Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Private John Starmond Crossley

Introduction
Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Shields,P
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K
Acknowledgements
Dardanelles

27932
2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
Died, 28th October 1916

Cemetery : Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France
Grave Reference or Panel Number : Pier and Face 2A, 2C and 2D

Son of Kelita and the late Isabella Crossley, of the Market Place, Wetherby.
 
John Starmond Crossley was born at Wetherby in 1890 to parents, Kelita, occupation, Joiner/Cabinet Maker and Isabella Crossley, the family residing in premises located at Malton's Row, West End, Wetherby.
 
The Crossley Family
 
Kelita Crossley, a native of Wetherby, entered a union of marriage to one Evelyn Swann at Christ Church, Harrogate on the 15th November 1876. A comprehensive study of birth, marriage, death and census records reveal that Evelyn Swann was in fact one Isabella Swan, a native of March, Cambridgeshire. Employed in 1871 as a Hotel Maid at premises located in Devonshire Place, Harrogate, the reasons as to why Isabella adopted the christian name of Evelyn are unclear, however, it would appear that a 'trait' of the Swan family was to name two of their four children with the first letter 'E.' Everline and Edred Egbert respectively.
 
In 1881, Kelita and Isabella had at this juncture established their marital home at Malton's Row, Wetherby in premises adjacent to the Blacksmiths Arms, a Public House kept by one Thomas Margerison.
The marriage would be blessed by the birth of their first child, also named Kelita, who was baptised at St. James Parish Church on the 5th October 1884, followed by the birth of John Starmond in 1890 respectively.
 
The 1901 Census details record that at this juncture the family had relocated to premises in the Market Place, Wetherby. Kelita Senior, now described as an Employer, Cabinet Maker, appears to have established his own family business along with that of his eldest son now aged 16 years, John presumably being in full time education.
 
On the 22nd February 1902, Isabella Crossley died aged just 45 years and was interred at Wetherby Cemetery, Hallfield Lane, Wetherby, the exact cause of her death being unknown.
 
The movements of the Crossley family following the death of Isabella now become somewhat unclear however on the 11th December 1906, Kelita married one Margaret Ann Wells, a widow, of 45 Barrack Street, Leeds, at St. Clement's Church, Sheepscar, Leeds, his address being recorded as 6 Back Barrack Street.
 
Margaret Ann Wells (nee Pollard), was born at Apperley Bridge in 1870 to parents John Pollard, occupation, Labourer, and Mary Pollard. A transient family that appeared to move to where work was available, by 1891 the family were residing at premises located in Rugby Place, Little London, Leeds, Margaret, now aged 21, finding employment as a Dressmaker.
 
On the 22nd February 1896, Margaret married one Joseph William Wells at St. Marks Church, Woodhouse, Leeds, their address at the time of marriage being recorded as 8 Beaulah Place, Woodhouse.
A son, Benjamin, was born on the 6th December 1896, the family now recorded as residing at Number 7, Stock Street, possibly Stocks Street, located off Meanwood Road. In late 1897, Joseph unfortunately died at the untimely age of 27 years, Benjamin being placed in the care of his Grandmother whilst Margaret found employment as a Housekeeper (Domestic).
 
The Return To Wetherby
 
At the close of the year 1906, the Crossley's returned to Wetherby, (Authors Note: It appears that Kelita had "successive" property ownership), the 1911 Census records at this period that the family had now taken over the "White Horse Inn," High Street, Wetherby. This establishment, previously named the "Blue Boar," was located below the site of the "Red Lion" and was for many years under the ownership of the Precious family with Kelita now being recorded in Kelly's Directory dated 1912 as a Publican & Carpenter. The 1911 Census details record the occupations of Kelita (Junior) as a House Joiner (Worker), John Starmond, now aged 21, a Nurseryman, and Benjamin Wells as a Shop Boy at an Iron Mongers.
 
For a young man in what was becoming a vibrant and growing town, John Starmond commenced a relationship with one Maud Lavender, daughter of Mr Tom Lavender of Sandringham Terrace, Wetherby. Married at St. James Parish Church on the 23rd February, 1914, the young couple set up their marital home at 50, North Street.
Unbeknown to the happy couple, their wedded bliss was about to be shattered upon the outbreak of the Great War.
 
Enlistment
 
John Starmond Crossley resisted the urge of patriotic fervour that swept through the town in August 1914 resulting in the enlistment of many a young Wetherby man. Enlisting at York under the "Derby Scheme" i.e. voluntary enlistment before the implementation of the Military Sevices Act 1916 and placed on the Army Reserve, John was approved for military service in early April 1916. Issued the serial number 27932, an analysis of this batch of serial numbers indicates possible service with the 14th (Reserve) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment based at Brocton Camp, Staffordshire.
 
Undergoing basic military training at this large facility, John was posted overseas to France on or about the 24th July 1916. Part of a draft destined for a wide range of Battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment, it may be that John was originally intended to be posted as a draft to either the 11th or 12th (Service) battalions of the Regiment. On arrival at the 33rd Infantry Base Depot (Detail) located at Boulogne, this allocation was altered and John was posted to join the ranks of the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, on the 28th August 1916 whilst they were billets in Divisional Reserve at Beuvry located to the east of Bethune. Part of a draft of 26 Other Ranks from either the 3rd or 14th (Reserve) Battalions, West Yorkshire Regiment, the War Diary describes this draft of men as "a good draft on the whole."
 
2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
 
A Regular Army Battalion, the 2nd West Yorkshire's, Officer Commanding Lieutenant-Colonel George Fraser Phillips, had proceeded to France on the 4th November 1914 disembarking at Le Havre during the following day. Forming part of the 8th Division, the 2nd West Yorks were contained in the 23rd Infantry Brigade that comprised of the following units:-
 
2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment
2nd Battalion, Scottish Rifles
2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment
 
Divisional Commander, Major-General Francis John Davies C.B.
Brigade Commander, Temporary Brigadier-General Reginald John Pinney
 
During one of their first tours in the trenches, Private Tom Young, 8060, was killed near Neuve Chapelle on the 12 December 1914. The first man from Wetherby to fall in the Great War.

Private Thomas Young

It is at this juncture that the Author will provide a comprehensive account of the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment's actions that led to John's posting to the battalion as a draft in 1916.
 
Remaining in the sector and fighting in the actions at Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge, 10th - 13th March and 9th May 1915 respectively, the battalion had suffered significant casualties during these battles necessitating large drafts to bring the battalion up to fighting strength.
In June, command of the 23rd Infantry Brigade was assumed by Temporary Brigadier-General Travers Edwards Clarke, Divisional Command then being assumed on a temporary basis by Temporary Brigadier-General Reginald Stewart Oxley, 24th Infantry Brigade, before Major-General Havelock Hudson C.B., C.I.E. assumed command of the 8th Division.
 
Changes in command of the 2nd West Yorkshire's had also materialised. Captain Percy Leigh Ingpen assuming command in January 1915 vice Colonel Phillips and on the 21st March, Major (Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel) Thomas Percy Barrington assuming command.
 
In September 1915, the 8th Division, contained in III Corps under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir William Pulteney provided diversionary actions for the Battle of Loos at Bois Grenier however only the 25th Infantry Brigade of the 8th Division were detailed for operations, the 23rd Infantry Brigade, remaining in Divisional Reserve.
 
The winter of 1915 was spent in various locations out of the line, Christmas of 1915 and the New year of 1916 witnessing the 8th Division in training in the Morbecques-Blaringhem areas located to the south of Hazebrouck.
 
Picardy: Somme
 
Moving to the Fleurbaix/Sailly Sector south-west of Armentieres in mid January, orders were received by III Corps to move southwards to join the Fourth Army in late March 1916. Billeted near Amiens, it was on the 4th April  that the 2nd West Yorks proceeded to the trenches near Becourt, east of Albert relieving the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the 11th Battalion, Border Regiment, 97th Infantry Brigade, 32nd Division. It is of interest to note how the West Yorkshire's found the mentality of the enemy holding this part of the front and the means at their disposal of how to deal with them. The War Diary records on the 5th April 1916:-
 
"Found a different enemy to the quieter VIIth Bavarians to whom we were accustomed in the Sailly area.
Enemy very active with rifle grenades (time fuses), cannisters (oil drums filled with H.E.) and trench mortars. Very little material for retaliation was found available and it was two days before any rifle grenades could be obtained. The supply became more regular on the 2nd night and vigorous retaliation was carried out with rifle grenades chiefly. Two trench mortars were brought into the line on the last night. The Battalion was not accustomed to much activity but the last two days in the trenches were passed with less disturbance."
 
After this tour in the line of five days duration, the West Yorkshire's had suffered 11 men wounded, of which 3 men succumbed to their wounds, and 4 men killed. Of these men, five are now buried in adjoining graves at Becourt Military Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt, Somme close to where they fell or died of wounds. Two men however were evacuated along the casualty clearing line only to succumb to their wounds at the 51st (Highland) Casualty Clearing Station located near the village of Villers-Bocage to the north of Amiens. The epitaph of one man buried at Becourt, Private Patrick Dorsey, 4/7787, a native of Halifax, West Yorkshire and aged 23 years simply reads:- "My Love For Him Who Sleeps Beneath Will Never Fade Away. Mother."
 

Halesfiringpin.JPG
Needle Pellet Of A British Hales Rifle Grenade. Discovered By The Author, East Of Becourt
Training And Employment Of Grenadiers
Halesgrenade.JPG
Issued By The General Staff At General Headquarters October 1915

Divisional & Brigade Reserve

Upon relief by the 1st Royal Irish Rifles, 25th Infantry Brigade, 8th Division, the 2nd West Yorkshire's proceeded by route of march to hutted accomodation located in Henencourt Wood, west of Albert, the remainder of the 23rd Infantry Brigade being billeted nearby.

On the 10th April, Major Leighton Hume-Spry D.S.O. assumed command of the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment vice Colonel Barrington who was promoted to Temporary Brigadier-General, 118th Infantry Brigade, 39th Division. Hume-Spry, an experienced and most capable officer, had been posted from the 30th Division where he had held the appointments of both Assistant Adjutant and that of Quartermaster General.

Whilst at Henencourt, a training programme was initiated initially consisting of four hours of instruction. With a battalion Bombing Section now being introduced, training was interrupted frequently by the weather however steady progress was made with a range and bombing trench being constructed and a canteen opened for the men. As the weather deteriorated, the huts were cold and leaked rainwater, the wood itself turning into a veritable quagmire. It was no doubt with some relief that orders were received to proceed to Albert and into Brigade Reserve. As a contrast to the cold and leaking accomodation to be found at Henencourt, the billets in the town were found to be "good," the West Yorks now in support to the 2nd Scottish Rifles. Whilst at Albert, further training continued with an emphasis being placed on physical drill, company drill, bayonet fighting and bombing practice, this being carried out with live ordnance.

Relieving the Scottish Rifles on the 23rd, the battalion moved into the trenches located in The Nab on the edge of Authuille Wood, the battalion taking up positions in front of the wood on their left flank, and on their right, facing the enemy fortified village of Ovillers. Although the enemy opposite the West Yorkshire's positions remained relatively inactive during daylight hours, his machine guns were opened up under the cover of the hours of darkness as the men went out into No Man's Land every night on working parties to improve their barbed wire defences and it was inevitable that casualties were sustained. The War Diary records that two men were killed and one wounded however an analysis of both the Commonwealth War Graves records and that of Soldiers Died In The Great Database concludes that in fact 3 men were killed with one man succumbing to wounds on the 26th. Authors note: Private Thomas William Thorley, 8636, succumbed to wounds on the 26th April at Mericourt-l'Abbe. It is possible that his wounds were received near Becourt earlier in the month. The three men who are recorded as killed in action are as follows:- Privates Leonard Marshall 21232 and Thomas Wrigley 8636, buried in adjoining graves at Aveluy Communal Cemetery Extension and Private William Derbyshire, 62307, commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Relieved by the Scottish Rifles on the 29th, the battalion moved back into Brigade Reserve at Albert, training in all disciplines continued and the usual working parties were found for various duties. A 'permanent' raiding party was formed on the 3rd May under the command of Lieutenant John Neville Alexander comprising of two officers and 62 Other Ranks. On this date also, the Lewis gun detachment ceased to exist as an autonomous unit, the men along with two guns being sent to each of the four companies.

The dangers of using 'live' ordnance became all too apparent when on the 5th May, Second-Lieutenant Walter Edward Mackay was accidentally wounded by the explosion of a bomb at the 23rd Infantry Brigade Bomb School. This unfortunate incident may have also resulted in the fatal wounding of Sergeant Raymond Alic Simpkin, 9162, a career soldier and a native of Clacton-on-Sea who is now buried at Millencourt Communal Cemetery Extension. Raymond's brother, Augustus, also served in the battalion and was later commissioned in June 1918.

Returning to the trenches on the 11th May after a period spent in Brigade and Divisional Reserve, relief of the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, 25th Infantry Brigade, 8th Division, would witness occupation of the line in the vicinity of The Nab. This tour was characterised by a more active enemy who frequently fired rifle grenades, trench mortars and salvoes of shrapnel into the positions held by the West Yorkshire's. His activity grew in intensity on the 14th, The Nab position coming under a hurricane bombardment consisting of mortars, high explosive and shrapnel. Although the War Diary contains no record of casualties sustained by the battalion during this tour, an analysis of both Soldiers Died and that of the Commonwealth War Graves Databases indicates that three men were killed in action on the 14th during this bombardment lasting for a duration of only 15 minutes. Privates Walter Bickerdike, 4/8249, Charles Broadhead, 4/7969 and Joe Smithson, 21428, all lie in adjacent graves located in Aveluy Communal Cemetery Extension.

Ovillers.jpg
Extract Of Trench Map, Ovillers, Edition 2B, 57D S.E.4, British Trenches Corrected To 11th June 1916

Relieved by the Scottish Rifles, the West Yorkshire's then proceeded to Albert and were placed in Brigade Reserve. It was whilst here that a draft of 73 Other Ranks was received along with one officer, Second-Lieutenant Arthur Edwin Pye Skett, aged 19 years.
As the usual working parties were found and a programme of training carried out in all disciplines, yet another incident occured during bombing practice with live ordnance. Due to the premature detonation of a grenade, both Second-Lieutenants Robert Henry Lindsay Dashwood and John A. MacDonald were wounded. This unfortunate accident also resulted in the deaths of the Bombing Sergeant, Matthew Jennings, 9313, and Private Edgar Farrar, 4/7600. Jennings is now buried in Albert Communal Cemetery Extension whilst Farrar, a native of Hunslet, Leeds, possibly succumbed to wounds received as a result of this incident and is now buried at Millencourt Communal Cemetery Extension to the west of the town.
 
At the end of the month, the 2nd West Yorkshire's took over positions from the 8th Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, 70th Infantry Brigade, attached to the 8th Division in the Albert - Bouzincourt Defences, Battalion Headquarters being established on the Amiens Road in Albert. As ever, working parties were to be found and on the 28th, yet another draft arrived consisting of 20 Other Ranks to bolster the ranks of the battalion. Another unfortunate accident occured to a member of the battalion on the last day of the month when Second-Lieutenant Edward Hall Bartley was enjoying some leisure time away from the vagaries of life in the British Army. Mounting his horse and galloping across the Picardy countryside, it was whilst his horse attempted to jump some unknown obstacle, that the latter fell and rolled on top of the budding jump jockey. Although his injuries were not serious, he was admitted to the 24th Field Ambulance but no doubt on his return one can assume that the Colonel politely reminded him about using his leisure time more wisely.
 
June: Preparations For The Allied Offensive
 
With the build up of men and materiel in the rear areas for the proposed offensive, it was on the 4th June that the battalion returned to the trenches in The Nab.
On the following morning, Quarry Post was heavily shelled by enemy artillery and this bombardment continued throughout the course of the day. At 11 p.m., the Divisional Artillery of the 32nd and 34th and 8th Divisions opened up a bombardment in support of two trench raids, one, south of the village of La Boisselle conducted by the 24th Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Irish) of 34th Division, the second, by the 11th Border's (Lonsdales), 32nd Division, on the enemy's positions located in the Leipzig Salient, just to the north of The Nab.
In response, the retaliation by enemy artillery and trench mortars was swift resulting in the trenches occupied by the West Yorkshire's being considerably shelled in. Inevitably there were 11 casualties, two men Privates Ernest Kent, 11530, and Bateson Whitfield, 10905, being killed, both men now being buried in Aveluy Communal Cemetery Extension. Private John William Wood, 3/9974, would succumb to wounds on the 7th at Warloy-Baillon after being evacuated as would Private George Widdas, 21352, a married man with three children who would succumb to his wounds at Rouen on the 10th.
 
Relieved by the Scottish Rifles on the 8th, the battalion proceeded to billets in Albert before moving into Divisional Reserve on the 12th relieving the 8th Battalion, York & Lancaster Regiment, 70th Infantry Brigade attached to the 8th Division, in Number 2 Camp located in Henencourt Wood.
As working parties were needed to ferry supplies and to continue work on the trench systems, it was on the 13th that a party of nine officers and 250 men under the command of Captain Percy Yarborough Harkness assembled and proceeded to Albert for work under the Commander Royal Engineers. Authors note: 2nd Lincoln's, 25th Infantry Brigade, 8th Division War Diary entries record billets in Albert located in the Rue Felix Faure, near the Albert Railway Station.
 
As these working parties were continually furnished, a congratulatory message was received on the 19th from the G.O.C. 8th Division, Major-General Havelock Hudson C.B., C.I.E. who had assumed command of the division in August 1915. Particular mention was made of one party under Second-Lieutenant William Frederick Wescott as regards its efforts during the course of the last week. Formerly serving as Company Serjeant-Major, 4423 in the battalion, William was commissioned in November 1915 and had received the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal in June 1915 for actions at Neuve Chapelle on the 10th March.
 
It was also on the 19th that a conference was held at Battalion Headquarters with all Company Commanders present as regards details of the forth coming offensive. Lieutenant-Colonel Spry D.S.O. having returned from hospital some days previously whilst in his absence, Major Alfred Morey Boyall D.S.O. had assumed command of the battalion.
 
Operation Orders are now included in the pages of the War Diary. Concise as to the objectives of the battalion during the opening day of the offensive, the Author will provide an analysis of these orders during the course of this commemoration.
 
It was on the 22nd June, whilst the battalion were located at Henencourt Wood, that a draft of 124 Other Ranks joined the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, possibly posted from the 33rd I.B.D. (Infantry Base Depot), Boulogne.
Proceeding to Millencourt and relieving the 8th Yorks & Lancs, 70th Infantry Brigade, the detachment that had been billeted in Albert rejoined the battalion. Authors note: This detachment had lost one man during the course of their activities, Lance-Corporal William Wolstenholme, 4/19044, on the 19th June. William, a native of Leeds, now lies buried in Aveluy Communal Cemetery Extension.
 
