The Charge on Montauban

Manchester Regiment graves at Dantzig Alley, recovered from Brick Point

Manchester Regiment graves at Dantzig Alley, recovered from Brick Point

The 90th Brigade advance paused in Railway Valley and Glatz Redoubt, because they had advanced quicker than had been planned.  The waited for the British Artillery to lift their bombardment beyond the village.  This then enabled 90th Brigade to press on with their final assault, arriving in Montauban at 10.20.  There will have been casualties from German defences as the men waited to advance, although the majority of losses resulted from sustained machine gun fire from positions that were overwhelmed as 90th Brigade pressed up the hill into the village.

Assumed to have completed the initial advance to Railway Valley, Sergeant 8282 Donald Scotson Stableford was probably killed in the final assault up the hill to Montauban.

“He was beside me in the advance most of the way, and had just reported to me…when a bullet hit him in the side and killed him instantly.”

Sharples MEN 17.7.1916

MEN 17.7.1916 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Lance Corporal 9048 Tom Sharples (17th MR) was killed in the charge on Montauban.  Tom and Donald are part of a large group of 90th Brigade men killed in the final assault, who have no known grave.

2nd Lieutenant Macardle (17th MR) recounted the loss of most Battalion Officers by the time he was waiting for the final advance.  The three Company Commander casualties have been mentioned, along with Thomas Clesham.  In addition the Battalion CO, and 2nd Lieutenant Wain[1] were wounded.

To the left side of the Brigade advance, the 16th Manchesters had to clear the German trenches in Railway Valley.  Private 6202 Louis Alban led a party with his rifle, supported by bombers, including Private   6254 Charlie Heaton.  Charlie recounted Louis Alban

“…just stood up on top of the trench when they [German machine gunners] came round with their fire.  As soon as he got on top and flexed his knees he went down, clean through the head. ”

Louis has no known resting place and is commemorated as an addendum to the Thiepval Memorial.  His close proximity to the battlefield cemeteries would suggest he may be one of the Unknown Soldiers relocated to Dantzig Alley.  Otherwise his grave or body may have been lost in subsequent bombardments.  There is no explanation why he is recorded on the Addendum Panel.

Alban

Louis Alban’s inscription on the Addendum Panel at Thiepval

The attrition of the final assault took its toll on 16th Battalion.   The Official History recounted that A Company lost all its Officers and three of the four Platoon Sergeants were killed or wounded before the village.  Forty men from the Company were killed in the action, with sixty wounded.  This proportion of men wounded to missing is sometimes cited as a standard for infantry assaults on the Somme and illustrates the scale of losses, even in an assault that met its objectives.

Final Assault.JPG

Grid 62C.A.9.a Breslau / Brick Point  and Valley Trench Area

More than half of the battlefield casualties from the Brigade, who had known graves were buried in the area of railway valley, near the fortified German strong point at Breslau Point, Valley Trench and Brick Point.  Many members of 18th (Eastern) and other Divisions were buried closer to the British line and it is believed a large 30th Division burial ground, was located within the German strong point trenches and the area immediately in front of Valley Trench.

Known as reverse salients, the British and Germans held opposing strong points less than 90 yards apart in some places, overlooking the slight hollow in no mans land.  Located at the base of the German defences on Montauban Ridge, the British line from Talus Bois headed southwards up an incline from the valley, which accommodated the railway line to Carnoy.   The railway cut through the hollow of the reverse salients and then followed the valley north to Montauban Station at Bernafay Wood, overlooked by another German strong point at Glatz Redoubt.

In the absence of other large burial grounds in the vicinity, it is anticipated the German strongpoint was used as a cemetery for some men killed while 90th Brigade waited for the final assault.  Otherwise, the majority of casualties will have been taken downhill from the slope leading to Montauban, as victims of the deadly machine gun fire that is described so fully in the records.

Scout Sergeant Bert Payne IWM Interview described the effect of sustained machine gun fire on his approach to the village with the 16th Battalion.

