Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Last Post

 George was laid to rest in the military cemetary outside Warloy, on the north side of the main road connecting Warloy with the front.

Google Earth View of the Original Cemetary and the Communal Extension to the East

Period Photo of the Extensioin
From a guide to Somme cemeteries:

Warloy-Baillon.—There are two cemeteries at the village of that name. The Communal Cemetery is on the east of the village and the Extension is in an apple orchard on the eastern side of the cemetery. The apple trees around the graves, in blossom on this spring day, made the burial ground very beautiful. All the cemeteries of France and Belgium have in common a noble simplicity of design, but each one has some particular feature. One is beautiful with orchard trees; another is graced with rose trees; of another sentinel poplars are a feature; of another the shroud-like cypresses. In every case the planning of a cemetery, its alignment, the site of the Cross of Sacrifice, and the Stone of Remembrance, its plantations and walls, are designed by the architects to harmonize with the natural features of the country. Not often on the French and Belgian sites has it been possible to attain the supreme loveliness of some of the Italian cemeteries, but all are beautiful. The first British burial took place in the Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery in October, 1915, and the last on July 1st, 1916. By that date field ambulances had come to the village in readiness for the attack on the German line, five miles away, and the Extension was begun. There are buried in the Extension 857 soldiers from the Home Country, 318 from Australia, 152 from Canada, and 3 unknown. The Communal Cemetery records 46 British burials.

The story of the post-war design and maintenance of British War Memorials is an interesting one. The short documentary linked below is from the Thiepval Visitor Centre and it provides the background to the creation of the Imperial War Graves Commission (later the Commonwealth War Graves Commission). It also desribes the building of the massive Thiepval Memorial, the largest British War Memorial. Thiepval remembers more than 72,000 British and Imperial soldiers who died on the Somme and who have no known grave. Located on the high ground in the centre of the Somme front, at the very place that was assaulted by George and his Salford mates, it can be seen from both ends of the 25-mile battlefield.

Another generous GWF member volunteered to take photos of George's grave for me when he travelled to Warloy to visit his Grandfather's final resting place last month. I asked for a close-up of the inscription at the base, as in previous photos I had seen, it was obscured by a small shrub. UK families were allowed to add a small inscription to the stone as long as they paid a per letter fee. Interestingly, the Canadian government levied no such charge.

George's Grave - Portland Stone from the Commonwealth War Grave Commission
The Ingham Family Inscription - Short But Moving

Warloy is a very beautiful and quiet place. As I very much doubt whether anyone from my family has ever been there, a trip is on my own personal "bucket list." 

Strangely, if George had survived and I had met him when I was young while visiting the UK, I likely would not have paid much attention to another elderly relative. But given the tragedy of his death at 19 years in such a major historical event, he has come to fascinate me. I want to know more about him and it frustrates me that every avenue for getting more information likely closed decades ago. 

But George has also opened a new area of interest to me. There were millions of "Georges" in the Great War and each one has his or her own interesting story to tell. 

I would also like to have time to properly search the archive of George's local paper, The Rochdale Observer, to see if there is a death notice with photograph. I have a photo of his dad but not him. Finding a photo of Geurge has become my "Holy Grail." If I do find a photo, George will be the subject of one of my sculpted busts. 

Warloy from the Cross of Sacrifice

Cross of Sacrifice at Warloy

I am not alone in wanting to know more about my family's experiences in the Great War. As the centenary approaches, many tourists will return to France to see where their ancestors suffered, endured, overcame, or fell. Governments and interest groups are already planning centennial activities. I can't explain the strong family connection I feel to George and the Somme but it is there. My research on George has opened other avenues of study. He was my maternal grandmother's brother. My maternal grandfather also served, as did his two bothers - one was at Gallipoli and the other was killed in action at Longueval, also on the Somme, two years after George. His remains were never identified and he is remembered on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial. I will learn each of these stories in whatever detail I can. 

George's poignant letter is the thing that speaks directly to me from the past. Each small detail, like the tiny brown burn on the letter that likely resulted from candle wax as he wrote in the dark trench at Donnet Post, the child-like handwriting conveying such mature thoughts, and his fearless tone, all make the letter a bridge to a time and place in my imagination. It makes me admire this young man I never got the chance to meet. I am proud to have him as my ancestor. Thank you again Jackie Waters!

