Regina Trench

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

21st – 23rd October 1916 

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An Official History map of the Battle of the Ancre Heights which started on 21st October 1916. The aspect of Regina Trench for the 8th Norfolks can be seen with the 53rd Brigade facing the German 73rd Landwehr Regiment.

It seems fitting that the battalion that had been there on the first day of the Somme should be the last battalion I write about in that campaign. The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment had been in and out of the trenches since their action on 5th October 1916 and had been employed in trench digging.

But on 21st October 1916 it was again asked to participate in an action with 10th Battalion Essex Regiment and the 11th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. They were given the task of capturing Regina Trench. This was so named because it had been captured for a time by the 5th Canadian Brigade on 1st October 1916 and further attempts were made to capture it by the 1st and 3rd Canadian Divisions on 8th October 1916. On the 21st October 1916 an attempt would again be made by the 18th (Eastern) and the 4th Canadian Divisions.

Regina Trench is described as thus in the Norfolk Regiment History,

‘This was a long trench running from the sunken road to Grandcourt, some 1,100 yards east of the Schwaben Redoubt, eastwards as far as the Courcelette-Miraumont road, a length of about 3,000 yards.’

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John Bertie Harris seated who was the son of Mr. J. Harris of 28 Providence Street in King’s Lynn. John was 22 when he was killed in action on 21st October 1916 and has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

The objective of this action was to capture Regina Trench from a point 150 yards west of the Miraumont road where strong points would be made at the junction of Courcelette Trench, Twenty-Three Road and Left Trench. ‘C’ Company was given the task of capturing the point west of Miraumont and ‘B’ Company would attempt to capture Left Trench. ‘D’ Company would follow in support and help to consolidate any gains. ‘A’ Company would remain in reserve.

Both of the lead companies formed up in Hessian Trench and Zero Hour was at 12.06 p.m. and within 6 minutes the Norfolks were in Regina Trench. The response from the enemy was mixed. The Germans facing ‘C’ Company surrendered but ‘B’ Company met with strong resistance and those met were either killed or captured. Captain F. J. Morgan led ‘B’ Company and fought his way through using bombs. Whilst advancing he found a waterproof sheet which led to an entrance to a dugout. The Norfolk history stating,

‘On each step sat a couple of Germans, their backs to the entrance. When Captain Morgan called them to come out, they came unarmed. When the Norfolk and Essex were in full possession of Regina, a dozen Germans who had lost themselves descended into the trench, not knowing it had changed hands. They did not seem unduly depressed when they found themselves prisoners.’ 

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The trench map from the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment war diary showing the ground over which they would assault on 21st October 1916.

The attack was put into two phases and the second phase started at 2 p.m. whereby ‘D’ Company occupied Regina Trench and ‘A’ went to Hessian Trench to assist ‘D’ Company if required. At 6 p.m. all three of the attacking companies were in Regina Trench and ‘A’ Company went to Vancouver Trench.

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Regina Trench in the present day. Image courtesy of Nick Stone.

The battalion had to withstand heavy German bombardments and took part in occupying Regina Trench throughout the night remaining there until 23rd October 1916. At 11 p.m. the battalion was relieved by the 11th Battalion Royal Fusiliers and they moved back to Albert. However, even though this assault had been successful, Regina Trench in its entirety was not finally cleared until 11th November 1916 by the 4th Canadian Division .

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William Frederick Vincent who served in ‘C’ Company in the 8th Norfolks. William was the son of Frederick George and Mary Ann Vincent of Aylsham Road in North Walsham. William was 23 when he was killed in action on 21st October 1916 and is now buried in Regina Trench Cemetery.

During this action the battalion lost a total of 140 officers and men killed, wounded or missing and this came from a total of 558 officers and men who had started the attack. This shows that, even though the battalion received drafts from the time it went to France in July 1915, it had lost over half of its complement of 1,031 officers and men killed, wounded or captured.

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The grave of Ernest Henry Sutton in Delville Wood Cemetery. Ernest was 23 when he was killed in action on 21st October 1916 and was the son of Ernest and the late Esther Sutton of Great Cressingham.

