The last great cavalry charge of World War I
You have likely seen the famous painting by Sir Alfred Munnings, Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron , often referred to as the Last Great Cavalry Charge. It took place at Moreuil Woods, in France, on March 30, 1918. The enemy had launched a massive attack and had broken through our front lines and held the woods. It was decided to drive the enemy out. One squadron each from Royal Canadian Dragoons and Lord Strathcona’s Horse entered the wood, dismounted, and cleared the wood right through to the eastern face. Meanwhile another squadron from the Lord Strathcona’s Horse under command of Lieutenant Flowerdew moved up to the rear of the woods with the idea of cutting off the enemy’s retreat.
As they crossed a steep bank they found themselves face to face with two lines of machine guns, about 20 in all. Without any hesitation Lieutenant Flowerdew gave the order to charge and led his squadron with great gallantry, in spite of a murderous fire from the enemy who showed no sign of wavering. Although this squadron suffered heavy casualties their action had a significant effect on the enemy who were still fighting in the wood. Hearing the clatter of hoofs behind them and thinking themselves surrounded, their resistance to our dismounted troops weakened considerably whilst this most successful mounted action was in progress.
Sadly, the battle for the Woods had tragic costs: 305 Allied casualties. Of the 150 horses that went into the fray, only four survived. As this was the dawn of modern warfare using machine guns and mechanized artillery, it was the end of the era of cavalry troopers.
Incidentally, the Canadian Brigade was judged by some to be the best brigade in the British cavalry. It was composed of the Fort Gary Horse, the Lord Strathcona Horse, and the Royal Canadian Dragoons. World War 1 saw the last of the cavalry. The Regiments are now the armoured Corps and form part of today’s military.