An account of operations in which the 175th Brigade. R.F.A. was engaged 1 July 1916



An account of operations in which the 175th Brigade. R.F.A. was engaged



A.A. Laporte Payne



July the First.

At dawn on 1st July, as an intensely interested spectator, I watched our infantry pass down the narrow communication trench by our post to the front line.  It was a gloriously fine morning after rain.  In single file they went steadily by, silently save for the sound of equipment knocking against the trench and of their feet on the soft earth, burdened with rifles, belts on ammunition, bombs, picks, shovels, iron-rations, water-bottles, haversacks, gas-bags and tin helmets – nearly all to die or to fall wounded in the valley below.


At intervals there were halts as they were held up ahead. Hardly a word was spoken.  Some by slight nervous movements showed signs of strain, but most were steady-eyed enough.  Then they were gone.


Photo 1 & 2. We began to bombard at 6.25 a.m.  At 7.28 a.m. the large mine under Y Sap, which stuck out irregularly from the la Boisselle salient, was blown up by 40,600 lbs of ammonal.  For the purpose a gallery had been mined, 1030 feet in length, the longest ever driven in chalk during the war.  It was the only operation that went ‘according to plan’ on this morning.

Photos 3 & 4. At 7.30 a.m., to the second, our infantry rose out of their trenches and began to move across the valley that was No-man’s-land.


By our barrage we covered the first attackers on the left of the 34th Division.  The first to move were the 20th Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish Lt. Col. Sillery).  They went up the hill towards the trenches that lay back from and to the north of la Boisselle.  This village stuck out in a menacing way like a high bastion into No-man’s-land.  Yet it was ordered that it should not be directly attacked, but left isolated and surrounded.


This battalion was followed by the 23rd Northumberland Fusiliers (Lt. Col. Lyle), and then by the 25th Northumberland Fusiliers (Lt. Col. Arden).


Orders laid down that each battalion should advance in extended order in successive waves at 150 paces distant. They went, as ordered, slowly, upright, and heavily laden with kit and arms.


Their objectives were Contalmaison and beyond, even up to Mametz Wood, an advance not far short of 4000 yards; their task, the capture of two strongly fortified villages and no less than six lines of trenches protected by strong wire-entanglements. They staggered out into that death-trap, Mash Valley, towards the slopes beyond and the enemy.


Immediately I felt rather than heard the terrific noise of machine-gun firing. It came like a continuous blast of innumerable hard blows, such as I had never before heard.  Bullets cracked about the horizontal slit we used for observing and threw spurts of earth into it.  Shells began falling along the trench outside.


Below us we could see the infantry slowly crossing in successive waves. It was as if we occupied our assigned place on the circular gallery of some old Roman amphitheatre, into whose vast arena the combatants, like Gladiators, were now issuing to engage in the most costly spectacle ever staged.  Only they had no chance.


Photos 5 & 6. They surmounted the first terrace in sight, which contoured the hill-side from south to north and looked as if it once been an open road, as it had, to meet a deadly fire.  Some few, not already dead or wounded, fell back stung by innumerable and invisible machine-guns.


Others went on; but the lines thinned fearfully. Yet on, over the second grass-grown terrace they went.  But now the waves hardly existed; and here they left many more, as they topped the rise to meet a cruel fire from traversing machine-guns ahead in rear of the front line or in enfilade from the hidden and undamaged-guns in the flanking village of la Boisselle.


As our barrage, which now seemed so tragically ineffective, lifted, and those gallant few that survived of the first waves, passed the German front line, the trench appeared to be almost deserted.  Then, as those leaders went on as ordered up the hill, the enemy could easily be seen coming out of their dug-outs in the front line, which had been deep enough to escape our light field-gun bombardment; and, filling their trenches they stopped and flung back the succeeding waves.  So it was that our first wave, after they had passed on towards the enemy support line, were cut off and either annihilated or driven as survivors to exist lurking in shell-holes, until they too finally died even after several days.  So far as I could see no quarter was given, and the wounded were persistently shot.


