London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
Royal fusiliers in the Great War - BATTLE OF THE SOMME
The Royal fusiliers in the Great War
1914 - 1919
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME
By a strange coincidence the 2nd Battalion made its second debut in major
operations in another attempt to achieve the impossible. On this occasion it
took part with the 29th Division in the holding attack, north of the Ancre,
which was launched simultaneously with the opening of the Somme battle on July
At the battle of Loos the role of the British Army had been subsidiary to that
of the French. Neither men nor material justified the hope of the army playing a
part of decisive importance. But at the battle of the Somme there were ample
numbers ; and the army had increased until, on the Western Front, it commanded
660,000 bayonets and sabres. And the atmosphere in which the battle was launched
was completely changed. Loos was fought when the Russian Army appeared to be at
its last gasp. Russia had already won a striking victory when the battle of the
Somme began ; Italy had recovered from the Austrian attack in the Trentino, and
France had weathered the attack at Verdun, though with heavy loss. The expansion
of the Royal Fusiliers was symptomatic of the change in the equilibrium on the
west. There were now twenty-one battalions in France, in addition to battalions
in the Balkans and in Africa.
Beaumont Hamel. — From first to last no fewer than twenty battalions of Royal
Fusiliers were engaged in the battle of the Somme. But no other Fusilier unit
fought so unsatisfying an action with such heavy loss as did the 2nd Battalion.
Its role was to hold the German reserves and occupy his artillery in order to
assist the main attack south of the Ancre. But, as ill-fortune would have it,
the enemy had expected the main attack on the front allocated to holding and
subsidiary attacks, and the units engaged there suffered accordingly.
The preparations for the opening of the first great British attack in France had
been very elaborate, and on the front of the division, north of the 29th, they
included the driving of an enormous mine towards the Hawthorne Redoubt. The
explosion of this mine was to launch the battalion's attack and provide its
first objective. The Fusiliers lay just north of the Ancre, below Beaumont
Hamel, which nature and artifice had turned into a very formidable fortress. The
troops were in position at 5.15 a.m., and the bombardment became terrific.
Shortly afterwards a smoke barrage was put down, and then at 7.20 a.m. the mine
was exploded, filling the air with a cloud of debris. At once D Company rushed
forward with machine guns to occupy the crater, but they were met by a heavy
German barrage and machine gun fire. Five minutes later was zero hour, and the
whole line advanced.
Upon the battalion front the attack never had any chance of success. When D
Company reached the mine crater they were only able to occupy the nearer lip as
the other side was already held by the Germans. No advance could be made there,
and, on the rest of the front few of the men reached the enemy's wire. The
British barrage was persistent in its attentions to the second and third lines
of the German first defensive system, with the consequence that the battle was
restricted to the first line where, armed with an ample supply of machine guns,
the enemy was able to crush every attempt to rush it. At mid-day the few men
remaining in No Man's Land had to give up the futile attempt and retire. The
losses of the battalion had been very terrible. Major Cripps who had been
ordered to brigade headquarters to be brigade major, was seriously wounded
within two hours. Lieut. -Colonel A. V. Johnson was buried and wounded in the
front line trench by a shell from one of our own batteries. He attempted to
carry on, but was clearly unfit to do so and was evacuated.
Major-General Sir W. B. Hickie, K.C.B., who commanded the 16th Division from
December, 1915, until it was broken up in April, 1918.
BEAUMONT-HAMEL, JULY 1ST, 1916
Captain Goodliffe, who was to have occupied the German front line when captured,
examined the wounded in order to gain information. One poor fellow, whose jaw
was shattered, could only mumble, but he insisted on telling his story. A guess
was made at his meaning, " We are doing no good on the right." When this was
repeated to him, he nodded and smiled, and went off to the dressing-station.
Such was the spirit of the men in one of the worst experiences of the war.
The total casualties for the day amounted to 490, including 20 officers, three
of them killed. This was in addition to the eight officers who became casualties
during the preliminary bombardment. Lieut. -Colonel G. S. Guyon was killed while
gallantly leading the 16th Battalion West Yorks. The battalion had suffered, in
fact, worse than in the landing in Gallipoli, and drastic reorganisation was
necessary. Captain Swifte assumed command with Captain Goodliffe as second and
Lieutenant P. T. 0. Boult as Adjutant.
Dearden and Baldwin alone of the officers who went over the top did not become
causalties and the former had his steel helmet dented by a shell. For
forty-eight hours the wounded dribbled in, some of them mad. The Germans left
their trenches under a Red Cross flag and collected some of the wounded. They
also removed Lewis guns on stretchers, a slight blot on otherwise unexceptional
On July 2nd the artillery was extremely active on both sides and the day was
given over to the salvage of dead and wounded. On the 4th the 2nd Battalion were
relieved by two battalions of the 4th Division, and later in the month they
passed from the Somme area.
Gommecourt. — Farther north, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Londons had been involved in
the subsidiary attack south of the Gommecourt salient, the 1st being in
divisional reserve. The 2nd Londons lay in the front line until 1.30 p.m., when
D Company were ordered up to the first German line (Ferret Trench) ; but
Lieutenant H. W. Everitt and several men were hit as they left the trenches and
the company made three unsuccessful attempts to cross the open in the face of
the artillery and machine gun fire. A little later A and C Companies were
directed to make good the German front line on the left and right of Ferret
Trench and to recover parts of the trenches beyond. C, on the left, was held up
before the German wire. Captain Handyside was wounded about 15 yards from the
front line but crawled forward encouraging his men until killed by a shell.
After dark about fifty of the men, including many wounded, crawled back. A
Company fared similarly, losing all its officers and all but 35 men ; and at
3.15 p.m. the battalion were ordered to cease the attempt to reinforce and to
hold the old front line. Soon after noon the Germans showed a white flag in
Ferret trench and an informal truce took place for about an hour for the
collection of wounded. Ten minutes before the end of the truce the Germans gave
warning by firing shells over the men. Some of the wounded stated that the
Germans had given them coffee during the night. On July 3rd the battalion
received the congratulations of the divisional general on their gallantry.
Indeed, there was no lack of courage and the 2nd Londons lost 12 officers,
including Captains Handyside and Garland killed, and 241 other ranks.
The role of the 3rd Londons was to dig a communication trench from " Z" hedge to
the junction of Fir and Firm Trenches — on the left of the point which C Company
of the 3rd Londons attacked ; but when this was begun at 10.10 a.m., the German
barrage was so heavy that the task had to be abandoned. " Z" hedge, occupied by
Second Lieutenant Johnson and No. 15 Platoon was so heavily shelled that at 1.15
p.m. only Johnson and one man were left. The battalion lost 3 officers and 120
THE TERRITORIALS AT GOMMECOURT
The 4th Londons supported the attack on the right of the 3rd, and they also came
under so heavy a fire that any considerable or lasting success was impossible.
At 8.45 a.m. two companies were ordered to support the Rangers in the German
front trench (Fetter) ; but, although six runners were despatched with the
message by different routes and two others after an interval of fifteen minutes,
only one returned, having failed to locate the left company. The others were all
killed. A Company, very gallantly led by Captain A. R. Moore, went forward and
pushed up to the second German line, but at that point all the officers had
become casualties and all but 18 men. The two platoons of C Company who went
forward suffered little more than the two who had not received the order, owing
to the front line trench being destroyed by the German barrage. The company lost
all their officers and were brought out of action by C.S.M. Davis. B Company,
whose role was to " clear up," lost very terribly, and only about 10 men got
back from the German line. The battalion had 23 officers and 700 other ranks,
head-quarters and firing line on going into action, but only 7 officers and 356
other ranks answered the roll call that night. But they had shown a fine courage
and discipline, and, in the end, the function of the 56th Division had been
Montauban. — The 11th Royal Fusiliers took part in the attack of the 18th
Division towards Montauban. It was their first battle and they engaged in it
with peculiar zest. They had already tested the effect of our bombardment in a
raid on June 27th/28th, in which Second Lieutenant W. R. Havard gained the M.C.
; and by 2 a.m. on July 1st they were in battle positions, as the left
assaulting battalion of the brigade. About 4.30 a.m. tea was sent up and was
warmly appreciated, for a fine rain was falling and the men were thoroughly
chilled. About 7 a.m. a thick mist shrouded the foreground ; but before 7.30 it
had cleared and the men went over the top " like bloodhounds let loose from the
leash." The German trenches had been so battered that it was only with the
utmost difficulty the men carried out the pre-arranged plan. The Fusiliers ran
through the German barrage and went across their front line in great style.
An attempt to check the advance from Austrian Support was dealt with, one of the
machine guns being rushed by Lance-Corporal A. Payne. Between Bund Trench and
Pommiers Trench, a space of some 500 yards, uncut wire was encountered by the
battalion on the right of the Fusiliers, and the consequent check was seized
upon by the Germans in Mametz to strike against the battalion's left flank.
Second Lieutenant Parr-Dudley turned his platoon half-left and, with a vigorous
charge, accounted for the small enemy party, but lost his life in the action.
A small party bombed up Black Alley, leading to Pommiers Trench. Private W. T.
