Over the Top

British Infantry attacking the German second line.  Montauban 1st July 1916

British Infantry attacking the German second line. Montauban 1st July 1916

1st July Line of AssaultOn this particular section of 30th Division front, the attack was made by 21st Brigade leading the first assault on the German front line and defensive position known as Glatz Redoubt.    The 19th Manchesters went over the top at 07.30, alongside the 18th King’s (Liverpool) Regiment; towards Talus Bois.  They suffered heavy casualties from machine-gun fire coming from Railway Valley (to the West), but otherwise the advance moved on to Glatz Redoubt; with the 19th Manchesters reaching this German strong point by 8.35am.  2nd Lieutenant Callan-Macardle’s journal recounted this success “At 6 am the intense bombardment began; word was passed down that ‘zero’ was 7.30 o.c. At Zero the 89th and 21st Bgds went over and took the Bosch first and second lines and Glatz Redoubt and Dublin Trench.”

90th Brigade were providing the second wave of the assault, leaving assembly trenches and progressing through the British front line to the German trenches and onwards to their Divisional (19th Manchester) comrades in Glatz Redoubt. Then – following the artillery barrage – carry out a frontal assault to secure the village of Montauban.  This was a journey of more than 3,000 yards laden with a huge amount of equipment.  The Battalion left Cambridge Copse at 08.30am.

“Well, I think the whistle was a signal to go”(2)  “Over the top at the appointed second, burdened with a full load – my own, as a bomber – a bag containing ten Mills bombs: rifle, bayonet, ammo, full equipment, water bottle and rations – though I forget what they consisted.  There were numerous ladders, roll of barbed wire, steel stakes, over-the-trench frames, and goodness knows what else.”(1)
Crown Copyright.  Operational Order No 1.  Formation of Attack.

Crown Copyright. Operational Order No 1. Formation of Attack.

The OfficLancashire men preparing to go over the top. 1st July 1916.  IWM Q744ial History confirmed the burden of equipment required an advance at a slow walk.  In addition to his usual equipment, each man carried 250 rounds of ammunition, two Mills Bombs, rations, pick and shovel together with a bag of ten further Mills Bombs, trench ladders or rolls of barbed wire.  Arthur Bell with A Company formed the front line on the right and B Company was to their left and the 16th Battalion beyond to the west, alongside Talus Bois.  A Company  advanced as  two waves.  The first two Platoons led the way from assembly trenches, in formation of lines of half platoons in file.  For the first 100 yards of the advance, the lie of the fold in the land, meant that almost no hostile fire was seen.  As they started their approach to  the British lines, they faced “…shrapnel and indirect M.G. [machine gun] fire…” and suffered the first of many casualties.

“The first casualty I remember was our Platoon officer, we were in artillery formation and he was leading – but I do not think he could have been sniped, unless by some very clever German trickery.  Anyhow, he just go it in the head with one leg off the ground, and must have died that instant.” (1)

 Second wave of British troops leaving trenches on the Somme http://www.gwpda.org/photos/coppermine/displayimage.php?pos=-525

Thomas Henry Clesham

Thomas Henry Clesham

It has not been possible to confirm III Platoon’s OC, although it is likely 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Henry Clesham  commanded the Platoon and he is reported as being killed as he left the assembly trenches.

After 400 yards, the 17th Battalion C.O. Lt Col. Johnson was wounded and the adjutant, Major MacDonald assumed command. The ground was badly cut up and the going was difficult. The German trenches in front of Montauban had been so battered by artillery that scaling ladders were not required, as the artillery fire had cut wire entanglements.

View looking south from position of German front line towards 17th Manchester assembly trenches.   The open nature of the land rendered it open to enfilade fire from the west.

Montauban - Cambridge Copse to Glatz Redoubt and Train Alley


Reginald Ford Courtesy Elizabeth Wood

Captain Ford, commanding A Company was mortally wounded near the German front line (Silesia Trench), with records showing he died on 2nd July.

