Chapter Seven. The Gallant Fight for Serre..
GIVE as full an account as possible of the momentous day, July Ist, 1916.
June 30th-Now the second ” Y ” day opened sadly. It was seen that the
commanding officer (Lieut.-Col. Crosthwaite) was seriously ill, and Major
Plackett was hurriedly recalled from the Divisional School, where he had been
commandant, to assume command. The gallant colonel, who had shown such contempt
for danger, was suffering from the effects of batterings received at Ypres in
the early stages of the war, and had to be taken to hospital. Painful and
bitter indeed did he find the parting, for he was proud of his splendid
Battalion his boys. ”
The first intimation the troops had that all was not well was at 11 a.m.,
when Major Plackett took command of a battalion parade drawn up for an address
by the corps commander. The corps commander, Sir Aylmer Hunter Weston, made a
rousing speech. He spoke swiftly and confidently of the advance to be made on
the morrow, but emphasized the importance and difficulties of the task allotted
to the Sheffield Battalion. The chances of success were exceedingly great, for
the British had superiority in numbers, in artillery, in every arm, and in
equipment. The Battalion was fighting for the highest of ideals-for the defence
of home and Empire.
” But your lot is a very heavy one, and a huge responsibility is shared
equally by every individual. No individual soldier may say he has no responsibility.
The 29th Division, on your left,performed glorious feats of arms at Gallipoli; the 4th Division, on the right, did wonders in the great retreat from Mons. The feats of these divisions willnever be forgotten as long as the world endures. You are Englishmen, even asthey, and now you have your opportunity to shine. You will have to stick it. You
MUST stick it. I salute each officer, N.C.O., and man."
At 3 p.m. the following message was received from the 94th Infantry Brigade:
To-morrow, July Ist, will be ” Z ” day. Zero will be 7.30 a.m.-94 Inf. Bde.
Brigadier-General H. C. Rees, D.S.O., issued the following Special Order of the Day:
Brigade H.Q. You are about to attack the enemy with far greater numbers than he can
oppose to you,supported by a huge number of guns. Englishmen have always proved better than the
Germans when the odds were heavily against them. It is now OUR opportunity. You are about to
fight in one of the greatest battles in the world, and in the most just cause. Remember that
the British Empire will anxiously watch your every move, and that the honour of the North
Country rests in your hands. Keep your heads, do your duty, and you will utterly defeat
the enemy. (Signed) F. S. G. PIGGOTT, Captain, Brigade Major, 94th Infantry Bde.
At 7 p.m. the assaulting troops moved off from Warnimont Wood to march to the assembly trenches behind John Copse and Mark Copse. No music as they slowly wended their way down the woodland side. All faces expressed determination. *A lump rises in the throat. What were the thoughts of these wonderful soldiers, who kept their anxieties to themselves? I can do no better than quote the thoughts of two noble sons of the Battalion who were to die next day:
*SHADOW. O, why should Youth, whose symbol is the lark That mounts
with new-born dreams into the sky, Be doomed at frequent intervals to lie
Voiceless and dreamless ‘ prostrate in the dark? Why, ‘mid the laughter of
the carnival, The feast of roses sensuous with delight, Why should there break
the terror of a call, Death calling Youth into the unknown night? For thus at
morn the twilight-footed Death Sweeps from the Zenith to the orient rim Where
Youth doth play; and soon his phantom wreath Fadeth like beauty into distance dim;
Fadeth like yon rich sunset in the sky That seems, O sad and tenderly, to die.
CHALLENGE. Go tell yon shadow stalking ‘neath the trees With silent-footed
terror, go tell Death He cannot with life’s vast uncertainties Affright the heart of
Youth. For Youth cometh With flush of impulse, passion to defeat, Undaunted purpose,
vision clear descried, To counteract, lay at Death’s unseen feet The gauntlet of defiance.
Far and wide, Beyond the fear of that unknown exile, That brim of time, that web of
darkness drawn Across Life’s orient sky, there breaks a smile Of light that swells
into the hope of dawn: A dream within the dark, like evening cool, Like sunset mirror’d
in yon darken’d pool.
