Thiepval

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

26th – 30th September 1916

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Thiepval seen in the distance in 1916

On 26th September 1916 the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment assisted in the capture of French village that had held out since 1st July 1916. Thiepval had been an objective of the doomed 32nd Division on that day and had lost around 4,000 men killed, wounded, missing or captured in the process. Thiepval had held out that long summer until the 18th (Eastern) Division made a last ditched attempt to capture it.

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The order of battle for 26th September 1916 the 53rd Brigade can be seen facing Thiepval.

Supported by a tank the 53rd Brigade went over the top at 12.35 p.m. with the 8th Suffolk and 10th Essex Regiments leading the way with the Berkshires in reserve. The 8th Norfolks would follow up with a supply party from ‘C’ Company and a platoon from ‘B’ Company who advanced behind the lead battalions to act as ‘moppers-up’.

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The 18th (Eastern) Division at Thiepval. It is situated on the line where the 53rd Brigade went over the top on 26th September 1916. You can see the rebuilt village church in the distance.

The attack went in well and the lead battalions reached the village with little difficulty. The Norfolk element followed on and cleared the village and the trenches around it. It was not an easy task and the division lost 1,456 men killed, wounded or missing.

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Thiepval Chateau before the war.

Losses for the Norfolk element was light although the war diary noted that two men were killed. After the capture ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies moved up to the old British line and the to the assembly trenches vacated by the advancing elements.

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Thiepval Chateau after it was captured.

Although the ‘moppers-up were withdrawn the fighting did not stop there. On 27th September 1916 the 8th Suffolks and the 7th Queen’s from the 55th Brigade were ordered to attack and capture the trench to the right of the Schwaben Redoubt, which was another stronghold that had held out since 1st July 1916.

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The area around Thiepval seen from the air in 1916.

At 1 p.m. on 27th September 1916 the attack went in with the 8th Norfolks acting as the moppers-up again. This time ‘D’ Company took on that role and assisted the Queen’s and another two platoons did the same for the Suffolks. The fighting here was terrible with a big part going in by bayonet and bomb. The fighting here lasted for days with a number of German counter attacks being fought off.

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George Catchpole’s memorial card

On 29th September 1916 the Norfolks were relieved and sent back to their original positions from the 27th. They were then withdrawn less ‘B’ Company who remained at Crucifix Corner who were engaged in the burying of the dead. Between 26th and 30th September 1916 the 8th Battalion lost 133 men killed, wounded or missing. One of the dead was Private 43581 George Alfred Catchpole from Salhouse who was killed in action on 27th September 1916. George had come from the 1/6th Norfolk (Cyclists) Battalion when the majority of that unit had been sent to France to act as drafts for the 8th Battalion. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

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The mighty Thiepval Memorial on the Somme.

George was the son of John and Elizabeth Catchpole who lived at the Railway Cottages in Salhouse and he was 20 when he died. He is just a name on a panel of the largest Commonwealth war memorial in the world. It records the names of 72245 men who fell in the Somme Sector before 20 March 1918. Behind the memorial are 300 British and Commonwealth and 300 French graves placed there in a symbol of unity between the two Allies. Within the 300 CWGC graves are a number of unidentified Norfolk Regiment men. I often wonder if one of those is George.

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Unidentified Norfolk Regiment men in the cemetery behind the Thiepval Memorial.

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Morval

1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment

25th September 1916

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The 1st Battalion start line for 25th September 1916. You are looking towards the Hog’s Back trench.

At that point in time the battle was still being played out in this sector and the 5th Division took over from the 6th Division and were ordered to capture Morval. The Norfolks were ordered to advance as the lead battalion in this assault and Zero Hour was set for 12.35 p.m.

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A trench map for September 1916 showing the German trench system to the west of Morval which was called the Hog’s Back. The Nofolk’s assault started at the Quarry.

The 1st Battalion had spent a short while out of the trenches before being sent back to help build and restore positions close to the line. While that had gone on they had received new drafts. None of these came from the Norfolk Regiment and they came from three regiments. Most in that draft had not seen any action.

Knowing that the C.O. of the 1st Battalion requested permission to lead his battalion which was granted.  He then ordered all of his commanders to do the same.

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The war diary entry detailing the order that each company would advance lead by Colonel Stone.

