Tuesday 6 September 2016

Day Sixty Eight on the Somme

6th September 1916: From our Correspondent in the Field

Sadly the attack on the high ground near Ginchy yesterday failed, due to wire entanglements in the high corn, which had not been seen. I have spent a good part of the morning with the 1st Battalion, who have now been relieved from the front line by 56th (London) Division. This is despite a German counterattack which has led to delays meaning that some of units of the division are yet to be relieved.

The adjutant told me that they went into action with 20 Officers and 610 other ranks, and came out having lost 17 Officers and 289 other ranks, the majority of them wounded. He was grimly satisfied that they had fully succeeded in gaining their objective and had facilitated the advance on either flank.

Part of this satisfaction was due to adverse circumstances. The Battalion started with full water bottles on the afternoon of the 3rd and were only able to obtain water again on the morning of the 5th. During during this time they made an attack across the open and the following afternoon made another successful attack. Soldiers to whom I have spoken after going into action rate having drinking water more highly than anything else, except having sufficient ammunition.

The adjutant told me: “This lack of water was to a certain extent eked out by soda water, of which the German dug-outs were found to be well supplied when captured”.

The commanding officer, Colonel Allason, himself wounded, then took up the story: Sergeant Bush, the Battalion Signalling Sergeant, kept up communication between Brigade and Battalion Headquarters by telephone throughout the operations, except for short intervals(1). There were two intermediate stations for repair of line if that proved necessary and orderlies were able to follow the line to carry important messages”. His pride at this efficiency was underlined by the failure of others, as he told me ruefully: “This was not done by a Brigade Orderly carrying 15th Brigade operational order of 5th September, ordering an attack at once by night on Falfemont Farm. It was sent out at 12.30 a.m., and only received at 8.0 a.m, too late to be acted upon. By night a telephone line or even string will enable orderlies to find their way however intricate the country may be”.

He went on to say that after any battle lessons can always be learned, for example: “The necessity of giving Battalion Commanders more time to communicate their orders to subordinates. Not many Battalions could have moved off from a long line of trenches to assault a strong position 1,000 yards distant within a quarter of an hour of receipt” as, of course, his men had done.

The colonel than went on to praise Captain W H L Barnett: “Temporary Captain Barnett led the leading Company and directed those following in a masterly manner, after passing through the trenches of our front line, some 500 yards from where we started, they finished up, each Company, a formed unit on their objective. A previous attack that morning had failed and the temptation must have been great for men to drop into the front line trench and start firing”.

“Temporary Captain Barnett's Company also led the attack on the 4th against German position north-west of Falfemont Farm, under peculiarly difficult circumstances. His Company had been under our own barrage fire from daylight till 3.10 p.m., the last portion of which was intense. Many men had been killed and many buried. It was only by constant digging in that any survived, yet the assault was carried out with the utmost vigour. The capture gained the whole ridge and by drawing off German troops from the nearby quarry enabled the 95th Brigade to reach Leuze Wood practically unopposed that evening. It also indirectly facilitated the advance of the French troops”. The colonel told me that he has recommended decorations for both Captain Barnett and Temporray Captain West.

Though the 1st Bedfords are now behind the front lines, the fighting continues. 7th Division is still locked in a battle to take possession of Ginchy. After rain in the last few days the whole battlefield has become very muddy, which hampers any forward movement. So far, we understand, the village is still in German hands.

Sources: X550/2/5

(1) Sergeant James Bush from Bishop’s Stortford [Hertfordshire] was killed on 8th October 1917 and is buried at Hooge Crater Cemetery near Ypres.

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