Monthly Archives: Jul 2016

The Aftermath …

As the intelligence was sifted through and the reports compiled it was soon apparent that the 1st July 1916 had been an unprecedented disaster.  North of the Albert-Bapaume road to as far as Gommecourt the battle was effectively over in a matter of few hours, and in some cases a matter of minutes.  What was left of the attacking units were back in their starting trenches by the end of the day.

The minor successes were in the south, around Fricout, Mametz and units reaching Montauban. Even these came at high price, the 8th Bn. East Surrey’s casualties of around 30% was typical. Elsewhere, the casualties figures in individual battalions was far higher. The roll calls made were a pitiful and depressing experience as the few survivors heard name after name go unanswered.

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The estimated casualties of the British Army on the 1st July 1916 were 19,240 men killed, 2,152 were missing and another 35,593 were wounded.  A total of 57,740.

Charles Edward Gibbs, 1st Bn. Border Regiment, had survived the day, he was most likely one the “10%” held back on the day.  But the 2nd July brought little rest as the remnants of 1st Border Regiment relieved the 9th Royal Irish Rifles just north of the River Ancre at 10am; they immediately are set to work on repairing the trenches, which had suffered severely by the previous day’s bombardment.  At 2:30pm parties are sent out to bring in the wounded and dead of the Royal Irish Rifles who lay in front of our line.  This continues intermittently all day and during the night.  The enemy continually snipes at the rescue parties. So few officers are let that 2nd Lieut. R.G. Cullis is promoted to Lieut. and Acting Adjutant.

The scale of the casualties had overwhelmed the medical service adding to the suffering of the men along the entire evacuation chain from “Regimental Aid Posts” to “Dressing Stations”, “Ambulance Trains” and “Base Hospitals”.


Diary Page of Fred G. Ainge  a stretcher bearer attached to the 29th Division on 1st July 1916.

June 16.Hem to Arqueves.

June 18.diary7
Preparing for big attack.

June 30. Left for Trenches 9 p.m. Arr. Englebelmer 12 p.m. Heavy Shelling. Att. 29th Div.

July 1st Dawn. Big Attack all along the line. Food scarce.

July 2. Many dead and & wounded. Awful bombardment still on. Working day & night.

July 3. Colonel & Capt. Thomason wounded. Casualties in Amb. about 15. No luck on our Section. Newfoundland’s got an auful cutting up. German M. guns waiting for them. Terrible sights. Dead & wounded galore.

July 4. Thunderstorm. Dug-outs flooded. Wet Through. Left Trenches 11 p.m. for

 

 

 


 

Many wounded had laid out in the open for hours, and even days.  Numerous acts of heroism, both recorded and unrecorded, occurred as attempts to rescue the wounded under fire were made all along the Somme front.

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916

Still image from The Battle of the Somme showing a wounded soldier being carried through a trench. The accompanying title frame read:British Tommies rescuing a comrade under shell fire. (This man died 30 minutes after reaching the trenches.) © IWM (Q 79501)

Pte. 22678 Sidney Lawrence Dann, 1st Bn. Border Regiment, born Balham, family home Colliers Wood, suffered a compound fracture of his left leg due to gunshot wounds on 1st July 1916.  He had been transferred to Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot by 6th July 1916 but died of complications on 21st July 1916.  He was buried at Church Road Cemetery, Mitcham, on 26th July 1916.  Like, Isaiah Lemon, Sidney Dann had first joined the East Surreys when he volunteered on 6th September 1914 and was in the same group of men transferred to the Border Regiment late in 1915.

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Charles Lemon, brother of Isaiah Lemon killed as Y-Ravine, was in the Machine Gun Corps and his 14th Company MGC were positioned near Authuille Wood on the 1st July supporting the attack of the 1st Dorsets and 2nd Manchesters, not far from Lt. Henry Stewart Jackson and the 8th KOYL.

Leipzig_Salient_1_July_1916

Charles Lemon was an ex. East Surrey man, a pre-war regular and a veteran of Hill 60 from April 1915, and all his instincts were to try to the save lives of wounded men.  The part Charles Lemon played on 1st July 1916 become public knowledge when his story was reported in the local press much later in 1917.

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Official notice of his Military Medal first appeared in the London Gazette on 21st October 1916 to:

Lg_21_Oct_1916

There was no thought of halting the Somme offensive on the 2nd July 1916, there may have been some shuffling of the pack of senior commanders, but there was no time for major recriminations. The offensive was set to grind on until 18th November 1916.

Frederick Buckland’s war came to an end when he was killed in action on the Somme in unknown circumstances on 19th September 1916, somewhere near Bazentin-le-Grand, France. He was buried in the cemetery at Bottom Wood, just over a mile from where he died. Frederick’s remains would not be recovered until after the War, Bottom Wood was lost in the German Spring Offensive of 1918 and not recaptured until the last 100 days of the conflict. Frederick was re-buried in Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz.  His full story is at Summerstown182.