Taverner, locating a machine gun in the latter trench, and unable to get at the
gunner, won a M.M. by standing on top of the emplacement and directing the waves
right and left. Private J. Nicholson shot six German snipers and then knocked
out a machine gun. And so by numerous acts of individual bravery and initiative
Pommiers Trench was won, the Fusiliers securing a machine gun. There was then a
pause and a Fusilier officer noted that " the men were by this time quite cool
and collected, and apparently very happy. Several of them were holding miniature
sing-songs, whilst others were energetically shaking hands and wishing their
officers good luck."
Pommiers Redoubt had still to be taken, and this was the worst stage of the
day's fighting. Captain Johnson was held in Black Alley by a machine gun, and
could not approach that way. He then attempted to take the redoubt from the
rear. Second Lieutenant Savage accounted for the snipers in Beetle Alley, on the
north-west, and Johnson was able to bring his machine guns up to enfilade the
front of the redoubt. With this assistance the Bedfordshires were able to
advance frontally, and the obstacle was won at 9.30 a.m. Beetle Alley was rushed
shortly afterwards, but an hour's delay was experienced here, as the
flanking battalions were not up. At length the advance was resumed, and in the
afternoon the Fusiliers were 1,000 yards still farther ahead, in White
MONTAUBAN AND LA BOISSELLE
Trench, below Mametz Wood. A line of strong points was begun later in the day. "
It was very hard for the diggers, but it was really pitiful to see the others.
Everybody was tired out, and I had to keep on constantly waking the men up, for
as soon as they touched the ground they automatically succumbed into deep sleep.
It is not altogether fun being so tired as we all were in the face of the
enemy." * Digging was continued until dawn was breaking.
* Captain Aley's diary.
The battalion had made one of the deepest advances of the day. On July 2nd the
Bedfordshires were withdrawn, and the Fusiliers took over the defence of the
brigade front till the following day, when, on relief, they returned to Carnoy.
They had lost very heavily. Savage, Parr-Dudley, Mild and Greenwood were killed,
and 49 O.R. ; 148 were wounded, four were suffering from shell-shock, and 17
missing — a very much smaller casualty list than that of the 2nd Battalion, who
had fought their heroic abortive battle at Beaumont Hamel. On July 5th they were
visited by officers of the 4 th Battalion, who were later to take over from
La Boisselle. — On the following days the victory of July 1st was rounded off in
a series of local operations. On the 3rd the 9th Battalion were in support, just
north of Oviilers, during the 12th Division's unsuccessful attack on that day.
Four days later the 13th Battalion had moved to the right of the 9th, and
delivered an attack. La Boisselle had fallen on the 3rd, with part of Oviilers.
But the latter and Contalmaison were unreduced, and the 13th Battalion struck
between the two.f At 2 a.m. on July 7th the 13th Battalion was assembled in the
old German line in front of La Boisselle, with orders not to attack without
orders from the brigade, or until the flanks were well ahead ; but at 8.25 the
flanks had advanced, and, touch being lost with the brigade, the order to
advance was given. Major Ardagh led off with Nos. i and 2 Companies, with
bombing sections covering the flanks. Due east of La Boisselle some resistance
was encountered that held up No. 2 Company for some time, and when this was
overcome, the right flank had lost touch with the brigade on the south. The
battalion had lost direction, and at 9.30 a.m. the right flank was swung back to
within about 1,000 yards due west of Contal-maison. The line was consolidated,
and it was at this point that casualties were experienced from the German
artillery. On the following day the battalion was ordered to push on to the next
line. Captain Nelson took Nos. 3 and 4 Companies to this objective, which
stretched from a little below the main Albert road to about 700 yards west of
Contalmaison. A small party pushed too far ahead, and suffered severely ; but in
the two days' operations, with fairly moderate casualties, the battalion had
advanced the line materially, captured a battery of field guns, a few machine
guns, and nearly 200 prisoners. Lieutenant Bleaden was killed on July 7th ;
Captains Bliss and Nelson and Second Lieutenants Lewis and Morgan were wounded.
The casualties in other ranks were 20 killed, 127 wounded and 13 missing.
ATTACK ON OVILLERS, JULY 7th
Ovillers. — On the 7th two other Fusilier battalions were also engaged in the
battle. The 8th and 9th Battalions of the 36th Brigade, with the 7th Sussex
between them, made another attempt to capture Ovillers, and few more costly
actions were fought in the whole of the battle of the Somme. The 8th Battalion
was on the right, and the plan was to take Ovillers from the S.W. flank. The
bombardment began at 4.30 a.m., and at 8.26 the two leading companies, A and D,
crawled over the parapet and lay out in the open. The weather was bad ; and
though no rain fell during the night, the fumes of the gas shells were blanketed
into the hollows of the ground, and formed a death-trap for many who fell
wounded. Lieut. -Colonel Annesley, waving his stick, led the attack as the
barrage lifted, and the men leaped forward into a withering machine-gun fire.
The Prussian Guards who held these battered positions were worthy foemen, and
though the first and second trenches were captured, the cost was very terrible.
Annesley, a most gallant officer, was early hit in the wrist. Later he was
wounded in the ankle ; but he still kept on, and for a time the final objective
was in the 8th's hands. Annesley was at length shot above the heart, and fell
into a shell-hole, where he lay till evening, when he was taken to Albert and
died that night. Shortly after noon the Fusiliers were in Ovillers, and the
brigade held about half of it on a north and south line. But every officer
engaged was either killed, wounded or missing. Captain Featherstonhaugh, who had
been wounded, but refused to leave, was killed. So also were Captains Chard and
Franklin. Captain and Adjutant Robertson- Walker was never heard of again, and
Second Lieutenant Procter was killed ; 17 other officers were wounded. The
battalion had gone into action 800 strong ; they mustered 160 at night, but held
on until relieved on the following day.
The 9th had fared similarly. They had fought under the same conditions, and
their losses were only slightly less than those of the 8th Battalion. Rawlins,
Cook, Philipps, Street, Osborne, Bindett, Peacock and Manson were killed, and
Vere-Smith later died of wounds. Spiers, Brown, Bastable, Twiddy, Garrood
(missing), Mackenzie and Evans were wounded. In all about 180 men came out. The
gallant survivors of both battalions were congratulated, and it is merely the
sober truth that the ordeal through which they had come was unique. Ovillers
held out some days longer, and it was not taken until the village had been more
completely obliterated than any other in the Somme area and its garrison reduced
to 126. The two Fusilier battalions carried the reduction to its penultimate
When the 10th Battalion came up on July 10th they left one amazing experience to
go to another. On the night of the 9th the battalion camp at Albert was heavily
shelled, and a grenade dump (50,000) detonated, wounding an officer, killing one
man and wounding two others. But in the front line death and desolation were
everywhere. La Boiselle was level with the ground. The trenches were battered
and exposed. Dead bodies lay about on all sides. At 9 p.m. on July 10th C and B
Companies were pushed up in relief of the 13th Rifle Brigade, who, attacking
towards Pozieres, had suffered from machine-gun fire ; and the battalion lay in
advanced positions under heavy shell fire for two days. The men preferred attack
when losses sustained went to pay the price of some tangible success, or at
least to further an obvious purpose.
Trones Wood. — One platoon (No. 14) of D Company of the nth Battalion assisted
the 12th Middlesex in their successful attack on Trones Wood on July 14th to
15th. As they were moving up from Maricourt in the early hours of the 15th they
ran into a barrage on the Maricourt-Briquetin road. They had " one casualty, a
poor devil who gets his head blown off by a large piece of shrapnel. Still no
signs of fear. The men keep in their fours, and go on as if nothing had
happened." * Aley was wounded in Trones Wood, and the platoon suffered heavily.
After serious losses from the continual bombardment the battalion left the Somme
area on the 18th.
* Officer's diary.
POZIERES, JULY 15th
Pozieres. — Meanwhile the 10th Battalion had been engaged, and had fought their
way to the orchard on the south-west entrance of Pozieres. At 9 a.m. on July
15th they had advanced up Sausage Valley in support of the main attack. About
300 yards from the village they were held up by machine-gun fire. The hollow
road seemed to be blocked with troops ; and it was obvious the attack had failed
before it was abandoned. The CO. asked permission to place a barrage at the
southern end of the village and to take part in the attack. The battalion
advanced with a dash, and Lieutenant F. M. Taylor, with D Company, seized the
orchard, and an attempt was made to penetrate the outlying orchards. But this
movement was defeated by concentrated machine-gun fire, and the advanced
positions had to be evacuated. Headquarters in chalk pit, about 900 yards from
the edge of the village, had been in constant communication with all the
companies, and in the afternoon a renewed effort was made. After a pause for
reorganisation the village was bombarded from 5 to 6 p.m., and the signal was
given for the advance. But at this point there was an unfortunate mischance. The
rockets failed, owing to dampness ; and the battalion did not start in unison.
Some advanced, others still waited, and the blow failed. Most determined and
repeated attempts were made to rush the village, but nothing could live in such
a machine-gun fire. The battalion were driven back to cover in the afternoon
positions, and the 10th Loyal North Lancashires took over the positions after
dark. All the company commanders were casualties, and so heavily had the
battalion lost that, with the division, they were taken out of the line.