Within 5 minutes of zero-hour the 1st Battalion had captured their objective with the loss of 4 officers and 70 other ranks, this loss is reported in the war diary as slight. The Official History of the Great War noted,

‘The 1/Norfolk was led by Lieut-Colonel P.V.P Stone in person, and took the first objective in one rush, killing many Germans and capturing over a hundred.’

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Unidentified British soldiers at Morval after it had been captured.

The Official History, as an added extra, noted this about the action led by Lieut Col Stone,

‘Lieutenant Colonel Stone had obtained permission to lead the attack on the score that his battalion had recently received three large drafts composed of men of three other regiments, and that the new-comers had not settled down. He is said to have ‘treated the attack as a pheasant shoot, with his servant loader‘, and to have accounted for quite a number of the enemy.’

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That account captures all sorts of images in my mind! Lieut Col Stone advancing with his servant acting as his loader? It’s almost like a scene out of Downtown Abbey! And yet this was an action on the Western Front! It is an action that harks from another time involving men of a different calibre.

The 1st Battalion Bedfordshires moved past the positions captured by the Norfolks and within 10 minutes they had captured their objectives. But it was not as simple as all of that and the battalion war diary noted that they came under machine gun fire from all directions and had to deal with pockets of defenders who were in shell holes in front of their trenches. Others were in the rear of their trench and also had to be dealt with. They captured 3 machine guns in the advance and estimated that their tally for prisoners was 150.

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The high ground in this image is where the Hog’s Back trench was positioned and Morval is situated to the east of the picture.

This swift action saw a swift withdrawal and by 5 p.m. on 26th September 1916 the battalion were out of the line and sent back to the rear, specifically to Arrow Head Copse. This would be the last action fought by the 1st Battalion on the Somme and they had left their service there with glory. In all the engagements from Longueval to Morval they had acquitted themselves with battle honours and this is noted in the Norfolk’s history.

 

Lieutenant Colonel Stone sent a battalion order to all companies stating,

Before leaving the Somme, and all it will mean to us and to the history of the Regiment, I wish to convey my most sincere thanks to all ranks for what they have done. We were no new regiment, fresh and keen from home, who had rested in billets well at the back for months, but an old regiment who had been continually engaged since the start of the war with practically no rest at all, trench worn and suffering from overwork and over exposure. You had everything against you, but you have been through the heaviest fighting of the war and come out of it with a name that will live forever.

At Longueval, your first battle, you were given your first and severest test, and no praise of mine can be too high for the extreme gallantry and endurance shown on that occasion. The severest test of discipline is for men to stand intense shell fire and to hold on to the ground they have won under it, and this you did. At Falfemont Farm you again had a difficult task and a severe fight, but you stuck to it and eventually captured it, a position whose importance cannot be overestimated. Then, during the most trying weather conditions, you were in the open making trenches, and at one time the limit of complete exhaustion had almost been reached, but when one final effort was asked of you at Morval, you carried out a brilliant assault. These things could have only been done by the finest troops in the world. 

I cannot sufficiently express my admiration of your gallantry and splendid conduct throughout. You came to the Somme battlefield with a very high reputation, which you had rightly earned during twenty-five months of strenuous warfare, you leave the Somme with the highest reputation of the British Army.

(Signed) P.V.P. Stone

Commanding 1st Battalion The Norfolk Regiment

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One of the men to die serving with the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment whilst on the Somme. Company Sergeant Major 8341 Thomas David Gage, M.C., who now lies in Grove Town Cemetery Meaulte. Thomas was 23 when he died and was the son of Albert Edward Gage of Brentwood in Essex.

This had come at a high cost to the Battalion. Between 16th July 1916, when they arrived back on the Somme, and the 1st October 1916 when they en-trained for Bethune they left behind them 277 of their comrades in the fields of the Somme. Men like Thomas David Gage who was awarded the Military Cross his citation, which was listed in the London Gazette on 18th August 1916, stating,

8341 Coy. S./M. Thomas David Gage, Norf. R.

For consistent gallantry and good work throughout the campaign, notably when he on several occasions set a fine example to his men in building up his parapet under heavy shell fire.

Thomas was a pre-war regular who had landed with the battalion on 16th August 1914 so was one of the men Lieut Col Stone was alluding to. He died of wounds at 2/2 London CCS two days after they had assaulted Morval and is now laid to rest in Grove Town Cemetery.

