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Remembered Today:

9th Devons, Mansel Copse 1st July 1916


oldtimer mac
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Dear All

I am researching the death of my great great uncle who died on the first day of the battle of the Somme.

He was in the 9th Devons.

On reading of the action and looking on the web I am unclear just as to the path the 9th Devons took.

Was their trench on the left or right of Mansel copse. Some accounts say they attacked from the left hand side of the copse yet another account says that they in fact attacked from their reserve trench which was on the right of Manse copse. They used this trench as their front line trench had been heavily bombarded.

Can anyone enlighten me?

Many thanks for any help I get.

Martin

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Hi

Hopefully you will be able to read from the attached image that the 9th Devonshires 1st line was in fact their reserve trench. This was further up the hill, behind Mansell Copse.

Kind regards

John

24254943752_f659fe7925_o.jpg

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Dear John,

Many thanks for the image of the details of the way the 9th Devons attacked. Where did that come From?

As I don't have any maps showing these reserve trenches I presume that the must have attacked with Mansel copse on their left.

Thank you so much for the information so far.

Regards

Martin

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Hi Jeremy,

Many thanks for the link I have ordered the book and look forward to reading it.

Regarding the naming of trenches I was given a link to your website for the names around Mansel Copse. On your site there is an image of the trench map and the only trench I couldn't find was Bond Street. Do you know where the Bond Street trench was located near Mansel Copse.

Must say I thoroughly enjoyed your web site.

regards

Martin

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Sorry Jeremy I think the trench might be Bold Street not Bond Street

Martin

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Hi Martin

The extract comes from the 20th Brigade Diaries. I have attached a map, also from those diaries, showing the trenches referenced in that extract.

Kind regards

John

24034928459_f4e7d352b7_o.jpg

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Hello Martin

My Granddad was in the same Batt. and was seriously wounded, we believe in the 1st July attack. I zee yoome in Deb'n like meselve, so I was wondering, was your relative a Devonian, and if so is he commemorated on a local war memorial?

Best of luck with the research.

Kind Regards

SGOB

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Hi SGOB,

Exeter has a war memorial for all that fell during WWI but there are no names on it.

However each parish church appears to have a plaque with the names on it and my man Pvt. A.J. Reed is on the plaque in St Michael's and All Saints Church in Heavitree.

He was born in Exeter and seems to have signed up in 1915.

now trying to work out which company and which platoon.

Regards

Martin

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Hi John,

You are an absolute star.

Many many thanks for the trench map details I now have all three trenches that

Pvt. Reed could have been in on the morning of the attack.

Many thanks again for that.

Now to work out which platoon and company he was in.

Cheers

Martin

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Am I reading the map above right?

I am assuming that the point where the Stokes mortar ammo was stored is Mansell Copse. If so, Devonshire Trench doesn't look like a support trench, but the fire trench.

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Hi Toby,

The Devonshires front line trench was badly hit prior to the day of the attack so the first wave on the 1st July started from the reserve trench. So the TM position is probably correct just prior to July 1st. But not sure.

Cheers

Martin

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Hello Martin

Would be very interested to know how you get on with Company and Platoon and what sources prove useful. I've made a half-hearted attempt with my Granddad but have drawn a blank so far. It has been said before that sometimes it's easier to research a soldier who died than one who survived, especially if all records were lost in WW2. Best of luck.

Kind Regards

SGOB

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Hi Jeremy,

Many thanks for the link I have ordered the book and look forward to reading it.

Regarding the naming of trenches I was given a link to your website for the names around Mansel Copse. On your site there is an image of the trench map and the only trench I couldn't find was Bond Street. Do you know where the Bond Street trench was located near Mansel Copse.

Must say I thoroughly enjoyed your web site.

regards

Martin

Hi Martin,

Many thanks for the kind comments. If you drop me an email via my site or a PM on the forum I'll send you some more maps that I gathered when working on the research for the Livens Flame Projector dig.

