Sunday 3 July 2016

Day Three on the Somme

Monday 3rd July 1916 From our Correspondent in the Field

We have become used to battles in this war taking days, sometimes weeks. The current operations, over such a large area and with such huge numbers of men involved may even take months. This is the third day of operations and the adjutant of the 2nd Bedfords, near the Glatz Redoubt, immediately north of Maricourt, tells me that they have been consolidating positions under shellfire.

Meanwhile 27th Brigade of 9th Division made an advance just north of the 2nd Bedfords, towards a spearhead-shaped stand of trees called Trônes Wood, which they found occupied by the enemy. This wood lies on the east-west road from Guillemont to Montauban, the tip of its spear pointing due north to the village of Longueval. Meanwhile, the 7th Bedfords’ division (18th) occupied Caterpillar Wood in the early morning. This wood, so-called for its wriggling shape, lies north-west of Montauban, just beyond the targets set for the attack of the first day of the battle. It almost links up with the eastern face of Mametz Wood.

17th Division continued their attack of yesterday finally taking both Shelter and Bottom Woods south of Contalmaison. Birch Tree Wood, just north of Shelter Wood, was also taken. German counter-attacks were successfully beaten off. There are hopes that the village of Contalmaison might be quickly taken tomorrow.

Further west, 12th Division overran more than two hundred Germans in the vicinity of the hamlet of la Boisselle, which had been an objective of the first day of the battle. All these enemy combatants have been taken prisoner. The hamlet itself, however, remains in German hands. The neighbouring hamlet of Ovillers was also attacked (again an objective from the first day) but only limited progress was made.

Colonel Price, commanding officer of the 7th Bedfords, has been telling me more about their great triumph on 1st July. He particularly mentioned: “the wonderful steadiness and coolness of all ranks under heavy shell and machine gun fire. As the men worked practically without officers and the majority of their senior platoon and section commanders. A truly wonderful performance when it is taken into consideration that their training had not reached its second year”.

“Both during the preliminary bombardment, when the weather was very bad [at the end of June], and the men were living in trenches filled with water day and night and during and after making good their final objective, the cheeriness and high morale of all ranks was remarkable”. He tells me he has also recommended the following officers for special recognition:

  • Captain Bull: “who led the right attack with conspicuous gallantry, until severely wounded at the Maple Trench”(1);
  • Captain Lloyd: “who was in charge of the Support Company until very severely wounded at the Emden Trench”;
  • Captain and Acting Adjutant Bridcutt: “this officer was my right hand man previous to and during the assault. He took five German prisoners single handed and organized and led two bombing parties against  Montauban Avenue. He was tireless in seeing to the organisation of the strong points and arranging for the comfort of the men”(2);
  • Lieutenant Benson: “this officer never ceased in his exertions to keep up communications. The difficulty of laying down wires was enormous, for the enemy shell fire was heavy and the wires were continually being cut. His system of runners was very good but unfortunately the casualties among them were very heavy. Six separate efforts were made by him personally to lay wires while exposed to this fire but without success, until it had to be abandoned.
  • Lieutenant Fleming Brown: “this officer did remarkably good work as officer in charge of the machine guns. He personally superintended the placing of the machine guns in all strong points in the [captured] Redoubt, in Beetle Alley and in the New Trench. In addition he acted as orderly officer to me and rendered valuable assistance in letting me know the exact situation whenever it required clearing up”.
 Lieutenant Fleming Brown [X550/1/82]

Sources: X550/3/wd; X550/8/1

(1) He was killed at the Battle of Chérisy on 3rd May 1917 and is buried at Cérisy-Gailly French National Cemetery. He does not seem to have been awarded any gallantry medal.
(2) Killed on 1st October when a Lieutenant-Colonel commanding 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. He had been awarded the Distinguished Service Order and is buried at Dadizeele New British Cemetery.

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