19th Lancashire Fusiliers
Report on operation carried out by 19th Lancashire Fusiliers from 1st to 4th July 1916
At 7.10 a.m. the order to advance was given and the column moved off in the above order. The advance was carried out in columns of platoons in fours, with 100 yards interval between platoons. The line of advance was along the river bed of the Ancre, left and across the Aveluy-Authuille Road at point W.11.b.7.6, thence to point W.6.c.55.06 on southern edge of Authuille Wood, along path …. Dumbarton Track and then to point X.1.c.38.75 on ?????? of Wood (pages torn).
On arrival at western edge of Authuille Wood information was received that the 1st Dorset Regt was experiencing heavy casualties emerging from the wood. The 19th Lancashire Fusiliers continued to advance until the whole battalion was in column of route along Dumbarton Track immediately in rear of 1st Dorset Regt.
Owing to the severe casualties on leaving the wood the OC Right Column brought up 2 trench mortars to point X.1.c.35.75 and also established two Lewis guns and under cover of these guns the advance was continued. The open space in front of point X.1.c.35.75 was crossed by squads in rushes of 30 to 40 yards, the men taking cover in shell craters.
A, B and half of C Companies thus crossed the open space between point X.1.c.35.75 and our front line trench, heavy enfilade fire being experienced the whole way across causing many casualties.
At this juncture a message was received from Lt Huxley, commanding A Company, stating that the first line trench was so crowded with the remnants of all preceding regiments that it was inadvisable to send any more men across until the congestion was relieved. This having been communicated to HQ 14th Infantry Brigade the advance was discontinued by the remaining half of C Company and D Company and orders were given that these companies were to move round by Rock Street to Chequerbent Street and affect an exit from the head of the latter street; but owing to the excessive crowding in all these front line trenches it was found impossible to make any progress and orders were received from Brigade HQ to ‘stand fast’.
In the meanwhile A, B and part of C Company had continued their advance from the front line trenches in waves of 30 or 40 men. The leading wave, led by Lt Huxley, got within 10 yards of the German trench but out of forty men only four remained and they could get no further. Capt Hibbert led the next wave and succeeded in getting into the German trench. He was followed by Lt Musker and 2nd Lt George with all the men that could be collected. These were the only three officers left with the two and a half companies that had advanced, the remaining officers having been killed or wounded.
|Leipzig Redoubt After Capture|
Capt Hibbert then took command of all available men belonging to the battalion and proceeded to hold the NW angle of the Lemberg Salient, the 1st Dorsets being on his right. Throughout the day this line of German trenches was held in spite of continuous bombing attacks by the enemy from large mine crater on the left flank. The supply of bombs carried over was soon exhausted and Capt Hibbert soon found it necessary to make use of all the German bombs in the trench – some 700-800 being used. Seven or eight Germans were found hiding in the dugouts and these were sent down in the course of the afternoon to Blackhorse Bridge by means of making use of the Russian sap opposite Sanda Street.
At 9.30 p.m. on the evening of 1st July orders were received for the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers to return to Authuille, being relieved by the Manchester Regt. All wounded men belonging to the regiment were brought down but the withdrawal had to be conducted very slowly owing to the heavy hostile artillery fire on this section of our front line. The remainder of the battalion returned down Dumbarton Track on to the Aveluy to Authuille Road. Authuille village was reached at 1 a.m. on the morning of the 2nd July and the battalion proceeded to man the defences.
Throughout the operations the battalion behaved with the greatest steadiness and the advance was carried out without hesitation on the part of the men in spite of the intense artillery and machine gun enfilade fire. The greatest difficulty was experienced in trying to advance from our own front line trench on the morning of the 1st July. This was due to the fact that when the trench was reached it was found to be blocked by men of the preceding units of the attack and, consequently, it was found to be almost impossible to keep any direct hold on the men as they were immediately swallowed up in the melee found in the first line trench but in spite of this the men moved forward and across the trench without hesitation.
During these operations the battalion experienced 268 casualties, that’s to say 50% of its fighting strength, having 20 officers and 577 other ranks when going into action.
