High Wood and Longueval

The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment

21st-27th July 1916

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Looking out towards Delville Wood from High Wood. Delville Wood can be seen in the distance. The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment helped to reinforce the 13th Brigade, which attacked High Wood in this area on 21st July 1916, prior to moving onto the advance on Longueval on 27th July.

The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment had been positioned around Arras and although they had seen action, namely when the Germans had attacked their positions in May, they had not seen anything like they would on the Somme since they had fought at Mons in 1914.

The 5th Division moved to that sector after the battle commenced and were in support of the 7th Division, who were facing Longueval, by the 16th July. On 21st July the 13th Brigade were ordered to attack High Wood. At 6.30 a.m. “D” Company advanced in four waves, occupying the line which ran from the south-west corner of High Wood.”C” Company occupied a trench north of Bazentin le Grand and “A” and “B” Companies remained in the old German front line.

A Gaul KIA 27 Jul 16

Arthur Albert Gaul who was killed in action on 27th July 1916. Arthur was 23 and was the son of Arthur Albert and Martha Gaul of 29 Bell Road in Norwich

At 8.45 a.m. they relieved the 1st Battalion West Kents in the firing line which ran from the south west of High Wood running eastwards to Longueval. Here they remained and carried out work constructing a new trench and could not be relieved on the 24th July due to heavy German bombardments which were mixed with high explosive and gas shells. Eventually they were relieved and ended up at Pommiers Redoubt. Their relief was short lived because they moved to their start line where the 15th Brigade had been ordered to attack and capture Longueval.

The battalion had to advance to their start lines through gas and a terrific bombardment which took them five hours and they did not reach positions facing the village until 2.30 a.m. on 27th July. The British opened their advance with a barrage that started at 5.10 a.m. but the Germans replied with a terrific counter barrage that decimated ‘A’ Company who could only muster one platoon forcing the battalion to bring up ‘C’ and ‘D’ Company who simultaneously supported ‘B’ Company in the advance on the village along with the 1st Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment with the 23rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers on the 1/Norfolks’ right.

The German counter barrage stopped ‘C’ Company from advancing in a direct line and they had to move to the right. But the initial German trench which ran towards High Wood was soon captured. But German strong-points in the houses around the village caused the battalion a number of issues as they advanced up the road that ran north towards Flers. This road was known as North Street to the British.

The after action report for the battalion noted,

‘No opposition was encountered until they had advanced 75 yards north of the church. There was here off to the right a very strong redoubt in which was a small house and cellar… The left centre of their line had advanced a little beyond the redoubt and killed several Germans trying to escape through the wood.’

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North Street at Longueval. This is the main focal point for where the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment advanced on 27th July 1916.

Much of the German resistance came from the left of North Street but resistance was also met from German machine guns and snipers holding the sunken road situated to the north-west of the village and a German strong-point that had been left behind. The Germans also launched a counter attack from the high ground to the south of Flers. This attack was stopped by British and German artillery falling short forcing them to fall back.

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The ruins of Longueval seen in September 1916.

By now only one officer was left to command both ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies. This was Lieutenant Windham who took command of what was left of them as they advanced to the west of North Street.

Longueval July 1916

A trench map taken from the war diary for the 1st Battalion. North Street can be seen sat centrally heading north towards Flers.

‘B’ Company had initially advanced with no opposition until they came up against heavy resistance from a redoubt by the church and had to be assisted by ‘D’ Company who helped with bombing parties in order that the redoubt was cleared. This was captured with 100 Germans inside it.

The war diary noted that,

‘The prisoners taken belong to the 8th Brandenburg Regiment and the 12th Guard Grenadiers. Those who had been at Douamont said that the artillery was worse at Longueval.’

 

Edward Lock KIA 27 Jul 16

Edward Lock who was killed in action 27th July 1916.Edward was 24 when he died and was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. C. H. A. Lock, of “Larchwood,” Thorpe St. Andrew, Norwich and the husband of Henrietta Lily Lock of 47 William Street in Norwich.

The advance was supposed to go 3oo yards north of Longueval but this could not be met and the battalion along with the Bedfordshires consolidated a line at the northern edge of the village and the British artillery which had supposed to assist the battalion in further advances moved on leaving the infantry without any support.

The C.O. of the battalion, Colonel Stone, noted in the after action report,

‘In order to make certain of my advance I ordered A and B to go through to the olive green line and then let C and D pass through them to the red line, but these orders were sent out after arrival in Longueval and Company Commanders were unable to give out fresh instructions to their platoon commanders owing to the heavy artillery barrage.’

W J Anthony KIA 27 Jul 16

William James Anthony who was killed in action on 27th July 1916. William was 21 when he died and was the son of Mrs Mary Hannah Anthony of Great Cressingham near Watton.

The hardest fighting was described as being in the north-west end of Delville Wood where the Germans were able to fire on the Norfolks from High Wood and the Switch Line along with a number of strong points out of the wood which could also fire on the battalion.

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The ruins of Longueval in 1916. North Street can be seen running from the centre to the top left of the picture.

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Part of the area where the 1st Battalion reached before they consolidated their gains. North Street is behind the camera and you are looking at the road that takes you to Flers. This is where the battalion engaged a German counter attack which came from the direction of Flers.

The endeavours of the battalion along with the other battalions that took part in this advance were noted by the Brigade Commander,

‘The Brigadier-General wishes to express to all ranks of the Brigade his great admiration at the magnificent manner in which they captured the village of Longueval yesterday. To the 1st Norfolk Regiment and the 1st Bedfordshire Regiment and some of the 16th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, who were able to get into the enemy with the bayonet, he offers heartiest congratulations. He knows it is what they have been waiting and wishing for for many months. The 1st Cheshire Regiment made a most gallant and determined effort to reach their objective and failed through no fault of their own. The way in which troops behaved under the subsequent heavy bombardment was worthy of the best traditions of the British Army. The Brigade captured 4 officers and 159 other ranks.’

Losses for the battalion were high. 11 officers were killed or wounded and 257 other ranks were killed, wounded or missing. In total the war diary notes that with the fighting in front of High Wood and the capture of Longueval the battalion lost 429 officers and men. Between 21st and 28th July 1916 a total of 98 officers and men were killed in the fighting around this area. Many of these men have no known grave although a few are buried in the cemeteries in the area including London Cemetery.

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Norfolks’ own ‘Tommy Atkins’. Leonard was the son of William and Rachel Atkins of 31, Calvert Street in Norwich and the husband of Emily Susannah Ethel Atkins of 6 Wyvil Street South Lambeth Road in Lambeth. MIZPAH is something that is special to our family in that my Great Grandfather, who also served in WW1, sent this to his wife Edith by card. it comes from the Bible and is interpreted as, ‘The Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other. ..’ It comes from the book of Genesis.

This action would not be the last time that they saw service on the Somme and they would serve in the trenches around Longueval until the end of July. At that time the 5th Division was sent out of the line to reorganise. But they would go back to the Somme and we will look at that in September.

Delville Wood

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

19th July 1916

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Herbert Cooper who fought at Delville Wood on 19th July 1916.