Those conspicuous features of No-man’s-land, the terraces, which contoured the hill-side, formed a natural shelter and refuge for men assaulting or wounded. They ran or crawled under the banks to escape from the ceaseless and deadly fire, where at least they were under cover from the front.  But the shelter of the terraces was fatally deceptive.  The higher, a bank close to and running almost parallel with a field track, turned up the hill to enter the enemy’s lines, and so exposed its length to enfilade fire from Ovillers, which had by now successfully resisted the first assault of the 8th Division.  The Germans in Ovillers had the target of their lives.  The dead lay thickest there.  Photo 15


The lower terrace could just be enfiladed by the point of the Salient at la Boiselle. Instead of affording shelter these deceptive terraces became fearful death-traps.  And Mash Valley itself, a far too wide No-man’s-land, formed as it were a bay almost surrounded by the withdrawn front line of the enemy and the forward flanking salients.  Such was the foreseen result when those field fortifications were so cunningly sited and devised in 1914.


By 9.20 a.m. we were firing far ahead into Mametz Wood, at a range of about 6,600 yards. Then we dropped a little to afford a protective barrage on ‘the Crimson Line’, so appropriately was it named.  At 10.15 a.m. we lifted 500 yards to allow officer patrols to enter Mametz Wood.  But no one was there to be protected or to enter the wood.


After the struggle about the front line, in which the remainder of the troops became involved, had ended in complete collapse, the battle, so far as we were concerned, was over.


It was quite clear that the attack had failed, and that special arrangements made for surrounding and ‘moping up’ the trenches in la Boiselle, had proved hopelessly inadequate.


The three battalions were practically wiped out. Their dead in ranks lay thick in No-man’s-land, where they had been caught chiefly by fearful enfilade fire from la Boiselle while they were yet crossing so wide an open space.


Such was the result of leaving this fortified village unattacked. The Staff had hoped by overlapping and surrounding it to capture the place without a frontal and direct attack.  Defenders in this stronghold had not been neutralized by a sufficiently strong bombardment of heavy or lachrymatory shell, and the smoke screen was a complete failure.  By so trying to avoid a lesser evil our troops had encountered a greater.


On our left, too, the attack on Ovillers failed even more miserably, and the fire from there assisted in the slaughter. That battlefield that day was the most terrible thing I have ever seen.  Photos 5 & 6.


Colonel Sillery died at the head of his battalion, having penetrated well beyond the Boche front line. Previous to our arrival on the Somme I had spent many days with him in the trenches as his Liaison Officer.  Colonel Lyle of the 23rd was also killed, and Colonel Arden of the 25th was wounded.


It was found later that one officer and a handful of men, of the 103rd Brigade, actually reached Contalmaison, our final objective, before being killed; but they approached from the south of la Boisselle.  How they ever got so far no one who survived ever knew.


They were brave, those men, and some knew what was in store for them. On the south of the village Lt. Col. F.C. Heneker led over his 21st Northumberland Fusiliers, and was also killed.  He was an exceptionally fine soldier and good fellow.  I had known him for some time, and on the evening before the attack he had visited us in our O.P. to have a last look over the ground.  As he was leaving I shook hands with him and, wishing him good luck, said I should see him “over the other side tomorrow”.  His quiet reply was to the effect that they could never get through in the face of those defences.


Of our two Forward Observing Officers both were immediate casualties, Hickman being killed, and Crombie, of D Battery, seriously wounded as he scrambled out of our trenches.


On our immediate front our casualties were:

20th Northumberland Fusiliers            26 Officers. Total 631.

23rd                  “                                  18        “          “   640.

25th                  “                                  18        “          “   491.

A total of 1762 for three battalions attacking. Not all went up to the attack, a certain number were retained at the transport lines and elsewhere.  But in effect the first two battalions were wiped out.


The casualties of all three brigades of our Division in this operation were 6591, the highest ever suffered by any division in one attack. On this day alone on the British front nearly sixty thousand men had fallen.


At the Boche, at this time, neglected counter-battery work, our gun-line fortunately escaped heavy shelling; but the Observation Post was not so lucky. There we were shelled continuously, and crowded out with terribly wounded and distressed men, who had crawled up from No-man’s-land and sought the shelter of our dug-out steps.  For them we could do nothing when our supply of first-aid material was exhausted.  Water, too, soon gave out.  In the dug-out the single candle snuffed out every time a shell landed on the roof.  There were no doctors or stretcher-bearers near us, and we could not leave the post.


