The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment
21st – 23rd October 1916
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.’
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.’
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.
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 .
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.
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.