We left the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment when, on the evening of 3rd July 1916, they were relieved by the 8/Suffolks and moved into bivouacs in Carnoy. They spent the next few days clearing the battlefield and digging communication trenches before going to the rear lines and eventually ended up at Grovetown Camp close to Happy Valley. They were re-enforced by a draft of 240 Other Ranks and 10 Officers, who came from the 1st, 7th and 10th Norfolks and the battalion also trained for further attacks.

On the 3rd July, Bernafay and Caterpillar Woods fell to elements of the 18th Division and the 27th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division. On the 4th July La Boisselle fell to the 19th (Western) Division and Ovillers was partially captured by the 25th and 48th (South Midland) Division on the 7th July, the village eventually falling on the 25th. Between the 8th and 14th July, a terrible battle was fought in Trones Wood which was considered an important staging post for further progress on places such as Longueval and Guillemont.

The 30th Division, which had seen action of the 1st July, were given the task of taking the wood. It was a bitter battle, seeing much hand to hand fighting, with the same thing happening at Mametz Wood was eventually captured by the 38th (Welsh) Division on 12th July. It had taken the Division from the 7th July to do so and cost them 4000 casualties, including 600 killed.

The British then turned their attention toward High Wood in a continuation of the push through German lines. The Battle of Bazentin Ridge opened at dawn on the 14th, in darkness, and was preceded by a short sharp five-minute artillery bombardment, this forced the exposed German defenders to their dugouts and the infantry moved forward. Bazentin-le-Grand and Bazentin-le-Petit were secured with a matter of hours. Having established a position at Bazentin-le-Petit it became apparent to the British that High Wood itself was deserted; a large gap in the German lines was waiting to be exploited. Therefore permission was sought from headquarters to dispatch infantry into the wood.

However it was instead decided that here was an ideal scenario for the use of cavalry who could, it was stated, move far more quickly than infantry and may even break right through to Bapaume. During the delay between the request for an infantry advance into the wood being sent, between 9 a.m. and midday, by which time still no orders for a cavalry advance had been given, the Germans moved slowly back into the wood, effectively plugging the hole in their lines. By the time the cavalry were finally sent forwards, at around 7 p.m., the Germans had established sufficient defences to be able to decimate the oncoming British with machine gun fire.

Despite the costly failure of the attack upon High Wood, the cavalry nevertheless secured a line from High Wood to Longueval. That night the British, under heavy fire, attempted to establish a line inside the wood, in readiness for an attack upon the German forces situated in the north-western half of the wood on the following day.

Delville Wood 1916 2

Delville Wood after its capture.

The British commanders attempted to launch an attack upon Martinpuich in the north, missing the fact that the Germans had not yet been fully cleared from High Wood. Situated midway between Bazentin-le-Petit and Martinpuich, skirting the edge of High Wood, was sited a formidable trench system known as the Switch Line. This defensive line then continued onwards running to the north of Delville Wood. This meant that when the British attacked they were subjected to enfilading fire from the wood; therefore a simultaneous attack from the western side of the wood failed with the 33rd Division attacking towards Martinpuich also being checked forcing the British to withdraw entirely from High Wood.

The battle on the 14th had also involved attacks on Longueval Ridge and the village of Longueval itself. This had been turned into a redoubt by the Germans and was littered with reinforced cellars, bunkers and machine-gun posts linked by underground tunnels.

At 03.35hrs, the 26th and 27th Brigades of the 9th (Scottish) Division attacked in darkness, seizing the southern part of the village and patrols were sent into Delville Wood. But this whole area was heavily defended and the attack had incurred heavy losses, especially in the attack on Waterlot Farm, situated to the south of wood. The 1st South African Brigade, which had been the 9th Division’s reserve, was sent in the village to assist in clearing the south of Longueval and was ordered to clear Delville Wood of Germans. But the advance was postponed to the next morning.

On the 15th July the South African Brigade, with a total of 3,150 officers and men, attacked Delville Wood. The South Africans managed to clear the southern edge of German forces but the remainder of the wood remained in German hands.

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The situation that the 8th Norfolks came into the on 19th July 1916

The South Africans fought their action in poor weather with the enemy artillery dropping shells at a rate of 400 shells a minute. This transformed the wood into a shell of broken and shattered tree stumps, which would become pockmarked with massive shell holes. For five days the South Africans remained in the wood repeatedly fighting off heavy German counter attacks and terrible hand-to-hand fighting ensued. Casualties in the South African Brigade were horrendous with the dead outnumbering the wounded by four to one. Attempts were made to re-enforce the South Africans and the 76th Brigade from the 3rd Division managed to reach them on the morning of the 17th July. However, the Germans launched two massive counter attacks on the 18th July. The first fell onto the beleaguered South Africans at 3.45 a.m. and the second during the afternoon. The preliminary bombardment alone lasted 11 hours before the Germans attacked. The South Africans were pushed back to the western corner of the wood where they managed to hold the line along Princes Street, a gallop that ran west to east and situated in the central part of the wood.

The Germans also retook most of Longueval where they managed to infiltrate as far as to the central road of the village. Even greater gains were made in the eastern part of the wood with the German 153rd Regiment pushing the South Africans right out of the wood and onto the Ginchy Road. Here they were stopped by British artillery and machine gun fire from Longueval.

And so by dawn of the 19th July the South African Brigade were desperately low on ammunition and men and it is here that we come back to the 8/Norfolk Regiment. On the 18th July the battalion had moved into the area of the old front-line and ended up near to where they had initially had gone over the top as the war diary records them being situated in the ‘Talus Bois Salient’.

Theobald

Douglas Theobald who came from 20 West Parade in Norwich and who was killed in action at Delville Wood on 19th July 1916.

It was here that they were warned at 1.30 a.m. on the 19th July to proceed to the valley north of Montauban and prepare for an attack on Delville Wood. They along with the rest of the 53rd Brigade had been loaned to the now depleted 9th Division. It was the 8/Norfolks that attacked first. They went in a 07.15hrs and their orders had been specific.

‘…We are to take the whole of the South portion of the wood from West to East, as far up as Princes Street, the middle ride of the wood, and that while that operation was being carried out a barrage would be on the north portion of the wood, North of Princes Street and directly the South portion was cleared, the 10th Bn., the Essex Regiment and the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment would form up just South of Princes Street, and the 8th Bn., Suffolk Regiment, in the village, and then take the north of the wood and the North of the village, and that then the 8th Bn., the Norfolk Regiment would take over the whole of the wood and hold it with 16 strong points around the edge.’

George Mason KIA 19 Jul 16

George Frederick Mason who was the son of W. O. and Agnes Emma Mason of Ashwicken who was killed in action on 19th July 1916

Initially, the attack went in well and B Coy managed to reach Campbell Street. However, A Coy, to which Herbert Cooper was part of, had difficulty advancing when a German machine gun from the east of the wood above Princes Street opened up on them. A Coy incurred heavy casualties here, including the loss of both their officers, Lieutenants H.M. MacNichol and B.W. Benn.

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Arthur Allison from Little Ryburgh who was killed in action at Delville Wood serving with the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment on 19th July 1916

Herbert is known to have received a gunshot wound to the scalp. At this point, C Coy had to be brought up to support them. Both companies only managed to take part of the wood from the west of Buchanan Street Campbell Street but could not cross over Rotten Row, nor get to Princes Street owing to the British barrage and the machine gun firing from the edge of the wood.