In Memorium - George Leonard Ingham

The End ..... Warloy-Baillon

After being wounded in the night of July 12/13, quite possibly in one of two of the terrifying 3 AM frontal charges down the trench into the German blocking position, George would have been transported back to a casualty clearing station and thence to the operating centre at Warloy. 

Casualty Clearing
If George's service record had survived the attentions of the Luftwaffe in WWII, we would know exactly what the injuries were that claimed his life two days later. Given the reports of the Ovillers fighting, it seems likely that he was a victim of machine gun fire, a German grenade or a sniper. Each of these is identified as causing significant casualties to the 3rd Salfords in Ovillers. 

The following map shows the distribution of medical service centres serving the Somme battlefields. The concentration of services at Warloy is evident and it also clear why George was taken there given the lay out of the road network.

The following descriptions of Warloy are taken from an Australian history of the Somme medical services:

Period Post Card of the Main Hospital at Warloy
"The supply of dressings, equipment and medical comforts was ample. As a main dressing station the auxiliary to a British Field Ambulance in Warloy was taken over and placed under the direction of the officer commanding 1st Field Ambulance (Lieut.-Colonel C. Gordon Shaw). Arrangements were made whereby for a time “abdominal, head, and serious cases” were to be sent to the British Field Ambulance which ran the ”Main Hospital” at Warloy."

Google Street View of the Hospital Building at Warloy Today

"Under its experienced commanding officer (Lieut.-Colonel C. G. Shaw) the 1st Field Ambulance built up in Warloy a tented hospital capable of dealing expeditiously with very large numbers of wounded. The site conveniently adjoined the Corps Motor Repair Workshop, and the Motor Ambulance Convoy Park. The work at times was very strenuous - four operating tables going at one time."

WWI Hospital Ward
"The special station at Warloy for abdominal, head, and other urgent cases was staffed by special surgical “teams” from field ambulances with a female nursing staff from I Advanced the casualty clearing station. It was an operating centre, Warloy commonly known as the “main hospital,” and occupied a small but well built civil hospital of 75 beds together with accommodation for 375 in tents, huts, and other buildings."

So George clearly got the best of care available once he was successfully evacuated. One must assume that he was so seriously wounded that the medical services of the time could do nothing for him. Given that the hospital specialised in serious head and abdominal injuries, it is likely that George was seriously wounded in in one of these areas of the body. Given he died two days on, one has to conclude that the two days after Ovillers were unpleasant for him. That is sad to contemplate. 

It was general practice for officers writing home to spare the feelings of the families and to announce that thair fallen members has been killed instantly and had not suffered, even when it was a blatant lie. One wonders what the letter my great grandparents received said. I hope they got the standard lie.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Reporter's View

This syndicated article by one of the best known reporters with the British Army in the field clearly describes the gritty nature of the Ovillers fighting and the pluck of the Tommy. It was published in the New York Times and in many other newspapers large and small - this scan is from the Aukland Times of New Zealand. The latter part of the article clearly relates the same action by the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers and the 2nd South Lancashire Regiment on the night of July 12/13 - the same action in which George was mortally wounded.

Troops’ Grim Valour Among the Ruins

Lives Given for a Yard of Ground 

(By Philip Gibbs, with the British Armies in the Field)

July 13

At Ovillers there has been fierce fighting today which has gained for us several important bits of trench and ground. Linking up with other separate points already won, so that this German stronghold is closely besieged. Nearer to Thiepval it was strangely quiet after the great fighting a week and more ago. The village of Thiepval itself was deadly quiet in the German lines of brown, bombarded earth, beyond our whiter trenches. What was once a wood there, about red-roofed barns and houses and old church tower, is  now only a number of charred stumps sticking up for the brickdust and ruin of these buildings.