* Reproduced from Sergeant J. W. Streets' " The Undyin Splendour " by kind permission of Mr. Erskine Macdonald.
TRIUMPH. Thus dreaming in the shadows of the pines, Feeling the presage of the
unborn years, 1 know that Youth will brave the dark confines And wrest from Death his diadem
of fears. 1 know that should I still and prostrate lie Amid Death’s harvest there on France’s
plain No false regret shall scorning wander by And taunt me that my Youth hath been in vain.
Rather in MY last moments will I live My life’s past purpose rich in destiny, Its scorn of ease,
its eagerness to give Challenge to all blind to eternity.
Death will not, cannot wrest from out my mind The thought that Love its life in death can find.
(By the late JOHN W. STREETS, Sgt., 12th Service Bn. York and Lancs. Regt.)
*LINES BEFORE GOING. Soon is the night of our faring to regions unknown, There not to flinchat the challenge suddenly thrown By the great process of Being-daily to see The utmost that life has of horror, and yet to be Calm and the masters of fear. Aware that the soul Lives as a part and alone for the weal of the whole, So shall the mind be free from the pain of regret, Vain and enfeebling, firm in each venture, and yet Brave not as those who despair, but keen to maintain, Though not assured, hope in beneficent pain, Hope that the truth of the world is not what appears, Hope in the triumph of man for the price of his tears. (By the late ALEXANDER ROBERTSON, Cpl., 12th Service Bn. York and Lancs. Regt.)
*Reproduced from Alexander Robertson's " Comrades " by kind permission of Mr. Elkin Mathews. The 1st of July, 1916, will be remembered as one of the saddest and most tragic, yet withal one of the most glorious, pages of Sheffield history, for on that day there fell in battle the largest number of Sheffield men ever known. Around it sacred memories will ever cling as citizens recall the gallant men who in a few minutes put to the test their long months of training. " July Ist " will be indelible words in every Englishman's mind and keywords to almost incomprehensible thoughts and scenes. The man who was present at the battle for Serre will at their mention see again the day before the battle-the toilsome journey through the trenches, halffull of water; see again the tired slumberers of the dawn, the beautiful summer morn, the faultless parade on the parapets, and the unwavering quick march into the hail of bullets and shells; see again those brave comrades mowed down as grass before the scythe, and those odd parties crossing the German trenches, alas! never to return. He will again see the lightning shell-bursts, hear their stunning crashes and feel the shakings of tortured earth. He will recall the mangled, blackened bodies and hear the groans of ghastly wounded and voices of grey-faced soldiers as they said to themselves, " Let us hush this cry of Forward ' till one thousand years have gone." And as his thoughts travel he will clench his fists at the recollections of the enemy riflemen sniping the wounded who showed any sign of life, and making target practice of the dead. He will feel again the burning rays of the brilliant midday sun, and see again on every hand in dreadful No Man's Land those glittering triangles, every triangle a symbol of dead, dying, and wounded. He will think of the parched lip and throat, and hearts of anguish, pain, and suffering, and then of the welcome sunset and more welcome shades of night, which enabled the living and hysterical wounded to reach our lines, some by crawling, some by crouching runs, and some by painful dragging of bodies. It is impossible to describe the horrors of this day. No brilliant victory can be portrayed-" 'Tis true, 'tis pity; pity 'tis, 'tis true "---.but deeds of valour can be inscribed, and the gallantry of the handfuls of heroes who waged battle in the streets of the village can never be effaced. Cold, matter-of-fact official messages, reproduced in sequence as below, graphically describe the anxiety and uncertainty in these everlasting moments: Telegram received by 94th Infantry Bde. 10.25 a.m.:
” Germans shelling SERRE.”
Received 10.27 a.m.:
” Following information received: 56th Division from HEBUTERNE have gone right through, and are flanking ROSSIGNOL WOOD. 165th R.F.A. Bde. report that infantry has taken SERRE. At 9.45 a.m. our men were seen carrying what looked like machine-guns in front of PENDANT COPSE; also three or four hundred of our men advancing on the line PENDANT COPSE-SERRE.
