London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
The 1/4th Battalion in the Battles of the SOMME, 1916 - Attack on Gommecourt
4TH Battalion, The London Regiment
(Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War
1914 - 1919
THE 1/4TH BATTALION IN THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME, 1916
I. The Attack on Gommecourt
The spring of 1916 was marked by two enemy offensives, at Verdun and on the
Italian front, both of which tried the resources of our Alhes severely. In order
to draw off German troops to the East the Russian offensive against the
Austrians had been started in May, but in spite of this the German pressure
against Verdun continued to increase.
Sir Douglas Haig had for some time intended to undertake an offensive operation
on a large scale during 1916 in conjunction with the French, and in view of the
continual increase in the strength of the British Armies it was clearly
desirable that the launching of the battle should be delayed as long as possible
consistent with the advance of the summer. But in view of the great pressure at
Verdun it was decided that the British attacks should begin at the latest at the
end of June, with the objects of reheving our Allies and of pinning as many
enemies as possible to the front opposite the British Armies, in addition to the
tactical improvement of our positions.
The part of the enemy's lines selected for attack was the right of the British
front, opposite which the Germans occupied high ground forming the watershed
between the River Somme and the rivers flowing north-east into Belgium. The
general direction of this watershed, which consists of a chalk country of broad
swelling downs and deep well-wooded valleys, is roughly from east-south-east to
west-north-west. The aspect of this country bears a general resemblance to parts
of Wiltshire, and the gentle undulations of the higher slopes of the hills,
which descend with unexpected abruptness into waterless valleys lined with banks
whose declivitous sides seem to have been shaped by human agency, cause the
resemblance to be one also of detail. From this watershed a series of long spurs
runs south-westerly towards the Somme, and on their lower slopes the German
lines ran from Curlu near the river at first north and then almost due west to
Fricourt, a distance of some 10,000 yards. At Fricourt the lines took an abrupt
turn northward for a further 10,000 yards when they crossed the Ancre, a
tributary of the Somme, near Hamel. From this point they continued in a
generally northerly direction, passing through Beaumont Hamel, west of Serre and
between Hebuterne and Gommecourt. In the neighbourhood of the two last-named
villages the lines crossed the summit of the main watershed, and thence
descended gently in a north-easterly direction towards Arras.
On the 20,000 yards between the Somme and the Ancre the enemy had already
prepared a strong second system of defence about two miles in rear of the front
system ; and on the whole front from Gommecourt to the Somme he had spared no
effort in the nearly two years of his uninterrupted occupation to render these
positions impregnable. The strengthening of woods and villages into fortresses,
and the skilful use of the ground in siting trenches and gun and machine-gun
emplacements, had in fact woven his successive lines of trenches into one
composite system. Yet further in rear he was still at work improving existing
defences and constructing new.
The front of attack on which the British armies were to operate covered the
whole of the above described line from Gommecourt to Curlu — a total of about 17
miles — while the French were to co-operate on a wide front immediately south of
the River Somme.
The story of the struggle which, lasting from the beginning of July until the
early part of November, gave us possession, first of the forward trench systems,
then of the crest of the ridge, and finally of the whole plateau and parts of
the further slopes, divides itself into phases, which can be dealt with in turn
to such an extent as the record of the l/4th Battalion is concerned with them.
For the present we are concerned with the enormous preparations which preceded
the opening of the struggle and of the first phase of the battle which began on
the 1st July 1916.
Dealing with the preparations for the battle generally, an enormous amount of
work was required in improving road and rail communications ; in digging
assembly trenches and dugouts, for use not only as shelters but also as aid
posts and stores for ammunition for small arms and trench mortars ; and in
constructing many additional machine-gun and gun emplacements. The water supply
for the assaulting troops presented a serious problem, and Sir Douglas Haig
records in his Despatches that in this connection over a hundred pumping plants
were installed and over 120 miles of water mains laid.
During most of the period in which this preliminary labour proceeded the troops
were working under most trying weather conditions and frequently were harassed
by heavy enemy fire.
The particular tasks for which the 168th Brigade, and in particular the l/4th
Londons, were called upon will be referred to in their places at greater length.
After remaining in training in the Prevent area for the latter half of March and
the whole of April the 56th Division moved forward on the 3rd and 4th of May
into the VII Corps area (D'Oyly Snow) and took over from the 46th Division a
sector of the line in front of the village of Hebuterne and facing Gommecourt.
The line was occupied by the 167th Brigade, the 168th moving in reserve to
Souastre, a small village some three miles west of the front trenches. The
Battalion moved by march route from Beaufort on the 6th and arrived at Souastre
after a ten mile march at 9 p.m.
Two or three days were occupied in training, and on the 11th May the Battalion
began to supply working parties of considerable size. Of these, one of 200 all
ranks was despatched to Pas and employed in felling and sawing trees to form
props for gun pits and dugouts ; and another of 250 all ranks went to the chalk
quarries of Henii, where they were given a task in digging road material. These
working parties, the first of many weary tasks, constituted so far as the
Battalion was concerned the first direct active preparations in the area of
battle for the Somme offensive.
The Battalion's duty at Souastre lasted a fortnight. Work, however, did not take
up the whole of the Battalion's time, and opportunity was found for a foot-ball
match with the Kensingtons, which was played on the 12th May and resulted in a
draw at one all. A few days later the Battalion entered representatives at the
London Scottish sports at St. Amand, securing second and third places in the "
open " 200 yards.
On the 15th Major H. J. Duncan-Teape rejoined the Battalion and was appointed
second in command. The works programme was now beginning to be operated by
Brigade Headquarters to the fullest extent and the greatest possible working
strength was daily employed, the chief tasks being the digging of cable trenches
for the signal services, the construction of new dugouts and the deepening and
strengthening of existing communication and fire trenches.
D Company and one platoon of B Company in fact were despatched on the 18th to
Hebuterne, where they were billeted for night digging work ; and every available
man of the remaining companies was detailed for work of one sort or another. So
insistent was the demand for more labour that on the 20th May the band and every
available man of the transport section had to be put to work on digging parties.
On the 20th and 21st May a series of Brigade reliefs took place, the trenches
being occupied by the 169th Brigade, who replaced the 167th ; while the 168th
withdrew in Divisional reserve to Grenas, a hamlet near the Doullens-Arras Road,
where Brigade Headquarters opened on the 21st. The Rangers and Scottish were
billeted close by at Halloy ; but the l/4th Londons and the Kensingtons remained
in the forward area attached to the 169th Brigade, the latter battalion
occupying W sector, on the right of the Divisional front. The l/4th Londons
moved on the 21st in Brigade reserve to Bayencourt, about a mile and a half
south of Souastre and slightly nearer the trenches.
On the 22nd the detachments in Hebuterne were relieved by C Company, who took
over their tasks. Each night of the period of duty in Bayencourt the Battalion
continued to supply large numbers of men for fatigues of various sorts, the
parties being small and divided amongst a large number of tasks. These working
parties were equipped as lightly as possible, the men carrying water-bottles and
respirators over the left shoulder ; a bandolier of fifty rounds over the right
shoulder ; and their rifles with bayonet in scabbard fixed. But although the
troops moved " light " the duties were onerous, partly from the long hours of
work and the strain induced by the short available time in which to complete
apparently impossible tasks ; and not least by the bad weather, the season from
the middle of May onwards being for the most part wet. Hitherto practically no
casualties had been sustained, the first recorded casualties at the enemy's
hands during the Battalion's attachment to the 56th Division occurring on the
24th May, when two men were wounded at work in Hebuterne.
On the afternoon of the 28th May the l/4th Londons relieved the Kensingtons in W
subsector of the Divisional front, the Battalion still being under the orders of
the 169th Brigade. The Kensingtons took over on relief the billets at Bayencourt.
