Into the fire. A hero you’ve never heard of and his tragic end. 12th Royal Fusiliers 102 years ago.

Trones wood and bernafay wood 1916

Bernafay Wood (left) and Trones Wood. 1916 Bernafay  is under fire.

Looking towards Bernafay from Trones

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The slaughter continues. Royal Fusiliers exactly 102 years ago.

My great uncle Jack Walker fought on The Somme with 12th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. I’ve been reading the battalion diary which often makes for upsetting reading.  In August 1916 they were part of the Allies’ attempts to capture the village of Guillemont. You get the sense that the battle simply involved the same useless attacks  over the same ground with the same results, day after day.

 

Battalion War Diary entry: 

Location: Trenches between Delville Wood and Guillemont.

A warm day day. Sent 1 officer and 50 men to join RE (Royal Engineers ?) for consolidation work during attack about to be made on Guillemont. Found carrying party of 4 officers and 220 Other Ranks for carrying bombs and SAA (Small Arms Ammunition) to front line. Moved to Bernafay Wood at 11.30am. An attack on Guillemont by the 17th and 73rd Brigades with Division ? on left and 3rd Division on left in conjunction with the French took place at 4.30pm. The attack on Machine Gun House and Railway Station + trenches in the immediate vicinity was carried out by the 8th Buffs and 3rd RB (Rifle Brigade) with 1st Royal Fusiliers in close support  and ourselves in reserve. The objectives were all taken by our Brigade and consolidated but the attack in general was held up by a strong point in front of the 73rd Brigade. The division lost about 35 officers and 1200 Other Ranks in casualties.

The following messages were received after the attack was over.

Received from GOC (General Officer Commanding?) 17th IB: “The corps commander has asked me to convey to troops his extreme appreciation of gallant conduct of troops and satisfaction of success gained. We have our teeth into Guillemont and must grip like Bulldogs to what we have.”

The following wire received from 17th IB:  “The BGC wishes to congratulate units on their brilliant success of yesterday and wishes all ranks to know how pleased he is.”

N0 4 company under Captain Anderson proceeded to front line after dark and dug CT (communication trench) from our old line to position taken.

Casualties : Wounded 9 Other Ranks. Wounded (shell shock) 4.  Other Ranks:  Killed 1 OR.

(Despite the positive messages from HQ, the fighting for Guillemont would continue into early September) By now the battlefield and No Man’s Land were littered with unburied corpses putrefying in the sun. )

Old photo of Guillemont i think or Delville

 

 

 

 

A terrible day. Battalion diary entry for the 12th Royal Fusiliers. 102 years ago.

 

Guillemont 1916

Guillemont after the battle . 1916

I’ve been recording the experiences of the 12th battalion Royal Fusiliers 102 year ago. My great uncle took part in the battle for Guillemont which was itself part of the Battle of the Somme.

In August 1916 the fighting around Guillemont and Delville Wood was at its height with both sides inflicting huge casualties  through an almost constant artillery barrage and charge and counter charge across the wasteland – now strewn with corpses.

Yesterday’s entry was very  brief and all the more shocking for that. I imagine the battalion commander would have found it hard to write much more.

 

Location: Trenches between Delville Wood and Guillemont.

A showery day. Artillery very active. 

Casualties. Killed: 10 OR (Other Ranks). Wounded: 18 OR.  Wounded (Shell shock) 5 OR

Shell shocked. 12th Royal Fusiliers suffer in the trenches. 102 years ago to this day .

Guillemont i think

Delville Wood.

In August 1916, the 12th Royal Fusiliers were part of British and Commonwealth forces trying to capture the village of Guillemont close to Delville Wood on the southern part of the Somme Battlefield.

The brief battalion war diary entry for August 14 is short but hints at the increasing strain of the men coming under almost constant artillery fire as they sought shelter in a landscape turned to a wasteland.  We  begin to read of soldiers  succumbing to shell shock.  Or PTSD as it’s now called.