A further conference attended by officers was held during the following day but the stay at the village was of a short duration. At 10 p.m. on the evening of the 23rd, the battalion proceeded by route of march to the trenches relieving the 2nd Middlesex in the Right Sub-Section, this relief being completed without incident at 3.30 a.m. - 3.45 a.m. early on the morning of the 24th. The dispositions of the companies were as follows:-

"B" Company   New Front Trench & Border Street
"D" Company   Ryecroft Street
"A" Company   Ribble Street
"C" Company   Assembly Dug-Outs   Houghton Street
 
Authors note: New Front Trench. Possibly the trench referred to as "new trench" in the War Diary of the 2nd Devons and constructed by a party of about 600 men on the 6th June under the command of Major Paget Kemmis Betty D.S.O., 15th Field Company, Royal Engineers, attached 8th Division.
 

Ovillersx7x13.jpg
Extract Of Map, Ovillers Edition 2B, 57D, S.E.4., British Trenches (Blue) Corrected To 11/6/16.

The Bombardment Commences


At 4 a.m. early on the morning of the 24th June, British artillery batteries commenced the opening phase of the bombardment on the enemy's postions both front and rear as a precursor to the launch of the Allied offensive. Codenamed "U" Day, over 1500 artillery pieces of numerous calibres were now brought into action performing various tasks such as the cutting of the enemy's barbed wire defences, the destruction of known strong points, counter-battery work and the bombardment of enemy supply routes to the front.


As the West Yorkshire's witnessed the ferocity of this opening bombardment, the men must have thought that the artillery were already winning the war for them as shell after shell screamed overhead to its allocated target. To add to this cacophony, gas was also intended to be discharged however with the wind speed decreasing at dusk and with the West Yorkshire's standing by, it was not until 1.45 a.m. on the morning of the 25th that the decision was made not to discharge. Authors note: This discharge from cylinders would have been performed by a unit of the Royal Engineers Special Brigade. The chemical agent possibly intended for use being "White Star," a combination of both phosgene and chlorine gas.

During the night of the 24th/25th, two patrols were sent out into No Man's Land to examine the German barbed wire defences so as to ascertain the effects of the British artillery's attempts at cutting the wire. One patrol under the command of Second-Lieutenant Charles Arthur Phillips, the second, under the command of Sergeant Robinson, ventured forth under the cover of darkness. The information brought back by both patrols would prove to be replicated all across the front, the wire appeared to be pratically "Undamaged."


"V" Day,
the second day of the bombardment, would witness a heavy bombardment of both the villages of Pozieres and Contalmaison by heavy calibre artillery. A discharge of gas was planned for 10 p.m. that evening but once again the wind proved to be unfavourable. At midnight, a preparatory bombardment commenced as a precursor to a successful raid mounted by the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, occupying the line to the left of the West Yorkshire's. Inevitably this raid provoked retaliation by the enemy's artillery firing both explosive and Lachrymatory shells but fortunately there were only three casualties sustained by the battalion.

Under the cover of darkness work was carried out by the men of "B" Company on Border Street and New Front Trench, the latter having being registered previously by the enemy's artillery.  Upkeep was also carried out on Ryecroft Street by the men of "D" Company no doubt each company endeavouring to complete their tasks by daybreak. As regards attempts to ascertain the condition of the German barbed wire defences, an officers patrol under the command of Second-Lieutenant Frederick John Freeman was sent out, Freeman reporting back that "the wire to be only cut in a few places."


"W" Day.
Relieved in the line by the 2nd Battalion, Scottish Rifles, 23rd Infantry Brigade at 1 a.m. on the morning of the 26th, the battalion proceeded by route of march to Millencourt which was reached at 4 a.m. whereupon officers and men moved into billets. During the afternoon a conference was held no doubt discussing operation orders for the forthcoming offensive however the area of Millencourt was still in the range of German artillery and at 2 p.m., three 5.9 inch Howitzer shells landed close to Headquarters. Despite the destruction that these 150 mm shells caused on detonation, no casualties were sustained.


"X" Day.
With final preparations made and companies equipped for the commencement of the assault the day previously, the battalion proceeded to take up their allocated positions in the trenches to await the launch of the offensive. Authors note: Although the War Diary does not record at any period the route in and out of the line, an examination of the War Diaries of the constituent units of the 25th Infantry Brigade record that this journey was made via Long Valley, east of Millencourt, this route now marked by the modern road the D91 entering the town of Albert on the Route de Millencourt. The route would then witness the battalions passing through the town in a northerly direction possibly journeying via the modern day D50 and on to Aveluy before entering the line in this locality.

Upon entering the line, the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment were deployed as follows:-


"C" Company (3)    New Front Trench & Border Street
"D" Company (4)   Ryecroft Street
"A" & "B" (2) Companies   Houghton Street

"Y" Day. As the bombardment continued to roar overhead, enemy artillery retaliated by shelling New Front Trench and Ryecroft Street causing considerable damage to the trench system and nine casualties. At 2 p.m. during the afternoon of the 28th June, notification of "Zero" Hour was received by Battalion Headquarters but these orders were cancelled at 6 p.m. due to heavy rainfall and an overcast that had hampered both aerial observation and the movement of men and supplies to the front. Enemy artillery fire also grew in intensity when the enemy commenced to enfilade Ryecroft Street with both 8 and 5.9 inch shells necessitating the withdrawal of two platoons of "D" Company during the evening to assembly dug-outs located in Houghton Street.

Intelligence had to gathered as to the condition of the enemy's wire so as a consequence two patrols were sent out across No Man's Land, one under the command of Second-Lieutenant Arthur Wilfred Wilkinson, the second, under the command of Second-Lieutenant Edgar Hugh Matheson. Upon the return of both patrols, the information gathered was similar, they reported that they found the wire "still more or less intact."

In the trenches, "C" Company arranged trench bridges to be ready for erection in their positions, New Front Trench and Border Street respectively, in addition to cutting the wire in front of their positions ready for removal before the commencement of the assault. "D" Company placed ladders ready for climbing from Ryecroft Trench whilst "A" and "B" Companies furnished working parties of 50 men each to assist in the repair of the trenches that had been damaged by the enemy bombardment. During the course of the 27th/28th June, in addition to the nine casualties suffered on the 27th, two men had been killed, Sergeant Lawrence Morton, 8722, and Private Richard Alfred Tennyson, 9512, both men having served with the battalion on the Western Front since the very outset. Their bodies unfortunately not identified after the war, both Sergeant Morton and Private Tennyson are now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme.

Final Preparations

It was noted during the final days of the bombardment and with "Z" Day now rescheduled for the 1st July, that enemy artillery in this sector had "slackened off." During the nights of the 29th/30th, a new assembly trench was commenced parallel and 100 yards to the rear of Border Street by working parties of 50 men each from "A" and "B" Companies initially intended to be under the command of Major Alfred Mory Boyall but prior to the commencement of the work, Major Boyall became a casualty due to Shell Shock. Before the work commenced on this new assembly trench, Second-Lieutenant Phillips, a native of Weston-super-Mare, taped out the exact position for the trench, the War Diary remarking that this officer "did good work."

Moving up from positions in Long Valley, the 2nd Devons now moved into the line, "D" Company of the battalion constructing a new assembly trench on the night of the 29th/30th. As this battalion had moved into position, "C" and "D" Companies of the 2nd West Yorkshire's withdrew to the battalion's assembly trenches located in Houghton and Hodder Streets as enemy artillery continued to shell the sector it would appear indiscriminately. Private Frederick Brown, 23590, a native of York, was unfortunately killed along with Private Arthur Hague, 4/8487, a native of Sheffield. Arthur now lies in Aveluy Communal Cemetery Extension whilst Frederick is now buried in Albert Communal Cemetery Extension.

With the 2nd West Yorkshire's now in their assembly positions, enemy retaliation to the bombardment was described as "very slight." With final preparations for the commencement of the offensive in hand, during the night of the 30th June - 1st July, ladders to debouch from Ryecroft Street were pegged into position and numbered by men of "D" Company. As regards the barbed wire defences in front of the trench, sixteen men selected from both "A" and "B" Companies were delegated the removal of the wire to the front with cutters. To the rear of Border Street, twenty-five men from each company under selected officers completed the construction of the New Assembly Trench, Captain Percy Yarborough Harkness, Second-in-Command reporting that this work was completed at 1 a.m. on the morning of the 1st July.    

 


 

Ryecroft.JPG
Sketch Of Trench System. War Diary, 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment, T.N.A. WO95/1714/1

Plan Of Attack: 1st July 1916
 
A typed entry contained in the War Diary of the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment and written post events defines the role of the battalion during the opening day of the Battle of the Somme as follows:-
 
"The role of the Battalion in the attack was to support the Devons and Middlesex if required to during the early stages and the capture and consolidation of the village of Pozieres was alloted to it as a special task.
Heavy opposition in the early stages was not anticipated as Ovillers and the enemy's front line system had been so heavily bombarded, it was however held probable that Whalley and Ryecroft Streets would be sharply barraged as soon as the enemy discovered our forward movement.
The Brigade Orders to this Battalion were for each Company to file into Ryecroft Street as soon as it was clear of 2nd Middlesex and then to climb ladders and advance in succession.
At 7-10 a.m. Battalion Headquarters moved to a previously selected and commanding position at the junction of Ryecroft and Whalley Streets from where a view of the enemy's front trenches could be obtained and the successive advance by Companies controlled."
 
Operation Orders
 
The following detailed orders were issued by Lieutenant-Colonel Hume-Spry D.S.O.
 
"Reference Brigade Operation Orders explained to Company Commanders and map issued herewith.-
1. The 23rd Inf: Bde: will assault the enemy trenches at (No Time Recorded) on "Z" day.
The 25th Inf: Bde: moves forward simultaneously on the left of the 23rd Inf: Bde: and the 102nd Inf: Bde: (34th Division) on the right of the 23rd Inf: Bde:
 
2.ASSEMBLY POSITIONS are alloted to this Brigade as follows:-
 
2nd Bn: Devonshire Regiment - 1 Coy Front Line, 1 Coy BORDER STREET,
2 Coys RYECROFT STREET, Bn: H.Q. FURNESS STREET.
 
2nd Bn: Middlesex - 1 Coy Front Line, 1 Coy BORDER STREET,
2 Coys RYECROFT STREET, Bn: H.Q. RYECROFT STREET
 
2nd Bn: West Yorkshire Regiment - HODDER STREET and
HOUGHTON STREET, Bn: H.Q. LOVE STREET
 
2nd Bn: Scottish Rifles - RIBBLE STREET and OVILLERS POST.
 
3. BRIGADE PLAN OF ATTACK
 
At approximately -5 minutes and -8 minutes the Devons and the Middlesex respectively will leave the front trenches and approach the front enemy trenches so as to be able to rush them when the artillery barrage lifts at (No Time Recorded).
To these two Battalions, moving abreast in four waves the Devons on the left and the Middlesex on the right has been allotted the task of making good the 1st and 2nd objectives (see map).
Their advance will be regulated by the lifts of our artillery barrages.
The West Yorkshires will closely support the Devons and Middlesex in their advance and will capture and consolidate the 3rd objective (see map).
The Scottish Rifles follow West Yorkshires in Brigade Reserve.
 
4. BATTALION PLAN OF ACTION
 
The Battalion will occupy positions as follows in assembly trenches on the night Y/Z.
Battalion H.Q. in LOVE STREET
 
(a) Position of companies in assembly trenches:-
In HOUGHTON STREET from PORT LOUIS STREET to junction with HODDER STREET - companies in this following order -
From the right facing the enemy "D" Company; in the centre "A" Company - on the left "B" Company.
In HODDER STREET - "C" Company.
 
(b) Advance from assembly trenches:-
RYECROFT STREET from junction with WHALLEY STREET to junction with VINCENT STREET will be the jumping - off place of the Bn:, it has been completed with ladders.
The head of "B" Company will be the junction of WHALLEY STREET and RYECROFT STREET at (No Time Recorded) at which hour the last wave of the Middlesex will leave RYECROFT STREET.
At (No Time Recorded) "B" Company will file well closed up into RYECROFT STREET and as soon as it is all in will climb the ladders and commence the advance.
"B" Coy will move in two waves of single ranks - two platoons in each wave. As soon as it is clear it will be followed in similar manner and in the same formation by "A" and "D" Companies from HOUGHTON STREET and finally by "C" Company from HODDER STREET.
Major A.M. Boyall D.S.O. will move forward in command of B and A Companies.
Battalion Headquarters will at the start move just behind "C" Company.
 
Once clear of RYECROFT STREET companies will move steadily forward following the direction posts, and crossing BORDER STREET, and the new trench by the bridge over them pass into the enemy trenches at 23, 33, 50 by which should be clear of Devons and Middlesex.
The leading companies of the Battalion will not proceed beyond our front line trench until the assaulting Battalions have captured the German 1st line trench.
 
5. Battalion advance from enemy front trenches to 2nd objective.
The role of the Battalion during this period will be to follow the leading Battalion and support them if required. In the absence of the Commanding Officer or the Second-in-Command, Officers Commanding Companies if they receive a direct request for support will move their company forward to the Battalion requiring their assistance but will inform the company following of their action.
The Battalion will approximately move forward with its right on the dividing line between the leading Battalions. This route may be varied to obtain better cover from fire but it seems likely to be as good as any.
 
6. Advance from 2nd to 3rd objective.
When the Devons are approaching the 2nd objective the leading waves of the West Yorks should have reached the enemy trenches 31 to 66. When the Devons and Middlesex occupy the 2nd objective the leading waves of the West Yorks covered by scouts will pass through towards the 3rd objective approximately at 1.33 when our barrage lifts - Map of Pozieres issued, shows line A - B suggested for consolidation.
At A, the 25th Brigade join up and at B the Northumberland Fusiliers of the 102nd Brigade under cover of their scouts and bombers.
Company commanders will select and consolidate strong points which will afterwards be connected up - 67 - 56 - 44 - 40 and 83 are suggested by the Brigade as possible strong points.
Two companies of the Scottish Rifles and possibly a company each from Devons and Middlesex will be available for consolidation of the third objective.
 
7. Bombers
Company Commanders must explain to their men that their rifles and bayonets must be their chief stand by and that grenades should be husbanded if possible for use at the third objective.
The two grenades carried by each man will form platoon and company reserves.
 
8.
At this commencement of operations Bn: H.Q. will move near "C" Company which will be retained as Battalion reserve.
 
9. Carrying parties will remain in the Battalion assembly trenches until the Scottish Rifles are clear of our trenches and then move to dumps as ordered.
 
10.
Only one water bag a platoon will accompany the advance the remainder will remain at the Battalion dump unless sent for earlier."
 
 
The Attack
 
The night of the 30th June was spent making final preparations for the commencement of the offensive. In the German lines opposite, the garrison of Ovillers comprised of the 180th Reserve Infantry Regiment, 51st Reserve Infantry Brigade, 26th Reserve Division. In the days proceeding the attack, these men from Wurttemberg in south-western Germany had stoically withstood bombardment by all calibres of artillery, gas attacks, and raids on their positions. Protected by an elaborate trench system with well sited machine gun positions that provided a good field of fire across "Mash Valley" *, intelligence gleaned from captured prisoners and from Moritz Listening Stations that intercepted British telephonic communications indicated that an offensive was imminent. Despite the men enduring immense hardship under the incessant trommelfeuer (drumfire), they were well equipped and ready.  
*(Authors note: To the south, "Sausage Valley". The exact origins as to the naming of the valleys is somewhat unclear however the term "Sausage" may have originated due to presence of German Observation Balloons conducting aerial observation at the head of the valley).
 
At around 6.30 a.m. on the morning of the 1st July 1916, times vary recorded in the War Diaries of the units that constituted the 23rd Infantry Brigade, the British bombardment of Ovillers and its environs grew in intensity as guns of all calibres smashed into the enemy front and support lines. Adding to the ferocity, a final Hurricane Bombardment by trench mortars of 23rd Infantry Brigade Trench Mortar Battery.
At this juncture the Author will provide a summary of the actions of the 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, the battalion advancing on the left flank of the 2nd Middlesex with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment, 25th Infantry Brigade on their left respectively.
 
2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment
 
At 7.28 a.m. on the morning of the 1st July, two large mines were detonated by the 179th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers in the sector occupied by the 34th Division to the south of the 8th Division respectively. The smaller of the mines, "Y" Sap, containing 40,000 lbs of ammonal, was detonated under a German Sap extending from the edge of the village of la Boisselle into Mash Valley, a second and larger charge of 60,000 lbs of ammonal, detonated to the south of the village under a strong point in the German trench system referred to by the enemy as the Schwaben Hohe.
 
With "Zero" Hour shortly at hand and as the bombardment reached a crescendo, the 2nd Devons, Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Joseph Elton Sunderland, prepared to emerge into No Man's Land ready for their advance.
During the final 7 - 10 minutes, "A" and "B" Companies exited New Trench and advanced in open order to a position located about 100 yards from the enemy's trenches whilst "C" and "D" Companies promptly followed, moving down to the new line to their advance positions. Just before the commencement of the Devons advance, a 'mist' accentuated by the explosion of shells, trench mortar rounds and no doubt chalk dust from the detonation of the two mines, drifted across Mash Valley towards the British lines obscuring the landscape and the intended line of advance.  Captain James Allfrey Andrews, Officer in Command Front Line, steadied the men and acting with "remarkable coolness and precision," ensured that the battalion were all in their assault positions by "Zero."
 
At 7.30 a.m. the barrage lifted from the enemy's front line and onto the support and rear areas. It was noted that in this pause as the guns adjusted their range, the enemy's artillery fire began to increase in intensity just as the men were about to go over the top.
Captain Andrews then gave the order to commence the advance, the latter to be conducted in four successive waves but no sooner had he got up and given this order, Andrews was killed by a bullet to the head.
The companies now rose and proceeded to advance across No Mans Land in conjunction with the 2nd Middlesex and the 2nd Royal Berkshire's. No sooner had the Devons left the confines of the trench, they were immediately exposed to artillery and a terrific volume of machine gun fire from both the flanks and the front, Captain Edric Glyn Roberts, O.C. "A" Company, being wounded by the burst of a shell, Second-Lieutenant Leonard Arthur Carey also of "A" Company being killed at the same time.
 
Despite the insurmountable odds, the battalion pressed on to their objectives but at each yard gained casualties steadily increased and very few in number actually reached the German front line. Of those that did however force an entry into the first objective, small in number though that they were, put up a determined fight until either killed captured or wounded.
 
With observation nigh on impossible due to the accentuated 'mist,' the fate of the companies was uncertain. It was clear however that the enemy machine gun fire that had raked No Mans Land had exacted a terrible toll on the battalion and what appeared to be at first glance lines of men intact, actually transpired to be either dead or wounded men lying in the confines of Mash Valley.
Brigade Headquarters were informed of the situation but accurate information as regards of the advance of the 2nd Middlesex on the Devons right flank and that of the 2nd Royal Berkshire's on the left respectively, could not be ascertained.
 