 2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Callan-Macardle in command of Platoon in B Company recorded the early part of the assault.  “The German shells littered the battlefield with dead and wounded: all around us and in front, men dropped or staggered about. A yellow mass of Lydite shrapnel would burst high up and a section in two formation would crumple up and be gone. “A” Coy was in front of us, advancing in sections, with about 20 paces between blobs, in perfect order at a slow walk.”

“Next came a carrying party of Scots and then our Company. We were one and quarter miles from Montauban and between us and that heavily wooded village every inch of ground was churned up and pitted with shell holes. It was impossible even to locate the enemy’s front line; his second was an irregular ditch, all craters and newly turned earth.”

The British capture Montauban 1st July 1916

The British capture Montauban 1st July 1916

The Official History recounted the ease at which the Battalion made progress through German defensive constructions.  It says the German trenches were so battered, scaling ladders were hardly needed and wire entanglements had already been cut by the artillery.  Men in other parts of the Somme front were less fortunate.  Kenneth Macardle noted the continuing advance.

“We advanced in artillery formation at a slow walk, guiding our sections so as to avoid those who had already been hit and lay wounded or dead on the battlefield. We could not stop to help as men crawling back smiled ruefully trying to keep back blood, which oozed through their fingers. We would call a cheery word as we went on our way to Montauban.”

Advancing alongside the 17th Battalion, Lieutenant Nash of 16th Battalion recorded the assault in Lt Nash’s Diary. 

“Through the fire we advanced in little columns…a dozen men in each.  We had to cross our own front line trenches and those of the Germans…These trenches were full of dead and wounded, ours and the Germans…German medical officers and our own were attending to the wounded.”

He continued “In sheer Bravado I lit a cigarette, conscious o a hand that did not shake.  On we went at our steady pace, paying no head to…high explosive…and…shrapnel…onward we went, cries of comrades disturbing us more than the German messengers of death.”

The men of 19th Manchesters lit smoke candles and the Royal Engineers Special Brigade, under the command of Lieutenant Rathbone had used trench mortars to create a thick smoke barrage which offered significant protection from the view of German machine gunners in Montauban.  It did not offer cover to the west flank where a machine gun in the Warren caused continuing casualties.

The casualties continued as the men went onwards through the German lines towards Glatz Redoubt.

“The next casualty I remember, although there must have been many on the way, was Sergeant N. (Norbury) shouting “elbow” in a very queer tone, just as we jumped into and out of the trench – by now we were in open order.” (1)

The injured man was probably 8245 former Lance Sergeant Alfred Norbury of I Platoon.  Alfred recovered and was discharged in October 1917.

View from position where 17th Bttn. waited for the barrage to lift before their final assault on Montauban,

In common with 21st Brigade, casualties continued from a German machine gun in the direction of Mametz at “the Warren”, but the Battalion passed the Alt Trench (in the German second line) by 9.10. The advance had been so rapid that the infantry had to wait at the Glatz Redoubt for 45 minutes for their own artillery barrage to lift from the north of the village.

The 16th Manchesters has made similar progress immediately to the west.  Their War Diary notes that the men of the 16th had also stayed close to the British Barrage and halted at 09.20.  The account also confirms continuing heavy machine gun fire being in touch with the 17th Battalion on the right but unsupported on the left.  The War Diary actually notes the machine gun and rifle fire being to the left rear, an apparently perilous position.

The German machine gun at the Warren would be importantly destroyed by a 16th Battalion Lewis Gun Section by 9.30.  90th Brigade War Diary notes assistance by a Battalion of 21st Brigade which had earlier bombed its way towards Dugout Trench down Train Alley to assist the 55th Brigade assault on the other side of Talus Bois.

A British soldier killed in a trench between Montauban and Carnoy. July, 1916. © IWM (Q 65445)

A British soldier killed in a trench between Montauban and Carnoy. July, 1916. © IWM (Q 65445)

The 16th Battalion had suffered significant losses from this position, including 7465 Private Richard Hughes.  His obituary in M.E.N. of 15/7/16 reported a letter from Lieutenant Jackson “We were advancing in the open under fire when your husband was shot through the heat by a machine-gun on our left [The Warren] It was a privilege to lead men like your husband.”