High Wood. — To the south-east the 4th Battalion were assisting in the capture
of the Bazentins. On July 8th they had relieved the nth Battalion at Carnoy, and
on the 14th they provided working and carrying parties for the brigade attack on
Bazentin-le-Grand. A few days later the 20th Battalion were sent to hold the
front line in Bazentin, and, later, supported the 19th Brigade attack on High
Wood. As the brigade cleared the southern end of the wood the battalion cleared
up and consolidated in their rear, and at least this part of the wood was
securely held that night. They organised a front and support line across the
wood from east to west, with a strong post in the support line, and held on to
the position until relieved at midnight. Their task cost them dearly. Lieut.
-Colonel Bennett was wounded ; Captain Toller, Lieutenant Wallwork, Lieutenant
Rawson, Lieutenant Palmer, Second Lieutenant Price and Second Lieutenant
Coventry were killed ; Second Lieutenant Hine was among the missing ; Captain
Hollingworth, Second Lieutenant Bell, Second Lieutenant Cooke, Second Lieutenant
Brooke, Second Lieutenant Fabricius, Second Lieutenant Ives and Second
Lieutenant Herbert were wounded. The casualties in other ranks were 375 killed,
wounded and missing.
Delville Wood. — On the 20th the 4th Battalion moved up to Delville Wood, which
saw a number of Fusilier battalions in the next few days. This wood, which the
soldiers aptly called " Devil's Wood," was one of the many German positions
which were apparently captured many times without ceasing to be the scene of
very bitter fighting. The South Africans had their outposts on the outer fringes
of the wood on the night of July 15th ; but on the 18th a heavy German
counter-attack swept away the British troops, and in the recoil only the
southern end of the wood could be retained. The following day was occupied by
the struggle to clear the wood once again ; and it was in the lull after the
fighting had temporarily died down that the Fusiliers took over from the Essex,
Suffolk and Welsh Fusiliers in the south-east of the wood.
It was a deadly area. Even in getting into position 40 casualties were
experienced, but the battalion, who had been complimented for their steadiness
after Le Cateau, showed no trace of wavering. There were practically no
trenches, and the position was methodically consolidated under the worst
conditions. A continuous trench line was constructed, though the men were
working so close to the Germans that many British shells fell into the trench.
At 10 p.m. on the 21st the Germans delivered a local counter-attack. Well
prepared and vigorously pressed, it still disturbed the Fusiliers very little.
The repulse cost the battalion a number of casualties : Major Wrenford, Second
Lieutenant Cook, and 30 other ranks were wounded. Second Lieutenant Sparkes was
shot through the head earlier in the day. He was in command of Z Company, and
was looking for a place for two of his platoons. His was a well-known Fusilier
When the 4th Battalion were relieved at midnight on the 24th they had lost 12
officers and 340 other ranks, killed, wounded and missing, in thirteen days,
without taking part in any attack. In beating off the counter-attack in Delville
Wood they lost scarcely more than the daily average. The losses under such
conditions form a striking illustration of the plane on which the Somme battle
DELVILLE WOOD, JULY 27th
The 2nd Division had now been brought to the Somme area, and the first of its
four Fusilier battalions to enter the battle zone was the 17th. It was also
their first entrance into any battle zone when they took over the support line
at Longueval Alley on July 25th. We have already seen that actual attack was not
necessary for the suffering of casualties, and Lieutenant Richmond was the first
to succumb. There was a heavy bombardment with tear shells, and he was gassed on
the first day in the trenches. On the following day there was little
intermission in the German shelling, and with every precaution 15 further
casualties were suffered. On the 27th A and B Companies went to Delville Wood in
the afternoon, and on this occasion there were 118 casualties.
But this was the day on which Delville Wood was again overrun. Four battalions
of the Royal Fusiliers had their share in this memorable exploit, and the place
of honour was given to the 23rd Battalion. They had had an uncomfortable time in
Bernafay Wood previous to the attack. Words fail to do justice to the situation
at this moment. It was hot weather. The ground was pitted and torn by shell
fire. Dead bodies lay about, and before the troops began to move up the Germans
had indulged in a heavy bombardment with gas shells. Fortunately a welcome
breeze made the wearing of masks unnecessary. The approach was covered by the
British barrage, and near Longueval one shell fell close to the Fusiliers, badly
wounding one man.
" It's hard lines," said the man when the CO. went to him.
" I know it is," said the CO., " but you'll soon be all right. The
stretcher-bearers are coming."
" Oh ! it's not that," was the man's rejoinder. " It's being hit just now ! Here
have I been all this time in France without having a real go at the b s, and now
the chance has come, here I go and get knocked out." *
* Major N. A. Lewis, D.S.O., M.C., quoted in " The 23rd (Service) Battalion
The battalion formed up in a trench at the edge of the wood with the 1st
K.R.R.C. on the right and the ist Royal Berks in support. The coolness of the
men was remarkable, and one man, hearing that there were still five minutes to
zero, calmly went back to his breakfast. The position to be assaulted was as
difficult as any in the Somme area. The wood was now merely a collection of bare
stumps, but the trees which had crashed and the thick undergrowth provided ideal
obstacles and cover. The ground seemed to be alive with machine guns, and the
German barrage effectually cut off all approach to the wood. The defending
troops were the Brandenburgers ; and after the first objective had been
captured, numbers of them were taken prisoner.
The barrage lifted at 7.10 a.m., and the first wave, consisting of A and B
Companies, who had formed up in front of the existing trenches when the barrage
began, went forward, and with little opposition captured the Princes Street
line. This avenue practically cut the wood in two from east to west ; and it was
occupied and consolidation begun within nine minutes of the advance. D and C
Companies had occupied the line vacated by the first wave, and when, at 7.40
a.m., the barrage lifted again, the second wave passed through the first. The
barrage had lifted again (8.10 a.m.), and the advance began on the final
objective, while the second wave was struggling with a redoubt on the left
front. Excellently covered and strongly manned, the obstacle seemed to defy
capture until two Lewis guns were sent up and placed so as to take the redoubt
from the flank. Assisted by bombers, the Lewis guns soon put an end to the
resistance. Two machine guns were put out of action, and Sergeant Royston,
finding a third intact, turned it upon part of the garrison who were escaping.
Shortly afterwards (9.40 a.m.) the final objective was captured, and the men dug
in on the further edge of the wood, with a good field of fire. The rest of the
day was occupied in dealing with attempts to get round the flanks.
DELVILLE WOOD CLEARED, JULY 27th
At 11a.m. the 1st K.R.R.C, who held the exposed flank on the right, were
attacked by German bombers, and B Company bombers and a machine gun were sent to
support. At this moment also began the enemy bombardment of the whole of the
wood, and, persisting until midnight, it made life very precarious. Most of the
casualties suffered by the 23rd were sustained in this ceaseless fire. But their
position was safe compared with that of the K.R.R.C. The 17th Battalion Royal
Fusiliers lay south of the wood with the 22nd Battalion forward on their left. A
and B Companies of the 22nd were sent up as carrying parties, and passed the
headquarters of the 17th with S.A.A. and tools. At 1 p.m. a message was sent to
the 22nd to reinforce the K.R.R.C. At 2 p.m. A and B Companies of the 17th moved
up to Delville Wood, and before the end of the day every available man of the
22nd was thrown into the struggle on the right. At 3.30 p.m. a strong
counter-attack was delivered by the enemy on this flank, and the situation was
only cleared up by the assistance of the 23rd's bombers and the full remaining
strength of the 22nd. Captain Walsh collected all the carrying parties, to the
number of about 250, and organised them into a fighting unit. Captain Gell took
the last 100 men of C and D Companies up to the wood from Bernafay Wood, and
with them held the south-east flank of the wood. The wood undoubtedly justified
its nickname on this day. Wherever the men stood they were under shell fire, and
it seemed impossible that any troops should be left to hold what had been won.
But at the end of the day the wood was handed over intact ; and the 23rd, though
they had lost 12 officers (5 killed) and 276 other ranks, came out at night,
jauntily enough, smoking German cigars and well pleased with themselves. Theirs
had been the straighter task of over-running German positions. They had taken
six machine guns and, with the K.R.R.C., 160 prisoners. The 22nd, who had had
the less stimulating task of beating off the continued attacks of the enemy and
of suffering their shell fire, had possibly achieved a greater thing. Largely
owing to them, the flank was held up, and unless this had been accomplished the
wood would have been lost almost before it was won. They lost Captain Grant,
commanding the brigade machine gun company, killed, 4 other officers wounded,
and 189 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. The 17th lost Lieutenant
Fletcher and Second Lieutenant Penny killed, 3 officers wounded, and 113 other
ranks killed, wounded and missing.
On July 30th C Company of the 24th Battalion was engaged. On the previous
evening the battalion had taken over the front line from the southern edge of
Delville Wood to Waterlot Farm, and on the 30th they advanced against a German
trench some 600 yards east of Waterlot Farm. A thick mist lay over the ground as
the men went forward, and it was very difficult to keep direction. When this
initial and serious handicap had been overcome, it was found that the German
wire had been uncut. " The king of the war," as the French called barbed wire,
exercised its sovereignty once again. Captain C. S. Meares was killed on the
wire, leading his men, and the company fought valiantly, but to no purpose. C
Company attacked with 3 officers and 114 other ranks. One wounded officer and 11
other ranks remained at the end of the day. Such was the price paid for
co-operation in the attack on Guillemont.