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The start line for the 8th Battalion attack which is situated to the right of the entrance to the South African Memorial.

B Coy did, however, manage to gain a little more ground between Campbell and King Street but it too started to suffer heavy casualties from another German machine gun. This gun was silenced by a platoon under the command of Lt H.V. Hughes and C Coy, under the command of Lt L A Gundry-White, managed to get the second machine gun, which had caused so many casualties to A Coy, to retire. So that by 11.30hrs the 8/Norfolks had managed to gain ground within the line from Buchanan Street in the west and King Street in the east and had got past Rotten Row and were just shy of Princes Street which was cleared of Germans at 12.00hrs. In effect the 8/Norfolks now controlled the extreme southern eastern part of the wood.

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Frederick Walter Bulley who was the son of Alfred and Laura Maria Bush of 20 St. Julian’s Alley near King Street in Norwich who was killed in action on 19th July 1916.

It was here that the rest of the 53rd Brigade was called upon to act and their attack went in at around 14.00hrs. This attack did not gain much more ground and so the brigade concentrated on defending what ground had been taken by the Norfolks and the war diary notes that they concentrated on building making strong-points and sending out their snipers to which the diary states,

‘…Made excellent practice from the South end of the wood from the North ridge of Guillemont.’

Apart form continuous bombardment of the southern part of Longueval the afternoon passed quietly and by now the battalion HQ had been brought up and positioned itself 100 yards north of Dover Street.

Herbert Harvey KIA 19 Jul 16

Herbert Harvey who was the son of Hannah Harvey of 34, Barker Street in Norwich, and the late Edward Harvey. Herbert was killed in action on 20th July 1916.

Further attacks were attempted by a battalion of Royal Welsh Fusiliers, who were guided by Lt S.N. Cozens-Hardy from the southern point of Buchanan Street towards Princes Street, but they did not get very far past this position before being heavily fired upon and the Cozens-Hardy was wounded in this attack.

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Rotten Row in Delville Wood where the 8th Norfolks consolidated their gains.

The 8/Norfolks then took up positions to the south of Rotten Row and stayed there until they were relieved on the night of the 21st and 22nd July by the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. The war diary records that the 8/Norfolks had lost 11 officers and 288 men killed or wounded in this attack. Of this number 3 officers along with 102 men were killed outright. A further 9 soldiers from the 8/Norfolks died of wounds between the 19th and 29th July 1916.

Harry Hood

Harry Hood who was only 16 years old when he was killed in action at Delville Wood.

Private 3/8104 Harry James Hood was born in Rocklands and had enlisted in Norwich. He was killed in action on 19th July 1916 serving with the 8th Battalion. On his grave he is listed as being 17 years old. In reality he was 16 years old, one record also suggests he was born in 1899 which possibly makes him 15. Certainly both the 1901 and the 1911 Census record him being born in 1900.

He had been a draft to the battalion and had landed in France on 2nd November 1915. Further to this is the fact that his service number intimates that he had joined up before the outbreak of WW1. Whether that is correct or not what we can definitely say is that his age on the CWGC listing is not correct. Harry was the son of George and Emily Hood of Gressenhall.

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Harry Wood now lies in Delville Wood Cemetery close to where he was killed in action on 19th July 1916.

The wood was never entirely taken by the South African and British forces during this action. Despite determined efforts the Germans always managed to hold onto portions of it. It would take another month of fierce fighting before the wood was finally clawed from the Germans. On the 25th August 1916, the 14th (Light) Division captured the wood and held it.

Timothy Gibbons KIA 19 Jul 16

Sergeant Timothy Gibbons MM, who was the son of Mrs. Elizabeth Gibbons off Hoveton St. Peter, who was killed in action on 19th July 1916.

Herbert was stable enough for him to be evacuated off the battlefield to a Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), in this case this turned out to be No 21 CCS at Corbie.

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Herbert Coopers is now laid to rest at La Neuville British Cemetery.

The CCS was the first type of medical facility that could deal with all medical cases and was designed to retain the more serious cases, until they could be evacuated, or treat and move the less serious cases to base hospitals either in France or England. In Herbert’s case he was not fit to move and he stayed at 21 CCS. Tragically, he died of his wounds on 28th July 1916 at the age of 23. As with all CCS there was a burial plot nearby and he is now laid to rest in grave I. E. 17 of La Neuville British Cemetery along with a further 887 British and Commonwealth troops and 27 German soldiers. Many of Herbert’s comrades, including Lieutenants MacNichol and Benn, have no known grave and are now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Herbert Cooper Obit

The report of the loss Herbert in the EDP.

 

 

Ovillers

The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

3rd-6th July 1916

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The killing ground around Ovillers in what was known to the British as Mash Valley on the Somme where the 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment fought between 3rd and 6th July 1916.

The Battle of the Somme did not end on 1st July 1916. It lasted a further 140 days.

Haig and Rawlinson had taken stock of their losses and gains from day one and began concentrate on the areas that had been taken, or had gained partial successes. This area can be pinpointed from an area starting at Ovillers La Boiselle to Montauban. Even though the British had suffered one of the greatest setbacks of the war, it is a testament to these men and to the commanders of 1916 that they were able to withdraw the beleaguered troops from the front-line and put in fresh divisions who were given the task of carrying on the offensive.

On the 3rd July, Bernafay and Caterpillar Woods fell to the 18th Division and the 27th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division. The 19th (Western) Division were putting the pressure on the Germans defenders at La Boisselle and Ovillers, which had been held by the Germans on 1st July 1916, was looked at and the task of capturing the fortified village was given to the 12th (Eastern) Division.

The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment was part of the 35th Brigade of that division and it had moved from the rear where it had been positioned around Hennencourt Wood, to occupy the intermediate line of trenches south-west of Albert at 6.50 p.m. in order to support the 8th and 34th Divisions who had gone over at Zero-Hour on 1st July 1916.

But this all changed due to the 8th Division failing to capture Ovillers. Instead, on 2nd July 1916, the 12th Division took up positions at the front with 7/Norfolks occupying the embankment of the Albert-Arras railway.

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An Official History map of the situation on the right flank of the Somme for 4th July 1916. The 12th Division can be seen in the top left facing Ovillers.

On 3rd July the division went over the top and Zero-Hour was at 3.15 a.m. The 35th Brigade advanced on the the right with the 37th Brigade on the left with the 36th Brigade held in reserve. The 35th Brigade advanced with the 7/Suffolks, the 9/Essex and the 5/Berkshires leading and the 7/Norfolks in reserve.

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A closer view of the 12th Division’s positions on 4th July 1916.

The attack went in at night supported by artillery but the advancing battalions soon came under machine gun and artillery fire from the Germans. As the 7/Norfolks advanced via communication trenches in support of the other battalions they lost 1 officer, Captain John Tilley, and 100 other ranks killed or wounded. The leading battalions failed to take their objectives, losing a total 1,117 men killed, wounded or missing and the 7/Norfolks were not allowed to advance. Efforts to get Mills Bombs to the battalion failed when the bombing party carrying them was wiped out. Their C.O., Colonel Francis Edward Walter, was wounded by a piece of shell but remained at duty.

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A map drawn in the war diary for the battalion showing the positions occupied between 3rd and 6th July 1916.