It is also likely the same machine gun killed the young man alongside 16th Battalions Bert Payne “I had a boy with me…out of school for six weeks…He said ‘…I’ve arrived today’ I said ‘Hang on to me.’…He was killed. Shot down next to me” (IWM Interview See Note 1)

German Machine Gun post near Mametz.  Similar to the post at the WarrenMajor Macdonald reported “The leading waves were held up by our own barrage N. [north] of GLATZ REFDOUBT.” and the Battalion waited in the valley between Glatz Redoubt and Montauban as the British Artillery tried to finish any German opposition to the final push up the hill to the village.   2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Callan-Macardle recorded the losses to Arthur Bell’s, A Company, particularly noting the loss of the commanders as a result of the officer casualties.

Montauban from Glatz Redoubt“A shell would burst and a tidy little section in file would crumple up and be gone. The ground was so rough and broken with shell holes that when I lay down under our barrage, I found myself ahead of the first line – I had four men left. The 17th had advanced too quickly. We had done it all at the slowest walk and been quite unchecked – so we lay down for forty minutes, under the shells, waiting. Waiting is hard. We were to rush the village at 9:56.

The time came. I was watching “A” Coy to see them rise and the seconds ticked on. I hailed a sergeant and asked him, shouting in his ear, where his officers were. “All gone, Sir”, he shouted back.”

The assault to the west by 55th Brigade, on the other side of Talus Bois, had stalled at the German front line as the Manchesters waited for the barrage to lift on the village.  Major Macdonald reported “Rear waves closed up to shorter distance and became to a small extent intermingled.  During the check the advance was harassed by rifle & M.G. fire from left flank.  [10am] Shelter was taken in trenches & shell holes, the losses at this point were slight”

Kenneth Macardle diarised the slight pause in the advance “I caught a glimpse of young Wain, his face haggard with pain, one leg soaked with blood, smoking a cigarette and pushing himself forward with a stick. His voice was full of sobs and tears of pain and rage. “Get up you …….s. Blast your souls – get up”. I waved to him and he smiled and dropped – he knew it was not absolutely up to him any longer. We of “B” Coy took over, for he was the last of “A” Coy officers and their Sergeant Major was also killed. We were enfiladed from our left (where another battalion had failed to advance) by machine gun and rifle fire.”

2nd Lt. Richard Wain-Courtesy WikepediaSt Bees man, 2nd Lieutenant Richard Wain presumably recovered soon after the assault to be promoted to Lieutenant on 15th July 1916 and transferred out of the 17th Manchesters, to develop a distinguished career.

Kenneth Callan-Macardle recorded that only four officers from each Company took part in the attack.  Captain Ford had been severely wounded and Lieutenant Sproat, along with 2nd Lieutenant Clesham had now been killed.  Richard Wain’s wounds meant Arthur Bell’s Company then had to rely on the fortitude and training of their senior NCO’s for the remainder of the assault.  It is clear that similar circumstances applied to other sections of the Brigade.

The 16th Manchesters successful assault on the Warren  was still not sufficient to clear am unhindered way for their final attack on the village. The 16th War Diary noted continuing machine gun fire at 9.55 when the barrage moved up to the village.  Their assault was postponed until 10.05, when the Brigade to their left made progress in support.  They then made good progress ‘without check’ alongside the 17th Battalion.

7th Seaforths Mid-July 1916.  Sunken road south of Montauban (GWF)7th Seaforths Sunken Lane

Sunken Lane 2006

Lance Corporal Heardman of B Company recounted in 1968. “On our way over, when German machine gun fire was dropping our men by the hundred, we came to a sunken road and we halted in it for cover – though it was wrong to do so. The same old zero hour feeling came over me again – time to fear and think of death, of which we had just seen so much. Fortunately our CQMS T.J. Short, who had served his time as a regular with the Coldstream Guards, came along and very quickly did the necessary rallying and urged us on with his great shouts of what I might call “cheerful command”. He was twice the age of most of us if not all and the most heroic.”

