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.

WD Map.jpg

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.

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