Mild Trench

The 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

18th October 1916

mild-trench

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.

gueudecourt-trench-map

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.

gueudecourt

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.

gueudecourt-trench

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.

frederick-hudson-dow-26-oct-16

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.

john-gunton

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.

 

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