The immediate reaction in the press, not knowing of the scale of the casualties, had been patriotically positive.

click to view full size

But the stirring stories of advance and charges were soon replaced with fine words about duty and sacrifice as the papers throughout Britain printed page after page of casualty lists. There seemed to be no community in the country that was left untouched by first day of the Somme, and the home towns of the “Pals” Battalions were hard hit..

One remarkable event that took place during the first day of the Somme was the filming of Geoffrey Malins and John B. McDowell, two “Official Kinemaphotographers”.  The War Office had sanctioned and financially support the making of a film by “the British Topical Committee for War Films”.  John B. McDowell, a late replacement for the sick Edward Tong, had left to join Malins in France on 23rd June 1916.  Geoffrey Malins was attached to the 29th Division at Beaumont-Hamel were he captured the explosion of the Hawthorn Mine on camera, while John McDowell was attached to the 7th Division and filmed around Fricourt, Mametz and the “Minden Post” dressing station, near Carnoy.

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Malins (Left) & McDowell

Geoffrey Malins was involved in the editing of the film and his talent for self-publicity and ambition is said to have lead to some of McDowell’s work being left on the cutting floor. The book Malins’ book, “How I filmed the War …”, published in 1920, effectively wrote McDowell out of the history.

The silent black and white film that emerged from the editing process was in five reels and lasted 77 minutes with captions interspersed between the various scenes.  Lloyd George, who had become Secretary of State for War after Lord Kitchener’s drowning on 5th June 1916, was an enthusiastic supporter of the film which he saw in a private viewing on 2nd August 1916.  The first screening took place shortly after on 10th August 1916 at the Scala Theatre in London in front of a specially invited audience. The screening was preceded by the reading of a letter from Lloyd George, exhorting the audience to:

“see that this picture, which is in itself an epic of self-sacrifice and gallantry, reaches everyone. Herald the deeds of our brave men to the ends of the earth. This is your duty.”

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (HU 59419)

On 21 August, the film began showing simultaneously in thirty-four London cinemas and opened in provincial cities the following week.  People flocked to see the film, it was as close to the reality of war that audiences could get, the film makers had not flinched for showing the dead and wounded.  The film was seen by a staggering 20,000,000 Britons in the first six weeks of its release.

While some often referred to scenes of men attacking through barbed wire are acknowledged as re-enactments, audiences may not have realised that in one sequence of long shots, with troops moving right to left, some figures can be seen to fall. Their deaths had been captured on camera.

TRENCH WARFARE ON THE WESTERN FRONT DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR

A re-enacted scene © IWM (Q 70168)

 

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Still from authentic footage taken near Beaumont-Hamel. Figures in no man’s land can be seen to fall mid-picture.

The “Battle of the Somme” film produced some the most iconic and enduring images of the Great War.

Footnote 1:   The “Battle of the Somme” film can be viewed at the Imperial War Museum website, along with a detailed viewing guide.

Footnote 2:  Many of the film’s scenes and locations are traced in these two “Then and Now” videos:

“Z” DAY – The Infantry Attack

“Z” DAY,  The First Day of the Somme … 1st July 1916

Fricourt – 6.25am

Frederick Buckland’s howitzer battery work at furious pace to play their part in the intense bombardment of Fricourt in the hour before the Infantry go over the top. The battery’s four guns fire over a 120 shells in 65 minutes, at a rate of roughly 1 shell in every 30 seconds. The combined batteries of the 21st Division’s artillery fire over 2,000 rounds at Fricourt in this final violent crescendo. This intense shelling is replicated along the entire length of the offensive front from north to south.

Up and down the line, our Infantry assembled for the attack cowered and shuddered in their crowded trenches under the onslaught of the enemy’s shells. There is still an hour to endure …

The story of Mitcham’s men on the first day of the Somme is told in detail in this single map. Contemporary documents, photographs and eye-witness accounts are brought together across the battlefield from Gommecourt in the north to Carnoy in the south. The biographies of those who fought on that day bring their names to life again, placing them in the heart of battle.

Click the top right to explore the map in full size and its various layers. View the biographies of the casualties, the contemporary reports and accounts and landmarks. Visit the cemetery locations, as we remember the fallen of a hundred years ago today

Gommecourt – 6.25am

Men of the 56th Division had assembled in trenches in front of Gommecourt:

“I looked at my watch and found it was a minute or two before 6.25 A.M. I turned to the corporal, saying — “They’ll just about start now.” The words were not out of my mouth before the noise, which had increased a trifle during the last twenty minutes, suddenly swelled into a gigantic roar. Our guns had started. The din was so deafening that one could not hear the crash of German shells exploding in our own lines.