Officer Commanding 2nd Middlesex, Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Thomas Falkner Sandys, prior to the offensive, had expressed his own concerns as to the plan of attack to his superiors. With over 700 yards of No Mans Land to be crossed towards their first objective, his worst fears for his men were about to be realised.     
 
 
 
 

ovillersmash.jpg
Extract Of Official History Of The War

2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment
 
Moving up from Long Valley on the 30th June, the battalion took up its positions in the front and support lines. Each man was laden with 220 rounds of S.A.A. (Small Arms Ammunition), 2 Mills bombs and 2 sandbags for consolidating the enemy's positions when gained. To assist in the latter, every third man carried either a pick or a shovel, worn across the back, haversacks carrying rations etc being carried on the shoulders.
 
The battalion would assault the enemy's positions in four waves. Advancing on the right flank of the 2nd Devons, on the Middlesex right flank the assault would be conducted by the 20th (Service) Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, (Tyneside Scottish), 102nd Infantry Brigade, 34th Division.
The leading wave of the Middlesex consisted of 2 platoons of "B" Company on the right and 2 platoons of "A" Company on the left respectively. The remaining platoons of both companies would follow on in the second wave at a distance of 50 yards behind the assault platoons. At a distance of 50 yards behind the second wave, both "C" and "D" Companies similarly deployed would comprise the third and fourth waves.
The battalion's Bombers in squads would be distributed amongst the four waves whilst the Lewis gun teams, 8 in number, would be distributed throughout the second, third and fourth waves.
 
At "Zero" hour as the leading wave left the front line trench, they were almost immediately subjected to intense machine gun fire and as a consequence their losses were heavy. With the succeeding waves following on through the inferno, they doubled forward and before reaching the German front line the formation broke up as a consequence.
 
It is nothing short of a miracle that about 200 men succeeded in reaching the enemy front line subjected as they were to a storm of machine gun bullets scything through the ranks as they crossed Mash Valley. Passing over the front line, the second system of German trenches was reached but after a short fight of bomb, bullet, boot and bayonet, about half their number became casualties forcing the survivors to retire to the enemy front system. It was during the fight for one of the trenches that Captain and Adjutant Reginald James Young led by example. Shooting a number of the enemy dead with his revolver, he set about organising the men as they attempted to bomb their way down the trench. Although badly wounded, he fought his way back to the enemy front line. Here under the leadership of Major Henry Bourchier Wrey Savile, Captain Young along with Second-Lieutenants Philip Maurice Elliott, Walter Spatz and Henry Camden Hunt and the survivors of the battalion proceeded to consolidate.
 
2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
 
The battalion, numbering 21 officers and 702 men breakfasted at 5.30 a.m. and made their final preparations for the commencement of the offensive. As the final hurricane bombardment rained shell and mortar rounds onto the German trench system and rear areas, enemy artillery immediately replied by placing a light barrage of 5.9 inch shells, estimated at about one shell per minute, onto the junction of Ryecroft and Whalley Streets.
Upon the advance of "C" and "D" Companies of the 2nd Middlesex at 7.35 a.m., "B" Company, 2nd West Yorks under the command of Captain Henry Freeman moved into position in Ryecroft Street and commenced the advance. With the enemy now clear that an assault was in full progress, he intensified his bombardment on Whalley Street to a rate of about 4 shells per minute.
This barrage delayed the assembly of "A" Company by 3 minutes and also resulted in the wounding or killing of 15 men as two heavy calibre artillery shells smashed into the entrance to Ryecroft Street. The latter company under the command of Temporary Captain John Forrest Ruttledge M.C. now followed on from "B" Company at 7.52 a.m. but at this juncture the enemy now opened a barrage of shrapnel shell onto the whole length of Ryecroft Street as "D" Company began to file into this position.
This company now felt the full ferocity of the enemy's response, so much so that the head of the company did not extend fully up the length of Ryecroft Street before advancing out of the latter trench. With hindsight it is apparent that the reason for this company not taking up its allocated positions prior to the advance is simply the destructive effects of the enemy's artillery on both Ryecroft and Whalley Streets that impeded their deployment to the full. As a consequence, their line of advance proved to be not as accurate as the leading two companies and as they headed for the their allocated positions in the British front line they were now exposed to enemy artillery and machine gun fire resulting in significant casualties.
It was now the turn of "C" Company who moved forward from Hodder Street. This time Lieutenant-Colonel Hume-Spry D.S.O. supervised their deployment so that the same mistake committed by "D" Company was not repeated however as they advanced to the front line, they too were hit by heavy machine gun fire as it swept the confines of Mash Valley.
 
The Advance
 
The two leading companies, "A" and "B" respectively had by this juncture moved forward under the command of Captain Percy Yarborough Harkness, Second-in-Command. Yarborough had clear and concise orders not to proceed forward beyond the British front line until Ovillers was "made good, unless asked for support by the 2 leading Battalions."
Prior to advancing to the British front line, Captain Ruttledge M.C., O.C. "A" Company, had swung forward the right of his company so as to conform to the general line of the advance. Authors note: Corrected due to the position in Ryecroft Street from which this company advanced. Ruttledge, an Irishman born at Birr, King's County (County Offaly, Leinster), aged 21 years, was already an experienced officer who had gained the award of the Military Cross for actions near Neuve Chapelle on the 19th December 1914.
 
At about 8 a.m. Battalion Headquarters received a message from Brigade stating that the front line had as yet not been forced so in accordance with orders "C" Company were directed to delay their advance from Ryecroft Street pending the receipt of further orders.
Shortly after these orders were issued to delay the advance of the latter company, a request for support was received from Major Saville, 2nd Middlesex, and as a result of this direct request for assistance, "B" Company moved forward at about 8.05 a.m. "A" Company also moved forward, no time recorded, to support the right company of the 2nd Devons ("B" Company? under the command of Captain Alban Preedy).
 
Eerily, the ceaseless enemy machine gun fire appeared to die down at some period between 8 - 8.23 a.m. whereupon "C" Company of the 2nd West Yorkshire's was ordered to commence their advance, a message being sent to Brigade Headquarters stating "all clear."
Battalion Headquarters now moved forward as per operation orders with the intention of passing through Ovillers up to the head of the battalion. The chronology of events is now somewhat unclear as to the exact time of the advance of "D" Company, 2nd West Yorkshire's, but following on the advance of "C" Company at some time after 8.23 a.m., it was estimated that these two companies suffered about 200 casualties primarily due to machine gun fire as they both advanced from Ryecroft Street to the front line.  
 

ViewFromNearBritishFrontLineAdvanceOfWestYorks.JPG
Mash Valley, April 2012. Line Of Advance Of The 2nd West Yorkshire's. Author.

It soon became apparent due to a visual sighting of their helmets that the head of "B" Company had penetrated the enemy front line at trench map reference X.14.a.3.5. in support of the survivors of the 2nd Middlesex, the latter having swung round towards X.14.a.1.3. roughly on a track to the north-east of la Boisselle. The remnants of the Middlesex, possibly numbering only about a dozen men, had been finally ejected from the German front line at about 9.15 a.m. whereupon they were forced to retire and take cover in shell holes in front of the enemy line.
 
Of "A" Company, West Yorkshire's, little information could be gleaned. With all the officers of the company casualties, C.S.M. George Whelan, 8426, a native of Deptford and a pre-war regular, took command and led the men on with "great courage and skill." For this action Whelan was awarded the Military Cross, London Gazette dated 22nd September 1916.

Battalion Headquarters were now established in a position where the road to Ovillers joined the New Front Trench at X.13.a.6.6. The dead of both the Middlesex and the West Yorkshire's were observed on the parapet of the enemy trench, this being confirmed by reports from the wounded who had somehow managed to crawl back to the British lines. All movement it appeared had virtually ceased and at 10.30 a.m. orders were received from Brigade Headquarters that no further advance was to be made.
Of the fate of "C" and "D" Companies or what remained of them, their dead or wounded lay in the gap between the two assaulting battalions. Cut to pieces even before they had reached the British front line, it is a testament to their sheer bravery that they even managed to attempt to cross No Man's Land.
Touch was eventually re-established with the companies, or the remainder of them, at some point during the course of the morning. Trench map references recorded in the pages of the War Diary suggest, despite chronology, that this was their final positions, pinned down as they were in No Man's Land:-

"A" Company   X.8.c.1.4. - X.8.c.2.2.
"B" Company   X.14.a.3.7. - X.14.a.1.5.
Remains Of "C" & "D" Companies   X.8.c.2.1. - X.14.a.2.1/2 - 8.1/2
 
In the late afternoon, Brigade Headquarters dictated that the 2nd Scottish Rifles would now take up positions holding the front line however these orders were rescinded by Divisional Headquarters stating that the whole of the Brigade would be relieved that night and that subsequent orders would follow. At about 8 p.m. the order was issued for the 2nd Middlesex, 2nd Devons and the 2nd West Yorkshire's to move into dugouts in Hodder and Houghton Streets, whilst the 2nd Scottish Rifles would now take up positions in the line.   

finalpositionsWY.jpg
Final Positions Of The Companies. Schematic Purposes Only. Author.

Throughout the course of the day, wounded men had began to crawl back to the British lines. To the north of Mash Valley, both the 25th and the 70th Infantry Brigades, the latter attached to the 8th Division from the 23rd for the attack, had suffered a similar fate. To the south, the Tyneside Scottish Battalions of the 102nd Infantry Brigade, 34th Division, were decimated within minutes of leaving their trenches, but, in the true traditions of the British Army, they also attempted to press home their attack despite the murderous machine gun fire that swept the valley.
 
At nightfall attempts were made to recover the wounded sheltering in shell holes in No Man's Land where they had lain unable to move either through serious injury or due to the activities of enemy snipers. At 10.30 p.m. two officers patrols under Second-Lieutenants Charles Arthur Phillips and Edgar Hugh Ernest Matheson crawled out into No Mans Land and down the battalion front shouting to such men who could crawl back.
Of those who made it to comparative safety in the British line, the narrow trenches and the effects of the enemy's bombardment made evacuation of the wounded a trying task, men having either to be dragged on their backs or carried in waterproof sheets often at points in the line exposed to machine gun or shell fire to the Regimental Aid Posts.
 
At 12.30 a.m. early on the morning of the 2nd July, Battalion Headquarters withdrew, the survivors of the 2nd West Yorkshire's following on at 1.45 a.m. The Brigade then proceeded by route of march to Millencourt where Roll Calls no doubt revealed the true extent of the Brigade's losses.
 
Casualties: 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment
 
A list of casualties included in the War Diary of the 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment, compiled at a later date, records that 7 officers had been killed and a further 6 wounded, one succumbing to wounds in the weeks that followed. 3 officers were reported as missing, one of their number later being reported as killed. Authors note: It later transpired that all of these missing officers had been killed during the attack.
In Other Ranks, the battalion had suffered 43 killed, 194 wounded and 178 Other Ranks missing. (Source: War Diary).
An accurate figure of those who were actually killed or died of wounds on the 1st July 1916 is difficult to ascertain. Cross-referencing both the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Soldiers Died In The Great War databases results in various anomalies, however, a figure in the region of 168 casualties is reached employing other search criteria such as Medal Index Cards, surviving service and pension records.
 
Amongst the Devonshire's who fell, one of their number was one Private Kenneth William Reeves, 17792. Born in 1900 and a resident of Delvino Road, Chelsea, London, the family by 1911 had relocated to Hendon, North London, no doubt as a consequence of his fathers employment as a Clerk with a Motor-Bus Company.
Kenneth enlisted at Fulham, London in May 1915 and after a period of training was sent to the Western Front possibly as part of three drafts received during June 1916. Killed in action during his very first engagement, Kenneth, aged just 16 years, is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
 
2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment
 
Of the 2nd Middlesex, we now know that 10 officers fell in action on the 1st July 1916. To accurately reach a number of Other Rank casualties has proved to be more problematic due to errors both in the Commonwealth War Graves and Soldiers Died In The Great War Databases. An analysis and cross-reference study eliminating the most obvious of errors equates to a figure of on or about 258 O/R's.
 
One example of the problems faced by the Author in calculating this casualty figure is one Private James William Campbell, G/6292, recorded by both C.W.W.G.C. and S.D.G.W. as being killed in action on the 1st July 1916 whilst serving with the 2nd Middlesex. James now lies buried in Delville Wood Military Cemetery, Longueval, Somme, in effect, a concentration cemetery with bodies being brought here for burial from a wide area of the battlefield. It is possible that James's body was found at a later date however concentration records now point to the fact that his body was actually found in the confines of Delville Wood, close to where the South African Memorial is now situated. Possibly posted from the 5th (Reserve) Battalion and posted to the 2nd Middlesex, this fact being confirmed by his date of entry into the war and the battalion War Diary, it is possible that James was transferred to another battalion of the Middlesex Regiment at some point before being killed in action on the Somme but this is pure conjecture.
 
Of those men who fell, there is Company Serjeant-Major Alfred Dorricott M.C., L/6764. A pre-war Regular and a married man of Tottenham, London, C.S.M. Dorricott was posthumously awarded the Military Cross in September 1916 for his actions in the enemy line on the 1st July. Wounded and later reported as killed, Alfred is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
Private Frederick Odell, L/15535, a native of Lambeth, London, aged just 17 years, and now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. His brother Ernest would also fall just two months later whilst serving with the 12th Middlesex at Thiepval. Ernest, a married man aged 26 now lies in Lonsdale Cemetery, not far from where he fell on the 26th September.
Corporal Charles Trott, L/12942, a pre-war Regular and a native of Bushey, Hertfordshire. Posted as missing, presumed killed on the 1st July, his brother, Herbert Ernest Trott, S/7191, would also fall on the 7th June 1917 whilst serving with the 23rd Middlesex. Like his brother who is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Herbert also has no known grave and is therefore commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres.
 
Lieutenant-Colonel Sandys was also wounded during the course of the attack. The loss of so many of his men on the 1st July preyed upon his mind to such an extent that he decided to take his own life. On the 6th September 1916, Lieutenant-Colonel Edwin Thomas Falkner Sandys writing to Captain William Lloyd Jones D.S.O. of the Middlesex Regiment stated "I have come to London to-day to take my life. I have never had a moment's peace since July 1."
At the Colonel's inquest, Captain and Adjutant Reginald James Young stated that Sandys had been greatly depressed since the loss of so many of his men and his wounding on the 1st July. Captain Young also received a letter wrote by the Colonel on the 6th and in this he wrote "By the time you receive this I will be dead."
The Colonel was subsequently found in bed at the Cavendish Hotel, Mayfair, with a revolver in his hand and a bullet wound to the head. Removed to St. George's Hospital, Sandys unfortunately died on the 13th September. Awarded the Distinguished Service Order posthumously on the 25th September for his actions on the 1st July, at his inquest the Coroner said "The case revealed a pathetic tragedy of a very distinguished soldier, who thought less of his own wounds than he did of the loss of his men." The Jury returned a verdict of "Suicide whilst temporarily insane," unfortunate terminology for a Colonel that genuinely cared about his men.
 
2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment
 
Of the 21 officers and 702 Other Ranks who went into action on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, by the end of the day only 5 officers and 212 men came out. Over 200 men alone were either killed or wounded in "C" and "D" Companies as they moved forward between Ryecroft Street and the British front line, "B" Company which had supported the Middlesex and penetrated the enemy's front line lost 146 men of the 169 who went into action. An analysis of both C.W.W.G.C. records and the SDGW Database reveals that the battalion lost 8 officers, one who would die of wounds on the 3rd July, and 102 Other Ranks.
Men such as Lance-Serjeant Thomas Edward Burnett, 8441, a native of Ripon, North Yorkshire. Thomas would be gazetted the award of the Military Medal in November 1916.
Private Henry Clarkson, 22193, a native of Ackworth. Prior to the war Henry worked on the Funfair ride of one Frank Harniess, a Steam Powered Horse Roundabout Manager. Enlisting at Pontefract in August 1915 and killed in the attack on Ovillers, Henry's body would be exhumed from an isolated unmarked grave on the battlefield about 100 yards behind the British front line. Killed in the advance from Ryecroft Street, Henry is now buried in Serre Road Cemetery Number 2, Somme.
Captain Percy Yarborough Harkness was born at Clifton, Bristol in 1884, son of the Rector Henry Law Harkness M.A. of St. Swithin's, Worcester. Educated at Malvern Link School and captain of the cricket team, Percy was commissioned into the 4th Battalion,  West Yorkshire Regiment, in 1903 and by 1908 had risen to the rank of Captain. Killed in action leading the two first companies of the West Yorks "over the bags" on the 1st July 1916, Captain Yarborough like so many of the men who fell in this sector of the battlefield is denied a known grave and is therefore commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
 
Rebuilding The Battalion
 
Relieved early on the morning of the 2nd July, the survivors of the battalion had journeyed to Millencourt by route of march whereupon they had proceeded to bivouac. One can only imagine the mood of the men, somber no doubt an understatement, fatigued and more inclined to question the acts of those who had sent their battalion into the murderous enemy machine gun fire.
The men were not given much time for reflection as to the previous days events when at 3 p.m. during the afternoon of the 2nd, the men were collected and ordered to march to Mericourt Station, Mericourt - l'Abbe, south-west of Albert, and proceeded to entrain. Arriving at Ailly-sur-Somme just to the west of Amiens, the battalion then proceeded to La Chaussee-Tirancourt to the north-west arriving here at a very late hour.
 
During the following afternoon the battalion were addressed by first the Divisional Commander, Major-General Havelock Hudson and then by the Officer Commanding 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Hume-Spry D.S.O.
It was also on this day that the first officer arrived to replace losses when Second-Lieutenant Victor Lionel Pimm joined the battalion on his first appointment from cadet school. Pimm had previously served with the 18th Canadian Infantry Battalion and prior to being commissioned had served in France.
On the morning of the 4th July the battalion departed La Chausee-Tirancourt and proceeded by route of march to Hangest-sur-Somme a short distance to the north-west. Moving into billets in this quaint village that nestled in the Somme valley, another officer, Lieutenant Edward Hall Bartley rejoined the battalion from sick leave in England.
No doubt so as to restore some routine and normality all companies paraded for one hours training during the following day. Two further officers also rejoined the West Yorkshire's, Captain Wilfred Hubert Ramsbotham who had been attached to 23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters and Lieutenant Percy Edward Adams who had returned from the Brigade Grenade School respectively.
 
The prospect of entrainment to another destination loomed as the battalion left Hangest at 2.30 p.m. on the afternoon of the 5th. After a lengthy march Longueau railway station to the south-east of Amiens was reached at 9.25 p.m. whereupon arrival the men were served tea on the platform. Entraining at 9.30 p.m. the train departed the station for an unknown destination.
The men of the 8th Division were now heading northwards to be transferred to the 1st Corps, First Army. The sector of the line they were now about to occupy was in the vicinity of Cuinchy, an active sector of the line that had been bitterly contested over since late 1914. After a few days of relative inactivity, the battalion would enter the line.
 