They had fought at Montauban, Delville Wood, Thiepval, the Schwaben Redoubt and finally Regina Trench. The Norfolk Regiment history notes that in this period the battalion had won 1 D.S.O., 6 M.C.’s, 6 D.C.M’s, 31 M.M.’s and 37 Parchment Certificates. In total, between 1st July 1916 and 23rd July 1916, they had lost 336 men killed who now lie in the cemeteries on the Somme. Of all the battalions on the Somme these losses would have an impact in 1917 and we will look at that in the New Year.

 

 

 

Mild Trench

The 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

18th October 1916

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Looking out towards Mild Trench from Shine Trench where the land became a gentle rise to the ridge east of Gueudecourt.

Since their assault on the Quadrilateral the 9th Norfolks had spent time resting and refitting. For the rest of September and the beginning of October they were positioned in the rear and on 1st October 1916 a new C.O., Lieutenant Bernard Henry Leather Prior, took command of the battalion from Major Frederick Lewis, 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment, who became his second in command.

Lieut Col Prior made note of the fact that his battalion was made up of new drafts of men and only 3 officers who were left from their action on 15th September 1916 and very few of the original men were left from before that time. But that held no sway and by 16th October they were back in the trenches north east of Gueudecourt.

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A trench map showing the position of Mild Trench north east of Gueudecourt.

The fighting around Gueudecourt had not stopped with the recent assaults made on 12th October 1916 and the 6th Division were positioned to the right of th 12th (Eastern) Division. They were ordered to advance and capture Mild Trench and then to capture Cloudy Trench. This would then afford the British the ridge that then led to Le Transloy.

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An Official History map showing Mild and Cloudy Trench in the bottom right.

The attack would go in at night and would be supported by artillery. But as noted in the blog on the 7th Norfolk’s attempts to capture Bayonet Trench the weather now was atrocious. The ground was described as being a quagmire and the parapets were slippery. This would have a bearing on the attack.

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This image shows a trench around Gueudecourt in late 1916.

What also complicated the plan was that the Norfolks would have to fight on their left flank until supporting troops came up and the Germans were pouring fire onto their positions. The attack went in at 3.40 a.m.on 18th October 1916.

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Thomas Hudson who was the son of Fredrick and Laura Hudson from Filby. Thomas took part in the assault on Mild Trench and was wounded, dying 10 days later on 28th October 1916 at 2/2 London CCS. He was 22 and is now buried in Grove Town Cemetery.

The initial problem was not the enemy but the conditions and the Norfolks had difficulty on getting out of their trenches due to the slippery conditions. Men who managed to get out often then slipped back and the protective barrage was lost and the battalion also suffered from the German counter barrage.

‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies led the attack and were followed up by ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies. ‘D’ Company had the job of protecting the flank. But due to the night being extremely dark cohesion was lost and ‘A’ and ‘B’ lost each other and left a gap which C Company could not fill. ‘B’ Company managed to capture Mild Trench and under the command of Lieutenant Terence Algernon Kilbee Cubitt who blockd the right hand trench. ‘A’ Company overshot their objective and were lost. All other attempts by other battalions also got into trouble.

We have an excellent account of this action from a Norfolk Regiment Officer.

“Precisely to to the minute the great British barrage opened, the whole earth shook, the noise was deafening, and the sky was lit up with the flash of guns. I clambered over the top and walked slowly forward till I fell in a shell hole. I crawled out of the shell hole, then walked blindly forward again until I came to the Bosche trench, shattered and with many dead… There was one live German in that trench, a few yards from me, with a bomb in his hand; but when our boys came over the parados and leaped into the trench, up went his hands and he shouted ‘Camerade! Camerade!’ … I felt exceedingly tired and would have liked to have slept, but we got that trench and I wasn’t keen on losing it.”

The account comes from Lieutenant Cubitt who, we have already noted, was setting up blocks in the captured trench. He was 21 when this action took place and he rightly won a Military Cross, his citation, which appeared in the London Gazette on 24th November 1916, stating,

2nd Lt. Terence Algernon Kilbee Cubitt,. Norf. R.

