6th Avenue (Skyline Trench)

The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

12th – 13th August 1916

John Henry Rolfe

John Henry Rolfe who was the son of Mrs. Rolfe of High Road in Bressingham who died of wounds received in the action the 7th Battalion took part in on 12th and 13th August 1916.

The Battle of Pozieres was launched on 23rd July 1916 which saw the Australians, who had only arrived on the Somme two days earlier, and the British fight hard for an area that had the Germans controlling the high ground on the ridge. This meant they could observe everything around that area and places such as the windmill on the outskirts of Pozieres was used as an observation post in which to do this. The ridge did not fall until the 4th August, after almost two weeks of bitter fighting, and the Australians alone lost some 23,000 troops during this period. To the north west of Pozieres Mouquet Farm, given the nickname of Moo-Cow Farm by the Australians, which was an enemy strong-point, remained under German control.

 

Aus OH Map

The situation for the 7/Norfolks between 12th and 13th August 1916  shown from an Australian perspective in the Official History.

The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, along with the rest of the 12th (Eastern) Division, would take part in attempts to capture this area and they were put into the line on the 10th August. Between 11th and 12th August the battalion suffered casualties from enemy shelling including 2nd/Lt Frederick Marcus Beck Case.

Frederick Case

2nd Lieutenant Frederick Marcus Beck Case who was killed in action on 10th August 1916.

Frederick was born in Caister on Sea and was the second of five children born to William and Muriel Jessie Case. He was educated at Yarmouth College and had entered the National Provincial Bank in the City in 1912. He had been a pre-war TF soldier, enlisting with 1/28th City of London Battalion (Artist Rifles) in January 1913. He had landed with them at Boulogne on 26th October 1914. After being promoted to Corporal in 1915 he had been recommended for a commission and had had joined the 7/Norfolks on the 1st August 1916.

He was in support in the reserve trench at 4th Avenue when a shell hit his dugout showing that he lasted exactly 10 days as an officer in the battalion before he was killed. Sadly the Case family would lose another two sons in WW1. Frederick was 20 years old and is now laid to rest in Bapaume Post Cemetery. Between the 10th and 13th August the the battalion would lose 92 officers and men to shelling alone.

On the night of 12th and 13th August 1916 the 12th (Eastern) and the Australian 4th Division attacked the German lines in an attempt to capture 6th Avenue and the trenches in front of Mouquet Farm. This is what the Australian Official History noted about the orders for this advance.

“The formal second stage in the advance of I Anzac and the II Corps to the line of Mouquet Farm was fixed for the following night (August 12th), the 12th British Division assaulting Skyline Trench and the knot of German works at its south-western end, and the 4th  Australian Brigade attacking (according to the Reserve Army’s order issued on August 1oth) the enemy’s supposed line south-east of Mouquet Farm, however, the Australian line was already well beyond these objectives.”

Pozieres Map Aug 16

A more localised map which can be found in the war diary for the 7/Norfolks.

Depending on what history you read at this stage you can become quite confused! So just to clarify things. If you looked at the war diary for the 7th Battalion you would see that they were positioned in a trench called 5th Avenue and faced a German front-line trench called 6th Avenue. However, in both the British and Australian Official Histories, these have different names. In these accounts the 7th Battalion was positioned in a trench called Ration Trench and would be assaulting a German position called Skyline Trench, so called because it was positioned at the highest point on the crest of a spur. The highest point here, on the Pozieres-Thiepval road, within the Australian OH also had a name, ‘Point 81’.

At 10.30 p.m. the 7/Norfolks advanced with the 9/Essex on their left and the Australian 50th Battalion on their right marking the line between the Australian and British divisions. The Norfolks advanced with “A” and “D” Companies leading and “B” and “C” Companies behind them. The advance carried forward under the cover of a barrage and because of this the Norfolks managed to get into the German trench unopposed and caught the enemy by surprise capturing 20 out of the 30 Germans they encountered there. They then cleared out the dug-outs in the trench and consolidated their gains. They made contact with both the Essex and the Australians of which the Australian Official History (OH) notes

‘An hour later arrived news that the left company at 81 was in touch with the Norfolk Regiment in Skyline Trench.’

The Norfolk and Essex battalions sent out patrols who were held up by the British barrage although both managed to get into enemy positions where they captured six more of the enemy. Having consolidated their gains most of the men were withdrawn and only two strong-points were manned in Skyline Trench with one Lewis gun in each. They continued to be harassed by German artillery and it is also noted in the British OH that some of the shelling was caused by British heavy howitzer shells falling short on Ration and Skyline Trenches.

