Hawthorn Ridge Mine
At 7.20 am on 1st July 1916, ten minutes before the Somme offensive was due to start, the huge mine at Hawthorn Ridge was detonated (IWM)

Gommecourt - The Battle

Contents

Midnight to 6.25 am 12.00pm to 2.30pm
6.25am to 7.30am 2.30pm to 4.30pm
7.30am to 8.00am 4.30pm to 8.30pm
8.00am to 8.30am Midnight

 

Z Day, Saturday, 1st July 1916

Weather: Hot, early mist

Midnight to 6.25 am

56th Division

168th Brigade - The lead battalions, the Rangers and the London Scottish, were in place in the early hours of the morning. Not without casualties, however, as the Rangers front trenches were heavily hit causing many casualties and much confusion. The men were issued with pea soup, instead of the usual rum, which came in large cans reeking of petrol. Both battalions were in place by 4.30 am and they settled down to await the final hurricane bombardment.

To see a panorama of the area to be attacked by the 168th Brigade please follow this link.

169th Brigade - The trip to the front line was easier here and the men were mostly in place by 3.00 am. There was nothing to do now but wait.

To see a panorama of the area to be attacked by the 169th Brigade please follow this link.

46th Division

137th Brigade - Because of the state of the newly dug advanced trench the 137th Brigade attacked from a staggered position. On the right, where the new trench was too shallow, muddy and wet to be used, the 6th South Staffordshires and the right of the 6th North Staffordshires started from the old front line. The left of the 6th North Staffordshires attacked from the new line. Like the 56th Division, the men were provided with pea soup, tea laced with rum and, while they waited, they munched on large bacon sandwiches given out on their way to the trenches.

139th Brigade - The communication trenches on the 139th Brigade's front were particularly bad and it took a long time for some troops to get to their positions. Here both lead battalions, the 5th and 7th Sherwoods, were to attack from the new trench. But even here it was shallow and sodden. As they waited, the German artillery away to the north east started to shell the assembly trenches.

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6.25 am to 7.30 am

At 6.25 am the final, hurricane bombardment started. The field guns had 11,660 rounds of shrapnel and high explosive to fire in 65 minutes. The heavy guns and howitzers had 7,000 shells to fire in the same time.

At about 7.00 am the German guns started to reply, concentrating solely on the assembly trenches and causing casualties across the both division's fronts.

At 7.20 am, as if the evidence of the bombardment was not enough, the huge mine under Hawthorn Ridge near Beaumont Hamel, was set off early at the request of the VIII Corps' commander, Lt. Gen. Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston. If there was any doubt about whether the 'Big Push' was about to start, this dispelled it. German machine gun teams and rifleman and, behind them, the German guns made ready.

At 7.25 am the 46th and 56th Division's smoke screens started with mortars from the 5th Battalion, Special Brigade (RE) firing smoke bombs into the German lines and men in the front trenches lobbing smoke bombs into No Man's Land and lighting smoke candles in the front line trenches. On the 46th Divisions' front two problems quickly became apparent:

At 7.30 am the British guns lifted off the German front line trenches and started to moved away in predetermined 'lifts' in the expectation that the infantry would follow close behind. On the right, officers waved their men forward (no whistles were used by the 56th Division at Gommecourt) and the men of the London Rifle Brigade, Queen Victoria's Rifles, Rangers and London Scottish disappeared into the smoke screen. On the left, the 6th South and North Staffordshires and 5th and 7th Sherwood Foresters started to scramble put of the muddy trenches and through the narrow gaps in the British wire. [Back]

7.30 am to 8.00 am

56th Division

London Rifle Brigade - the leading waves of the LRB had been waiting in No Man's Land and they started to move forward, A Company on the left, C in the centre and D on the right. D and C Companies swept over the German front lines and headed for their first objectives. D Company were soon in position in Eck trench near Gommecourt cemetery and C Company occupied the Maze. On the left A Company got into the German front line but were held up by German soldiers firing from the Park.

To their rear, men of the 1/3rd Londons were to have dug a trench across No Man's Land to the corner of Gommecourt Park at Point 94 but heavy machine gun fire from the Park made this impossible.

To see a panorama of the area to be attacked by the London Rifle Brigade please follow this link.

Queen Victoria's Rifles - A Company on the right and C Company on the left led the QVR's attack. They were to be followed by B Company as well as various Pioneers, Royal Engineers and members of the 169th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery armed with the new Stokes Mortars. Behind them were three companies of the Queen's Westminster Rifles whose task it was to push through the QVRs and take the Quadrilateral where they were to meet with men of the 46th Division coming from the north.