The Second Line

Behind Thiepval, captured and lost by our soldiers after heroic fighting and great sacrifice on July 1, could be seen the places, which the enemy is holding in his second line of defence, the next line of village fortresses. They were marked by the tall chimney of Courcelette, the woods of Grandcourt, and the church spire of Irles. And there, standing high and clear above the ridge, was one landmark which has been famous before the war, and will be again before the war is ended. It was the clock tower of Bapaume, and if the sun had been shining on it we could have read the time of day. On the ridge above Thiepval were little moving figures. “Germans,” said a sergeant with one eye to his glass. There was a lot of them, crawling about like ants, but none of our shells fell among them. All guns were busy on other work further to the right, where the smoke of great shells rose like smouldering fires over all the ground from Ovillers to Montauban.

Streets of Adventure

The fighting for Ovillers has been hard, bloody and close. Many of our men have died to gain a yard or two of earth-work. There have been great adventures in the capturing of some bits of broken brick or the working around a ditch below the remnants of a wall. Under a steady drive of machine-gun bullets sweeping all around, men of ours from Cheshire and another English county in the north have crept forward at night have crept forward at night with a few hand-grenades and flung themselves against the enemy’s bombing-posts and barricades and fought fiercely to smash down the sandbags or brickwork and get a few more yards of clear ground. They have sapped their way underground and blown up the roofs of vaults where Germans lay in hiding with machine-guns. They have fought in small parties, gaining isolated points in the southern part of the village, and holding on to them under heavy fire until only a few men remained alive, still holding on. 

War Below Ground
There have been fights to the death between a handful of English or Irish soldiers and a dozen or more Germans, meeting each other in the darkness of deep cellars quarried out from the chalk subsoil, and the German gunners peering out of slits in concrete emplacements below-ground and firing bursts of bullets down the roadway have found themselves suddenly in the grasp of men covered with white clay rising out of holes in the earth with no weapons but their picks. Ovillers is a place of abominable ruin. “Do you know Neuville St. Vaast?” asked an officer this morning, and when I nodded (because I had a near call there), he said, “Ovillers beats it hollow, for sheer annihilation.” There is nothing left of it except dust. There is not a wall standing 2ft high, or a bit of a wall. The guns have swept it flat.

Ghastly Ovillers

But underground there are still great cellars quarried out by inhabitants who have now fled; and in these the Germans are holding out against our attacks and our bombardments. Heavy shells have opened up some of them, and filled them with dead and wounded, but many still stand strong, and out of them come the enemy’s machine-guns and bombers to make counter-attacks against the ditches and debris from which our men turn working forward. The ground is pitted with enormous shell holes, in which men lie buried. Ovillers is perhaps more ghastly than any ruined ground along the front. It was at 8 o’clock on the morning of July 7 that the south-eastern part of the village was taken by assault. The North Country men advanced from a line to the north of La Boisselle after a great bombardment, and went over the open ground to the labyrinth of trenches which defend the village. These had been smashed into a tumult of earth and sandbags, but, as usual, some of the German machine-gunners had been untouched in their dug-outs, and they came up to serve their machines as soon as our barrage lifted.

Straight at the Gun

Other Germans defended themselves with bombs. There was savage fighting between the broken traverse, in shell craters, and in ditches. Many of our men fell but others came up and pushed further forward. One officer and a man or two ran straight towards a German machine gun which was doing deadly work and knocked it out with a well-aimed bomb. But higher up on this maze of broken trenches was a German redoubt, from which machine gun fire came in streams. Some Irish soldiers tried to storm the place, but suffered heavy casualties in front of the redoubt. It was decided to fall back a little, and reform the line for the night, and all through the night the men worked to build up barricades to cut off the enemy form the southern end of the village. That end was being ”cleaned out” of Germans, who were routed out of cellars. Many of them were glad to surrender.

