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Remembered Today:

1st Hampshire Regiment at the Somme


meadowcroft
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My great uncle, William Owen Edwards, wounded 01 Jul 1916 and shipped home. Served in Labour Corps for rest of war after recuperation. His records are on Ancestry but wondered about the 1st Hampshires during this action. Read briefly that the regiment suffered high casualities.

Interested in Information about the Hampshire regiment on this tragic day.

Thank you

Meadowcroft

*initially posted this query in Soldiers forum in error

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M

If you google the Battle of Albert 1 July 1916 you should get some useful info. 1 Hants were part of 11 Brigade of 4 Division,and at the time with VIII Corps of the 4th Army. This whole Corps seemed to have a rough time as by the 4th July they were removed to the Reserve Army.

There will be a great deal of detail in the unit War Diary which is digital and purchaseable for GBP3.36 from the National Archives Catalogue,this covers the whole war and is referenced WO95/1485.Not sure how a Canadian will manage to carry out the purchase ! There might be someone here with a copy already who might share the relevant pages for early July 1916 with you.

Sotonmate

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Sotonmate

Have followed your tip and gone to the digital War Diary at National Archives. Purchased the diary which is a very large download, amounting to 618 pgs! Lots of reading ahead but look forward to the 01 Jul 1916 entries.

Wm Edwards suffered a gunshot wound to the leg and imagine he was able to crawl back to the trench after nightfall as the online references indicate some wounded soldiers did. The diary might reveal more about how the wounded were collected.

Thank you for your help as ever.

Meadowcroft

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Hi

From the Battalion War Diary:

July 1st

Great offensive begins – at 7’30.a.m. the whole line assaulted. The Brigade front line consisted of EAST LANCS. and SOMERSETS and the second line of the HAMPSHIRES and RIFLE BRIGADE. We had “A” Company, half “C” and “B” Coys in the front line – half of “C” Coy to look after an enemy trench on right flank and “D” Company in reserve. As soon as our troops left their trenches heavy machine gun fire was brought to bear on them from all directions and it was impossible even to reach the GERMAN front line. Our casualties in Officers amounted to 100% and was also very heavy in Other Ranks. After lying about in shell holes all the day the men came back to their original front line. That night the remains of the 11th.Brigade were relieved by the 10th.Brigade and went back to billets in MAILLY.

Regards,

Graeme

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Excerpt from Regimental History. Covers 2nd Hampshires too.

CHAPTER XIV

THE SOMME

The Opening Phases[1]

The great attack which opened on July 1st 1916 on a 25 mile front astride the Somme was undertaken at a time and in a locality dictated rather by French interests and considerations than by British. Left to himself Sir Douglas Haig would have deferred attacking till his preparations and the training of some of his troops were more complete, possibly till he could use the new weapon, the ' tank ', of which so much was expected by those in the secret of it: he would certainly have chosen a different front.[2] On the open downland of the Somme area, over and above certain tactical disadvantages and the lack of roads, rail­ways and housing, our intentions had been impossible to conceal, the manifold administrative measures involved in the assembly of so large a force had been obvious, the construction of camps and the improvement of the communications and of the very inadequate water supply could not be hidden to the degree of which other areas might have allowed. Consequently surprise, so essential to the success of an offensive, had been lacking, except on the British right and where the French attacked, and there surprise had much to do with the success achieved: between Fricourt and Serre, where the British centre and left attacked, the Germans were expecting an attack; they were fully prepared and, effective as our bombardment had on the whole been, their counter-measures were ready; if any element of surprise came in, it was the efficacy of the deep dug-outs in which most of their trench garrisons had found safety and shelter during the bombardment.

North of the Ancre the Fourth and Twenty-Ninth Divisions were facing defences as strong or stronger than anywhere else and the task before these Divisions was difficult and formidable in the extreme. For many months the Germans had been in position here and had benefitted by the natural difficulties of the ground to construct a veritable fortress, almost warranting the epithet ' impregnable '.

