The Battle of the Somme was the British Army’s major offensive on the Western Front. July 1st 1916 is now known as the ‘Bloodiest Day of the British Army’. There were 57,470 British casualties on that day, of whom 19,240 died. Over the ensuing months, minor but effective gains and changing military tactics accompanied appalling losses. The British forces did advance alongside the French sixth army at the southern end of the line on the 1st and efforts were focused on this section thereafter. Fourth, Fifth and Third Army were present (13 British Divisions plus 11 French divisions on July 1st, 51 British Divisions plus 48 French Divisions July – November). The battle incorporated a series of attacks between July and November. Some were fairly localised while others were much wider in scope. The main battles in July included the first day, the Battle of Albert (July 1st – 13th), Battle of Bazentin Ridge (July 14th – 17th) and the Battle of Fromelles (19th – 20th July). The battles of Delville Wood and Pozières began in July and continued into the summer.
July 1st, 1916
Following the artillery bombardment of German positions at the end of June, the first day of the Battle of the Somme began with a storm of shells and huge mine explosions. At 7.30 a.m the British infantry began their steady advance across No Man’s Land where they were mown down by machine gun and rifle fire, suffering unprecedented casualties. A barrage of enemy artillery fire in front of their trenches added to the confusion. Among the thousands killed were two men from Radcliffe on Trent.
July 1st 1916, 1st day of the Battle of the Somme. Death of 2nd Lt. Robert Blatherwick, 10th Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own), 62nd Brigade, 21st Division, XV Corps. Killed in action near Fricourt village, 5 km east of Albert. Age 21. He was a trainee architect from Radcliffe and brother of George, who died at Gallipoli. The 10th W. Yorks. suffered the heaviest losses of any battalion that day. Estimates vary between 710 and 750 men.
From West Yorkshire Regimental War Diaries:
At 7.30 a.m. the Battn took part in the grand assault. The objective being as in the attached orders. (no attachment is available). On the right were the 7th Divn. and on the left were the 21st Divn. The Battn assaulted in 4 lines. 2 lines got through the German position to the 4th line, & were cut off, the attack on our left having failed. Casualties were very heavy, chiefly caused by machine guns which enfiladed our left flanks & were so deadly that the third & 4th lines failed to get across “no man’s” land. 22 officer casualties including Lt Col Dixon commanding & Major J Knott 2nd in command. Both killed and approximately 750 O.R. (other ranks). The Battn was then withdrawn to VIlle.
July 1st 1916, 1st day of the Battle of the Somme. Death of Private 12/967 Cecil Ingram, 12th Bn. Yorks. and Lancaster Regiment, 94th Brigade, 31st Division, VIII Corps. Killed in action on the Somme in the vicinity of Mark Copse and Roland Trench. Age 27, an electrician from Radcliffe working in Sheffield before the war.
From Yorks and Lancs Regimental War Diaries:
A great many casualties were caused by the enemy’s machine guns; in fact the third and fourth waves suffered so heavily that by the time they had reached No Man’s Land they had lost at least half their strength. Whole sections had been wiped out.
The 12th Yorks and Lancs moved up from Bois de Warnimont (30/6) and took up assembly positions for attack on Serre (1/7) – going forward on left of 94th Brigade’s attack most of the Battalion would be pinned down in No Man’s Land. A few men reached German line and some later entered Serre itself. Official History of The Great War notes that bodies of men from 12th Yorks and Lancaster were found in the north-west corner of the village during attack of (13/11). Withdrew after dark to Roland Trench. Source: Westlake, Ray (2009) Tracing British Battalions on the Somme (Barnsley: Pen & Sword)
July 1st, 1916. A diversionary attack by the 46th (North Midland) Division at Gommecourt, which was near the northern end of the line, resulted in the capture of Lieutenant John Fillingham Bishop, 1/7th Sherwood Foresters, from Radcliffe on Trent. He was wounded by a grenade in the right shoulder and both legs that day. He remained a prisoner in Germany until the armistice.
46th North Midland Division, VII Corps: The men were exhausted after ten days of digging asembly trenches. 1/7th and 1/5th Sherwood Foresters and 1/6th South Staffords and 1/6th North Staffords advanced through the smoke screen, the only time one was used on 1 July. But it had not gone far enough and they emerged from it in front of the wire. Only a few reached the enemy trenches.
Source, Rawson, Andrew (2016, p. 13) Ancestor’s Footsteps. The Somme 1916 (Barnsley: Pen and Sword)
39th Siege Battery, Royal Artillery on the Somme
Image Q5817 courtesy of IWM (photo taken by official British photographer Lieutenant John Warwick Brooke).
Battle of Albert
July 1st – 13th
Despite the overwhelming casualties on the first day, orders were given to continue the fighting on July 2nd. The Battle of Albert was characterised by slow and costly attacks with attempts to secure Contalmaison, Mametz Wood and Trones Wood, which were eventually captured. Three more Radcliffe men died in this period and another became terminally ill.
July 7th 1916, Mametz. Death of Corporal 188365 George Nowell, 10th Bn. Sherwood Foresters, 51st Brigade, 17th (Northern) Division, XV Corps. He had been a printer’s assistant in Radcliffe. Killed in action between Contalmaison and Mametz, age 24, during the attack at Quadrangle Support. There were heavy casualties that day in the battalion.
From Sherwood Foresters Regimental War Diaries (held at Regimental Museum, Nottingham):
At 6.45 p.m. orders were received to attack Quadrangle Support at 8 p.m. after 30 minutes bombardment. An attack on Contalmaison was also to be delivered by 3rd Corps on the left at the same time. This latter attack was not launched.
The time allowed for the organisation of the attack was not sufficient and consequently the necessary advantage could not be taken of the bombardment, and the attack was ragged. The attack was launched but Machine Gun Fire from both flanks, rifle and Machine Gun Fire from the objective and an enemy barrage prevented the troops from advancing over the heavy ground, and a withdrawal was ordered, and carried out in excellent style. The men were wet through and cold, the ground was heavy and both flanks were in the air.
At about 9 p.m. orders were received that the 7th Border Regt. were to relieve the battalion and on relief the battalion to proceed to area Willow Trench and Red Cottage.
This relief was a difficult matter and it was still not till 2 a.m. that the relief was complete. A, C and D Coys. took up positions near Fricourt Trench and B Coy. in Lonely Trench Bn. H.Q. under the crucifix at F.3.c.central. 3 a.m. Rations, including an issue of Rum, were fortunately available and the troops were enabled to have a meal and sleep.