“Their machine guns were waiting for us. All they had to do was press the trigger… There was a big shell hole full of dead & dying and blinded. It seemed to me to be a tall man got it through the jaw. A shorter man got it through the eyes and there was a lot of blinded men there. I was 5’10”. I was shot through here (cheek)…I fell forward and spit out all my teeth…They [Germans] all came up when our barrage lifted… They were in their deep dugouts… What got through was good luck really. “

Talus Bois and the track heading north through Valley Trench formed the boundary between the assault lines of 21st / 90th Brigade of 30th Division, on the right and 55th Brigade of the 18th Eastern Division to the west.  Men from these Divisions advanced from their own reverse salient to the German strong points across the shallow hollow, which must have been broken by shell holes, saps and German wire.

Evidence is seen that some of the men buried in the area had also died of wounds, with some examples who died on the 2nd July.

Operating on a Slightly Wounded Man in a Regimental Aid Post Art.IWM ART 2766

Operating on a Slightly Wounded Man in a Regimental Aid Post Art. IWM ART 2766

Captain G. D. Fairley (RAMC) was the Medical Officer (MO) for the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers.  His personal diary of his service is held in the Liddle Collection and provides a great insight on events[2].  Captain Fairley recovered from wounds at the Fleche, on the east side of Talus Bois, having treated casualties from the first phase of the Brigade advance.  His report seems to relate to the period when the Brigade was held up in Railway Valley waiting for the barrage to lift on the village for the final assault.

“A number of dead and wounded were lying around, some in the barbed wire entanglements.  Up the slope the German fire trench lay less than a hundred yards away.  I decided to get in the wounded before further advance….The time was 10 a.m.  I got back to a dug-out in the Fleche… My Wound was dressed.”

Captain Fairley then treated casualties as they returned downhill with some wounded Germans to the relative shelter and dug outs of the Fleche and Talus Bois.  He also went back to the rear where a Collecting Post had been established (possibly near Talus Bois Cemetery) and two German Medical Officers were in attendance.

The CO of the 18th KLR [3]recounted that the wounded lay out on the battlefield for more than forty hours, while the thinned ranks of stretcher bearers tried to bring them in for treatment.

In the evening, Captain Fairley returned to the British front line and made his way up the slope, passing over the German lines, towards Montauban.  He then established an Aid Post, having returned to Railway Valley down Valley Trench.  It is thought the Aid Post must have been in a dug out in Railway Valley, possibly in a surviving German dugout within Breslau Point (See casualties below).  He later established a main Aid Post and this must have been in a similar area, presumably becoming a forward position for men

Heywood-James

27242 James Heywood

from RAMC Field Ambulance, as time passed.

RAMC War Diaries place the principal medical support from the Divisional Field

Ambulances back behind the lines in Maricourt, although there were orders for Regimental Aid Posts to be brought forward after the advance.

Private 27242 James James Heywood is another man reported as died of wounds on 1st / 2nd July. He now has no known resting place and his grave must have been lost, possibly from the Railway Valley area, or in Montauban.  A Signaller from the Royal Engineers found a letter from James’ fiancee on his body and returned it to her.

Valley Trench 2

© Manchester Regiment Image Archive (MR02798) Valley Trench – Magnified. Lt ‘Beau’ Nash probably took this photograph from Brick Point, overlooking the low ground of Valley Trench. The limber seems to be sat on the track from Carnoy and the railway embankment may be evident on the far side of the valley floor. The German machine gun position at the Warren may be in the middle ground, beyond the embankment and the second German strong point at Breslau Point was beyond the western edge of the image. The German wire at this strong point can be seen, yet the numerous dead and wounded British and German soldiers cannot be seen. There is no doubt that numerous members of the 18th KLR, 2nd Yorks, and 16th Manchesters were killed in this area. In the week after Beau Nash took the photograph, the area became a major burial ground for 30th Division, including two Company Commanders for the 17th Manchesters.

Abbott Burnley Express 12.8.1916

Pte Abbott 2nd RSF. Burnley Express 12.8.1916 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Grid 62C.A.9.a.2.8 Breslau Point

Six members of the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers[4] were buried in the trenches of Breslau Point.  Private Nathan Abbott’s wife received a letter of condolence from one of Nathan’s comrades confirming he was buried in a nice little cemetery behind the firing line.  He was buried alongside Private 6968 John Charlton Chaters (16th MR) from Gorton, who had been incorrectly noted as J C Waters of the Machine Gun Corps[5].