Cuinchy
 
At 3.45 a.m. early on the morning of the 7th July the battalion detrained at Dieval Station located to the south-west of Houdain. Breakfasting by the side of the road the battalion set forth at 6 a.m. for Maisnil-les-Ruitz located a few miles to the east of Houdain which was reached at 9.30 a.m.
During the following day "D" Company who had remained at Longueau Station carrying out fatigue duties rejoined the battalion but other than Church Parade the men remained at rest and no other parades were performed.
To bolster the roll of officers Second-Lieutenant George Smailes rejoined the battalion from duties with the 23rd Brigade Trench Mortar Battery to which he had been attached for the attack on Ovillers whilst Second-Lieutenant Lincoln Allan Smith rejoined from duties with the 15th Field Company, Royal Engineers, attached to the 8th Division.
 
Training now resumed a few days before the order to proceed to the forward zone was received early on the morning of the 14th July and as a consequence the Officer Commanding along with his Company Commanders journeyed up to the forward zone to familiarise themselves with the area. At 2 p.m. in the afternoon the battalion assembled and were conveyed in a fleet of motor busses to Beuvry to the east of Bethune where they were met by their senior officers. Teas were taken before the West Yorkshire's moved forward at 10 p.m. heading eastwards through Annequin and Cambrin and into the Village Line in the Cuinchy Sector relieving the 13th (Service) Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, 39th Division.
 

MaisonRouge.jpg
La Bassee, Edition 7 A, 36c N.W.1. Trenches Corrected To 10/6/16

The 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment were now disposed as follows:-

Headquarters    Maison Rouge, Wimpole Street.

"A" Company   Garrisoned In Railway Keep, Church Keep & Lewis Keep.
"B" Company   Garrisoned In Cambrin Support Post, Carters Redoubt & Tourbieres Redoubt.
"C" Company   Garrisoned In Cuinchy Support Post, Mountain Keep & Stafford Keep.
"D" Company   Garrisoned In Braddell Castle, Sims Keep, Arthurs Keep & Russells Keep.

Although there is no record of casualties sustained by the battalion as they moved into the on the 14th July, an analysis of both the Commonwealth War Graves and Soldiers Died databases reveals that the battalion in fact suffered three casualties. Private Moses Walker, 8793, a pre-war regular and a native of the Isle of Grain, Kent. Private Christopher Leaf, 25003, aged 24 years and a resident of Bramley, Leeds, and Private Tom Atkinson, 25457, of Mabgate, Leeds, recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as Tom Atkin. Of these three men, the exact circumstances as to how they died are unknown. Denied a known grave, all are now commemorated on the Loos Memorial, Pas-de-Calais, France.

As well as officers rejoining the battalion there were those who departed. Lieutenant Percy Edward Adams returned to the 23rd Infantry Brigade to take up command at the Grenade School whilst Second-Lieutenant Godfrey Ward Drake proceeded on 10 days leave and 2/Lt. Victor Lionel Pimm was posted to the Sniping School located at Gosnay, south-west of Bethune for a course of five days duration.

The sector was characterised by frequent artillery duels and by probes made by parties of the enemy under the cover of darkness. It was on the afternoon of the 19th as a barrage fell on Arthurs Keep that one man was killed. Private Alfred Upton, 23624, a native of Nottingham aged 20 years, now lies buried in Cambrin Churchyard Extension.

The Cuinchy Sector also witnessed intense underground warfare with both British and German tunnelling companies detonating a vast number of mines. Such was the need to gain supremacy in the sector, the number of craters along the length of the opposing lines actually overlapped obscuring the view across No Man's Land from the front line trenches. The principal British company operating in this sector were the 251st Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers under the command of Major Herbert John Humphrys. It must have been with some grim satisfaction that the detonation of one mine by the enemy did not go according to plan, the War Diary of the 2nd Devons recording that on the 18th:-

"At 3.30 a.m. the enemy exploded a mine opposite the left company (A). The mine appeared to burst backwards destroying the enemy's parapet and burying several of his garrison. 2/Lieutenant R. J. Andrews at once pushed forward with one platoon and occupied the far lip of the crater, the enemy offered a vigorous resistance but was driven off with heavy losses. This platoon then retired to the near lip of the crater and immediately consolidated its position."

Still maintaining postions in the Village Line, on the morning of the 20th British tunnellers detonated a mine at 3.30 a.m. as the fight to gain supremacy of the sector underground gained momentum. Yet another draft of officers joined the battalion; Second-Lieutenants Edward Percival Cropper, Paul Fisher and Kingsley Vale Weston. Amongst this draft received on the 20th July was also one Lieutenant Sidney Rogerson, author of Twelve Days On The Somme, published, 1933. Posted to "B" Company, Rogerson's legacy would be to provide a graphic and fascinating insight into trench warfare during the final stages of the Somme battle.

The First Tour In The Line

At 6 p.m. on the 22nd July the West Yorkshire's commenced a relief of the 2nd Devonshire's in the front line, this relief being completed without incident at 9 p.m. The battalion were now disposed as follows:-

Left Company "A"   Left Centre Company "B"

Right Company "D"   Right Centre Company "C"

The line occupied stretched from Boyau 20 (Inclusive) to the south, to Boyau 36 (Exclusive) in the north opposite the infamous Cuinchy Brickstacks. The opposing lines in places were very close together with the result that the trenches were frequently subjected to bombing, rifle grenades and trench mortar fire, in all, a very unhealthy spot where death lingered without warning.  

Brickstacks.jpg
Boyau 20 - Boyau 36. Red & Blue Asterisks Denote Mine Craters Fortified Or Unfortified

On the afternoon of the 23rd at 4.45 p.m. the enemy detonated a mine opposite "A" Company holding positions on the left flank. With no attempt made by the enemy to occupy the crater, battalion bombers were immediately sent forth and the near lip of the crater was occupied, the only casualty being Captain Henry Freeman who received a shrapnel wound to his right ankle as the result of the explosion of a 5.9 inch shell. As Captain Freeman was evacuated for treatment, it was by luck more than judgement that another experienced officer arrived to take his place when on this day also, Captain Lesley Douglas Gordon-Alexander joined the battalion for duty.
 
During the following day, the War Diary records that "the enemy flattened out about 150 yards of our parapet during the afternoon our casualties very small." Two men were in fact unfortunately killed, Private Edgar Prest, 4/8246, a resident of Leeds, and Private Frederick William White, 8447, a native of Clapham, London. White had originally served with the 1st West Yorkshire's before being transferred to the 2nd Battalion and attached to the Machine Gun Section, M.G.C. Both men now lie buried in Cambrin Churchyard Extension. Later in the day, the trenches were targeted once again, Lieutenant Edward Hall Bartley being wounded in the head and chest by the explosion of a rifle grenade as bombing continued throughout the night.
 
The pattern continued throughout the following days with relative inactivity through daylight hours to intense bombing at night. On the 26th, Private Joseph Kendall, 3/8642, a native of Wortley, Leeds, was killed aged about 21 years. Joseph now lies buried with his mates at Cambrin, the exact circumstances as to the manner of his death unknown.
 
On the 27th and the 28th, a large draft of officers arrived to join the battalion. Second-Lieutenants Robert Maurice Hughes?, John Clifford Rayner, George Herbert Fletcher, Noel Roderick Rayner and Thomas Vose.
 
With the underground war escalating, German tunnellers detonated a mine opposite "A" Company's frontage at 5.45 p.m. on the afternoon of the 29th. Once again their response appeared to be apathetic as the West York's Bombers sallied forth and successfully occupied the near lip of the crater.
As a thick mist enveloped the front line positions in the early hours of the 30th July, a sharp and intense barrage erupted on positions occupied by "B" Company under the command of Captain Lesley Douglas Gordon-Alexander. Two German raiding parties now crossed No Man's Land but were timely observed by a wiring party out in front of the line who gave advance warning of the enemy's approach.
Attempting to enter the line between Boyau 30 and Boyau 31 which were held by Numbers 5 and 6 Platoons, sustained rifle and machine gun fire plus the use of bombs managed to repulse one party of the enemy however a portion of the line held by Number 6 Platoon was penetrated at Number 6 Sap Head and 4 men who were occupying the sap plus one man entering the position were captured and spirited away. Of this enemy party, Lieutenant Arthur Hugo Daly, Officer Commanding No. 6 Platoon estimated their number at about 30 men. Keeping his wits about him, Lieutenant Daly threw a grenade amongst the enemy party as they jumped into the trench. Emptying his revolver into their ranks, Second-Lieutenant George Smailes whose platoon were in support proceeded immediately without waiting for orders towards the ensuing fight in the front line. Upon his arrival he had found that the enemy had already been ejected from the position due to the endeavours of Daly and his men.
A search of the area revealed numerous pieces of equipment including perdite charges, the latter it was surmised to be used in the demolition of the mine heads in the immediate vicinity.
 
August
 
Relieved on the 30th by the 2nd Battalion, East Lancashire's, 24th Infantry Brigade, 8th Division, the West Yorkshire's then proceeded by route of march to Sailly-Labourse south-east of Bethune where they were then placed in Divisional Reserve.
With the battalion in billets and the remainder of the 23rd Infantry Brigade billeted in the immediate vicinity, on the afternoon of the 2nd August the brigade were inspected by the Commander, First Army, Sir Charles Monro, who presented gallantry awards for actions during recent operations. Route marches and training were the order of the day in addition to the forming of working parties under the supervision of the R.E. who set about their work during the hours of darkness.
 
It was on the 7th August that the West Yorkshire's returned to the trenches however the sector they were now about to occupy was some distance to the south in the vicinity of the bitterly contested Hohenzollern Redoubt. Setting forth from Sailly-Labourse about 10 a.m., their billets being taken over by the 2nd Royal Berks., 25th Infantry Brigade, the battalion relieved the 2nd Rifle Brigade also of the latter brigade in the new sector. 
 
"C" Company   Right Company   (Front Line)
"D" Company   Left Company     (Front Line)
"B" Company   Support Company   (O.B. 1 )
"A" Company   Reserve Company  ( Reserve Trench )

Hohenzollernsector.jpg
Extract Of Map, France, Edition 9A, Sheet 36c N.W.

Although the above extract is of a map dated May 1917, the strength of the enemy position and the closeness of the lines is quite evident. The Hohenzollern Redoubt is clearly defined in the top left corner by the multitudes of mine craters existent along its southern face.
 
The enemy's artillery and trench mortars proved to be very active in this sector of the line and it was on the 8th that the trenches occupied by the men of the 23rd Infantry Brigade came under an intense bombardment from these instruments of war. Second-Lieutenant Hughes who had only been with the battalion a matter of days fell wounded in the chest by the explosion of a rifle grenade but worse was to follow as at some point during the day two men were killed by the explosion of a shell or mortar round. Private John Robert Armstrong, 4/8595, aged 22 years and a resident of South Shields and Private Charles Henry Leeming, 10054. Both men are now buried in Vermelles British Cemetery located to the north-west of Lens.
Artillery and mortar fire continued throughout the course of the following day with specific attention being applied to the right flank of the front line occupied by "C" Company. Fortunately, there were no casualties incurred by the battalion however Second-Lieutenant John Clifford Rayner of "C" Company and a native of Chapeltown, Leeds, who had also only joined the battalion recently was evacuated wounded/shell shock.
 
A regular pattern of enemy artillery and trench mortar activity had now developed with the enemy remaining relatively inactive throughout day but launching heavy bombardments under the cover of darkness.
On the afternoon of the 12th, "A" Company relieved "C" Company in the front line, the latter company moving to Reserve Trench. This relief passed without incident but it was at 8.10 p.m. that the enemy commenced a very heavy bombardment on the front and support lines. Growing in intensity as time wore on it was under the cover of this bombardment that the enemy attempted to raid the front line positions held by the West Yorkshire's. With the trenches receiving direct hits and flattened out in some places, as the enemy raiders attempted to penetrate the positions held by "A" Company he was repulsed by Lewis gun fire and the party driven off. Some of the raiders however had managed to penetrate the line between "A" and "D" companies where the trenches were virtually destroyed but these were subsequently dealt with leaving behind 7 men either killed or wounded, all, belonging to the 23rd Bavarian Reserve Regiment, 8th Bavarian Reserve Division.
Casualties in "A" Company numbered 1 man killed, 2 wounded, 3 missing and 2 suffering from shell shock. In "D" Company, 3 men were wounded and 11 missing, 7 of the latter believed to have been buried in a deep dug out that had received a direct hit. All the casualties sustained had been as a direct result of the bombardment. An analysis of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Soldiers Died databases reveals that three men were killed with one O/R possibly succumbing to wounds the following day.
 
Relieved in the line on the 15th by the 2nd Middlesex, this relief was subsequently completed by noon without incident. The battalion now proceeded to Lancashire Trench where they were placed in Brigade Reserve.
On the 14th, two new officers arrived from the Cadet School, Second-Lieutenants Benjamin Chipchase Clayton and Matthew McConville in addition to Joseph Reginald Hull who joined the battalion on the 19th. A change in command was also in the offing when on the 22nd August Colonel Hume-Spry was replaced by Major James Lochhead Jack D.S.O. of the 2nd Battalion, Scottish Rifles, who was gazetted the rank of Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel the following day. Jack was an experienced officer who had fought in the South African War who, during the course of the Great War, would be awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership at Third Ypres and eventually attain the rank of Brigadier-General.
 
Relieved by the 1st Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, 24th Infantry Brigade, 8th Division, the West Yorkshire's then proceeded into Divisional Reserve at Beuvry where they were placed under the tactical disposal of the 32nd Division.
The new Colonel now implemented a series of Standing Orders that comprised of parades, training, drill etc, in essence, a daily routine to be applied whilst out of the line.
After parades in the morning on the 25th August and on the 2nd day of the Divisional Horse Show, the battalions billets at Beuvry were shelled at 1.30 p.m. resulting in three casualties, wounded.
Marching by companies to Fouquieres (Fouquieres-les-Bethune) on the following day, the battalion had the chance to take a welcome bath. It was no coincidence that that the men had a chance to spruce themselves up as on the 27th they were inspected by the G.O.C. 8th Division, Major-General Havelock Hudson who presented the following men with gallantry awards; Second-Lieutenant Edgar Matheson, Military Cross for actions at Ovillers, C.S.M. George Whelan, 8426, of "A" Company, also the Military Cross for gallantry at Ovillers and Private John Young, 24193, "B" Company, who was presented the Military Medal for his actions during the enemy raid on the night 29th - 30th July.
 
It was on the 28th August 1916 that Private John Starmond Crossley, 27932, the young married man from Wetherby joined the battalion at Beuvry. Part of a draft of 26 Other Ranks, further specialist training no doubt ensued for the new arrivals but even for the "Old Sweats," this training could prove to be dangerous if not fatal. One such incident took place on this date when Lieutenant Percy Edward Adams was accidentally wounded at the 23rd Infantry Brigade Bombing School where he was instructing. The use of bombs though, and the training in their use, would however stand the men of the battalion and division in good stead in the weeks to come.
 
The Quarries Sector
 
A move back to the trenches was now about to commence. Captains John Philip Palmes M.C. and Harry Alderton Bush both joined the battalion on the 29th August, Palmes assuming command of "D" Company whilst Bush was given command of "A" Company respectively.
Changes in command of the 23rd Infantry Brigade, 8th Division, had also taken place. In the transition between this change of command, Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton W.E. Finch O.C. 2nd Middlesex temporarily assumed command of the brigade, Brigadier-General Henry Denison Tuson then formally being replaced by Brigadier-General Edward Arthur Fagan, London Gazette dated 27th August 1916.
 
With the weather now turning rather inclement with heavy continuous rain, Colonel Jack accompanied by his Company Commanders reconnoitered the front line positions that were to be taken over from the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade.
On the 31st August the 2nd West Yorkshire's proceeded by route of march by companies to Fouquieres via Sailly-Labourse, at the latter place, baths being taken by the battalion. Arriving at Fouquieres early in the evening, the men settled down for the night no doubt refreshed from their long awaited ablutions.
As if in a parody of a welcoming committee, 44 Other Ranks newly arrived from base details were awaiting the battalion. These new arrivals would not have to wait long for their first taste of trench warfare as at 7.30 a.m. on the morning of the 1st September the West Yorkshire's marched towards the trenches to relieve the 2nd Rifle Brigade in the Quarries Section. The relief however was not without incident, Private Wilfred Blackburn, 25443, aged 24 years of Harehills, Leeds, being killed. Wilfred, his body unidentified after the war, is now commemorated on the Loos Memorial, the War Diary recording no details as to the circumstances surrounding his death.
 
The battalion were now disposed as follows:-
 
"A" & "B" Companies   Front Line
"C" & "D" Companies   Support Line 
 
Settling in to their new positions, on the following day another O/R was unfortunately killed. Private Willie Allison, 21986, aged about 18 years who had enlisted at Leeds in July 1915, now lies buried at Vermelles British Cemetery.
 
The sector remained unusually quiet, possibly due to the enemy resting on its laurels after repulsing a large scale raid conducted on the 25th August by the 2nd Rifle Brigade with heavy loss of life.
Two officers also joined the battalion during this tour in the trenches, Major Richard Juson McLaren from the 4th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, and Captain Frederick Henry Hawley from the 3rd Battalion respectively. In addition to these officers, Captain Wilfrid Hubert Ramsbotham returned from a period of extended leave in England.
 
As companies rotated in the line, the enemy still remained relatively inactive. British trench mortars regularly pounding his trench system to good effect necessitating him to send out working parties to repair his wire defences, these parties then being harassed by Lewis gun fire.
On the 11th however enemy trench mortars were responsible for the deaths of three Other Ranks whilst another O/R was killed and one wounded by sniper fire. In an even more audacious attempt to kill more men, one or two of the enemy crept out unseen across No Man's Land, breached the British barbed wire defences and shot two sentries behind the parapet. Needless to say, watchful eyes from the sentries became even more watchful still.
 
On the 13th September the West Yorkshire's were relieved in the front line by the 2nd Middlesex, this relief being completed by 7 a.m. 
During this tour of the line, the 2nd West Yorkshire's had lost 9 Other Ranks killed or died of wounds, including one man attached to the 23rd Trench Mortar Battery. One of their number Private Lionel Bell, 24195, a native of Lower Wortley, Leeds and aged 22 years, now lies in Vermelles British Cemetery.
 
Raiding Party
 
With the 2nd West Yorkshire's now in Brigade Reserve, Battalion Headquarters was established in Curley Crescent at the junction with Fosse Way.
Orders were now received by the battalion to form a raiding party with immediate effect. The purpose of this party was to capture prisoners so as to glean information as to the regiment(s) holding this sector. Secondly, to assess if possible which units and at what frequency they were being sent southwards to fight in the Somme battle and the state of their morale. As a consequence, those who were to take part in the raid, all volunteers, were withdrawn from the line to make good their preparations.
 