One Lewis gun was carried over into the German lines but of the others the carriers were either killed or wounded. Of the bomb carriers very few got across the fire swept zone with their buckets. This was due to the fact that the men could not advance quick enough with the loads they had to carry and they, probably being more conspicuous, were singled out. The smoke barrage thrown out on the right flank on the morning of the 1st July considerably aided our advance and that, together with the machine and Lewis gun fire from point X.1.c.35.75 certainly helped in reducing our casualties.
|3 Platoon A Company 19th LFs (3rd Salford Pals) - late 1915 - from Barlow|
A fifty percent casualty rate would appear to be comparatively light by Somme standards where many battalions lost eighty percent of their infantry. But one needs to remember that of the four infantry companies making up the 3rd Salfords battalion, only two and half were committed, the rest being held back in the trenches to avoid crowding. So fifty percent of the battalion became casualties but these casualties were suffered by just over half of the battalion. Draw your own conclusions on what the casualty rates in the companies committed likely were. To some extent the distribution of losss can be seen in the officer casualties, which are the only ones reported by Company. These indicate that George's "A" Company suffered most with all three platoon commanders being killed and the Company Commander being "wounded at duty" (lighty wounded allowing him to remain in command). From the war diary:
Attached is a list of officers who went into action on the morning of 1st July:
Lt Col J M A Graham DSO
Maj. J Ambrose Smith
Lt & Adjt A R Moxey
Lt G B Smith
2nd Lt H W Huxley (Wounded)
2nd Lt E C E Chambers (Killed)
2nd Lt A N Dussee (Killed)
2nd Lt E D Ashton (Killed)
Capt G Hibbert
Lt J Hewitt (Wounded)
2nd Lt R L George
2nd Lt L N Middleton (Wounded)
Capt W G Haywood
Lt H Musker
Lt R C Masterman (Killed)
2nd Lt G H Dykes
2nd Lt W R Nightingale
2nd Lt I Jones
2nd Lt H B Cartwright
2nd Lt J Shiels (Wounded)
To some degree, the 3rd Salfords' and, more specifically, "A" Company's experiences on July 1 can be traced by looking at the individual fates of its officers.
The commander of the 1st Platoon was 2nd Lt. Edward Chandos Elliot Chambers. Chambers was born in South Africa, educated at Malbourough School and Oxford where he served in the OTC, and was gazetted to the 19th Battalion in June 1915. "On the morning of the great assault, July 1, his regiment formed one of the leading brigades, and advanced to the atatck through Authuille Wood, going out from it at the north-east in rushes of waves of five men at time inot open rising ground enfiladed by machine gun fire. Leading the first wave of his men, he was hit by a machine gun bullet in the forehead some thirty-five yards out form the edge of the wood, and was killed instantaneously." Chambers was 20 when he fell.
Less is avilable on the commander of "A" Company's second platoon. 2nd Lt. Arthur Norman Dussee was initially gazetted to the 4th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers and was then subsequently attached to the 19th Battalion at some later date. Such cross attachments of officers were not uncommon. There is no information on how or exactly where Lt. Dussee was killed at 26 years old.
George's platoon commander was 2d Lt. Edwin deaking Ashton. ashton was profiled in the Lancashire Magazine a few years ago. Hs portrait hangs in the Lancashire Fusiliers' regimental museum in Bury. He was educated at Sedburgh School and at Oxford and he was the only son of wealthy mill owning parents form Darwin Lancs. In the first few minutes, "2Lt Ashton was killed as he led an attack, cut down by one of the 30 machine guns which covered the western approaches to the small village (i.e. Thepval)."
So what of George, a 19-year old on his first time away from home and stuck in the middle of the greatest cataclysm in British military history?
Its clear that he was with "A" Company as they made their platoon rushes across the open space between Authuille Wood and the British front line. It's also clear that he was one of the few from "A" Company who made it through the hail of fire from the Nordwerk and into the Leipzig Redoubt. We know this by the references to the German helmets and bayonets in his letter home to Alf Plater. He would have had to have been in the German trenches to have seen these items. He also refers to having gone "over the top" and that can only refer to the attack made from the British trenches by the survivors of the battalion's first two and half companies on the south face of the Lepizig Redoubt. He was a very very lucky man to have survived this unscathed and his letter describing it is an historical treasure.
Sadly, his luck was soon to run out.