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La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial, France La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial, France
First Name: John Henry Last Name: CANN
Date of Death: 18/09/1914 Lived/Born In: Paddington
Rank: Private Unit: Royal West Surrey (Queens)1
Memorial Site: La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial, France

Current Information:

Born-Stoke Newington


The Battle of the Aisne 13th September -28 September, 1914

After the Germans were defeated on the Marne they fell back to the River Aisne, closely pursued by both the British and the French. The new German line was a very formidable defensive position. To attack it meant having to cross the Aisne and then climb up a 500 foot high ridge on top of which was the Chemin des Dames, a road that gave the Germans an easy way to move troops along the top of the hills. On 13th September the Aisne was crossed by both British and French troops but after that progress became slower, until there was no progress at all. Both sides dug in and the fighting settled down into trench warfare. The fighting on the Aisne continued for two weeks at the end of which both sides realised that frontal attacks on entrenched positions were both costly and non-productive, not that this deterred them from continuing with this tactic throughout the war.

On 14th September, 1914 just before dawn, 1st Division moved off to seize the heights north of the Aisne including the Chemin des Dames. 2 Brigade were leading but they were stopped at the strongly defended sugar factory north of Troyons and just short of Cerny. At 7.30am, 3 Brigade set out from Bourg heading north to Vendresse and the Troyon spur all except for the 1st Royal West Surrey (Queens) battalion that moved east to the Plaissy plateau. Although only the flank guard, 1st Queens also crossed the Chemin des Dames meeting no resistance until it reached the northern slope by La Bovelle Farm (half a mile north-east of Cerny). Here they took position and engaged the Germans in the Ailette valley . At 4.30pm, after sharp fighting at La Bovelle, 1st Queens withdrew to the foremost of the British guns on the Chemin des Dames and consolidated their position. Over the next two days they were unable to make any further advance and in turn were subjected to heavy German artillery fire. Trench warfare had been established on the Aisne front and the casualties started mounting. 17th September, was a day of very heavy shelling by the enemy and when, at 11.30am, the French troops on the right unexpectedly withdrew, the two companies from support were sent up to fill the gap which had left the artillery exposed. They were hit hard by enemy fire as they made their way forward and many did not make it. By the end of the day the battalion had over fifty casualties. Things did not improve much the following day, 18th September, when the battalion was shelled from 6am to 3.15pm. One platoon suffered in particular as they had not been able to dig deep enough. One of the battalion’s casualties on this day was John Cann.

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