During the next few days the 17th, 22nd and 23rd Battalions saw further service
in this very perilous sector. On August 1st the 22nd Battalion moved into
Delville Wood. Lieut. -Colonel Barnett Barker was placed in command of the wood,
with the 23rd Battalion in support. These dispositions remained in force until
the night of the 3rd, when the Royal Fusiliers were relieved during a heavy
bombardment which caused a number of casualties.
NIGHT ATTACK, AUGUST 3rd
Pozieres Ridge. — The 8th and 9th Battalions were engaged once more in the first
week of August in operations about Pozieres. That these were minor operations
does not detract from their interest or from their influence on the capture of
the Pozieres Ridge. The 8th Battalion attacked with the 6th Buffs. Their
objective was a section of 4th Avenue, a trench north-west of Pozieres. The
attack was made at n p.m. on the night of August 3rd, and as the barrage lifted
two platoons of A and B Companies walked slowly forward until within 50 yards of
the trench, when they charged. The Germans were taken completely by surprise,
and the trench was captured. The Germans sent up phosphorus red flares which lit
up the storming troops ; and they fought very well. Colonel Cope, commanding the
Buffs, personally reconnoitred the ground during the attack, and owing to his
prompt decision, part of the 5th Avenue trench was also seized and held. By
midnight the position was being consolidated, and the two battalions had
captured 2 officers (one wearing the Iron Cross) and 89 other ranks. Lieutenant
Wardrop and Second Lieutenant A. Stiles were killed in the attack, and Second
Lieutenant R. W. Hampton was wounded, and there were about 150 other casualties.
About 1 a.m. a bombing block was established in the new trench, and Captain
Clarke held it against two enemy attacks. As day broke on the 4th a company was
seen to be charging down on the battalion's right flank. Only by good luck was
disaster averted, for it was soon realised that these were the Sussex, who had
lost direction in the dark.
The darkness made it difficult to determine the positions with accuracy. At one
time it was thought that Ration Trench had been taken. When the mistake was
discovered later it was decided to attack the position in the evening with the
three battalions of the 36th Brigade, the 2nd Anzac Division co-operating with
an advance to the north-east of Pozieres. Night attacks have their own peculiar
difficulties and terrors. Even in broad daylight actions could rarely be carried
out exactly as they were planned. So severe and constant was the bombardment by
both sides that even villages were difficult to recognise, and trenches appeared
to be little different from the pitted lines of shell-holes.
In the attack on Ration Trench on August 4th many circumstances conspired to add
to the strain on the men. The battalions engaged advanced on lines which might
have led to hopeless confusion and did, in fact, result in isolated encounters
of almost unimaginable horror. The Sussex were moving against a section of the
trench which involved an attack in a westerly direction. The 9th Fusiliers were
directed partly to the north. The New Zealands were striking north-east. Germans
seemed to turn up everywhere during the night : in front, on the flanks, even in
the rear, and the Fusiliers appeared to form little islands in a sea of enemy.
Zero was at 9.15 p.m., but detailed attack orders were not issued till 8.17, and
everything had to be arranged in less than an hour. The 9th Battalion moved off
at 3 p.m. to take over part of the 8th Fusiliers' trenches, and were at once
spotted by the Germans and shelled on the way. About 6.30 p.m. they were in
position in parts of 3rd and 4th Avenues, approximately 1,000 yards due west of
Pozieres, after losing about 15 men while moving up.
FIGHTING NEAR POZIERES, AUGUST 5TH-6TH
An intense bombardment began at zero. Five minutes later the two battalions
advanced, and at about 50 yards from Ration Trench charged. The objectives were
gained in less than an hour on the left, but on the right an unknown trench held
up the attackers. At 1 a.m. on the 5th came the first reports of Germans still
existing between the lines. The Fusiliers began to be sniped from the rear, and
the situation was not cleared up until the afternoon. The 8th Battalion had
charged over the trench on their way to Ration Trench, and left unnoticed 2
officers and 100 other ranks. Lance-Corporal Camping * and one or two men who
could speak German crawled out of their trench, though exposed to constant
sniping, and threatened the Germans with a severe bombardment if they did not
give themselves up before dark. The whole party then surrendered. They were part
of a Jaeger battalion who had reached the trenches only a day or two before, and
they had decided to break through Ration Trench to their own lines during the
The two battalions were now in contact and engaged in the work of consolidation.
Bombing posts were organised in Ration Trench, and the day (August 5th) was
generally quiet. But shortly after midnight a heavy bombardment of the lines
began, and the shelling continued until 4 a.m. (6th). The 9th Battalion, lying
west of the 8th, were subjected to a determined counter-attack during this time.
Many of the men were quite new to warfare. For some it was their first
experience of actual righting, and their bearing was admirable. The assault was
made by flammenwerfers, supported by bombers using smoke as a screen. The flames
burst through the clouds of smoke from various directions, and all the
conditions of panic were present. The fumes alone were sufficient to overpower
some of the men. But no panic took place. The situation was handled very coolly.
The attack was made on the north-east end of Ration Trench, and about 20 men
were extended in the open on either side of the trench with two Lewis guns. The
attack was thus beaten off with a loss of only 40 yards of trench. Many fine
incidents marked this defence. Private Leigh Rouse * (9th), who had never
visited the trenches before, was in the sap when the flammenwerfer attack began.
He managed to get back along the trench and, though nearly choked with fumes and
with his clothes burnt, refused to go to the dressing station. He continued to
throw bombs until his arm gave out, and then, joining the covering party, used
his rifle with great effect.
* I have been continually amazed at the uncanny skill with which published
accounts of the various incidents of the war wrongly identify the units engaged.
The Royal Fusiliers came in for more than their share of being passed over. An
ironic poem written by Corporal Warren, of the nth Battalion, in the rhythm of
the British Grenadiers, comments on this tendency.
" The papers get the money, So they praise the Royal West Kents,"
is, perhaps, the least offensive distich. I am reminded of this by Mr. Gibbs'
attribution of the whole of this incident to the men of Sussex, which in this
case means the Sussex Regiment or nothing.
During the next night, when another attack was expected, he remained close to
the barricade. Sergeant Charles Quinnell f twice went out from Ration Trench
with a patrol, and obtained valuable information. Most of the men in his platoon
had never been in a front line trench before, and their remarkable coolness and
endurance were largely due to his fine example. Lancc-Corporal Cyril Cross f
took his Lewis gun into a shell-hole outside the trench during the flammenwerfer
attack, and engaged the enemy, who were in great strength, at close range,
inflicting many casualties until his gun was put out of action. Private Tom Crow
f continued to throw bombs from the very edge of the flames, showing a complete
disregard of the enemy. He was finally wounded by a sniper as he was closely
pursuing the enemy. All these men belonged to A Company, commanded by Captain G.
L. Cazalet, M.C., who had led his men across the open on the night of the 5th,
in less than three-quarters of an hour had taken his objective, and was
responsible for the defence of 500 yards of Ration Trench, the flank of which
was held by the enemy. Though wounded, he refused to leave the trench ; and it
was chiefly owing to his fine example that his company, though almost quite new
to warfare, behaved so finely. He was awarded a well-deserved D.S.O.
* Awarded M.M.
t Awarded D.C.M.
FOURTH BATTALION AT GUILLEMONT
All day on the 6th and 7th the German bombardment of the Fusiliers continued. In
the afternoon of the latter day the two battalions were relieved. Both had lost
very heavily. In addition to those already mentioned, the 8th lost Lieutenant J.
A. Pearson ; Captain S. H. Clarke was wounded, and there were about 30 other
ranks killed and wounded. The losses of the 9th were heavier. Green, Stevens,
Lupton, Heaver and Bungay were killed ; Knott, Cazalet, Pilgrim, Calwell, Fox,
Thornton and Fifoot were wounded ; and there were 281 other ranks killed,
wounded and missing. But they took prisoner 2 officers and 1 wounded officer
with 135 other ranks, and received congratulations from the Commander-in-Chief.
The battalions marched off to Bouzincourt, and on the 10th lined the road at
Senlis for the inspection by the King and the Prince of Wales.
* * * *
Guillemont. — On the other operative flank of the British attack several other
Fusilier battalions were now engaged. Of the two great pivots of the German
defensive in what Sir Douglas Haig calls the second phase of the battle of the
Somme one, Guillemont, still remained untaken. It had been entered on July 30th,
but was evacuated, as the flanking positions still remained intact. It was
entered once more on August 8th, and again abandoned for the same reason. From
these two failures it was evident that the capture of the village could not be
regarded safely as an isolated enterprise, and it was accordingly arranged for a
series of attacks in progressive stages in conjunction with the French, whose
sphere of action was not 2,000 yards to the south.
Three battalions of the Royal Fusiliers played their part in these operations.