On the 13th September the Battalion Medical Officer, Captain Harold Garnett Janion M.C., Royal Army Medical Corps, departed the battalion and proceeded on leave, his position as M.O. being filled by Captain Barcroft Joseph Leech Fayle.
 
At 9.30 p.m. on the night of the 15th September, the Raiding Party led by Second-Lieutenants George Smailes and Paul Fisher and consisting of 26 Other Ranks passed through the trenches held by the 2nd Middlesex and out into No Man's Land.
The objective of the raid was simple, to gain passage through the enemy's barbed wire defences and then enter his trench system to procure prisoners. Carrying two Bangalore Torpedoes to blow a hole in the wire, the party would enter the enemy line at a previously selected point, G.12.a.4.6.

WYTrenchRaid.jpg

Artillery support, if required, would be provided by the Right Group, 8th Divisional Artillery, Lieutenant Alan Hugh Hornby acting as the Forward Observation Officer and positioned in Boyau 81.
The route had been previously reconnoitered and lay over a line of craters that up until this date had remained unwired however, on proceeding forward, it was found that the farthermost crater had been wired the night previously compelling the party to withdraw to a place of relative safety.
Second-Lieutenant Smailes now crawled back and reported the situation to the O.C. who ordered the party to withdraw until an alternative plan was put into operation. With the night cloudy and the first attempt undetected, a second attempt to breach the wire on another point in the line previously reconnoitered at G.12.a.6 1/2 .5. was also attempted utilising just one Bangalore Torpedo. Working around to the right of Brecon Crater the torpedo was then placed under the enemy wire but it was found that these barbed wire defences consisted of four separate belts and it was determined that due to this factor his defences were impossible to breach at least in this part of his line.
Undetered the whole party then proceeded along the face of the enemy wire for a distance of about 30 yards where yet another attempt was made to insert and detonate the torpedo. Suddenly, and according to a report compiled by Lieutenant Hornby, at 1.15 a.m. the party was detected and subjected to light trench mortar from their left and machine gun fire from their right as the whole scene was illuminated by numerous Very Lights. To continue with the raid would have been foolhardy and no doubt have resulted in numerous casualties so a decision was now made to withdraw. Retiring to a shallow crater the party now threw about two dozen grenades into the enemy trench but upon reaching the lip of the crater, one man, Private Charles Arthur Standish, 4/8636, was shot through the head and mortally wounded. Great difficulty was then experienced trying to carry Private Standish back to the front line, a second member of the party also then being wounded in the process. Whilst the main party regained the safety of the British front line at about 1.30 a.m., Second-Lieutenants Smailes and Fisher assisted by Sergeant Edward Mellor, 9304, somehow managed to get Private Standish back to the line however he unfortunately succumbed to his wounds A married man of Pudsey, Leeds, Charles, aged about 28 years now lies buried in Bethune Town Cemetery.
 
Divisional & Brigade Reserve
 
The battalion were now strengthened with the arrival of another draft consisting of 150 Other Ranks on the 16th, one officer, Second-Lieutenant John Littlejohn, a Science Master at Strathbungo Higher Grade School, Glasgow, also joining the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment.
 
Upon relief by the 1st Worcesters, 24th Infantry Brigade, the West Yorkshire's now moved from Brigade Reserve into Divisional Reserve and proceeded into billets located at Sailly-Labourse. The only incident of note during this period was a demonstration to the battalion of a captured Flamenwerfer, a German flamethrower on the morning of the 18th.
As working parties were furnished both day and night, on the 19th, two further officers joined the battalion, Second-Lieutenants Eric Vernon Gilliat and John Farnsworth from the 3rd Battalion of the Regiment respectively.
 
On the morning of the 20th September orders were received to return to the trenches in the Hulloch Section on the following day. As a precursor to this tour in the line, Colonel Jack accompanied by his Adjutant, Lieutenant Loraine Macgregor Kerr and Company Commanders visited the trenches to ascertain the best methods for holding this part of the line and to arrange the relief. Consequently at 9 a.m. on the morning of the 21st September the 2nd West Yorkshire's proceeded to the trenches and commenced a relief of the 13th (Service) Battalion, King's (Liverpool Regiment), 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division, the relief being completed at 3 p.m. without incident.
The trenches taken over were in a deplorable condition no doubt necessitating immediate improvement but in the meantime the battalion was organised and disposed of as follows:-
 
Right Front Company   "A"
Centre Front Company   "B"
Left Front Company   "C"
Support Company   "D"
Battalion Headquarters   Curzon Street
 
As the sector remained relatively quiet, small patrols at night were conducted, the first, led by Second-Lieutenant Matthew McConville accompanied by Sergeant Joseph Chamberlain, 8906, (Authors note: Exact number of raiding party unknown) ventured out across No Man's Land on the night of the 22nd with the objective of capturing a prisoner for unit identification purposes. With no enemy parties encountered out in the open, 2nd/Lt. McConville and a number of his party audaciously crawled up to the enemy's barbed wire defences and launched a localised bombing attack on a German sentry post in their line. After causing much annoyance to the enemy and under heavy fire, the party returned safely to the secure of the British front line. There were however some casualties in the days that followed, Second-Lieutenant Farnsworth being slightly injured in the left arm on the 23rd and Sergeant Robert Maud, 9973, a native of York, being gassed whilst bravely assisting some men of the Scottish Rifles on the 25th. There were also departures of a more routine nature, Second-Lieutenant Kingsley Vale Weston leaving the battalion for the Machine Gun Corps Training Centre located at Grantham, Lincolnshire, whilst Second-Lieutenant Joseph Littlewood, promoted from the ranks, rejoined the battalion after receiving his commission.
 
On the 29th with the weather cold and wet, the battalion were relieved by the 2nd Middlesex without incident whereupon they proceeded into Brigade Support in German Switch. This tour in the line had been relatively uneventful with few casualties however over the last few days of their tenure of the front they had been subjected to heavy bombardments by enemy trench mortars that had caused substantial damage to the trench system. With constant working parties being formed for fatigues, the weather remained rather inclement resulting in both officers and men parading sick. Still, no raid on the enemy's trenches had proved to be fruitful but as the month of October was about to dawn, the fortunes of the men of the 8th Division were about to change for better or for worse.
 
October: The Devonshire's Raid
 
Remaining in Brigade Support and with the weather still wet, on the first of the month, Second-Lieutenants George William Hall, commissioned from the ranks and a resident of Garforth, accompanied by Ernest Sidney Fox, joined the battalion.
On the 3rd, the men had the chance to take a bath, a welcome respite from the mud and filth of the trenches but still the incessant working parties were to be found for fatigues in the front line repairing the trenches and the carrying of stores and ammunition.
 
During the days previously British artillery, mortars, Lewis and machine guns had kept up a pre-arranged programme of fire on the enemy's trench system and barbed wire defences as a precursor to a raid. As the weather had begun to improve, a party comprising of men from "C" Company, 2nd Devon's, had been carrying out training in raiding techniques at Gosnay, south-west of Bethune, under the command of Captain Arthur Herbert Smith. In addition to the usual artillery barrage, gas would also be released to assist the raiding party.
At 2 a.m. on the night of the 5th/6th the party assembled in front of the gaps in the wire. There had been some difficulty in laying out a tape to guide the men to their point of assembly due to some Stokes mortar rounds falling short and a misunderstanding about cutting an exit through our own wire however despite these difficulties all the men were in position, the recently joined Second-Lieutenant Louis N.L. Tindal noting the time.
 
As the men attempted to breach the enemy's defences, the artillery barrage of 18 Pounders to protect the raiders, in effect, the laying down of a "Box Barrage," shells began to fall short on and in front of the enemy line. Alerted to the raiders presence, the enemy launched an immediate bomb attack and opened up his machine guns as the men dashed forward. Captain Smith was killed almost immediately as the raiding party pushed forward, the latter being caught in a deadly cross-fire killing or wounding those at the spearhead of the raid. Disorganised, the party now began to withdraw leaving some wounded men out in No Man's Land however Second-Lieutenant Tindal and the Adjutant, Captain Alexander Tillett, bravely set out under heavy fire and successfully brought in three wounded men. In addition to this attempt to rescue the wounded, at 8.30 a.m. in the morning two N.C.O.'s sallied forth from the British line in broad daylight and carried in a further two men from close to the enemy's barbed wire.
Casualties were one officer and 12 Other Ranks killed, 3 O/R's died of wounds and 19 wounded. It was concluded that the gas discharge proved ineffective on the enemy's positions and that he was fully alert and thoroughly prepared for any enterprise launched on his trench system.
 
Active Patrolling: West Yorkshire's
 
On the 7th October at 9.30 a.m. the West Yorkshire's commenced a relief of the 2nd Middlesex in the front line, this relief passing without incident. The battalion were now disposed as follows:-
 
"D" Company   Right Front
"B" Company   Centre
"C" Company   Left Front
"A" Company   Reserve
 
With the weather remaining unsettled and cold, the enemy had settled back into his state of relative inactivity. An offensive attitude however was at first exemplified by the West Yorkshire's when on the night of the 8th, a small patrol under the command of Second-Lieutenant Victor L. Pimm crept forward and bombed an enemy sentry post without loss to the raiding party.
 
The West Yorks were however not in ascendancy as they too were subjected to the attentions of the enemy. The War Diary of the battalion states that they now encountered, "some annoyance by means of aerial darts." This statement as regards the use of a specific type of enemy weaponry actually refers to the firing of a round by a Granatenwerfer, a relatively light weight spigot mortar that launched a finned projectile over a distance of 300 yards. One such mortar round unfortunately exploded (incident recorded in the War Diary as the 9th October) resulting in the deaths of four men and the wounding of another. Authors note: Dates vary between 10th - 11th as to deaths recorded by C.W.G.C., Medal Index Card Rolls and Soldiers Died In The Great War Database.
One of the men killed was one Lance-Corporal Francis Rourke (O'Rourke), 8229, a native of Leeds. A pre-war regular, Francis was awarded the Royal Humane Society's Bronze Medal for life saving at Malta in 1913. Francis, aged 28 years, now lies buried in Vermelles British Cemetery.
 
The night of the 9th October proved to be a very bright moonlit night but despite the risk of being observed by the enemy a small patrol once again under the command of Second-Lieutenant McConville and accompanied by Sergeant Chamberlain and 4 men of "A" Company ventured forth into No Man's Land. With the objective of capturing one or some of the enemy for identification purposes McConville and Chamberlain crept forward to the enemy's wire and silently began to cut their way through the barbed wire defences. Cutting their way forward and reaching the enemy's parapet they were suddenly spotted by an alert sentry and fired upon forcing the patrol to retire. Bombing the enemy's positions whilst they retired, 3 men were slightly wounded but all returned to the British line safely.
 
It is without doubt that the enemy were now in a high state of alert due to the attempts to penetrate their line but this did not deter the officers and men of the West Yorkshire's who still brazenly ventured forth single-mindedly and undeterred in their quest to capture and make prisoner one of the enemy. On the night of the 10th, two patrols comprising of six men each under the commands of Second-Lieutenants Ernest Sidney Fox and Godfrey Ward Drake respectively attempted to enter the enemy's trench system through weak points in his wire. Once again the night was very bright and in a repetition of the previous nights patrolling, both parties were spotted and forced to retire.
 
Still plagued by harassing fire of the enemy's Granatenwerfers, it was on the 11th that C.S.M. Walter Filtness, 8384, of "D" Company was seriously wounded by one of these aerial darts. In retaliation, Stokes Mortars and rifle grenades were fired on to the enemy's trenches and as the night approached, two further patrols were sent out, one under Second-Lieutenant Littlejohn encountering an enemy patrol which it proceeded to bomb, his party returning to the lines without loss.
 
The Return To The Somme Offensive
 
Relieved by the 11th (Service) Battalion, King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment, 40th Division, at 3 p.m. on the afternoon of the 12th October, John and the men of the West Yorks proceeded by route of march to billets located in Noeux-les-Mines. Marching a distance of  five miles, the men arrived at Noeux at 7 p.m. On the following day at about 8.45 a.m., the battalion, in brigade, took to the march once again and upon covering a distance of over seven miles the West Yorkshire's reached the village of Labeuvriere at noon, only one man falling out of the march in the process. Authors note: All the more remarkable as the War Diary records that since the 15th July the battalion had spent 70 out of the last 90 days in this sector either in the front line or support positions.
 
With the brigade billeted in the surrounding villages, the Colonel of the West Yorks was intent on maintaining a programme of drill and training, both disciplines being conducted during the morning of the 14th. At 4 p.m., the battalion once again took to the march and covering a distance of two miles arrived at the village of Chocques located to the west of Bethune whereupon they began to commence entrainment. 
 
Journeying southwards through the hours of darkness, the train finally pulled into Longpre (Longpre-les-Corps-Saints) south-east of Abbeville. At midnight the men of the 2nd West Yorkshire's detrained and proceeded by route of march over a distance of 2 miles to the picturesque village of Fontaine-sur-Somme which was reached at 2 a.m., the billets being scattered in the locality.
The 8th Division at this juncture had now transferred from 1st Corps, First Army to 10th Corps, Fourth Army, the Corps Commander being Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Lethbridge Napier Morland, Fourth Army under the command of General Sir Henry Rawlinson respectively.
 
Kit inspections and drill were the order of the day as a further move was imminent, the first consequence of orders received being that the Battalion Transport proceeded to move by route of march on the 16th October to Meaulte located to the south of Albert, a march that would be of two days duration along the roads of Picardy. For John and the men of the 2nd West Yorkshire's, the battalion assembled at 7 a.m. on the following morning at Fontaine and marched a distance of four miles southwards to the village of Sorel (Sorel-en-Vimeu). A considerable delay was now experienced by the battalion whilst awaiting to board French motor buses but at 10.30 a.m. the fleet of motor vehicles journeyed back through the village of Fontaine and after crossing the Somme river proceeded on their way to Amiens and onto the Albert road. Arriving at Buire-sur-l'Ancre at 3 p.m. in the afternoon, the men then marched a distance of two miles to Meaulte and arrived at their allocated billets at 4 p.m.
The 8th Division now found itself transferred to the Fourteenth Corps under the command of Lieutenant-General Frederick Rudolph Lambart, the 10th Earl of Cavan. As the men of the 2nd West Yorkshire's settled into their new surroundings alongside a remaining civilian presence, Second-Lieutenant Fred Irving North joined the battalion from the Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards).
     

Meaulte.jpg
Extract Of Map, France, Edition 2B, Sheet 62D, N.E.

With rain falling during the morning of the following day, a period of five hours training was conducted. The ground had by now after days of heavy rainfall turned into a quagmire allowing once again only a short period of training of five hours duration. During the afternoon the Corps Commander addressed all officers of the 23rd Infantry Brigade above the rank of Lieutenant as to forthcoming operations and how they would be conducted. Warning Orders were now received stating that the 24th, 25th and 23rd Infantry Brigades, 8th Division, would relieve the exhausted 6th Division and a portion of the 12th Infantry Brigade, 4th Division, on the left flank, on the 19th/20th and the 20th/21st October respectively.
As heavy rain began to fall on the 19th October, the Brigadier-General Fagan accompanied by his Brigade Major Captain Sackville Hamilton in addition to Officers Commanding plus Company Commanders of their respective units visited the sector of the line to be taken over.
The men of the brigade were now on the verge of entering an alien landscape strewn with the corpses of men who had fallen in battle to the east of the ruins of the village of Les Boeufs. In the dying throws of the Somme offensive if there existed a hell on earth, John Starmond Crossley was about to be thrown into the inferno.
 
The Battle Of The Le Transloy Ridges 1st - 18th October 1916
 
As a consequence of the actions that secured the Thiepval Ridge in late September and the capture of the villages of Morval and Lesboeufs to the east, Haig was somewhat encouraged to continue the advance. Believing that the German Army had received a bitter blow to their morale and suffered serious losses in men and materiel due to the continuation of the Somme offensive, Fourth Army now received orders to attack an established German trench system between the villages of Le Transloy and Beaulencourt, south of Bapaume. As a precursor to this attack, the left flank of operations was to be advanced by the taking of the village of Eaucourt l'Abbaye and the enemy defences to the east and west as well as the Flers Line to a point near the village of Le Sars. This preliminary operation was to be conducted by Third Corps and the New Zealand Division of Fifteenth Corps. On the 1st October after a lengthy and accurate artillery barrage, the attack was launched on a frontage of about 3000 yards and by the evening of the 3rd October Eaucourt l'Abbaye after a determined enemy counter-attack the day previously was finally fully occupied.
 
With heavy rain now making roads and tracks virtually impassable, Rawlinson now postponed the next intended phase of operations for 48 hours. On the 7th October at 1.45 p.m., operations recommenced. Some gains were made in the enemy's trench system by Fifteenth and Fourteenth Corps towards Ligny Thilloy and to the east of Gueudecourt respectively whilst in the area of Third Corps operations the 23rd Division succeeded in capturing the village of Le Sars and advancing the line up to the Butte de Warlencourt. During the 23rd Divisions attack north of Le Sars, the 11th (Service) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment launched a frontal attack on the Flers Support Trench that resulted in 8 officers and 217 Other Ranks becoming casualties, 56 of their number being killed.
 
In the early hours of the following day the left flank of Third Corps attacked in conjunction with the Reserve Army, the line now being advanced to the north and to the east of the ruins of the village of Courcelette. The French Sixth Army under Fayolle now continued to press on with their operations around Sailly Saillisel to the south as British divisions were relieved in the line and replaced by fresh units including the sister Regular battalion of the 2nd, the 1st West Yorkshire's of 18th Infantry Brigade, 6th Division.
 
Attacks resumed along the length of the front on the 12th October but although the weather remaind dry, generally the advances made proved to be localised. Of the 1st West Yorkshire's, the battalion were detailed to attack Mild and Cloudy Trenches located to the east of Guedecourt. Hit by heavy machine gun, rifle and artillery fire plus British artillery falling on their assembly positions despite repeated messages to cease fire, the battalion suffered two officers wounded, 24 Other Ranks killed, 71 wounded and 10 posted as missing. (Authors note: The latter casualty figures are taken from the War Diary. C.W.G.C. record 38 Other Ranks killed or died of wounds on the 12th October).
 
Rawlinson now held a Corps Conference as to the various factors surrounding the failure of the advance. The preparatory bombardment prior to any attack by the infantry provided the enemy with sufficient warning was just one factor. Secondly, the lack of aerial observation due to the weather made the gathering of vital intelligence as to enemy positions, troop movements and counter-battery work impossible. Defences were also being constructed to the rear of the Le Transloy Ridges providing positions even more defensive in depth with machine gun positions that provided a wide arc of fire over long distances.
 
