There’s this Buddhist, four Catholics and an atheist
And that’s about as funny as the day got.
There’s this village called Luminosa. You see it from high in the mountains as you descend to the valley floor
It’s in a great location. The problem is you have to spend the entire following day climbing back over the mountains.
Which means walking up 1,000 metres without a break
Great views though as we looked down on villages like islands in a sea of cloud
Our group ranges in age from 24 to 61,
Some of us have knee issues
I tried to tell them the best way to save your knees is to come down a steep hill backwards which really does prevent knee pain
Disadvantage is that you cant see where you going
Which left this pilgrim treading through the ghastly detritus of a herd of doubly incontinent cows and what I think used to be a rather large and bloated frog
Two more days and I’m done
I’ve been recording the activities of the 12th Battalion Royal Fusiliers during the battle for Guillemont on The Somme, 102 years ago exactly.
My great uncle Jack Walker fought with the 12th RF.
By September the 9th the Battalion had been pulled out of the area and were recovering behind the lines. More than 50 of their comrades had been killed.
This is taken from the Battalion diary on that day.
Place: Billets in Bussus.
Very fine day. Company carried out physical drill. Drill.Musketry. Battalion parade. Audit board held. Draft arrived of 50 OR (Other ranks)
Appreciation. The following message from Commander in Chief (Field Marshal Douglas Haig) to 4th Army begins: “The great successes gained by the 4th Army during the operations of the last three days are very satisfactory and reflects great credit on the plans and preparations made and on the troops who have carried out the attacks. The rapid advancement on LEUZE WOOD following on the capture of GUILLEMONT and FALFEMONT FARM shewed sound judgement and determination and has been of considerable assistance to the French army on our right. I warmly congratulate you and the Commander’s staff and troops under you on the results already achieved and on the energy and determination with which they are being followed up”
I’m not sure how this message would have gone down with the troops, bearing in mind the terrible price of capturing Guillemont.
As just one small example, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers were mown down in their hundreds as they attacked Falfemont farm mentioned above. The French had failed to clear a ravine to their right and the Germans poured machine gun fire into their flanks.
Between August 26 and September 7 the 5th Division lost 4,233 men. Between August 22 and September 8 the 20th Division lost 2,959 men.
They’d advanced less than 2 miles.
The Battle for Guillemont on the southern part of The Somme Battlefield came to end 102 years ago to this day.
For weeks vicious fighting had taken place in and around what remained of the village. My great uncle Jack Walker was there with the 12th Royal Fusliers.
What follows are entries from the battalion’s war diary on 3rd and 4th Sept. And the shocking account of a chaplain who visited the front after the battle.
Location: Orchard Trench. Chesney Walk. Water Lane (All trenches on, or very close to, the Front Line)
Weather: Fine. Our division represented by the 8th Buffs in conjunction with the 1st Div on our left and 7th Div on our right, made an attack at 12 midday. The attack by 8th Buffs was on Wood Lane (another trench near Delville Wood) and a strong point at junction of this trench + Tea Trench. Our no 4 company under Capt Anderson cooperating by bombing up Wood Lane (capturing enemy trenches by throwing hand grenades) towards the strong point. The attack by 8th Buffs, though made twice, failed owing to lack of proper military preparation. Our Lewis guns from Orchard Trench did considerable damage to the enemy, causing him at least 100 casualties. Enemy artillery very active. Casualties: 10 OR (Other Ranks) killed. 48 Wounded. 1 OR Missing. 3 OR shell shock.
Shell Found on the exact current day location of Orchard Trench.
Very wet. Enemy artillery again very heavy throughout the day. Relieved by the 6th King’s Liverpool Regiment and proceeded to camp in vicinity of Fricourt. 10 slightly wounded men returned to duty. Casualties: 10 OR killed. 8 OR wounded.
This was the end of the 12th Royal Fusiliers’ involvement in the Battle for Guillemont.
Since arriving in the area on August 10th the battalion had 51 men killed, 175 wounded and 19 men were suffering from shell shock.
On this day (Sept 4th, 1916) A padre serving with the 16th Division, Fr William Doyle, witnessed the terrible scenes in the surrounded fields.