South of la Boisselle our troops were to some extent successful and managed to capture portions of the enemy’s trenches; but to the north, with one notable (Ulster Division) and two small exceptions, we failed miserably with fearful losses. La Boisselle itself was just at the point in our line where partial success and complete failure had met, and here we suffered the heaviest casualties.


So we were left with an empty front line, and a No-man’s-land in which our dead lay in ranks of shapeless bundles, or more thickly under ghastly terraces.


But not all of them were dead.


The wounded were left out where they could not be seen, in shell-holes, behind ditches, in long grass, or where no one could get at them. The less seriously wounded, fearful to move, crawled, where they could, to the fatal shelter of the terraces or craters; for to be seen was to be shot, and there they congregated, patiently waiting, but vainly, for stretcher-bearers.


Here and there a man would rise suddenly and run for safety elsewhere; but most seemed bewildered and to have lost all sense of direction. In the midst of little heaps of dead, an arm, now and then, feebly waving, a hand feebly beckoning, a wounded man’s last desperate attempt to tell his comrades he was still alive and worth bringing in; but daylight and those deadly machine-guns across the valley forbade any succour, even if stretcher-bearers could be found.


Our trenches seemed deserted and empty. All that beautiful summer afternoon we watched in helplessness, and too soon we were ordered to bring our gun-fire down once more on the enemy’s forward lines, regardless of what lay there.


As evening came and the sun sank behind us over Albert, the valley below lay so clear in the sunlight that all it held stood out in dreadful relief, making our realisation of its meaning all the more oppressive. But for occasional shelling and the sudden stutter of a machine-gun it seemed so quiet after the morning’s din.


Then when the sun at last sank, cries of wounded, like yelps of hurt dogs, and the horrible odour of a battlefield drifted on the night air up the hill towards us.


What little we could, we tried to do; but in the immensity it was as nothing.


And so for weeks the battlefield just there was left.


That night we posted a sentry at our dug-out entrance in case we were surprised, and slept for an hour or so.


So ended the greatest effort and greatest loss that the British Army has ever experienced in any one day.


In England, to our later astonishment, the attack was hailed as a “famous victory”.  It was, indeed, – a triumph of the courage of men given an impossible task.


It is now known that the 34th Division, twelve battalions strong in the first assault, attacked three battalions of the German 110th Reserve Regiment (28th Reserve Corps, Second Army, F. von Below), on a similar frontage.  On the whole front of attack thirteen British Divisions assaulted four and a half German Divisions.


An official German report, referring to our portion of the front, records, “The British soldier, however, has no lack of courage, and once his hand is set to the plough he is not easily turned from his purpose.”


With considerable numerical superiority, with courage, and with determination –


Yet we failed!


WAR DIARY Of 8th Divisional Artillery from 1st June 1916 – To 30th June 1916

WAR DIARY Of 8th Divisional Artillery from 1st June 1916 – To 30th June 1916

Vol XX



  • The night was quiet. Ref 1/250,000 N W EUROPE

For Intelligence detail see the Daily Summary APPENDIX S/1 attached.   1/40000 ALBERT

Weather fine.  Light wind.  Barometer 29.6.                                                  Compound Sheet



  • At 3 a.m. our T.M’s in conjunction with 1 8” How Battery and 18 Pdr Battery bombed a portion of the hostile Trenches just North of OVILLER. The hostile retaliation was comparatively slight.

Hostile artillery less active during the Day.

Weather fine though colder.  Light wind continued.  Barometer 29.45.


  • The night was quiet.

Nothing of importance happened.

Weather fine, slight shower.  Barometer 29.52.


  • At 12.15 P.M. heavy gun fire was heard from the direction of HAMEL. This proved to be the 36th Division carrying out a Raid.  Almost at the same time the Germans opened very heavy fire on the whole 34th Div front                       (on our right).  This was followed by an attempted raid by the Germans which proved unsuccessful.  8th Div                        front remained Quiet.  At 2.20 a.m. all was quiet again.

During the Day the normal amount of indiscriminate firing took place.

Weather colder.  Windy with passing clouds.  Barometer 29.46 falling.





