Home » Somme (Page 2)
Category Archives: Somme
The war to end all wars: the centenary of World War One (LINKS)
Please offer your suggestions for additional links
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Department of Culture, Media & Sport
University of Birmingham WW1 : Beyond Blackadder
French Embassy Announcement on investment in remembering the La Grande Guerre
The War of the World Professor Niall Ferguson
Learning Resources for Teachers
Paul Read : Research, photos and battlefields
Love to Learn with Pearson Education
What is Europe? Free learning from The OU
John Arthur Wilson MM 1896-1992
95 years later Houthulst Forest is used to first store then detonate the 200,000 bomb a found in the Ypres area every year.
My experience of trench warfare – July 1916
Trench warfare was just stone walling one another.
It was stalemate. You devised all sorts. These ruddy mortars were just a tube and a base plate. You dropped the mortar in and it flew over to you. You flung one at him and he’d throw a dozen back at you. That went on all the time.
It was like two people on either side of a stone wall. I throw a stone at you and you throw a few more stones back at me. That’s what it amounted to.
Only once on the Somme do I ever remember having a bit leave
I think it was for a day or something and it was to Amiens. The cafes did chips with everything; I think they knew what the lads wanted.
That’s the only time I ever had any leave in France, at all.
When you were out of the line for a bit rest you could always bet your boots on a good Salvation Army tent, writing paper and all the rest of it. You couldn’t write letters without them being checked. I don’t know what we would have done without them. Excellent.
Some time around then, before we were moved North to Paschendale, my kid brother Billy who was in France with a bomber squadron wrote a to me and said,
‘Why don’t you ask for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps?’
The beastliness of rotting bodies – July 1916
There was this occasion I was brewing up some tea in this dug-out.
I’d set up a bit of a fire with a couple of bricks and a canteen. You used your bayonet to scrape off a few shavings so that you didn’t make any smoke.
There was this dreadful smell
I pushed my bayonet into the soil and there’s a body. I don’t know if it was a Jerry or one of ours. I was burning a hole into their stomach
Another one, at the Briqueterie – a whizz-bang went straight through a signaller called Walters – he was a range finder. Just ripped him apart. It was a dud otherwise there’d have been nothing left of him.
I turned twenty out on the Somme in August 1916
There was no day to remember though. You never knew whether it was Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
When they started the war, Jerry had those helmets with a brass peak.
One day I saw this spike sticking out of the side of this communications trench and I thought it would make a nice souvenir. I got my bayonet out and dug the earth away to get a hold of it. My fingers came away with the skin and hair and all the rest of it. Another time I had the helmet in my hands only to find there was a skull inside it.
We went swimming in the Somme when we were out of the line at Happy Valley.
We were taking over the line from the French bit by bit. About a mile at a time. We were at the extreme south of the line towards Caix and Peronne.
I remember these French soldiers pointing at me and having a bit of a laugh at my expense.
“Petit soldat,” they were saying. ‘Boy soldier.’
As machine-gunners our job was to hold the position – July 1916
As machine-gunners our job was to hold the position.
It was pot luck if you were in the font line or on relief when there was an attack. We were used as a defensive weapon; we’d let off a few rounds on a regular basis to make sure Jerry got the idea and kept his head down. If there was an attack you fired point blank – as many rounds as you could get off with out overheating the barrel.
Gun teams were supposed to be made up of five.
There was meant to be a gunner, that was me, someone to feed the belt, one on supplies; another on spares and a fifth as an ammunition carrier. Two was more common. The canvas belts we had held 250 rounds that gave a burst of 30 seconds releasing 500 shots per minute. The machine gun was used like a piece of artillery. Often all we did was lay down a barrage of bullets 1000 yards away, so you wouldn’t see the poor blighters who were getting it in the head.
I could show you a map in the training book set out for machine gun fire.
It’s marvellous how all the Front’s covered. In an attack with a heavy Vicker’s Gun anybody trying to get through was bound to be hit in the crossfire. As a machine gunner you went in to hold a position once they had secured it. There’s a post up and that’s your firing line, otherwise you guessed the range. You’re blasting away, not continuous, just give it a burst.
The alternative was if you saw Jerry coming at you then it was up to you to do your best.
Jack’s Somme – July 1916
We left for the Somme in July
We were to be used in the Second Phase of the attack in mid July 1916. We knew something was up – you couldn’t move for the wounded on the Somme. As we got closer, passing through places like Albert, I remember all these country lanes packed with ambulances and the walking wounded. That told you how the battle was going.
They had just started the Somme offensive.
They had balloons up for observers, that was a bit of topography, not map work, but accuracy within a few yards.
They were well established trenches in Neuve-Chapelle and Arras. On the Somme they got smashed to pieces.
We were always on the move.
We arrived in time for the last part in the Battle of Albert which ran until the 13th July. After than we were sent into Montauban, Mametz, Fricourt, Contalmaism and La Boiselle. I never had to go over the top though, thank God. How the lads did that I don’t know. It was bad enough for us going in to hold the position afterwards.
At first they didn’t seem to know where they wanted us.
