Husband of Eva Fowler (nee Whitfield), of 14, High Street, Wetherby,
was born at York but details as regards his birth and family life are unclear at present.
The 1911 Census however records that Robert is residing as a boarder at 2, Scott Lane, Wetherby, occupation,
Robert was married in 1911 at Wetherby to Eva Whitfield of Victoria Street,
Wetherby. In 1912, the first of three children was born, Frances, followed by William in 1914 and Hilda in early 1916, just
after her father departed for the Western Front.
Robert enlisted at Wetherby in May 1915 under
a War Office scheme directed at encouraging recruitment into the Artillery on a local basis, hence, forming regionally raised
units. The Artillery normally recruited on a national basis and men recruited under this local scheme were given
the 'L' prefix to their serial numbers.
Formation Of The Brigade
The 155th Brigade Royal Field Artillery were also known as the "Coal Owners Own" 155th West Riding,
Royal Field Brigade of Artillery. The brigade was formed in Leeds in early 1915 by the West Yorkshire Coal Owner's Association.
Initially attached to the 31st Division as it's Divisional Artillery, the brigade were posted to the 32nd Division in
the New Year of 1916. The 155th became an Army Brigade on the 16th/17th January 1917 and consisted of "A,"
"B" and "C" Batteries with 18-pdrs. and "D" Battery with 4.5" Howitzers.
arrived in Wetherby in Spring 1915 and left the town for Ripon in July of the same year.
in total of about 1000 men, the arrival of the 155th Brigade substantially increased the size of the towns population.
Billets were found in private accommodation with the owner of the property being paid 23 Shillings and 7 pence per man, per
The months spent at Wetherby were happy ones, one local newspaper reporting that the troops
were having "the time of their lives." A Sports Day was organised by the brigade in May at Grange Park, much
to the entertainment of the local populace. Events included 'Tilting the Bucket', a 'Gun Wheel Race' and a
'Tug of War'.
In the same month, a more serious duty was performed by soldiers of
the brigade. Madame Maria Desek, a Belgian refugee resident in the town, passed away aged 46 years. The brigade acted as bearers
to the coffin at a ceremony attended by many of the townsfolk. The deceased's two sons, serving officers in the Belgian
Army also attended, both being granted leave from the trenches of the Western Front. Wreaths were laid on behalf of the
townspeople of Wetherby, and one by the local Belgian Relief Committee.
In July, shortly before
the brigade left the town bound for Ripon, the sporting 'fervour' continued with a Boxing Tournament arranged to take
place at Grange Park. The event was well supported with prizes being generously provided by several Leeds sportsmen. The tournament
itself was organized by Bombardier Frank "Spike" Robson, ex Feather Weight Champion of England and Physical Instructor
to the brigade.
The judges consisted of Lieutenants Mercer and Denby, the M.C. and referee duties
being performed by Mr. Tom Moran, assisted by "Spike" Robson. A most notable figure performed the role of 'Time-keeper'
for all the bouts, one Lance-Corporal Frederick William Holmes, V.C. and Medal Millitaire. Holmes had gained the award at
Le Cateau in 1914 and at this period was convalescing from wounds received in that action.
(Authors note: Judges identified
as Second-Lieutenant Alfred Mercer and Lieutenant Charles Denby, both officers of "C" Battery).
The happy days spent at Wetherby finally came to an end. Final training for the brigade had commenced at Ripon, and
Robert and the officers and men of the 155th Brigade were posted to the Western Front on December 29th, 1915.
To The Western Front
On the 29th December 1915 the 155th Brigade R.F.A., Lieutenant-Colonel
William St. Pierre Bunbury Officer Commanding departed Fovant Hills between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m., destination Southampton.
Embarkation of the Brigade Ammunition Column and "A" Battery was completed by late evening whereupon they proceeded
to Le Havre where disembarkation was carried out on the morning of the 30th. Hence, this advance element of the brigade proceeded
to the Docks Rest Camp.
Headquarters Staff plus "B," "C" and "D" Batteries respectively
arrived at Le Havre on the 31st but did not join the advanced element of the brigade but instead proceeded to No.2 Rest
Camp located at Sanvic, Le Havre.
Brigade strength is recorded as 24 Officers and 728 Other Ranks. In addition
to personnel, the brigade was constituted of:
56 Limber Wagons
9 General Service Wagons
In ammunition brought from England, the quantities appear to be substantial:
1,216 18 pdr. Shrapnel,
carried by the Brigade Ammunition Column
2,816 18 pdr. Shrapnel with batteries
Total = 4032
Small Arms Ammunition,
424,000 carried by Brigade Ammunition Column
27,110, with batteries
Total = 451,110
On the morning of
the 1st January between the hours of 4 and 6 a.m. "A" Battery along with the B.A.C. entrained for Amiens with Headquarters
and "B," "C" and "D" Batteries following during the next day.
On arrival, the brigade
then proceeded by road to Argoeuves located in the north-west suburbs of the town where billets were occupied.
At 8 a,m.
on the morning of the 5th, the brigade continued its march eastwards where Frechencourt located to the east of Amiens was
reached at 3 p.m.