The 7/Norfolks now, holding positions between Dorset to Barrow Road, had the task of holding the 35th Brigade front while the other battalions withdrew. They were heavily shelled and remained there all day of the 3rd July while the 19th Division attacked La Boisselle on their right.

Lt Green

Lieutenant Arthur Green who was killed in action at Ovillers on 5th July 1916.

Between 4th and 5th July 1916 the battalion suffered a number of heavy German barrages where they lost 1 officer killed, 2 wounded and a further 8 other ranks wounded. The officer killed was Lieutenant Arthur Peceval Green aged 21 who was the son of the Rev. William Arthur and Alice Mary Green of Winterton Rectory..

On 6th July they were relieved by men of the 36th Brigade and went back to positions at Warincourt Wood.

Ovillers July 1916

Ovillers in July 1916.

In total during their three day action the battalion lost 20 men killed or who died of wounds and 110 men wounded or missing. Ovillers did not fall until 16th July 1916 when it was captured by the 48th (South Midland) Division.

Charles Edmonds, who wrote A Subaltern’s War, described the area around Ovillers when he passed through that area on the day the village finally fell.

‘A little grass had still room to grow between the shellholes. The village was guarded by tangle after tangle of rusty barbed wire in irregular lines. Among the wire lay rows of khaki figures, as they had fallen to the machine-guns on the crest, thick as the sleepers in the Green Park on summer Sunday evening……..the flies were buzzing obscenely over the damp earth; morbid scarlet poppies grew scantily along the white chalk mounds; the air was tainted with rank explosives and the sickly stench of corruption.’

Ovillers would not be the last time that the 7/Norfolks saw action on the Somme.

Baptism of Fire

The Norwich City Royal Engineers on the Somme

1st July 1916

Bertie Allard KIA 1 Jul 16

Driver 85139 Bertie John Allard from Skeyton who was killed in action serving with the 209th Field Company on 1st July 1916.

On 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the three brigades of the 34th Division were given the task of attacking the heavily defended area in front of La Boiselle.

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An official history map showing the advance of the 34th Division on 1st July 1916.

They were to be assisted by the firing of two mines either side of the village and they attacked at 0730hrs. Their casualties were appalling and were mainly caused by the fact that the Germans in the second and third lines were able to pour fire into the advancing troops.

Herbert Hart KIA 1 Jul 16 208 Coy

Lance Corporal 84750 Herbert Thompson Hart of North Creake and his nephew. Herbert was killed in action serving with the 208th Field Company.

But one of the mine craters, called ‘Lochnagar’, and a defensive position called Scots Redoubt was captured although further advances could not be made. It was here that all three Norfolk field companies were used to support the troops who were occupying these positions.

Albert Moore KIA 1 Jul 16

Pioneer 84708 Albert Moore from Horsford who was killed in action serving with the 208th Field Company on 1st July 1916.

Their war diaries and the Official History of the Great War all record that they were utilised in supporting the remnants of the infantry and the carrying ammunition and water to the troops who held onto Scots Redoubt and the Lochnagar Crater.

The 207th Field Company war diary for 1st July 1916,

‘Sections in dugouts at Beacourt Wood. Sections ordered to move to allotted sectors but owing to heavy enemy fire the sections were held up. Lieut HH Luttman Johnson went out two or three times to reconnoitre during the morning and afternoon and found enemy machine guns still very active. At 9 p.m. General Gort ordered a section to proceed to Scots Redoubt – No 1 Section went under Lieut HH Luttman  Johnson. At 11 p.m. General Gore asked that the balance of the company be sent up to try and get in touch with any isolated parties of 101st Brigade. The sections were to use Scots Redoubt as a base. The sections 92, 3 & 4) passed signals Paget Street at 12 Midnight. During the day Lieut Wilding was wounded in the back but after being dressed remained at duty. 10 ORs were slightly wounded and remained at duty. 5 were evacuated wounded and 2 wounded, 9 shell-shock).’

The 208th Field Company war diary for 1st July 1916,

‘When the 103rd Brigade had gone by No 1 and 2 Sections collected their material and attempted to cross no-man’s land but  owing to heavy shell and M.G. fire were unable to do so and returned.

Several casualties were sustained and the sections became somewhat scattered. About 40 men were collected and remained in their lines under 2nd Lt C A Ablett until 2 p.m. when they were uilised to carry bombs and water to the south mine sector via the tunnel until 9.30 p.m.

No 3 and 4 Sections also collected R.E. materials and moved forward with it. But owing to both their sections officers and several ORs being wounded by shell-fire they did not get into no man’s land and were ordered by their officers to get into dugouts.

They became scatted and were not collected until 2 p.m. Orders were received from the G.O.C. for the company to proceed to dugouts in Becourt Wood and the Company was reassembled there.

No 3 and 4 Sections marching to be joined later by their Nos 1 and 2 Sections.

The 208th Field Company war diary for 1st July 1916,

‘1 a.m. Company less Mounted Branch and part Hd Qtrs assembled in Maxse Redoubt.

7.40 a.m. Coy left Maxse Redoubt, men carrying tools, explosives etc to take up their positions in their waves  of attack of the 103rd Infy Brigade, proceeding by Redoubt Avenue to the A.B” Trench, the right half Coy taking  Berkshire Avenue to the front line, and the left half Coy taking Northumberland Avenue to the front line. 2 Lt E.M. Gilbert-Lodge O.C. of No 3 Section evacuated suffering shell-shock.

8 a.m. Message sent by O.C. Coy to G.O.C. 103rd Bde asking if the Coy should continue to advance.

8.40 a.m. Reply received from 103rd Bde stating that 1st objective had been taken, but that the Coy must not advance till further orders. Runners were dispatched to O.C. Right & Left half Coys and runner arrived from O.C. Right half Coy (Lt F.G. Ash) stating that his half Coy had suffered casualties & were unable to leave front-line without being annihilated.

6 p.m. Acting/G.O.C. 103rd Bde ordered O.C. Coy to send a volunteer party in charge of an officer to carry bombs & S.A.A. to the most advanced positions taken.

9.30 p.m. 27 N.C.O.s & men under Lt Ash volunteered & left with these supplies returning at 4 a.m. on the 2nd…’

Lieutenant Frederick Gordon Ash, who had been a Civil Engineer prior to WW1, is mentioned in the 34th Division history and it states,

‘The party only returned at 4 a.m. and at nine-thirty a.m. Lieutenant Ash set out again with all four sections of the company, and worked on the consolidation of the positions till relieved by Engineers of the 23rd Division.’

For his bravery that day Lieutenant Ash was rightly awarded a Military Cross which listed in the London Gazette on 19th August 1916 the citation stating,

Temp. Lt. Frederick Gordon Ash, R.E.

For conspicuous gallantry. He volunteered and succeeded with a party of R.E. and infantry in carrying bombs and ammunition to men in newly-captured ‘trenches, the exact whereabouts of whom was not known. – Next night he again piloted a party, and remained working day and night under fire organising the defences.

On this day Harry Hazel was killed in action and he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. A total of 10 men were killed in action that day. 6 men came from the 208th and a total of 4 from the 209th Company.

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Harry Hazel’s name seen on the Thiepval Memorial.

La Boiselle did not fall that day and in total the 34th Division lost 6,591 men killed or wounded or missing between the 1st and 3rd July, including 8 senior officers.