Despite an attack by the 10th Infantry Brigade, 4th Division, Fourteenth Corps to the east of Les Boeufs on the 14th that was repulsed, 12th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Division attempted to gain ground by bombing southwards down Spectrum Trench and across the Les Boeufs - Le Transloy Road to Dewdrop Trench on the nights of the 14th - 15th however progress to the latter trench, a trench a name only, ceased.
In the area of operations of the 6th Division to the east of Gueudecourt, 2nd Sherwood Foresters of 71st Infantry Brigade made an attack early on the morning of the 15th from the foothold gained in Cloudy Trench. This advance led to the capture of some gun pits located to the south of the Gueudecourt - Beaulencourt Road however the acting Officer Commanding, Major Edmund Rochfort Street, D.S.O. was mortally wounded whilst encouraging his men forward and died some hours later at a Casualty Clearing Station located at Meaulte.
 
On the Forester's left flank, an attack by the 11th Essex of the 18th Infantry Brigade succeeded in gaining a foothold in Mild Trench whereupon they then proceeded to bomb their way forward along the Beaulencourt Road. Hit by an enemy counter-attack as they attempted to advance further, the men of the Essex were force to retire suffering heavy casualties.
 
To the north in Third Corps area of operations, 3rd South African Infantry Regiment, South African Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division were launched into battle. After a period of rest and reorganisation due to heavy losses incurred at Delville Wood, the brigade in division now found itself facing the formidable trench systems surrounding the Butte de Warlencourt. Commencing a series of attacks on the 12th October with little gain, it was on the night of the 14th that the 3rd South Africans under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Francis Thackeray C.M.G. captured the enemy position known as the Pimple as well as gaining a foothold in Snag Trench.
 
With the ground having been pulverised into a quagmire by artillery and with the effects of the incessant rain, trenches were trenches in name only. With the general attack now scheduled for 3.40 a.m. on the 18th October, men were at this point up to their knees in mud and filth. So unrecognisable and featureless was the terrain for the objectives and the line of advance to be maintained, tapes were laid out for the infantry to form up on and bearings taken by compass for the infantry to follow their lines of advance. To compound matters further the men would advance in the dark, the moon being obscured by rain clouds.
At zero hour as the men struggled forward, the actions of their weapons became jammed due to the all pervasive mud but tenaciously they attempted to press home their attack under heavy enemy artillery and machine gun fire. Gains however were minimal and the actions along the whole length of the front followed the same pattern as units initially captured positions with bomb and bayonet and boot but were then ultimately ejected by enemy counter-attacks.
 
Fourteenth Corps alone had suffered over 5000 casualties and it was into this battle arena that the 23rd Infantry Brigade, 8th Division were about to enter. With Sailly-Saillisel now in the hands of the French, Haig was determined to improve the British positions on the right flank to the east of Gueudecourt and Les Boeufs as well as waiting for the opportunity to exploit local operations on the left flank to the west of the villages of Courcelette and Pys.
An improvement in the weather would also herald the launch of a British offensive on the Ancre however to the east Haig felt duty bound to support the attacks of the French, in effect, to maintain Anglo-French relations. There were however protestations as to the conduct of the offensive most notably Cavan who voiced his opinions regarding further attacks against Le Transloy favouring an advance on the latter objective from a southerly direction.
Under increasing pressure by the French to maintain the offensive, the attacks ground on in the quagmire with increasing casualties however it was agreed that objectives were to be 'realistic' and that the scope of the attacks were to be of a  limited nature. Therefore another advance was scheduled to take place on the 23rd October as a precursor to the taking of Le Transloy. Fourteenth Corps would now attack the high ground to the west of the village.
 

View Towards Beaulencourt
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The Locations Of Grease, Mild, Stormy & Cloudy Trenches In The Fields Right & Left Of The Road

Occupation Of The Front Line

Orders were now received for the 23rd Infantry Brigade to move to reserve positions in the vicinity of Montauban, Bernafay and Trones Woods. At 5 a.m. on the morning of the 20th October the 2nd West Yorkshire's proceeded by route of march to Camp "D" located at Bernafay Wood. The weather was very cold with ever present rain as the men marched the six miles distance to the wood but due to the roads being very congested with men and materiel, the battalion did not reach their destination until 11 a.m.

The camp, located at the north-eastern edge of Bernafay Wood, consisted of nothing more than shell holes covered with either the men's waterproof sheets, tarpaulin or pieces of corrugated iron. (Authors note: Trench Map Reference S.23.c.9.3. between Longueval Alley and Dummy Trench, north and south respectively). With biting cold and inadequate cover, John and the men of the 2nd West Yorks settled as best as they could.

On the night of the 19th/20th October, the 25th and 24th Infantry Brigades, 8th Division, unders the commands of Brigadier-Generals James Hawkins-Whitshed Pollard and Archibald James Fergusson Eden, relieved the 16th and 71st Infantry Brigades of 6th Division under the commands of Brigadier-Generals William Lushington Osborne and Edward Feetham respectively.

In accordance with Operation Orders, during the evening of the 20th October the 2nd Scottish Rifles, Officer Commanding Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Corbett Sandilands, proceeded by route of march to the front line to relieve the 2nd Essex Regiment of the 12th Infantry Brigade, 4th Division in Spectrum Trench,  Brigade Headquarters being established at 5 p.m. in the Flers Line, south-east of the village of Flers. Authors note: Trench Map Reference T.8.a.5.4. In addition to the taking over of front line positions by the Scottish Rifles, 2nd Middlesex, Officer Commanding Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton Walter Edward Finch, proceeded to the trenches at 4 p.m. on the 22nd, two companies moving into the line in Spectrum Trench whilst the remaining two companies took up position in support respectively.

With the weather remaining very cold but bright, on the following day the West Yorkshire's performed fatigue duties both in daylight and during the hours of darkness. These duties were more often than not as dangerous as being in occupation of the trenches, the men being subjected to the activities of enemy artillery and as a consequence casualties numbered 4 men.

After a conference of battalion commanders on the 21st October, Brigadier-General Fagan issued orders for the brigade in division to make ready for an attack that was scheduled to take place at 11.30 a.m. on the morning of the 23rd. The 8th Division would launch their assault to the east of Le Transloy, all three infantry brigades being present in the line. Of 23rd Infantry Brigade, an attack on Zenith Trench would be led by the 2nd Scottish Rifles along with the 2nd Middlesex, 2nd West Yorkshire's were to be placed in close support in Windmill Lane and Shin Alley.

At 5 p.m. on the evening of the 22nd October the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment began to move forward to their support positions. A total of 8 officers and a number of men however were left behind so as to form a reserve should the battalion be committed to the attack and suffer significant losses, in addition to this reserve, the men of the Battalion Transport were also left behind in camp. 

Support Positions Of 2nd West Yorks (Yellow)
WindmillLane.JPG
Extract Of Map: 23rd Infantry Brigade Headquarters. T.N.A. WO95/1709/2

The Attack On Zenith Trench: 23rd October 1916
 
As the 2nd West Yorkshire's made their way across the desolated battlefield devoid of landmarks, all units were reported in position by midnight. Authors note: 'General Jack's Diary' however states that the West Yorkshire's did not arrive in their support positions until 5 a.m. on the morning of the 23rd due to the battalion being ordered to carry forward stores. Support positions in Windmill Lane and Shin Alley denoted on the above Brigade Map being highlighted in the colour yellow respectively. The Brigade War Diary however records that all units were in position by midnight except that of the 2nd Devonshire's who were to be placed in Brigade Reserve. Although there is no record in the Devonshire's War Diary that suggests of any possible delay, the distance to be travelled from their camp at Montauban to their reserve positions in Gap and Punch Trenches located to the south-east of Flers may have proved to be a key factor, the battalion not departing camp until 12.15 a.m. on the 23rd instant. The Brigade Diary reports that their movement was finally not completed until 5.30 a.m. on the morning of the 23rd.
 
The War Diary of the 2nd West Yorkshire's records that the battalion were performing fatigues until 4 a.m. on the morning of the 23rd but it is unclear as to the exact location. Wherever the battalion were performing these duties, the men came under intermittent shell fire that resulted in the unfortunate death of Second-Lieutenant George Smailes and 6 O/R's either killed or wounded. Smailes, aged 22 years and a native of Whitby, had joined the battalion in March 1916 and had shown great courage during his patrols in the Loos Sector. George is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial as well as being commemorated on a number of War Memorials in the Whitby district. Private Percy Balme, 28075, of Harrogate, also numbered amongst the dead. A married man aged 27 years and a resident of Bilton, Percy is also commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in addition to a commemoration on the panels of the Harrogate Cenotaph.
 
Objectives
 
The preparatory artillery bombardment that had commenced on the 21st continued to roar over the men's heads as shells of all calibres began to rain down on the German positions. The 23rd Infantry Brigade were now in position in Spectrum Trench and Support Trenches as per Operation Order Number 80. If the attack on Zenith Trench proved to be successful, a new line was to be dug forward of the latter position.
The 8th Division were to launch their attack in conjunction with the 4th Division on their right flank, G.O.C. Major-General the Hon. Sir William Lambton. To their right, the French Army would continue their attacks to the north-west of Sailly-Saillisel.
 
The advance of the 23rd Infantry Brigade was to be conducted in two bounds by the 2nd Middlesex and the 2nd Scottish Rifles:
 
Right Battalion, 2nd Scottish Rifles: First Objective:   N.35.a.5.4.1/2  - N.29.c.1/2.1/2. at a point 100 yards North of Sunken Road.
Second Objective:                                                   N.35.a.9.1/2.8. - N.29.c.4.3.
 
Left Battalion, 2nd Middlesex: First Objective:           N.29.c.1/2.1/2. - N.28.d.6.7.
Second Objective:                                                  N.29.c.4.3. - N.28.d. 9.1/2.9.
 
Support: 2nd West Yorkshire's                                Windmilll Trench & Shin Alley
Reserve: 2nd Devonshire's                                      Punch & Gap Trenches
 
Each objective gained would be consolidated immediately, strong points being established at Orion and other positions at the attacking Commanding Officer's discretion. To assist in these tasks, a section of the Royal Engineers would be assigned by the Officer Commanding 2nd Field Company, Royal Engineers, to be attached to both the 2nd Middlesex and the 2nd Scottish Rifles.
The attack would be proceeded by a bombardment of heavy calibre artillery, this bombardment having already commenced on the 21st instant as previously stated.
 
At the appointed "Zero" hour, the battalion's leading the assault would debouch from their assembly trenches in 2 waves, a stationary or standing barrage then being placed on all objectives to be attacked. As the infantry rose to the assault, a creeping barrage would commence moving at a rate of 50 yards a minute proceeding the advance and once the first objective had been gained, the barrage would pause for the duration of half an hour. After this pause, the barrage would commence again in intensity as the infantry headed towards their second objective. Throughout the period of the bombardment the ground between the objectives and the Le Transloy System would be systematically 'swept' by 18-pounder artillery pieces firing shrapnel and high explosive shell in addition to a bombardment by 4.5" Howitzers.
In addition to the artillery, Officer Commanding the 23rd Trench Mortar Battery would detail 4 Stokes Guns to be in position with the Scottish Rifles before 4.30 a.m. on the morning of the 23rd. Placed at the disposal of the O.C., they would launch a 'hurricane bombardment' on the first objective at the appointed "Zero" hour. Once Zenith Trench had been made secure, they would then proceed to the Sunken Road heading east - west across the Brigade's objectives and here begin to shell Orion Trench in order to cover the advance of the Bombers of the Scottish Rifles on this enemy strong point.
The Officer Commanding the 23rd Machine Gun Company would attach a section of his guns to each of the attacking battalions and after consolidation of the first objective, these sections will move across. Positioned in the front line before 4.30 a.m. on the 23rd instant, the guns were also ordered to engage any suitable targets that presented themselves upon commencement of the attack. Of those guns not allocated to the attack, these were to be placed in Reserve under the orders of the Brigadier-General.
 
The Commanding Officers of both the 2nd Scottish Rifles and the 2nd Middlesex would detail 'special parties,' no doubt consisting of Bombers and men equipped with rifle grenades, to deal with any enemy trenches located between the start point and the first objective, thus, enabling the impetus of the attack to not get detracted clearing up pockets of enemy resistance. The Scottish Rifles specifically, would detail a bombing party to deal with any of the enemy in Orion Trench if necessary after the first objective, Zenith Trench, had "been made good," the latter trench then being cleared and a garrison left behind to consolidate the position before proceeding on towards the next objective.
 
Operation Orders stipulated that during the attack, close touch was to be maintained between both assaulting battalion's to prevent a gap developing between them whilst advancing on the first and second objectives. Furthermore, an emphasis was placed that both battalion's should assault simultaneously, square with their objectives, and then keep close on the heels of the creeping barrage. To keep close to the barrage presented it's own dangers, but in addition to this factor, it was anticipated that the attack may be launched in fog. With the landscape already devoid of identifiable landmarks, Company Commanders were ordered to take compass bearings in case of this scenario.
Strong defensive flanks were to be formed by both assaulting battalion's and after securing the second objective, patrols would be pushed forward to take up advanced positions.
 
Of the 2nd West Yorkshire's in support positions, the Officer Commanding would arrange for a patrol, under the command of an officer, to be in position in Spectrum Trench before "Zero" hour. This patrol would report the situation and progress of the attack by signalling communication "as far as possible." When confirmation of the capture of the first objective is received, O.C. West Yorkshire's will move his battalion forward into the vacated "jumping off" trenches to re-inforce either the 2nd Middlesex or the 2nd Scottish Rifles in the front line. This movement forward would be conducted in artillery formation. Authors note: In line of platoons and in file to decrease the vulnerability of the force to enemy artillery fire.
 
Once the first objective had been captured and secured, the Divisional Pioneers, 22nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, were to dig two communication trenches from Spectrum to Zenith Trench, one, commencing on the left flank of the positions occupied by the Middlesex, the other, commencing near the Sunken Road near the juncture with the Scottish Rifles.
 
Each man would carry two red flares, six flares per platoon to be lit under the orders of the senior officer or N.C.O. on obtaining each objective and at 4 p.m. A ratio of at least 40% of the attacking force were to carry picks and shovels in the proportion of one pick to one shovel if the weather conditions remained frosty or one pick to six shovels if the weather proved to be otherwise. Authors note: The coldest recorded temperature during the Somme offensive had been recorded on the 20th October, -2.22 Degrees Celsius. Source: Gliddon: The Battle Of The Somme: A Topographical History. Sutton Publishing.
Along with the other items of paraphernalia of war, wire cutters and periscopes were to be carried into action plus each man was to carry rations for a day and a half as well as 200 rounds of S.A.A. (Small Rounds Ammunition).
 
The Operation Orders of the 23rd Infantry Brigade continue at some length as regards medical facilities, locations of dumps for bombs and R.E. material plus the treatment and evacuation of prisoners, but also included in these complex orders was the provision of a hot meal before the men went into action.
For some, if any rations arrived from the rear, it would be their last meal on this earth.
 

TNA WO95/1790/2
Attack2ndMid2ndScots.JPG
Forming Up Positions Of Middlesex (Blue) & Scottish Rifles (Red)

"Zero" Hour

The attack was scheduled to commence at 11.30 a.m., however, at 8.50 a.m. a message was received at Brigade Headquarters that the hour of attack was to be postponed until 2.30 p.m. due to rain and mist. As some of the men no doubt busied themselves checking rifles and equipment, for some, it may have been the last chance to write a final letter home expressing their thoughts before battle commenced. As the final barrage roared overhead, the men left the comparative safety of their lines following the creeping barrage that fell just fifty yards in front of them. The War Diaries of both attacking battalions do not record specific details as regards the assault therefore the following narrative of events is primarily based on the Headquarters Diary of the 23rd Infantry Brigade.

The Attack

The Middlesex, following close behind the protective creeping barrage, "A" & "B" Companies on the right and left flanks respectively, rose to the attack with "C" Company on the right and "D" Company on the left in support positions. Lieutenant-Colonel Finch watched on as his men advanced across a sea of mud and shell torn terrain to their first objective, Zenith Trench, their 'Special Parties' specifically assigned to deal with pockets of enemy resistance between the start point and the latter enemy trench.

Upon entering the enemy trench hand-to-hand fighting ensued, the Middlesex inflicting heavy losses on the defenders depite the Scottish Rifle's advance being momentarily checked by heavy machine gun, rifle fire and grenades that caused significant casualties. The men of the Middlesex at once set about clearing Zenith Trench of any further opposition and once this task was completed, a new line was established some 200 yards beyond the old hostile front line.

Of the Scottish Rifles, on the right flank of the Middlesex, they were disposed as follows:- 1st Line, "B" & "D" Companies, 2nd Line, "A" & "C" Companies respectively. Despite their first wave being held up and checked by severe opposition, both support companies being brought forward, entry into the enemy trench was effected. Second-Lieutenant John Ferguson assisted by Sergeant Frederick Hawkins, 9032, "C" Company, and one Private Murray?, now bombed their way along the enemy trench. Upon bombing down the first objective, Ferguson and Hawkins put out of action three machine guns and in progressing further, eventually cleared a distance of 30 yards however Second-Lieutenant Ferguson was unfortunately killed after clearing almost the whole front opposite the battalion, 25 prisoners being captured in the process. Hawkins, for his actions, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Second-Lieutenant John Ferguson, aged 24 years, a former student at Edinburgh University and a native of Aberfoyle, Stirling, is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme.

At 2.45 p.m., the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, left flank battalion of 25th Infantry Brigade, 8th Division, were reported to be digging in on their first objective, also Zenith, sending up flares to indicate their position. The objective however were not achieved without stiff resistance by the enemy, the leading waves, "A" & "B" Companies being held up by heavy machine gun fire at the junction of the Zenith and Eclipse trenches. The battalion's support companies, "C" & "D" Companies were eventually sent up and assisted in the process of "digging in' but the failure of their right attacking battalion, the 2nd Lincolns, made the situation somewhat precarious.

The Lincolns, Officer Commanding Lieutenant-Colonel Reginald Bastard, also had Zenith Trench as their first objective. Once captured and consolidated, they would also dig a new line beyond the captured trench. The battalion were disposed as follows: "D" Company, Left Flank, "A" Company, Right Flank. "C" Company and "B" Company in Support respectively, the men assembling just behind Gusty Trench. At "Zero" hour, the leading companies kept close on the heels of the creeping barrage, so close in fact that some men were wounded by friendly fire. It had been noted nearly an hour before "Zero" that the enemy had been observed moving down Zenith Trench from the right, no doubt in an attempt to vacate the line and retire to the rear via Eclipse Trench. With the latter knocked in by the bombardment he had no choice but to stand and fight. As the Lincolns had advanced but a short distance, they were met by intense, rapid rifle fire virtually decimating the leading companies, only one section of "A" Company managing to enter the trench on the left flank of the Middlesex. Of the support companies, they met a similar fate and were hit by not just rifle fire but also that of machine gun. All company commanders had become casualties, three being killed whilst one succumbed to wounds received on the following day.