The Divisional sector as taken over from the 46th Division early in May had
consisted of the original line taken up by the French troops in October 1914
during the extension of the battle line from the Aisne to the sea. This line the
French had continued to hold until they were finally relieved of responsibility
for it in June 1915, when the British extended their lines southward to the
Somme. The frontage of the sector extended as shown on Map No. 4 from the
Bucquoy Road on the right to a point opposite the most westerly point of
Gommecourt Wood on the left, being divided into two subsectors, W and Y, by an
imaginary line running roughly parallel to, and 200 yards north of, the
Hebuterne-Bucquoy Road. Opposite the British lines the Germans held a position
of enormous strength bastioned by the enclosure of Gommecourt Wood which marked
an abrupt salient in their line. As was only too frequently the case the enemy
possessed considerable advantages of observation over the British lines, the
ground rising steadily in rear of his front trenches to the Gommecourt-Bucquoy
ridge, which, although not a hill of outstanding pre-eminence, formed the summit
of the Somme watershed described earlier in this chapter.
Except in the neighbourhood of villages such as Hebuterne, which are surrounded
by orchards and enclosed in a ring fence, the Somme country is, like most of
Picardy and Artois, devoid of hedges, and from road to road the swell of the
hillside is unbroken by fence or ditch. The roads themselves, however, are in
many cases " sunken," that is, contained in a deep cutting, the cover afforded
by the banks playing an important part in the actions fought in this area.
A glance at the map will help to make the position clear. The trench line shown
as a reserve position on the map and marked as the WR and YR lines was at the
date of the 56th Division's advent the most advanced trench, so that No Man's
Land varied in width from 800 to 600 yards. This fact is most important and a
full realisation of it is essential to a correct understanding of the enormous
task performed by the 56th Division.
In view of the impending attack the great width of No Man's Land was clearly a
great disadvantage, as the time which must necessarily be occupied by assaulting
columns in advancing an average of distance of 700 yards before reaching the
German front line would expose them to risk of very serious loss and possibly
deprive the attack completely of the weight necessary to enable it to be driven
home. Nothing daunted by this difficulty, however, the 56th Division at once
proceeded to make arrangements to push the lines forward and roughly to halve
the width of No Man's Land. This audacious scheme was put into operation, and
before the end of May the construction of the new front line — that shown as the
front line on the map — was begun.
The operation of digging a new front line at no great distance from the enemy
was one of considerable difficulty. It was clearly essential to perform the work
at night, and in view of the importance of the work it was equally clearly a
matter of necessity to have the task set out with tapes as a mark for the troops
to dig to. It was further reasonable to anticipate that as soon as the enemy
became aware of the existence of the new line he would shell it violently, and
therefore the new trench must be sunk deeply enough in the first night's work to
enable its completion to be carried on from inside without the need for moving
troops about in the open. This aim postulated a working party of great strength,
for the front to be covered was nearly 2000 yards, and the noise which must
inevitably arise from over a mile of shovels and picks hard at work was likely
to bring down a hail of machine-gun bullets and cause very severe casualties,
and even, in the presence of an enterprising enemy, the probability of a
surprise attack in the middle of the work. The attempt was clearly fraught v/ith
great risk, but with characteristic boldness Gen. Hull determined to make the
On the night of the 25/26th May the setting out of the work was safely
accomplished by the Royal Engineers under cover of a screen of scouts, and the
following night a working party of 3000 men got to work on the digging, a line
of outposts being established for their protection within 200 yards of the
The Battalion responsible for W — the right or southern — sector of the new line
was the l/4th Londons, the work being under the control of Major Duncan-Teape,
while the L.R.B. undertook the work in Y sector. The night luckily passed
quietly, and all ranks working with a will the new trench, shown on map as W 47,
W 48, W 49 and W 50, was opened and sunk to a depth sufficient to provide cover.
When the Battalion, therefore, took over W sector on the night of the 28th May,
the new front line was becoming fit to occupy and had, moreover, reached the
anticipated stage in which, the Bosche being alive to what had been done, it was
becoming a favourite target for his shells and trench mortar bombs of all
calibres. From this time onwards, in fact until the battle, the Divisional
sector and in particular the new trenches were daily harassed by the enemy's
fire, and constant repair work on the part of our trench garrisons was called
for in addition to the continuance of new construction.
The front line of W sector was taken up by A Company (A. R. Moore) on the right
with B Company (S. Elliott) on the left, supports to both front line companies
being found by D Company (Giles), while C Company (Long) was in reserve at
Hebuterne. Battalion Headquarters occupied dugouts beneath a roller flour mill
in Hebuterne. The move forward from Bayencourt for this relief being made in
daylight was carried out across country along tracks, platoons moving separately
at 300 yards distance.
After relief the Kensingtons in Bayencourt remained at the disposal of the l/4th
Londons for working parties, for the construction of the new front line was but
a small beginning of the task which still remained to be completed before the
opening of the battle. In addition to the first line there was to be dug a
control trench immediately in rear of it, and a new support line — the WS line —
and all these were to be connected up by the advancement from the old WR line of
Warrior, Welcome, Whisky, Woman and Wood Street communication trenches. These
defensive works completed, there was also the erection of the necessary wire
entanglements in front, the construction of dugouts for shelters, company
head-quarters, ammunition stores, and signal offices ; the laying of armoured
signal cable from all headquarters dugouts back to battalion and brigade, the
digging of cable trenches for lines of particular importance, the collection of
the necessary supplies of small arms and trench mortar ammunition and bombs in
dumps ; and other tasks of varying importance and interest. Enough has been
said, however, to indicate that with only a month in which to do all this work
it was clear that the Battalion was not likely to find time hanging heavily on
its hands while in the line, — and indeed it did not.
The tour of duty proved somewhat unpleasant. The works programme was, of course,
the outstanding duty, and all ranks put their shoulders to it with a will, but
the heavy rains which fell each day made it hard to keep pace with the
time-table set for the work, while the remarkable aggressiveness of the enemy's
guns added to the digging scheme by providing much undesired practice in trench
During the night following the relief the Battalion's positions were heavily
bombarded by heavy guns and trench mortars, which caused much damage and several
casualties, especially in the left company front. Capt. Elliott had to be dug
out of the trench which was blo\vn in on him, and he was sent to hospital
suffering from severe concussion ; and 3 N.C.O.'s and men were killed and 12
wounded. Capt. Elliott was unhappily never able to return to France, and in him
the Battalion lost an officer of remarkably cool and sound judgment and of wide
sympathy with the welfare of his men.
The 30th May opened with a heavy bombardment of our lines at 12.15 a.m., which
was repeated half an hour later. About 2.50 a.m., following further bombardment,
the S.O.S. signal was received from the Queen Victoria's Rifles in Y subsector,
who reported the enemy advancing. A very quick response to the call was made by
our artillery, which laid down a barrage on S.O.S. lines ; but no infantry
movement developed on our front. At about 5 p.m. the enemy turned his attention
to Battalion Headquarters in H6buterne, which were heavily shelled and severely
damaged. The sentry on duty was badly wounded, as were also four other men of
the Headquarters staff and four of D Company billeted in an adjoining dugout.
The total casualties for the day amounted to 31, of whom 16 in B Company were
cases of severe shell shock following tlie previous day's bombardment.
This unpleasant degree of Bosche activity continued during the night, when our
working parties were harassed and seriously delayed ; and the 31st May saw no
abatement of the shelling. Battalion Headquarters again received a " hate " at
about 5 p.m., and the casualties for the day were Lieut. H. B. A. Balls, wounded
at duty, and in N.C.O.'s and men, 1 killed and 3 wounded.
Throughout this tour of duty the promptness with which the Divisional artillery
responded to calls for retaliatory fire against the enemy's activity was
excellent and did a great deal to inspire all ranks with confidence in the
Further heavy bombardments occurred on the 1st June, which caused a very great
deal of damage to the new trenches. On the afternoon of the next day the l/4th
Londons were relieved by the London Scottish, withdrawing on relief to
Bayencourt, where tea was served and valises picked up from the stores. In the
evening the Battalion was concentrated in huts at Souastre. The Kensingtons had
also been relieved by the Rangers, who with the Scottish now came under the
orders of the 169th Brigade.