IMG_8300

6th Avenue, AKA Skyline Trench, as it is today. I am stood on what would have been known as Point 81.

To give you an idea of the terrible fighting that went on here we will look to the Australian OH which details the 50th Australian Battalion’s advance on Mouquet Farm.

“As the II Corps had captured Skyline Trench, being held up only on the right, the total result was naturally announced by the higher staffs as a sweeping success. Unfortunately the line given by the 50th was, except as regards the left, incorrect. After advancing about 250 yards without opposition both flanks of that battalion had met some resistance. The left company had pushed on to its objective-Point 81, where Skyline Trench was crossed by the Pozieres-Thiepval road; but opposite The Quarry there had opened a gap of 350 yards. This was partly due to the operation orders not having got through to all the platoons. Thus, in the line advancing near The Quarry, all that was known to the platoon commander, Lieutenant Hoggarth, was that he was to go forward under the barrage and more or less conform to the company on his right. This he did, crossing the dip, mounting the far slope (passing east of The Quarry) and reaching, just over the rise, some large mounds of earth and rubble, which-though he was not aware of it were the southern ruins of Mouquet Farm. No one moved in the place, which then lay under the British barrage. Still with the notion of following the barrage, Hoggarth moved along a zigzag trench near by (the German “Grosser Riegel ”) until he was wounded by one of the shells of his own side. Some Germans in a dugout were killed and others captured and sent to the rear,’” and a German bomber, who now emerged from the farm whirling a stick-grenade, was shot. 

W P Hoggarth

Lieutenant William Paton Hoggarth 50th Australian Battalion.

Recognising that with Germans so near he could not hold an isolated position, Hoggarth returned, and dug in near Point 81 ; to his right was a wide gap, on the other side of which the centre and right of the 50th-still out of touch with the 13th-were established in detached bodies, 100 yards short of the objective.”

Lieutenant Hoggarth can be identified as William Paton Hoggarth who, it is later noted in the Australian OH, became the first Australian to reach Mouquet Farm. After being wounded he was evacuated and eventually returned back to the 5oth Battalion but sadly would not survive the war and he was killed in action at Noreuil on 2nd April 1917. He was 27 when he died and was the son of William Hanna Hoggarth and Helen Hoggarth and came from Adelaide.

IMG_8302

Mouquet Farm seen in the distance from Point 81. Skyline trench would be roughly to the left of this photo. It was into this valley that Lt Hoggarth and his men advanced passing the quarry to the east, seen as the clump of trees in the middle distance, and establishing a line 100 yards in front of the farm.

On the morning of the 13th August the 7th Battalion was relieved by elements of the 48th Division and they marched to the rear. In the advance on Skyline Trench they had lost 6 officers and 128 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.

6124848987_dbf3aecc1c

Herbert and Albert Capes. Herbert was killed in action serving with the 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment on 12th August 1916. (Photo Colourisation Nick Stone) original photo Karen Wallace.

An order of the day was issued by the 35th Brigade commander who noted this,

“Please convey to all ranks of the battalion under your command the brigadier’s high appreciation of the way they have comported themselves in the recent operations. Whilst it may be said that the task set was not a hard one, and that the actual infantry fighting was but little, the fact of being able to form up for and execute an assault after the severe shelling they had endured for a night and two days points to soldierly qualities of the highest order.”

Mouquet Farm Before

Mouquet Farm prior to the battle, note the trenches surrounding it.

Mouquet Farm After

Mouquet Farm after it was captured.

The Australians continued to push forward towards Mouquet Farm but never fully captured it and lost 6,300 men in the process. They were relieved by the Canadians on the 5th September 1916 who continued to fight over the ruins but the farm did not fall until the British 11th Division eventually captured it over the period of 26th/27th September 1916.

IMG_8305

The Australian Memorial for Mouquet Farm and the rebuilt farm can be seen in the distance.

DSC_0157

The graves of William Ecclestone and Robert Holden buried side by side in London Cemetery and Extension.

A total of 41 men were lost serving in the 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment between 10th and 13th August 1916. On my travels I have often came across them on the Somme. Two of them, Robert Chilvers Holden and William Robert Ecclestone now lie side by side in London Cemetery and Extension. Both were only 20 years old when they died. Robert was the son of Frederick and Emily Holden of Dunstan Common and William was the son of on of Charles and Bertha Ecclestone of Moulton St. Mary. Robert had the service number of 22704 and William the number of 22707 and I often wonder if they met when they enlisted and became friends afterwards.

The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment would return back to the Somme in October 1916.

 

 

 

 

 

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