© IWM (HU 112461)

© IWM (HU 112461) Time about 3.30pm. The officers seen are Lieutenants C A Haggard and D R Heaton and an officer of 7th Buffs. The men are 7th Queens and 7th Buffs intermingled. The men of the 7th Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment had gone over the top at 7.30am, near Carnoy.  The 7th Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) had been part of the second wave, leaving their assembly trenches at 8.30am.  These men from the 18th (Eastern) Division were held up in their advance to the west of the Manchester Battalions in 30th Division. 
Strong points at Breslau Trench and The Warren had caused significant casualties to all of the advancing infantry.  The 18th Division eventually gained an advantage over the German defenders, partly due to the progress of the 30th Division on their right flank. The image shows the 18th Division men waiting for a bombardment to lift before making a final rush to Montauban Alley; with the 16th Manchesters, immediately to the east of their objective.  It is believed the men are sheltering in the sunken lane on the road from Carnoy to Montauban, or possibly the Mametz road.  The ground behind the photographer had been won by the Manchesters and the group are covered in the lee of the slope of the sunken lane.  The group was two to three hundred yards from Montauban Alley.
The relaxed nature of the men disguises the trauma of the events they had just witnessed.  One man has taken off his helmet and two others are smoking cigarettes.  The man kneeling in the foreground provides the only impression of the nature of their plight.  Kneeling with his bayonet bright in the sunshine and apparently primed for the thrust of the final push. 
Approximately five hours earlier, the men of the Manchester Regiment had occupied an equivalent position immediately to the West of the group in this photo.  They had also been poised for the assault on the village defences, waiting for the phased bombardment to lift.  The suspense and fear of the men waiting to step out into the open is not evident from the photograph. See Note 2.

Montauban NorthLance Corporal Heardman continued “So on we went facing the incessant machine gun fire. Our grand artillery had previously well and truly pounded the German front line but had apparently not penetrated all their very deep dug-outs out of which the machine gunners came as we approached and our artillery had ceased fire. Our men were dropping down everywhere. It was all like a bad dream”

Major MacDonald’s report on the advance continued “At 10am approximately, the barrage lifted from trench on to the north end of Montauban and the attack was continued.

Shells were still falling short of MONTAUBAN on our left flank during the advance up the Southern slope. By this time the first 4 waves had practically amalgamated & had extended. 

At the point when the advance was resumed, the rear waves were held up by a wide trench, which could only be crossed at one or two points & traffic in the trench was obstructed by a downward flow of prisoners. The result was that the rear waves became intermingled & had to shake out again on emerging from the trench. The general appearance of the Bn, now was two large waves at a distance of 400 yds.”

90th Brigade War Diary notes the 17th Battalion at the forefront of the continued assault at 10.25 am. “The leading waves of the 17th Mchrs carried S.E. face of MONTAUBAN with bombing parties clearing NORD and TRAIN ALLEYS.  There was not much opposition”

As illustrated by Kenneth Callum-MacCardle; in the absence of officers, the Senior NCO’s of A Company led the final assault with Arthur Bell.

Sgt and A/CQMS Joseph McMenemy“Sergt. McM (McMenemy) encouraged us on the last lap…; he had been a heroic figure in the advance on the first.  “Only another rush or two” he called as we lay, much cut up, just outside the perimeter at Montauban –practically all our officers picked out by snipers.  So on we went past the white flags, Jerry machine gunners and all.  Of cause, there were many more still, both killed and wounded – Jerry machine guns and snipers doing their damned work…” (1)

CSM Joseph McMenemy 8730 was originally part of II Platoon. Born in Beswick, he was the son of John McMenemy, of 20 Bispham Street, Thorp Road, Manchester.

Acting CO Major MacDonald recounted the wider aspects of the final assault “10.20 AM.  The first waves entered MONTAUBAN under Capt. MADDEN, who had pushed forward from ‘C’ Coy after most of the leading company [Arthur Bell’s A Coy] had fallen.  There was no opposition to the entry”

View of the final approaches to Montauban.  In 1916 numerous hedges provided cover for German infantry and machine guns

View of the final approaches to Montauban. In 1916 numerous hedges provided cover for German infantry and machine guns

After seeing his fallen Pals, Arthur Bell was not too sympathetic to the plight of German machine gunners that surrendered so late in the attack.