Received 10.40 a.m.:
” It appears that 12th York and Lancs., Ilth East Lanes., and three companies 13th York and Lancs. have gone forward, and you have no news of them. G. 0. C. wishes you to use every endeavour to get in touch with them as soon as possible, by means of runners if no other method available. “
Received 10.50 a.m.:
“Another report received that several of our men have been seen in SERRE.”
Received 12.18 p.m.:
” Information from Corps points to the fact that we hold PENDANT COPSE and SERRE. Push what reinforcements you have in behind 94th Bde. and in conjunction with G.O.C. 94th Bde. confirm the success at SERRE.”
Sir A. Conan Doyle, in his thrilling account of the Somme battle, says that an observer told him: " I have never seen and could not have imagined such a magnificent display of gallantry, discipline, and determination." The men fell in lines, but the survivors, with backs bent, heads bowed, and rifles at the port, neither quickened nor slackened their advance, but went forward as though it was rain and not lead which lashed them. Here and elsewhere the German machine-gunners not only lined the parapet, but actually rushed forward into the open, partly to get a flank fire and partly to come in front of the British barrage. Before the blasts of bullets the lines melted away and the everdecreasing waves only reached the parapet here and there, leaping over the spot where the German front lines had been and sinking for ever on the further side. About a hundred gallant men of the East Lancashires, favoured, perhaps, by some curve in the ground, got past more than one line of trenches, and a few desperate individuals even burst their way as far as Serre, giving a false impression that the village was in our hands. But the losses had been so dreadful that the weight and momentum had gone out of the attack, while the density of the resistance thickened with every yard of advance. By the middle of the afternoon the *survivors of the two attacking brigades were back in their own front-line trenches, having lost the greater part of their effectives. The 15th West Yorks had lost twenty-five officers, or practically their whole complement; and the 16th and 18th were little better off. The 18th Durhams suffered less, being partly in reserve. Of the 94th Brigade, the two splendid leading battalions, the 11th East Lancashires and 12th York and Lancasters, had whole companies exterminated. On the evening of the action the strength of the 93rd and 94th Brigades was approximately 1,836 men of all ranks. The strength of the position is indicated by the fact that when attacked by two Regular divisions in November, with a very powerful backing of artillery, it was still able to hold its own.
And now let us read the story in detail:
3.45 a.m.-Lieut. C. Elam reported battalion in position in the assembly trenches. Delay of 21 hours owing to bad condition of trenches. The eastern end of Nairne found to be considerably blown in. Front line badly smashed throughout its length. Monk and Campion trenches in a wretched state. Telephonic communication with brigade found to be cut. Hereafter the only means of communication was runners.
4.5 a.m.-Daylight, and the enemy commenced to shell John Copse and front line shelling very violent. In view of this, had the enemy been warned of the attack by observing gaps cut in our wire and the tapes laid out in No Man’s Land;’ If so, this meant at least three and a half hours warning of the attack. “A” Company reported no sign of the tape which was laid during the night. It had apparently been removed.
6.0 a.m.-” C ” Company report guns firing short on the front line between John and Luke Copses, causing casualties.
6.30 a.m.-” C ” Company report heavy shelling. Eight men killed and six men wounded, principally No. 12 platoon. 7.20 a.m.-The first waves of “A” and —C ” Companies proceeded into No Man’s Land and lay down about 100 yards in front of our trenches under cover of intense bombardment. Casualties not heavy up to this point. The bombardment reached its zenith. It was terrific. The massed guns, great and small, were thundering their hardest. The noise was no longer a gigantic discord. It became a terrible rhythm, like some superhuman machinery. It drummed in the ears till the men were nearly deaf. The air was full of hurtling death, a constant stream of shells. The suspense during the last few minutes was intense.
7.29 a.m.-The second wave moved forward and took up a position about 30 yards in rear of the first wave. The enemy started an artillery barrage commencing at Monk and gradually brought it forward to the front line where it finally settled. The German front line was manned (about one man per yard) by men who had either been lying behind the parados of the fire trench or who had emerged from shelter.