Ernest Doggett KIA 1 Jul 16

Serjeant 85542 Ernest George Doggett from Lakenham who served with the 208th Field Comapny and who was killed in action on 1st July 1916.

Zero Hour

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

1st July 1916

John Roper

John Roper from Worstead who went over the top with the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment on 1st July 1916.

On 1st July 1916 the 18th (Eastern) Division and the 30th Division had the task of taking the village of Montauban. One of the men on the Worstead war memorial was killed in action on this day.

John Henry Roper was born in 1894 and was the son of Edwin and Mary Roper of Briggate. He also had a brother, Edwin (Junior), and four sisters, Dorothy, Annie, Jane and Evelyn. John is listed as a farm labourer in 1911.

At ‘Zero Hour’, the first Norfolk Regiment battalion to see action on the Somme, the 8/Norfolks, listed that they were positioned with the 7/Queens on their right and the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment on their left. This is incorrect. To their right were half of B Company from the 7th Battalion the Buffs (East Kent Regiment) and then the 7th Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment. These battalions faced the German line opposite trenches known as Breslau and Mine.

To the right of the 7/Queens was the 8th East Surrey Regiment and a famous event that occurred with them is looked at in another blog.

But a lot of things happened in this one small area of the Somme front-line and we need to cover the initial phase first.

The 8/Norfolks were positioned astride the Carnoy/Montauban Road situated to the north west of Carnoy. To their right this area, which can still be seen today, can be made out by using a tree line, which is now recorded as ‘La Longue Haie’ (The Long Hedge) on a modern day French IGN map. On a trench map from 1916 this is registered as ‘Talus Boise’ (Timber Slope).

8 Norfolks 1 Jul 16

The order of battle for the 18th (Eastern) Division on 1st July 1916. The 8/Norfolks are straddled over the Carnoy-Montauban road.

The first thing that happened in this area was that, at 07.28hrs, a mine was fired under a German position known as Casino Point and 2 smaller explosive charges, known as ‘Russian Saps’ also at the western end of the 18th Division’s area where it was known there were machine guns sited to fire on the flanks of the advancing troops.

Both the mines assisted the advancing troops, but they had not killed all the Germans in the garrison and this held up the advance of the 7/Buffs, 7/Queens and 7/Royal West Kents who lost many men as the Germans were able to pour fire into them. The Germans were also able to man their first support trench, which became their front-line and ensured that the trenches to the rear of this position were also manned. This meant that as the British barrage lifted there were around 300 Germans who were able to defend the area, but fortunately the German’s artillery was not able to pour heavy fire onto the area.

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The 8/Norfolk start line for 1st July 1916.

The explosion of the Casino Point mine had helped their advance where they along with the 6/Royal Berkshires had been able to advance and capture many German prisoners who had come out into no-man’s land. The war diary mentions that all resistance was ‘…cowed and at once surrendered. C Company on our right took around 30 prisoners from the west edge of the Mine craters.’

By 0740hrs Mine Support had fallen and the battalion had been lucky in that it had suffered no casualties at this point. Bund support fell at 0800hrs. They only met resistance at a place called ‘The Castle’ and Breslau Support Trench, which held the advancing Norfolks to their right.

Bernard Pitts Ayre

Captain Bernard Pitts Ayre who was killed in action on 1st July 1916.

‘The two assaulting companies on leaving BUND SUPPORT came under very heavy enfilade machine gun fire from the direction of BRESLAU SUPPORT and BACK TRENCH and suffered heavily, Captain B.P. AYRE being killed and Captain J.H. HALL being seriously wounded… There now remained no officer with the left leading company and two subalterns in the right leading company, which were reduced to about 90 and 100 respectively.’

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Officers of the 8/Norfolks for 1st July 1916.

However, the lead troops, under CSM A.F. Raven, made good progress and found the wire cut and the Castle soon surrendered leaving Breslau Support and Back trench to resist. But the 8/Norfolks continued onward making for their next objective, which was called Pommiers Redoubt. Although they were checked by three German machine guns these were soon silenced or seen to retreat when a bombing party managed to surprise and rush one of the crews.

By 0750hrs the 8/Norfolks had captured part of Pommiers Trench. However it was here that they could advance no further due to enemy fire from Breslau Support. ‘…a platoon from the Support Company, under 2nd Lieut G.E. Miall-Smith, and the Battalion Bombers, under Sergeant H.H. West had also been sent up to this point, this strong point fell and the garrison of 150 Germans and 2 Officers of a Bavarian regiment surrendered, and right leading company was then able to push forward in to the East portion of Pommiers Trench which up to then had not been taken.’

Gilbert Hart KIA 1 Jul 16

Private 13186 Gilbert Spencer Hart from Thorpe St Andrew who was killed in action on 1st July 1916.

By now the other brigades in the 18th Division had either captured, or was close to capturing all their first objectives and the battalion then consolidated their position. They could not assist the 6/Berkshires in the capture of a position called THE LOOP and ‘B’ Company went assist ‘C’ Company. It was only until supporting elements of the 18th Division and the advance in Montauban by the 30th Division had cleared most of the German resistance that the 8/Norfolks could assist in the capture of the Loop which happened at 1500hrs when ‘B’ Company took this position allowing ‘C’ and ‘D’ to advance to Montauban Alley.

‘Owing to machine guns firing from this line and from N.W. of Montauban ‘D’ Company on the left suffered heavy casualties, and ‘C’ Company, led by 2nd Lieut J.H. Attenborough made repeated attempts to get into Montauban Alley, but did not succeed until a bombing party, under 2nd Lieut L.A. Gundry-White, gained an entrance by way of Loop Trench on the left. Unfortunately, just before this had been affected, 2nd Lieut J.H. Attenborough with C.S.M. J. Coe had both been killed in an attempt to get into this trench.’

John Haddon Attenborough was 24 and the son of the late George William and Elizabeth Sarah Attenborough, of South Ockendon, Essex and Jeremiah Coe came from West Lexham, both have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme.

But The advance of the 18th Division, along with the 7th and 30th Divisions to their left and right respectively cannot be underestimated. Their advances would pave the way for what was to come in the next few days and the Official History of the Great War makes particular note of the 18th and 30th Divisions.

‘As a result of the successes of the 30th and 18th Divisions, XIII. Corps had driven the Germans from the entire sector of the Alley was captured and the 8/Norfolks managed to make contact with the 7/Queens on their right and the 6/Royal Berkshires on their left. By now ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were down to 70 and 80 other ranks with one officer in overall charge of them and ‘B’ company was sent up to support them. Montauban Ridge, allotted to it as the objective in the first phase of the battle. The corps attributed the success of its divisions to their training in open warfare; to thorough “mopping up”, so that no Germans sprang up behind the lines so shoot the attackers in the back; and to the preliminary ascertainment, by feints of where the German barrages would fall, and rapid movement of the troops over the belts of ground involved.’

Herbert Bell KIA 1 Jul 16

Corporal 15902 Herbert Bell from the parish of St Peter per Mountergate in Norwich who was killed in action on 1st July 1916.

But this all came at a high price and both divisions lost over 6,000 men killed or wounded on the first day. What is even more tragic is that from 07.30 to 08.30, in just one hour, the British Army sustained over 30,000 casualties. A great majority of these lay in no-man’s land with no real hope of being rescued, or tended to by medics, and many died of their wounds. By the end of the first day nearly 60,000 men had died or were wounded, a total of 20,000 were either killed outright, or died of their wounds. One of these men was John Roper.

