How the Battle was Fought

Outline of the Advance

The following is part of a letter written to an officer who took part in the Battle of July 1st to a gentlemen in the City.

You will have heard ere this of the Regiment’s past in the big push and the heavy causalities that resulted. I will try to give you a few of the details. Not being in France just now suppose this is permissible. For months back great preparations were being made and special training and rehearsing going on, new trenches dug mines laid, deep dugs outs made and a thousand and one other things. The part of the line we were holding was opposite a small village named Beaumont Hamel, north of the river Ancre. The village is just within the German front line. Distance from our front lines to theirs about 300 yards. It was the job of the 29th division to take the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd line systems. The 86th Brigade were told off to take the 1st system, 87th Brigade the 2nd system and the 88th (of which we form a part ), the 3rd system. We were given a place of honour in the show, being the leading and directing hesitation. At first we were to support the ------------------ but it was changed much to their disgust. The advance across “No Man’s Land” and the first and second systems which were supposed to have been taken was to have been made in the following formation.

British Lines

Each man was heavily laden and the advance was to be done at a walk. We carried bridges, torpedoes, picks, shovels, sand bags, three days rations, two water bottles and endless other stuff. It was the intention to deploy about 100 yards from the third system and storm the trenches and then consolidate the position. You will gather from the foregoing what a walkover it was going to be, but unfortunately the Bosches were not consulted in the matter and did not fall in with the plans. After a week’s terrific bombardment of their line by which time one would have thought there was no one alive after it, the ball opened at 7.30 a.m., July 1st. The 86th got out of our front line at that time. We went forward; the 87th were to leave a little later for the 2nd system and we were to leave at 8.50 for the 3rd. In the meantime we were back in the support trench waiting for our time to come around. At 8.50 however instead of getting the signal to advance the Company Commanders were sent for and told that the 86th and 87th were held up and that we were to go for the 1st line at once. We started off a few minutes later in the formation per diagram crossing over the tops of our front line by the means of bridges. We had scarcely reached our parapet when a murderous fire was opened, machine guns, shrapnel H.E. mortars and bombs. Men were simply mown down, but in spite of the terrific fire those of ours who hadn’t been carried on in a magnificently steady and cool manner until knocked over. Few if any reached the German trench. I got my third in the hip about 15 yards from there. At that time there was only 3 of my company on their feet and they fell soon afterwards. We went into the attack about 800 strong and 5 of officers per company. The remainder, 10% of the fighting strength, were kept back as reserves  in addition to surplus officers. A great many of these were wounded or killed while still in the reserve trench by shell fires. Beaumont Hamel is looked upon as one of the hardest parts on our front and on three occasions the French were held up here when they were in this part of the line. A deep ravine runs across its front and any amount of shelling seems to have little or no effect on it. General French was here yesterday and spent a few minutes in my room. He said he had heard of the magnificent way our fellows went forward in the face of such barrage.”

Source: The Daily News, July 31, 1916

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