Here too, the men found uncut wire and heavy casualties occurred as they pushed through. Again, the company commanders suffered badly, all being killed or wounded in a few minutes. The combined QVR/QWR attack swept forward over two lines of trenches, however, and the men soon found themselves lying in the shelter of the sunken Gommecourt to Puisieux Road, a few yards in front of the German third line.

To see a panorama of the area to be attacked by the QVR and QWR please follow this link.

The Rangers - Their companies arranged A to D from right to left, the Rangers crossed No Man's Land to find reports of uncut wire correct. Although the two flank companies made some progress, B and C in the middle were badly held up and found getting into the German trenches nearly impossible. Heavy machine gun fire from Nameless Farm took its toll on all companies and many officers were lost including all four company commanders. The attack quickly lost impetus and only on the left did a small party of D Company eventually reach its objective in the third German line. Other members of the Rangers started to retreat almost immediately.

To see a panorama of the area to be attacked by The Rangers please follow this link.

The London Scottish - From right to left A, C, B and D Companies advanced. Nearly half of A Company lost direction in the smoke and went too far south and was caught on uncut wire. The rest joined C Company in over-running the southern end of the Farmer-Farmyard stronghold where they started to set up a defensive perimeter. B Company had problems caused by the destruction wrought by the heavy howitzers. They over-ran their objective and found themselves in open country and in full view of the German machine guns beyond. A fighting withdrawal allowed most of the men to retire to their correct position. D Company was the unluckiest, losing many men to the German artillery and their CO in front of the German trenches. They eventually came up against strong German bombing parties and dug in somewhat detached from the rest of the battalion.

Behind them, the Kensingtons were supposed to have started to dig a trench across No Man's Land but this was abandoned before it began because of the intense artillery and machine gun fire.

To see a panorama of the area to be attacked by the London Scottish please follow this link.

46th Division

6th South Staffordshires - Because the first and second waves of the battalion were attacking from the congested old front line trench the men, weighed down with a minimum 0f 66lbs of equipment, found it difficult to get out and through the gaps in the British wire. These gaps were also found to be too narrow and men's uniforms and equipment caught on the barbs slowing them down still further. As a result, in spite of being given an extra three minutes within which to catch up to the left of the 6th North Staffordshires in the new advanced line, they were delayed and the Brigade advanced in a staggered formation. The men were immediately caught by machine guns firing from the edge of Gommecourt Park and village and the right company were also caught in wire hidden in a dip between the lines. Only small parties of men in the centre and left reached the German wire and only a few plus some bombers from the 5th South Staffordshires entered the German lines were most were quickly killed or expelled. To all intents and purposes the attack was over in the first thirty minutes.

Behind them, a company from the 5th Leicestershires was due to dig a communication trench across No Man's Land but, swept by machine gun fire, the digging was quickly abandoned and the men took refuge in the ruined Sugar factory known as the Sucrerie.

6th North Staffordshires - The right of the battalion attacked from the old trench and the left from the new trench which, with the delays caused on the right by the problems in the trenches and British wire, meant the left company emerged through the smoke with an open right flank. Caught be German machine guns firing from Gommecourt Wood and The Z away to the left, the 6th Norths plus some bombers from the 5th North Staffordshires, were cut quickly down. Small parties found their way through the slightly better cut German wire and into the trenches but, with the supporting waves cut off in the British advanced trench by German artillery and machine gun fire, they were swiftly expelled with many men taking refuge in shells holes just outside the German wire. Like the attack on their right, the 6th North Staffordshires' advance was stopped soon after 8:00 am.

5th Sherwood Foresters - The first four waves of the 5th Sherwood Foresters got away in reasonable order and soon arrived at the German wire which here was pretty well cut. Parties broke into the German trenches where bombing fights broke out. Some men, including three officers and a Lewis gun team pushed up towards the corner of Gommecourt Wood where they were over run by counter attacks from the reserve companies of the 91st Reserve Infantry Regiment. It soon became clear, however, that without support from the rest of the battalion and the 6th Sherwood Foresters, the attack could not be sustained and small groups of men were soon being forced out into the shell holes out side the German wire.

7th Sherwood Foresters - As with all of the attacking battalions they men of the 7th Sherwoods became seriously confused in the thick smoke and parties veered off to left and right, some entering the Z where they were quickly hunted down and killed by the men of the 91st RIR. Some men led by the bombing officer, 2nd Lt Burton, reached nearly as far as the German third line but the officer was fatally wounded and his small party were forced to withdraw where they men others desperately trying to defend a few traverses in the German front line. Bombed from either side and with their officers either dead or wounded the men were forced out.