On the following day however, the journey to the chalky uplands of the Somme began when Lieutenant-Colonel
Bunbury and half-sections of the brigades batteries set forth for the village of Martinsart to prepare for offensive operations.
On arrival at 3 p.m., the sections of the 155th Brigade commenced a relief
of half-sections of the 2nd Highland Field Artillery Brigade and took up positions that they had vacated.
On the 7th,
the remainder of the brigade also arrived and took up position, Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury now assuming command of the Left
Group of the 32nd Divisional Artillery. The dispositions of the brigade are recorded in the War Diary:
Battery - Map Ovillers 57d S.E.4 - W.3 B.30.95. (near Martinsart)
B/155 Battery - Map Beaumont 57d S.E. 1
and 2 - Q.34 B.1.5. (near Mesnil)
C/155 Battery - Map Beaumont 57d S.E. 1 and 2 - Q.34 B.3.8. (near Mesnil)
D/155 Battery - Map Ovillers 57d S.E.4 - W.18 a 15.80. (near Aveluy)
The position of the batteries
equates to a line therefore of Beaucourt-sur-Ancre - Martinsart and a line 500 yards south of Authuille - Martinsart.
of targets began immediately with 86 rounds of Shrapnel shell fired by the end of the 8th.
B/164 Battery had now been
added to the Left Group with registration of targets still continuing in the days that followed.
Enemy activity had by
now also increased with artillery shelling Mesnil but it was the ever present trench mortars that continued a harrassing fire
of the front line that were proving to be most prevalent. As a consequence, frequent requests were received to deviate
from the task of registration to one of suppressive fire.
On the 12th, an aircraft was observed heading towards the British
front line from the direction of the German lines at about a height of 9000 feet. Identified as a 'Voisin' Type, displayed
in corresponding French markings, it was deemed 'unusual' that their was no anti-aircraft fire from the enemy
line as it flew onwards. The aircraft then proceeded to circle over the British lines before flying back over St. Pierre Divion
to the north and over into German held territory.
Later during the day with the weather being described as clear
and fine, attempts by the enemy to observe positions were rather more obvious when two observation balloons were put
up. Several working parties were also observed and shelled as the War Diary describes "with effect."
As the month progressed, newly dug enemy trenches and a presumed ration dump located at Crucifix Corner at the junction
of the Thiepval and Grandcourt Roads also received due attention as the programme of registration continued. In addition to
these strafes, enemy train and motor transport was observed entering and leaving Achiet-le-Grand however the diary records
no instance of any action being taken.
At 10.15 p.m. on the 15th January, an order for a 'Test Shoot'
was issued to all batteries. The 'target' was to be the Right Sector Of The Barrage Line and from the time
of this order being received, all batteries had completed their fire in 3.5 minutes expending 112 shells.
following day, all batteries confirmed registration and commenced to shell known machine gun and trench mortar positions under
sporadic enemy artillery fire.
If the incident regarding the aircraft that circled the batteries positions was deemed
'unusual' in the days previously, a far more sinister occurence took place at 10 p.m. on the evening of the 16th.
A sentry guarding the positions of "C" Battery near Mesnil was approached by a 'man' who failed to answer
the 'challenge.' The sentry duly opened fire but the mysterious 'visitor' managed to flee. Enquiries were
instigated but eventually no evidence could be found as to his identity.
As the first month of the year closed,
the brigade, once again under sporadic fire of both artillery and trench mortar, now continued a bombardment of German front
line positions. This would set the pattern and routine in the weeks that followed.
The weather continued to remain
clear and fine as the month of February commenced. Enemy artillery and trench mortar fire was still sporadic but new targets
and locations continued to be registered such as St. Pierre Divion and trenches to the north and south of Thiepval Chateau.
At 4.30 p.m. on the 3rd, yet another aircraft of 'dubious' origin, this time in British markings, was observed
approaching from the direction of the German lines. Circling over the position occupied by B/155 Battery, the machine then
departed the area heading for the enemy lines.
Batteries of the group now commenced to shell enemy wire and locations
in Thiepval Village with, as the War Diary records "with very good effect."
On the 6th, enemy artillery
became very active to the north in the sector held by the 4th Division between 9 and 11 a.m. During the day, A/155 observed
a large tunnel under construction to the south of the village that was subsequently screened by the enemy to conceal his activities.
He was also observed digging in the vicinity of the cemetery but fire was directed on this position at various times during
the day to disperse any activity.
The temporary command of the Left Group now passed to Lieutenant-Colonel F.T.
Oldham, Officer Commanding 168 Brigade R.F.A. whilst Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury proceeded to the School of Gunnery located
at Beauval to assume duties as Commandant.
On the 12th, orders were received for the brigade to move out of
action. Gun and Headquarters positions were to be handed over to the 2nd West Riding Field Artillery Brigade, the 'Bradford
Territorials,' however, D/155, B/164 and D/164 Batteries were to remain in situ as part of this new group.