We Will Remember Them…

 

The Quadrilateral

The 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

15th September 1916

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The killing ground for the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment. Leuze Wood can be seen in the distance and the Quadrilateral is to the left of this image. Most of the men who fell on 15th September 1916 died in this field.

The 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment had not been on the Somme yet but that all changed in August 1916. They arrived at Villers Candas on 3rd August and arrived at Mailly-Maillet on the 5th. On 14th August they went into the trenches and then spent time in and out of them until 5th September when they moved to Flesselles to practice for their coming baptism of fire. On the 8th September they moved to the Sandpit and then Trones Wood. Then, on 15th September, they took up their positions facing the Quadrilateral between the Ginchy-Morval road and Leuze Wood.

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The overall offensive for the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. The 71st Brigade can be seen to the north-east of Guillemont facing the Quadrilateral which is listed as ‘B’ on this map.

Haig had planned a large scale offensive for mid-September and this would involve 11 Divisions, supported by the new weapon in the British armoury, the tank, a total of 49 were to be used in the offensive, and the advance would be on a front of 12,000 yards, from Courcelette in the north all the way to Lesboeufs and Morval in the south. There would be a preliminary bombardment, which began on 12th September, and the attack started at 6.20am on 15th September.

On the left progress was made by the 47th Division although they suffered terribly capturing High Wood. However, the 50th and 5th (Scottish) Divisions captured all of its objectives and 2nd Canadian Division had occupied Courcelette by evening. In the centre, with the support of tanks, the 41st and New Zealand Divisions captured Flers.

But on the extreme right, where there were hopes of a breakthrough, both the 56th and 6th Divisions did not fare well and the Guards Division ended up short of its final objectives. We will now look at the 9th Battalion’s experiences at the Quadrilateral.

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A trench map of the area the 9th Norfolks assaulted. The Quadrilateral was situated to the east of Ginchy. The Norfolks start line was in grid 20 where the railway intersected a sunken road.

As noted in the Norfolk Regiment History of the Great War the commander of the 6th Division, General Marsden, noted this about the ground we were about to assault.

“On September 9th a successful attack had given us Ginchy and Leuze Wood, but the Germans were holding very strongly the high ground which lies in the form of a horseshoe between the above-named points, and which dominates the country for some distances to the south. The trenches followed the slope of the spur roughly at the back end of the horseshoe, and covered access was given to them by a sunken road leading back to the deep valley which runs north from Combles. At the top of the spur just south of the railway was a four-sided trench in the form of a parallelogram of some 300 yards by 150 yards, called by us the ‘Quadrilateral’.”

The 71st Brigade would assault with the 9/Norfolks on the right and the 1/Leicesters on the left on a front of 500 yards. On the 71st Brigade’s right would be the 16th Brigade. In this sector the assault would be assisted by 3 tanks. One of those began their assault at 5.50 a.m. and fired upon the Norfolks. This was only stopped by the gallant action of Captain Crosse who approached the tank under heavy fire to stop it firing on their own men. Zero Hour for the Norfolks and Leicesters was 6.20 a.m.

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Lance Corporal 14294 Frederick Helsdon of 59 Pembroke Road, Park Lane in Norwich. Frederick was the son of Edward and Amelia Helsdon and was killed in action on 15th September 1916. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Both battalions had to assault the Quadrilateral up a slope. Once they reached the position they found that the wire was uncut. This was due to a 200 yard gap in the bombardment to allow the tanks to push through. Neither the Norfolks or the Leicesters could meet up and nor could the Guards be reached on the brigade’s left. Only 40 men from the Norfolks, under the command of Major Bradshaw, could reach the German wire and the rest of the battalion ended up in shell holes.

Two brothers were killed in the assault these were Herbert and William Aldis who were the sons of Walter and Hannah Aldis of Alpington. Herbert was 22 and William was 25. Herbert is now laid to rest in Guillemont Road Cemetery and sadly William has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.

 

They became mixed with the Suffolks who had been holding Leuze Wood-Ginchy road. All tank support was lost due to two breaking down and the third being put out of action. The area in front of the Quadrilateral became a killing ground for German fire.

From the Official History,

‘…the Norfolk and Leceistershire who lay scattered in shell-holes before the western side of the Quadrilateral and Straight Trench. The movement most gallantly carried out, only resulted in fresh sacrifice of life, German machine-gun fire remained unsubdued despite fresh bombardment of the Quadrilateral.’