A day was spent' in Souastre by the Battalion in cleaning trench mud from
uniforms and equipment, and in the evening it moved by march route via Henu to
Halloy, where it came once more under the orders of the 168th Brigade in
During this period of preparations for the battle the strength of the Battalion
had been steadily creeping up with reinforcements from home and from the
disbanded 2/4th Battalion. The drafts from the 2/4th Battalion were particularly
valuable ; they had all seen active service and, moreover, they were rich in
potential N.C.O.'s. Throughout the hard fighting which followed the Battalion
was fortunate in having so great an internal reserve of strength in this
respect. As already recorded the 2/4th Battalion had been on overseas service
for nearly eighteen months without the grant of any home leave. Through the
special intervention of Lieut. -Col. Wheatley several large allotments of leave
were made to the l/4th Londons, and these were used chiefly for the benefit of
the 2/4th Battalion reinforcements, but it was of course inevitable that large
numbers of men should be unable to obtain leave before the 1st July.
The drafts received were :
7th May— 2/Lieuts. F. R. C. Bradford, C. S. G. Blows, J. W. Price and S. Davis,
and 214 other ranks from the 2/4th Battalion.
14th May— 44 other ranks from the Reserve Battalion.
24th May — 130 other ranks from the 2/4th Battalion.
When the last-noted draft joined, the Battalion was treated to the annoying
spectacle of watching a further 100 men of the 2/4th Battalion marching by en
route for the Kensingtons.
The day following arrival at Halloy being Sunday, a parade service was held, the
first since the 14th May ; and later in the day a further reinforcement, this
time composed entirely of officers, reported to the Battalion from the disbanded
2/4th Battalion, as follows :
Capts. R. N. Ai-thur and H. G. Stanham, Lieuts. W. R. Botterill and W. A. Stark,
and 2/Lieuts. H. W. Vernon, B. F. L. Yeoman, H. G. Hicklentou and N. W.
Williams. The two first-named officers had been mobilised with the l/4th
Battalion in August 1914, and were thus particularly welcome. The officers of
this draft were distributed among the companies, and Capt. Arthur took over the
duties of Works Officer as Major, an appointment he continued to fill until the
27th June, when he was evacuated to hospital seriously ill.
The 5th, 6th and 7th June were spent in training, of which the principal feature
was a practice attack over trenches constructed to represent those opposite the
sector of line which the Battalion had just left, in preparation, of course, for
the coming battle. Following the last day's practice the Battalion was inspected
by the Third Army commander, Sir Edmund Allenby, who was accompanied by
Major-Gen. Hull and Brig. -Gen. Loch, and expressed himself satisfied with all
that he had seen and also with what he had heard of the Battalion's behaviour
during its recent tour of duty. A report of this kind may read curiously at
first in view of the fact that the Battalion had been in France for eighteen
months and had proved its steadiness in the line on many occasions : but
remember that the 56th Division was brand new, and commanders so far did not
know how their troops would shape in action. Praise from Allenby at this stage
was therefore praise indeed.
The same day the Battalion was once more sent adrift from its own Brigade and
became attached for duty to the 169th Brigade, though it retained its billets at
Halloy, and the 168th Brigade took over W and Y sectors. Head-quarters moving
from Grenas to Sailly.
The Battalion now became responsible for the various works duties in the back
area, relieving the L.R.B. in this monotonous task ; and from this date onwards
remained hard at work on various tasks until almost the eve of battle. B Company
was despatched to Mondicourt, an important and vast R.E. dump on the Doullens-Arras
Road, for work under the R.E.'s. The remaining companies were split up to supply
parties for the daily work, the total numbers found each day being 8 officers
and 350 other ranks, employed on such varied tasks as digging road material in
Halloy quarries ; carrying logs at Pas for gun emplacements ; shifting and
loading timber at Mondicourt ; and working in the R.E. workshop at Pas. This
programme was pushed forward without a break until the 12th June, the only
intermission being an inspection on Sunday the 11th, of such remnants of the
Battalion as were available, by Sir Charles Wakefield, then Lord Mayor of
London, who was accompanied by Major-Gen. Hull and Col. Evelyn Wood, and
addressed the troops.
On the 13th a further redistribution of Brigades took place, the 168th remaining
in line but retaining W sector only ; Y sector was handed over to the 169th
Brigade ; while the 167th moved back into reserve. This move placed the Brigades
in the positions they were destined to occupy on the day of battle. The same day
the l/4th Londons moved forward, leaving Halloy at 5 p.m., and marching via
Authie, St Leger and Coigneux to Bayen-court, where it was joined in billets by
B Company from detachment at Mondicourt. A Company was pushed straight on to
Hebuterne, when in spite of its long march and late arrival in billets it set to
work on its share of the Brigade works programme at 5 a.m. on the 14th June.
The remaining companies were also set to work on the 14th in H6buterne on parts
of the Brigade scheme, working hours being nightly from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The
parties were much split up, 280 being detailed to the 2/2nd Field Company R.E.,
140 to the 5th Cheshires and 140 to the Brigade Signal Officer for digging cable
trenches. The tasks were various, but were all directed in one way or another to
the completion and repair of the new trench system and the necessary dugouts for
the impending offensive. Night after night, for fourteen nights in succession,
did the Battalion continue these stiff working parties. Each night there was a
march of nearly three miles in each direction between billets and work, each
night the Bosche was unpleasantly active with machine-guns, and nearly every
night it rained steadily. That the Battalion carried out this depressing duty —
for there is nothing with which the average infantryman gets more quickly "fed
up" than continual working parties — with such efficiency and keenness is all
the more to its credit. Conditions were not comfortable and the men were
beginning to be tired ; but they stuck to it well for they knew the urgency of
the work and how much remained to be done in an impossibly short time.
On the 21st June the 167th Brigade took over the whole Divisional sector for six
days in order to give a final rest to the 168th and 169th and to keep them as
fresh as possible for battle. The 168th withdrew to its old rest billets at
Halloy, but again the l/4th Londons were left behind as works battalion,
remaining in Hebuterne attached to the 167th Brigade and sticking to its works
On the 23rd June Lieut. W. J. Boutall rejoined the Battalion from home and was
posted to D Company, but almost immediately took up the duties of Assistant
A draft of the 2/4th Battalion arrived on the 24th, consisting of Lieut. J. R.
Webster and 40 other ranks.
Affairs in the line had now begun to " tune up Some days previously the British
9*2 batteries in Bayen-court had begun to register, while on the 24th the
preliminary bombardment of the enemy's lines began systematically, with
occasional intense periods, alternating with intervals of quiet. This continued
daily — and nightly — ^much to the discomfort of those who were lucky enough to
occupy billets with more or less sound ceilings, for their nights were
continually disturbed by large pieces of plaster falling on them at each
concussion ! The attack had been originally projected for the 29th June, and in
preparation for this the 168th and 169th Brigades returned to the line in the
afternoon of the 27th, the l/4th Londons advancing from Bayencourt, taking over
the whole of W sector from the 8th Middlesex.
The sector was occupied on a three -company frontage as follows :
D Company — (Giles) with two platoons in W 47 and 48, one platoon in W 47 S and
one in billets in Hdbuterne.
A Company — (A. R. Moore) with two platoons in W 49, one in W 49 S and one in
billets in H(^buterne.
C Company — (Sykes) with two platoons in W 49 and 50, one in W 50 S and one in
B Company — (W. Moore) with two platoons in reserve dugouts in Cross Street. The
two remaining platoons of B were detailed for special duties as Brigade carrying
parties respectively under the Bombing and Machine-Gun Officers.
The Somme Battle was the first important offensive in which steps were taken to
reduce the number of officers actually taking part to the smallest possible
limits, and a " battle surplus " of officers and also of warrant officers,
N.C.O.'s and men was therefore left behind in bivouacs near Souastre when the
Battalion moved into the line. This precaution, which was always afterwards
adopted, was the means of avoiding unnecessary casualties and of providing an
immediate reinforcement, as might be required, of fresh officers who would be
acquainted with the men. The officers left in " battle surplus " were Capts.