As a departing
'gesture,' German artillery shelled Mesnil with 4.5 and 5.9 inch shells along with Authuille and Aveluy Wood which
was replied to by the firing of several shells. During this bombardment, A/155 had observed a large calibre gun firing from
the direction of the Ferme du Mouquet no doubt valuable intelligence to the relief units of the artillery.
At 10 a.m.
on the morning of the 14th, Brigade Headquarters staff minus telephonists and three linesmen proceeded on relief by the 2nd
West Riding F.A. Brigade to Frechencourt under command of the Orderly Officer. During the afternoon, half sections of each
battery began to withdraw however previous orders to move to Frechencourt were changed at 7 p.m. on the 15th. The destination
for a period of rest was now designated as the village of Montigny located to the north of the latter place with the final
withdrawal of the remainding half sections and respective batteries staff being completed on the 15th.
At 9 a.m. on the
16th the sector was handed over to the 2nd West Riding's with the remainder of Headquarters staff of the 155th Brigade
under the command of the Adjutant proceeding to rejoin unit at Montigny.
The brigade was now considered to
be at 'rest,' somewhat of a misnomer in miltary parlance. Time was spent in drilling, gun laying techniques and driving
and riding drill in addition to general maintenance and cleaning of kit and equipment.
On the 21st, Lieutenant-Colonel
Bunbury returned from his duties at Beauval, Lieutenant-Colonel Oldham having returned to his respective unit on the 16th.
After this brief respite from operations, orders were received on the 28th to proceed to relieve the 83rd Brigade, R.F.A.
of the 18th (Eastern) Division who were located in positions near Albert.
Once again, Robert and the men of the
'Coal Owners Own' were to be on the offensive.
Preparatory to the movement of the brigade, a forward party
of the 155th assembled to reconnoitre the positions occupied by the 83rd Brigade R.F.A.
At about 1.30 p.m. on the 3rd
March, relief of the 83rd Brigade commenced and positions of the 155th Brigade were established as thus:
Lines:- Headquarters, Albert, near to the station
"A" Battery, Albert
"B" and "C" Batteries, Moulin-de-Vivier
Headquarters:- Farm Belle
Authors note: Moulin
du Vivier and Bellevue Farm located west of Meaulte and south of Albert respectively.
On occupation of the position,
the guns of the 83rd Brigade remained in situ and were subsequently taken over by the 155th with those of the latter being
exchanged on handover. However, it is of interest to note that the 155th retained their Number 7 Dial Sights and
the 83rd their Number 1 variant.
The guns of the following batteries now constituted the Centre Group under
the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury. It must be noted however that D/155 Battery was still in action near Aveluy under
the command of the 49th (West Riding) Division however orders were received that the battery were to move into the Centre
Group by the 6th March in exchange for A/168 Battery.
"A," "B" and "C" Batteries
"B" 164th Battery
The weather had by now begun to deteriorate with snow storms
being experienced at intervals both during the day and night, however, all the guns of the group minus "A" Battery
had commenced to fire on enemy trenches located near La Boisselle with "good effect."
During the following
days, activity by the enemy consisted of the desultory shelling of Albert and of the road to Pozieres. The actions of enemy
trench mortars however remained a constant threat resulting in requests for bombardment by the infantry occupying the line.
As the brigade continued its operations, Robert was about to receive some tragic news from the family home at Wetherby.
William, aged 2,
one of their three children, had died in the most unfortunate of circumstances.
article dated March, 1916 reports the inquest into the circumstances regarding William's death:
"Eva Fowler, the mother of the child, who lives at 14, High Street, Wetherby, stated that just prior to the
accident she went upstairs to light a fire in the bedroom, taking the deceased with her. Whilst in the bedroom the baby commenced
to cry, and she went down to feed it. The little boy William was taken downstairs also, but while she (witness) was answering
the front door he went upstairs again. Almost as soon as she got to the door, she heard William scream. Rushing upstairs she
found the child with his clothing in flames. The only way she could account for the accident was that the child must have
been reaching up to the mantelpiece for a toy, when the draught caused by the opening of the front door blew his pinafore
into the fire.
William, given first aid and his burns bathed, a neighbour then called
for the assistance of Dr. Hargreaves, the local physician, and was admitted to Leeds General Infirmary where he died the following
The remaining weeks of the
month of March were characterized by desultory enemy artillery and trench mortar fire. Aerial observation by the enemy utilizing
both balloon and aircraft had also proved to be a significant feature of this sector as had mining activity in front of the
village of La Boiselle. It was also noted that heavy calibre artillery, possibly about 15 cm, had now come
into action and was firing from positions located at Contalmaison or Pozieres.
Batteries of the Centre Group had by now
turned their attentions to the enemy's barbed wire defences as early as the 13th in an attempt to cut 'lanes'
as a precursor to a 'scheme' that was due to be carried out by the infantry.
On the night of the 26th/27th March,
a trench raid was to be carried out by the 1st Dorsets, 14th Brigade, 32nd Division on the German trenches at La Boisselle.