All best,

Jeremy

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Dear Jeremy,

Thank you for your kind offer of further possible maps.

I have emailed you via your website

Regards

Martin

Thanks

Martin


Dear all

Does anyone know how to find out what company and what platoon a soldier served in?

Thanks

Martin

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  • 2 weeks later...

Dear Ghazala,

Many thanks for the image you have posted.

regards

Martin

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  • 6 months later...
Guest AdrianYalland

Hi,

 

The Devons' "front line" ran in-front of Mansel Copse (and can still be seen about 10 feet inside) which is an L-shape. But it was badly shelled and was unusable, so the Devons advanced from their reserve trenches about 200m to the rear.  They initially entered no-mans land top at the top end of the L heading towards Hidden Wood using the wood as cover, but I think when reserves went in they varied their entrance to no-mans land. If you walk that terrain today the little copse directly in front of you was not  there on July 1st 1916, so the machine gunner in Shrine Alley had perfect sight from the bottom of the wood to the top.

 

I have attached details of those who are buried at Devonshire Cemetery - who with two exceptions are all Devons and all died on July 1st. There are two later burials.

I also wrote this recently which may be useful in terms of historical references.

 

Last week saw the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the Battle of the Somme. On 1st July 1916, at 7.30am, thousands of British Empire troops went “over the top” at the beginning of a four month offensive which saw over 1.2m Empire, French and German men killed or wounded, and which amidst the snows of winter, ground to a halt in November, the British having advanced just a few miles.

Men from Torbay and South Devon served in a number of regiments which saw action on the Somme. But perhaps the most famous are those who served in the 8th and 9th Devons, part of the 7th Division, who saw action on the southern part of the British sector, to the south-east of the Albert-Bapuame road, attacking the village of Mametz on July 1st, and later at High Wood.

The Devonshire Regiment had in fact been on the Somme since Summer 1915, with the 1st Battalion (serving in the 5th Division) stationed between Carnoy and Mametz, close to Fricourt, just a short distance to the south east of where Siegfried Sassoon and the Welch Fusiliers – the “regiment of poets” - were stationed at Bois Francais in a part of the sector where the trenches were so close together, you could hear the enemy talking. The 2nd Devons also served, attacking up “Mash Valley” towards the village of Ovillers, north of the Albert-Bapaume road on 1st July 1916, with 11 officers and 237 other ranks killed or missing, with five officers and 194 other ranks wounded. 33 Devonshires killed on July 1st 1916 lay in “Mash Valley” cemetery at Ovilleres, including a Private C J Wakeman from Brixham. 

But it is the 8th and 9th Devons, who went to the Somme in February 1916, and after the regiment had undergone a reorganisation, who perhaps unwittingly provided one of the most enduring tales of bravery and slaughter arising from the whole of the Great War, which is oddly almost unknown about outside the circles of historians.

Having been stationed in a front line trench in-front of a small copse on-top of a steep bank for some months, with the German front line about 200m in front of them, with support trenches and the heavily defended village of Mametz 800m beyond, the British bombardment of the German front line, which began a week prior to the “big push”, had wrought a fierce retaliation in their sector, destroying the Devons’ front-line trenches, meaning new support trenches had to be built some 250 yards to the rear, which became the trenches from which the Devons would now have to advance at zero-hour, July 1st

A Captain Duncan Martin, a native of Brockenhurst in Hampshire, and of the 9th Devons, having surveyed the topography, and reconnoitred the German trench system around Mametz, accurately predicted that the moment the Devons left the cover of the, now heavily bombed, front line trench, and emerged almost in single file around the perimeter of the small piece of woodland known as Mansell Copse, and advanced northwards down a slope and across the open Valle Saint-Martin towards Mametz, they would be exposed to rapid fire from a machine gun emplacement in “Shrine Alley”, a German reserve trench dug in front of a civilian cemetery on the outskirts of the village. About 600m away and directly in-front of Mansell Copse.

So concerned was Captain Martin for his troops, he made a model of the topography for his senior officers, pinpointed the exact location of the machine gun post and predicted the slaughter to come.