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8.00 am to 8.30 am

56th Division

London Rifle Brigade - D and C Company's were now established in their positions and were untroubled except for some rifle fire from the edge of the village. A Company, however, were having a stiff fight on the edge of the park and efforts to establish a strongpoint were taking second place to the need to repel growing attacks from men of 55th Reserve Infantry Regiment.

Queen Victoria's Rifles & Queen's Westminster Rifles - Having lost of all their company commanders the battalions were now being led by small groups of young and inexperienced subalterns. Five junior officers were all that was left in the QWR's ranks and they were together in the sunken road. Under fire from Nameless Farm to the right they decided to attack up the main communication trench, Etch which they achieved with the help of a daring overground attack by a L/Cpl Packer of the QVR.

Now in the third line, the QWR's bombed their way up the trenches towards Gommecourt Cemetery at which point they would turn north towards the Quadrilateral. A small party, led by 2nd Lt George Arthur of the 1/5th Cheshires, reached their objective but they were soon forced out by a larger, better armed German bombing party. There had been no sign of the men of the 46th Division.

The Rangers - By 8.15 am it was clear that there were major problems with the Rangers' attack. Men had already returned to the British lines and the artillery barrage being put down in No Man's Land and on the 1/4th Londons in the British front lines was fearful. Communication was almost impossible within the British lines, getting information from the other side was well nigh impossible. Orders were sent, however, for the 1/4th Londons to go across to support what was left of the Rangers.

London Scottish - A defensive perimeter defended with Lewis Guns was now in place and trench blocks were being blown by men of the Royal Engineers. Counter-attacks from the 170th Regiment had been fought off and the only real concerns were the lack of contact with the Rangers to their left and the Kensingtons back in the British trenches.

Here, the men of the Kensingtons were being blasted by relentless artillery fire so that movement forward or back was nearly impossible. All efforts to re-supply the London Scottish foundered in No Man's Land.

46th Division

137th Brigade - The Brigade's attack was already at a standstill and desperate messages were being sent up and down the mud-filled, casualty strewn communication trenches as officers desperately tried to reorganise for a new advance. Those that were able to had crawled back from the German wire to huddle in the muddy advanced trench and others found refuge in the shell holes and long grass of No Man's Land.

139th Brigade - Brigade headquarters was reporting that the first four waves had got into the German lines but now they could make no further contact with them. For the rest of the day reports persisted in stating that British troops were fighting in the German lines but it is probable that most of the fighting was over in the first 90 minutes.

The 6th Sherwoods, the carrying battalion, had tried to move men and stores forward but they had mainly been shot down even before reaching the British advanced trench.

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8.30 am to 12.00 pm

46th Division - By 8.30 am the attack of the 46th Division was all but over. Small groups of men from the Sherwood Foresters had entered the German lines on the extreme left and were pushing forward but, behind them, the reserves had been slow to come forward and now, under terrific enfilade artillery fire from Adinfer Wood to the north, they were unable to make any progress.

Opposite Gommecourt village the men of the 137th Brigade had hardly moved. Some men of the 1/6th North Staffs got into the German lines but were cut off, hunted down and killed or captured. The other battalion, the 1/6th South Staffs, was mainly still in their assembly trenches. By 9.30 am the Germans of the 91st Regiment and 55th Reserve Infantry Regiment were reporting their trenches cleared. As a result, the artillery of the 2nd Guard Reserve Division switched their undivided attention to the 56th Division's front.

31st Division - The 31st Division were the northern most division of the main Somme offensive and they were to take the village of Serre set on a slight rise away to the south of Gommecourt. The attack was a disaster. Caught by relentless machine gun fire and an artillery barrage described as like a row of Poplar trees the men left of the division were back in the shambles of their trenches in less than an hour. As a result, the artillery of the 52nd Division switched their undivided attention to the 56th Division's front.

London Rifle Brigade - At 8.30 am, German prisoners collected in the first rush were herded back across No Man's Land, many being killed by their own guns' barrage. Counterattacks were now being mounted on A and C Company's fronts with men not being required on the 46th Division's front being rushed to repel the LRB's attack. The German artillery barrage and machine gun fire across No Man's Land was now so severe that an attempt by B Company to reinforce their colleagues collapsed within a few yards of the British front line. The men of the LRB were now running short of hand grenades and frantic searches were made of German dugouts for supplies of German grenades.

