The Norwich City Royal Engineers on the Somme
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.