His concerns were simply ignored.

As Captain Martin blew his tin whistle at 07.27, and led 1st company of the 9th Devons out of the support trench and towards Mansell Copse, with the 2nd Gordons on his right, the 2nd Borders on his left and the 8th Devons in reserve, he would have known the moment he cleared Mansel Copse, dropped down the bank below the old British Front line, the “tak-tak-tak” of the German Maxim machine gun would soon take its toll.

He did not have to wait long. Within a few minutes, Captain Martin’s men of the 1st Company, 9th Devons, had arrived without loss in the front line trench, and were attempting to clear the copse through the bottleneck of the old trench and head down a slope towards an open valley, fully exposed to the machine gun at Shrine Alley less than half a mile away, on the other side of the valley. But they could not move. Those lucky to escape the bottle-neck of the trench were pinned-down in no-man’s land without any cover by the very machine gun Martin had identified as such a lethal threat to the Devons. Their difficulty in advancing and heavy loss of life allowed a gap in the line to open-up between the 9th Devons and the 2nd Gordon Highlanders on the right, and very few Devons made it to their objective – Danube Trench.

“The Bloody Eleventh” – the official history of the Devonshire Regiment, noted that the trenches in-front of Mametz were “thick with machine guns” and deep trenches which the seven-day, million-shell British bombardment had failed to dent. “It was disappointing that so many machine guns were still in action” it calmly states, before recording that “No.1 company, leading, was caught by the machine gun in Shrine Alley as it bunched to get around Mansell Copse and Captain Martin was first of the many to fall”.

And there were many who fell that day. So heavy was the loss of life that by 10.30am, two companies of the 8th Devons had been brought-up from reserve to fill the gaps left by their now dead or wounded fellow Devons, and to advance on the objectives of Danube and Tirpitz trenches - B Company filling-in between the Devons and the Gordons on the right, and D company between the Devons and the Borders on the left.

But B Company, also using the now treacherous Mansell Copse as cover to access the front line, were also pinned-down somewhere beyond the British front line, and had lost contact with HQ until 4pm, by which time they too had suffered heavy losses. Indeed by 4pm, all the officers of B company 8th Devons had been killed or wounded, and command was taken by CSM Holwill.

D company, led by Captain Mahaffy, also going around Mansell Copse, fared no better. He was seriously wounded almost immediately he cleared the copse. In the confusion, A company 8th Devons, led by 29 year old Captain Geoffrey Tregelles from Barnstaple seemingly took the initiative to also advance from the rear – possibly without being ordered to do so, and to huge loss of life, as he was killed along with most of his men as they tried to clear the killing-ground of Mansell Copse, which was now choked with the dead and dying.

By noon, every officer and NCO from 4th Company 9th Devons had also been killed. Taking personal command and to give orders to the few remaining uninjured men pinned-down by the Shrine Alley machine gun, Colonel Storey advanced to Mansell Copse and ordered a merger of the remaining men from A company 8th Devons with 4 company 9th Devons, putting a Lance Corporal Beale – the highest ranking officer available, in command.

By 3pm, but having taken their initial objective, the final reserves of C company 8th Devons, were ordered up the line, and orders were given to consolidate what was left of the 8th and 9th Devons that had gone over the top earlier that day. The Machine gun nest at Shrine Alley was finally silenced at 3.30pm, but other machine guns and German rifles continued to inflict heavy casualties for several more hours.

A Subaltern Duff recorded that, upon orders to advance and “find ‘A’ and ‘B’ company 8th Devons”, he “..discovered the remnants of ‘B’ in Mametz trench, Second-Lieutenant of Joseph of ‘C’, some ‘A’ Company men led by CSM Melhuish and a few 9th Devons. ‘C’ had got forward to an orchard SW of Mametz and with the Borders, taken about a hundred prisoners”. 