Shortly after 3 p.m. the enemy's artillery barrage appeared to be directed mostly on the village of Lesboeufs and the valley located in trench map reference, N.33. (Central) in close proximity to the support positions held by the 2nd West Yorkshire's. At 3.14 p.m. this barrage now extended along the full length of the Gueudecourt - Lesboeufs Road no doubt in an attempt to interdict men and materiel from entering the battle zone.

At 3.31 p.m. Brigade Headquarters were in touch with the contact patrol aeroplane that had been airborne from three minutes after "Zero." Four minutes later, Colonel Jack received orders to move one company forward to the trench vacated by the Scottish Rifles, consequently, "A" Company under the command of Captain John Philip Palmes M.C., moved forward in line of platoons and in file and across the open. Proceeding towards the trench system, the company was subjected to the attentions of the enemy's artillery, a total of 15 casualties being sustained before they reached their allocated positions. Amongst their number was one Private Matthew Milner, 28932, aged 21, a native of Pudsey, Leeds.

Matthew had enlisted at York in April 1916 under the Military Service Act, in other words, conscripted, and was posted to the battalion in August. Prior to the war he had been employed at a Worsted Mill, one of many in the Pudsey area as a "Doffer," someone who removes bobbins, pirns or spindles from a spinning frame replacing them with empty ones. Wounded during the enemy artillery barrage, Matthew was evacuated along the casualty clearing line to the 2/2nd London Casualty Clearing Station located at Meaulte, south of Albert where he unfortunately succumbed to his wounds. Matthew now lies buried in Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte, Somme.

It was at 3.40 p.m. that news was received at Brigade Headquarters that the attack of the 2nd Lincolns on the left flank had failed, as we now know, with serious casualties, of the 2nd Rifle Brigade, they had now consolidated their first objective and were pressing on towards their second. Both the 2nd Scottish and the 2nd Middlesex were reported to be on their second objectives at 3.45 p.m. with a 'bag' of 39 prisoners and what was referred to as two weak counter-attacks by the enemy, one at 3.15 p.m. and one an hour later were beaten off.

 

 

Copyright IWM (Q 52845) Luzz Herr Collection
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Gun Position Near Le Transloy. The Somme Region. November 1916.

Just after 4 p.m. the Officer Commanding 2nd West Yorkshire's was ordered to support the 2nd Scottish Rifles with a second company. Authors note: The West Yorks War Diary records that the company was ordered forward to support the 2nd Middlesex however there is no record of this in the battalion diary or that of the 2nd Scottish Rifles. At around 5 p.m. though, "C" Company under the command of Second-Lieutenant Arthur Reginald Cowdery made there way to the vacated front line positions without incident.
A report was received from the Officer Commanding 23rd Machine Gun Company stating that two machine guns had gone over into the German front line positions on the extreme right flank, orders then being issued to re-inforce these guns with a further two.
 
24th Infantry Brigade reported at 4.37 p.m. that they had taken all their objectives but that the 25th Brigade attack on the left of the 23rd Brigade respectively had failed and that they were now back in their original jumping off positions. Despite this failure the attacking battalion's of the 23rd brigade now began to consolidate their gains, this vital work being well in hand by 4.45 p.m. It was however a tentative position as the left flank of the Middlesex was now exposed due to the enemy still being in possession of part of Zenith Trench, 2nd Rifle Brigade, to the left of the latter position, now attempting to bomb their way down towards the Middlesex. To assist in this operation, 2nd Middlesex were ordered to use Stokes mortars and bombs in an attempt to secure the flank and drive the enemy from this position.
Of the 4th Division, 12th Infantry Brigade on the right flank were reported to be pressing home their attack with success, both enemy trenches on their frontage reported to be in their hands at about 5 p.m. During the attack of this division, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers of the 10th Infantry Brigade met the full ferocity of the enemy's stoic defence of the line. Sergeant Robert Downie, despite being wounded and with most of his officers casualties, rallied the men. Rushing forward and shouting "Come on the Dubs," the men pressed home the attack, Downie himself taking several of the enemy prisoner and capturing an enemy machine-gun position of which the associated team were killed. For his bravery and devotion to duty, Downie was awarded the Victoria Cross.
 
Thus at 5.7. p.m., positions of the attacking battalions of the 23rd Infantry Brigade, 8th Division, were reported as follows:-
The first objective, part of Zenith Trench, had been taken by the Middlesex and the Scottish Rifles, and a line according to the Brigade War Diary was established about 100 yards (Authors note: War Diary of 2nd Middlesex states the distance as 200 yards, origin is possibly of a later report received) forward on a crest of rising ground. Two companies of the former battalion, "C" & "D" were garrisoned in this forward position whilst the two remaining companies, "A" & "B" were in position in Zenith Trench with one Vickers machine gun positioned in their centre. 2nd Scottish Rifles were also established in Zenith Trench and Orion Trench and were in the process of consolidating. The attack by the Scots had indeed ebbed and flowed, the initial assault being met by concentrated machine-gun and rifle fire and bombing attacks by the enemy. Despite this fierce opposition, the attackers were reinforced by "C" Company and the attack was eventually pressed home as they fought their way with bomb and bayonet into Orion Trench. It is sheer testament to the bravery of the Scots that they managed to proceed this far, but due to severe losses in officers and men any further advance beyond the latter trench was impossible due to the right flank being subjected to the attentions of snipers and machine guns.
 
Just after 6 p.m., a message was received at Brigade Headquarters from Captain Arthur Gordon Cade, Officer Commanding "B" Company of the 2nd Middlesex. The left flank of his company he reported, had been pushed forward a distance of 200 yards further north of the first objective and that just small contingents of the 2nd Lincoln's had managed to connect up to his company. On this left flank however, the enemy as he attempted to retire, had been dealt a severe blow by Lewis gun and rifle fire resulting in the capture of one machine gun.
 
With the men now occupying positions forward of Zenith Trench, it was remarkable that these forward positions as of yet had escaped the attentions of the enemy artillery, possibly due to him being uncertain of what parts of his trench system remained in his hands.
As the hours of darkness began to fall, a message was received at Brigade Headquarters at 6.37 p.m. from the Officer Commanding Scottish Rifles, Lieutenant-Colonel Vincent Corbett Sandilands. From their positions in the front line the enemy was observed massing for a counter-attack in the Sunken Road in positions N.35.a.1.0. - N.35.a.4.5.
The enemy's intentions were quite clear, he was about to attempt to roll up the right flank of the Scots utilising the cover of the road with its steep protective embankment as a jumping off position. In anticipation of this counter-attack, the Brigadier issued orders that the right flank of Zenith Trench be protected, the Scots being ordered to place a Vickers gun in the latter trench whilst their Lewis guns were to be positioned in Orion. Just a few minutes later, a heavy enemy artillery barrage, no doubt as a precursor to the enemy counter-attack, was placed on Orion necessitating the evacuation of the position. Casualties due to this barrage were reported to be heavy but their exact number was found to be over-exaggerated (Authors note: The Brigade War Diary initially records the figure of casualties to be 400, an annotation made later that the figures were well in excess of those actually sustained).
At 6.42 p.m. the Division were informed of the situation and the Group Commander, presumably the C.R.A. (Commander Royal Artillery) was requested to shell heavily the Sunken Road near Orion Trenches.
Despite the evacuation of Orion and the threat to the right flank, the O.C. Machine Gun Company reported at 6.55 p.m. that he had now placed two guns on the right flank where they had acquired "good targets" on the Sunken Road and Dewdrop Trench.

Courtesy Of McMasters University
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Extract Of Trench Map France, Edition 4A, Sheet 57C S.W. Corrected To 7/10/16

Orders were now issued by 23rd Brigade Headquarters for the 2nd West Yorkshire's to send forth a "strong" bombing party to the Sunken Road at N.35.a.1/2.9. with the objective of making preparations to retake Orion Trench. Once in position, Colonel Jack was to report that he was ready. As the men busied themselves, the time for this bombing attack to commence was issued for 9 p.m.

Artillery batteries now made preparations to bombard the Sunken Road at N.35.a.1.0. therefore, it was critical, 8th Division Headquarters reaffirmed, that 23rd Brigade Headquarters inform them once that the 2nd West Yorks were in position as all guns were now under divisional control. (Authors note: The projected bombing attack of the 2nd West Yorkshire's was subsequently cancelled by Fourteenth Corps Headquarters).

Uncertainty as to positions now ensued as at 7.25 p.m. a message was received at 23rd Brigade Headquarters from the 25th Brigade H.Q. that the 2nd Rifle Brigade had been pushed out of the left of Zenith Trench and that their exact status and position was unknown.

Provision of supplies to units at the front was now paramount and to this end, two companies of the 1st Sherwood Foresters, 24th Infantry Brigade, were placed under the command of the 23rd Brigade, relieving the 2nd Devon's who were in Divisional Reserve located at Gap & Punch Trenches. Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Joseph Elton Sunderland who had returned from Advanced Brigade Headquarters at 7 p.m., orders were received at late in the evening for the Devon's to proceed at once to Needle Trench located to the east of Flers and to the west of Lesboeufs respectively.

Just after 8.30 p.m., the Scottish Rifles reported their position at this point in time; Zenith Trench was now in their hands and was now consolidated. A strong point had been established on their right flank to counter any attack on this, and four Vickers guns were now in the line. In addition to this protective manoeuvre, a strong bombing post had been established near Orion Trench with additional strong points being pushed up over the crest in their forward positions.

As a dark night descended over the battlefield, Corps Headquarters cancelled any further operations on the 23rd Infantry Brigade front. The Commanding Officers of the 2nd Middlesex, 2nd Scottish Rifles and the 2nd West Yorkshire's were now issued with orders; all positions taken were to be consolidated and communication trenches commenced so as to link the forward positions with the rear, an emphasis being placed on completion of this vital work before dawn. Of the 2nd Devon's slogging their way forward through the mud and the darkness, they suffered two casualties due to all avenues of approach to the sector being shelled by enemy artillery as it bombarded identified routes up and down to the front. Upon arrival at their allocated position, the wounded from the attack were strewn across the ground, unable to be evacuated due to the condition of the terrain and a lack of stretcher bearers.

For the dead, their bodies lay out across the ground, a despairing sight no doubt for the survivors who had not only fought the enemy but also the trying conditions of the terrain over which they were ordered to attack. Success, despite numerous casualties, was assessed by higher command in yards gained not in men. Further attempts to advance would follow as the Somme battle continued across these lonely heights.

Casualties: 2nd Middlesex

The War Diary of the 2nd Middlesex (T.N.A. WO/95/1713) records casualties sustained by the battalion as 3 officers killed, 3, wounded. In Other Ranks, 62, Killed, 117 Wounded & 47 Missing, a total of 6 officers and 226 N.C.O.'s and men. The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission now record that the battalion suffered 82 casaualties Killed or Died of Wounds on the 23rd October. Whilst the vast majority of men who fell on this day have no known grave and are now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, for some, their earthly remains were located and exhumed as late as the 1930's.

Both Second-Lieutenant Frederick Owen Kemp, a married man from Gloucester, and Private Rupert Bennett, G/28130, a native of Bedmond, Hertfordshire, were buried together in one grave close to where they fell (N.28.d.85.00). Exhumed in March 1937, Kemp was identified by various items of insignia and clothing in addition to an inscribed hip flask, Bennett also by clothing and insignia and a piece of boot stamped 28130. Both men now lie buried in adjoining graves at London Cemetery Extension, High Wood, Longueval, Somme.

Of the missing, one of their number was Private Charles John O'Leary, G/905, aged 36 years. A married man of Notting Hill, London, Charles enlisted at Fulham and was posted to France on the 11th December 1914 whilst the battalion were in the trenches near Neuve Chapelle. Awarded the Military Medal, London Gazette 11th November 1916, the exact date or circumstances of the award are unknown at present, Charles justs represents one of many men of the battalion whose names are now inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial.

2nd Scottish Rifles

The War Diary of the 2nd Scottish Rifles (T.N.A. WO/95/1715/1) records casualties sustained by the battalion as 6 officers Killed, 4 Wounded and 2 Missing. In Other Ranks, 47 Killed, 167 Wounded and 14 Missing, a total of 12 officers and 228 N.C.O.'s and men. Once again an analysis of the records of the Commonwealth War Graves now record that the battalion suffered 67 casualties Killed or Died of Wounds.

Commemorated on the panels of the Thiepval Memorial is one Lance-Corporal John Gall, 8203. Born and enlisting at Aberdeen, John initially served with the 1st Battalion, Scottish Rifles, landing in France on the 15th August 1914. Transferred to the 2nd Battalion, date unknown, John's actions no doubt saved numerous lives and for his brave actions he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Noted in the War Diary on the 25th November, his citation for gallantry appeared in the London Gazette dated 21st December 1916:

"For conspicuous gallantry in action. Alone, with two bombs in his hand he advanced 25 yards straight up to a hostile machine gun and killed the team"

2nd West Yorkshire's

The 23rd Infantry Brigade War Diary (T.N.A. WO/95/1709/2) records estimated casualties to the battalion as one officer Killed. In Other Ranks, 2 Killed, 8 Wounded and 10 Missing. Casualties recorded in the battalion War Diary (T.N.A. WO/95/1714/2)  state that on the 23rd October 1 officer was killed (attached 23rd Trench Mortar Battery) along with 2 Other Ranks either Killed or Wounded. A further 15 O/R's casualties were sustained throughout the course of the day. An analysis of Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that 6 Other Ranks were Killed or Died of Wounds, the officer attached to the 23rd T.M.B. being one Lieutenant Norman Bastow, his death being inextricably linked with the fate of his brother.

Born in Reims, France in 1895 whilst his parents Thomas and Margaret were residing in premises located at Rue Croix-Saint-Marc, shortly after Norman's birth the Bastow (Baistow) family relocated back to London where he and his elder brother Frank were baptised at the Church of St. John of Jerusalem, South Hackney, London, in September of that year. The son of a Wool Combing Engineer, his father would unfortunately die in 1899 at the untimely age of 41 years, Margaret, remarrying in 1902 to one Alfred Charles Starling.

Both boys were sent north to Bradford and are recorded in the 1901 Census as residing with their Grandfather, Jeremiah Bastow, in the Manningham area of the city. By 1911, and with his stepfather now recorded as a Clerk in Holy Orders, Norman took up residence with his mother and husband at Whitley Bay, Norman at this juncture being recorded as a Student. (Authors note: Educated at the Royal Grammar School, Newcastle & Leeds University. Served an apprenticeship at Wallsend Slipway & Engineering Company). Frank had now returned south to continue his education at Dulwich College, south-east London before proceeding to Clare College, Cambridge, where he studied in the Mathematical Tripos no doubt with a view to following in his father's footsteps as an engineer.

Upon the outbreak of war, both Norman and Frank were appointed as Second-Lieutenants (On Probation) into the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, on the 15th August 1914 (London Gazette dated 15th September 1914, Page 7303). Confirmed in their ranks in April 1915, Frank had by now joined the ranks of the 1st Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, on the 24th March 1915 whilst they were located near Houplines to the east of Armentieres, Norman subsequently being posted to the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment in June 1915, both being confirmed in the rank of Lieutenant (London Gazette dated 7th July, 1915, appointments dated the 14th June 1915).

Receiving the news of the death of their mother in March 1916, the last link to their family had now been all but erased, Margaret dying whilst her husband was performing duties as Vicar at the Church of Saint John the Baptist, Stanwick, near Darlington. For Frank and Norman, their respective divisions having both being engaged on the Western Front from 1914, both would eventually move southwards to Picardy in northern France to play their part in the Battle of the Somme.

In September near Lesboeufs, Frank would be seriously wounded in the arm, a wound that would leave him with a permanent disability. As for Norman, the action that resulted in his untimely death is recorded in the pages of the Royal Grammar School Roll of Honour. Having left the comparative safety of the trench so as to better supervise operations, he was shot through the heart and died instantly. His body unfortunately lost, Norman is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme.

Promoted to the rank of Captain in February 1917, Frank continued to serve at home with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Regiment and would then be seconded for service with the Royal Defence Corps. Despite his disability, Frank was posted to join the ranks of the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment in April 1918 and on the 27th May was unfortunately killed whilst the battalion were holding positions to the east of the Chemin des Dames, north of Reims. Denied a known grave, Frank, aged 25 years, is now commemorated on the Soissons Memorial, Soissons, Aisne, France. In addition to being commemorated on the memorials to the missing at Thiepval and Soissons, both brothers are also remembered on the War Memorial located in the Church of St. John, Stanwick. United in death, these two brothers just replicate the destruction of one family, like so many, by the war on the Western Front.

Holding The Line

The 23rd Infantry Brigade were now holding the positions Zenith Trench - Zenith - and the Forward Line. In the front line the 2nd Scottish Rifles formed the right flank battalion, the 2nd Middlesex the left respectively. John and the men of the 2nd West Yorkshire's were now disposed with two companies in Spectrum Trench and two companies in Windmill Trench whilst the 2nd Devon's remained in Needle Trench in Divisional Reserve.

The men now set about strengthening and consolidating their positions, this work being conducted under heavy enemy artillery fire that resulted in numerous casualties. During the day a conference was held at Brigade Headquarters to discuss further operations in this sector of the line, 25th Infantry Brigade being designated for an attack on the portion of Zenith Trench still held by the enemy.

At 8.15 p.m., "B" Company under the command of Captain Lesley Douglas Gordon-Alexander and "D" Company, Second-Lieutenant Thomas Sankey of the 2nd West Yorks, moved forward to Spectrum Trench and the captured portion of Zenith to relieve the 2nd Scottish Rifles, 20 casualties being suffered by the battalion during the course of the day primarily due to shell fire. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission now records that 8 men were Killed or Died of Wounds on this date, only three of their number being buried in known graves.

The 2nd Scottish Rifles now moved upon relief into support trenches located at Windmill and Shin (sic) Alley. Although relieved from the front line, their Battalion Headquarters were subjected to the attentions of enemy artillery, several casualties being sustained during this bombardment.

Although the left flank held by the 2nd Middlesex was subjected to localised bombing attacks from the section of Zenith Trench still held by the enemy, these were easily repulsed. Despite enemy infantry still trying to gain lost objectives, the attentions of his artillery were primarily directed against the new forward positions which were in the process of being deepened, enemy artillery also conducting a systematic bombardment of Spectrum Trench, no doubt with the intention of interdiction. Therefore to assist the movement of men and supplies forward, a communication trench was now constructed and dug back from the front to Zenith, all the while, the men being subjected to shell fire as they stuck to their task. With the Middlesex bearing the brunt of the enemy's attacks and gaining the upper hand in the ensuing bombing duels, proposals were sent to the division that the battalion were in a position to adopt a more offensive attitude towards the enemy and launch a bombing attack on their positions in Zenith. Caution though had to be exercised, and to hold on to positions hard gained was possibly the best course of action, divisional headquarters 'declining' the proposed attack. Operations for attack were now scheduled for the 25th Brigade, objective, to finally 'push' the enemy garrison out and capture the remainder of Zenith Trench still in the hands of the enemy.

