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Gommecourt Remembered


pagius
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I've just been looking at the British Legion's 'Remember the Somme' app http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/community/news/remembrance/legion-encourages-communities-to-remember-the-battle-of-the-somme/ and was very disappointed to see the diversionary attack on Gommecourt dismissed in two short sentences under '01 July North' .

I had a great-uncle in the QVRs killed in the first wave , and another g-uncle Capt Arthur Agius is extensively quoted in Lyn MacDonald's 'Somme' and also in the main reference work on 56th Division Pro Patria Mori.

I'll use this thread to bring the attack on Gommecourt to mind so that we can justly commemorate it. I very much hope that it won't be forgotten about in all the events on July 1st.

For now here's a link to the excellent master reference site on Gommecourt ....

http://www.gommecourt.co.uk/index.htm

The 56th Division front lines in May 1916 before the forward trenches were dug (which we'll come to later in May)...

(1916 overlaid on today's aerial view)

3a-Both-2.jpg

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An area I know well. Have to say over the years have seen more Brits here finally breaking out of the invisible block at Serre. It's not forgotten.

TT

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An area I know well. Have to say over the years have seen more Brits here finally breaking out of the invisible block at Serre. It's not forgotten.

TT

Thanks for your support. To be honest I hadn't heard of Gommecourt before 2013 when I started researching my g-uncles WW1 stories prior to a battlefield tour and standing at the observation post on the road north out of Hebuterne looking across the field of battle. So I'm doing my best to call it to mind in a couple of family facebook groups (huge number of cousins in Malta!) and elsewhere.

When I was at the observation post 3 July 2013 with a small tour group I couldn't help overhearing a chap talking to a couple about the battle. He was clearly giving them a personalised tour of the battlefields. As I listened I realised he was recounting my Uncle Arthur's story as related in Lyn Macdonald's "Somme" so I was emboldened to step forward and introduce myself. It turned out he was one of Lyn's interview teams gathering material for her book. (Although she actually interviewed Uncle Arthur herself, around 1974 we think, and we have an audio cassette of the interview). He gave me his name at the end and wasn't until I looked him up back home that I discovered he was Martin Pegler , WW1 historian, and oft appeared on The Antiques Roadshow!

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Interested in your comment on Serre; could you expand a bit, please?

I think TT means that the Somme battlefront is often seen as stopping at Serre at its northern end (much as the British Legion app shows it) whereas it should include the 46th and 56th Divisions at Gommecourt.

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I shall be going to a talk on Gommecourt by the author of Pro Patria , in July. As an ex-London Scot, I am very much looking forward to it.

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I shall be going to a talk on Gommecourt by the author of Pro Patria , in July. As an ex-London Scot, I am very much looking forward to it.

Where is that going to be? Would love to go to it myself if it's not too far from the south coast!

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I guess Alan MacDonald is responsible for getting this page together.....

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Engagement_at_Gommecourt_(The_Somme_WWI)

(or perhaps not as he is spelt Mc on the wiki page but Mac on his own website and books !)

Edited by pagius
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Description of the field of Gommecourt in John Masefield's The Old Front Line https://archive.org/details/oldfrontline01mase

Those of our men who were in the line at Hebuterne, at the extreme northern end of the battlefield of the Somme, were opposite the enemy salient of Gommecourt. This was one of those projecting fortresses or flankers, like the Leipzig, Ovillers, and Fricourt, with which the enemy studded and strengthened his front line. It is doubtful if any point in the line in France was stronger than this point of Gommecourt. Those who visit it in future times may be surprised that such a place was so strong.
All the country there is gentler and less decided than in the southern parts of the battlefield. Hebuterne stands on a plateau-top; to the east of it there is a gentle dip down to a shallow hollow or valley; to the east of this again there is a gentle rise to higher ground, on which the village of Gommecourt stood. The church of Gommecourt is almost exactly one mile northeast and by north from the church at Hebuterne ; both churches being at the hearts of their villages.
Seen from our front line at Hebuterne, Gommecourt is little more than a few red-brick buildings, standing in woodland on a rise of ground. Wood hides the village to the north, the west,and the southwest. A big spur of woodland,known as Gommecourt Park, thrusts out boldly from the village towards the plateau on which the English lines stood. This spur, strongly fortified by the enemy, made the greater part of the salient in the enemy line. The landscape away from the wood is not in any way remarkable, except that it is open, and gentle, and on a generous scale. Looking north from our position at Hebuterne there is the snout of the woodland salient; looking south there is the green shallow shelving hollow or valley which made the No Man's Land for rather more than a mile. It is just such a gentle waterless hollow, like a dried-up river-bed, as one may see in several places in chalk country in England, but it is unenclosed land, and therefore more open and seemingly on a bigger scale than such a landscape would be in England, where most fields are small and fenced. Our old front line runs where the ground shelves or glides down into the valley; the enemy front line runs along the gentle rise up from the valley. The lines face each other across the slopes. To the south, the slope on which the enemy line stands is very slight.
The impression given by this tract of land once held by the enemy is one of graceful gentleness. The wood on the little spur, even now,has something green about it. The village,once almost within the wood, wrecked to shatters as it is, has still a charm of situation. In the distance behind Gommecourt there is some ill-defined rising ground forming gullies and ravines. On these rises are some dark clumps of woodland, one of them called after the nightingales, which perhaps sing there this year, in what is left of their home. There is nothing now to show that this quiet landscape was one of the tragical places of this war.
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Thank you very much for the posting above. I am very familiar with the geograpjy around G. and it is a perfect description. These kind of accounts are fascinating. Even my "favorite" wood is mentioned:Wäldchen 125