  • At 11 p.m. the 34th and 32nd Divisions assisted by the 8 Div Artillery carried          Ref 1/250,000 N W                                   out Raids on the German lines.  All was quiet again at 12.30 a.m.                             EUROPE

At 3 p.m. our Trench Mortars cut a portion of the hostile wire N. W. of                   1/40000 ALBERT                                            OVILLERS using the             NEWTON fuze.                                                                      Compound Sheet

One premature received wounding 1 Gunner.                                                            APPENDIX S/1

During the day D Battery were shelled by a 4.2 How Battery some 40 rds being fired.  One man was wounded.

Weather stormy, heavy showers.  Barometer 29.00.

Move The 45th Bde (less 57th Battery) and 2 Battery R.H.A. two Sections of Each Battery up moved to                                             BEHENCOURT marching out at 8.5 p.m. to practice camp. 57th Battery and remaining sections 18 Pdr                                               Batteries remained in action forming the Left Group under Lt. Col A.T. BUTLER.

Time Table of Move marked APPENDIX OO/7 attached 29.12                              APPENDIX OO/7.



  • The night was quiet.

Very little activity during the Day on either side.  D.A.C. moved to MILLENCOURT with No 4 Section at                                   HENENCOURT Wood.  All Battery Wagon Lines moved to E.2.a & b. E of ALBERT.

Weather changeable, cloudy some rain.  Barometer 29.24.



  • The night was quiet.  The move of Div Amn Column and Battery Wagon Lines took place on night of 7th.    Nothing of importance to report.

Weather cloudy, Showers during Day and night.  Barometer 29.26.



  • The night was quiet.  No shelling of any importance during the Day.

Weather changeable cloudy showers at intervals.  Barometer 29.30.



  • The night was quiet.

Nothing to report.

Weather changeable cloudy showers at intervals.  Barometer 29.30.




  • Heavy Gun fire was heard at 12.45 p.m. from direction of HAMEL. This lasted about an hour.  During the day                         the hostile Artillery appeared to be registering our Support and Communication Trenches about 250 rds 77 mm                    1 4.2 How being fired.

Weather changeable, showers at intervals.  Barometer 29.62.



  • The night was quiet. Hostile Artillery slightly more active during the day, chiefly directed against the NAB and             Trenches opposite OVILLERS.

Weather Cold Squally Showers at intervals.  Barometer 29.65.

Orders issued for 45th Brigade (less 57th Battery) and 2 Battery to move  from BEHENCOURT to                                        HENENCOURT WOOD (APPENDIX OO/8 attached).                                                     APPENDIX OO/8


  • The night was Quiet. Nothing of importance happened during the day.

The 45th Brigade (less 57th Bty) and 2 Bty R.H.A. marched from BEHENCOURT to HENENCOURT WOOD on                         on return from Practice Camp.

APPENDIX 00/9 attached.                                                                                                    APPENDIX OO/9

Weather cold and stormy heavy rain at intervals.  Barometer 29.45.


  • The night was Quiet. Nothing of importance occurred during the day.

5th Battery R.H.A. and D/5 How 5 Bde R.H.A. moved in to action from HENENCOURT during the night.

Weather Cold and wet.  Barometer 29.32.


  • The night was Quiet. A quiet Day.

3rd and D/5 Bty. How moved into action N.E. of AVELUY from HENENCOURT wood during the night.

Weather cold, rain all morning, cleared at night.  Barometer 29.46.


  • The night was quiet. Very little shelling on either side.

Orders issued for bringing up the 86th & 89th Bde. R.F.A. 19th Division marked Appendix OO/10 and attached.                                                                                                                                                                          APPENDIX OO/10

Weather fine and bright.  Barometer 29.52.



  • The night was Quiet. Nothing of importance occurred during the Day.

Weather fine.  Barometer 29.7.


  • The night was Quiet. Enemy’s Artillery slightly more active against our front system of Trenches.

D/86 Battery R.F.A. Hows and A/86 Bty (attached from 19th Dn) were brought up into action.

Weather fine.  Barometer 29.44.


  • The night was Quiet. B/86 and A/89 Batteries 19th Dn brought into action.