I hold a record of part of his service history and that states that he died in the German trenches north of Carnoy. This further lists that he was originally buried in a position 2 1/4 miles north east of Carnoy, 2 1/4 miles south of Fricourt and 5 1/2 miles south east of Albert. Tragically, his grave was never located after the war and he’s now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

William Eldret KIA 1 Jul 16

Private 13208 William Henry Eldret from Dereham Road in Norwich who was killed in action on 1st July 1916.

The medical services were pushed to full stretch in a very short space of time. The medics could only cope with 9,500 wounded men at a time but by nightfall they had had to deal with 10,000 cases and another 22,000 were on the way. The reason for this was that there was not enough ambulance trains to evacuate the wounded and many men who might have been treated, had they been evacuated, simply died in the open at casualty clearing stations with no medical aid. Many others died as the Germans fired their counter barrages.

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Private 13526 William Hewitt from Horsey who was killed in action on 1st July 1916.

Unofficial truces were held in certain sectors and in certain cases German and British soldiers helped each other to get the wounded in. However, these were only isolated cases and it was mostly British soldiers under the cover of darkness who had to recover their mates on their own. Other wounded soldiers made their way back to their lines on their own, some surrendered and went into German captivity. But, for the most part, men lay in agony with no help and many died lonely and painful deaths before aid could get to them. The lack of ambulance trains on the day almost certainly assisted in the casualty rate going up. This led to the serving Quarter Master General, Lieutenant General Maxwell, being recalled home at the end of 1916 for this failure.

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The Thiepval Memorial on the Somme where a great many of the 8/Norfolk men who fell on 1st July 1916 are now commemorated.

One of the most chilling accounts I have read about the aftermath of the Somme comes from a soldier who took over the line from the survivors of the attack at La Boiselle.

‘The next morning we gunners surveyed the dreadful scene in front of our trench. There was a pair of binoculars in the kit, and, under the brazen light of a hot summer’s day everything revealed itself stark and clear. The terrain was rather like the Sussex downlands, with gentle swelling hills, folds and valleys, making it difficult at first to pinpoint all the enemy trenches as they curled and twisted on the slopes. It soon became clear that the German line followed points of eminence, always giving a commanding view of No Man’s Land. Immediately in front, and spreading left and right until hidden from sight, was clear evidence that the attack had been brutally repulsed. Hundreds of dead were strung out like wreckage washed up to a high water-mark. Quite as many died on the enemy wire as on the ground, like fish caught in the net. They hung there in grotesque postures. Some looked as if they were praying; they had died on their knees and the wire had prevented their fall. Machine gun fire had done its terrible work. From the way the bodies were evenly spread out, whether on the wire or lying in front of it, it was clear that there were no gaps in the wire at the time of the attack ’

With a Machine Gun to Cambrai by George Coppard pages 82-83.

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Captain Ayre’s grave in Carnoy Military Cemetery.

This later prompted Coppard to entitle the chapter I have quoted, ‘I’ve seen ‘em, I’ve seen ‘em, Hanging on the old barbed wire’. Which comes from a song sung by the troops and was entitled, ‘If You Want to Find the Sergeant Major’.

The final verse of the song states,

If you want to find the old battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are.
If you want to find the old battalion,
I know where they are,
They’re hanging on the old barbed wire.
I’ve seen ‘em, I’ve seen ‘em,
Hanging on the old barbed wire,
I’ve seen ‘em, I’ve seen ‘em,
Hanging on the old barbed wire.

 

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The grave of Private 17636 Harry Arthur Mutticks from Pulham Market who was killed in action on 1st July 1916 and is now laid to rest in Carnoy Military Cemetery.

The 8/Norfolks remained in trenches to the west of Montauban and sent patrols from the along Caterpillar Trench and East Trench towards Caterpillar Wood. These patrols did not make contact with the enemy and by now the Germans were in full-blown retreat from this area. Although fire was received by German artillery it was noted as being at ‘extreme range and inaccurate’ by the Official History.

This is not backed up by the war diary that states that a 5.9 Howitzer was firing from the north of Longueval and this wounded two officers and 38 men over a two day period.

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One of a number of double graves that hold Norfolk men in Carnoy Military Cemetery. In this case this grave holds the remains of Lance Corporal 15035 Frank Allen from Cromer and Private 21345 Edmund Campion Laurensof the 22nd Battalion Manchester regiment who came from Longsight near Manchester.

On the 2nd July the Germans attempted a counter attack around Montauban and the diary notes seeing S.O.S. flares going up and the battalion stood to, but their area remain quiet. What they had witnessed was the only serious German counter attack after the initial first day. Between 3 and 4 a.m. the German 12th Reserve and 16th Bavarian Regiments had attacked Montauban from the north and east. They were stopped by artillery from the 30th Division, although they were more successful in the French sector to the right.

On the evening of 3rd July the 8/Norfolks were relieved by the 8/Suffolks and moved into bivouacs in Carnoy. They spent the next few days clearing the battlefield and digging communication trenches before going to the rear lines and eventually ended up at Grovetown Camp near to Happy Valley. They were re-enforced by a draft of 240 Other Ranks and 10 Officers, who came from the 1st, 7th and 10th Battalion Norfolk Regiment.

The 1st July 1916 is looked at as a defeat where the cream of England was wiped out in one foul swoops. Certainly this is so in many sectors of that terrible battle. But we must also remember the success and the gains made between Fricourt and Montauban which would pave the way for the the next phases of the battle which other battalions of the Norfolk Regiment would take part in and I will be writing about them as the Somme 100th Centenary timeline moves forward.

 

A Norfolk Hero

Company Sergeant Major Charley Wells

8th Battalion East Surrey Regiment

1st July 1916

East Surreys

Billie Nevill seen sat centrally with some of his men including Charlie Wells from Coltishall who is seen middle row 4th from the right.

At ‘Zero Hour’ the 8/East Surreys listed that they were positioned with the 7/Queens on the their left and the order then followed with the 7/Buffs, the 8/Norfolks the 6/R. Berks and the 7/Beds These battalions faced the German line opposite trenches known as Breslau and Mine.

The 8/East Surreys were positioned to the right of the Carnoy/Montauban Road situated to the north west of Carnoy. To their right this area, which can still be seen today, can be made out by using a tree line, which is now recorded as ‘La Longue Haie’ (The Long Hedge) on a modern day French IGN map. On a trench map from 1916 this is registered as ‘Talus Boise’ (Timber Slope).

The first thing that happened in this area was that, at 07:28hrs, a mine was fired under a German position known as Casino Point and 2 smaller explosive charges, known as ‘Russian Saps’ also at the western end of the 18th Division’s area where it was known there were machine guns sited to fire on the flanks of the advancing troops.

A flame projector was also fired on the German lines. This projector had been built and sited underground. Only the nozzle was out above ground and this pointed towards the enemy. Both the mines and the flame projector assisted the advancing troops, but the mines had not killed the Germans in the garrison and this held up the advance of the 7/Buffs, 7/Queens and 7/Royal West Kents who lost many men as the Germans were able to pour fire into them. The Germans were also able to man their first support trench, which became their front-line and ensured that the trenches to the rear of this position were also manned. This meant that as the British barrage lifted there were around 300 Germans who were able to defend the area, but fortunately the German’s artillery did not poured heavy fire onto the area. It was at this time that probably one of the most famous incidents of the first day occurred and it involved the 8/East Surreys.

