1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment
25th September 1916
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.
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.
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.’
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.’
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.
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
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…