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Private 18222 Paul Brooks from Upper Street in Horning who was killed in action on 15th September 1916. Paul was 36 when he died and was the son of Paul and Catherine Brooks. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Brigade recognised that a frontal assault on the Quadrilateral was not going to work. They were ordered to outflank the position and the 18th Brigade was put into the fray and the 14/DLI were ordered to assist the Norfolks.

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Private 22247 Richard Herbert Matthews Barnes from Hempton who was he son of Rose Barnes who was killed in action on 15th September 1916 and is now laid to rest in Serre Road Cemetery No. 2

An attempt to capture the Quadrilateral also failed due to the fact that the trench that was fought over did not connect the position. Efforts to link with other battalions also failed and the attack foundered. One of the men to die in the assault was Private 14391 Harold Bradbrook who was the son of Edward and Bradbrook of 34 Maygrove Road in Great Yarmouth who lived in Overstrand. He was 20 when he died and is now laid to rest in London Road Cemetery. I have visited his grave on a number of occasions.

Both the Norfolks and the Suffolks were relieved in the evening and moved back to positions south of Guillemont. Losses were terrible 17 officers and 431 men were lost. Of this total 160 died and can be counted as one of the worst days for the Norfolk Regiment on the Somme.

I have stood at the site of the Quadrilateral many a time and have looked out towards Leuze Wood into the field where so many 9th Norfolk men fell on that day. Two of them, pictured above, are Private 14915 Joseph Larter who was the eldest son of William and Sophia Jane Larter of Swainsthorpe, aged 28, and Private 14413 Matthew Howling the son of Thomas and Georgianne Howling of Gately Road in Brisley, aged 21. Both have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Their graves have either never been identified or found so they could still be lying out there in the field in front of the Quadrilateral. Therefore it is rightly sacred ground for those men who laid down their lives in that field.

Falfemont Farm

The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment

4th September 1916

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A London Illustrated News sketch of the assault on Falfemont Farm on 4th September 1916.

After their assault on Longueval the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment had been moved out of the line on 2nd August 1916 and had been sent to Le Quesnoy to rest and refit. Here they received drafts from the 2/6th Battalion Norfolk Regiment. Because most of these men had never served in the trenches they had to undergo a period where they were trained in the type of fighting that was happening on the Somme. However, by 24th August 1916, they were back on the Somme and were initially placed in bivouacs around Bronfray Farm near Maricourt.

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A trench map from the 1/Norfolk’s war diary. Falfemont Farm can be seen bottom right.

The fortified village of Guillemont had finally fell on 3rd September 1916 and the momentum of continuing to put pressure on the Germans in this sector of the Somme was not about to stop. Orders came down that the German 2nd Line to the east and south east of Guillemont was to be captured on 4th September.

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The battle around Ginchy and Guillemont between the 3rd and 6th September 1916.

This task was given to the 5th and 20th Divisions who were to capture the line between Point 48 , Wedge Wood and Valley Trench. If favourable this advance was to continue to Leuze Wood. At this point in time the British trenches were disjointed and not joined up. But the advance would have the French on the right of the Norfolks. One of the positions to be captured also included Falfemont Farm. This farm was actually called Faffemont Farm but a spelling mistake on trench maps had it called Falfemont instead.

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The objectives set for the capture of Falfemont Farm.

Zero Hour was set for 3.10 a.m. A and B Companies were to lead and when they went over the top they immediately came under heavy machine gun fire. But Captain Francis and a few men reached the south-west edge of the farm before being ejected from that point by German grenades. By this time all the officers but two in the initial attack had either been killed or wounded and the advance had was being held up by machine gun fire.

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Corporal 8569 Harry James Thurlow who was killed in action on 4th September 1916. Harry was the son of James and Alice Thurlow and had been a shoemaker in Norwich prior to WW1. He had served with the 1st Battalion since they had landed in France in August 1914.

This had split the battalion up and these groups could only advance by crawling from shell-hole to shell-hole and any attempt at any proper advance was checked by machine-gun fire, the French were also having issues advancing and although C and D Companies tried to capture the south-east part of the farm and Point 48 they were also stopped by machine-gun fire. The Nofolks lost touch with the Cheshires who had tried to work around the machine-gun fire from the west where the hill gave protection from the machine-guns. Lt Brown was sent with the reserve bombing platoon and two Lewis Gun teams to go behind C Company to capture the Quarry in an attempt to working round the west of the farm. This failed and in the attempt Lt Brown was killed. This was Second Lieutenant Thomas Brown, aged 26, who was the son of Davis and Leonora Mary Brown of Marham Hall, now laid to rest in Delville Wood Cemetery.