“Bags” of Prisoners

“We took bags of ‘em,” said an officer in charge of this work. Next day the men worked their way forward above ground and below ground. Some crept out of a ditch and worked up to a bombing post made by others on the left of the village. Another body of troops made a sudden forward movement, and, taking the enemy by surprise, marched round the left and took up a line right across the south-west end of Ovillers without loss. That was a great gain which enabled our men to link up from separate points. The fighting today has been a further process of fitting up this jig-saw puzzle of isolated groups who have been burrowing into the German stronghold. A great adventure, or what the officers call a fine “stunt,” was carried out by some Lancashire men on the right of the village. They were told to send out a patrol overland in the direction of Pozieres. I think to the young officers in charge it must have seemed rather like a pleasant suggestion to go and discover the North Pole or the Magnetic North. However, the idea appealed to them; they would see some new country, and there was quite a chance of individual fighting, which is so much better than being killed in a ditch by shell fire. With them went a young machine-gun officer, who is justly proud of having gone out with 16 machine guns and, as you shall hear, of coming back with 20. I know that he was pleased with himself, as he ought to be, because he had a laughing light In his eyes when I gave him a lift in a car on the way back to a good dinner, and, having escaped without a scratch (and four extra guns) it is no wonder that he thought this adventure “a topping bit of work.” It was gallant work, and as far as the first day went, without loss. The little company of men struck northeastwards towards up an old bit of communication trench, and part of the way in the open, in the twilight and the darkness that followed. They were going steadily into German territory, to the high ground which slopes down to Pozieres. There were lots of Germans about – thousands of them not enormously far away – but they did not expect a visit life this, and were not watchful of this piece of ground. After working forward for something like a mile they came to a redoubt inhabited by German bombers.
Print Published With Gibbs' Story on Ovillers

Men Who Got There

What happened then is not very clear to me, and was certainly not very clear to the Germans. But this place was passed successfully, and it was further on that my machine gun friend (the fellow with the sparkle in his eyes) increased his number of guns. This part of the adventure is also somewhat confused, as most fighting is. He tells me that he “pinched” the guns. Also he made “a bag of them.” Anyhow, he captured them, and has brought them back which is very good proof that they were taken. So far all went well. The night was spent in consolidating this extraordinary position right in the heart of German territory, and all next day our men stayed there. They had a wonderful view of the country below them, saw many things worth noting for future use, and sent bursts of machine gun fire at the enemy’s infantry moving down to attack our troops. But it was too good to last. The enemy became aware that they were being hit from a position where none of our troops could possible, according to logic of things.
British Machine Gunners in Gas Helmets - Ovillers July 1916

Heroes Who Stayed

There must have been some frightful words used by German officers before they ordered an infantry attack to clear these Englishmen out. The infantry came down a trench from Pozieres, but as they came they were met by a stream of machine-gun fire directed by the  young officer who had had “pinched” four more guns than he had taken out. They suffered heavy casualties and the attack broke down. But then the enemy put this guns to work, as he always does when his infantry fails, and what had been a great adventure, with a sporting chance, became a deadly business, with all the odds against our men. The enemy’s shell-fire was concentrated heavily upon this one bit of trench away out in the open, and the ground was ploughed up with high explosives. The machine guns were taken back, but the British held until at last only one officer and six men were left. Those who came back unwounded numbered in the end only one officer and one man – with the exception of a sergeant who stayed behind with a wounded Irishman. He would not leave his comrade, and for 36 hours stayed out in his exposed position with heavy shells falling on every side of him. The Irishman was delirious, and making such a noise that his friend knocked him on the head to keep him quiet. Every time a shell burst near him he shouted out, “You’ve missed me again, Fritz.” But the sergeant himself kept his wits. He is a Lancashire man and with all the dogged pluck of Lancashire. When the bombardment quietened down he brought back his friend, and then went out to No Man’s Land to search for another one.

Germans Not Cripples

But let us not forget that our men have not the monopoly of courage in this war. We have against us a brave enemy, and again and again during this battle our officers and men have paid a tribute to the stubborn fighting qualities of the German soldiers. “For goodness sake,” said the officer, “get rid of that strange idea I the minds of many people at home that we are fighting old men and boys and cripples.” “All the Germans we have met and captured have been big, hefty fellows well-fed until our bombardment stopped their food, and with plenty of pluck in them.” As far as food goes the watchword of the German people is “soldiers first.” That they are suffering themselves seems certain from the letters found in great numbers in their captured dug out. It seems to me incredible that these should be fictitious. Here is a letter form Cologne: - “Hunger is making itself felt here. During the week none of the families received any potatoes. The allowance now is one egg per head per week and ½ lb of bread and 30 grammes of butter per head per day. “England is not so wrong about starving us out. If the war lasts three months longer we shall be done. It is a terrible time for Germany. God is punishing us too severely.”