Queen Victoria's Rifles & Queen's Westminster Rifles - counter attacks by men of the 170th Regiment were now beginning to take shape and reinforcements were rushed up the long communication trenches from Rossignol Wood and Bucquoy. On the left, these battalions were beginning to lose touch with the London Rifle Brigade and on the right, the Rangers attack had melted away leaving the men of the QVR and QWR, with help from men of the 1/5th Cheshires, desperately fighting off attacks from the front and right.

Behind them, attempts by the D Companies of both battalions collapsed in No Man's Land under ferocious German artillery fire.

The Rangers & 1/4th Londons - At 9.00 am the men of A and C Companies, 1/4th Londons left the battered British front lines and moved stolidly towards the German lines in an attempt to bolster the floundering Rangers' attack. Left leaderless in the first few minutes, a few men reached the German trenches where they were either killed or captured. There was now a hole in the middle of the 56th Division's attack where the Rangers should have been. Forced to left and right away from the machine guns of Nameless Farm they were now left desperately defending small sections of German trench under constant attack from larger and better armed German bombing parties.

London Scottish - By 9.15 am casualties in the London Scottish were running at over 40%. Supply parties from A Company, the Kensingtons, had been mainly wiped out in No Man's Land and an attempt by D Company to bridge the gap between the London Scottish and The Rangers had failed within yards of the British lines. As the few men left withdrew the German counter-attackers were taking advantage of the gap and were aggressively pushing bombing parties down trenches, outflanking isolated groups of Rangers and Scottish as they went.

Further back, furious efforts by the men of the Field artillery batteries to support the men in the German lines was becoming increasingly thwarted by equipment failures. Just as the infantry needed them most, the guns were beginning to fail through over-use. [Back]

12.00 PM to 2.30 PM

46th Division - Division HQ had optimistically announced a renewal of the attack at 12.15 PM Such was the chaos in the 464th Division's lines, however, that there was no prospect of this happening. New times were declared and then postponed all afternoon but, on the prospect that a new attack would be mounted, heavy howitzers of the VII Corps artillery were taken off the 56th Division's front to support the 46th Division's advance. The advance never happened.

London Rifle Brigade - Detached from the QVR and QWR to their right, the LRB were now coming under intolerable pressure from bombing attacks from the park, the village and through the cemetery. Orders for 2nd Lt Petley's men of D Company in Eck trench to withdraw failed to arrive and they were left on their own as the Germans infiltrated their way around their position using the warren of trenches in this part of the battlefield.

At 12.49 PM SOS signals were seen from the LRB's front lines. The message read 'SOS Bombs'. They had run out and were barely able to defend themselves. Gallant but futile efforts were made by the 1/2nd Londons to reinforce the desperate LRB but the men were mown down by machine gun fire in an advance later likened by the Lord Mayor of London, Sir Charles Wakefield, to the Charge of the Light Brigade.

Queen Victoria's Rifles & Queen's Westminster Rifles - Attacked from either wing and from the centre, the rapidly thinning ranks of the QVR and QWR were forced to relinquish their hold on the German line and they withdrew, fighting hard, diagonally to their left towards the front line trenches still held by the LRB. Their withdrawal was covered by a 2nd Lt. Horne and some Lewis gunners. Horne was killed manning the last gun.

The Rangers & 1/4th Londons - Isolated parties were all that was left of these battalions and under pressure from heavily armed bombing parties of the 170th Regiment they were forced back towards the first German line. One party, under 2nd Lt Parker, fought a lone and tenacious battle as they retired diagonally towards the German front trenches, there, eventually, to be surrounded and forced to surrender. Another attempt at reinforcement by D Company, 1/4th Londons was swept away by shrapnel and high explosive a few yards into No Man's Land.

By 2.30 PM the attack was over. Men of the two battalions trickled back from the German lines, rushing from shell hole to shell hole to escape. Those unable to escape were killed or made prisoner.