Private 7393 Leo Sebastian Mallalieu (16th MR) from Denton was buried 150-200 yards to the south east, alongside a group of eighteen other burials; seven of which were unidentified and one member of the 11th South Lancs, which were the 30th Division Pioneers.[6]  The War Diary for the South Lancs on 1st/2nd July, shows they had dug two communication trenches from Brick Point (below), up the slope to Montauban.  No doubt burial parties used these trenches when carrying the men to the burial plots in the valley.

Private 25353 William Carlton from Manchester (2nd RSF transferred from 21st Manchesters and Army Cycling Corps) was originally included on the Wounded List of 1st July and he may have received some form of treatment before he died and his remains were identified by his disc.  It may be the case he had received urgent treatment from Captain Fairley, or his orderly, Lance Corporal Miles.   Speculatively, the Aid Post they made may have used some of the remaining cover within the former German strong point of Breslau Point.

Some of the men from 2nd RSF may have been killed later, at their defensive posts lying immediately south of Montauban.  Similarly, the 18th Battalion suffered casualties from artillery fire when they were held in reserve in the old German support line of Railway Valley during the 2nd July, having withdrawn its headquarters from Southern Trench the day before.

2 Lt Victor Godfrey 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers © IWM (HU 115135)

2 Lt Victor Godfrey 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers. © IWM (HU 115135)

The 2nd RSF War Diary notes numerous casualties from rifle fire on their left flank during the advance, particularly impacting on A and D Companies on the morning of the assault.  Their Officer casualties were Lt J W Towers-Clark (OC A Company) , 2nd Lt J H L Grierson (C Company) and 2nd Lt V Godfrey.  They all have no known grave.  Eighteen Other Ranks were killed in the advance, with fifty eight missing.  The report  for Other Ranks losses was 38 killed, 198 Wounded and 50 Missing.  CWGC records sixty on men killed in the first three days of the battle.

Grid 62C.A.9 north east – Valley Trench / Brick Point

The largest concentration for 90th Brigade graves was located in the base of the hollow close to Brick Point, fifty yards south of Valley Trench.  The plot also included men sixteen members of the 18th KLR.  There were seventeen 90th Brigade casualties, including a group of unknown Manchester Regiment graves.  The Concentration Sheets show forty seven graves relocated to Dantzig Alley in 1919.

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D Company OC, Captain Stanley Kenworthy (17th MR) is recorded as being wounded near the German front line and died a short time later.  His Service Record[7] identifies Stanley’s burial 500 yards to the south east (close to the German front line) and it must be assumed this original grave was relocated to Vernon Street, before the Concentration party moved his remains to Dantzig Alley.

Kenworthy & USMR

CWGC Concentration record of Capt Kenworthy, two Unknown Manchester casualties and unidentified Soldier.

Kenworthy + 2 Unknown Mchr & SGW

Graves of Capt Kenworthy, two unknown members of the Manchester Regiment and Soldier of the Great War. All removed from the area of Valley Trench, adjoining Brick Point and concentrated at Dantzig Alley.

Captain Reginald Ford was the OC of A Company (17th MR) and he was also buried south of Valley Trench.  Records show Reginald was wounded in the head and body by machine gun fire, while he was crossing the German front line and there is some evidence he died on 2nd July.  The Newcastle Journal[8] reported his Commanding Officer’s letter “He was killed while gallantly leading A Company of the Battalion into action.”

Private 8727 Stanley Marsden was reported in the Press as having died on the 2nd July from wounds received on the 1st July.  This provides further support to the suggestion that there may have been an Aid Post close by.

Both Stanley and Reginald are cited as 1st July casualties by CWGC, providing a further note of caution for the confirmed accuracy of various reports.  Initial thoughts prior to this research assumed that 2nd July casualties on the battlefield were located in the Montauban defences.  The treatment for wounds of these examples suggests this is not necessarily the case.  As such the 90th Brigade losses recorded at Thiepval on 2nd July may have been in behind the village defences.  With the knowledge of the heavy counter-attack in the early hours of 2nd July and the continuing bombardment on the Brigade, it remains most likely that such men were killed in their newly held defences.