In " the first stage of the prearranged scheme " * the 4th Battalion was
engaged. At this time Major H. E. Meade was in command, as Lieut. -Colonel Hely-Hutchinson
had been thrown from his horse on the 11th and had been removed to hospital. On
August 15th the battalion took over the trenches facing the southern corner of
Guillemont. The 1st Battalion was only 1,000 yards to their rear, preparing to
take its share in the struggle. On the way up the 4th had lost Second Lieutenant
Goolden, who was killed by a shell. The approach was across open country over
which the enemy had direct observation, and the Germans had concentrated a heavy
volume of machine gun fire in the village. This may serve to explain why the
attack failed in spite of the most gallant and persistent efforts of all ranks.
The 4th had on their left flank the 24th Division, and on their right the King's
Liverpools. X and Z Companies led the attack at 5.40 p.m. (August 16th) after a
short but intense bombardment, but they encountered a very heavy machine gun
fire. Both company commanders were killed as they crossed the parapet, and
before the fighting ceased every other officer had been killed or wounded, and
there were 160 other ranks casualties. It was a discouraging episode ; and the
badly weakened unit were left to hold the original front line under a heavy
bombardment until the 18th, when a further attempt was made by other troops. The
battalion passed to brigade reserve, and was organised into two companies.
After this abortive attempt to eat into the Guillemont defences the positions
were bombarded for thirty-six hours, when the 1st Battalion co-operated in
immediate support. They had been in the area from August 8th, when they took
over trenches from Delville Wood to Trones Wood, with headquarters in Waterlot
Farm. It was a warm quarter, and two days after taking over the line the
situation was made still more uncomfortable by one of those unhappy mischances
which, apparently, could not be altogether prevented. A number of our own 0/2
shells fell upon B Company, and caused 23 casualties. Lieutenant W. van Grierson
* showed great gallantry in rescuing buried men, and, unfortunately, was
mortally wounded in so doing. Private Tanner * and Corporal Silcox *
courageously brought Private Lynch from No Man's Land in broad daylight, from
within 100 yards of the German trenches, under heavy machine gun fire.
* Van Grierson was awarded the M.C., Silcox and Tanner the M.M., for the same
GUILLEMONT, AUGUST 17th—18th
After a few days in the rear trenches, they took up their positions for attack
on the 17th. C Company was in Trones Wood, supporting the 8th Buffs, A in
Sherwood Trench, in support of the 3rd Rifle Brigade, while B and D occupied
Dummy Trench and Longueval Alley. The attack began at 3.30 p.m. on a broad
front, with three other divisions co-operating. The objective of the 3rd Rifle
Brigade was Guillemont station, while the 8th Buffs were directed against a
trench some 200 yards from the front line in the direction of Ginchy. Both
objectives were attained. The station, lying on a light railway just outside and
to the north of Guillemont, had become a tactical feature of some importance,
and later in the month it was the scene of a vigorous counter-attack. Only on
the extreme right of the 24th Division did the attack fail, and this led to the
postponement of a third advance timed for 5.30 a.m. on the 19th. The battalion
on this occasion suffered 66 casualties, including three officers wounded.
The 12th Battalion had been in reserve during the battle. They had assisted in
covering the attack on the 16th by putting up a smoke barrage on part of the
front. On the 18th they provided a party to consolidate during the attack, and
carrying parties for S.A.A. to the front line. After dark No. 4 Company, under
Captain Anderson, went up to the front fine and dug a communication trench from
the old fine to the new positions.
* * * *
One of the minor excitements of the battle occurred early on August 21st. An
ammunition dump in Bernafay Wood was fired. Continuous explosions came from the
Stokes mortar ammunition. Flying splinters filled the air, and men were blown
bodily into the fire by the explosion. R.S.M. Hack (1st Battalion) very
gallantly rescued wounded in the midst of the flying fragments of exploding
bombs, and there were many casualties in the attempts to put the fire out.
Second Lieutenant Tiffany (12th Battalion) rescued several men who had been
blown into the fire, and at length the mishap expended itself without compelling
the postponement of the afternoon operations against Guillemont. The 1st
Battalion on this occasion had two companies, A and D, engaged, with the 3rd
Rifle Brigade on the left and the 8th Queen's (72nd Brigade) on the right. The
Fusiliers advanced at 3.30 p.m. " Hill Street " and " Brompton Road "were the
objectives. The ist Battalion got away with great dash, and after a strenuous
fight drove the enemy out of the trench in front of Hill Street ; but the
flanking battalions were both held up, and, although the Fusiliers pushed well
ahead, it was necessary to withdraw to the trench already mentioned. A Company,
under Captain Bell, went into battle only 70 strong, and both the company
commanders and Second Lieutenant Jacobs displayed great courage and coolness.
The headquarters bombers also did good service, and Sergeant Pye, though
wounded, volunteered to take a message to his company commander. He was wounded
again as he returned. This was the ist Battalion's last period of service in the
Somme battle. On relief, the following day, they went to Happy Valley and later
to Bussus : "a very pleasant place," notes the battalion diary, " after the
desolation in and around the villages of the battle area." The battalion had
suffered 403 casualties during the Somme operations. Captain Bell was awarded
the D.S.O., Second Lieutenant Jacobs the M.C., R.S.M. Hack the M.C., and
Sergeant Pye the D.C.M.
* * * *
Fighting still continued in and about Delville Wood, but on August 24th the
situation was much improved by an attack in which the 20th Royal Fusiliers took
part. The advance began at 5.45, and the battalion sent up two platoons to
occupy part of the trench captured by the 100th Brigade. The trench lay to the
west of the northern part of Delville Wood, and the Fusiliers took over a
bombing post at the corner of the new trench, and at once set about connecting
it with the support line.
GUILLEMONT TO GINCHY
The 12th Battalion were suddenly ordered up to this sector of the front on
September 1st. On the way up they were delayed for two hours in Caterpillar
Valley owing to a very heavy gas barrage and the guides going astray. Many of
the men were very sick from the effects of the gas, and it was only at 3.30 a.m.
that the battalion arrived in Carlton Trench, which lay between Delville Wood
and High Wood. The front here had been lifted well to the north-east since the
20th Battalion had left, but the 3rd Rifle Brigade and the 2nd Leinsters were
very much weakened in the forward positions. No. 3 Company was sent up on the
1st to reinforce the 3rd Rifle Brigade, and on the following day a platoon, ten
bombers and one Lewis gun of No. 1 Company were sent to the 2nd Leinsters in the
bombing post in Worcester Trench. The day was dull and misty, and the Germans
attacked this post with great determination, but were repulsed, though the Lewis
gun team had several casualties. Early in the evening the remainder of the
battalion took over the trench held by the 3rd Rifle Brigade, and on the
following day co-operated in the general attack which swept over Guillemont into
Ginchy. The 24th Division was represented in this attack by the 8th Buffs.
At midday the whole line advanced. The sector between High Wood and Delville
Wood was obstinately defended, and the Buffs and Fusiliers could make little
impression on it. The Buffs' main objective was the strong point at the junction
of the Wood Lane Trench and Tea Trench, which lay at the north-west corner of
Delville Wood. No. 4 Company, under Captain Anderson, bombed up Wood Lane
towards the strong point ; but though the Buffs attacked twice, they failed to
reach their objective. The artillery preparation had not been sufficient to rub
the surface off the opposition. From Orchard Trench the Fusilier Lewis guns did
considerable damage, and claimed to have caused at least 100 casualties. But
this was the only success achieved on this small sector, and the battalion
suffered 58 casualties, 10 killed. They were relieved on September 4th and went
south to Fricourt, and later left the Somme area.
Ginchy. — On September 3rd Ginchy was seized, as well as Guillemont ; but the
former could not be retained in face of the immediate German counter-attacks,
and after three days' struggle the greater part of the village reverted to the
enemy. Preparations for a further attack upon Ginchy continued without
intermission, and at 4.45 p.m. on September 9th the attack was reopened on the
whole of the Fourth Army front. At four o'clock a heavy enemy barrage was put
down on the assembly trenches of the 4th Londons in Leuze Wood, but the
battalion went forward at zero in six waves. In little over an hour the
battalion captured its objectives and pushed out two advanced posts to positions
overlooking Morval-Lesbceufs road. The Rangers were not in touch on the left
flank, and a strong point was established ; and during the night the advanced
posts were connected up and manned by Lewis guns.
Meanwhile A Company of the 2nd Londons had been involved in the attack of the
London Rifle Brigade further east. At 6 p.m. this regiment called upon their
support company, but the barrage was so heavy that A Company of the 2nd Londons
went forward instead. Taking up their position in the north-east corner of Leuze
Wood, they began at once to suffer casualties. They were ordered to bomb up
Combles Trench. Captain J. W. Long and Second Lieutenant E. W. Lockey were
killed by snipers, and, all the officers becoming casualties, C.S.M. Pellow took
over the command. But the attack failed. The strength of the company had been
weakened too much. The attempt of B Company to support on the following day
similarly failed with heavy loss. But the two battalions had contributed to the
very considerable advance of their (56th) division.
ATTACK WTIH TANKS, SEPTEMBER 15TH
Flers. — The ground had now been prepared for another general attack, and on
September 15th " The third phase — Exploitation of Success " * began. "
Practically the whole of the forward crest of the main ridge on a front of some
9,000 yards from Delville Wood to the road above Mouquet Farm was now in our
hands, and with it the advantage of observation over the slopes beyond. . . .