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Pagius

Thanks for the above post. My wifes grandfather (CSM J.B. Hill DCM) was at Gommecourt with the Queens Westminster Rifles and the map overlay is the same as an original linen map we have. Where would I find photos of Gommecourt and Hebuterne post battle? Thought I had a couple but if I have I can't put my hands on them.

Thanks

Simon

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Pagius

Thanks for the above post. My wifes grandfather (CSM J.B. Hill DCM) was at Gommecourt with the Queens Westminster Rifles and the map overlay is the same as an original linen map we have. Where would I find photos of Gommecourt and Hebuterne post battle? Thought I had a couple but if I have I can't put my hands on them.

Thanks

Simon

Hi Simon

I'll continue to post a number of Gommecourt related items on here in the coming weeks but your starting point should be Alan MacDonald's "Pro Patria Mori" if you haven't got it already. It really is a masterpiece of research and not only is it the ultimate reference on the 56th division but also very readable. I'm currently following the diary day by day as it builds up to July 1st.

I'm daily following Capt Arthur Agius's letters which I'm posting to http://agiusww1.com/ and the diary of Sgt Walter Davis http://walterdavisww1diaries.blogspot.co.uk/ both of which are very much a 1/3rd London view of things.

So now following the bigger picture in Pro Patria Mori. Most days get a half page or full page of fascinating detail.

I agree with Alan MacDonald that Gommecourt is very much the forgotten action in all talk of The Somme and those of us with a personal connection to the heroes of 100 years ago would do well to promote it to all and sundry.

I have recently had an email dialogue with 'Commemorative Events Communication Officer' of the Royal British Legion for dismissing Gommecourt in their tablet app Remember The Somme. Glossed over in two short sentences and no listing of the Order of Battle. Too late to correct (before July) but at least they are more aware of it now.

Peter

http://www.gommecourt.co.uk/book.htm

Edited by pagius
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When I visit the Somme we stay at Fonquevillers and Gommecourt is on the doorstep.

TT

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  • Admin

I have my eye on a new gite in Gommecourt (next to the Chateau) for next Aprils Western Front Visit

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  • 2 weeks later...

I will be there on July 1st as part of a group with Battle Honours Ltd, been many times before but obviously going to be special this year, as a keen researcher into all things Queen's Westminster Rifles I am looking forward to being on the spot for the anniversary, at least it's outside the exclusion zone.

Steve

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100 years ago tonight (25th May 1916) was the start of the exercise to construct advanced trenches 400 yards nearer the enemy lines under cover of darkness. Operational orders said that it was to be done in 'absolute silence' . 3000+ men digging 3000+ yards of new trench in silence! The new front was divided into 4 , A-D, with the 1/3rd Londons responsible for section C. Night one was when the taping parties went out to mark up the lines ready for the digging on the following night.

My great-uncle Arthur was interviewed by Lyn Macdonald in the 70s and his account of this night appeared in 'Somme' and then reproduced in 'Pro Patria Mori'.

The War Diary records that the 1/3rds completed this first part with no casualties.

Trench-Exercise-25-27-May-1916-2.jpg

Arthur-Lyn-Macdonald.jpg

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Hi It is anticipated thwent overat there will be a contingent of Great War Society living historians at Gommecourt on the 1st July when the trrops went over to commemorate sacrifice.

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Hi It is anticipated thwent overat there will be a contingent of Great War Society living historians at Gommecourt on the 1st July when the trrops went over to commemorate sacrifice.

That's good to hear. Hope that some record of the event (written, audio or video ) can be posted to GWF. My starting point in this thread is that the RBL's app 'Remember The Somme' virtually ignores Gommecourt .

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Hi, thanks for the map above.

Could someone point out where the 1/5 Cheshires would have been active during these preparations?

Or, being the divisional pioneers, would they have been digging all over the frontage?

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Hi, thanks for the map above.

Could someone point out where the 1/5 Cheshires would have been active during these preparations?

Or, being the divisional pioneers, would they have been digging all over the frontage?

Pro Patria Mori has a bit to say about the 1/5 Cheshires. It notes that on 27th May they were improving a communication trench started the night before but unclear which sector A-D they were in. It also notes that Pte Hugh Jones 1882 of the 1/5s was killed on 30th May and is buried at Hebuterne Military Cemetery.