The German lines here ran Northward along a ridge from which spurs projected SE. towards the Ancre, shallow valleys between them giving cover for supports and reserves. Here the key to the position was the strongly fortified Beaumont Hamel. That village confronted the Twenty-Ninth Division's left brigade, the 86th, which had to advance along a spur known as Hawthorn Ridge, while its right brigade, the 87th, faced the Southern side of a salient round the head of the deep depression known as Y Ravine, the 88th Brigade being in reserve. Beyond the Division's left was the Fourth Division, whose 11th Brigade, reinforced by two battalions of the Forty-Eighth Division, was attacking North of Beaumont Hamel, where two redoubts, Ridge Redoubt and the Quadrilateral, were particularly strong. It was hoped that the brigade would reach Munich Trench, 1,000 yards behind the front line, where the supporting brigades, the 10th and 12th, would go through it. On the Fourth Division's left the Thirty-First, also part of the Eighth Corps, had the village of Serre as its objective. No Man's Land, 500 yards wide South of Beaumont Hamel, was half that width further North, but it was bare of cover and the German defences were well-sited and constructed, while in places the slope of the ground had made it very difficult for our guns, and particularly the heavier pieces, to bring their fire to bear on them. Observation of our fire had not been easy and our bombardment, despite its volume, had not fulfilled expectations. It had neither silenced the enemy's batteries, subdued his machine-guns nor shattered his defences, if his wire had been well cut.[3] If hopes were high, those who had had a close view could not avoid some misgivings after the volume of machine-gun fire provoked by a discharge of smoke after the fourth day of the bombardment.

The Fourth Division had had no serious fighting since moving to the Somme and, thanks to this respite from heavy casualties and the changes consequent on them, its battalions had fully recovered from their losses and shattering experiences in 'Second Ypres'. They had had ample time to assimilate their drafts and to recover their cohesion. It has been well said[4] that the Division was as 'fighting fit as at any time in its existence', and the 1st Hampshire had never been as near again to their August 1914 standard. It was the more un­fortunate that the task set to the Division proved to be more than any infantry could have accomplished.

It had unfortunately been decided to fire a big mine under the German redoubt on Hawthorn Ridge at 7.20 a.m., ten minutes before 'Zero'. This gave away completely the one thing the Germans did not know, the exact time of our attack, and as simultaneously our heavy guns ' lifted' off the front line, the defenders had ample time to swarm up from the safety of their undamaged deep dug-outs, to get their machine-guns into place and to man their parapets just as our heavily-laden infantry began crossing No Man's Land, while their barrage came crashing down, many batteries hitherto deliberately silent and therefore unlocated and undamaged joining in.

The 1st Hampshire,[5] following the East Lancashire on the 11th Brigade's right, went forward at 7.40 a.m., before which the East Lancashire had already been almost wiped out, less by the barrage than by the deadlier machine-guns in Ridge Redoubt, which swept both No Man's Land and the British front trenches, mowing the attackers down wholesale. Hardly any East Lancashire reached the German trenches and they were too few to achieve anything. The Hampshire had A, B and half C Companies in front line, the rest of C being detailed to deal with a trench on the right flank, while D was in reserve. Plung­ing forward into the deadly hail of fire they fared no better than their pre­decessors, gallantly as they advanced; Colonel Palk[6] being among the many who fell before they could get half-way across. A few bombers are reported to have got into the enemy's line, but the majority of the Hampshire were brought down at or short of the wire, only a few reaching it, and the survivors could only seek the poor shelter of the shell-holes which pitted No Man's Land. Here they had to lie for hours, mixed up with the East Lancashire, pinned to the ground, unable to move and with little chance to hit back. Captain Fawkes[7], though badly wounded and unable to get on, did great work in encouraging his men, while 2/Lt. Money[8] and C.S.M. Palmer[9] also showed conspicuous gallantry, keeping their men together and setting a fine example[10] during this long and trying ordeal.