The general plan of the combined Allied attack which was opened on September
15th was to pivot on the high ground south of the Ancre and north of the Albert-Bapaume
road, while the Fourth Army devoted its whole effort to the rearmost of the
enemy's original systems of defence between Morval and Le Sars." f The Royal
Fusiliers were represented in this advance, the greatest that had been made in
any one day since the opening of the offensive, by the 26th and 32nd Battalions,
both of them in the 124th Brigade of the 41st Division, which was in the command
of a Royal Fusilier, General Lawford ; and by the 2nd Londons. For thirty-six
hours the positions to be attacked had been prepared by a continuous
bombardment, which had, as usual, battered some places to dust, but had left
intact obstacles that might have wrecked the plan. To deal with such
eventualities, however, the army now had a new instrument, the tank, which made
its first appearance in this battle.
For the 26th and 32nd Battalions it was their first experience of battle. They
had only been in France four months, but both of them created an excellent
precedent in their first action. Each of them was in support, the 32nd on the
right and the 26th on the left, following the 10th Queen's R.W.S. Regiment and
the 21st K.R.R.C. Three tanks were allotted to the brigade.
At 6.20 a.m. the leading waves moved off. The 32nd, who had been assembled some
fifty yards inside Delville Wood, advanced with the utmost precision with the
14th Division on their right. The barrage was followed very closely, and the
battalion met with little resistance in Tea Support Trench and Switch Trench,
half-way to Flers. They had been advancing in four waves originally, but at this
point the fourth wave was left behind to consolidate, and the other three waves
became mixed up with the survivors of the ioth Queen's and, on the flanks, with
men of the 14th Division and of the 26th Battalion, who had lost direction. When
Switch Trench had been won the battalion was reduced to two parties, under
Captain H. A. Robinson and Lieutenant W. V. Aston respectively. Robinson pushed
on with his party, about 80 strong, beyond Flers, capturing three field guns,
five Bavarian officers and about 40 other ranks. The field guns were later
destroyed by the Germans' concentrated artillery fire. Aston's party, after
being held up some time by machine gun fire, advanced with a tank beyond Flers.
The battalion in this very successful advance lost 10 officers (wounded) and 283
other ranks killed, wounded and missing.
ACTION OF SEPTEMBER 15th
The 26th Battalion advanced with the 32nd against little resistance, but in the
early part of the action the left battalion passed through our own barrage.
Captain Etchells was at this moment senior officer on the left of the brigade
front, and he promptly and coolly reorganised the line. With this readjustment
the troops were able to advance again.* Later in the morning there was a check
on the brigade front, but the same officer went forward to a tank lying south of
Flers and arranged that the 26th would follow if the tank would lead. This
arrangement was carried out. The tank moved along the south side of Flers,
assisting the troops who were in the village by firing on the retreating enemy
and also assisting the 26th to get well ahead. In the late afternoon the
battalion were north and east of the village. In the battle the 26th lost 9
officers (5 of them killed) and 255 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. The
losses of both battalions, though very heavy considering the numbers involved,
were less than might have been expected, for the German artillery, though late
in starting, was most skilfully handled. The smallest parties moving in the
battle zone at once became a target. At times even a single stretcher party was
marked down. It was for the greatest courage and devotion to duty under these
conditions that the medical officer of the 26th, Lieutenant J. Mclntyre,
R.A.M.C, was awarded the M.C. He was four times buried by shell explosions, but
each time recommenced his work of attending to the wounded.
* Captain Etchells was awarded the M.C. for this service.
One of the singular points about this action is that the tanks impressed our own
men more than the enemy, though at one point the Fusiliers were amused to see a
panic among the enemy, who caught a drift of a tank's exhaust fumes. They
imagined it a new form of gas, and attempted to adjust their gas helmets before
The 32nd Battalion were relieved on the morning of the 16th, but one company of
the 26th remained at the front till night, when they followed the rest of the
battalion and the 32nd to support positions.
* * * *
The 2nd Londons also attacked the same day. Their objective was the Loop Trench,
connecting the sunken road with Combles Trench. C and D Companies attacked and
very quickly gained all their objectives, with the exception of the junction of
the sunken road and Loop Trench. Captain A. G. L. Jepson, Lieutenant P. C.
Taylor and Second Lieutenant A. G. Sullivan were killed, and two officers were
wounded, in the heavy bombing attacks against the captured positions. So great
were the losses that all available men of A and B Companies were sent to the
line to reinforce before three o'clock. Two blocks had been established, one in
the north end of Loop Trench and the other in Combles Trench, and the battalion
bombers were sent up in small parties to assist in holding them. But they also
suffered heavy loss, and reinforcements had to be sent by another regiment. The
battalion held their positions with this assistance, and they were later
congratulated by General Guignabaudit, who, commanding on the French left, had
watched the attack from Savernake Wood.
ELEVENTH BATTALION AT THIEPVAL
Thiepval. — On September 26th the 11th Battalion took part in what Sir Ivor
Maxse afterwards described as a " distinct and memorable " episode — the capture
of Thiepval. The whole of the 54th Brigade, of which the battalion formed part,
was allotted only 300 yards of frontage, but in the area were located 144 deep
German dug-outs, in addition to those round the Chateau Redoubt and the
positions in the original front line along which the Fusiliers had to advance.
This line was the western bastion of Thiepval, and for nearly three months the
village had been the focus of the stern resistance on the left flank of the
Somme operations. The effect of the successful action on the 25th was thought to
justify a rapid following up.
At 12.35 p.m., D Company, under Captain R. H. V, Thompson, advanced against the
German positions. The British barrage was most intense, and the Germans, taken
by surprise, were at first thrown into confusion. " We met Bosches running
about, scared out of their wits, like a crowd of rabbits diving for their holes.
Men were rushing about unarmed, men were holding up their hands and yelling for
mercy, men were scuttling about everywhere, trying to get away from that born
fighter, the Cockney, but they had very little chance." * But this applies only
to the first moments of the assault. D Company was soon checked on the left, at
the junction of Brawn Trench with the original German line. At this point, about
250 yards below the south-west corner of Thiepval village, the company was held
up, and with it the left flank of the Middlesex ; but Thompson flung part of his
men against the trench and led the rest against the strong point at the
junction. He was hit in the head, but kept on until hit again and killed at the
moment that the post was rushed. He was one of the best company commanders the
battalion ever had.
* Captain Cornaby's diary.
In the hand-to-hand fighting, Lieutenant R. A. Mall-Smith was also killed, and
Lieutenant G. A. Cornaby was wounded. But the Fusiliers killed numbers of the
enemy and took 25 prisoners. They then continued their advance along the German
line, fighting their way yard by yard. Some relief was obtained by posting the
Lewis guns so as to fire along the trench, but the gun team suffered heavily.
About 200 yards west of the chateau another strong point was encountered, and
there followed a protracted encounter. The attack was assisted by the timely
appearance of a tank, which also checked the fire from the chateau, and so
helped the Middlesex. D Company got forward north-west of the chateau, where
Lance-Corporal Tovey (B Company) captured a machine gun single-handed. Such was
the position about 1 p.m.
A Company, under Major Hudson, turned to support the Middlesex at the chateau,
and, diverging to the right, made a small gap in the line. Captain Johnson
promptly put in B Company, and attacking northwards, gave the last touch
requisite to carry the first objective. This company had already lost two
officers, all but three N.C.O.'s and half the men. Major Hudson was wounded in
the shoulder west of the chateau, but continued fighting until the final line
was won. He was shot through the thigh as he left the line and died a few days
Colonel Carr went forward about 1.15 with Captain Cumberledge, the Adjutant, and
after visiting the CO. of the Middlesex, went towards D Company. He was
immediately wounded in three places, and as Cumberledge and Hudson were also
wounded, Captain Johnson was in command until the evening, when Major Meyricke,
the second in command, took over. The fighting on the Fusiliers' left was full
of incident. Before the first objective had been won they had cleared
twenty-five dug-outs. Some of them contained large bodies of men provided with
bombs, grenades and machine guns. One very deep dug-out was garrisoned like a
fortress, and the men, armed with two machine guns, refused to come out. The
Fusiliers had to set it on fire. Eleven Germans ran out and were killed, and 14
wounded were taken prisoners. Many more probably were burned to death.
C Company, in command of Lieutenant A. E. Sulman, had gone over with the
Middlesex to clear up. They had a vivid time and were successful in locating the
German telephone headquarters. Sulman was given a German map, and quickly
realised its importance. The men were set to look for the place. It was
discovered by Lance-Corporal F. Rudy * with four men, who captured it, taking 20
prisoners, cut the wires, and so severed communication with the German
artillery. Sulman left two platoons to assist between the chateau and the right
flank, with which he went forward. His company enfiladed numbers of the Germans
who were retiring to the north in front of D Company. While the left were
advancing well to the north of the chateau, A Company, with two platoons of C,
pushed to the second objective and established a position at the north-eastern
end of the village. The Middlesex were now on the right, a considerable
deflection from the original direction of advance.
