The Somme – July 1916

In the last week of June 1916 in the lead up to the Somme Offensive the Battery were based near Fonquevillers and were targeted on the area around Gommecourt.

From the Brigade war diary the following were the battery orders in the run up to the offensive:-

25th June
‘U’ Day – Wire Cutting and Registration

Under orders to cut a lane 60 yards wide at angle opposite to trench. 400 rounds per gun allocated.
26th June
‘V’ Day – Wire cutting and Registration
Under orders to cut a lane 60 yards wide between enemy 1st and 2nd trenches. 700 rounds per gun allocated.

27th June
‘W’ Day – Destruction of defences and wire
700 rounds per gun allocated

28th June
‘X’ Day – As per ‘V’ Day
‘Z’ Day postponed 48 hours at the request of the French to 1/7/1916

29th June
‘Y’ Day – Bombardment
400 rounds per gun allocated

30th June
Continue Bombardment of enemy trenches
1st July
No frontline trenches to be bombarded. Battery shelling northern side of Gommecourt and also Pigeon Wood

Bill Perkin, the Battery’s gun layer, confirmed that the four guns of the Leek Battery fired over 10,000 rounds in the seven day bombardment leading up to the Somme offensive.

Whenever there was a “stand easy”, cold water was poured down the muzzles of the guns which came out of the breech scalding hot. The guns were constantly seizing as the jelly lubricant in the recouperators kept quickly loosing it’s viscosity.

Bdr Ben Chadwick, from Stoke’s B Battery, confirmed that his gun was firing up to 1,000 rounds per day during the bombardment.

The attacks by the 46th and 56th Territorial Divisions were to be a diversionary attack for the main 4th Army further south.

Two of the 231 Brigade – George Scott MM and Ted Brindley – were part of the Brigade forward observation party and went “over the top” with the 5th Btn North Staffordshire Regiment. They were both shot and wounded. George made it to the German trenches despite being shot and then back to the British lines as the 5th Btn did not have the men to hold the trench. The Germans regrouped from their dugouts and set up several machine guns in the area. According to George they were all lined up in the British trench for a roll call and there were found to be just 128 survivors most of whom were wounded.

The only C Battery casualty that day was Captain R.E. Morris-Eyton at 2100, he was evacuated to England and never rejoined the Battery.

The 46th (North Midland) Division initial attack was repulsed as we can see above, and the commanding officer General Stuart-Wortley was ordered to renew the attack. With no prospect of success Stuart-Wortley ordered only a token second attack. After the offensive he was sacked and the 46th Division was categorised as showing “lack of offensive spirit”.

The dead of the 6th Battalions of the North and South Staffords laid out in the open by Gommecourt Woods for another 8 months until March 1917, when the Division returned and the Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line.

Cpl George Scott MM of the Leek Battery recalls:-

“My first trip back into the front lines observation posts I will never forget, because all the North Staffords who had died still lay out in no mans land in heaps just as they had fallen on the 1st July the previous year. What is more, upon looking through the glasses, we could see that the barbed wire was festooned with the bodies of the men of the North Staffs Battalions.”

The Divisions reputation was reforged in 1918 when it captured the St-Quentin Canal breaking the Hindenberg Line.