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Private 43401 Bertie Press Turner who came from Great Yarmouth. Bert died of wounds at 21 Casualty Clearing Station on 5th September 1916 and is now buried in Neuville British Cemetery.

The 16/R Warwicks were sent to the south-west edge of Leuze Wood to work a line from the wood up to the light railway. But the Norfolks informed their Brigade Commander that any attempt by the Warwickshires to do that would end in failure due to them not reaching their objective. At 5.30 p.m. A Company was within a few yards of the farm. and at 6.40 p.m. the 15th Brigade commander ordered informed the Norfolks with the rest of their brigade that they would make a simultaneous attack on the farm with the 95th Brigade. The C.O. of the Norfolks asked the C.O. of the Warwicshires to order any Norfolks found in the advance to help him in the advance.

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Lance Corporal 16743 Alfred Funnell from Tittleshall. Alfred was killed in action on 4th September 1916 and was the son of George and Elizabeth Jane Funnell of Saxlingham. He had no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

From the Official History of the Great War,

‘The 15th Brigade accordingly prepared for another frontal attack on Falfemont Farm, the 1/Norfolk being now in actual touch with French troops. The latter, however, did not advance at 3.5 p.m. when the Norfolk left their trenches only to be checked by machine gun fire from Combles ravine. On the left, a party which entered the south west corner of the  farm was bombed out again; but a company of the 1/Cheshire worked round under the shelter of the spur, whilst the 1/Bedforedshire, starting from Wedge Wood, began to bomb south-eastward along the German trench. The Bedfordshire gathered in over 130 prisoners, mostly 164th Regiment, together with several machine guns, and by 4 p.m. the northern and western corners of the farm enclosure were taken. Reinforced by the 16/R. Warwickshire, the Norfolk, who had been working forward from shell-hole to shell-hole, made another unsuccessful attempt to storm the farm at 5.30 p.m., so it was then decided that the 16/R. Warwickshire should sap forward towards the objective during the night. Patrols of the Bedfordshire and Cheshire on the crest of Leuze Wood spur had assisted to prevent the approach of German reinforcements, which were also caught by British artillery fire as they advanced from the direction of Combles.’

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Falfemont Farm seen from the air in September 1916.

Sadly this attack also failed so the order was given to dig in and the ground between the British trenches and the farm was a mass of shell-holes and heavy rain bean to fall. By now the men in the advance were exhausted although part of A Company managed to reach the south-west edge of the farm so the Warwickshires started to dig communication trenches towards the A Company.

At 3 a.m. on the 5th September the Norfolk Regiment war diary noted,

‘FALFEMONT FARM completely occupied by A & C Coys.’

And the Official History noted,

‘In spite of the weather, the forward troops of the 5th Division were not not idle during the night. The German resistance was obviously weakening, and by 3 a.m. on the 5th September Falfemont Farm was in the possession of the Norfolk, who pushed patrols towards Point 48.’

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The original Falfemont Farm was not rebuilt and is now a copse of trees. The smaller clump of trees is the quarry mentioned in my blog.

This victory did not come without a price and as the Norfolk Regimental history of the Great War noted,

‘Such a feat as the capture of Falfemont Farm necessarily involved serious casualties. Of officers six were killed – Captain W.J.H. Brown; Lieutenants H.S. Cameron and E.P.W. Brown; 2nd Lieutenants L.C. Coath, T. Brown and W.F. Bice.  Wounded, seven – Captains Sibree, Francis, Youell, Grover; Lieutenant Swift; 2nd Lieutenants Cullington and Wtson. Of other ranks there were killed fifty; wounded 212; missing, believed killed, ninety four.’

To me Falfemont Farm is rightly sacred ground to the Norfolk Regiment.

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The grave of William Percy Tungate, son of William and Amanda Tungate from Stokesy, who was killed in action on 4th September 1916 aged 24 who is now laid to rest in Delville Wood Cemetery.

On 5th September the 1st Battalion was relieved and went to Morlancourt to rest and refit but it would not be long before they were back in the line.