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Remembered Today:

The NZEF 1st Auckland Infantry Battalion & the Flers Trench System – 17th & 18th of September 1916 - The Somme


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An interesting story of this day back in 1916 ... using a mash up of official history’s, the diaries of my grandfather (Cpl George McLaren 12/2419 – 1st Auckland Bombing Section) & that of Cpl George Hulme 5/123 – 1st Auckland Light Machine Gun Section.
On the 17th of September 1916, the 1st Auckland Infantry Battalion NZEF moved into the Flers and Flers Support trenches, taking over from a battalion of the NZ 3rd Rifle Brigade. Orders were issued for an attack on Goose Alley (further north west) , but after the preparations had been made these orders were cancelled, due to English Troops of the 47th Division being held up in the vicious fighting over High Wood on the “NZ Left”. This delay would not allow the whole front to move forward in a mutually supported line, so the attack was postponed.
With the attack cancelled and the Kiwi’s around Flers taking withering fire from High Wood and also from the Germans who were still in the same trench as them, the 1st Auckland Battalion dug in a parallel left, west facing defensive trench for security. This immediately attracted a German artillery response. Once secured, the 1st Aucklanders could start defending themselves from Germans in High Wood and those further along the Flers trench. To top it off … steady rain started.
“17 September 1916 – Sunday. We were to hop the parapet but put off on account of the Tommies on our left being held up. At 4pm Germans bombarding our front trench here. Looks as if he is going to attack. Come on Fritz. At 6.30pm had a bit of a dust up with the Germans on our left. I shot two, we killed about 6 all together”. Cpl George McLaren
“17th September 1916. We were told that we would be charging at 1.30pm. We had a lot of rum and our feelings were mixed. Just as we were going over, word was passed along that the charge had been cancelled. Word had not been sent more than half an hour, when the Germans started to shell us. A HE landed in the next batch to me, killing 3 & wounding 6 & so on during the rest of the day. The rain was coming down and we were wet through, our water bottles were empty and no rations had arrived.” Cpl George Hulme
The next morning of the 18th, after the 47th Division had won High Wood, men of the 1/15th battalion of the London Regiment slowly moved north clearing trenches and strong points. These units were decimated by the earlier High Wood fighting and making slow and difficult headway to catch up to the NZ lines. The Germans still held the juncture of the Flers Trenches and Drop Alley .. and it was the brave Londoners job to clean them out. The Germans strong points in the Flers Trench proved too much for the much reduced unit to conquer ... so the 1st Auckland Bombers were sent for.
“18 September 1916 – Monday. Had a terrible night. Wet and both sides bombardment. Tommies took the two trenches on our left and us bombers had to run across a 30 yards open stretch swept with machine guns. Colin got killed & Tod & Bill wounded. At present sitting in Germans dugout trying to sleep, wet & mud up to neck. 7pm, Frank & I buried poor old Colin. We put a cross over the spot as best we could & took his pay book & etc. Will send it to his people first chance.” Cpl George McLaren
“18 September 1916 – I was standing up on the hole we had dug in the parapet to fire from, when looking to my left I could see a company of men charging. It was just breaking dawn when they went across no-man’s land in great style. A little officer was leading them and shouting “Come on, Boys … stick them”. But the Germans had a strong position, and they took only a part of their objective. Our Bombers were sent for, to help the Tommies, whom I found out later were the 15th London Regiment. Our bombers went out over a blind sap & it was while rushing across a road that one of my good pals Colin Harrison was killed by a Germans machine gun, which caught him in the head & the heart. He had no sooner jumped onto the road with a bag of bombs, when he ran forward and fell into the trench on the other side & died. Colin was the first of the old Gallipoli section to be killed. Our Bombers went up the sap to where the Germans were & began bombing their strong hold. They began throwing their bombs over the heads of the Germans, cutting them off.” Cpl George Hulme
On the 19th the 1st Auckland Infantry Battalion was relieved and went back to Check, Savoy and Carlton trenches, and there they remained for several days, doing carrying and working parties. Just one small story of bravery and tragedy from the Battle of the Somme.
  • The Tommy officer leading the charge I think I have identified through some research as 2lt Bertram Knight Ware, "A" Company, 15th London Battalion. He would die in the same trench the next day (the 19th) in a German counter attack, after their Lewis guns and many rifles ceased to work, due to the ingress of mud. He was 30 years old.
  • Colin Harrison was Pte Colin Randolph Harrison 12/2319 of Espson, Auckland NZ. Despite my grandfather burying him in the field, Colin has no known grave and is remembered on the Caterpillar Valley Memorial to the missing. He was aged 31. Colin’s brother Frank would die at Passchendaele in 1917, fighting with the Wellington Battalion. Both had their mother listed as “Next of Kin” to be notified.
  • George Frederick Hulme 5/285 would survive the Somme but be killed by an artillery shell near Warneton Belgium on the 22nd of June 1917. He was shaving in the doorway of his dugout when killed. He was 23 years old.
  • George McLaren 12/2417 would survive Gallipoli, the Somme, Messines, (placed in reserve for Passchendaele) seeing out the entire war, heading home to NZ in 1919 as a 2lt. He would pass away in 1962. He never spoke of the war.
  1. Group photo of McLaren (2), Hulme (3) & Harrison (9). Of the 13 men in this photo, 7 would be killed in the Great War, 3 would be sent home to NZ, unfit for further service , only 2 would see the war out (one being my grandfather) , 1 is unknown.
  2. Photo of Lt Ware.
  3. Official map of operations around or Flers


Battle Map of Flers 1916.jpg

Edited by smclaren
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  • smclaren changed the title to The NZEF 1st Auckland Infantry Battalion & the Flers Trench System – 17th & 18th of September 1916 - The Somme

Thank you for this very interesting and personal write-up. The photo and diary extracts are excellent and something to treasure. 

The turn in the weather in the UK at this time of year, currently fading from late summer to thundery rain and unsettled currents, always reminds me of the critical steps being taken around High Wood, Delville Wood, the Switch line and Flers in September 1916. And how these highly significant - and costly - actions marked only the mid-point of the offensive, which would be sustained through heavy autumn rain and quagmire for a further two months.

The map is interesting - special issue maps like this, with observed gun positions marked and hand-drawn operational annotations (not to mention the myriad related orders and specifications that are not shown here), I always think illustrate well the massive efforts put in to the planning and execution of "the action", whether successful or not. 


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Thanks for the kind note. 

It's a very very small story within the larger context, but deeply personal for many families. In just this one story are three young men who never got to grow old and have families of their own, to have grandchildren to remember their brave deeds by. I find their stories & the memory of them really moving.

You are so very right  .. so many major battles in the Great War were influenced by rain. Passchendaele springs to mind. What a nightmare. 

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