The 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment
15th September 1916
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.