7.30 a.m.–‘The signal came at last. It was impossible in the tremendous din to pass the message. The troops signalled to each other. The barrage lifted from the German front line, and the first and second waves moved forward to the assault. The third and fourth waves climbed over the top of the parapet. All halted up there in the face of the enemy, just for a second or two, so that they could get into line, and then they started forward at a quick step across the open towards their objective, in section columns. It was a wonderful sight, the waves of humanity going steadily and grimly across No Man’s Land. They were advancing just ” as if they were on parade. ” They had to pass through a terrible curtain of shell fire, and German machine-guns .were rattling out death from two sides. But the lines, growing ever thinner, went on unwavering. Here and there a shell would burst right among the attackers, and when the smoke cleared slightly the line would be still thinner. Whole sections were destroyed; one section of 14 platoon was killed by concussion, all the men falling to the ground without a murmur. The left half of “C ” Company was wiped out before getting near the German wire, and on the right few of the men who reached the wire were able to get through. As soon as our barrage had lifted from their front-line, the Germans, who had been sheltering in dug-outs, immediately came out and opened rapid fire. Only a few were seen to retire to their second and third lines. The third and fourth waves suffered so heavily that by the time they had reached No Man’s Land they had lost at least haif their strength. The German front-line wire was found to be very strong, particularly on the left. A few men of the -A- and “C ” Companies managed to enter the German trenches on the right of the attack, but in all other parts of the line the troops were held up and shot down. The few survivors took shelter in shell-holes in front of the German wire and remained there until they could get back under cover of darkness. What torture the troops endured in the shell-holes they alone knew.
8.35 a.m.-Fighting in progress in German front line trench. Enemy put shrapnel into his own front line.
8.45 a.m.-The enemy barrage in our front line exceptionally intense. 13th Y. and L. suffer heavy casualties when to go to the aid of the 11th East Lancs. Regiment. They were not able to get beyond our front line, and were ultimately ordered to reform in Monk trench. The enemy’s barrage at this particular time appeared to be remarkably well observed, and it was invariably concentrated on trenches where troops were massed.
9.5 a.m.-Six platoons of the 14th Y. and L. reported making good progress under heavy fire, with our left flank fire trench north. They were only seen as far as the German second line until by 10.35 a.m. there were apparently none of them left carry on.
9.18 a.m.-German artillery firing on his second line.
10.15 a.m.-The German barrage on his first and second lines removed, and German bombing parties seen to work up communications into front line.
10.30 a.m.-Major A. R. Hoette wounded in John Copse.
10.45 a.m.-At odd intervals small groups of Germans seen in their first line, standing up on the fire step shooting at the wounded and the dead.
1.0 P.M-Battalion H.Q.’s moved to Mark Copse, as John Copse was full of wounded.
8.21 p.m.-Battalion reply to Brigade message inquiring as to strength, ammunition, bombs, Lewis guns, &c. : ” Strength of battalion-10 men unwounded. These are runners and signallers. Have no Lewis guns. 3,000 rounds S. A. A. 350 bombs. Lewis gun pans nil.”
10.0 p.m.-It appeared certain that small parties of the Battalion penetrated to the third and fourth German lines, and that a few ultimately reached Serre. Furthermore, three officers reported that at half-past ten in the morning the enemy turned his own artillery on Serre, 700 yards behind his own front line.
1.30 a.M. to 3.15 a.m., July 2nd-Messages received saying information had come to hand that about 150 of our men had penetrated the front line opposite Mark Copse, and Were still maintaining their position in the German front line. Every effort was to be made to get into touch with them and withdraw them. Two officer patrols were sent out from Mark Copse with men borrowed from 14th Y. and L. These went out into No Man’s Land and approached the German wire. No signs of any fighting were apparent, and wounded men who were met and brought in stated that any men left in the trenches had become casualties and unable to offer further resistance. Patrols consequently withdrew. German machineguns were very active sweeping No Man’s Land, and a large number of Verey lights was sent up. Lieut. H. Oxley was slightly wounded.