The raiding party would penetrate the enemy's defences at two points; 'Y Sap,' that protruded into 'Mash Valley'
located to the south of the village, and enemy trenches located between the village cemetery and the 'Glory Hole.'
The objectives of the raid were to ascertain the strength of the enemy's positions and, if possible, identify which unit(s)
were holding the line.
During the day, enemy artillery had fired about 12 rounds into Albert but the main part of his
bombardment consisting of over 200 shells fell on the British trenches.
The night was clear with hardly any cloud cover
as the raiders assembled in two parties, the only actions of the enemy being the firing of several Very lights. As a precursor
to the raid, a small mine was detonated by the 179th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers under the heavily mined area
known as the 'Glory Hole' at 12.27 a.m. and at this time also, a barrage by the Centre Group commenced on the following
A/155 Battery Rounds Expended 121 X.8.c 12.50 - X.8.a.05.52.
C/155 Battery " "
188 X.13.d. - X.14.c.
D/155 Battery "
" 170 X.13.d.
B/164 Battery (Howitzer) 53 X.13.d.
In addition to this barrage mounted by the Centre Group, other batteries in the sector, C/164, D/168
and both sections of the 27th Siege Battery also provided fire support for the raid.
As the raiding party penetrated the enemy positions via the 'lanes' cut in the barbed wire defences, the
German artillery opened up a heavy bombardment on the batterie's positions and that of the British line. By 1 o'clock
the raid was effectively over after suffering numerous casualties with little or no intelligence being gathered. The
position at 'Y Sap,' as suspected , proved to be a formidible one that would later require destruction by mine
On the 1st April, orders were received that the 32nd Division were to be relieved by the 8th Division,
The relief commenced at 7 p.m. on the evening of the 6th when one section of all the batteries that constituted
the brigade were relieved by the following units:
A/155 - 1st Battery, 45th Brigade, R.F.A.
B/155 - 3rd Battery, 45th Brigade, R.F.A.
C/155 - 'O' Battery, 5th Brigade, R.H.A.
D/155 - 5th Battery, 45th Brigade, R.F.A.
Leaving their guns in position and taking over those
of the 8th Divisional Batteries, the relieved sections of the brigade proceeded to their respective Wagon Lines where
they spent the night.
At 7 a.m. on the morning of the 7th, the sector covered by the departing Centre Group was handed
over to the Left Group Command of the 8th Divisional Artillery.
At 8 a.m., the section of batteries that had remained
in thier Wagon Lines during the night commenced a march to a rest area located at Rubempre to the west of Contay, followed
by Brigade Headquarters Staff under the command of the Orderly Officer on being relieved by the 5th Brigade R.H.A. at
10.30 a.m. The remaining sections of batteries also followed suit later during the day on relief being completed
at 7 p.m.
The brigade would now also part company with Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury who had now received orders to
proceed to Senlis to take over duties of C.R.A. in the absence of Brigadier-General James A. Tyler. (Authors note: Lieutenant-Colonel
Bunbury left for Amiens at 5 p.m. on the 28th April en route for England).
The brigade now assumed a programme of drill
and general cleaning and maintenance of equipment, however, the stay at Rubempre was to prove to be a short one. Due to a
suitable watering place being located over 4 miles from the latter village, orders were now issued for the brigade to relocate
to Contay on the 13th instant. This was duly carried out at intervals by the various sections of the brigade travelling by
different routes as was standard military practice, billets and lines being occupied by 12.30 p.m.
Once again the brigade
set about routine tasks of drill and training in the days that followed, however, intimation was received on the 20th April
that Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O. was to assume duties as Commanding Officer, 155th Brigade, R.F.A.
Lieutenant-Colonel Sheppard visited the brigade on the 26th and on the 28th, formally assumed command, the men parading
for his inspection at 2.30 p.m. dressed in Field Service Marching Order.
The month of May began as the previous
month had ended with the men engaged in cleaning kit, and a programme of various drills and training.
up of men and materiel at Contay would have been most notable to the men as the village was located on one of the
primary railheads involved in the transportation of ammunition to the front.
Although the brigade were in reserve, several
N.C.O's, gunners and drivers under the command of two officers, were attached to other brigades of the 32nd Division digging
gun pits and constructing Observation Points or 'O.P's.'
The Divisional Ammunition Column was also required
to attend, each afternoon, instruction in gun drill, one would assume, to enable the men of the brigade in whatever capacity
they served to 'multi-task.'
Training had now also commenced with Trench Bridges issued at a rate of 2
per battery for bridging ditches and other obstacles, this training being described as "satisfactory."
the 11th May, the brigade received a distinguished visitor in the form of Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig who was passing
through the village of Contay. Men of "B" Battery paraded with Haig expressing "His satisfaction with the
From the 14th - 16th May, working parties had been formed from "A," "B," and "C"
Batteries, each battery party under the command of 1 officer, for the preparation of gun pits at Q.35.b. & d (near
Mesnil). It is of interest to note that the War Diary records that material for their construction was drawn from a Royal
Engineer Dump located at Aveluy. This possibly refers to the site now occupied Aveluy Wood Cemetery (Lancashire Dump),
On the 26th of the month, in accordance with the re-organisation of Divisional Artilleries,
the 155th Brigade Ammunition Column was broken up, personnel being distributed to the 32nd Divisional Ammunition Column or
to the Trench Mortar Batteries of the 32nd Division. The horses were distributed to the 32nd and 49th D.A.C.'s with some
lucky enough to be 'evacuated.'