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led his platoon in the attack with great courage and determination. Later, with a few men, he formed a strong point, which he held till reinforcements arrived.

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Private 22799 John Thomas Gunton who was killed in action on 18th October 1916. John was the son of John and Margaret Gunton of 153 Barrack Street in Norwich. He was 23 when he died and has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

A series of German counter attacks supported by their artillery ensued. Snipers picked off Cubitt’s men and he makes mention of one Sergeant being wounded when a round ricocheted into his cheek just below his eye. The Sergeant, it was reported, smiled through the helmet as a joke. But the trench was held and at Midnight on the night of the 19th-20th October this small group was relieved.

Algernon Cubitt’s account of this action also has this to say about his men.

“The Bosches were coming down the communication trench towards us, but my little party of bombers-only seven men strong-bombed them back, three being killed in doing it. That left me with one Lance Corporal and seven men to hold the trench. Picking up captured German rifles (our own being caked with mud and it raining in torrents) we sniped over the parapet. I called for a volunteer to take a message back to Headquarters for reinforcements.Within five minutes one was on his way. We recommended him for the Military Medal… I saw an officer and four men crawling towards me under heavy fire; two of the party were killed, but the officer (Lieutenant Blackwell) got there with the other men. He took over, and I went to sleep in the mud! Subsequently others came to our assistance and forty eight hours, with water up to our knees, soaked to the skin, practically no water to drink, and dead beat, those splendid boys ‘stood to’, fought, and bombed, and held on. It was glorious to see how when one man was killed, another took his place, and, when he fell, a third man. They were all heroes.”

This, to me, epitomises the men of the infantry who fought on the Somme in 1916. One of those men was  2nd Lieutenant Harold John Badcock. Harold had served as a Constable in King’s Lynn Borough Police prior to joining up. He had joined the battalion on 30th September 1916 and lasted just 18 days before he went missing in the assault. He, like Algernon Cubitt, had been sent to the 9th Norfolks from the 4th Battalion. He was 28 and was confirmed as being killed in action and was the son of F. St. John Badcock and the husband of Hilda Gladys Badcock of “Hillside” George Street in Hemel Hempstead and a Native of Boxmoor. He is now buried in Bancourt British Cemetery.

Two other awards were given that day. The Distinguished Service Order went to Lieutenant Frederick Blackwell, his D.S.O. being listed in the London Gazette on 27th November 1916 which stated,

2nd Lt. Samuel Frederick Baker Blackwell, Norf. R.

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led a reinforcement party over the open under very heavy fire, bombing back the enemy and maintaining his position against three enemy counter-attacks for 36 hours. Later, he led a daring patrol, and proceeded over 100 yards along the enemy line and obtained valuable information.

And Sergeant 141o4 Walter Gould who won a Distinguished Conduct Medal, his citation listed in the London Gazette on 24th November stating,

14104 Sjt. W. Gould, Norf. R.

For conspicuous gallantry in action. During the day he three times went back over open ground swept by heavy fire and brought up reinforcements, ammunition and a machine gun.

But, as the Norfolk Regiment history noted about this action,

‘The equally grand work of the platoon of ‘A’ Company, who fought the Bosche to a finish, remains but an incident hitherto unrecorded and unsung.’

A total of 248 unsung heroes were killed, wounded or missing in the assault on Mild Trench of which a total of 98 can be confirmed as being killed in action or dying of wounds.

After they had captured part of Mild Trench the battalion assisted in digging a communication trench to it and were then relieved. They then moved to Annezin near Bethune and their time on the Somme ended.

 

Bayonet Trench

The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

Gueudecourt

12th October 1916

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A trench map showing you Bayonet Trench situated to the North-West of Gueudecourt.

On 2nd October 1916 the 7th Norfolks moved to Bernafay Wood and went into the reserve with the rest of the 35th Brigade while the 36th and 37th Brigades occupied the front-line facing Gueudecourt. On 10th October the 35th Brigade relieved the 36th Brigade and were given orders to prepare for an attack on a German position called Bayonet Trench on 12th October.