In the Sheffield Year Book and Record of 1917 Sgt. Howard Sleigh wrote:
The spirit of that unhurried advance! Take it from poor Crozier, Sgt. Crozier,
of ” C ” Company, whose singing had cheered many a dull hour in camp and bivouac.
” Why, the beggars can’t shoot for nuts,” he cried, with his gay, infectious laugh,
as the bullets went humming past. ” Look how they’re missing us 1 Come on! And,
head up, he went on, until there came the bullet which he did not hear.
Captain Clark was killed at the head of "A" Company. Lieut. Elam was not seen again. Lieut. Earl was wounded. 2nd Lieut. Perkin, small but full of pluck, was right up to the German wire when he was struck down. Some of the best blood in the regiment was shed like water.' I think of E. S. Curwen, late classical master at Rotherham Grammar School, M.A. of Oxford-just on the point of receiving a long-delayed commission. Wounded, he sat on the smoking edge of a shell-crater shouting " Come on! " till at last he was hit again and killed. Warm-hearted little "Atty " Atkinson, just made company sergeant-major, was among the casualties, along with some of the best athletes we had. But some got forward. Big " Bob " Seymour----Arabic interpreter on a shilling a day in Egypt-found himself held up by a tough maze of uncut German wire. Not troubling about cover, he knelt down, as he might have done for aiming practice in the old lines at Ripon, and fired at the shouting Boche on the other 'side of the wire. The Boches were leaning over their parapet, hurling bombs or emptying their rifles into No Man's Land as fast as they could. None of the Germans wore any equipment, so that they had great freedom of movement. Seymour pumped lead into them until an enemy shot smashed his jaw. Near him stood Sgt. Gallimore. Held back by the same wire, he stood erect, firing at the Germans like a man possessed and forgetful of all risks. How he escaped with his life is a mystery. Eventually he collected a few men into a shell-hole, and as long as this party could see Germans they let them have all they could give. It was under cover of night Sgt. Gallimore brought his party back. More than one of them had been wounded. None of these men knew what was happening more than a very short distance away. Every time they raised their heads to fire they risked death from bomb or bullet. Thus it was with all who went over and came back-a sadly small band. They leave the final fate of the others who went beyond an unsolved problem. I have written of "A" Company. Not an atom behind in the Stick it 11 spirit were the others. Captain Moore, of " B Company, was soon hit and out of action. Company Sergeant-Major Loxley, who had gone through the South African war with the King's Royal Rifles, was lost; so was Lieut. A. J. Beal, with many others; but, ever a hard-bitten lot, "B " Company did credit to their old commander, Major Plackett, and to the Chesterfield and Penistone districts, from which many of them came. Pte. Wenman had an extraordinary experience. He had been servant to Major Clough during most of the period of training. An officer's servant in these days of scientific fighting is hardly expected to make a brilliantly successful warrior when an off-chance brings him into the line. But Wenman got right over the stoutly-defended German line, bayoneted three of the enemy, and, later on, finding himself alone, returned to our trenches, and with a whole skin at that. The commander of " C " Company, the veteran, well remembered Captain W. A. Colley, appeared to be struck by a shell. His men say he had expressed a premonition of his death; but he was one of the quickest out of the trench, and went to his fate like a brave English gentleman. Lieut. H. W. Pearson, who had for a long time been a most popular acting-adjutant, and who is known to most golfers and motorists in Sheffield, was badly hit, but breezily encouraged his men. A heavy loss was sturdy Arthur Bilbey, the company sergeant-major. A veteran of the Matabele War, he was a merry soul and a true soldier-one of that precious little leaven of old Regulars, headed by R.S.M. Charles Polden, who did so much to make the Battalion what it was. " D " Company lost, wounded, Major Hoette, Lieut. Ingold, and that fine swimmer and Rugby footballer, Lieut. Storry; while a prince of good fellows and the best athlete in the regiment was killed in 2nd Lieut. E. M. Carr. A corporal of " D " Company, who reached the Boche wire and remained all day in a well-peppered shell-hole, told me that he did not think more than one in twenty of his company slipped through the ferocious German shell barrage near our wire. One of those to go under was Walter Thompson, an old West Riding Artilleryman, who understudied the " great " Kirk for provost duty and afterwards became the regimental police sergeant. When he returned to duty in the ranks he proved a non-commissioned