H. G. Stanham and A. L. Long, Lieuts. J. R. Webster and H. W. Vernon, and 2/Lieuts.
C. S. G. Blows and N. W. Williams ; and these were joined on the eve of battle
by Major H. J. Duncan-Tcape and Lieut. W J. Boutall, both of whom remained in
the line until the last possible minute. Lieut. W. R. Botterill also left the
line before the battle to proceed to Woolwich R.M. College.
During the day of relief the British bombardment of the German lines was still
proceeding, occasional intensive bursts being used. At about 7.45 p.m. on the
cessation of a burst the enemy put down a very heavy retaliatory barrage on the
W and WR lines, causing a good deal of damage, especially to the latter. In the
course of this shelling D Company's headquarters were blown in and Capt. Giles
was seriously wounded, one of his company staff killed and another wounded. Poor
Giles, who had done magnificent work as platoon commander, adjutant and company
commander, and had never missed a day's duty since August 1914, died in hospital
from his injuries a few days later. He was a gallant and unselfish officer. His
place in command of D Company was taken by Stanham, who came forward from
During the evening two patrols were despatched from New Woman Street to examine
and report on the condition of the enemy's wire and front line trenches. They
returned at 12.30 a.m. on the 28th, bringing samples of German wire, which was
reported as too thick to admit of access to the front line. About the same time
a rocket signal was sent up from the Bosche line, a red light followed by two
more in quick succession, and this was the prelude to a sharp bombardment of our
lines for about fifteen minutes. Somewhat later, about 3.45 a.m., a second
barrage came down, this time on Hebuterne, but the damage caused was not great.
As the day wore on the enemy's activity became less intense though he exhibited
great persistence all day in his efforts to locate our batteries near Cross
Street and our trench mortar emplacements in W 47. At night working parties were
set on to the almost final preparation of cutting gaps in our own wire at
intervals of about 50 to 70 yards to allow egress to the assaulting columns.
This work is naturally rather tricky, and the gaps, the cutting of which was
left till the last minute, must be so concealed if possible as to avoid the risk
of the enemy marking them down and plastering them with shell fire.
The day's casualties amounted to 2 officers, Lieut. W. A. Stark and J. W. Price
wounded, and 2 men killed and 11 wounded.
During the evening patrols had again been despatched to investigate the enemy's
wire and trenches, and this night greater success was achieved. The right patrol
which approached the Bosche line in front of Farm.
Farmyard was under 2 /Lieut. W. H. Webster, who on looking over the enemy's
parapet found he had selected a firebay containing a party of Bosche hard at
work. Unfortunately the alarm was given and the presence of the patrol being
disclosed by Very lights it was forced to withdraw.
Late on the evening of the 29th the warning was received that the attack was
postponed for forty-eight hours, until the 1st July.
Throughout the 29th our preliminary bombardment continued with gradually
increasing intensity ; but it was noticeable that in spite of the damage it was
clearly doing to the enemy's defences it was not by any means successful in
silencing his batteries. The German artillery was in fact unpleasantly lively,
and from 6.30 a.m. until about 4.30 p.m. W sector was subjected to intermittent
harassing fire from field and machine-guns. This more or less desultory fire was
followed at 6 p.m. by a sharp enemy barrage. All the evening the enemy's
activity continued, and the remarkable number of Very lights which he put up
indicated his growing nervousness. There was indeed now every reason to believe
that the Bosche expected our attack. The long-continued British bombardment of
trenches, dumps, cross roads and battery positions, the systematic wire-cutting,
and the activity of our air forces, could have left no room for doubt in the
enemy's mind that an important offensive was being launched. In some parts of
the battle front, indeed, the Germans had displayed notice boards inviting the
British to start their attack ; and though probably these emanated from
individual bravado they formed some indication that surprise effect was not to
be expected, and that there was good reason to believe that the Germans would
with their usual thoroughness have made preparations to offer the most stubborn
possible resistance to our projected advance.
The 29th also demanded its toll of casualties from the Battalion, and this day
28 N.C.O.'s and men were wounded.
The 30th June opened with a heavy barrage on W sector and Hebuterne at about
midnight, but this subsided after a few minutes and little further activity was
displayed by the enemy during the early morning hours. As dawn approached the
enemy's nervousness evidently increased, and he maintained an almost continuous
discharge of Very lights. From 7 a.m. onwards, however, the enemy artillery once
more began to show signs of liveliness which increased as the day passed. The WR
line in the vicinity of Woman and Cross Streets was in particular heavily
shelled, and altogether a great amount of damage was done to our trench system.
This action of the enemy did not call for any particular retaliatory measures
from our artillery, which proceeded with the preliminary bombardment according
to its programme. The losses sustained by the Battalion on this day amounted to
2 N.C.O.'s and men killed and 21 wounded, making a total of 69 casualties during
the three days the Battalion had held the line.
Little has been said of the actual occupation of the Battalion during these
three days ; there is so much to relate of the battle day itself that space does
not permit us to dwell overmuch on the preceding period. But be it understood
that all the time the works programme was being pushed on with feverish haste,
though progress was slow owing to the continued rain and the great delay caused
in the projected new work by having to divert from it a large proportion of the
available strength to repair the damage caused by the daily German bombardments.
During the evening the Battalion formed up in its prearranged assembly areas in
readiness for the attack on the following morning.
The part which the 56th Division was called on to play in the offensive was that
of a combined operation on a comparatively small front in conjunction with the
46th Division, which was in line opposite the northern flank of the Gommecourt
Salient and adjoining the 56th. These Divisions which, with the 37th (not
engaged), formed the VII Corps and were the right flank of Allenby's Third Army,
were the two most northern divisions operating in the Somme offensive.
Adjoining the 56th on the right lay Hunter-Weston's VIII Corps, comprising from
left to right the 31st, 4th and 29th Divisions in line, with the 48th in
support. One Brigade of this last-named Division — the 143rd — was in line
between the 56th and the 31st, and its sector formed a gap on which no forward
move was attempted. The Gommecourt operation was therefore entirely isolated,
though forming an inherent part of the one great offensive plan.
South of the VIII Corps the British battle front was taken up by the X Corps (Morland),
III Corps (Pulteney), XV Corps (Home) and XIII Corps (Congreve), these forming
with the VIII, Rawlinson's Fourth Army.
The 56th Division's objectives, which will be easily followed from the map, were
to capture and consolidate a line running almost due north from a strong point
at the south end of Farm-Farmyard, through Fame, Felon, Fell, Fellow, and the
Quadrilateral to the junction of Fillet and Indus. From this point the line was
to be continued to the " little Z " (a point about 2000 yards north of the apex
of the Gommecourt Salient) by the 46th Division, who were to clear Gommecourt
village and park.
The 168th Brigade on the right of the Divisional sector attacked on a
two-battalion front from the strong point on the right to the junction of Felon
and Epte on the left. Strong points were to be consolidated on the extreme right
and also at the junctions of Felon with Elbe and Epte. From this point the 169th
Brigade was to continue the line to the junction of Fir and Firm and also to the
point of union with the 46th Division.
The 167th Brigade was in Divisional reserve, and one battalion, the 1st Londons,
was detailed to supply 600 men to dig communication trenches across No Man's
Land after the attack.
The 168th Brigade group was disposed as follows :
Headquarters in Mardi Trench
Right— London Scottish.
Left — Rangers.
Right — Kensingtons, with a special task of digging a fire trench to form a
defensive flank across No Man's Land from the head of Welcome Street.
Left — l/4th Londons.
168th M.G. Company — In tunnelled emplacements in the WR line for overhead
3-inch L.T.M. Battery (Stokes), (with half the 167th Brigade Battery) — In
emplacements in the front line control trench.
In addition the following troops were at the disposal of the Brigadier for the
One Company 5th Cheshires (Pioneers).
One Section 2/2nd London Field Company, R.E.
Y 56— 2-inch Mortar Battery.
The artillery affiliated to the Brigade consisted of four 18-pr. batteries and
one 4*5-inch howitzer battery, comprising the southern group.