Assaulting Ovillers

Trench Map Showing July 12/13 Action
From the 19th LF War Diary
The 3rd Salfords' attack on Ovillers is thoroughly described in the Battalion Operations Report and War Diary entries that are excerpted below. The Ops Report had this useful trench map attached (right). The fact that I had a copy of the War Diary and Ops Report for these difficult days is due to the generosity of a fellow member of the Great War Forum (GWF), who offered to go to the British National Archives at Kew to digitally photograph these documents for me, despite the fact that he had never met in person. This type of peer support is what makes it valuable to belong to internet interest sites like the GWF.

The photo below shows Ovillers-la-Boisselle as it appeared around July 1916. No buildings were left standing - just shattered walls, pulverised bricks, other housing wreckage, and interlocking trenches and subterranean fortifications.
Ovillers From Trench Level

The map below was based on the offical trench map for the area and the period, with battalion movements added by me. The information came from the Ops Report map attachment shown above, which is quite difficult to read. The clearer version below shows the positions of each of the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers' (3rd Salfords') remaining pair of combined infantry companies, as well as the axis of advance of the supporting 2nd Battalion of the South Lancashires as it moved up a communication trench from La Bosselle to the south.

One can never understand the pure horror of the trenches at Ovillers. But this photo of British machine gunners in gas helmets in those trenches does go part way.

British Machine Gunners in Gas Helmets - Ovillers

The map below is based on the extract from the Operations Report map that is shown at the top of this page. Number 1 Company held the line 82 - 83 - 77 to point X with 4 platoons. Number 2 Company's 2 platoons held the line Z Y with 2 platoons in reserve along the line 33 - 42 - 64 on the trench map. The objective of the attack was to take Point 18 (just to the left of the "la" in la Boisselle). The attack actually passes beyond this point until it stalled at the blocking point located just to the left of the "O" in Ovillers on the map.

The following detailed Report on Operations was likely penned by Battalion Intelligence Officer Geoffrey Bache Smith and it was signed by Lt. Col. Graham. In it, one can glean a sense of the seriousness of the fighting as the two British infantry battalions, already both savaged on July 1, sought to take a key length of German trench to the south of the village.

Map No.  

Report on the Fighting in OVILLERS on the 12th 13th 14th July 1916 
by the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers

On the 12th July 1916, the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers forming part of the troops occupying the captured German trenches WEST OF OVILLERS were ordered to push further EAST and capture as much ground in the village as possible, particularly strong point 18 almost due SOUTH of the Church.

The Battalion owing to the casualties sustained on the 1st July only consisted of two companies under the command of Captain Haywood and Palk.

The Battalion occupied the trenches to the SOUTH and part of the trenches to the WEST of the village.

No. 1 Company under Captain Haywood occupying the southern part.

No. 2 Company under Captain Palk occupying the western portion.

The 16th Lancashire Fusiliers prolonged the line occupied by No. 2 Company on the west side of OVILLERS.

The 2/South Lancs. were advancing north down a communication from LA BOISELLE.

The plan of attack was that at 11 pm on the 12th, No 1 Coy. 19th Lancashire Fus. should attack point 18 and at the same time No 2 Company 19th Lancs. Fus. and also strong patrols from the 16th Lancs. Fusiliers should push EAST and endeavour to gain as much ground in the village as possible. At the same time arrangements were made with the 2/South Lancs. that in the event of No. 1 Coy. 19th Lancs. Fus. being unable to capture Point 18 at 11 pm a further combined assault should be made at 3 am. The orders as above set forth were carried out. No. 1 Coy, to the trench leading to this point being blocked by fallen trees and other impedimenta, had great difficulty in progressing. However, in spite of these difficulties, the storming parties moved on until they came to the enemy’s barricade. Here they were subjected to heavy machine gun fire and showers of bombs, and forced to retire. Another attempt was made with no better result. In the meantime No. 2 Company under Captain Palk pushed forward and succeeded in gaining ground almost up to the Church and dug themselves in and further consolidated their advance.