officer of the highest quality. But the deluge of war spared few. Another " D " Company man, Will Taylor, the dandy of his hut at Redmires, was amongst those who were able to get fairly at the throat of the Boche. A bomber, he was seen to leap into the deep German trench and, hurling his No. 5's " like a fury, drive the enemy pell-mell before him. What was his fate? There may be some German alive who knows, but we, his old friends, who used to chaff him about the parting of his hair, know no more of him. This is a jumbled, vague story which has been told. But no clear narrative seems to be possible. The record consists merely of fragments picked up and pieced together: from what the men tell me of their little bits of the battle, from what one saw through the waving July grass on a trench top, from what the observers and the airmen saw in brief glimpses through the murky cloud of dust and smoke. In the regimental records there is a long list of well remembered men with nothing but the word " missing " marked against them. They went, and they did not come back. That is all. It is so different from one's dreams. Many a day in the training camps and on the march one had looked hopefully, imaginatively, along the lines of this splendid regiment. Picked men all, full of talent, confident and fit, one thought that when the day of action came there would be many stories to tell of great deeds accomplished. There were to be tales which the people of the city would tell to their children down generations to come. But it cannot be like that. But thrilling deeds were done. Parties of our men were seen fighting in the German front and second line trenches. More than an hour after the assault the Boche was experiencing so much trouble from them that he burst shrapnel over his own trenches. Eventually he sent more bombers from the rear to work up to the front line. Meanwhile our airmen persistently reported that bodies of our men had pushed right through the German defences and had entered what our artillery had left of Serre village. Not many got so far. But methinks, to use a homely phrase, those boys played steam. I doubt if any Englishman can tell you what they did, but 1 can tell you what the Boche did, and you may form your own conclusions. At half-past ten in the morning he turned his artillery on to Serre-seven hundred yards behind his own front line. There are, of course, men of the Battalion whose names are already well known as recipients of honours for bravery. Friends of the Battalion are proud of B. Corthorn, G. C. Wright, and S. Matthews, who gained the Distinguished Conduct Medal for gallant conduct and devotion to duty; and of M. Burnby, C. S. Garbutt, H. C. Arridge, S. Vickers, A. Downing, and R. Marsden, who won Military Medals. All these were what are called " immediate awards " given for deeds standing out. There is much more that might be told. Of the devotion of the regimental stretcher-bearers, of the many wounded who refused to be attended to until others whom they thought more badly hurt had been bound up; of the volunteers who pressed into No Man's Land seeking wounded men in the nights after the battle (we owe some men of Barnsley thanks for this, too), of the risks taken to carry food and water to casualties; of the sad scenes at, the burial of old comrades. * * * * Those recommended for honours and their deeds were as appended: Captain and Adjutant N. L. Tunbridge-During the four days July Ist to 4th, in the Colincamps sector, he carried on the duties of adjutant under heavy bombardment, and after every officer in the Battalion except one had become a casualty early on the morning of July Ist. On the night of July Ist-2nd he volunteered to take out a party into No Man's Land in search of wounded, and was the means of bringing in several. His gallantry and devotion to duty inspired the remnants of the Battalion in the reorganization of the defences of the line. Lieut. E. C. Cunnington, R.A.M.C.-For three days and nights this medical officer showed the greatest devotion to duty, working day and night dressing and evacuating wounded. Each night he spent several hours collecting and attending to wounded in our own wire and front line trench. He exposed himself to the greatest risks in the performance of his duty. 12/481 Regimental Sergeant-Major C. Polden-This warrant officer showed particular devotion to duty, and personally conducted a party of bomb-carriers to Battalion Headquarters from the Battalion dump, having several men killed on the way. 121338 Pte. B. Corthorn, D.C.M.