Loos-en-Gohelle (Commonly but inaccurately called simply Loos by visitors) is situated just to the north of Lens. From Arras take the N 17 in the direction of Lens following the new road system around Vimy village. At Avion you will enter the A 211 autoroute (and pass the Green Crassier immediately on your left) this will then change to the A 21 — following Lens (Ouest).
At Sortie No 9 Lens (Nord) leave the autoroute and turn right at the junction for La Bassée. You are now driving along the ridge of Hill 70. The summit is now the roundabout near the hospital. At this roundabout turn left for Loos-en-Gohelle (scene of the famous battle in 1915).
The plaque is very easily missed as it is on a small wall on your right just before the first house. Note there are two plaques — the other to Michael O’Rourke VC.
On 15th August 1917 the Canadian Corps successfully seized the entire ridge from the Germans in its first battle under the command of Sir Arthur Currie. His original orders had been to take Lens but he had successfully argued that taking the ridge overlooking Lens (Hill 70) would, it was hoped, make the town untenable. Although the Germans eventually gave up trying to chase the Canadians off the ridge they obstinately refused to give up the town.
In the following days Sir Arthur Currie decided that he would test the water with a two Brigade assault on the pile of rubble that represented the once bustling mining town of Lens. The date was set for the 21st August; Zero Hour was 0435 hours — whilst it was still dark.
As the Canadians were preparing themselves for the coming battle they suddenly came under German artillery fire at 0400 hours. Immediately prior to the Canadians’ own Zero the Germans launched an attack against the 29th (Vancouver) Battalion on the left of 6th Brigade. The two parties collided in no man’s land and after much bitter fighting the Canadians pushed the Germans back.
The battalion reached Cinnabar Trench but suffered heavy casualties in the act including all of their officers; killed or wounded. Company Sergeant Major Robert Hanna assumed command of the remaining force and led them against a German strongpoint that was holding out against all attempts to seize it. Hanna managed to kill all four defenders, silence the machine gun and capture the position. Having occupied the top end of Cinnabar Trench he held it against repeated counter attacks. His act of leadership and courage was recognised with the award of the Victoria Cross.
A native of Kilkeel in (Northern) Ireland, Hanna survived the war and reached the rank of Lieutenant. A member of the Orange Order he returned home on a number of occasions and his personal sword still hangs in the Royal British Legion in the town. He is buried in Burnaby, British Columbia.
Robert Hanna’s citation for the Victoria Cross reads:
For most conspicuous bravery in attack, when his company met with most severe enemy resistance and all the company officers became casualties. A strong point, heavily protected by wire and held by a machine gun, had beaten off three assaults of the company with heavy casualties. This Warrant Officer under heavy machine gun and rifle fire, coolly collected a party of men, and leading them against this strong point, rushed through the wire and personally bayonetted three of the enemy and brained the fourth, capturing the position and silencing the machine gun.
This most courageous action, displayed courage and personal bravery of the highest order at this most critical moment of the attack, was responsible for the capture of a most important tactical point, and but for his daring action and determined handling of a desperate situation the attack would not have succeeded.
C.S.M. Hanna’s outstanding gallantry, personal courage and determined leading of his company is deserving of the highest possible reward.
The plaque was presented by the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught’s Own) Association on the 7th September 2008.