At 3 am on the morning of the 13th No. 1 Coy. resumed its attack on Point 18, two assaults were delivered and in the last one they succeeded in rushing the barricade, but were immediately overwhelmed by machine gun fire from guns posted a short way in rear of the barricade. In the meanwhile, the 2/South Lancs. advanced down trench 70 – 34 and leaving the trench attacked the enemy’s strong point from the rear, this manoeuvre was completely successful and point 18 and some hundred yards of communication trench running EAST were captured.

At about 6 am, the enemy, having brought up reinforcements, counterattacked driving the 2/South Lancs back through point 18, but this success was only momentary. The 2/South Lancs. again pushed forward their bombing parties and with the aid of machine gun fire from N. 1 Coy. 19th Lancs. Fus., the enemy were forced back and point 18 was finally seized and held permanently. During these operation a party of the enemy tried to retire across the new front occupied by No. 2 Coy. just south of the church and coming under the machine gun fire of this company surrendered to Captain Palk, who went out personally and brought these men in – although the Germans had begun to turn their own machine guns on to them. Thirty seven prisoners belonging to the Garde Fusiliers Regiment were thus captured by No. Coy. The 2/South Lancs. making some more prisoners including an officer.

On the morning of the 14th further counterattacks were made by the enemy but were driven off without any loss of ground.

During the above operations 2/ Lieuts. Longley and Mahoney were killed and Lieut. Young wounded, all belonging to No. 1 Coy. Some 40 O.R. were either killed or wounded.

During the four assaults made by No. 1 Company on point 18, bombs and rifle grenades were used and nearly all the bombers of this company were either killed or wounded.

The following officers took part in these operations –

HQrs - Lt. Col. JMA Graham DSO; Lt. & Adjt. AJ Moxey; Lieut. GB Smith - Intelligence Officer

No. 1 Coy. - Capt. Haywood; 2/Lieut. Young (wounded); 2/Lieut. Longley; (killed); 2/Lieut. Cartwright; 2/Lieut. Mahoney (killed)

No. 2 Coy. - Capt. Palk; 2/Lieut. Byres; 2/Lieut. Morrison (wounded); 2/Lieut. Graham–Brown; 2/Lieut. Sourzin (sp?)
July 25th 1916 
JMA Graham Lt. Col.
Commg. 19th Lanc. Fusers

The ferocity of the fighting that Number 1 Company was involved in can be guaged by the fact that the 19th Battalion had to make four frontal attacks on point 18 (the yellow circle with the cross in it). The last two were made in the dark at 3 AM. Night fighting is the worst type of fighting imaginable, especially in the days when the only night vision assistance was a flare or the blast of a grenade. 

The officer casualty statistics speak volumes. After George's A Company suffered 100% platoon commander casualties on July 1, losing all 3 of its young subalterns killed, his Number 1 Company suffered the loss of 75% of its replacement platoon commanders on night of July 12/13. These loss rates make very apparent the limited service life of a second lieutenant in the trenches. While there is no absolute assurance that George was a member of the reorganised Number 1 Company, it is very likely that he was given that almost all of the battalion's casualties in Ovillers were inflicted on Number 1 Company by the defending elite German Garde Fusilier Regiment.

This Modern Aerial Photo of Ovillers la Boisselle
Shows that the Village was Rebuilt From Dust on the Same Location

The Battalion War Diary adds some additional perspective on the action in Ovillers. From the diary, we know that the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers were temporarily attached to Brigadier General Yatman's 96th Brigade and were in the trenches with their sister battalion the 16th Lancashire Fusiliers (2nd Salfords) on their left. Late on the 13th, the War Diary notes that the battalion was relieved by the Dorset Regiment and it withdrew to Bouzincourt. The diary notes that casualties to the end of the 13th were 2/Lts. Longley and Mahoney killed and 2/Lt. A.N. Young wounded. Other ranks casualties were 8 killed and 41 wounded.

The Ruins of the Church in Ovillers - the Objective of No. 2 Company's Assault

British Lewis Gunner in the Ovillers Trenches


Ovillers Before British Artillery Obliterated it
The village of Ovillers was known to be a key German defense point on high ground in the centre of the Somme sector. It had been under German control since 1914 and had been heavily fortified, even more than the British army suspected as its cellars had been expanded, connected, tied in with the trench lines running through and around the village. In many basements, pillboxes with machine guns had been established with long lines of fire. 