This was the position at 3 p.m. ; but the reports reaching headquarters were
largely contradictory. Most of them were sent by N.C.O.'s, as the officers were
out of action ; and, without maps, their references could not be expected to be
more than approximate. Sulman, with his composite party, could not be located.
By 4.30 p.m. the position was cleared up. D, B, and part of A Company were still
holding their position north of the chateau, and north-west of the mass of the
village. There was a gap of 100 yards between this position and Sulman's
flanking platoons, which were disposed diagonally across the village on a line
facing north-west. Two other platoons of C and part of A were on the second
objective beyond the north-east end of the village. The Fusiliers had not a bomb
left ; they were perilously short of ammunition, and their numbers were
* He was awarded the D.C.M. for this serviceable achievement.
CAPTURE OF THIEPVAL
The left was still under constant attack ; sometimes as many as twenty German
stick bombs were in the air at the same moment.
Captain Johnson reported his position to Colonel Maxwell (Middlesex) , who was
in chief command, and a company of Northants was sent to him to fill the gap
between his right and left, and to reduce the strong point which held up the
further advance of the left. The attack proved a failure, and at 5.45 p.m.
Captain Johnson was ordered to dig in on his present line and connect his right
and left. The Fusiliers, Middlesex and Northants were then collected and the
position organised, a stranded tank making the nucleus of a strong advanced
post. On the left fighting continued till n p.m., and the Fusiliers suffered
heavy casualties, until a barrage forced the Germans to retire northwards. "
Thiepval," wrote Lieut.-General C. W. Jacobs, the Commander of the Second Corps,
' has withstood all attacks upon it for exactly two years." All but the
north-west corner of the village had been taken in less than six hours. At 4
a.m. the Bedfords arrived, and Captain Johnson and Lieutenant Sulman were
ordered to put them in attack formation in front of the line. This was done, and
at dawn they carried the north-west corner of the village in a dashing attack.
The Fusiliers then left the line. They had suffered very heavily, but they had
achieved much. Captain Johnson and Lieutenant Sulman were each awarded the M.C.
Private F. J. Edwards, of the Middlesex, was awarded the V.C. for " one of those
decisive actions which determine the success or failure of an operation. His
part of the line was held up by a machine gun. The officers had all become
casualties. There was confusion, and even a suggestion of retirement. Private
Edwards grasped the situation at once. Alone, and on his own initiative, he
dashed towards the gun, which he bombed until he succeeded in knocking it out.
By this gallant act, performed with great presence of mind, and with complete
disregard for his personal safety, this man made possible the continuance of the
advance and solved a dangerous situation." Private Edwards was transferred to
the Royal Fusiliers on April 13th, 1918, and was taken prisoner eleven days
* * * *
The 11th Battalion was in the line again on October 23rd, and the plan at that
time was for it to attack Petit Miraumont. " For this attack the assaulting
battalions of the brigade were to have been the Fusiliers and the Bedfordshire
Regiment. The weather was awful, and the mud beyond words. Fortunately, the
attack did not come off. If it had, it must have been a colossal failure. The
first objective was, I believe, 1,700 yards away, and in that mud, and after
going that distance, the men would have been dead-beat. The brigade was to go on
to the Ancre, cross the river, which was in flood and about 300 yards wide, and
hold the crossings for the 53rd Brigade to go through. It was seriously
suggested that trees might be felled across the Ancre, and the men might cross
on them." * The battalion went into the line three or four times, but each time
the attack was postponed. It rained nearly every day. " The men were soaked to
the skin with liquid mud for days on end, and after ration-carrying fatigues
were dead-beat. It was a long carry, and the mud was appalling. . . . The sick
rate in the battalions at this time was the worst I have ever known. One morning
each battalion in the brigade had over 150 sick, and one had nearly 250." *
Bayonet Trench. — " These conditions multiplied the difficulties of attack to
such an extent that it was found impossible to exploit the situation with the
rapidity necessary to enable us to reap the full benefits of the advantages we
had gained." f They also explain the inconclusive character of much of the
fighting between the capture of Thiepval and the Battle of the Ancre. In one of
these attacks four Fusilier battalions fought side by side. The Fourth Army
operated along the whole front from Les Bceufs to Destremont Farm in support of
the French advance on Sailly-Saillisel. The front upon which the Royal Fusiliers
were engaged stretched, roughly, between the road running from High Wood to Le
Barque and the road running north from Gueudecourt, the 26th and 9th Battalions
being on the extreme left and right respectively. Before them lay a network of
trenches and strong posts forming the outer defences of Ligny-Thilloy.
* A Fusilier officer's account.
ATTACK ON OCTOBER 7th
The 8th and 9th Battalions on this occasion suffered very heavy losses, and did
not reach their objectives. When the attack began at 1.45 p.m. on October 7th
everything, from advanced headquarters, appeared to go well. Within half an hour
reports came back that this was the case, but in an hour it was known that even
the first objective, Bayonet Trench, had not been reached. The German positions
were found to be held in great strength, and it was later discovered that the
attack had coincided with a relief. The artillery and machine gun fire were too
heavy, and the front companies were mowed down. The 9th alone had 15 officer
casualties, and about 250 other ranks. They mustered, on relief, 144, with B
Company reduced to 12. The 8th had 9 officer casualties and 244 other ranks.
Each of these battalions received from General Boyd Moss the following message :
" Will you please thank all ranks of your battalion for the magnificent
gallantry they displayed yesterday. They advanced steadily under a heavy fire
which only the very best troops could have faced. Though unfortunately
unsuccessful, their gallant conduct has added to the fine reputation which you
have already won for yourselves."
The 26th and 32nd Battalions, attacking at the same time, fared no better.
Despite all gallantry, no appreciable headway was made. Each of the four
battalions was at this time much under strength, and went into battle
considerably less than two companies strong, although organised as four. From
first to last the 26th only advanced about 300 yards ; but the position could
not be maintained, and their casualties were 14 officers and 240 other ranks.
Insufficient preparation and support, reduced strength and the terrible state of
the ground, had proved too heavy a handicap for units who had each performed
excellent service before. Major Coxhead (9th Battalion) noted the state of the
roads was so bad that the transport took three hours and a quarter to traverse
the five miles to Becordel.
The 20th Battalion had a tour in the trenches north of Morval in the last week
of October, and suffered 75 casualties, including five officers. They then moved
into trenches to the north of Les Bceufs, and on November 6th, after three
attempts, established a bombing post about midway between that village and Le
Transloy. In this small action they had about 100 casualties. So the month wore
on to the 13th, when the Battle of the Ancre was fought.
BATTLE OF THE ANCRE, NOVEMBER 13th
The Battle of the Ancre. — In this action, which in duration was only comparable
to one of the many battles embraced under the general title of the Battle of the
Somme, eight battalions of the Royal Fusiliers were involved, though one of
them, the 4th, was in brigade reserve, and remained in the same position in
Sackville Street, opposite Serre, all day, as the assaulting brigades did not
reach their objective. The front of attack had a bad history, for it was here
that several divisions attacked in vain, and suffered heavy loss, on July 1st.
The situation on November 13th was very different. The gains south of the Ancre
had placed the troops in a position to take the German positions north of the
river in enfilade. On the other hand, " the enemy's defences in this area were
already formidable when they resisted our assault on July 1st, and the
succeeding period of four months had been spent in improving and adding to them
in the light of the experience he had gained in the course of our attacks
further south ; . . . the villages of Beaucourt-sur-Ancre and Beaumont Hamel,
like the rest of the villages forming part of the enemy's original front in this
district, were evidently intended by him to form a permanent line of
fortification. . . . Realising that his position in them had become a dangerous
one, the enemy had multiplied the number of his guns covering this part of the
line. . . ." *
The Germans, indeed, were confident that they had neutralised the disadvantages
of the approach from the south by their new precautions, and General Ludendorff
described the victory of the Ancre as " a particularly heavy blow, for we
considered such an event no longer possible." f But it is obvious that the tip
of the salient, created by the Somme advance, was highly vulnerable, and it was
there that the greatest successes were won. The preliminary bombardment had
lasted two whole days, with bursts of great intensity, and at 5.45 a.m. on
November 13th it developed into a very effective barrage.
On the northern flank of the attack, as we have seen, the 4th Battalion remained
undisturbed the whole day, so little had the attack succeeded on that sector.
The wire was insufficiently cut and the ground too sodden. Four other Fusilier
battalions belonged to the 2nd Division, which lay north of Beaumont Hamel,
between the 3rd and 51st Divisions. The 24th Battalion alone took part in the
initial advance. As the left battalion of the 5th Brigade their flank was
influenced by the failure further north. At 5.15 a.m. the attacking companies
left the trenches in a dense fog, reformed in No Man's Land, and moved forward
with the general advance at 5.45 a.m. The barrage was followed closely, the men
being within 20 yards of it over the whole battalion front. Some shells, indeed,
fell short and caused casualties, but the men followed coolly at a walking pace
into the German front line trenches, and a numerous dug-out population emerged
to surrender. The troops went on, and at 6.15 had taken the major part of their
objective, the Green line — the German third line system. C and D Companies were
cleaning up the trenches. It was early realised that the assault on the left
flank had been unsuccessful, and all trenches leading north were blocked. This
advance, though not spectacular, was useful in the general scheme of things ;
and it had not been achieved without considerable losses. On the 14th the
battalion's positions were taken over by the supporting battalion, the 2nd
Oxford and Bucks.
f " My War Memories," Vol. I p 290.
