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I remember being in the brick factory on the Somme at Trones Wood. There was this huge crater, this was in 1916. I was trying to boil some water. I’d set up a bit of a fire with a couple of bricks and a canteen. The smell was dreadful. So I pushed my bayonet in and there’s a dead body.
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 and I got my bayonet out and dug the earth away to get hold of it. My fingers came away with skin and hair and all the rest of it. It was a dead German.
I got one in the end.
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.