Oh, I ought to relate that when we got near to Montauban, there was still some machine gunners firing away.  And, when we got ‘quite’ near to the village, they put up a white flag! 

The interviewer, Martin Middlebrook, posed the question “And what happened then?”

 I haven’t the faintest idea.  Of course, some of our men were detailed to; clear up the dug outs etcetera.  I expect they helped to clear ‘them’ out.  Or they may have just taken them prisoner.  I don’t know. (2)

Albert Andrews of 19th Bttn. recounted a forthright approach to the vanquished Germans “…no Germans being spared. Wounded were killed by us all, we having been told: ‘Take no prisoners.’” www.bbc.co.uk

Crown Copyright Reserved

Crown Copyright Reserved

Scout Sergeant Bert Payne (IWM Interview) described the effect of enfilade 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. “

Private Edward Higson (1) of 16th Battalion also recounted the German machine gunners in the final assault:-
“When we reached to within 100 yards of the village, our artillery barrage lifted as we unslung our rifles and charged the waiting Germans.  They fired at us until we got quite close up to them and then the row of steel got too much for them and scrambling out of their trenches they ran for it.  Many did not run far, for the aim of our boys was splendid.”

Composite Plan of the 30th Division assault on Montauban.  This includes the route of the 17th Manchesters from Cambridge Copse, past Machine Gun Wood, the first two German lines and Glatz Redoubt.  The approach to the village is also shown, along with Triangle Point to the extreme north of the plan

The remaining men of the 16th and 17th Manchesters pushed into the village with their Brigade colleagues from the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers (RSF) and supported by carrying parties of the 18th Battalion.

Crown Copyright

Crown Copyright

Germans Surrender at Montauban 1st July 1916

Germans Surrender at Montauban 1st July 1916

“About the journey through the village I have no recollection at all, but at the other side I met three German with their hands up.”(1)   “…I was on my own… You’d hardly believe it but I shouted to them “Par La! Par La!” and then they went “Par La…”.  And that was; lucky for me.” (2)

 The next thing was the sight of a string of Germans, not less than six with hands up, driven by a British N.C.O., who was calling “Don’t shoot”!  All on their way to freedom, with luck.” (1)

Following the previous rehearsals of the assault, the troops were familiar with the layout of the former German defenses. ‘A Platoon humourist…was heard to remark: “Now we’ll go back and do it all again before tea!”  Official History.   It seems the village wasn’t yet entirely secure, even after German prisoners were streaming back towards Maricourt.

Major MacDonald’s report continued “Bombing parties proceeded to clear NORD & TRAIN ALLEY & C.T. in orchard NE of B strong point, the enemy met with in these places surrendered without opposition aMontauban July 1916 © IWM Q4003nd the rear waves consisting partly of carrying parties [18th Battalion] arrived in rather an exhausted state, due chiefly to their desire to be in at the finish.”

“Looking around for Triangle Point.  I was told that Sergt. M.J. (Mark Jackson) had just been sniped – hit in the head, I believe.”(1)

German Dugouts being cleared 1st July 1916

German Dugouts being cleared 1st July 1916

Lt Callan-MacArdle wrote about the condition of Montauban and its former defenders.

“Inside all was wreck and ruin, a monstrous garbage heap, stinking of dead men and high explosive. Down in deep dugouts, a few of which had survived our heavy shells (for the Hun builds perfect dugouts), cowering men in grey were captured, living with old corpses. A Brigade Colonel and a staff of 6 officers were captured in one, which was fitted with electric light and a push bell. Large parties of Bosch, laughing and dancing like demented things full of mad joy, went streaming back to Maricourt, unguarded, holding their hands up and calling “Mercy, Cammerad”. They had thrown away their equipment and arms and looked utterly demoralised in filthy and stinking grey uniforms. The village was full of the terrors and horrors of war; dying Germans among the brick dust and rubble; horrible wounds and reeking corpses.”