Some batteries were also subject to re-organisation with D/155 Battery (18-pounders)
transfered to the 164th Brigade R.F.A. In addition, A/164 Battery (4.5 inch Howitzers) was transferred to the 155th Brigade
R.F.A. and was re-designated D/155 Battery.
In manpower, provisional authority was issued to the brigade for the increase
of one subaltern to all 4 gun batteries, both 18-pounder and 4.5 inch Howitzer, under a 32nd Divisional Artillery 'Letter'
dated 18th May.
Provision was also made for the adoption of reserve positions whilst the brigade was located in the Rest
area at Contay. Should the enemy attack, and the brigade was required for support, they would occupy the following positions
(Trench Map co-ordinates corrected by Author).
"If enemy capture the ridge from Auchonvillers - Hamel:-
Battery positions Q.32.c. O.P.'s at Q.21.d. and Q.27.b."
(These positions equate roughly: Batteries,
to the north-west of Martinsart. Observation Posts, between Englebelmer - Hamel, and to the west of Mesnil respectively).
"If enemy capture the ridge from Auchonvillers to Mesnil:-
Bty. positions W.7.b. and d. - Ops. at W.2.d."
(Batteries, in and around the village of Bouzincourt, Observation Post, south-west corner of Bois de Martinsart respectively).
"If enemy capture Authuille, Authuille Wood area:-
Bty. positions at W.8.d. and 1 Bty at sw edge of
O.Ps. at W.15.a."
(Battery positions, to the east of Bouzincourt and 1 battery, south-west
edge of Bois de Martinsart. Observation Posts located near to mills, east of Bouzincourt).
"If enemy occupy
valley running from Thiepval Wood to south of Authuille Wood - Battery positions in W.9. - Ops. W.15.a."
positions, south of Bois de Martinsart and east of Bouzincourt, Observation Posts, near to mills east of the latter location).
During the period spent in the Rest Area at Contay, 'Test Calls' were made to the brigade who paraded ready
to respond to any of the above scenarios.
The War Diary closes the month of May 1916 with the following:
completion of the gun positions at W.35. b & d the Brigade will probably move into action and relieve one of the Brigades
This would happen sooner than later. Robert and the men of the 'Coal Owner's Own'
were now about to take part in the greatest Allied offensive yet mounted in the Great War. The Battle of the Somme.
The Somme Offensive
The first major action
of the 32nd Division in the Great War was destined to take place on the 1st July 1916, on the Somme, France. The original
date for the commencement of the offensive was to be the 29th June, however, the deterioration in weather conditions,
in particular heavy rainfall, forced the postponement of the launch of the attack by 48 hours.
of the division was to capture the heavily fortified village of Thiepval and its subsequent environs. Once this first
line of the enemy's defence was penetrated, the attack was to continue onto the second German line defences located
near Mouquet Farm. Prior to the launch of the offensive, the Divisional Artillery consisting of the 155th, 161st, 164th
and 168th Brigades R.F.A., would mount a bombardment of the German Front Line and associated enemy positions.
After dark on the 8th June, the batteries of the brigade under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel
Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O. began transporting ammunition from Contay, located west of Albert, and dumping the
latter at positions located to the north-east of Aveluy Wood in the Ancre valley.
By the 14th, "A," "B"
and "C" Batteries of the 155th Brigade occupied these new positions with "D" Battery located to the south
of Martinsart. Brigade Headquarters had also moved forward from Contay the day previously and now occupied positions
located at Bouzincourt.
On the 19th, the War Diary records that the dumping of ammunition had been completed, and
that the dumps for "A," "B" and "C" Batteries contained 5000 rounds and "D" dump,
3700 rounds respectively.
At 4.00 p.m. on the afternoon of the 20th, "A" and "B" Batteries began
to register their fire on the German Support and Reserve Line Trenches located south of Thiepval with covering fire being
provided by 9.2 and 8 inch Howitzers.
On the 23rd, the brigade came under the control of the Left Group, 32nd Divisional
Artillery with the Headquarters of the 155th and 168th Brigades being also attached.
On the 24th, the preliminary bombardment
prior to the launch of the offensive began with "A," "B" and "C" Batteries employed on the cutting
of barbed wire defences in front of the German Support Line Trenches, south of Thiepval. In addition to these tasks,
the batteries also bombarded the German Reserve Line Trench located south of 'Ligne des Pommes,' in the area
of the 'Hindenburg Redoubt.' The batteries also fired on wire already to cut to hamper any possible attempts at repair
by the enemy.
As the 18-pounders operated to this fire-plan, "D" Battery with it's 4.5 inch Howitzers shelled
certain strong-points by day.