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I started this thread because I was disappointed in how the action at Gommecourt was dismissed in the RBL app Remember the Somme.

But I am happy to report that we have a result and that the app has been updated. The page on Gommecourt now gives a fair summary of the 1st July action by 46th and 56th Divisions.

Dear Peter,

Thank you for your feedback regarding the Somme 100 app, which has been passed on to me by the Royal British Legion. I am the producer of the app and I'm grateful to you for taking the time to contact us regarding the action at Gommecourt.

In producing the content for our apps we are always looking to strike a balance in terms of the right amount of detail to include so as to satisfy those users looking for a brief overview of events and those, like yourself, looking for a more in depth approach.

In this case we agree that the action at Gommecourt was dealt with too briefly and have now extended the entry. If you shut down the app and relaunch it you will find the entry edited. The order of battle has also been added to the Battle of Albert section. Unfortunately due to the amount of space available on the tile we cannot change the title to Gommecourt but I feel the summary line makes clear where this action is taking place.

Thank you again for downloading the app and for your feedback.

Best wishes,

Cassie

Cassie Pope
Ballista Digital
Cumberland House, 80 Scrubs Lane, London NW10 6RF
It's still a bit tricky to navigate around the app but if you go to search and enter Gommecourt it will pop up.
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Peter, Great Post,

I am currently researching my Great Uncle, Private 1853 Charles Gordon Shaw 1/6th Battalion Notts & Derby Regt Sherwood Foresters. Charlie was mortally wounded on 1st July 1916 at the Battle of Gommecourt Wood; the research is in preparation for a forthcoming Commemoration Service that is being held in Chesterfield.

On the 11th July 2016 at 1400 Hours in the Christ Church, Stonegravels Church and Church Yard in Chesterfield, we will be holding a service to commemorate Great Uncle Charlie and the many other brave men and officers of the 1/6th (Chesterfield) Battalion of the Notts & Derby, Sherwood Foresters Regiment who died on that terrible day. As this July is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gommecourt Wood on the Somme and will be exactly 100 years to the day on the 11th when Charlie was buried in the Church Yard (how this came about is a marvelous story in itself). The service is being arranged by the Church Warden Mr John Holmes and will be attended by the Mayor of Chesterfield, The Royal British Legion Standard Bearers and Bugler, Shaw family members and family members of Sgt Dick Wagg who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for rescuing Lt. Wheatcroft the Platoon Officer, Charlie and Private Green whilst under heavy enemy fire. The Service will be officiated by the Honorary Padre of the Sherwood Foresters Regiment. After the service I will give a brief talk in the church explaining about Charlie’s and the 1/6th Battalion’s part in the Battle of Gommecourt Wood. It is likely that the Author Alan MacDonald will be there too, he wrote "A Lack of Offensive Spirit?" a brilliant book on that battle.

I have written up the full story of what happened but maybe that would be too long to put on the Forum.

My wife and I visited the Gommecourt Wood Battlefield last week and found the spot (as close as we could guesstimate it) where Charlie was hit by the nose cap of a German shrapnel shell in the stomach. We placed a couple of poppy crosses where we thought the position was between the old British Front Line trench and the New Front Line trench near Russian Sap No3 where Charlie and his Platoon go caught up on uncut British wire! Suprisingly just a yard to my wife's right I found lying in the mud a nose cap of a German shell we were amazed. I have bought it home an cleaned it up and I am very surprised by how heavy it is.

View%20East%20around%20the%20spot%20wher

Tina is looking up the field towards the top of the slope where the German Food and Fork trenches were. I walked up that very muddy slope to the top and again was surprised at how steep it was. A very sad and moving visit but we are so glad we went. We also located Lt Wheatcroft's grave at Warlincourt Halt, he was the Platoon Officer who told Sgt Wagg to "Fetch Shaw" from the wire after both had been wounded.

The people of Chesterfield especially haven't forgotten what their men folk did and went through that day, it's just a pity that Dan Snow (in one of his many WW1 documentaries) hasn't yet taken the opportunity to correct his Great Grandfather - Lt Gen Snow, who totally incorrectly wrote on 2nd July 1916 that the 46th Division had a lack of offensive spirit. That disgusting slur still hurts 100 years later.

Cheers

Ian

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I have written up the full story of what happened but maybe that would be too long to put on the Forum.

....

Would love to read the full story!

Sorry I'm not nearer Chesterfield (about as far away as you can get on the south coast!) else I'd join you on the 11th.

I had an exchange of emails with Alan MacDonald a couple of weeks ago. Great chap with his incredible research into the 46th and 56th divisions at Gommecourt.

I rather felt that as Dan Snow was supposedly the man behind the RBL app he was trying to say as little about Gommecourt and his great-grandfather Gen Snow as he could but at least the app writers have now gone a way to correcting the record.

We do well to commemorate as best we can what these brave men did 100 years ago. We are planning a big family service in October next year to mark my great-uncle's death at Poelcappelle (Passchendaele) at Downside Abbey in Somerset.

Peter

Edited by pagius
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