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Remembered Today:

Moving casualties through the trench systems

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I'm trying to get an idea of how the casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme who were taken off the battlefield would have specifically affected movement in the trenches -  and have read that wounded were given third priority after ammunitions and reinforcements. Can anyone enlighten me? Any further reading would be great too.


Many thanks



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The OH refers to 'congestion in the trenches' hampering the deployment of reserve battalions on a number of occasions.


Many units were cut down before they reached the British front line, for example the Reserve brigade of 34th Division attacking La Boiselle; the 2/West Yorkshire lost 250 men in the German Artillery barrage on the British front line.  Walking wounded who made it back to the front line 'streamed back' through the communication trenches seeking medical assistance.  Reserve units ordered forward were often obliged to advance in the open and became easy targets adding to the wounded and general confusion.


There were hundreds, in some sectors thousands of wounded in or close to the British front line.  It was impossible to collect the wounded from No Man's Land and the wounded spent the day in shell holes or what cover they could find, starting to come in after dark. A soldier who walked across the battlefield weeks later noted many more simply 'wrapped their waterproof sheet around them, took out their Bible and died like that'.

The last of the wounded were not received in a medical facility until July 4.


I'm not sure about the statement, the 'wounded were given third priority' but it makes little sense. The wounded were 'streaming back'  while 'reinforcements' were attempting to move forward. As in any similar situation this inevitably led to the 'congestion' described in the Official History.


One description was left in the diary of Sergeant Major Ernest Shepherd 1st Dorsets who wrote:-


" Lots of casualties in my trench. The enemy are enfiladingus with heavy shell, dropping straight on us.  A complete trench mortar battery killed by one shell, scores of dead and badly wounded in the trench, now1p.m. Every move we make brings intense fire, as trenches so badly battered the enemy can see all our movements.  Lot of wounded in front we got in, several were hit again and killed in trench.  We put as many wounded as possible in the best spot in the trench and I sent a lot down, but I had so many of my own men killed and wounded after a time I could no longer do this.  Sent urgent messages to Brigade asking for RAMC bearers to be sent but none came although Brigade said they had been despatched.  Meanwhile the enemy deliberately shelled the wounded between the trenches with shrapnel, thus killing, or wounding again most of them."


That said there was no single experience of th 1st July and different problems and a few successes occurred as the attack developed.


Edited by kenf48
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This is why the Great War Forum is so brilliant for those of us wandering around the trenches in confusion - thank you Ken!

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