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The 12th Division positioned in front of Gueudecourt in October 1916.

By now the autumn weather was setting in and the conditions in the trenches were terrible. Although you could define the line here the actual trenches were by now flooded holes full of the dead on both sides and the smashed equipment of successive attacks that had failed.

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A trench at Gueudecourt.

The assault was timed to go in at 2.50 p.m. and would involve all four companies going in as D, C, B and A with the 7th Suffolks  advancing on the Norfolk’s right and a battalion from the 30th Division, namely the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. They were to move to capture Luisenhof Far after they had secured Bayonet and Scabbard Trench. They would advance on these positions under the cover of artillery.

The battalion had only advanced 50 yards when they came under machine gun fire from both flanks and as they continued onto Bayonet Trench they came up against uncut wire. This along with the heavy machine-gun fire stopped the advance in its tracks and the men had to retire to shell-holes.

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Lance Corporal Alphonso Allison who was 23 when he died of wounds on 13th October 1916 after the assault on Bayonet Trench. He was the son of William and Maria Allison of Bawburgh. He is now laid to rest in Heilly Station Cemetery.

This then resulted in the Norfolks firing on German soldiers who were standing up in their trenches firing at them. This caused a number of casualties on the German side.

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The grave of Jesse Bensley from St James who died of wounds on 12th October 1916 after the assault on Bayonet Trench. Jess was 25 when he died and was the son of Jesse and Rachel Bensley. Jess shares his grave in Heilly Station Cemetery with Richard Heaver from Gravesend. The reason for this is noted on the CWGC site where they note that burials in this cemetery were carried out under extreme pressure and many of the graves are either too close together to be marked individually, or they contain multiple burials.

The 7th Suffolks fared better and managed to get into the German line and but were forced out by Germans bombing them out. The Norfolks got close to Bayonet and Scabbard Trench and attempts were made to cut the wire here. But the wire was too strong and they were forced to retire to their start line.

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Looking out towards Bayonet Trench. Gueudecourt would be behind the camera.

Losses here were 9 officers and 212 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. This left 8 officers and 350 other ranks when they were relieved by elements of the 29th Division and marched to Mametz Wood. By the 25th October 1916 they were away from the Somme battle area and had moved to Arras.

 

 

 

The Schwaben Redoubt

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

5th October 1916

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The Schwaben Redoubt as depicted in the Norfolk Regiment history on the Great War.

After the capture of Thiepval village and Thiepval Ridge attention was put onto a position that had held out since 1st July 1916. The mighty Schwaben Redoubt had been assaulted on that fateful day by the 36th (Ulster) Division. They had managed to take the position but after terrible fighting  and the fact that both the 29th and 32nd Divisions on either side had failed in capturing their objectives the Ulstermen had to give up most of the gains and had ended up retiring to the German front-line which they held. And so now after months of fighting, and with the recent fighting close to it, the next plan was to capture it.

Since 28th September the fighting had intensified around the Schwaben Redoubt which occupied high ground and both sides knew it was an important position to hold or capture. The task of capturing it was given to the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment. The position they would assault is described as this on the CWGC website,

‘The Schwaben Redoubt, formed from a roughly triangular shaped set of mutually supporting trench systems, was perhaps the most formidable in the German second line. An extensive arrangement of well-constructed field-works – effectively a battlefield fortress or ‘redoubt’- it possessed all-round defences and was linked by a maze of subterranean passages and interconnecting tunnels. The position included medical facilities and a telephone exchange.’

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A German map from 1st July 1916 showing you the Schwaben Redoubt.

It is no wonder that it had held out for such a long time. So the C.O. of the 8/Norfolks, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Gaspard de Lavalette Ferguson, decided that the best way to assault this mighty fortress was to use his battalion bombers, his Lewis gunners and his snipers under the command of his battalion bombing officer. It was planned to attack the position from both flanks with support waiting to make up for any losses in the assault. The idea was for the assault parties to work down trenches on either side of the redoubt which correspond to Point 39 and 27 on the map I have supplied from the Norfolk Regiment history of the Great War.

