30th Division – 21st & 89th Brigade Casualties at Montauban

Men of the 19th Battalion Manchester Regiment (19th MR) and 18th Kings Liverpool Regiment (KLR) led the assault; succeeding in all their objectives for the first phase of the advance to Railway Valley and capturing Glatz Redoubt.  The Brigade support was the 2nd Yorks, who were charged with consolidating the first and second trenches in the German line after the lead Battalions advanced along Railway Valley to Glatz Redoubt[1].

The casualty records for 21st Brigade are helpful in extending the picture of the place and timing of 90th Brigade losses.  Primarily this is because of the limited – yet strategically critical – distance of the ground covered in very tightly defined areas.  When associated with the War Diaries and other reports, some important patterns arise in the battlefield graves for 21st Brigade that create useful guidance for the men of  90th Brigade; who followed them through the positions the they had won.

A prime example arises from the 2nd Yorks advance from the centre of Divisional front line, where they suffered extensive losses from machine fire from the right, with most of their two hundred casualties taking place in No Man’s Land.  Only 30 men from the Battalion reached the German front line at Breslau [Silesia?] Trench.[2]

yr-cap-badgeTwenty seven of the thirty eight (71%) acknowledged battlefield graves were located at Vernon Street Cemetery.  The 2nd Yorks had advanced from assembly trenches near Machine Gun Wood and passed over the location of Vernon Street, before they suffered their heavy casualties beyond the front line.  The 2nd Yorks fatalities were clearly buried near where they fell, with burial parties carrying back their dead comrades back over the British line to Vernon Street.

Six of the 2nd Yorks battlefield graves were located behind British lines and it is anticipated these men were carried back for medical attention.  The five remaining battlefield burials were close to the German front line at Valley trench.  It is anticipated that these men had crossed No Man’s Land; and were part of the small group that achieved their initial objective.

While inconclusive, it may then be anticipated the other 30th Division men buried at Vernon Street, had advanced to the west side of British lines, before they fell in No Man’s Land[3]The men buried near Valley Trench or Breslau / Brick Point had probably reached the German Front Line. 

The 2nd Yorks casualties also highlight the disparity of data for each 30th Division Battalion at Montauban.  Records show 64% of original burial locations were known for the 2nd Yorks, compared with just 17% for the 19th Manchesters and 20% for the 17th Manchesters.  The names on 58% of 2nd Yorks graves can be seen in CWGC cemeteries today.  The total casualties for the assaulting Battalions were also vastly different, with 176 losses for the 18th King’s Liverpool on the west side of the initial assault and just 65 members of the 19th Manchesters, to the east.  This pattern was reversed when 90th Brigade advanced, with 84 casualties for the 16th Manchesters to the west and 127 for the 17th Manchesters to the east.

89th Brigade casualties have also been addressed, including their original burial locations.  The men of 20th Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment successfully advanced to Glatz Redoubt with their 17th Battalion to the right and the French Infantry beyond.    The 2nd Beds supported the advance, with 19th King’s Liverpools in support.  Casualties were lightest in the Division, principally because the French heavy artillery had obliterated the German defences and even smashed strong points at Glatz Redoubt and the Briquetterie.  Many 89th Brigade burials were lost, but a large proportion was behind the British lines in Maricourt Military Cemetery and Peronne Road.  This probably resulted from the success of the attack, close proximity to the jumping off trench and a more manageable number of casualties for stretcher bearers and Dressing Stations.  The records of 90th Brigade men who were buried in Peronne Road and Maricourt Military Cemetery, may also have been killed in the early part of the assault, or fatally wounded at that stage.

[1] 2nd Witshires provided carrying parties for 21st Brigade.

[2] See P88 Montauban, Somme by Graham Maddocks – Battleground Europe, Lee Cooper

[3] One of the 2nd Yorks graves was located on the West Side of Talus Bois.  The others were in Maricourt, Vernon Street Cemetery or near Valley Trench..