By 6pm, the Gordon Highlanders to the right had almost reached their objective, and to the left, the Borders had reached their objective and were consolidating their position. The Devons – or at least what was left of them, finally reached their objective and drove the Germans north out of their front line and reserve trenches and on towards the cover of Mametz Wood. 

The official history of the Devonshire Regiment records the following:

At last light the remnants of the two battalions were separated, reorganised and rolls called, and the cost of the day evaluated. The 8th had lost three officers and 47 men killed; seven officers and 151 men were wounded. In the 9th, 17 officers had become casualties of whom 10 were killed. 141 other ranks were killed, 55 were missing believed killed and 267 wounded – a total of 464 of the 775 who had assembled 11 hours before. The Devonshire Regiment began the advance at 7.30am with three full strength battalions; less than 12 hours later the equivalent of one full strength battalion had disappeared.”

Withdrawn from the line and rested, the Devons set themselves the task of burial detail. Collecting their dead from Mansell Copse and the open ground in-front between it and Mametz, they buried their comrades on July 4th 1916 in what was the badly bombed old front-line trench behind Mansell Copse, which had been consecrated by Revd. E C Crosse. That trench, now the Devonshire Cemetery, contains the bodies of 160 Devons who were killed on July 1st 1916, including Captain Martin and Captain Tregelles, 33 year old Private William Basset of 28 Wellesley Road Torquay, 19 year old Private William Browning of 25 Rosary Road, Torquay, 18 year old Private Sydney Hooper of 83 Babbacome Road Torquay, 37 year old Lance Corporal William Mayers, originally from Torquay but living in Plymouth, 29 year old Second-Lieutenant William Riddell of “Maysville”, Babbacome, Private HH Thomas of Brixham, and Private F H Bowden from Ashprington, Totnes.

Touched by the scale of their loss, and recounting their time in “holding” the trench for many months before the 1st July, the Devons carved an inscription on a wooden notice board saying;

“The Devonshires held this trench
The Devonshires hold it still”

The union Flag used to drape the bodies of the 160 men as they were interned was kept by the Padre and is now in the possession of the Imperial War Museum, and can still be seen on display to this day, a sacred relic of the sacrifice of that generation.

Among the dead which lay in the chalky soil of Picardy is the 23 year old war poet Lieutenant Noel Hodgson MC, 9th Battalion Devonshire Regiment, who was shot through the neck by a German machine gun, and who just weeks before his own death wrote his most famous work, the deeply prophetic “Before Action”, in which it seems he foresaw his own death – just perhaps as Captain Martin did. 


By all the glories of the day
And the cool evening's benison
By that last sunset touch that lay
Upon the hills when day was done,
By beauty lavishly outpoured
And blessings carelessly received,
By all the days that I have lived
Make me a soldier, O Lord.
By all of all man's hopes and fears
And all the wonders poets sing,
The laughter of unclouded years,
And every sad and lovely thing;
By the romantic ages stored
With high endeavour that was his,

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Welcome to the forum Adrian.  That is an excellent post.  Thank you for allowing us to read it.

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Brilliant post Adrian,

Many thanks for the extra information contained in it.  Absolutely brilliant.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Thanks, Adrian, a great post.

 

I shall try to dig-out an old scan I have (copied from an original photo once in the old Devons' archives at Exeter and now, presumably, somewhere at The Keep Museum in Dorset, which shows Devonshire Cemetery in the immediate post-war period. I recall one of the two Devon battalions' War Diaries tersely recording, on the 2nd or 3rd July if I'm correct, 'Burial Service, 6pm, Mansel Copse'.

It is quite an experience to shuffle one's way through the copse beyond the cemetery, where the twists and turns of the original front line are still clear to see.

 

Martin; Another useful source of information might be Tim Saunders' book 'Westcountry Regiments on The Somme'

 

Best wishes   

 

Andy

 

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HI Andy,

Thanks for the heads up on the Tim Saunders book. Happy to say I already have it.

Looking forward to seeing that photo scan you have.

 

Regards

Martin

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  • 1 month later...

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