8th East Surreys 1916

A trnech map showing you the positions of the 8th East Surrey Regiment for 1st July 1916.

An officer in the regiment was so worried about how his untried and untested troops would act in the heat of battle that he came up with an idea. Captain Wilfred Percy Nevill, known as Billie, decided to buy four footballs, one for each of his platoons and a prize was put up for the first platoon to get a ball into the German lines. At zero hour they did just that. The spectacle was witnessed by many people and would become immortalised afterwards,
Captain Alfred Irwin of the 8th East Surrey Regiment witnessed what happened from the British lines.

‘They went forward shouting with such energy, kicking the football ahead of them.’

From the war diary:

‘At 7.27 a.m. ‘B Company started to move out to their wire. Captain Neville strolling quietly ahead of them, giving an occasional order to keep the dressing square on to the line of advance. This Company took four footballs out with them which they were seen to dribble forward into the smoke of our intense bombardment on the Hun front line. The first part of “B” Company’s advance was made with very few casualties, but when the barrage lifted to the second Hun trench, a very heavy rifle and machine gun fire started from our front and left, the latter coming apparently from the craters and the high ground immediately behind them.’

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A postcard depicting the action by the 8th East Surreys. Note that the postcard gets the position where this happened horribly wrong!

Alongside Nevill would be Company Sergeant Major 4797 Charlie Wells. Charlie came from Norfolk having been born and raised in Coltishall village. They managed to get to the German wire, but enfilade fire from the left and staunch defence by the enemy in a place called the Warren held them up. They also had problems with the fact the battalion on their left was checked by staunch German defence.

From the Official History of the war:

‘The check to the 7/Queen’s delayed the advance of the 8/East Surrey on the right, and at 8.37 A.M., although this battalion had crossed the enemy front line, it had been unable to get beyond the support line, being held in front by the enemy in the Warren, and enfiladed from the left. It was not until half an hour later, when the establishment of the 30th Division in Glatz Redoubt and Train Alley, together with the advance of the 90th Brigade, threatened the line of retreat of these Germans, that the defence began to weaken, a number of men retiring by the communications trenches to and through Montauban. The 8/East Surrey, supported by two companies of the 7/Buffs, which was then able to get bombing parties forward into the enemy trench just short of its objective, Train alley; but by this time its three leading companies had lost all their officers but one, and it was difficult to organize a further advance.’

From the war diary:

‘The Adjutant reported that the Battalion was in the German trenches. Hand to hand fighting went on for a long time in the German trenches and news received that both Captain Flatau and Pearce had been killed and later it was known that Captain Neville Lieuts, Soames, Musgrove, and 2/Lieuts Kelly and Evans had also been killed. At 6.05 a.m. the Battalion Bombing Section was sent forward and at 8.07 a.m. 2/Lieut P.G. Heath i/c two Stokes Guns was sent out with orders to proceed as far as he could with reasonable safety, and report to the nearest East Surrey Officer and find out how best his Guns could be used. At 8.10 am, and again at 8.25 am. The Adjutant returning from our front line trenches reported heavy machine gun and rifle fire from the left and that apparently the craters and the high ground immediately behind them had not been successfully dealt with by the Battalions on the left.’

Nevill was shot in the head as he rallied his men at the wire and CSM Wells died at his side, Major Irwin, Nevill’s C.O., recounted after the war.

‘But so quickly Nevill and his second in command were both killed, plus his company sergeant major (Wells). I picked up all the chaps I could find and went over the parapet myself.’

Billy Nevill

Captain Billy Nevill of the 8th East Surrey Regiment.

The 8/East Surreys along with 2 companies from the 7/Buffs managed to get their men into the enemy trenches, but could not advance any further and had to be assisted by the 8/Norfolks. Their first and second objectives were Pommiers trench, Montauban Alley in that order. C and D companies from the Norfolks had lain out in front of the bombardment and their war diary actually quotes a distance of 30 yards from the German line!

The flame projector and the explosion of the Casino Point mine had helped their advance they, along with the 6/Royal Berkshires they had been able to advance and capture many German prisoners who had come out into no-man’s land. The war diary for the 8/Norfolks mentions that all resistance was,

‘…cowed and at once surrendered. C Company on our right took around 30 prisoners from the west edge of the Mine craters.’

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Looking out toward the 8th East Surrey start line which was by the treeline you can see in the distance.

By 07:40hrs Mine Support had fallen and the 8/Norfolks had been lucky in that they had suffered no casualties at this point. Bund support fell at 08:00hrs and the only resistance met by the 8/Norfolks was at a place called ‘The Castle’ and Breslau Support Trench, which held the advancing Norfolks to their right.

However the lead troops made good progress and found the wire cut and THE CASTLE soon surrendered leaving Breslau Support and Back trench to resist. But the 8/Norfolks continued onwards making for their next objective, which was called Pommiers Redoubt. Although they were checked by three German machine guns these were soon silenced or seen to retreat when a bombing party managed to surprise and rush one of the crews. By 07:50hrs the 8/Norfolks had captured part of Pommiers Trench. However it was here that they could advance no further due to enemy fire from Breslau Support. But this allowed the East Surreys to advance.

‘An intercepted message on the telephone told us that the Queens were held up in BACK TRENCH, and at the same time. Private_BILLSOM one of the Battalion Orderlies, who had been sent forward to remind Companies to wave their Artillery flags returned with the report that our men were now in the POMMIERES LINE, and a few minutes afterwards information was received from the F.O.O. that the Surreys were in TRAIN ALLEY. At the same time an Orderly from 2/Lieut Wightman brought in a report that the Brigade on the right were getting up reinforcements splendidly, and going ahead well A few minutes earlier 2 Huns ran into the Trench near our Battalion Headquarters crying for mercy. At 9.44 a.m. Major Irwin handed over command at Report- Centre to the Adjutant, and went forward to ascertain and if possible to bring back, news as to the actual position. At 9.49 am. a message was intercepted from the craters that the enemy was still holding out in the craters and the high ground. Strong point at the end of Craters. At 9.55 a.m. the Commanding Officer and Adjutant 7th Royal West Kent’s and numerous staff reported at Battalion Headquarters. The Adjutant sent 2/Lieut Wightman forward with 2 Signallers and a telephone line to proceed to POMMIERE and try to get into touch with Major Irwin. At 10.10 a.m. Lieut, Thorley reported that the Brigade on the right were advancing well, but that nothing could be seen on our front. The Adjutant reported the position to the Brigade which was that we had taken POMMIERS, but had suffered extremely heavy casualties in doing so and that the line was too weak to advance without reserves being put in. Thereupon at 10.23 am. A message from the Brigadier ordered 3 Companies 7th W, Kent’s to advance and pus  the line forward. Their position in A. I. Sub sector would be taken by the Suffolk’s. The 7th W. Kent’s to detail 1 Company to consolidate the POMMIER LINE.’