Better fortune had attended the left of the nth Brigade, who got rather more shelter from the ground, and despite heavy losses a fair number entered the German lines, carried the Quadrilateral and even reached the back trenches of the front system. Some of the 10th and 12th Brigades also got across and in places pushed on still further and for the moment a lodgement seemed to have been made which might be developed, heavy though losses had been. However, nothing could be done to shift those defenders who were facing the survivors of the Hampshire and both flanks of the lodgement were exposed; on the left the handfuls of the Thirty-First Division who had succeeded in entering the German lines had been speedily overwhelmed, while not only had the nth Brigade's right been checked but hardly any of the Twenty-Ninth Divi­sion's left brigade had got in, though the mine crater at the Hawthorn Redoubt was in our hands. The Germans could therefore concentrate their attention on dislodging those of the Fourth Division who had penetrated into their position.

Of the Twenty-Ninth Division not only had both attacking brigades been engaged without avail, the 88th's leading battalions, the Essex and the New­foundland Regiment, had also gone forward, with equally disastrous results. However, their fate had caused the Divisional commander to stop the 2nd Hampshire and the Worcestershire from advancing beyond our own lines, where they came under artillery fire but escaped serious exposure to the machine-guns. To support the Fourth Division it was now proposed to utilize these two battalions in a fresh attack upon Beaumont Hamel, while such of the 10th Brigade as was still in hand advanced on their left. Terribly congested trenches prevented this attack from being started at the time ordered, 12.30 p.m.; indeed, the orders never reached the 2nd Hampshire till long after that hour, and eventually the plan was abandoned and further fruitless sacrifice avoided. The 2nd Hampshire remained therefore in our own lines.

Our artillery did their best to help the Fourth Division to hang on, but the pressure on those across No Man's Land steadily increased, to reinforce them and to get ammunition and bombs across to them proved almost impossible in face of the barrage and the machine-guns, and after a stubborn resistance they were gradually forced back till at midnight we only retained the Quadrilateral. Elsewhere on the Eighth Corps' front the Germans contented themselves with having held their positions and did not attempt anything against the sur­vivors lying out in No Man's Land. Indeed for some time our stretcher-bearers were able to go out unhindered into the open to bring in the wounded, in which work Sergeant Bone and Private Pidgeley[11] were conspicuous, carrying on even when the Germans resumed shelling in response to our renewing our bombard­ment.

With darkness the survivors[12] from No Man's Land could get back to our line, bringing with them many of the wounded, and what remained of the attacking battalions could be collected and to some degree reorganized. The 2nd Hamp­shire and the Worcestershire took over the Division's frontage, much damaged by the counter-bombardment and needing much reconstruction. During the night parties were hard at work bringing in the wounded, Privates Barton, Morgan and Parkinson displaying the greatest devotion,[13] while Pte. Mildenhall was constantly out in No Man's Land, bandaging and assisting the wounded, the Germans making little effort to interfere, even next morning, though they would not let our stretcher-bearers bring in those close to their wire.[14]

The Eighth Corps' losses had been terrible, heavier than any other Corps suffered, nearly 6ooo in the Fourth Division, well over 5000 in the Twenty-Ninth and 3600 in the Thirty-First; and in the end it had nothing to show for them, as the untenable lodgement in the Quadrilateral was evacuated by order early on July 2nd. The 1st Hampshire indeed had had their worst experience of the war, comparable to the 2nd Battalion's ordeal at Cape Helles on August 6th, 1915: Second Ypres had hit them hard, July 1st 1916 had cost them eleven officers and 310 men killed and missing, 15 officers and 250 men wounded. Colonel Palk's loss was very deeply regretted. A tower of strength from Le Cateau onwards, where his coolness and calm had been an inspiration to many who were enduring their 'baptism of fire', he had taken over after Colonel Hicks had been wounded on May 8th and had been in command in the closing stages of Second Ypres and at the International Trench, where he and his men had earned the warmest praise from all above them. An officer has written of him: 'He was a great character. He used to read Gibbon to his junior officers and spoke French and German fluently. The first time I met him he said, " There are three things I will never have said to me: 'it always 'as been done, Sir'; 'never 'as been done, Sir ' and 'I thought'. It is your business to know and to act' ". He was often a thorn in the side of the Division and the senior Staff officers did not like him. He was utterly outspoken and feared nobody. He was a magnificent regimental officer, fresh and amusing, and was revered by the men '. A shrewd judge of men, kindly but firm, he was one who could ill be spared: ' the men would have followed him anywhere '. A battalion which had had two such C.O's as Colonels Hicks and Palk had been fortunate. With him had fallen Captain Bonham-Carter, the only other officer with the South African war medals, Lts. Adams and Price, 2/Lts. H. Alexander, N. H. Bell, Bramble, Cane, Goodford, Nixon[15], F. P. Thompson and Westmore. The officers wounded were Captains K. A. Johnston, Hume, Wyld[16] and Fawkes, Lt. Shearer, 2/Lts. D. Day, Doyle, P. J. Hall, Harding, Hiddingh, Jacob, Newnham, Sims, Sweetenham and Welhams.