The burial location Captains Kenworthy and Ford near Valley Trench may not be representative for other casualties from the initial advance through the German lines.  We have seen that Captain Vaudrey of C Company was original buried in the German trenches and then reburied near Machine Gun Wood.  This seems to have been special treatment for Officers and the hypothesis remains that most 17th Battalion casualties were buried close where they fell in the initial advance.  It is further anticipated that group of the Battalion graves near Valley Trench had been killed or mortally wounded in the final assault to the Village.

Marsden 17th Battalion.Manchester Evening News - Monday 31 July 1916 (2)

Marsden Stanley MEN 31/7/1916 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The presence of the large group of 18th KLR casualties also provides interesting data for assessing the location and timing of casualties.  The Battalion advanced to the German front line at 07.30, pressing on to Alt Trench beyond.  They were consolidating positions in Train Alley by the time the KLR were joined by the 16th Manchesters as the second phase of the assault.  We have seen casualties from both Battalions at Vernon Street and it would seem likely the men at Brick Point had been later casualties in the second German line, or beyond. The large number of KLR graves, must also casts some doubt on the principal that the Brick Point casualties had been killed or wounded in the final assault – when the KLR remained in Railway Valley and the Battalion went no further forward.  In contrast, some of of the KLR men may have died of wounds at an Aid Post and the burial location would not have such inference.

Private 9005 George Blundell of D Company (17th MR) and resident of Levenshulme, was posted missing, assumed killed in action, before he was buried near Brick Point.  Private 9011 Norman Miles reported George had been shot in the stomach as he mounted the parapet[9].  In view of the location of his original burial, it is most likely George was mortally wounded leaving a German trench, rather than the parapet of the assembly trench in the rear.  It is possible he was leaving Train Alley, as they began the final assault on Montauban.

Sergeant 8928 Tom Watmough (17th MR) from Hollingsworth and  Private 8804 James Henry (known as Harry) Pickthall of C Company (17th MR), from Kendal are also shown as being buried in the area before they were also relocated to Dantzig Alley.   Also buried close by was Private 8727 Stanley Marsden.  Stanley was noted as having died from wounds, which indicates he probably received some attention, in the area of Talus Bois or the Fleche.

In the Brick Point area, there were three Unknown Soldiers of the Manchester Regiment, who were later relocated to the Dantzig Alley.

Heely - HooleyThe Concentration Sheet for one of these casualties records the man concerned was named “12683 Pte J Heely of 17th S.B.M.R.” [Service Battalion Manchester

Hooley MEN 2.8.1916

Hooley MEN 2.8.1916 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Regiment].   This identity was inaccurate[10]and there is a possibility this man have been Bandsman, Private 8180 Alfred Drake HOOLEY, who was reported as died of wounds 1st July.  Further evidence is sort.

The other 90th Brigade men buried in this plot are Private 6750 John Thomas Harling MM (16th MR) from Failsworth, Private 6427 Arnold Robinson (16th MR) from Weaverham, Cheshire, eighteen year old Private 6208 Leonard Aston   of A Company (16th MR) from Blackley PHOTO, Private 6819 Norman Fowler Wilson (16th MR) from Flixton, Private 6381 Albert Harrison from the machine gun section (16th MR) from Withington.  They were all concentrated at Dantzig Alley.

Private 11110 Alfred Hardy Sellers (18th MR) from Dunkinfield was also buried in the area, before he was relocated to Dantzig Alley.

Lance Corporal Andrew Finlayson from Halfway, Cambuslang (2nd RSF) was also buried near Valley Trench and concentrated to Dantzig Alley.  Private 20276 Alfred Westran (2nd RSF) from Sheffield was found in the Brick Point area in 1921 and reburied at Delville Wood.  Alfred had been identified by the number inscribed on his boot.  The presence of his body, after the 1919 concentration parties had finished their work, indicates their work had not been entirely thorough.  It remains entirely possible that further identifiable bodies remain interred at the former German salient.