Enemy’s Artillery and T. Mortars slightly more active.  PORT LOUIS Communication Trench, DONNET                              POST and CHEKERBENT Street being shelled during the Day.

Hostile Aircraft very active for the first time for some weeks.

Date of moving up the 89th Bde R.F.A. 19th Dn and moving Wagon Lines change in accordance with                                              Correction to Operation Order No. 10 APPENDIX 10/a attached.                                                    APPENDIX10/A


  • The night was Quiet.  The usual amount of shelling during the day.

C/86 Battery 19th Divn brought into action, thus completing the Centre Group under Col A.E. WILSON 86th                                     Bde R.F.A.

Weather fine, slight drizzle about 6 p.m., afterwards fine again.  Barometer 29.42.

Correction to Operation Order No. 10 marked APPENDIX OO/10b attached.


  • The night was Quiet.

Nothing of importance occurred during the Day.

Weather fine, Barometer.  Barometer 29.60.


  • The night was Quiet. Hostile Artillery very quiet.

Weather fine.  Barometer 29.7.


  • The night was Quiet. Hostile Artillery a little more active.  AVELUY was shelled by supposed 8” during the          night and early morning some 40 rds being fired.

8th Dn. Arty. Instructions No. 1 issued marked APPENDIXA1/1 attached.                                    APPENDIX A1/1

8th Dn. Arty. Instruction for forthcoming operations issued marked Appendix A1/2 attached APPENDIX A1/2

Weather fine.  Barometer 29.48.


  • The night was Quiet. During the Day 36th Battery old position was heavily shelled. The position was occupied by a Battery of the 34th

All arrangements for the forthcoming Operations completed with the exception that the Heavy Trench                                      Mortars not having arrived.

Weather morning very hot and muggy.  Heavy storm with rain afternoon.

Rain at night.  Barometer 29.44


  • The night was Quiet.

The 4th Army Offensive Operations started at 4 a.m.

The 8th Division with its Artillery was relieved at SAILLY by the 39th Divn.

The Artillery handing over to the 34th, 35th and 39th Divisional Artillery this being consequent on a slight reallotment of the line.  The Division trained to AMIENS thence to the FLESSELLES Area by route march.

On April 4th the Division started to take over that portion of the line in front (East of) ALBERT from 21st Division, the latter Division taking over the THIEPVAL Sector.  The Divisional H.Q. and Div R.A. H.Q. was established at HENENCOURT.  The Batteries occupying positions E of ALBERT and covering the LA BOISELLE and OVILLERS Sectors on 5th April the 34th Divn having recently arrived from FLEURBAIX started taking over the Division Right or LA BOISSELLE Sector.  By midnight 11th April the relief was complete.  All Batteries now started preparing forward positions for further Offensive Action.  This entailed much labour as all positions had to be made 5.9 How proof and in addition Ammunition stores to hold 1000 rds per gun for 18 Pdr and 800 4.5 How had to be prepared.  All O.P.’s were selected and prepared in the forward trenches and Communication Trenches.  O.P.’s being constructed with iron rails and concrete.  On June 15th all was ready but operations were delayed a further 10 days.

At 4 a.m. June 24th the 2” Trench Mortars under the direction of Capt. J.T. WALLACE R.H.A. started wire cutting on the hostile front line. Using the NEWTON fuze.  Owing casualties to the rifle firing mechanism, operations were somewhat hampered.  Soon after 4 a.m. 18 Pdr Batteries started wire cutting on the 2nd & 3rd lines and continued throughout the Day.  From 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. all roads and approaches were kept under shrapnel fire.

The Divisional Artillery has been strengthened by two Brigades from the 19th Div Artillery.  86th Bde R.F.A. under Lt. Col. A.E. WILSON, D.S.O. and the 89th Bde under Lt Col. RAINSFORD HANAY.  The latter Brigade strengthened by D/88 Battery Hows.  The 89th Bde less 1 Battery (A/89) being held – Mobile reserve.

Weather fine.                          Barometer 29.56.



25-6-16            During Night 24/25th all approaches and Communication Trenches leading to front line System were kept under Shrapnel fire also the wire which had been cut during the Day, Machine Guns dealing with the front line System. – At 10 a.m. every Gun and Howitzer (except 4.5” Hows) open a rapid rate of fire on POZIERES for 12 minutes.