-Was one of a Lewis gun team which went up with the third wave of the attack. They got their gun into action within twenty yards of the first German line. All but Pte. Corthorn were gradually picked off by enemy snipers and machine-guns. Pte. Corthorn, however, succeeded in digging himself in in a shellcrater with his entrenching tool, and continued to sweep the enemy parapet, giving particular attention to an enemy machine-gun in the front-line trench until all his ammunition was expended. He then remained in his position with Pte. Brooks, one of his team, who was mortally wounded, until he (Brooks) died. Corthorn finally retired after nightfall to our own lines with his gun intact. 12/1521 Pte. A. Greenaway.-Pte. Greenaway proceeded with the third wave of the attack, and when the attack was held up he proceeded from shell-hole to shell-hole, removing wounded men from the open and placing them in shellholes where they were safe from snipers. He was seen to render first aid to several wounded men, this being done at great risk to his own life as the enemy snipers were very active sniping at wounded men. 12/275 Pte. G. C. Wright, D.C.M.-As Battalion runner he was given a message to take from Battalion Headquarters in John Copse to Brigade Headquarters in Dunmow, a distance of nearly half a mile. He delivered his message, although subjected to heavy shell fire, being three times blown up by the concussion of shells and considerably shaken. Immediately after deliver of his message this soldier collapsed. 12/11164 Lce..Cpl. M. B. Burnby, 12/923 Pte. C. S. Garbutt, 12/24 Pte. H. C. Arridge, all M.M.These men were members of a Lewis gun team, and proceeded with the first wave of the attack. Two men of their team were wounded whilst going over. They got their gun into action in a shell-hole, and continued to fire and to throw bombs against an enemy machine-gun emplacement until their ammunition was exhausted. They were heavily bombed by the enemy, but finally managed to bring their gun back intact after nightfall. 121233 Pte. J. W. Skidmore.-This soldier, who was an orderly at Battalion Headquarters, rendered particularly valuable services in helping to collect from the front line and administer to the needs of wounded men in the sap in Mark Copse. For thirty-six hours, unaided, he attended the wounded and managed to keep alive twelve severely wounded men until they could receive medical attention. 12/1376 Pte. R. Gorrill-Proceeded with the first wave of the attack. On arrIval at the German wire it was found to be very thick and impossible to get through. He, with five other men, one of whom was seriously wounded, took cover in a shell-hole. While here they were bombed by one of the enemy, and Pte. Gorrill, exposing himself, shot him. After nightfall Pte. Gorrill urged the unwounded men to leave the shell-hole, saying that he would follow. This they did, getting back to our own lines. He himself remained alone with the wounded men for three days and nights, suffering great privations. He finally left to try and get help. 12/476 Cpl. F. Peet.-For devotion to duty whilst in charge of the regiment's stretcher-bearers. 12/1414 Pte. W. Dalton-This soldier was the sole survivor of a party of carriers, taking up a supply of bombs to Battalion Headquarters in John Copse from Battalion dump. They were heavily shelled and under machine-gun fire whilst carrying these out. Pte. Dalton showed no trace of fear. 12/727 Pte. S. Matthews, D.C.M.-This man, a stretcher-bearer, remained in sap in John Copse dressing wounded men for three days and nights. Of the remainder of his squad one was killed and two wounded. 12/551 Pte. A. Wenman.-This private succeeded in effecting an entry into the German front-line trench, and bombed a dug-out containing eight Germans. He was able to give useful information as to construction of the German trench. 12/443 Pte. R. Marsden, M.M.-As a Battalion runner, Pte. Marsden was delivering a message when he was partially buried by a shell. He extricated himself and delivered the message. 12/354 Pte. A. Downing, M.M.-A Battalion runner at Battalion H.Q. in John Copse, he successfully delivered two messages to Brigade Headquarters under heavy fire. Marshal Joffre, Earl Haig, and the Army Corps Commander all expressed their appreciation of the effort in which the regiment shared. " I rejoice," said the Corps Commander, " to have had the privilege of commanding such a band of heroes as the corps have proved themselves to be. The official casualty report was as under: Officers-Killed: Captain W. A. Colley, Captain W. S. Clark, 2nd Lieut. C. H. Wardill, 2nd Lieut. E. M. Carr, 2nd Lieut. P. K. Perkin, Lieut. C. Elam, 2nd Lieut. A. J. Beal, 2nd Lieut. F. Dinsdale. Wounded: Major A. Plackett, Major A. R. Hoette, Captain R. E. J. Moore, Lieut. C. H. Woodhouse, Lieut. G. H. J. Ingold, Lieut. F. C. Earl, Lieut. F. W. S. Storry, Lieut. H. W. Pearson, Lieut. H. Oxley. Four officers survived the ordeal: Captain and Adjutant N. L. Tunbridge, Lieut. E. L. Moxey, 2nd Lieut. C. C. Cloud, and the Medical Officer (Lieut. E. C. Cunnington). The lastnamed was killed on March 23rd, 1918, at Bullecourt whilst getting a convoy of wounded away before the arrival of the enemy.