The July 1 Attack on Ovillers by 8th Division
With the village of La Boisselle (directly to the south), this village on the heights of the Ovillers Spur above the British trenches was a key objective on July 1. It overlooked the depression nicknamed "Mash Valley" by the 4th Army troops and on July 1, the 23rd Brigade was tasked to attack up Mash Valley. Several battalions managed to get into the German front lines but were soon ejected, losing many men.The British artillery pounded the village constantly both before the July 1 attack and afterward. Ovillers was defended by several German infantry units including the elite Garde Fusilier Regiment. Defending the town of Ovillers were approximately 6 Companies of German Infantry, 3 of which were from the Prussian Garde-F├╝siliers. 

German Trench - Ovillers

A British officer described the fighting in the village:  

“Beyond La Boisselle, on the left of the Albert-Bapaume road, there had been a village called Ovillers. It was no longer there. Our guns had removed every trace of it, except as it lay in heaps of pounded brick. The Germans had a network of trenches about it, and in their ditches and their dugouts they fought like wolves. Our 12th Division was ordered to drive them out -- a division of English county troops, including the Sussex, Essex, Bedfords, and Middlesex -- all those country boys of ours fought their way among communication trenches, burrowed into tunnels, crouched below hummocks of earth and brick, and with bombs and bayonets and broken rifles, and boulders of stone, and German stick-bombs, and any weapon that would kill, gained yard by yard over the dead bodies of the enemy, or by the capture of small batches of cornered men, until after seventeen days of this one hundred and forty men of the Prussian Guard, the last of their garrison, without food or water, raised a signal of surrender, and came out with their hands up. Ovillers was a shambles, in a fight of primitive earth-men like human beasts. Yet our men were not beast-like. They came out from those places -- if they had the luck to come out -- apparently unchanged, without any mark of the beast on them, and when they cleansed themselves of mud and filth, boiled the lice out of their shirts, and assembled in a village street behind the lines, they whistled, laughed, gossiped, as though nothing had happened to their souls -- though something had really happened, as now we know.” 

Ovillers became a world famous place name where infantry on both sides fought a brutal yard-by-yard and hand-to-hand struggle with any weapon available. The battle foreshadowed the brutal urban combat to come in a later conflict at place called Stalingrad. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle described the period where George's 19th Lancashire Fusiliers moved into Ovillers in his monumental history of the Great War:

"When upon Sunday, July 9, the Thirty-second Division had entirely taken over from the Twelfth on the west of Ovillers, the 14th Brigade were in the post of honour on the edge of the village. The 2nd Manchesters on the left and the 15th Highland Light Infantry on the right, formed the advanced line with the 1st Dorsets in support, while the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers were chiefly occupied in the necessary and dangerous work of carrying forward munitions and supplies.

Ovillers Cemetary from the ChurchTrench
On July 10 at noon the 14th Brigade advanced upon Ovillers from the west, carrying on the task which had been so well begun by the 36th Brigade. The assailants could change their ranks, but this advantage was denied to the defenders, for a persistent day and night barrage cut them off from their companions in the north. None the less, there was no perceptible weakening of the defence, and the Prussian Guard lived up to their own high traditions. A number of them had already been captured in the trenches, mature soldiers of exceptional physique. Their fire was as murderous as ever, and the 2nd Manchesters on the north or left of the line suffered severely. The 15th Highlanders were more fortunate made good progress.

The British were now well into the village, both on the south and on the west, but the fighting was closer and more sanguinary than ever. Bombardments alternated with attacks, during which the British won the outlying ruins, and fought on from one stone heap to another, or down into the cellars below, where the desperate German Guardsmen fought to the last until overwhelmed with bombs from above, or stabbed by the bayonets of the furious stormers. The depleted 74th Brigade of the Twenty-fifth Division had been brought back to its work upon July 10, and on the 12th the 14th Brigade was relieved by the 96th of the same Thirty-second Division."

One of the Most Famous Photos Taken in the War 
- A Chesire Private in a Reversed German Trench at Ovillers
But there was no relief for the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers. They were cross attached to 96th Brigade and briefed for an attack.