was gaining experience and familiarity of the terrain, which would later prove useful. This was all intelligence for a raid on 12th January 1918. C Company’s lines were 50 yards from the Germans and they often used to shout pleasantries at each other. At 0120Hrs on the 12th John’s group of 18 privates, 4 Corporals and a Sergeant set out. So as not to warn the enemy they set out in one’s and two’s making for a large shell hole to reassemble. They were discovered and came under attack from bombs and rifle fire. John knew it was futile to carry on with the existing plan but did not abandon the assault. He personally amended on the spot the GOC’s orders by changing direction to another part of the line. Together with the Sergeant and a small party of men they went forward. They laid BATHMATS over the wire and stormed the trenches while the rest of his party gave covering fire. The German light machine gunner ran away. They bombed and bayoneted right and left and captured 2 prisoners. They were back in their lines by 0220 hrs. In and out in one hour. He had been hit in the hand but not seriously. After this action he was given 14 days leave and during that leave was promoted to Temporary Captain. For the reccy and the attack he was awarded the first of his Military Crosses. The official citation reads :-

Lt John MacGregor, D.C.M. Mtd. Rfl.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Whilst he was assembling his men prior to a raid, the enemy bombed the trench. He, however, changing the point of attack, led his men over the wire into the enemy’s trench, and successfully dealt with the garrison of the trench and three concrete dug-outs, himself capturing one prisoner. He then withdrew his party and his prisoner successfully to our trenches. Before the raid he, together with a sergeant, had made several skilful and daring reconnaissances along the enemy wire, which materially assisted in the success of the enterprise.
London Gazette 30845 16 August 1918.

On 16th March 1918 the war diary again makes mention of John:-

“At about 4pm one of our planes was brought down in front of our lines. The enemy shelled the spot at once with high explosive and fired on the plane with machine guns. Upon seeing the plane fall, Captain MacGregor MC DCM of C Coy immediately went over the parapet and despite the heavy shelling and machine gun fire succeeded in getting both the pilot (who was wounded) and the observer to our trench”.

He should have got a bar to his MC for this action but apparently the deed was not thought worthy enough.

In September 1918 the Canadian Divisions were moved to the front area near Cambrai. The Canadian corps were not given the city but were told to capture the high ground over the Sensee Valley and all three defence lines. This was not to be a short range battle like The Somme or Vimy Ridge  but advances were aimed at several miles. All the other battalions agree that for the Canadian 3rd Division, Cambrai turned out to be the bloodiest engagement of the war with greater losses than The Somme, Vimy Ridge or Passchendaele. The losses are due undoubtedly to the maps the commanders had to work with. The area of operations were where FOUR maps joined together and the grid squares for the grid references didn’t even match. There were also miles of barbed wire, deep mud and they were not to have the cover of a rolling barrage.

On the 28th September the 7th and 9th Canadian Infantry Divisions failed in all their objectives. Those that came down the Douai Road were cut to pieces by machine guns. On the 29th new plans were laid and reinforcements were brought up. There were major problems with the positioning of the troops because of the maps. In the first 30 minutes of the advance, Johns C Company were engaged in heavy fighting around grid 20A. They managed to clean up the machine gun nests, capturing 5 guns and suitably dealt with the crews. John had put one nest out of action single-handed. The advance then stalled. They were outflanked on the left and for the first time in the history of the regiment men got cold feet and refused to go forward. John sized up the situation, grabbed a rifle and darted out into the open. He reached the enemy position almost unscathed, bullet holes in his tunic and a wound to his knee. He killed 4, captured 8 then went back for his men. He then got reports that the officers of D and B Companies had all been killed.  He immediately took command of these men and led them forward.

The battle ebbed and flowed through the 29th and into the 30th. The fighting died down for the night. John, with C Company had been on the go for 36 hours and apart from using his shillelagh as a walking stick he was ignoring the wound to his knee. On the 30th they were trying to achieve their target of seizing the bridges over the canal. John was way in front of his forward troops and undertook what was recorded in the records as “A personal Reccy”. He moved south and found St Remy partially vacated so moved his men in. They were not yet at the bridges. He sent out patrols, found the way relatively clear and moved forward. They reached the dock in Grid A4c but could go no further. FOR 3 DAYS their own artillery were pounding their positions and no amount of messages sent to headquarters could get it stopped. Their advance was stopped by their own side, not by the Germans. For this action Capt John MacGregor DCM MC was awarded the Victoria Cross and the official citation reads:-

For most conspicuous bravery, leadership, and self sacrificing devotion to duty. He led his company under intense fire, and when the advance was checked by machine guns, although wounded pushed on and located the enemy guns. He then ran forward in broad daylight, in the face of enemy fire from all directions, and with rifle and bayonet, single handed, put the enemy crews out of action, killing four and taking eight prisoners. His prompt action saved many casualties and enabled the advance to continue.

After reorganising his command under heavy fire he rendered most useful support to neighbouring troops. When the enemy were showing stubborn resistance, he went along the line regardless of danger, organised the platoons, took command of the leading waves, and continued the advance.

Later, after a personal daylight reconnaissance under heavy fire he established his company in Neuville St Remy, thereby greatly assisting the advance into Tilloy. Throughout the operations Captain MacGregor displayed magnificent bravery and heroic leadership.

In the final days of the war the allied troops chase and harry the German retreat.  Near Crespin on the Belgian border three rivers have to be crossed. The Rhonnelle, The Aunelle and The Honnelle.

 The 2nd CMR are given the job of capturing the bridges before they can be blown up. Six sappers are attached to each company to defuse the explosives. John’s expertise in trapping proves useful in a reconnaissance role. He personally reccy’s not just the approaches but goes onto the bridges themselves. At the Aunnelle and Honnelle bridges he reports that that the wire and explosives are in position but the enemy is not alert. The Grand Honnelle is seized and made safe without the enemy knowing. The other bridges, although not so easily taken are made safe due to his supplied intelligence.  They are then given the order to attempt to secure a bridgehead over the Conde Canal. John took 2 companies and reached the banks. The enemy blew the bridges and then withdrew in the night. The following morning they crossed the canal and then with the rest of the CMR, facing no major opposition went on to liberate Mons. The war diary of the 3rd Canadian Division described his reconnaissance work as “An outstanding piece of work”.

The medal citation reads:-

5th to 8th November 1918, Quievrain and Quievrechain. Through his personal reconnaissances and initiative the bridges over The Honnelle River were secured. His prompt action in seizing the crossings did much towards the final route of the enemy.

At Buckingham Palace on February 26th 1919 His Majesty the King decorated Captain John MacGregor  with the Victoria Cross and also a bar to his Military Cross.

One Response to 1917-1918

  1. Lise (Tessier) Guindon says:

    We are lucky for the bravery of these great men
    & women that fought for our freedom.
    My great, Uncle Edward Lachance of the 2nd CMR of the 85th Canadian Infanty was also one of those brave men, fighting ememies back in November of 1918.
    He lost his life, On November 7th, 1918 in France and is buried in Douai British Cementary in France.. I’m looking for any information that may be available to us.. My grandmother lost all information of her brother in a house fire, many years ago.
    I want to Thank you in advance, and look forward to hearing from you any information you maybe able to share.
    Sincerely
    Lise (Tessier) Guindon

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