The Attack Of The 25th Infantry Brigade: 3.50 a.m.

As heavy rain once again began to fall, operation orders were issued to both the 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire's and the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles of 25th Infantry Brigade to prepare for attack. The Officers Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel's Roland Haig and Evan Colclough Lloyd respectively, issued their orders for the attack. Both battalions were to assault with two companies each and in two waves, 25 yards apart. To assist in the operation, a platoon of the 22nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, Pioneer Battalion of the 8th Division, under the command of Second-Lieutenant Edward Hartley would be attached to the second wave to dig a communication trench once the objective was taken.

As the attack promptly commenced at "Zero," it was met by heavy machine gun and rifle fire from the stubborn defenders of Zenith Trench as the men attempted to advance across the quagmire. In less than an hour, the attackers were withdrawn to their original start positions after advancing only a short distance, suffering numerous casualties in the process.

Positions On The 25th October

23rd Infantry Brigade, right hand brigade of the division, were now disposed as follows:- 2nd West Yorks, Right Front Battalion, 2nd Middlesex, Left Front Battalion. 23rd Machine Gun Company and 23rd Trench Mortar Battery, also in the line. The 2nd Devon's at this juncture were now attached to the 25th Infantry Brigade whilst the 2nd Scottish Rifles had now moved fron their support positions in Windmill and Shin Alley to reserve at Bernafay Wood.

Positions now held by the division after both attacks was established during the morning, the following positions being recorded in the pages of the War Diary of the 2nd Devon's. Zenith Trench - N.34.b.9.5. - N.28.d.5.5. (all references approximate), and a line of shell craters running from the northern section of Zenith (N.28.b.0.1 1/2) to near Misty Trench (N.28.a.6.4.) The section of Zenith Trench that remained in the hands of the enemy it was ascertained now ran from between N.28.d.5.5. - N.28.b.0.1 1/2.

2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire's, on the right flank, were disposed in the line as follows:- Right Front, "A" Company, Left Front, "C" Company. "B" & "D" Companies in Support. During the afternoon, the latter two companies were shelled heavily by the enemy's artillery resulting in 20 casualties. "A" & "C" Companies had also suffered about 15 casualties, the men from these two companies either being killed or wounded whilst performing the duties of bringing rations and stores up into the line.

Under the cover of darkness, the battalion sent out a patrol across No Man's Land towards enemy positions near Orion Trench. This small patrol consisting of just one officer and three men (Source: Brigade War Diary) under the command of Second-Lieutenant Oswald Andrew Peters, "A" Company, had the objective of interdicting any enemy forces gathering in the gloom for the attack. Rather fortuitously, this small patrol ran into a party of the enemy numbering about 15 men who had, as the Brigade War Diary notes, "lost their way." The whole party surrendered without a fight whereupon 2nd Lieuetenant Peters and his small band returned to the British lines with their 'bag.' Authors note: General Jack's Diary states that this party had the intention to surrender much earlier but were denied the opportunity by their Sergeant, as Jack records in his opinion, "evidently a hard-hearted man."

During the day, enemy artillery continued a heavy fire programme on both Spectrum Trench and the Sunken Road. In the road were stationed the headquarters of the various units in the line and enemy artillery had the range, sweeping the road with shell fire. Brigade Headquarters located at T.8.a.5.4. south-west of Lesboeufs came in for particular attention between the hours of 9 - 11 a.m., dug-outs being blown in no doubt resulting in men being entombed. As a result of this bombardment, the Brigade Diary records that 16 Other Ranks were killed and a further 6 were wounded.

The 2nd West Yorkshire's had suffered one officer Killed and one Wounded (Second-Lieutenant Eric Vernon Gilliat). In Other Ranks, the battalion had suffered 7 Killed, 21 Wounded and 13 Missing (Source: Brigade War Diary). Commonwealth War Graves now records that 20 Other Ranks were either Killed or Died of Wounds on this day plus one officer, Second-Lieutenant John Littlejohn. Originally buried close to Spectrum Trench (N.34.b.55.75) along with a number of men, John's body was exhumed in 1931. His body displayed signs of trauma, suggesting the cause of death to be the result of an explosion but we will probably not know the exact circumstances surrounding his unfortunate death. Effects found with the body were limited and amounted to just his officers uniform, boots and buttons, conclusive proof of indentity therefore being impossible. As a consequence, John, the teacher from Strathbungo School, Glasgow, is now commemorated on his headstone as "Believed To Be," the date of his death being recorded by the C.W.G.C. as the 26th October, Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery.

News also reached battalion Headquarters of the death of the Battalion Medical Officer, Captain Barcroft Joseph Leech Fayle, R.A.M.C. A native of Clifton, Bristol, Fayle was attached to the battalion in September 1916 replacing Captain Harold Garnett Janion M.C. Educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, he had previously been attached to the 5th Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery, 8th Divisional Artillery before being posted to the West Yorkshire's as M.O.

Working without respite tending to the wounded, General Jack's Diary records that the death of Captain Fayle was reported by an orderly who came down the steps of the Headquarters dug-out to inform his commanding officer that Fayle had been killed on the road outside. Genuinely shocked by the death of such a popular officer, 'Jack' in his own words records in the War Diary:- "No words can convey my appreciation of his tireless and brave devotion to duty."

Denied a known grave and his body 'lost' in the confusion of battle, two isolated bodies were exhumed in 1935. Amongst uniform, insignia and other equipment on one man, was was found a cigarette case engraved B.J.L.F. in addition to a ring engraved with a crest. With the effects confirming that this was in fact the body of Captain Fayle, the M.O. of the 2nd West Yorkshire's is now buried at the London Cemetery and Extension, Longueval, Somme, of the remains of the other man, his remains, unidentified, are now buried in the same cemetery.  

One of the Other Ranks who fell on the 25th October has a local connection, Private Samuel Ware, 32006. Sam was born at Bramham in 1896 to parents Frederick, occupation, Agricultural Labourer, and Louisa Ware, the family residence being recorded in the 1901 Census as premises located on the Ingmanthorpe Hall Estate. By 1911, the family had relocated to Stubbing Moor, west of Wothersome near Bramham, Samuel's occupation being recorded at this juncture as that of a Farm Labourer aged 15 years.

Enlisting in early December 1915 at Boston Spa, Samuel formed part of a large draft to various battalions of the West Yorkshire Regiment, his arrival on the Western Front and subsequent posting to the 2nd Battalion possibly being August 1916. Killed at some point during the course of the day, Samuel aged just 19 years, his home address being recorded as Wothersome Kennels, is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial as well as the Bramham War Memorial.

Consolidating & Patrolling

With the 4th Division now being relieved by the 33rd Division on the right flank, the men continued their work deepening communication and front line trenches as well as burying the numerous dead as the rain continued to fall. Enemy artillery continued his bombardment of the trench systems throughout the day resulting in numerous casualties. 2nd West Yorkshire's reported 30 casualties primarily to carrying parties and those in support, but casualties were also suffered by the men devoid of the protection of dug-outs in the front line positions, the latter becoming even more untenable not only due to the weather but the increasing attentions of the enemy's guns.

About 1 a.m., a patrol was sent out by the West Yorkshire's however there is no record of the company or strength that conducted this patrol recorded in the pages of the War Diary. One would assume that this was performed by either officer(s) and men of  "A" or "C" Companies as it is apparent that the dispositions of the companies had not altered. It was reported that large parties of the enemy were observed in front of the lines but due to no hostile action being instigated, it was assumed that these were purely 'out' for the purpose of working and the strengthening of their positions.

An analysis of CWGC records now confirm that 1 officer (2nd/Lt. Littlejohn) and 18 Other Ranks were recorded as Killed or Died of Wounds on the 26th. Three men who fell on this day reflect the varied composition of those who served with the battalion at this stage of the war; Corporal Edward Collier, 15/1583, Private James Ealand, 15/1658, and Private William Henry Hare, 29031.

Collier and Ealand, both natives of Leeds, had joined the ranks of the Leeds "Pals," (15th (Service) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment), in June 1915 at their camp at Colsterdale, near Masham, North Yorkshire. Allocated to "E" Company, the Depot Company of the battalion, they remained on home service with this company whilst the remainder of the battalion set sail for Egypt in December 1915 and ultimately the Western Front in March 1916. Drafted to the 2nd West Yorkshire's on or about September 1916, both men are now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme.

A native of Bramham, William Henry Hare was born at Wetherby in 1893 to parents Joseph, occupation, Farm Labourer, and Harriet Emma Hare, the family residing in premises located at Linton. Relocating to Bramham shortly after 1900, the 1911 Census records that the family had taken up residence at 'The Crag,' Bramham, William's occupation now being declared as a Farm Labourer. Upon the death of his father in 1914, the family moved to premises located in Low Road. Enlisting at Boston Spa in late February 1916, William was drafted to the 2nd West Yorkshire's in September of that year and with little or no experience of trench warfare, was killed in action after just a few weeks at the front aged just 23 years. Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, William is also remembered on the village war memorial located at Bramham.

 

Private William Hare
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Yorkshire Evening News, 27th November 1916. Photo Courtesy Of Dave Stowe, W.F.A.

27th October: The Conditions Worsen

As the rain continued to fall, the condition of the ground deteriorated even further turning into liquid mud. In the front line positions the men set about their task of trying to improve and consolidate their positions in addition to the burying of the dead where possible. As intermittent shell fire bombarded both the front and the rear positions it was inevitable that casualties were to be suffered. At some point during the course of the day, Second-Lieutenant Eric Vernon Gilliat, a native of West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, was wounded for a second time. Transferred to the 3rd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, Gilliat would eventually serve as a Lieutenant with the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force and die at Leeds in 1959 aged 60 years.

During the morning the Brigadier accompanied by Captain F.G. Roberts (Authors note: Possibly Frederick George Roberts M.C., Royal Scots Fusiliers and East Lancashire Regiment attached) toured the line no doubt making notes on the defensive preparations in hand. It became apparent from information obtained from the units holding the line that the enemy opposite appeared to be more subdued when subjected to fire, small parties it was observed retiring from positions providing an ideal target for snipers. It was only at night that he made forays across No Man's Land to approach the British barbed wire defences whereupon he then took cover in shell holes out in front of the line, snipers waiting for targets of opportunity. To the rear in the vicinity of the ruined village of Le Transloy, large working parties were observed early in the morning these being consequently harassed by machine-gun fire that forced them to disperse. (Authors note: In fact, the enemy were constructing yet another defensive line in the rear, the adoption of a "defence in depth" strategy).

Regarding future operations, 25th Infantry Brigade received preliminary orders to prepare for an attack to push out the last defenders of that portion of Zenith Trench still in the hands of the enemy, "Z" Day preliminary being set for this operation to take place on the afternoon of the 28th. As a precursor to the attack, field artillery of various calibres would begin a steady bombardment on a daily basis of the ground to the south-west and to the north-west of Zenith, the latter also opening occasional strafes on the latter position itself. Both 23rd and 24th Infantry Brigades would assist the momentum of the attack by directing Lewis and machine gun fire on the enemy's trenches and on any other targets that presented themselves. (Authors note: An Operation Order was issued later in the day postponing the attack until the 29th).

Of the 2nd Scottish Rifles who had been withdrawn from the line on the 25th, they were now ordered to proceed back to the front line from reserve positions located at Trones Wood to relieve the 2nd Middlesex who now in turn moved to positions near Montauban, no casualties being sustained in the long march across difficult terrain.

The Officer Commanding 2nd Devon's, attached to 25th Infantry Brigade for offensive operations, now visited the front line positions that the battalion were to occupy prior to the attack. The trenches he found were in a deplorable state due to the adverse weather conditions. Furthermore, there was no established position for Battalion Headquarters and stores had not been carried forward in sufficient number to make an attack feasible. As a consequence of the lack of stores present, carrying parties were furnished whilst "C" & 2 Platoons of "B" Company commenced a relief of the 2nd Royal Berkshire Regiment in Larkhill and Spider Trenches located to the south-east of Gueudecourt during the night. This relief was not without incident as the Devonshire's were subjected to heavy shell fire, Second-Lieutenant Charles Hector Simeon Buckley being wounded in addition to 3 Other Ranks Killed and 5 wounded.

"D" Company of the 2nd West Yorkshire's under the command of Second-Lieutenant Sankey now proceeded back to positions located in Shin Alley and as the hours of darkness descended over the front line positions, patrols were sent out to ascertain the enemy's activities. Whilst one of these patrols was 'out,' Second-Lieutenant Joseph Littlewood was wounded, but, fortune had played into the hands of one of these forays, two of the enemy had been made prisoner. Running in to a patrol, a short fight ensued resulting in one Unteroffizier being wounded in the neck and another man captured. This officer, to his credit, resisted until he received his wound, his unit upon capture then being ascertained as Pioneers of the 28th Ersatz Battalion, Bavarian Ersatz Division who had only come into the line opposite Le Transloy on the 25th/26th October.

Outbreaks of Trench Foot, a medical condition brought about by prolonged periods of exposure to water or dampness now began to materialise. With little or no means of preventing the immersion of the men's feet in water due to the state of the trenches and the adverse weather conditions, Captain George Ernest Elkington R.A.M.C. made his timely arrival on the 26th.

An analysis of Commonwealth War Graves records show that three men died on the 27th October, Privates Tom Kirby, 28790, Ernest Wilkinson, 28999, and Lance-Corporal William Lund, 16314. Both Kirby, aged 29 years, a native of Green Hamerton and resident of Marton-cum-Grafton and Wilkinson, aged 23 years and a resident of Hyde Park, Leeds, succumbed to wounds received at either one of two Casualty Clearing Stations located at Grove Town near Meaulte and are now buried in Grove Town Cemetery. William Lund has no known grave and is therefore now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

William Lund was born at Knaresborough in 1889 to parents William, a Brick Layers Labourer and Mary Jane Lund, the family residing in premises located off Windsor Lane. Married in November 1909 to one Minnie Elma Chorley, a widow and late of the The Crown Inn, Minskip, near Boroughbridge, the family set up residence at Gate Cottage, Forest Moor, Knaresborough, William's occupation recorded in the 1911 Census as that of a Labourer/Bricklayer.

Enlisting at York in late November 1914, he was drafted to the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment on the 24th March 1915 to replace losses sustained by the battalion in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. Wounded on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, it was whilst recuperating that he received the news of his brother's death whilst serving with the 5th Reserve Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. (Authors note: Roger, served overseas from the 24th August 1915 the date suggesting service with 23rd Divisional Artillery, Died at Home on the 24th July 1916, buried, Knaresborough Cemetery).

Returning to his battalion, William was possibly killed in one of the enemy's artillery bombardments but the exact details of his death are unknown at present. Both William and Roger are now commemorated on the Knaresborough War Memorial, located in the grounds of Knaresborough Castle.

Saturday, 28th October 1916: The Death Of Private John Starmond Crossley

The weather had by now turned very cold in addition to the relentless rainfall. In these conditions, John and the men of the 2nd West Yorkshire's continued their work in consolidating and improving the front and communication trenches as well as the construction of strong points and the driving out of forward saps. The War Diary records that the total casualties sustained by the battalion since the 23rd October were approximately 4 officers and 171 Other Ranks.

At 6 a.m. on the morning of the 28th October, 98th Infantry Brigade, 33rd Division, on the right flank of the 8th Division, launched a successful attack against Dewdrop Trench securing a large number of prisoners primarily from the Bavarian Divisions holding this sector. This attack, pushing the line forward, had however not come without substantial casualties to the division.

Regarding the 2nd West Yorkshire's and with an overdue relief about to come to fruition on the night of the 30th October, the casualties still mounted, amongst them John Crossley, the young married man from Wetherby. The War Diary at best, describes the conditions and interminable endurance of the men under most trying circumstances:

"The Battalion went into action - actual fighting men - on 22nd and including officers, but not including officers and O/R's on transport or left in camp as reinforcements, was 437. Between 22nd & 30th the casualties were 6 officers (including one officer attached T.M.'S) and 214 O/R's. A & C Coys only lost about 15 advancing to front line on 25th - B & D Coys suffered most in the trenches whilst carrying parties of all Coys and HQ suffered severely. All the stretcher bearers and orderlies worked with the greatest gallantry and had to traverse ground continually swept by heavy shell fire. Bn. HQ in a sunken road, well marked by enemy's artillery, also suffered severely and was continually shelled by both 5.9's + shrapnel whilst the routes both to the rear + to the front - particularly the former - were very exposed and dangerous."

A total of 13 men were either Killed or Died of Wounds on the 28th October, one man, buried at Grove Town Cemetery and another at St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, no doubt succumbing to wounds received days previously. Of the remaining casualties, only two have known graves, Lance-Corporal John Morrell, 8373, and Lance-Corporal John Smith, 9385. Both Morrell and Smith had served with the 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment on the Western Front since November 1914, Morrell's body being found and exhumed in 1932 and identified by his identity disc. John now lies in Serre Road Cemetery Number 2, a large concentration cemetery containing over 7000 burials. John Smith, his body exhumed by the 3rd Labour Company performing battlefield clearance duties, now lies in the Guards' Cemetery, Lesboeufs, a short distance from where he was originally buried.

Amongst the men who have no known grave and who are now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial is one Private Arthur Kellett, 28109, a resident of Tadcaster. Born at Royston, South Yorkshire in 1878 to parents Charles, an Agricultural Labourer, and Sarah Kellett, by the 1890's the family had relocated to Low Park Farm, Hazlewood, near Tadcaster. Moving to Wingate Hill near Stutton, both Arthur and his father continued employment as Farm Labourer's, Mabel, Charles' daughter also residing with the family, finding employment as an Assistant Teacher with Leeds City Council.

Enlisting at Leeds in December 1915, Arthur was posted to the battalion in the following year, the precise date of his draft being unknown but possibly August/September of that year. It is most likely that Arthur too was killed in the systematic bombardment of the lines by enemy artillery but the exact circumstances of his death are unknown at present. Recorded as "killed in action" in the Register of Soldiers' Effects, Arthur is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial along with his comrades who fell on this day.

At the marital home located at 50 North Street, Wetherby, Maud received the telegram from the War Office informing her of the death of her husband. His death was reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post just a month later suggesting that his final moments were witnessed by one of his fellow soldiers and comrades. A further newspaper article published in the Leeds Mercury dated the 20th of November 1916 appears to confirm this, the latter reporting that a Sergeant had witnessed John's last few moments stating in a letter to Mrs. Crossley that he died from "shell-shock."  If John had only survived at the front just a few more days, the battalion were about to be relieved on the night of the 30th/31st October.

Walking this area of the Somme battlefield, I often think of John and the men of all combatants either German, French or men of the Commonwealth who endured these terrible conditions as the battle drew to a bitter conclusion during the following month in mud and freezing conditions. For me personally, in this area of the battlefield, I can find no solace either in summer or winter.

Thiepval Memorial
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Pier And Face 2 A, 2C & 2 D
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Thiepval Memorial, April 2008. Author.