Similar attachments were made to the 167th Brigade, and over and above these
there remained at the disposal of the Divisional artillery, a counter-battery
group consisting of two 18-pr. and one 4"5-inch howitzer batteries ; and two
18-pr. batteries in reserve ; while of trench mortars there were one 2-inch
battery (X 56) and two heavy (9^-inch) mortars.
During the evening of the 30th June the other battalions of the Brigade began to
move into W sector to take up their assembly positions. The assembly areas are
marked on the map in Roman numerals as follows :
I, London Scottish (right front).
II. Rangers (left front).
III. Kensingtons (right support).
IV. l/4th Londons (left support).
As each battalion arrived and took over its area the various companies of the
l/4th Londons withdrew to No. IV area in rear of the Rangers. In order to avoid
congestion and cross traffic in the communication trenches several platoons of
the l/4th Londons had to withdraw to assembly position over the open, and by 10
p.m. this operation was completed.
The 1st July was a glorious summer day, and the light haze which tells of great
heat hung over the rolling hills of this great plain which was destined to
become the scene of so great a struggle. With the earliest grey of dawn the
Germans opened an intense bombardment on all our trenches, to which no reply was
made by our artillery. This severe shelling started at about 2.45 a.m. and
lasted for nearly an hour : in the course of it part of the Rangers were blown
out of their assembly trenches and compelled to make a temporary withdrawal to
our area, causing a good deal of congestion and confusion.
At 6.25 a.m. our week old bombardment increased to " hurricane " intensity and
every gun, trench mortar and machine-gun on the British front from Gommecourt to
the Somme came into action, pouring a hail of shot and shell into the enemy
lines with merciless precision and rapidity. Under such a colossal weight of
metal it seemed that nothing could live, and it was confidently hoped that the
bombardment would go far towards breaking down the enemy's morale and power of
resistance to our attack.
At 7.25 a.m. a smoke barrage was raised along the whole front of the attack by
firing smoke bombs from the front trenches, and under this at 7.30 a.m. the
British battalions moved to the assault under cover of a creeping barrage, a
moving curtain of fire.
On the 168th Brigade front the attack was made by each assaulting battalion on a
four-company front, each company in column of platoons in extended order. The
attack as a whole, therefore, moved in four " waves," and following as a fifth
wave moved a trench-clearing party consisting of two platoons of B Company of
the l/4th Londons.
These platoons under 2/Lieuts. L. R. Chapman and H. G. Hicklenton had the duty
of completing the capture of each trench line by killing the remaining garrison,
clearing the dugouts, and collecting and sending back the prisoners ; thereby
saving delay to the assaulting waves, who would otherwise have had to perform
these duties themselves to avoid the risk of an attack from the rear after they
had passed the first objective. These platoons were made up to a strength of 1
officer, 3 N.C.O.'s and 36 men organised in four sections (clearing, bombing,
blocking and communicating), but during the hours of waiting after assembly had
already lost 26 men hit.
At the same time as the assaulting waves moved forward the Battalion, less the
two platoons of B Company above, advanced and occupied battle positions in the
area vacated by the Rangers, as follows :
A Company — (A. R. Moore) two platoons in front line trench and two platoons in
Boyau de Service, Sector W49, between Whisky Street and Woman Street.
C Company — (J. T. Sykes) two platoons in W 50 and two platoons in the Boyau de
Service, north and south of Bucquoy Road.
D Company — (H. G. Stanham) formed up in line in trench W 49 S and W 50 S.
The WS line occupied by D Company had been very severely damaged by the German
bombardment and communication was therefore extremely difficult. The company was
inevitably much split up under the two platoon commanders, G. H, Davis and B. F.
L. Yeoman, while Stanham took up a central position where he hoped to keep in
touch with both flanks.
The two remaining platoons of B Company were employed as follows :
1 Platoon— Carrying party under Brigade Bombing Officer.
1 Platoon — 1 Section — Carrying party to 168th M.G. Company.
3 Sections — In reserve in Napier Trench.
Battalion Headquarters (K Company) were disposed as follows :
Clerks, signallers, pioneei-s. In dugout and control trench snipers, etc. (34
other ranks) of Woman Street.
Company runners (16 other In a sap adjoining,
Battalion Bombers In a "crump" hole near the Woman Street Battalion H.Q. dugout.
Battalion Trench Pioneers W 50 R.
M.O. and Staff Aid Post (Junction of Wood Street and Cross Street).
Reserve Lewis Gunners Divided betvreen A and B Companies.
Regimental Police In control posts, chiefly at inter-section of fire trenches
with communication trenches through-out the sector.
A runner from the right company (A) reporting it in position arrived at
Headquarters at 8.15 a.m., but no report was received from any other company,
and from this time onwards throughout the day communication was exceedingly
difficult on account of the very heavy German barrage which fell on all lines in
W sector immediately after zero. It was reported, however, by observers that all
had successfully formed up on their battle positions.
We must now turn for a moment to the leading battalions.
On the right the London Scottish advanced under the effective cover of the smoke
barrage, which was in fact so thick as to render the maintenance of the correct
direction a matter of difficulty, and occupied Farm, Fall and Fate as far north
as the Bucquoy Road, and also the greater part of the strong point at the
southern extremity of attack. The blocking of the adjoining trenches and
consolidation of the captured lines was at once put in hand. The left companies
appear to have been drawTi off somewhat towards Nameless Farm but seem to have
kept in touch with the Rangers on their left.
Shortly after 8 o'clock the Scottish were joined by a company of Kensingtons,
who did good work in the consolidation of Farm-Farmyard.
On the left four companies of the Rangers also crossed No Man's Land, and
although the position is obscure there can be no doubt that parties of all
companies succeeded in reaching the final objectives in Felon, Elbe and Epte,
and gained touch on Nameless Farm Road with the 169th Brigade on the left.
At these advanced points bomb fighting in the communication trenches began and
the struggle was pursued along the line with varying success. Realising the
pressure that was being brouglit to bear on his now dangerously weak companies
the O.C. Rangers asked for two companies of the l/4th Londons to lend the weight
necessary to carry forward his attack again.
This order was received by Lieut. -Col. Wheatley at 8.45 a.m. and at once he
ordered A and C Companies to reinforce the Rangers in Fetter, and D Company to
move up to the W front line in their place. Telephone communication having been
cut by the enemy shell fire this order was despatched by runner to the front
companies ; but of six runners despatched by different routes, and two
additional runners sent after fifteen minutes' interval, only one returned after
an unsuccessful attempt to find the left company. The others were all killed. We
must pause here to offer a tribute to the bravery of runners, a class of soldier
whose gallantry was only too seldom adequately rewarded ; their duties compelled
them to attempt to pass through impossible barrages without the moral support of
comradeship, and to face almost certain death in the forlorn hope of getting
through with a vital order. But never once did they flinch from their duty.
At 9.5 a.m. a report was received through the Rangers that Rangers and l/4th
Londons were together in the German front line, and this was followed at
intervals by other reports indicating their further progress, till at 10.25 a.m.
a message from the Rangers reported parties of both battalions in the second
German trench. Following the receipt of this information at 10.45 a.m. Lieut-Col.
Wheatley despatched the Battalion Trench Pioneers to help consolidate the
The above messages probably convey a substantially correct idea of what
occurred, but owing to the failure of all means of communication on account of
the intensity of the German shell fire, the movements of A and C Companies will
probably never be known in detail. At 11.50 a.m. an untimed message was received
from Capt. A. R. Moore (A Company) reporting that he was still in W 49, his
battle position, though at 9.5 a.m., as we have seen, he was reported to have
crossed to the German line ; and probably this latter report is correct. The
situation, however, evidently required clearing up, and a patrol consisting of
L.-Corpl. Hyde and Pte. Lear despatched from Battalion Headquarters succeeded in
returning with the information that A Company had gone forward. L.-Corpl. Hyde
was awarded the Military Medal for his good work, and subsequently recommended
for a commission by Lieut. -Col. Wheatley ; he was unfortunately killed in
action later in the Somme Battle whilst completing his training with C Company.
At 1 p.m. a message was received from Stanham (in reserve) that his Company had
suffered about fifty per cent, casualties and that his position had become
untenable. He was ordered to maintain his position.
