The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment
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.
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.
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’.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.