For the next two days, this programme of bombardment continued with tasks switching to
the cutting of the German barbed wire defences and keeping breaches in the latter already open on the 27th.
As the proposed
start date of the offensive drew closer, the 29th June, orders were received that the attack was to be postponed
for 48 hours due to heavy rainfall.
As the infantry waited, the brigade maintained the bombardment on the wire, strongpoints and
enemy communication trenches. On the 30th June, the War Diary records that:
been able to cut wire on the German Front Line laying the gun with open sights.'
It is recorded that the batteries
gun-pits were located 1500 yards from the enemy front line and that the latter was clearly visible. The War Diary continues:
'Although A, B & C batteries were in exposed positions and ammunition was brought up to
them every evening during the preliminary bombardment, the battery positions & approaches to them were under intermittent
heavy machine gun & artillery fire; the casualties sustained were very small.'
The War Diary then records
the number of casualties sustained since the commencement of operations. "A," "B" and "D" Batteries
are recorded as 'Nil' however, casualties sustained by "C" Battery are not recorded.
of 'Soldiers Died In The Great War' and Commonwealth War Graves records suggests that "C"
Battery also sustained no casualties in the period 20th - 30th June.
Hour, 7.30 a.m., Saturday 1st July 1916
At 06.40 a.m., the batteries of the 155th Brigade commenced
a heavy bombardment of the enemy lines prior to the launch of the assault by units of the 32nd Division at 7.30 a.m.
the 96th Brigade on the left of the divisional attack pressed forward to capture Thiepval village, the guns
of the batteries now lifted and concentrated fire on the German support and reserve lines trenches.
Mans Land,' the infantry were met with a hail of machine-gun and rifle fire as soon as they had left the safety of their
own trenches. In spite of heavy casualties, some men had managed to penetrate the German Front Line, but, as the day wore
on, any positions gained on this frontage became untenable and the men were either captured, killed, or tried to escape back
to the safety of the British Front Line.
On the right flank however,the attack of the 97th Brigade had managed to
gain a valuable foothold in the enemy strong point known as the 'Leipzig Salient' albeit, suffering heavy casualties.
Much has been written as regards the failure of the effects of the British artillery in the Somme offensive. The
War Diary of the 155th Brigade indicates that enemy barbed wire defences were 'cut' as far as their own observations
are concerned, however, evidence from unit War Diaries would now suggest in insufficient quantity along the length of the
attack frontage as a whole. Thiepval, similar to other fortified villages attacked on the 1st July such as Gommecourt, Serre
and Fricourt also relied on a subterranean defence consisting of deep dug-outs sheltering large bodies of men, safe from the
effects of the barrage. Failure to neutralize these defences by heavy artillery and the lack of reliable intelligence
as to their locations, no doubt, contributed to the failure to capture these positions.
On the 2nd July, the brigade continued the bombardment of enemy trenches and strong points
located to the south of Thiepval.
On the 3rd, between the hours of 1.15 a.m. and 3.00 a.m. the batteries were engaged
in a heavy bombardment of enemy communication trenches and strong points in preparation for an attack on Thiepval by the 25th
Division at 6.15 a.m.
After a lull in the firing, the final preparatory bombardment recommenced at 5.00 a.m until 'Zero'
Hour and the launch of the infantry attack. In addition to the fire of the 155th Brigade, other batteries placed a barrage
on the enemy's support, reserve and communication trenches.
In a repeat of the 1st July attack, the 75th Brigade,
25th Division on leaving the British Front Line were subjected to a storm of machine-gun, rifle and artillery fire and
the attempt to take Thiepval for a second time failed with heavy casualties.
The days that followed were characterized
by a marked increase in German artillery activity particularly on the 5th when high explosive and gas shells were fired
on Aveluy Wood and it's environs. This bombardment resulted in several direct hits registered on the Observation Posts
of the batteries and at the Telephone Exchange located in the wood itself.
On the 7th, between the hours of 7.30
a.m and 8.50 a.m., all batteries were engaged in the bombardment of the German Front Line at Thiepval. This was in conjunction
with an attack being made on Ovillers La Boiselle by the 36th Brigade, 12th Division, with the 74th Brigade, 25th Division
being attached for the operation.
8th July, a gradual withdrawal of the 155th Brigade commenced. Brigade Headquarters, moving from dug-outs located in positions
at the 'Bluff' which it had occupied on the 26th June, relocated to Warloy (Warloy-Baillon), west of Albert.
However, Headquarters and Brigade Wagon Lines remained west of Senlis, a position they had occupied since the 22nd June.
Consequently, on the 11th July, the batteries of the 155th Brigade began a two-stage relief, after dark, of the 153rd
Brigade, R.F.A., attached to the 36th (Ulster) Division. The War Diary records:
A B & C batteries take over guns of A B & C batteries 153 Bde.
Guns of A B & C 155 to be taken to 153 Bde.
D/155 takes its own guns to the new position.'
This relief of one section of the batteries
of 153rd Brigade was completed on the nights 11th/12th and the second section completed this manoeuvre during the nights 12th/13th
All ammunition dumped by the 153rd Brigade at this new position located near Mesnil, was taken
over by the 155th Brigade, the latter now coming under the command of Right Group, 49th (West Riding) Divisional Artillery under
the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Clifford V.D. R.F.A.