London Scottish - Hard pressed from left and right, the London Scottish were still desperately holding onto their small slice of German territory. Behind them under the relentless German barrage, the Kensingtons were dying in the British trenches. Movement forward or back was impossible. [Back]

2.30 PM to 4.30 PM

46th Division

The plan for a new attack had at last been agreed and was due to go in at 3.30 PM Consisting of a rag tag of men from the 5th North and South Staffordshires, 5th Leicestershires and 6th Sherwoods, they were due to advance under a new smoke screen in the hope of making contact with the men of the 139th Brigade still thought to be fighting in the German lines (but all long since dead, captured or expelled). The 6th Sherwoods, however, had been told by their Brigadier not to attack unless there was a smoke screen and, when it failed to materialise, most of the men stayed in the trenches. A group of about 20 did advance but were cut down by machine gun fire almost to a man. On the 137th Brigade front the chaos was so total it was clear to most of the officers at the front that any attack was likely to be a shambles. When the officer commanding the 5th South Staffordshires was wounded there was no one left to give the order and the two subalterns present, both aged 18, had never seen the trenches before and never been in action. Not a man of the 137th Brigade moved. The attack of the 46th Division was effectively over.

56th Division

London Rifle Brigade - The LRB had now run out of bombs and were being pressed from three sides. At 3.00 PM another forlorn effort by the 1/2nd Londons to reinforce them dissolved in the face of the German barrage.

Queen Victoria's Rifles & Queen's Westminster Rifles - Forced back by unrelenting bombing attacks, the few men left of these two battalions retreated into the first German line where they joined up with the remains of the LRB.

London Scottish - Beset by the 170th Regiment on two flanks the London Scottish now were faced with fresh troops from the 15th Reserve Infantry Regiment attacking down the communication trenches from Rossignol Wood. As they defended their small enclave the senior officer, Maj Francis Lindsay, was shot and killed leaving Capt Sparks of A Company in charge. Faced with the choice of surrender, annihilation or retreat he chose the latter and organised a covering party while the able bodied and lightly wounded were got away into No Man's Land. One of the last to leave, Sparks, took shelter in a shell hole until after dark before returning to the shattered British lines. [Back]

4.30 PM to 8.30 PM

London Rifle Brigade,Queen Victoria's Rifles & Queen's Westminster Rifles - 2nd Lt Petley and his detachment in Eck trench now realised they were cut off and set off to try and find a way back to the main body of the LRB. Pursued by parties of German bombers they eventually reached the German front line having taken over an hour to travel about 200 yards. On the way, several of Petley's men were killed.

A small stretch of front line trench was all that was held by British troops now and, as they fought off German bombing parties with whatever means at their disposal, the German brought up some trench mortars to further bombard the 100 or so men still left alive in the German lines. With the two sets of men being so close it was impossible for the British artillery to help the trapped soldiers without risking 'friendly fire' casualties. In addition, there was an air of panic in certain quarters as some officers believed the Germans might take advantage of the chaos in the British lines and launch an attack across No Man's Land and, in consequence, the field artillery was told to conserve shells in case they were needed to repel such an attack.

At about 8.20 PM conditions had become intolerable in the small stretch of German trench which was being defended by about 30 able bodied men. The half a dozen or so officers left from the various units that had attacked agreed it was time to make a break for it and the call of 'Every man for himself' was passed around. Under intense machine gun and rifle fire the men sprinted into No Man's Land. Three of the six officers were killed, one was captured, another made it home (the intrepid 2nd Lt Petley) and the sixth, 2nd Lt Teddy Bovill of the Q.W.R., was shot and killed as he stepped into the British trenches.

Desultory artillery fire continued for an hour or two but now the noises heard were no longer than bang and crash of high explosive or the chatter of machine guns but the groans, shrieks and crying of hundreds of wounded men who littered the ground across which the battle had been fought. [Back]

Midnight

46th Division

The delusion that the Sherwood Foresters were still in the German lines persisted throughout the day and night and, extraordinarily, it was decided to launch a night time advance in an effort to make contact with men who no longer existed. The unfortunate battalion selected for the attack was the 5th Lincolnshires from the 138th Brigade. As with the other attempts earlier in the day, this advance was postponed again and again until, at midnight, the men crept out through the British wire and out into a No Man's Land littered with dead and wounded men. The confusion was so total that one platoon lined up facing the wrong way and the Sergeant in command refused to advance until given proper instructions about what they were to do.

Eventually the battalion reached the German wire where the thoroughly alert defenders opened up a heavy machine gun and rifle fire. One company commander was killed outright and several other officers and men killed and wounded. Told to lie down to await further orders Lt Col Sandall sent back for further orders. Eventually they were told to withdraw and join in with the efforts to bring in as many dead and wounded as possible.

The attack on Gommecourt was over.

Alan MacDonald's books about Gommecourt

'PRO PATRIA MORI'

'Pro Patria Mori', the account of the 56th Division's involvement at Gommecourt, was first published in 2006.  A revised edition was published in August 2008

For more about the book please go HERE.