We where in and out and here and there. Eventually we ended up in Happy Valley and would go higher up the line into Trones Wood and Delville Wood.
I was in this Brick Factory at Trones Wood which was taken by the 30th Division on the first day of battle. The Briqueterie was south east of Montauban close to the French Line. It was being used to store .303 ammunition.
There was a huge crater.
That was from the First Day of the Somme Battle, when nineteen mines were exploded at twenty minutes passed seven.
A sheet of flame and a thunderous amount of debris shot 100ft high.
If you had seen the Somme you wouldn’t have believed a worm could have lived after it.
Struff. The bombardment.
Despite all this artillery bombardment the lads got caught in the barbed wire.
I found out after the War that General Congreve was commanding the 30th at the time.
We never knew what was going on; no one told us where we were off to or what we were supposed to do.
(On this occasion Congreve had requested permission to advance into Bernafay Wood on the left but this was refused by Rawlinson; even the Germans were surprised that we left the spot unoccupied. Rawlinson had little idea what was going on; he relied on pre-agreed plans and predictions. By the time orders were issued to enter Bernafay Wood the Germans had brought in machine-guns. The woods took a further two days to take with massive losses. They finally got in on the 14th July with a night attack. Trones Wood and Bernafay Wood were lost then retaken by the 35th Division on 21st August).
I remember stepping behind a hedge top run off.
I was told off by an officer.
“I’ve a good mind to reprimand you.” This officer said. “There’s a latrine up the road.”
And here we are with a battle raging.
Suicide Squad – The Machine Gun Corps – 1916
Fig.1. Jack Wilson’s identity tag. He had it made while training in Grantham.
“We were put on parade one Saturday morning in early 1916, which was unusual”.
The next thing I know the Sergeant’s running up and down the line with the Red Cap picking out people’s names. He was a bit of a raw Geordie lad.
Afterwards I asked Quartermaster Sergeant Barwick what it was all about.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“You’re going to the suicide squad on Monday.” He replies.
Then he added.
“You’re off to Grantham.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“On Monday, you’re off to Grantham. You’ve got to go”.
I had no choice in the matter.
And that’s how I was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, 35th Division, 104th Brigade Machine Gun Company (formed 27th April 1916).
I got a few days leave from Grantham before and then I didn’t get any leave whatsoever while I was out there through the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Passchendaele – about two and a half years. It was only when I came back to join the RFC that I got a week’s leave. Then I went back to Grantham. And of course I finished up on the RFC aerodrome at Crail, Scotland.
Fig.2. Machine Gun Training. I believe these are Canadians. Or could they be American?
“They were picking suitable looking fellows. They were copying the Germans”.
They went around all the infantry companies looking for suitable men. It was a heavy gun. The Vickers weighed over 28 pounds; the tripod 20 pounds and the water to cool the gun another 10 pounds.
They took about twenty from the Durham Light Infantry. The 7th Division was a Geordie regiment.
Billy Wrangham, who was 24, from Urpeth, Anfield Plane. His father was a Colliery Winding Engineerman – he was gassed. It could catch you on the hop. Billy had this gun and they had their masks on all day. He took his off in the afternoon being the corporal.
George Toward lived behind the Royal Hotel; he was a regular billiard player. He was a year younger then me, only got in by a squeak. He was eighteen. He lied about his age. George lived at 19 Consett Rd, Castleside just along the road from us. His father was gas producer at the steelworks. He was the youngest of four. I remember his sisters Elizabeth and Jennie and his big brother Robert a married man of 28.
Sergeant-Major Barwick; he was a funny one.
If he felt happy he’d get up and have a little jig and a sing song. He was from Teams, Gateshead. They had four lovely kiddies. He’d bring them down to watch us parade and we’d carry them on our shoulders. We’d give them pennies and sweats. He was killed on the 6th October 1918 age 28. Son of Joseph and Maria Barwick from Teams, Gateshead. His wife went by the name of Theresa.
Tommy Collinson, was another one.
Tommy was a big strapping lad. He had a brother who was shot in the knee before the war; it got gangrene and was lost. Tommy was killed on the 5th November 1917 at Passchendaele – he was only 18.
And Billy Soulsby all from Askew Road, Gateshead.
He was a storekeeper by trade so they made him the quartermaster.
Those are some of the names I remember.
The rest of the company was made up from North Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland, Birmingham and Northumberland.
Grantham was a camp for transport and machine gunners.
“Even to get into your hut you were up to your knees in mud”.
Interviews conducted by his grandson Jonathan F Vernon from 1989-1992. Recorded on digital audio tape and transcribed. Jack then reviewed a manuscript of large font printouts and added further notes, some in his own hand, some added by his grandson.
The 103rd Brigade was formed on 27th April 1916 and joined the 34th Division.
- They Called it Passchendaele (machineguncorps.com)
- Irish Somme (insideview.ie)
- Anniversary 30th/31st July 1916 – III Platoon 17th Manchesters (17thmanchesters.wordpress.com)
- Online archive will reveal the poignant wills and personal letters of 230,000 WWI soldiers (dailymail.co.uk)