The 2nd Battalion had got off with trifling loss, two killed and 2/Lt. Riggs and twenty men wounded, but during the next ten days 2/Lt. Counsell and 13 men were killed and 2/Lts. Black and Tilley and 84 men wounded. These days were spent in front line at Mary Redan, repairing much damaged trenches under persistent shell fire. Large quantities of arms and equipment were recovered from No Man's Land and many dead buried, while another 60 wounded were brought in, all at night.

The battalion went out of the line on July 10th but sent 28 men under Cap­tain Arnell up to try a raid near Y Ravine on July 14th. The raiders reached the wire and were making their way through when they came under heavy fire and bombing. They replied vigorously with rifles and bombs for 15 minutes but then had to fall back. Two wounded were brought in, but Captain Arnell and three others were missing, believed killed, while next day a party carrying a gas cylinder up to the line was caught by a H.E. shell in Auchonvillers and had 25 casualties, seven fatal, so that the month's casualties came to 150.

[1] See Sketch 31 (p. 181).

[2] The late hour chosen for the attack, 7.30 a.m., was also insisted upon by the French. Sir Douglas Haig would have attacked before it was light enough for the enemy's machine gunners to see their targets clearly, a plan to be adopted with good results on July 14th.

[3] The full strength of the German defences at this point, in particular of their deep dug-outs was not revealed till the capture of Beaumont Hamel in November.

[4] Official History, 1916, I. 426.

[5] Even before the attack started our own 'shorts' had buried a section of one platoon and it took nearly an hour to dig them out.

[6] He went forward carrying only a stick and was very soon hit: he was brought in but died in fee CCS that morning.

[7] Lt (temp Capt) Cyril Dalton Fawkes, 1st Hampshire Regt., was awarded an MC for his conduct on 1st July 1916. The citation in the London Gazette of 22nd September 1916 reads: For conspicuous gallantry in action. Though badly wounded early in the attack and unable to get on, he continued to encourage and cheer his men.

[8] 2nd Lt Guy Douglas Clifford Money, 1st Hampshire Regt., was awarded an MC for his conduct on 1st July 1916. The citation in the London Gazette of 22nd September 1916 reads: For conspicuous gallantry in action. He kept his men together and led them into action under heavy machine-gun, shell and rifle fire. He showed the. greatest coolness, and did fine work throughout the day.

[9] 5395 CSM John Palmer, 1st Hampshire Regt., was awarded an MC for his conduct on 1st July 1916. The citation in the London Gazette of 22nd September 1916 reads: For conspicuous gallantry in action. When all his company officers had become casualties he took aommand, led on the men, and set a splendid example.

[10] All three received the M.C

[11] Of the 1st Hampshire. Both received the D.C.M.

[12] Soon after 10 p.m. it was dark enough for this, and though the Germans had put down a barrage about 9.45 p.m. this had stopped after half an hour.

[13] They received the M.M.

[14] These were mostly made prisoners.

[15] With the Brigade Trench Mortar Battery.

[16] He lost a leg.

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Graeme:

The handwriting in his Service Record is difficult to decipher but I think he may have been in "D" company, as you indicate held in reserve. In some ways it probably accounted for his survival although he had a clear view of what awaited him.

Thank you for your help.

Meadowcroft

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BMac:

An incredible account of the battle and an electrifying read. I am grateful for your post. It says it all, doesn't it?

Thank you.

Meadowcroft

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