'A LACK OF OFFENSIVE SPIRIT?'
The 46th (North Midland) Division at Gommecourt,
1st July 1916

For more about this book please follow this link

Both books are available through this web site or through Amazon Books and by order through all good bookshops


Home

The hours before dawn

"The bombardment has now died down and things are fairly quiet. Some men have been sent out to place iron pipes containing dynamite under the German wire (note: Bangalore torpedoes). These are to be fired electrically tomorrow morning. Am feeling dreadfully tired, so I'm going to try to snatch a little sleep, though I don't expect to be very successful. "

Rfm Frank Hawking, 1/9th London Regiment,
Queen Victoria's Rifles

The final bombardment

"Just over the trenches... swished the smaller shells from the English 18 pdr batteries. They gave one a sensation of being under a swiftly rushing stream. The larger shells kept up a continuous shrieking overhead, falling on the enemy's trenches with the roar of a cataract, while every now and then a noise as of thunder sounded above all when our trench mortar shells fell amongst the German wire, blowing it to bits, making holes like mine craters, and throwing dirt and even bits of metal into our own trenches."

2nd Lt E G Liveing, 1/12th London Regiment,
The Rangers

Under cover of smoke

"We left our trenches under cover of a terrific artillery fire from our own guns and a barrage of fire from the German trenches and guns, and also machine gun fire from them, and also under cover of a tremendous cloud of smoke which we threw out. At about 7.30 in the morning we went over in waves at about 40 yards interval. I was in the second wave, and we walked to the German trenches as if on parade. Several of my pals got hit going over."

Anonymous member, 1/19th London Regiment
Queen Victoria's Rifles

Strolling across No Man's Land

"It was really magnificent the way every man, cool and collected, strolled out through quite a stiff barrage to the tape I had laid down 150 yards out during the night. The smoke lifted for a few seconds when we were out and I noticed the men were inclined to bunch on the right. I shouted an order and they shook out as if they were on Wimbledon Common."

2nd Lt Rex Petley, 1/5th London Regiment
London Rifle Brigade

An unrecognised hero

"Horne apparently did a VC stunt, holding up the enemy by Lewis gun fire until the ammunition was exhausted, then throwing bombs, then firing his revolver until he was killed."

2nd Lt C E Moy. 1/16th London Regiment,
Queen's Westminster Rifles

No Prisoners

"We had strict orders not to take prisoners no matter if wounded. My first job when I had finished cutting some of their wire away was to empty my magazine on three Germans that came out of their dug outs bleeding badly and put them out of their misery. They cried for mercy but I had my orders, but they had no feeling whatever for us poor chaps."

Pte Arthur Hubbard, 1/14th London Regiment
London Scottish

"Bombardment fearful"

"I have, as far as I can find, only 13 left besides myself. Trenches unrecognisable. Quite impossible to hold. Bombardment fearful for last two hours. I am the only officer left. Please send instructions"

Maj Charles Dickens, 1/13th London Regiment,
The Kensingtons

Unable to adapt

"…the men had been carefully trained for weeks to play definite parts in the assault, and it was not easy to make them realise that these roles must now be foresaken and something different done. For instance, a party told off to carry concertina wire could not for some time be got to understand that they must drop their loads and help to form an attacking wave. "

Official History of the War,
France and Flanders, 1916 Volume 1

'Every man for himself'

"I hardly waited for the order, but it came - 'Every man for himself'. I did not wait to argue - over the top I went like greased-lightning - surviving a hail of bullets. I immediately fell flat. Then trying to imagine I was part of the earth, I wriggled along on my belly. Dead, dying, wounded, feigning death, who knows? The ground was covered with them. I sped from shell-hole to shell-hole. Never had I run faster. It was snipers, machine guns and shrapnel all the way."

Rfm Arthur Schuman, 1/5th London Regiment,
London Rifle Brigade

Sang Froid

"Sergeant Robinson brings me verbal orders to withdraw which of course we reluctantly must obey. Sergeant Robinson is bringing all the men down to you and Sergeant Austin and I are trying to get Sergeant Olorenshaw. Should like some hot dinner when we get back."

2nd Lt Rex Petley, 1/5th London Regiment,
London Rifle Brigade

Facing the facts

"I am faced with three alternatives:
a. to stay here with such of my men as are alive and be killed;
b. to surrender to the enemy;
c. to withdraw such of my men as I can.
Either of the first two alternatives is distasteful to me. I propose to adopt the latter."

Capt. H C Sparks, 1/14th London Regiment
London Scottish