By now the other brigades in the 18th Division had either captured, or were close to capturing all their first objectives and the battalion then consolidated their position. They could not assist the 6/Berkshires in the capture of a position called THE LOOP and it was only until supporting elements of the 18th Division and the advance in Montauban by the 30th Division had cleared most of the German resistance that the 8/Norfolks could assist in the capture of THE LOOP which happened at 15:00hrs when the division managed to advance to MONTAUBAN ALLEY which was captured and the 8/East Surreys managed to make contact with the 7/Buffs, the 7/Queens and the 6/R. Berks .

‘Major Irwin arrived with Headquarters and took command of all troops of the 55th Brigade West of MONTAUBAN. A number of Buffs and West Kent’s had arrived by this time and were ordered to hold on in MONTAUBAN ALLEY with the E, Surreys In close support. When Lieut HEATON, 7th Queens arrived he was ordered to extend the line to the left so that the whole Brigade objective was reached by 1.30 p.m. Captain Gimson had arrived close behind Major Irwin, and later L/C. Brame turned up with a bottle of champagne to be drunk: In MONTAUBAN “ON DER TAG” This bottle was sent round from officer to Officer, those who shared In it being Major Irwin, Captain Gimson, Captain Bowen, 2/Lieut Derrick, 2/Lieut Janion, Lieut Thorley 2/ Lieut Wightman, 2/Lieut Alcock, and Captain Clare, In fact all the East Surrey Officers engaged in the attack who had not been killed or wounded.

Our Officer casualties during the attack were Captains, Flatau, Pearce, Nevill, Lts. Soames,

Musgrove, 2/Lieuts Evans, Kelly, killed. Lieut. Ackerley, 2/Lts. Morse Hetherington and Pegg wounded. 2/Lieut. Pegg subsequently died of his wounds.

Casualties among other ranks were 140 killed, 272 wounded 20 missing.’

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Billey Nevill’s grave in Carnoy Military Cemetery.

On 2nd July 1916 the battalion was relieved and moved back to Carnoy Valley.

I hold a copy of the letter, which I believe has never been published before that details what happened in this sector on 1st July 1916. This was written by G/5530 Sergeant George Henry Stacey of the 8th Battalion East Surrey Regiment and was written to his father after the battle. It is very much a soldier’s letter detailing what he saw of the footballs being kicked across the front and what happened to the East Surreys. Some of it is garbled and not very legible but I have managed to edit a transcript of what was written.

Football

One of the footballs that was kicked across no-man’s land by the 8/East Surreys on 1st July 1916.

25th July 1916

We are back a little way behind the lines from the rest now but do not expect to be back long as this is required now although we have been made up to strength by men which are not half trained and the big majority are half hearted some of them have only carried a pack previously to coming here.

Well Dad you asked for a descriptive letter so I will endeavour to give you a short one.
Firstly we led the line in the bombardment which lasted 7 days and nights and of course does not mean that previously to that it increased in intensity as it went on. Of course during that time Fritz retaliated inflicting casualties on us and in some parts leaving our trenches to the ground but at no time during the bombardment were all our guns firing with the exception of 10 minutes before the advance when everything————————————-gun trench——mortars grenades bombs operated rapid firing and just before we went over the top their surface mines were first up which made communicating trenches between ours and Fritz.

Exactly at 7.30 a.m. off went the whistle and over went four footballs we after them the first line shortly followed second but owing to the mines craters on our left flank some of which the Germans had established themselves in. Practically all the boys in the line were wiped out as their machine guns were cracking away for all they were worth and helped to thin the ranks in a matter of a few minutes.

To clean the front line the majority of which were in a heap of dirt owing to the excellent work of the artillery where the parts of the line the enemy was unable to man — he had fitted it with barbed wire and “ spikes “ and wooden stakes sharpened to a point so you can imagine what they were prepared for.

Before the 3rd and 4th lines had gone over the craters had been cleared. The first waves of reinforcements — and over they went for the support the link here the trenches were strongly held by bombers and machine guns and shrapnel was flying in all directions but of course that did not stop the boys advancing and with heart yelled the rush the trenches the Germans that were left alive making a run for it down the many short communications trenches for the third link which was being heavily shelled by us Resting for a few minutes to start coordinating for the next wave to come up the boys were ready for the third — which our boys strongly held. Immediately our boys left the trenches behind the barrage was lifted to the trenches behind but before the lads reached it several batches of Germans came running to meet them hands up but of course the majority of them fell before reaching our lines as Fritz had tried some of his tricks previously on us so we could not afford to be ——-

In these batches who wanted to give themselves up we found a considerable number of Red Cross but on examination of the bodies after the attack it was found the great majority had various badges sewn on their sleeves under their shirts to which denoted them in various trenches, bombers machine gunners etc

The machine guns that were captured were on bars with a blanket thrown over it so it would pass as a stretcher. With the third link captured with and as was properly demolished the trenches was once consolidated and reinforced we were up before one could say Jack Robinson.

The distance to the west link was just over 800 yards which was on top of a ridge and was therefore of great value to us as that meant that if we took it Fritz would loose all the observation posts he had so once again it was “ Get ready boys “ a shrill blast of the whistle off they went again.

The taking of the ridge was pretty easy as Fritz had to reinforce an important engagement he had few machine guns and soldiers tried to dispatch our advance it was no use as we had our objective which was very soon achieved and we could have gone on still further if we had desired but that was not advisable as there might have been possible of getting off as we were.

Practically the heads of the —- we had attained our objective of an advance of 200 yards in a little over 4-5 hours which was very much sooner than had been anticipated especially as there were three regiments holding Fritz trenches in the sector we took but of course it takes at least four of Fritz men to do what we did. Well we concluded up held the counter attacks and were for many hours following morning which we returned to Fritz—– the ——was heavily shelling to prevent him getting our reinforcements but it made no difference to us. In the early hours of the following morning it had been possible you would have been able to seen yours humbly sitting on the centre of a large—— of —- on the road to —— on Fritz side of the lines dishing up food on sandbags as I had enough bread to feed a battalion but the was only biscuit and bully so you can guess some of the boys enjoyed it especially as it was totally impossible to get rations up and were —- surprised strolling in the trench with it.

Of course I could give you a long discussion of the sights I saw but I leave it to your imagination to do so but of course the sights are gruesome in the extreme. In one of the trenches we took, the machine gunners were chained to their guns also as a further precaution they had barbed wire around them.

The Germans dug outs were far better especially the officers which had fitted up with electrics lights and were also well stocked with drink and eatables ——in fact after we had —– the boys were strolling about with cigars irrespective of the fact that they came out of boxes with the Kaisers photographs on them

Although it was a bit of hard work to imagine that —- as I walked over the battlefield over with the dead and wounded lay together for the handing over of the footballs at —- they are making a lot of fuss of them.

In the second attack my company was reported wiped out it as no communication could be got though owing to the shelling it was worse than anything we had experienced before although we had been in some warm place we are out for a few days before long as every available soldier is required.

Sergeant Stacey was promoted to CSM and was awarded the Military Cross and Mentioned in Dispatches later on in the war and survived.

Charley Wells

Charlie Wells has no known grave and is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He was 28 when he died and was the son of Charles and Nellie Wells of Chapel Lane in Coltishall.

Billy Nevill is now laid to rest in Carnoy Military Cemetery close to where they went over the top on 1st July 1916.