As each trench was captured in the redoubt blocks would be put on and the overall assault would be supported by a barrage to the west, the south and north of the position as well as it falling on communication trenches that the Germans might bring up reinforcements.

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Looking towards the Schwaben Redoubt from Connaught Cemetery. Mill Road can be seen in the difference and was built on top of the redoubt.

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Arthur Quick who was the son of James and Ellen Quick from Castle Street in Norwich. Arthur had initially served in the 1/6th (Cyclist) Battalion prior to being sent to France and was 18 when he was killed in action of 5th October 1916. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Zero Hour was set for 6 a.m. on 5th October 1916. But at this point in time the autumn weather had set in and the trenches were flooding. It took a long time to set up the attack which had to be postponed until 7.30 a.m.

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The grave of Walter Edwards, who originally came from Stratton St Mary, in Mill Road Cemetery. Walter was one of ten men killed in the assault on the Schwaben Redoubt on 5th October 1916. Note the personal memorial to him.

As with the Norfolk Regiment history we will look at the assaults separately.

On the left hand side the attack came in from three parallel trenches and started well until the left hand party of a total of three got held up at Point 19 at Strasbourg Trench. Here they were counter attacked by German bombers and in attacks over open ground. The attacks over open ground were dealt with by the Lewis gun teams but the trench fighting against the enemy bombers caused problems. The main issue here being the fact that the German bombers could readily resupply their grenadiers where the Norfolk bombing parties could not.This forced the left hand party back and another counter attack came in although this was dealt with by Lewis gun teams under the command of Lieutenant Arthur Gundry-White.

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The grave of Frederick Hanner who is buried next to Leonard Wallis who served in the 1/1st Cambridgeshire Regiment in Connaught Cemetery.

On the right the attack met strong opposition and was driven back. The fighting here ended up in hand to hand with bayonet and bomb and Lieutenant Thomas Whitty along with a number of men were killed in this fight. But they reached the northern part of the redoubt and managed to get within 50 yards of a position identified as Point 99 which on a map shows it faced towards the German second lines looking towards places such as Grandcourt. At 2.20 p.m. they consolidated their gains and waited for relief which came in the form of the 39th Division. In the process of attempting to capture this area the 18th (Eastern) Division, who had been fighting in this area since 26th September 1916, had lost 2,000 men killed, wounded or missing. But although they had captured Thiepval and Thiepval Ridge they never fully captured the Schwaben Redoubt and when they handed over their gains Points 19, 39, 49 and 69 were still in German hands.

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Frederick Hanner who was the son of Herbert and Caroline Hanner from Long Stratton. Frederick had been a Farm Labourer before the war and was 21 when he died.

It would not be until the 14th October 1916 that the entire position was captured. This was noted in the Official History of the Great War,

‘…on the 14th, the 39th Division drove the Germans from their last hold on the Schwaben. The 4th/5th Black Watch and the 1/1st Cambridgeshire (118th Brigade), assisted by the 17/K.R.R.C. (117th Brigade) attacked over the open and, although the fighting continued until 11 p.m., the enemy’s discomfiture was then complete. More than one hundred and fifty prisoners of the II./110th Reserve regiment were collected. Meanwhile, the 1/6th Cheshire (118th Brigade) had advanced the line on the left. Three counter attacks against the Schwaben, two of them with Flammenwerfer, were repulsed in the course of the following day.’

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Walter Hodds from Great Yarmouth. He had initially served in the 1/6th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment until they were sent to become drafts to the 8th Battalion. Walter was the son of James and Eliza Hodds and he was 22 when he was killed in action during the assault on the Schwaben Redoubt. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

If you visit either Connaught or Mill Road Cemeteries on the Somme you will see that 8th Battalion Norfolk men lie next to 1/1st Cambridgeshire men along with the other regiments who fought so hard to take the Schwaben Redoubt off of the Germans.

In total the 8/Norfolks lost 91 men killed, wounded or missing and can rightly be classed as one of the many battle honours for the battalion which had now been in the thick of the fighting since 1st July 1916. But this was not the last time that the battalion would see action on the Somme.