By this time the situation on the other side of No Man's Land was becoming
desperate. The work of consolidation was almost impossible owing to the German
barrage, and the sustained bomb fighting was rapidly becoming an unequal
struggle owing to the impossibility of replenishing the dwindling supplies of
bombs. Again and again with unsurpassed devotion the carrying party endeavoured
to pass through the barrier of German shells with the coveted supplies of bombs
to our harassed troops — but passage was impossible and the gallant carriers
only added to the roll of casualties.
At 1.30 p.m. a patrol returned from the German lines to Battalion Headquarters.
This had been despatched at 11 o'clock on a demand from the Brigadier for
information as to the left of the Brigade in the German line, and Ptes.
Whitehead and Buckingham had volunteered for the duty. According to this patrol
a party of the Rangers under Lieut. Harper were holding on to the junction of Et
and Felt, but was urgently in need of bombs. Further, none of the 168th Brigade
were then in the German third line. This report was passed on to Brigade and to
the Rangers, and a special bomb carrying party from the Battalion was ordered
across to relieve Harper's need. But none reached the German line, all being
killed or wounded in No Man's Land. For their bravery and devotion to duty Ptes.
Whitehead and Buckingham were rewarded with the Military Medal, and the former
was subsequently granted a commission.
At 2.30 p.m. the front of the Battalion Headquarters dugout was blown in by a
shell, which killed seven and wounded seven men. At the time the dugout was
occupied by a large number of Headquarters staff, including the Colonel, the
Adjutant, the Signalling Officer and Major Moore, but of these luckily none was
All this time the German shell fire continued without abatement, and at 3.30
p.m. further heavy casualties were reported by D. Company. At 3.45 p.m. Brigade
Head-quarters ordered D Company to withdraw to the WR line, and a report was
received from Stanham at 4.45 p.m. that his withdrawal with 1 officer and 20 men
Meanwhile the Brigade was gradually being compelled to give ground and, owing to
its lack of bombs, to loose its slender hold on the enemy's positions. At about
2 p.m. the remnants of the Rangers, together with a few l/4th Londons and some
Queen Victorias from the 169th Brigade on the left, were driven into Fate, where
they made a last determined stand ; but at 3.10 p.m. they were finally ejected
from the German lines and withdrew to the British trenches.
On the right the Scottish and Kensingtons met with a similar fate. A gallant
fight was put up by the remains of the Battalion under Capt. H. C. Sparks in
Farm-Farmyard, but by 4 p.m., both his flanks being in the air and his whole
force being in imminent danger of extinction, Sparks decided to withdraw, this
operation being stubbornly and successfully carried out after the removal of as
many wounded as possible.
At 6.30 p.m. the l/4th Londons reformed in the WR line between Wood Street and
Woman Street, and later in the evening moved into the trenches west of Hebuterne.
The other battalions of the 168th were also withdrawn and the sector was taken
over by the 167th Brigade.
The story of the 169th Brigade attack is, like that of the 168th, one of initial
success which could not be maintained. The line Fell-Feud was carried in the
early hours of the morning by the Queen Victorias and London Rifle Brigade, but
the intensity of the German shell fire and the enfilading of the captured
positions by machine-guns in Gommecourt Park prevented the Queen's Westminsters
from carrying the Quadrilateral. Later in the day lack of bombs, as in the case
of the 168th Brigade, proved the deciding factor, and resulted in a gradual loss
of the Brigade's grip on the enemy trenches, and after desperate struggles the
late afternoon hours found them also beaten back to their original lines.
So ended the first day on which the 56th Division had been in battle, a day on
which after the most stubborn fighting and unsurpassed devotion the gain of
ground was nil, and which dealt London the severest blow in loss of personnel
that it ever suffered on any single day throughout the War.
The losses in the Division during the period 24th June to 3rd July amounted to
4749 all ranks, of whom 35 officers and 412 other ranks were killed, 107
officers and 2632 other ranks wounded, and 40 officers and 1532 other ranks
missing. In the l/4th Londons the losses for the same period totalled the
appalling number of 16 officers and 534 other ranks. These dreadful losses were
borne fairly equally by all companies, for all had been exposed to the same
deadly and unrelenting shell fire throughout the day.
Of A Company, gallantly led to the second German line by Capt. A. R. Moore,
M.C., but 18 returned. Moore himself and one of his subalterns, F. C. Fanhangel,
were killed, the other subaltern, A. G. Blunn, being captured with 7 others. The
rest of the company were killed. Moore's end, like his life, was one of
courageous devotion, and has been simply told by one of his own sergeants :
" Capt. Moore was wounded in the wrist about thirty minutes before we went over.
Nevertheless he led the company, revolver in hand, and on the sunken road at the
rear of Nameless Farm I saw blood flowing from his back. He still pushed on, and
then I was shot through the leg and took shelter in a shell hole. The last I saw
of Capt. Moore he was still going ahead. . . ."
The two platoons of B Company which went forward as clearing party were severely
handled. Both the subalterns, Chapman and Hicklcnton, were hit and only 10 men
got back from the German line. 2/Lieut. A. S. Ford on carrying party duty was
Of C Company only two platoons got forward as the order to advance failed to
reach Sykes, the company commander. But its casualties under the terrific German
barrage were as heavy as in any company, and after Sykes had been wounded and
both his subalterns, T. Moody and F. R. C. Bradford, killed, the remnants of the
company were brought steadily out of action by Company Sergt.-Major Davis, who
was rewarded with the D.C.M.
D Company, which remained in reserve all day, had perhaps the most trying time
of all. From 2.30 a.m. until withdrawn at 3.30 p.m. it sat still under the most
intense artillery bombardment, but was kept splendidly in hand and ready to move
by Stanham and his only remaining subaltern, G. H. Davis. B. F. L. Yeoman became
a casualty early in the day.
Of the Headquarters officers Major W. Moore and 2/Lieut. V. C. Donaldson were
Magnificent work was done throughout the day by the Medical Officer, Capt. Hurd,
and his staff, M^ho, though the number of casualties far outmeasurcd the
facilities for dealing with them, continued their work Mdthout a break
throughout the day and the night following. In this work splendid help was
rendered by the Padre, Rev. R. Palmer, who organised and led search and carrying
parties in No Man's Land and brought in many wounded who were unable to move.
The morning of the 2nd July was spent in the dreary duty of ascertaining the
casualties and reorganising the companies, and in the afternoon the Battalion
marched to billets at St Amand.
With the results of the day's fighting on other parts of the front we are hardly
concerned here. From Fricourt to the Somme the day was successful and the bulk
of the objectives were captured and held. But from Fricourt northward the tale
throughout was one of complete check. Everywhere our troops met with initial
success which everywhere was later changed into disaster with appalling losses.
There is no doubt that in the northern half of attack the British offensive was
fully anticipated by the Germans. It would indeed have been difficult to carry
out such immense preparations over a period of several weeks prior to the battle
without permitting indications of the impending attempt to become visible to
hostile serial scouts. But it had been hoped that the weight and long
continuance of the preliminary bombardment, even though it disclosed its own
purpose, would prove so intense as to nullify all the German efforts to resist.
We must here make some reference to the battle of the 46th Division on the
northern face of the Gommecourt salient. Against this ill-fated Division the
German fire was terrific. On the right the South Staff ords were completely
shattered by the enemy's machine-guns before they could cross No Man's Land ; on
the left the Sherwood Foresters succeeded in gaining the German front line, and
isolated parties appear even to have struggled forward as far as the second
trench, but were rapidly ejected. Soon after zero the whole of the 46th
Division's assaulting troops were back in their own line after suffering
appalling losses : their attack was a complete failure. At the time, therefore,
that the 56th Division was making headway into the German positions, instead of
the enemy feeling, as had been hoped, the pincers closing on him from both sides
of his salient, he was relieved from all menace on his right flank facing the
46th Division, and free to throw the whole weight of his artillery and infantry
against the 56th Division.
