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Although the ‘moppers-up were withdrawn the fighting did not stop there.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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