Here the batteries remained until the 18th July when "A,"
"B" and "C" were relieved by artillery units of the 49th (West Riding) Division.
removed all of its guns during the relief. "B" Battery was to leave all of its guns in position taking only two
field pieces from the relieving battery, whilst "C" also left its guns in situ but took over four pieces on completion
of the relief. "D" Battery was to take its own guns away on relief from a position located at Mesnil Chateau.
The brigade now moved to the Wagon Lines located at Senlis where it spent the night.
The following day, the whole of
the 32nd Divisional Artillery began a movement westwards away from the Somme battlefield.
At 6.00 a.m., the 155th Brigade,
led by Brigade Headquarters and "A" Battery commenced the march with "B," "C" and "D"
Batteries following on at fifteen minute intervals respectively. Passing through the villages of Hedauville, Varennes, Lealvillers,
Louvencourt and Sarton, the final destination of the brigade was billets located at Milly, to the north of the town of Doullens.
The following chapter details the rather
complex series of movements and transfers from commands that an artillery brigade performed during the course of the
Great War. This period, covered extensively by the War Diary, provides a fascinating insight into the command and control
structure of the artillery and it's ability to respond with rapidity to tactical changes and developments often at a moments
On the 20th July, the 155th Brigade proceeded northwards. On the afternoon of the 22nd, the whole of the brigade
occupied their subsequent battery lines at Ames, located to the south-west of Lillers.
"A" and "D"
lines were located in the village itself, whilst "B" and "C" lines were located in a large field on the
outskirts between Ames and the village of Bellery all personnel being billeted in Ames.
The 32nd Divisional Artillery
now came under the command of 1 Corps, First Army with Divisional Headquarters located at Ecquedecques.
remained at Ames refitting and overhauling equipment, the 18-pounder guns being described in particular as 'found
to be in a bad condition.' On the 25th, as a consequence for the need for vital maintenance, "C" Battery
sent one gun to I.O.M. workshops (Authors note: Inspector Of Ordnance Machinery) located at Labeuvriere for a general
overhaul whilst "B" Battery received two guns from the railhead.
The return to action once again became apparent
when, on the 26th, orders were received from 32nd Divisional Artillery Headquarters that 1 officer, 1 servant plus one
telephonist per battery and Headquarters were to be attached to the 16th Divisional Artillery for familiarisation duties
on the front occupied by the infantry of that division.
At 8.40 a.m. on the morning of the 27th, these advance parties
left Brigade Headquarters. Orders received dictated the attachment of two 18 pounder and one 4.5 Howitzer batteries to Heavy
Artillery, 1 Corps, to act as 'Counter Batteries' with "A," "C" and "D" Batteries respectively
being selected for the task.
On the 28th, orders were received that the 32nd Divisional Artillery were to move to Marles-les-Mines,
located south-west of Bethune and it's surrounding district. Prior to this movement, "A" and "C" Batteries
handed over their guns to batteries of the 161st, 164th and 168th Brigades.
On July 29th, the 155th Brigade proceeded
to their new positions moving via Bellery, Ferfay, Auchel and Lozinghem.
As the brigade moved to their wagon lines at
Marles-les-Mines, they drew guns which had been overhauled by the I.O.M. workshops from the other brigades of the 32nd
Divisional Artillery as they moved forward. Of these workshops, Bethune supplied two guns, Labeuvriere, three guns
and Ruitz three guns also.
Further orders for a change of command were received on the 1st August when all battery commanders
and associated staff attached to the 16th Divisional Artillery were ordered to move to Headquarters, Left Group, of the
8th Divisional Artillery.
The 164th Brigade now came under the control of Officer Commanding 155th Brigade to form
part of the Left Group, 32nd Divisional Artillery, and by the 4th August, one section of each battery relieved batteries of
the 8th Divisional Artillery in positions near Annequin, located to the west of Auchy-les-Mines. However, A/155 and A/164
Batteries did not relieve any batteries of the 8th Division and instead moved into unoccupied positions.
At 10.50 p.m.
on the 5th August, all guns were in position and the relief was complete. It would suggest from the War Diary that the batteries
commenced fire on the night 5th/6th with seventeen 18-pounders and four 4.5 Howitzers but the target(s) is not specified,
however, registration of the fall of shot is recorded on the 6th 'on various points of the German
The sector of the German line that was about to receive the attention of the brigade encompassed the
area to the south of Cuinchy Brickstacks. This was an area where underground warfare and the detonation of mines was
most prevalent, the War Diary recording three instances.
On August 10th, the Left Group Headquarters of the 155th Brigade
moved to Le Preol, but the batteries of the Group maintained their positions under sporadic, and at times, intense artillery
fire directed by the enemy.
On the 8th September, Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O., Officer Commanding 155th
Brigade was evacuated to England although the War Diary does not stipulate as to the cause. As a consequence of this, Lieutenant-Colonel
Herbert Allcard D.S.O., Officer Commanding 164th Brigade R.F.A. now assumed command of the brigade.