My great uncle Jack Walker was there with the 12th Royal Fusiliers.  The Allies (the French were in this sector too) inched their way over the battlefield to capture German positions  – only to abandon them time and again under counter attack.  It was attritional  warfare of the worst kind.  Yards of ground covered and immediately surrendered at a  terrible cost.

Date 14/08/16

Location: Trenches between Delville Wood and Guillemont

A fine day. Continued digging assembly trenches. Artillery on both sides very active. 2nd Lt Martin wounded. 

Casualties: Wounded:  1 officer, 13 OR (other ranks). Wounded (shell shock) 3 OR.

 

Lt Harold Martin from Snaresbrook in Essex died on the 31st July the following year when the battalion was fighting further north near Ypres.  He has no known grave. His name is inscribed on the Menin Gate.

He was 24 years old.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Nameless Dead. 12th Royal Fusiliers. 102 years ago to this day

In August 1916 the battle of Guillemont in France continued day after day with attack followed by counter attack.  The shellfire was horrendous and bodies were left out in no man’s land in the sweltering heat.  Contemporary accounts talk of the unrelenting noise of shells and machine guns.  And the sickening smell of death.

My great uncle Jack Walker was with the 12th battalion Royal Fusiliers when they arrived in Bernafay Woods about a mile to the west of Guillemont.  I was there last month and walked (unwisely) through Bernafay.  I wouldn’t do it again.  As you can see in the photos, unexploded ordinance lies everywhere. I  saw two hand grenades and a huge unexploded shell lying just yards from a main path. Some of those shells go off every year when tractors roll over them.  Some  shells still contain gas.

The 12th Battalion diary entry for this day is brief but poignant. And perhaps all the more shocking for its brevity.   Three  soldiers were killed. Only officers are named in the diary. The rest are just referred to as “other ranks”

10.8.16

Location: Bernafay Wood.

Dull and misty. A lot of gunning all day. One shell falling just outside HQ, causing casualties. Draft 2 OR (two Other Ranks joined the battalion) 

Casualties: Killed 3 OR. Wounded: 6 OR.

grenades.jpg

 

 

Unexploded shell Bernafay woods.jpg

 

 

Casualties begin. Diary of 12th Royal Fusiliers 102 years ago to this day

My great uncle Jack Walker served with the 12th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers which recruited in London.

On this day 102 years ago the battalion was moved to Bernafay Wood near Guillemont which was at the southern end of the Somme battlefield. Bernafay was about one mile from the village where the Germans were putting up fierce resistance. British and Commonwealth troops mounted attack after attack – often following the same failed  pattern. By now Guillemont was a shattered wreck where the Germans had constructed a network of hidden tunnels and fortified positions. Startled British troops would often fight their way into the “village” only to find hidden machine gun nests opening up behind them on ground they thought they’d cleared.  Casualties on both sides were horrendous.

Taken from the War Diary of the 12th Battalion:

9.8.16

Location: Bernafay Wood.

Blazing hot day. Relieved 2nd South Staffords in Bernafay Wood. Enemy artillery very active on road outside H.Q.  2nd Lt E Walker wounded. Also Rgt SM Sabey 

Casualties: Wounded: 1 officer.  10 OR (Other ranks) 

 

I assume Rgt Sgt Major Sabey never recovered because  a Sgt Percy George Sabey from the 12th Battalion Royal Fusiliers died four months later on 20th December. He is buried in Islington Cemetery.

His infant son was also to be a casualty of war 29 years  later,  killed while serving in Italy in August 1945.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing to enter Hell. 12th Royal Fusiliers 102 years ago to this day.

On August 8 , 1916, the 12th battalion Royal Fusiliers were a day away from joining the bloody battle  for the French village of Guillemont on the front line of the Somme. My great uncle Jack Walker was with them.   This is the brief  extract from the battalion’s diary on that day as they moved to a point a few miles behind the front at Carnoy.

8/8/16

Location: The Craters, Carnoy.

Again, very hot.  The battalion marched to the Craters at Carnoy.  Found working party of 200 for ammunition fatigues.  Sent four extra runners to 17th Infantry Brigade.  Casualties: 1 OR (other rank) wounded.