But the causes of the 56th Division's failure must be looked for deeper than
Primarily it may be said to have been due to the shortage of bombs. The great
distance which carrying parties had to traverse over No Man's Land with fresh
supphes and the intensity of the German barrage through which they had to pass
were both such that the facihties for getting bombs forward were inadequate. It
should be remembered that the 168th and 169th Brigades captured three lines of
German trenches and held them against all attacks in spite of the gruelling
enemy fire for many hours. It was only when bomb supplies failed that they were
There are three other factors in this battle to which we may refer as having
contributed to the failure.
First, the enormously strong deep dugouts in the German lines, which were large
enough to give shelter to the whole trench garrison except the few necessary
sentries, had proved too strong for all except the heaviest guns ; and those of
the heaviest calibre had not been directed against them. The German garrisons
were therefore able to remain in safety until the last moment when our barrage
lifted off their front lines and they were able to man their parapets. The
strength of the German defences was increased by the density and depth of their
wire entanglements, which had been most skilfully sited with the support of
machine-guns firing in enfilade.
Secondly, the insufficient attention paid on our side to counter-battery work.
The batteries told off for counter-battery fire were too few and of too light
calibre. Throughout the day the cry arose from all Headquarters to silence the
German guns, but the few batteries available, though served magnificently by
splendid gunners, could not cope with so gigantic a task.
The third and most important cause lay in the cunning skill with which the
German barrage was used. We have referred above to the manning of the German
parapets by their garrisons after our barrage had passed over ; but not in every
case did this happen. In many instances a greater refinement of skill was
exhibited. As the British barrage lifted off the first objective and the leading
waves of the assault poured over it, down came the enemy barrage like a dense
curtain, cutting them off for ever from their supports and their supplies. The
barrage having thus trapped them, the front trench filled with Germans swarming
up from their subterranean shelters, and these poured a hail of machine-gun fire
into the backs of our waves which were pushing forward to the next line.
After the experience of two more years of organised trench to trench attacks, it
may be that failure for the reasons detailed above seems a little obvious ; but
it would not be fair to pass them over without pointing out that this was the
first trench to trench attack of the whole War which had been organised on so
vast a scale, and it was clearly impossible to provide against all eventualities
when there was no previous experience to act as a guide. It should be remembered
that in the south, where a greater degree of surprise was attained, the
arrangements for attack — which were substantially the same as in the north —
worked splendidly and resulted in marked success. And in subsequent attacks
attention was paid to the experience gained on this great opening day of the
First Somme Battle in increasing the strength of counter-battery artillery and
in making more eflficicnt arrangements for " mopping-up " captured lines.
As regards the 168th Brigade attack, in addition to the above general
criticisms, it may be remarked that the event showed that on the left of the
Brigade at least there was insufficient weight in the attack. The Scottish on
the right had to advance 250 yards and were able to carry their objectives ; but
on the left the depth to be penetrated was about 450 yards, and this proved too
great for the available strength of the Rangers, who were organised in five
waves, even when strengthened by two additional waves supplied by the companies
of the l/4th Londons.
A deal of congestion in the trenches and a great many casualties were caused by
the lack of those deep dugouts with which the Germans were so well supplied, and
in the case of the l/4th Londons at any rate it seems likely that they might
have been of more use when called upon had they been able to obtain efficient
shelter during the hours of waiting.
We have sufficiently elaborated the causes of failure. It must not be forgotten
that a very real and important result was achieved by the Londoners this day.
The strategic object of their attack was not primarily the capture of ground but
the holding of German troops and guns from the area of our main attack. This was
an unpleasant role, but a highly important one, and there can be no manner of
doubt that it was to a very large degree fulfilled. The Division's achievement
is summarised concisely in the message of congratulation issued by Lieut. - Gen.
D'Oyly Snow on the 4th July :
The Corps Commander wishes to congratulate all ranks of the 56th Division on the
way in which they took the German trenches and held them by pure grit and pluck
for so long in very adverse circumstances. Although Gommecourt has not fallen
into our hands, the purpose of the attack, which was mainly to contain and kill
Germans, was accomplished, thanks to a great extent to the tenacity of the 56th
A remarkable incident occurred on the Divisional front on the 2nd July. At about
2.30 p.m. that day a number of German stretcher-bearers were seen to issue from
their trenches and begin collecting the many British wounded who were still
lying round about their first three lines of trenches. Prompt measures of
precaution were taken by the Division, and all guns were made ready to open fire
on barrage lines should any intention be shown by the Germans to take advantage
of the temporary truce. As, however, the enemy stretcher-bearers continued their
humane work quietly, our own stretcher-bearers followed their example and began
collecting casualties from No Man's Land. During this extraordinary armistice no
attempt was made by the Germans to come outside or by our men to go beyond the
line which had formerly been the German wire entanglements. After about two
hours of this work, which was the means of saving many lives, the
stretcher-bearers returned by mutual and tacit consent to their own lines and
the War was resumed !
The casualties suffered by the 46th Division were exceedingly heavy, and the
treatment it had received was so severe that it was deemed necessary to withdraw
it from the Hne temporarily, and arrangements were made for the 56th Division to
assume responsibility at once for the 46th sector as well as its own.
This arrangement unfortunately deprived the 168th Brigade of its well-earned
rest. But though tired and in need of reorganisation after the heavy losses it
had sustained the Brigade's morale was good, for it felt justifiably proud of
its effort of the previous day. The relief of the 46th Division began on the
evening of the 2nd July when the Scottish and the Kensingtons took over the line
from the left of the 56th sector of the Fonquevillers-Gommecourt Road.
The l/4th Londons remained at St Amand during the 3rd July, busily engaged in
reorganising its platoons and making up as far as possible deficiencies in
equipment and ammunition. In the evening the l/4th Londons and Rangers took over
from the 138th Brigade the remainder of the 46th Divisional sector, the
Battalion relieving the 5th Lincolns on a front adjoining that occupied by the
Kensingtons the previous night.
The condition of the trenches was found to be shocking and the material damage
caused by shell and trench mortar fire was severe, but the number of dead whose
bodies had not yet been removed, and of wounded who still were lying out in No
Man's Land provided a great deal of work of the utmost urgency. Fortunately the
enemy did not interfere with this work of clearing up the battlefield, and his
lack of activity was doubtless due to his being similarly employed. Reports were
received at night that enemy patrols were active in No Man's Land, but no
encounters took place and the Germans seen were probably covering patrols for
The following day passed without unusual incident except for a certain amount of
enemy shelling during the afternoon, which did considerable further damage to
the Battalion's trenches. During the night a storm of terrific intensity burst
over Fonquevillcrs, adding to the general discomfort by filling the trenches
with water. The two remaining days spent by the BattaHon in this sector were
occupied in continuing the work of removing the dead, bahng out and clearing
blocked trenches, and generally attempting to reorganise the broken-down
defences as well as possible.
On the evening of the 6th July the 168th Brigade was relieved in Z sector, as
the 46th Divisional line was called, by the 169th, and the Battalion, handing
over its trenches to the Queen's Westminsters, moved by platoons into billets at
St Amand, a welcome issue of dry underclothing being issued to the troops on
At this point the Battalion may be said finally to have finished its share in
the battle of the 1st July. Although not detailed as one of the assaulting
battalions in the attack, the strain to which it was subjected both in actual
hard work prior to the battle and by reason of the enemy fire during the action,
was as heavy as that borne by any unit of the Division, while its casualties
were among the most severe. Starting at Bayencourt on the 13th June the
Battalion had supplied heavy working parties with long hours of work and with a
three-mile march in each direction to and from work for fourteen nights in
succession, always harassed by the enemy fire and frequently wet through. For
three nights of unusual enemy activity they had held the line prior to the
battle, and this duty was followed without respite by the day of battle itself.
After a brief interlude of two days in billets it had once more returned to the
trenches on the additional and unexpected duty at Fonquevillers, and had there
passed a further four days in extreme discomfort — a record of which we think
any battalion might justly be proud.