|Died of wounds||1||2||2||7||12|
|Prisoners of war||1||.||–||1||2|
The foregoing do not include about 75 men who were only slightly wounded. Actually, the whole Battalion casualties, including everybody, sick and wounded, were over 600. The Divisional casualties were over 12,000. The " Missing "! Let us honour them by repeating the words of Swift:
Men who lived and died without a name Are the chief heroes in the sacred list of fame.”
Sufficient emphasis cannot be laid on the very exceptional character of many of the great-hearted and talented men (particularly of "A" Company) who fell in this memorable fight; nor will it ever be appreciated to the full what Britain and Sheffield lost by their death. Some of these boys were learning Italian and reading Dante at Kantara! Sergt. J. W. Streets and Corpl. Alexander Robertson, whose poems I have quoted, were men of unusual attainments and promise, and in 1914 Robertson was Lecturer in History at the Sheffield University. In a preface to Streets' volume, "The Undying Splendour," Halloway Kyle, of " The Poetry Review," gives an illuminating letter, in which Streets explained "They were inspired while 1 was in the trenches, where 1 have been so busy that I have had little time to polish them. 1 have tried to picture some thoughts that pass through a man's brain when he dies. 1 may not see the end of the poems, but hope to live to do so. We soldiers have our views of life to express, though the boom of death is in our ears. We try to convey something of what we feel in this great conflict to those who think of us, and sometimes, alas! mourn our loss. We desire to let them know that in the midst of our keenest sadness for the joy of life we leave behind, we go to meet death grim-lippid, clear-eyed, and resolute-hearted. " In a Special Order of the Day, Brigadier-General H. C. Rees, D.S.O., prior to handing over the command of the 94th Infantry Brigade to Brigadier-General T. Carter Campbell, D.S.O., said: " In giving up the command of 94th Brigade 1 wish to express to all ranks my admiration of their behaviour. 1 have been in many battles in this war, and nothing more magnificent has come under my notice. The waves went forward as if on a drill parade, and 1 saw no man turn back or falter. I bid good-bye to the remnants of as fine a brigade as has ever gone into action." On July 4th the Battalion left the line, taking up billets at Louvencourt. Captain D. C. Allen, who had rejoined from the 4th Army School, took over the command. On July 6th the Battalion marched to Longuevillette, near Doullens, on the 8th entrained at Frevent for Steenbecque, and on the 10th, after the most tiring march ever experienced, billeted in Merville, now a mass of ruins, then a beautiful, pleasant country town. Whilst at Merville the G.O.C., Anzac Corps, sent the following message: "Just a line to say how sorry we are to hear of the losses which the magnificent VIIIth Corps has recently suffered in its gallant fighting in German trenches. They are indeed heroes, and their name will live for ever. " According to a statement of Cpl. Signaller Outram, of Eyam, who was taken prisoner unwounded and spent two years in the salt mines in Germany, the two last men left standing of the 12th Y. and L. (immediately in front of Serre), as far as the eye could see, were himself and another signaller, A. Brammer. They signalled to each other. Outram turned his head for a moment, and when he looked back Brammer had gone. As far as warfare is concerned, it must have been an awful, yet glorious picture-two lads flying the flags when no help was to be afforded and all had gone except themselves. Outram says they got in front of Serre, but not into it except himself, when he was marched through, a prisoner.[/force][mforce][/mforce] [/premium_content]