The larger shells kept up a continuous shrieking overhead, falling on the enemy’s trenches with the roar of a cataract, while every now and then a noise as of thunder sounded above all when our trench-mortar shells fell amongst the German wire, blowing it to bits, making holes like mine craters, and throwing dirt and even bits of metal into our own trenches. I turned to the corporal. He was a brave fellow,and had gone through the Gallipoli campaign, but he was shaking all over, and white as parchment. I expect that I was just the same.

Then, suddenly, there was a blinding “crash” just by us. We were covered in mud which lopped out of the trench, and the evil-smelling fumes of lyddite. The cry for stretcher-bearers was passed hurriedly up the line again. Followed “crash” after “crash,” and the pinging of shrapnel which flicked into the top of the trench, the purring noise of flying nose-caps and soft thudding sounds as they fell into the parapet. It was difficult to hear one another talking.” Lt. Edward G. D.Liveing, The Rangers.

Gommecourt – 7.30am

“The attack was about to begin — I arrived on top, looked down my line of men, swung my rifle forward as a signal, and started off at the prearranged walk.

A continuous hissing noise all around one, like a railway engine letting off steam, signified that the German machine-gunners had become aware of our advance. I nearly trod on a motionless form. It lay in a natural position, but the ashen face and fixed, fearful eyes told me that the man had just fallen. I did not recognise him then. I remember him now. He was one of my own platoon.

To go back for a minute. The scene that met my eyes as I stood on the parapet of our trench for that one second is almost indescribable. Just in front the ground was pitted by innumerable shell-holes. More holes opened suddenly every now and then. Here and there a few bodies lay about. Farther away, before our front line and in No Man’s Land, lay more. In the smoke one could distinguish the second line advancing. One man after another fell down in a seemingly natural manner, and the wave melted away. In the background, where ran the remains of the German lines and wire, there was a mass of smoke, the red of the shrapnel bursting amid it.” Lt. Edward G. D.Liveing, The Rangers.

Y-ravine – 7.20am

The Hawthorn mine is detonated at 7.20am about 400 yards north of the assembled troops opposite Y-ravine. The moment of the explosion is captured on photograph and is filmed by Geoffery Malins from “Jacob’s Ladder”. The 2nd Bn. South Wales Border Regiment make up the first wave. followed by the 1st Bn. Border Regiment and the 1st Bn. Newfoundland Regiment were the third wave.

Most of South Wales Borderers got entangled within the British wire and were mown down by German machine-guns:

“Directly the signal to advance was given we mounted the parapet. We met with a terrible fire from artillery, but it was the machine-gun fire which did the most damage in our ranks. But we continued to make good progress. Our officers displayed the greatest gallantry. One Lieutenant, an attached officer, urged us on in the most gallant fashion, and was himself twice shot, first in the leg and the second time in the body. It was just about this time that I myself was shot in the right arm and while I lay on the ground I could see the Germans turning their machine-guns on our wounded, whilst in some cases I actually saw the Germans bandaging our wounded. I determined myself to lay quiet until it was dark, and then attempt to crawl out of danger, and in this effort I succeeded. “ Private J. Tucker, 2nd South Wales Borderers.

Ovillers – 7.30am

“Time to attack, bombardment of the German trenches ceased. Whistles blew – and shouts of “Over the top you go” We clamber out of the trenches into No Man’s Land – rifles with fixed bayonets held across the chest – we advance slowly, 5 paces apart, look right, look left as far as the eye could see – one long line of men in khaki.

Immediately we had left our trenches we were met with concentrated – withering and murderous German machine gun fire. The Germans were very much alive. We were shocked and surprised at this coming from an enemy that had supposedly been “blasted out of existence”. A few yards in front of our own trenches my platoon officer and my sergeant had been killed. There was no one else to lead – so confusion – and consternation set in, but we still moved forward!

Under this machine gun fire our lines of khaki began to melt away. Those five paces became ten- twenty –thirty – fifty and as far as I could see, right or left, no one was moving forward or standing. Mid way between the trenches I knelt down beside a corporal and we both thought the situation was useless. Rifle, bayonet – and even bombs were no match for machine guns.” Walter Evans – 8th KOYLI

Carnoy – 7.30am

At 7.27am Captain Billie Neville, 8th East Surreys, stands on the parapet and kicks a football into no man’s land.

“Captain Neville had been out on night patrols through no man’s land and had seen what the artillery barrage had done or not done. The men were ordered not to stop for friends, to keep going. So Neville felt the footballs would take their minds off what was going on around them.”

An observer from the artillery, who was based at a forward post at the time, witnessed Neville’s attack.

“I saw an infantry man climb onto the parapet into No Man’s Land, beckoning others to follow As he did, so he kicked off a football. A good kick. The ball rose and travelled well towards the German line. That seemed to be the signal to advance, with the other men kicking the ball as they went”

No sooner had the East Surreys come out from cover than they were met by a staggering fire which held them up in the Breslau Trench.  Captain Neville was shot and killed encouraging the troops to continue the advance over the wire and into the German trenches.