Grid 62A.a.3.c

Slightly in advance of the German front line were two further burials for 90th Brigade.  Lance Corporal 16907 Daniel Hainey from Tarbolton, Ayrshire (2nd RSF) was buried near the 3rd line trench of Train Alley.  He was buried alongside Private 6970 John Willian Coates (16th MR – not 4th) from Morley, Yorkshire.  Both greaves were concentrated at Dantzig Alley from the plot that had been extended by later casualties in July and August 1916.  The GRU correctly reported John’s grave as SOUTH OF MONTAUBAN 5 ½ E. of Albert.[11]

62C.A.3.d  – Glatz Redoubt

Private 26441 Richard Starkie (17th MR) from Oldham, was presumed dead and buried at Glatz Redoubt, just west of the Maricourt-Montauban Road.  Richard’s remains were relocated to Serre Road, No II Cemetery in 1928, almost sixteen years after he was killed.  It is likely that he was found in the trench system and dugouts of the Redoubt as the concrete emplacements were removed, so long after the battle.  He was identified by the former 25th Battalion number on his boots, dated 5-16.  This confirms Richard was a recent recruit and the position of Richard’s body indicates he was killed in the first few hours of the assault.  This part of the Redoubt was held by the 19th Manchesters as the 17th Battalion advanced.  He may have been killed in the German counter-bombardment, while he waited for the final assault on Montauban.

Grid 62C.A.10.d

Two men were buried near the area of 89th Brigade line of attack.  Private 8658 Herbert Howarth, from Parr’s Bank, Bury (17th MR) was originally buried in the French line of attack in the area of Faviere and Faviere Support trench, forming the German front line.  Herbert was last seen in Montauban near a crushed dugout on 2nd July[12].  One may speculate he had been directed, or helped eastwards, where he may have been killed on the battlefield and buried close by.  There is no other explanation why Herbert was buried in the French area.  The other men buried in the plot are August 1916 losses from other Divisions.  The group were relocated to Peronne Road in October 1918.

Private 11212 James Hunter (2nd RSF) from Crosshouse, Ayrshire, was also buried inside the French zone of attack and beyond the German front line and support trench.  He was buried next to a French Infantry Sergeant, whose 146e Regiment also took part in the Battle.   James’ remains were concentrated to Quarry Cemetery, Montauban in 1919. Once again, it is unclear why Private Hunter could have died in this area, although one may suggest he died returning to the British lines, probably wounded in the assault.


#[1] Later awarded posthumous Victoria Cross attached to Royal Tank Corps

[2] The 1916 Battle of the Somme Reconsidered By Peter Liddle.  Extracts taken from Peter Liddle’s report on the Diaries of Captain Fairley

[3] Graham  Maddocks – Liverpool Pals

[4] Private 18350 Nathan Abbott who had enlisted in the 11th Scottish Rifles Burnley during June 1915, Private 25353 William Carlton from Queen’s Park, Manchester who was initially posted wounded (formerly enlisted in 21st Manchesters 18/11/1914 and transferred via Cyclists Corps in March 1916), Private 9033 Charles Frederick Edwards from Rhymney, Wales, Corporal 15718 George Lumsden from Leith, Glaswegian Private 11695 Michael McEwan & Private 16446 Robert Walls from Dumfries.

[5] John Chaters may have been attached to the MGC

[6] Six other members of the 11th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment are commemorated on the Vernon Street Memorial.

[7] Courtesy John Hartley

[8] 14th July 1916 Captain Ford was a Science Master at St Bees School and came from Oxford.

[9] Courtesy Mack http://themanchesters.org/forum/index.php
[10] There was nobody named Heely in 90th Brigade and 12683 was the Regimental Number for a member of 19th Manchesters, who was a casualty in June 1916 and is buried in Corbie.

[11] See Service Record 8336 Sgt Wilkinson (17MR)

[12] ‘Corporal Stewart writes that he heard a cry for help and found that a shell had been the means of burying several lads. He called for volunteers to help to dig and left (Herbert) Howarth at this work while he went for a stretcher. On his return in the dark the Corporal missed his way and Howarth and others were not afterwards heard of’. ( Bury Times August 1916).