On the left of the 24th the 2nd Highland Infantry had advanced, and the 17th
Royal Fusiliers, as the supporting battalion, had passed through, and with the
2nd Oxford and Bucks had attempted to advance from the German third line to
Munich Trench and Frankfort Trench. At 10 a.m. the third German line was
strongly held, and four companies of the 17th Battalion, now reduced to a total
strength of 180, were well to the east. They had met with a heavy enfilade fire
owing to the units on the left of the 5th Brigade being held up. Some parties of
the Fusiliers with the Oxfords and Bucks had penetrated into Munich Trench, but
could not maintain themselves. After 10.30 a.m. the front line was reorganised
with the battalion holding Crater Lane Trench, a line that was apparently
further east than any other north of the Ancre held by our troops.* Later in the
day the line of Wagon Road was also held. At 4.30 p.m. the Germans
counter-attacked the advanced positions and attempted to work across the
battalion's front towards Beaumont-Hamel, lying to the south-west. Artillery
support was called for and the attack was not pressed. The 17th lost 187 in
their advance, including Lieutenant E. P. Hallowes, Second Lieutenants K. W.
Hamilton, G. C. Levon, C. W. Taylor, R. Davison, R. Pearce and H. J. Riches
wounded. Munich Trench, reached but not held by the battalion, was attacked by
other troops f on the 14th and by another division on the 15th, but without
* There was, of course, a small party outside Beaucourt, still farther east.
t The 1st Royal Rifles and the 1st Berks, with the 23rd Royal Fusiliers in
The 22nd and 23rd Battalions, belonging to the 99th Brigade, who were in
reserve, found themselves committed to the support of the unsuccessful left
flank of the Ancre attack. The 22nd went up to form a defensive flank to the 5th
Brigade, but such were the difficulties that this object was not achieved until
9 a.m. on November 14th. But when the line was once taken up it was firmly held,
despite a persistent and very accurate shell fire throughout the day. It was
nervous and wasting work, but the battalion bore it so well that, on the 15th,
they were able to leap forward and seize the Quadrilateral. They were reinforced
by the 4th Battalion, who crossed the open and shell-swept ground with only 8
casualties. The position was consolidated and held till 7 a.m. on the 16th, when
the battalion was relieved.
At 10 a.m. on the morning of the 13th A and C Companies of the 23rd Battalion
had been placed under the orders of the G.O.C. 5th Brigade, and about 5 p.m.
they were sent to support the 2nd Highland Light Infantry in the third German
line. They were then in the rear of the 17th Battalion and on the right of the
24th. B and D Companies had been lent to the 6th Brigade, and at 7 p.m. they
succeeded in canying the front forward to the second German line. The whole
battalion supported the unsuccessful attack on Munich Trench by the 1st Royal
Rifles and 1st Berks, on the 14th. The 2nd Division's advance, considerable on
the right and gradually lessening on the left, owed not a little to these four
Another Fusilier battalion which took part in the battle of the Ancre on
November 13th was the 7th. This unit formed part of the 190th Brigade of the
63rd (Naval) Division, which was engaged immediately north of the river. At 5.45
a.m. C and D Companies advanced with the H.A.C. on their right. On their left
was the redoubt which, for the whole of the day, made a deep salient in the
British position. Both of the leading companies met with heavy rifle and machine
gun fire. The first two waves of C were held up by the remains of the German
wire, and after losing heavily returned to the starting point. There, in our
front line, were the second two waves and about 60 men from other battalions. It
was so foggy that no one could see what was actually happening, and Captains
Foster and Clarke decided to make another advance with all the men in the
trench. The men came again under heavy fire, and all the platoon commanders —
Second Lieutenant W. Ford, Second Lieutenant St. Aubyn, Second Lieutenant
Bouchier and Sergeant Cookson — became casualties. Nevertheless, the German
front line was rushed in five minutes. In it were found 20 German dead, and one
officer and 50 men surrendered. A machine gun was also captured. The trench line
was consolidated and blocked against the German strong point, and the company
remained there until ordered to proceed to the Green line. Sergeant Bright with
three Lewis guns and 13 men was left to hold up the German strong point. The
Green line was reached with little loss except from snipers and was held till
about 9 p.m., when, on relief by the H.A.C., they went back to the German front
line. D Company, in the meantime, had made three attempts to advance, the last
with the elements of several other battalions, and had failed to make headway
against the German rifle and machine gun fire. At the end of the third attack
the company was reduced to 50, and Captain Rattigan decided to hold on where he
was in front of the German wire. They remained in this position for four and a
half hours. During this time Captain Rattigan was killed, and Second Lieutenant
Downing, finding a mine shaft leading back, went down it, reported to battalion
headquarters and was ordered to bring the remains of the company back to the
British front line.
Sergeant Bright held up the German strong point all day. He was not a little
assisted by the supply of German bombs found in the trench, and by Private
Hawkesley, who daringly lay out along the parapet with a Lewis gun. Captain
Goddard, of B Company, took over this post at 3 p.m., and the captured trench
was organised. The battalion was reorganised about 2 a.m. on November 14th, and
at 6 a.m. the Fusiliers attacked once more. It was at this point that the 7th
Battalion came into contact with the 13th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, who
attacked between the 13th Rifle Brigade and the 13th King's Royal Rifle Corps.
The 13th moved off a little too eagerly and suffered some casualties from our
own barrage. They withdrew 50 yards and then resumed the advance under a
harassing machine gun fire from Beaucourt village. A strong point on the left
flank resisted with great determination, and the 13th Rifle Brigade were to the
rear of the 13th Royal Fusiliers when the first objective was taken. Meanwhile,
Captain Goddard, with the 7th, had amalgamated the battalion's two waves, and
after one and a half hours' shelling of the final objective, advanced and took
it without much opposition. He had turned to the right and with elements of the
13th Battalion, the 13th K.R.R.C, and the H.A.C., consolidated the right flank
on the bank of the Ancre, south-east of Beaucourt, which had fallen a little
earlier to the charge of Freyberg's force.
Up to this point the position on the left of the 13th Battalion still caused
trouble. Most of the casualties suffered by the 7th in their advance to the
final objective had come from this quarter, and the 13th remained on the first
line captured. But the 10th Battalion, who, like the 13th, belonged to the inth
Brigade, had had the pleasant experience of co-operating with a tank in the
reduction of the German redoubt which had held up the centre of the 63rd
Division. The mere appearance of the tank seems to have been sufficient, and
without firing a shot the 10th Battalion took 270 German prisoners,* and three
machine guns. They also liberated 60 British prisoners who had been well
treated, but were naturally glad to get back to their own army. The 7th
Battalion passed from this area and the 13th did not figure again in the battle.
The former had attacked 22 officers and 629 other ranks strong. They lost 13
officers and 331 other ranks, more than half the total strength. The casualties
of the 13th were 8 officers (including Lieut. -Colonel Ardagh, wounded) and 130
other ranks. But the victory was complete. It was a great blow to German
prestige, and it made an important improvement in the British positions.
* Eight hundred prisoners in all were taken from this redoubt.
* * * *
END OF THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME
There were still some local operations in this area before the battle died down
and a final line could be organised for winter. The 10th Battalion took a
prominent part in these attempts to round off the gains of the first three days.
Part of the final line still remained in German hands. The 13th Battalion, on
the morning of the 14th, had been held up by opposition on its left, and patrols
sent out failed even to locate the objective. Muck Trench, as it was called,
continued to lure the 111th Brigade, and the 10th Battalion attacked at dawn on
November 16th with the object of capturing it. They were beaten back by intense
machine gun fire. In the afternoon two bombing parties attempted to get forward
and actually reached the trench, but they were promptly attacked by superior
forces and compelled to retire. Lieutenant R. Stephenson was killed on this
occasion. The German barrage prevented a third attempt, but Second Lieutenant
Ground succeeded in establishing two posts in the trench on the left before
dusk, and two others were established during the night by Second Lieutenant
Bainb ridge. These posts were reinforced and organised. But during the night of
the 17th the machine gun team in the trench was shelled and almost wiped out. At
6.10 a.m. on the 18th the battalion attacked on the right of the 32nd Division
and stormed all its objectives but one. Unfortunately these gains had to be
abandoned owing to the failure of the right of the 32nd Division. On November
19th the 10th delivered yet another attack. Two patrols, under Second
Lieutenants Bainbridge and Hey wood, respectively, reached the objective, but
were compelled to withdraw. During the night the battalion was relieved after an
extraordinary exhibition of tenacity of purpose. The most important and most
spectacular achievement of the Fusiliers in the battle of the Ancre was the
capture of the redoubt which had almost brought the advance to a standstill. But
it was the least difficult task, and the 10th, who accomplished it, did more
distinguished service in the following days, though their repeated attacks
merely served to secure a few points of tactical importance.