In this sector the
brigade remained until the 15th October when they began a gradual withdrawal from action. On the afternoon of the 16th, the
whole brigade had completed this manoeuvre and marched to billets located at Lapugnoy, west of Bethune.
Return To The Somme
On the 17th, the march south began. On this date, the village
of la Thieuloye, north-east of St. Pol was reached, and the men subsequently billeted. The following day, the brigade accomplished
the march to Rebreuette located to the south-east of Frevent and accommodation was furnished at this location. Finally, on
the 19th October, the area of Doullens was reached, the brigade being billeted at Authieule to the south-east of the town.
On this date also, Captain Pollock, previously serving with "C" Battery, 168th Brigade, assumed command of
"A" Battery, 155th Brigade.
(Authors note: Possibly Arthur J.C. Pollock).
On the 20th October,
the brigade proceeded by march to wagon lines and bivouacs located at the village of Louvencourt. Brigade Headquarters proceeded
onwards to the village of Mailly Maillet and after dark, the batteries of the 155th moved forward into action.
"A," "B," and "D" batteries with Brigade Headquarters now came under the control of the
3rd Division's Artillery, whilst "C" Battery now came under the control of Officer Commanding, 42nd Brigade
Royal Field Artillery.
The following dispositions of the batteries is taken from the brigade War Diary including map
A/155 - Q 4 a 3.7
B/155 - Q 4 a 5.5
C/155 - K 26 a 1.7
D/155 - Q 4 a 6.2
map locations translate as "A," "B" and "D" Batteries in the vicinity of 'White City'
facing the village of Beaumont Hamel and "C" Battery in a position on the Colincamps Plain due west of La Signy
No information is recorded in the War Diary as to the objectives of the brigade on this date though one must
presume the fire-plan was of a general nature.
With the batteries in position, the brigade Wagon Lines commenced a series
of movements away from the village of Louvencourt. C/155's Lines moving to Acheux on the 28th October, and "A,"
"B" and "D" moving to Thievres on the 3rd November respectively.
The War Diary records that on the
4th November, the batteries located at 'White City' had ceased shooting, but that ' Batteries were heavily
shelled intermittently' however, no casualties are recorded.
The attack would commence on the 13th November
from points K28 located to the north at Serre, to R20, east of the River Ancre. The 155th Brigade fire-plan, would see them
support in their allotted sector the attacks to be made by the 2nd and 51st (Highland) Division located north and south
of 'White City' respectively.
Monday 13th November 1916: The
Death Of Sergeant Robert Fowler
In preparation for the attack to be launched by V Corps, over 600 artillery pieces of various
calibres from 8 Divisional Artilleries had been massed to support the infantry assault.
British bombardment had commenced on the 11th November and lasted for forty-eight hours, however, the 155th Brigade, according
to the War Diary, had ceased 'shooting' on the 4th November. Zero hour was set for 5.30 a.m. on the morning of the
13th. At this time, the barrage was planned to move 100 yards every five minutes, it was then to halt on the first objective
for one hour and then move on. Due to the weather, in particular fog, artillery
observation had been virtually impossible and impeded counter-battery work. This was to have dire consequences to the batteries
of the 155th located at 'White City.'
The specific task allocated to the brigade during the offensive was to
direct fire on any enemy troops that appeared to be massing, however, due to visibility being limited, tactics were adapted
and the batteries proceeded to bombard German communication trenches.
The War Diary unfortunately does not record any
specific time during the day, but, in the course of operations, "A" Battery had "two guns buried but not damaged"
no doubt due to enemy counter-battery work.
It would appear now that the enemy guns had located the positions held by
the brigade. The War Diary records, albeit difficult to decipher due to annotations, " 9 men? and (annotation, B
Battery) 2? horses were blown up by a 150 cm? shell at the battery position when bringing up rations."
are recorded in the War Diary as 2 O/Rs (Other Ranks) killed and 4 wounded.
An analysis of Commonwealth War Graves records
suggest that the two Other Ranks killed in this incident were Acting Bombardier Frank Holliday and Corporal Bert Norton, both
men being interred at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps.
As regards the circumstances surrounding the death of Robert,
one can only surmise that he was a member of the party bringing up rations to the men of "B" Battery.
therefore a possibility that the number of casualties killed and their deaths recorded by the War Diary, is an inaccurate
figure, or, that of the 4 wounded, one may have succumbed to wounds received by the explosion.
Wood Cemetery, Mailly-Maillet, Somme
The cemetery was begun in June 1916 and burials continued up
until the Ancre offensive of November 1916.
In 1917, 43 burials of casualties were made by units occupying the surrounding
Burials continued from mid 1918 onwards, and, after the Armistice, graves from the surrounding battlefields and
from a cemetery located in the village itself were concentrated into the cemetery.
There are now 702 burials and commemorations
of which 60 are unidentified. The cemetery also contains special memorials to 8 casualties whose graves could not be located
or were destroyed by shell fire.