AWM Collection - Montauban Grand Rue before the warMontauban after 1st July 1916The War Diary written by Major MacDonald continues “The town was practically deserted & was completely in ruins.  It was almost impossible to trace even the run of the streets.  All enemy met with surrendered immediately.  The Coys then proceeded to their allotted places in the previously arranged defence scheme…”

The War Diary continued “…A Company to NE… About 100 of the enemy were seen streaming northwards along the road to BAZENTIN-LE-GRAND. “

“When I got to the far end of Montauban, I laid down and fired at a retreating gun team who were dragging their gun away by a rope. I remember adjusting my aim for the weight of the bayonet, as taught.” (MM) “Thinking of it now, I wonder if I hit one, and why they did not turn round and let me have a round or two!”(2)

The War Diary reported the first attempt to reclaim the village. “A party of about 40 endeavoured to rally & organised a small counter-attack but this attempt was broken up by rapid fire. “

© IWM (Q 5320) Probably another image of the sunken lane at Montauban

© IWM (Q 5320) Probably another image of the sunken lane at Montauban

Note 1. It’s possible 27048 Herbert Payne was the young man who had arrived with 16th Manchesters to be killed in the early part of the assault.  Records are difficult to verify, but it seems Herbert’s mother lived at Noth Cable Street Salford and may have been Harriet Wright. Hoping to clarify…

Note 2. Christopher Amyand Haggard was a Lieutenant in the7th Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment.  Commissioned on 1st January 1915, he arrived in France on 27th July 1915 and was subsequently promoted to Captain.  He had been wounded and returned to England on 11th July 1916.  Christopher gained a Croix De Guerre, while later serving with Middlesex Regiment, attached to 6th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment (18th Division), at Villers Bretonneux, in April 1918. He lived at Hampton Wick, Surrey after the war.

Lieutenant David Rimington Heaton was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for conspicuous gallantry at Montauban.  His citation in the London Gazette of 20th October 1916 reported his Battalion was unsupported and suffered heavy casualties when he led a bombing party and drove the enemy down a communication trench.  He then cleared the enemy third line trench taking one hundred and sixty three prisoners. Finally he rallied all the troops near him and led them to their final objective.  This was Montauban Alley.

David Heaton was Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant on 14th September 1914.  He arrived in France with Christopher Haggard on 27th July 1915.  David was wounded and returned to England on 13th October 1916.  Returning to France, David was promoted Captain and Mentioned in Despatches on 4th January 1917.

In 1915 David had married Louisa Freeman.  The couple had three daughters.  After hostilities David received a Commission in the Devon and Cornwall Light Infantry and served in Belfast.

Note 3. http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030011463


7 thoughts on “Over the Top

  1. Clive Dunn

    My Grandfather Frank Dunn Private No 8528 was in this attack (C Company 2nd City Manchester Pals I believe), survived the attack but was wounded (shrapnel and gas) shortly after and returned home. It saved his life as I do not believe many of the original 400 plus made it home when disbanded in 1917.

  2. Clive Dunn

    Thank you again!
    I had not seen this picture or his SWB roll.
    My Father (Frank Dunn Junior) is now deceased, so I really do not know what, if any, family Frank Dunn Senior had, but I guess it would be easy to check the 1911 census….I have a fair few photos, especially a rather special one of his wife to be Ellen North whom he married in 1915 I think. It was folded in half and was mud stained and no doubt kept in the breast of his tunic pocket for those lonely nights on sentry duty. I will share as many as I can. I was listening to Mr Bell’s first hand account of life in the trenches and it made me smile when it came to the part of hunting rats with cheese. One of the few stories I remember as a child growing up was how Grandad was nearly Court Marshalled by discharging his rifle to kill a rat!

    1. 8055bell Post author

      Hi Clive, You will have received some emails. Which recording are you referring to? I have the IWM cd, but don’t think that’s what you have???

  3. Clive Dunn

    Albert Hurst IWM, B Company 17th Manchesters (second wave) in the apple orchard of Montauban facing Bernafay Wood. C Company was on point to the left and got counter attacked.

  4. Pingback: Centenary of the Somme – Seven Pals from Manchester | 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment on the Somme

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