Thursday 29 September 2016

Day Ninety One on the Somme

Friday 29th September 1916: From our Correspondent in the Field

All day your correspondent has been wondering about the fate of the 7th Bedfords at the Schwaben Redoubt. This eveing I have heard from Colonel Price: “At 7.15 last night the clearing up of a trench between Points 15 and 19 was taken in hand by a platoon of D Company under Lieutenant Douglas Keep (brother of Leslie)(1) but was held up by strong resistence on the enemy's part and a lack of bombs, and it was not until 9.30, when bombs and reinforcements were sent up that Lieutenant Keep managed to win through and join hands with a party of the West Yorkshires, who had been holding Point 19 and had established bombing stops in and around Point 39”.

“It was at 11.30 pm that the situation in the square formed by Points 22, 45, 19, 86, 95, 13 was showed that it was definitely held by our men, with bombing points round Point 39 and west of Point 86. All night there were constant bombing fights north of Point 45, the Boches coming out of their dug-outs in the second line. About midnight the trench between Points 45 and 19 was reinforced by men of D Company and some West Yorkshires, as it appeared to be too lightly held”.

“In order to ensure that the men, who were very weary, were kept on the alert the square above mentioned was continually patrolled by two officers in reliefs starting from 11.30 to 1 a.m. Captain Colley and Lieutenant Douglas Keep; 1 to 3 Lieutenant Brawn, Company Sergeant Major Hall; 3 to 5 Second Lieutenant Cartwright and Company Sergeant Major Brand”.

“Point 39 was held all night but was lost about the time the relief took place - the Boche making a strong counter-attack with bombs under cover of a smoke cloud. At 6 a.m. the 7th Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment relieved the Bedfords and the West Yorkshires, Lieutenant Keep taking B Company Royal West Kents up the trench between Points 86 and 19 with their right on Point 19 and Captain Leslie Keep taking C Company of the West Kents along the trench between Points 13-22-45-19. On arrival at Point 19 it was found Point 30 had been evacuated but a bombing point had been established along the trench between Points 19 and 39. Point 39 was held by bombers of the West Yorkshires under their Battalion Bombing Officer. Lieutenant Keep and Second Lieutenant Brawn personally saw to the relief and the posting of sentries in both trenches. Captain Keep did not leave the position until 9 a.m.”

The Colonel then went on to mention some good work by his adjutant: “During this attack Captain Bridcutt, who was observing the operations through a very excellent Boche periscope, noticed that the Boches had run down the front and intermediate trench between Points 91 and 29, had lined their parados and shot into the left flank of the advancing troops. All available men consisting of servants, runners, signallers etc. were lined up in front of the Battalion Head Quarters and commenced rapid fire into the flank of the Boche doing great execution and causing them to retire hastily”.

Second Lieutenant Thomas Percy Wilson

As I write this the Battalion is in the ruins of Thiepval serving as a reserve. It seems as if 43 officers and men were killed yesterday, or have since died of wounds. Added to the 51 men killed on 26th and 27th this makes a total of 94 for the two days – close to the casualty figure for their action on the 1st July. Four officers were killed yesterday: Second Lieutenant Cedric Howard of 10 Cutcliff Place, Bedford; Second Lieutenant Robert Hunston from Birmingham; Second Lieutenant Herbert Merchant from 134 Castle Street, Luton and Second Lieutenant Thomas Percy Wilson(2).

A number of congratulatory telegrams have been received. Sir Hubert Gough, commanding Reserve Army has written to Major-General Maxse, commanding 18th Division: “Congratulate you very heartily on success of today's attack as well as of previous operations. Reflects greatest credit on you and your troops”. The commander of II Corps has written: “The Corps Commander again thanks and congratulates all ranks of 18th Division on further gallant and successful work today. He specially commends the good organisation, training and Staff work displayed and the methodical and determined manner in which all orders and plans have been carried out and all prearranged objectives reached and consolidated”. Touchingly General Plumer, of 2nd Army, under whose command the division briefly fell after removing from the Somme at the end of July has written: “Many congratulations to you and your Division from Commander and Staff, Second Army”.

General Maxse has made it known to the division that the Commander-in-Chief himself, Sir Douglas Haig, called on him at his headquarters to congratulate the division on its success.

A vicious fight has been going on all day at the Schwaben Redoubt. 11th Division has made further attacks today, clearing most of Hessian Trench but failing to take Stuff Redoubt. 

Source: X550/8/1

(1) Douglas Keep would be killed at Zillebeke Lake near Ypres on 14th July 1917 and is buried in Reninghelst New Military Cemetery.
(2) Second Lieutenant Merchant’s body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. The other three are buried in Mill Road Cemetery.

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