The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.’
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.
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.