Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 16: The Somme 9 July - 6 September 1916

From 11th Battery, Australian Field Artillery: Brief History 18 Nov 1915 – 20 Dec 1918 (AWM 224; MSS13)

9 July 1916 Left L’Menengate, arrive St Marie Cappel

11 July 1916 Left St Marie Cappel, road to Arques, entrained.

12 July Arrived Longue (?) Siding (outside Amiens), road to La Chaussee

13 July – 19 July Camped La Chaussee

20 July Left La Chaussee, arrived Puchevillers

20 – 26 July Camped Puchvillers

27 July Left Puchvillers by road, arrived Albert “Brickfields”

27 – 29 July
Camped Albert Brickfields

From Battleground Europe: Courcelette by Paul Reed, the Brickfields are described:

On the outskirts of Albert was the Brickfields, a large billeting area among an old brick factory. "... an inhospitable area of chalky ground, scantily covered with grass, on a low ridge west of town. Bare and uninviting at the best of times.
On the Brickfields the men quickly discovered that boxes of Small Arms ammunition could be built into substantial walls; and when a tarpaulin was thown over them an adequate hutment was the result. Diligently they applied themselves to the task of creating comfort,their industry accelerated by the downpour which began to drench the place. Huddling within their improvised shelters, they paid little heed to the long-range shelling which was scattered indiscriminately over the area."

30 July Left Brickfields and established Wagon Lines at Bécourt Wood

30 July – 15 August Battery in action in Sausage Valley. Wagon Lines at Bécourt Wood. Infantry attacked Pozieres 4 Aug.

Photo of funeral at Bécourt during August 1916. [AWM EZ0064] "A chaplain reads the burial service beside the grave of a fallen Australian in a cemetery in a wood, near a chateau that housed a casualty clearing station. The burial party standing around the grave includes English and Australian soldiers. The man on the far right has a 2nd Division colour patch on his sleeve. Note the stretcher in the foreground."

Photo of artillery drivers at Bécourt Wood, July 1916. One is identified as Lieutenant Frederick George Fitzpatrick of Heyfield, Vic (far right); all others are unidentified. The gunner on the left has two postcards or photographs propped in front of his boots, and a trench biscuit balanced on his knee. Cooking utensils and stores are lined up along the edge of the 'roof', which is covered with vegetation for camouflage purposes. (AWM C00474)

16 August Left Bécourt Wood

17 August Arrived Vadencourt Wood, between Warloy and Contay

17 – 22 August Camped Vadencourt Wood

23 August Left Vadencourt Wood, arrived back at Bécourt Wood Wagon Lines

23 August- 3 Sept Battery in action Sausage Valley

4 Sept Left Bécourt Wood, arrived Vadencourt Wood that night

5 Sep Left Vadencourt Wood, arrived Hem

6 Sep Left Hem. Entrained at Doullens, arrived Hopoutre Station, near Poperinge. Road to Berthen

“A few gunners went up to gun pits which we were going to take over [ near L’Menengate] but receiving sudden orders to move these positions were left and on the ninth [July] we went to St Marie Cappel where we remained until the 11th then that day entrained at Arques, detrained at Oeuveus and billeted at La Chaussee until the 20th and then went to Puchevillers remaining until 27th when we went by road to the “Brickfields” near Albert, camped there until the 30th and went into action in Sausage Valley the same day, wagon lines being established at Bécourt Wood. Remained in Sausage Valley until Aug 16, covering our infantry in the attack on Pozieres on Aug 4th. Very little enemy shelling near our position – one man killed by a 60 pounder premature(?). Relieved on 16th and went to Vadencourt, returning again to the same position in Sausage Valley again on 23rd and stayed there until Sept 4th. This time the Valley was rather heavily shelled and we had two or three men wounded.

Leaving Sausage Valley on Sept 4th we returned to Vadencourt – stayed there one night and next day went to Hem, near Doullens. The following day we entrained at Doullens and detrained at Hopoutre (Poperinghe) the same day, went to Berthen where we billeted until the 8th … “ [back to Flanders]

From Diary of Gunner Kenneth Sydney Day:

16/6/16 We entrained at 11.30, and passed through Aire, Lillers, St. Pol, Doullens, Domart and arrived at Amiens at 8.30 a.m. the following day. This town has one of the best cathedrals. We stayed there for one day and went on to a place called Argoe, a small village just outside the town.

19/7/16 At 9 o'clock I was called out to be transferred to the 11th Battery, so packed up and walked to Picquigny, five miles away. …

28/7/16 Moved on to-day to a place called Contalmaison and the Infantry went into Pozieres. Our guns are in a place called Sausage Gully (where the name came from I do not know). There are hundreds of guns in this place; there is also a big chalk pit or crater. There are Canadian and English batteries as well as our own, so we have a great variety of swear words.

12/8/16 Met some Tommies to-day and they were saying that they did not like the way we advanced so much, they like trench warfare the best. I do not think much of them; they are a dirty lot - taking them on average; the Scottish are far the best, they take far keener interest in their work.

16/8/16 At 2.30 we came out of action after a stay of 19 days, we are getting very sick of living in the mud and the noise of the guns; went to the other side of Albert for the night, and then to a rest camp just outside Contay, called Vadencourt Woods. Stopped there for six days and then went back into action again to the Somme and mud.

We took over the same gun pits as before and stayed there for 12 days, came out and then marched to a place called Hem, stayed there for the night, and then to Dollens, where we entrained , left there at 9 a.m. and passed through St. Polaire, Hazebruck and disentrained at Poperinghe, drove to our wagon lines at Renninghelst, 5 miles from Ypres; our guns went into action the same night; it is seven miles between our wagon lines and Gun Pits, an average two trips per night, and drill all day, so there is not much rest for the wicked.
Ypres has been a very fine city, but there is not much left of it now, they have very wide streets and also a beautiful Cathedral. It is at this Cathedral that the Kaiser said he would be crowned King of Belgium, but I am afraid it will not be there when the war is over. (On the Somme where we were last in action the villages of Fricourt, La Boissille (sic), Contalmaison and Pazieres (sic) are all blown level with the ground or thereabouts, I know I would not like to pay for the rebuilding of them).

Photo of Vadencourt 30 July 1916. Lord Northcliffe and Australian war correspondent CEW Bean inspect the cooking facilitites at 2nd brigade camp (AWM E00794)

Cemetery and woods at Bécourt (May 2005):

Looking from Bécourt Wood across Sausage Valley towards La Boisselle and Lochnagar Crater:

Looking across Sausage Valley to La Boisselle from road between Bécourt and La Boisselle:
Approaching La Boisselle:

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