The extended front now held by the Division rendered a prolonged rest for the
Brigade out of the question, and the Battalion's sojourn at St Amand was of only
three days' duration. Of these days the first two were occupied in refitting the
troops as far as possible, and in cleaning up and drying clothing after the days
spent in the line. The last day, Sunday 9th July, was occupied with Church
Parade and, in the afternoon, a Brigade Parade at Souastre for inspections by
the Corps and Army Commanders, both of whom addressed the Brigade in
On the afternoon of the 10th the 168th Brigade returned to the trenehes at
Hebuterne, there reheving the 167th. An adjustment of sectors was now effected
as a result of which the 168th Brigade held the right sector of the Divisional
front, comprising the old W sector and the part of Y sector south of the
Hebutcrne-Gommecourt Road ; in the centre was the 167th Brigade between the
Hebutcrne-Gommecourt and the Fonqucvillers-Gomme-court Roads ; while the 169th
Brigade held the left of the Divisional front.
The 168th front was occupied by the London Scottish in the right subsector and
the Kensingtons on the left. The l/4th Londons took over billets at Bayencourt,
while the Rangers moved to Sailly.
On the 17th the Battalion relieved the London Scottish in the right subsector of
the Brigade front, the relief being complete by 6 p.m. The same day the Rangers
took over the left subsector from the Kensingtons.
The principal operation carried out by the Battalion during this tour of duty
was the filling in of the advanced front line. This had been so seriously
damaged during the battle as to become almost untenable, and the labour v/hich
would be involved in its repair and maintenance did not appear to be
justifiable. Accordingly the task of filling it and the communication trenches
as far back as the WS line was carried out on the night 18/1 9th July. The
portion from Whisky Street southwards was dealt with by 2 officers and 140 men
of C Company, while the part north of Whisky Street was filled in by 120 men of
the Kensingtons. A covering party in No Man's Land of 2 platoons' strength
secured the safety of the working party.
This step clearly indicated that all ideas of an advance on this front were —
for the moment at any rate — given up, but the role played by the Division
during the remainder of its duty at Hebuterne was such as to foster an offensive
spirit in the troops by m-cans of constant patrolling activity and a general
policy of aggression against the enemy's defences and working parties. This role
was the more important on account of the striking developments which were
occurring in the British offensive operations nearer the Somme, where the
pressure which was being brought to bear on the Germans was severe and
continually increasing. Gradually the enemy was being compelled to push his
reserves into the fight and limit as far as possible his activities on other
parts of the front. Any action at Hebuterne, therefore, which could prevent the
withdrawal of the opposing garrison to the battle area further south had a
direct and important bearing on the fortunes of the British arms.
On the nights of the 20th, 21st and 22nd July strong patrols were sent out from
the Battalion under 2/Lieuts. W. E. Osborne, H. W. Vernon and J. C. Graddon
respectively, with the object of securing a live prisoner captured from a German
patrol. No success, however, was achieved.
On the 23rd July an inter-battalion relief again took place and the Battalion
was relieved by the London Scottish withdrawing on relief to Brigade support
billets at Sailly, but leaving B Company in the Keep in Hebuterne to furnish
The Battalion remained in Sailly supplying working parties in the forward area
until the end of July. Advantage was taken of this period out of the line to
straighten out some " cross-postings " which had occurred among drafts of
N.C.O.'s and men recently sent up from the Base, and drafts of Queen's
Westminsters and 3rd London men were despatched from the Battalion to rejoin
their own units. At the same time the Battalion received drafts of 4th London
men from the Queen Victorias and the Kensingtons, to whom they had been sent in
On the last day of July the Battalion once more took over from the London
Scottish the right subsector of W sector, B and C Companies occupying the WR
line as the most advanced position with A Company in support and D in reserve.
During the ensuing tour of duty the work of trench repairing, wiring and
patrolling was actively prosecuted, but no incident worthy of record occurred.
The enemy's activity, both in artillery and trench mortar fire, became rather
more marked, and Hebuterne itself attracted more attention than had been the
case prior to the battle. The enemy's shell fire produced, however, an ample
measure of retaliation from our guns, which bombarded his trenches with good
On the 4th August the Battalion withdrew again to Brigade reserve at Bayencourt,
handing over its trenches to the London Scottish, and was employed in furnishing
working parties and in training.
Since the 1st July the Battalion had received some very valuable reinforcements
of officers which repaired the deficiencies caused by the battle, as follows :
13th July— Capt. F. C. J. Read from the 2/4th Battalion, Lieut. A. G. Sharp, 2/Lieuts.
P. F. Smalley, J. C. Graddon, V. R. Oldrey, W. H. Calnan, C. E. Lewis, W. E.
Osborne, J. W. Chapman, F. J. Foden, C. F. English and J. T. Middleton from the
16th July— 2/Lieut. G. E. Stanbridge from the Reserve Battalion.
6th August— 2/Lient. F. R. R. Burford from the 3/lth Battalion, 2/Lieuts. C. J.
Brodie, O. D. Garratt, C. H. T. Heaver, A. Potton, W. Quennell and C. M. Taylor
from the Reserve Battalion.
7th August— 2/Lieuts. C. W. Denning, M.M., S. J. Barkworth, M.M., E. McD.
McCormiek, T. B. Cooper, M.M., W. H. Davey, D.C.M., C. F. Mortleman commissioned
direct from the l/20th Londons.
9th August— 2/Lieuts. N. A. Ormiston, R. E. Grimsdell and W. Richards from the
10th August— 2/Lieut. J. W. Price from Hospital and 2/Lieut. L. W. Archer,
commissioned from the ranks
of the Battalion.
On the 5th July a draft of 60, of whom 58 were N.C.O.'s, arrived from the 2/4th
Battalion, a particularly welcome addition to the strength in view of the losses
which had been sustained. Early in July Lieut. L. G. Rix, the Transport Officer,
had been appointed Brigade Transport Officer, and his place in the Battalion was
filled by Lieut. G. V. Lawrie, attached from the Scottish Rifles.
2/Lieut. N. W. Williams was wounded at Fonque-villers on the 6th July, and on
the 18th the Battalion suffered a further great loss in the Quartermaster,
Lieut. E. S. Tomsctt, who completely broke down in health and was invalided to
England. Tomsett had filled the appointment of Quartermaster with great credit
since November 1913, and had served over thirteen years with the Battalion, his
previous service having been with the Rifle Brigade. On recovery from his
illness Tomsett was granted a combatant commission in recognition of his
services and appointed to command the depot at Hoxton. His duties as
Quartermaster in the l/4th Battalion were taken over by Lieut. H. B. A. Balls.
The 10th August found the Battalion once more — and for the last time — resuming
possession of W sector, the relief of the London Scottish being completed by
4.45 p.m. During the progress of the relief Hebuterne was intermittently shelled
and a direct hit was scored on Battalion Headquarters, though fortunately
without inflicting casualties. A six-day tour of duty produced but little of
interest beyond the usual trench routine. Patrolling in No Man's Land was
actively pursued, and resulted in establishing definitely the energy being
displayed by the Germans in repairing their defences, and also their
acquiescence in our possession of No Man's Land, which seemed to be undisputed.
The German artillery continued to shell Hebuterne and the Orchard, near Cross
Street, a good deal, while his constant machine-gim fire at night interfered
seriously with our work of wiring in front of W 48.
On the 12th Major-Gen. Hull presented ribands to those who had been decorated
for their work on the 1st July, the presentation being made on the football
field at Bayencourt.
A warning order had now been received that the Division was to be relieved by
the 17th Division and to withdraw for training in rear of the line, in the St
Riquier area near Abbeville.
The 168th Brigade was to concentrate at Halloy before proceeding to the new
area, and the first step in this concentration was the relief on the 16th August
of the l/4th Londons and Rangers by the London Scottish and Kensingtons
respectively. On relief the l/4th Londons moved to billets in Sailly, leaving C
Company at the Keep in Hebuterne for working parties until the 18th, when the
whole Battalion marched at 7 p.m. to Halloy, arriving in huts there at 11 p.m.
By the 21st the whole Brigade group was completely out of the line and the
following day moved to the new area, the Battalion entraining at Doullens at
11.40 a.m. and, detraining at St Riquier shortly before 6 p.m., marched thence
to billets at Le Plessiel.