At 10.30 a.m. CONTALMAISON was similarly treated. – At 4.15 p.m. all guns bombarded the first four lines starting from the front line and lifting back at stated intervals. – The rest of the day deliberate bombardments and wire Cutting were proceeded with.

Casualties 1 Officer.  LT A. ROSS wounded at Duty.                                                                      Casualty

Weather fine.  Barometer 29.52.                                                                                                         LT A. ROSS

5th Bty R.H.A.

Wounded at Duty.


  • Bombardment continued. Special bombardments at intervals.  Rest of day wire cutting.

Night firing  9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Raid by Rifle Brigade.

Weather fine, some showers.


  • Bombardment continued by all natures of guns and Howitzers.

Enemy’s retaliation throughout has been slight.

Weather fine, dull and misty early morning.  Barometer 29.19.

Casualties 5th Battery 4 men killed 4 wounded by shell.

Officers LT SHAW 2/12 Trench Mortar Battery wounded.

LT C.F. LYNCH 2/19 “      “            “             “

The 89th Bde R.F.A. (Mobile Bde) brought “up to the LONG VALLEY” night 27/28th.


  • Night firing was kept up from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and then continued as a heavy mist hung over the trenches. At        12 noon it cleared and wire cutting was again proceeded with for the remainder of the day.

The hostile retaliation was again slight.  AUTHUILLE WOOD, BURNT ISLAND and MAXSE Redoubt being singled out for most of the rounds.

Weather Heavy mist and rain till noon.  Afterwards clear.  Barometer 29.26.




  • Night firing 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The ordinary bombardment and wire cutting proceeded with.  From 4 p.m. to 5.20    m. Special bombardment of front line system.  Hostile retaliation on the whole was slight during the day and             night.

Weather fine though cloudy.  Barometer 29.45.


  • Night firing 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The ordinary bombardment and wire cutting continued.  Special bombardments of       front system at from 8 a.m. to 9.20 a.m. and 4.5 p.m. to 5.15 p.m.

Weather fine.  Light wind.  Barometer 29.48.



Report on Casualties to Personnel for month ending 30th June mark APPENDIX A/15 attached.


Appendices OO/7, OO/8, OO/9, OO/10, OO/10A, OO/10b, A1/1, A1/2 for month of June attached


E.R. Gover Major,


8/7/17                                                                                                                                                                 C.R.A. 8th Division



Monthly Casualty Return of Personnel – ending 30th June 1916


Monthly Casualty Return of Personnel – ending 30th June 1916


45th Bde R.F.A.

                        Officers                                                Other Ranks



to Hospital.      Nil                                                       8  (Does not include those shown                                                                                            wounded.)


Killed.              Nil                                                       7 (Includes 2 Died of wounds)


Wounded.        1 Lieut                                                 9


Missing.           Nil                                                      


Absents.           Nil                                                      


Injured.            Nil                                                      








Monthly Casualty Return of Personnel – ending 30th June 1916


Monthly Casualty Return of Personnel – ending 30th June 1916


33rd Brigade R.F.A.

                        Officers                                                Other Ranks



to Hospital.      Nil                                                       14


Killed.              –                                                           –


Wounded.        –                                                           1


Missing.           –                                                           –


Absents.           –                                                           1 (From 11th to 14th June 1916)


Injured.            –                                                           –








Monthly Casualty Return of Personnel – ending 30th June 1916


Monthly Casualty Return of Personnel – ending 30th June 1916


8th Divisional Ammunition Column.


                        Officers                                                Other Ranks



to Hospital.      Nil                                                       24 ***** discharged.


Killed.              –                                                           –


Wounded.        –                                                           4


Missing.           –                                                           –


Absents.           –                                                           –


Injured.            –                                                           –                                  








Monthly Casualty Return of Personnel – ending 30th June 1916



Monthly Casualty Return of Personnel – ending 30th June 1916


5th Brigade R.H.A.

                        Officers                                                Other Ranks



to Hospital.                  –                                                           7  (4 have since rejoined)


Killed.                          –


Wounded.                    1                                                          1 (slightly. At duty)


Missing.                       –


Absents.                       –


Injured.                        –                                                           1 (accidental)