“The first part of our journey lay through a narrow trench, the floor of which consisted of thick deep mud, and the bodies of the dead men trodden underfoot. It was horrible beyond description, but there was no help for it and on the half rotten corpses of our own brave men we marched in silence, everyone busy with his own thoughts. Half an hour of this brought us out on the open into the middle of the battlefield of some days previous. The wounded, at least I hope so, had all been removed , but the dead lay there stiff and stark, with open staring eyes, just as they had fallen. Good God such a sight! I had tried to prepare myself for this but all I had read or pictured gave me little idea of the reality.”
The dead in the trenches around Guillemont. My great uncle Jack Walker, who survived the battle.
In the summer of 1916 the Southern part of The Somme zone was concentrated on the bloody battle for the village of Guillemont and Delville Wood. My great uncle Edward George (Jack) Walker was there with the 12th battalion, Royal Fusiliers.
For weeks the fighting had involved almost constant artillery shelling with attack and counter attack. Trenches being captured before being lost again.
The village, woods and surrounding countryside were destroyed..just a mass of shell craters and ruined trench. The trees in Delville, Bernafay and Trones has long since been blown to pieces.
For the past few days the 12th RF had been kept in reserve behind the front line – with the order they should be prepared to move at four hours notice.
That notice came on September 1. They were about the walk into a living nightmare..
Battalion Diary: 1.9.16
Place: Carlton Trench Between High Wood and Delville Wood.
Weather: Fine. Ordered suddenly to move up to the trenches. Arrived in trenches at 3.30 am after being delayed in Catapillar Valley (sic) for 2 hours owing to a very heavy gas shell barrage + our guides going astray. An exceedingly unpleasant experience. Many men very sick from the effects. No 3 company sent up to reinforce the 3rd RBs (Rifle Brigade) who has lost rather heavily in an attack on Orchard Trench which they captured and were holding. Casualties: 6 OR (Other Ranks) wounded.
Bernafay Wood (left) and Trones Wood. 1916 Bernafay is under fire.
Bernafay Wood today
In late August 1916 my great uncle Jack Walker was fighting in the trenches with the 12th Royal Fusiliers in and near Bernafay, Trones and Delville Woods close to the village of Guillemont on the southern part of the Somme Battlefield. By now No Man’s Land was a scene of nightmarish horror. Littered with unburied corpses decaying in the sun. Water supply was a real problem. Artillery barrages went on for hours. More and more men were suffering from shell shock (PTSD)
The following is taken from the battalion war diary. It highlights one young man you’ve never heard of who displayed great bravery under fire. Sadly he didn’t survive the war.
Place : Bernafay Wood.
Fine and warm. Enemy artillery very active. Ammunition dump in road in front of HQ set on fire, causing many explosions of Stokes Mortar ammunition and casualties to our men who were trying to put the fire out. No 3 company CSM (Company Sergeant Major) being killed.
2nd Lt Tiffany showed great gallantry in recovering wounded men blown into the fire by the explosion. At 4.30 PM the attack on Guillemont was renewed. The 72nd Brigade taking the place of the 73rd Brigade. The attack in places was successful and all positions taken were held and consolidated
The 1st Royal Fusiliers had 3 companies reinforcing the attacking party of 8th Buffs and 3rd RB (Rifle Brigade)
The division lost about 35 officers and 1100 men. In the evening we relieved the 3rd RB and 1st RF in newly won line.
(Battalion) Casualties. Killed: 2 OR (Other ranks); wounded : 3 OR. Wounded (shell shock) 1 OR.
The body of Company Sgt. Maj. Albert Edward Darling was lost during the constant shelling. His name is inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial for the missing.
Capt Harry Waddington Tiffany who rescued injured men from burning ammunition, was just 22 years old. He hailed from the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa and signed up when he was just 19. He’d already fought against the Germans in South West Africa where he was mentioned in despatches for gallant service.
He was awarded the Military Cross.
Three months later while leading a raid on enemy trenches near Loos he was killed when British trench mortars targeted his patrol by mistake.
His body was never identified and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.