July 1916 by Lyn Dyson
After a couple of days of rest the Battalion was back in the trenches, this time in the Leipzig salient. On 5th July they mounted an attack on the German trenches and this was followed by another attack on 7th during which they suffered over 200 casualties, including Private Reginald Vere Collins from Little Cheverell.
After a few days rest from the heavy fighting, they made their way to Hamel where they took over trenches on 23rd July. On 26th July the Germans sent several poisonous gas shells, causing about twenty casualties. At the end of the month they were resting at Mailly Wood.
This was the first day of the Somme Offensive, described as “Z” day in the war diaries. The Battalion was not in the front line, but moved into the trenches near Montauban formerly occupied by the attacking troops which included the 18th Battalion of the Kings Liverpool Regiment where John Wilfred Smith from West Lavington was serving. The battalion’s job was to carry water, rations and material to the forward troops under shell fire.
The battalion moved to Montauban on 2nd July where they continued their carrying duties before moving to Trones Wood, from where they mounted an attack on 8th July. This continued into 9th July and they suffered heavy bombardment and the loss of 5 officers and 28 men.
The rest of the month passed quite quietly, with exercises, moving locations, refitting and drilling and training.
They were still at Sheikh Saad, and seeing no enemy action. The conditions were such that on average 25 men were reporting sick every day.
On 2nd July the battalion was involved in an attack on the German lines at La Boisselle. Two lines of trenches were taken and consolidated, but they suffered heavy losses: 35 killed, 237 wounded and 35 men missing. Further advances were made over the next two days,followed by three days of re-organization. On 7th July they attacked again and lost men to sniper fire. The snipers were later killed by the battalion’s bombers. By night time the men were in a very exhausted condition. The night was very wet and trying, but there was no counter attack from the Germans. On the 8th July, they consolidated their position, under heavy artillery fire, but again there was no counter attack. The men were relieved late on 8th July and moved to billets at Baizzieux. They were back on the front line on 23rd July, digging trenches under intermittent shellfire. They left Becourt Wood on a very hot day at 12 noon on 30th July. The march to billets at La Houssoye was very disagreeable.
The battalion continued at Summer Hill Camp until 25th July when they left for Kalinova, which they reached on 30th July. Here they took over trenches from the French. The weather was now cooler.
Private John Wilfred Smith 21899 Killed in Action 1st July 1916
John Wilfred Smith was born about 1897 in Blackley, Lancashire. He was the eldest child of Sidney William Smith, known as William, and his wife Ada Emma. John had two younger sisters. In 1911 William was a poultry manager in Crosby, and at the age of fourteen, John was also working at the poultry farm.
John enlisted in the Kings Liverpool Regiment in Liverpool on 7th November 1914. He stated his age as 19 years and 6 months, but this was an exaggeration, as he would probably have been under age 18. He gave his occupation at the time as a clerk. His parents were living at Bush Bottom Farm, West Lavington, where William was working as a gamekeeper.
John went to France with the 18th Battalion of the Kings Liverpool regiment on 7th November 1915. He was killed in action on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Somme offensive, when his battalion was involved in the capture of Montauban. On this day over 19,000 British and Commonwealth men were killed and a further 19,000 men were wounded. This was the worst day the Army has known, but the battle continued for months, and the German High Command claimed that the Battle of the Somme was when they started to lose.
John has no known grave but is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.
Private Frederick Charles Giddings 15251 Killed in Action 1st July 1916
Frederick was born about 1892 in West Lavington, where his father James Giddings was a farm labourer. Frederick’s mother was Mary Ann Gillett and in 1911 they were living at New Coppice Farm in West Lavington. Frederick was living at Ford, near Salisbury in 1911, and was working as a shepherd.
Frederick initially joined the Wiltshire Regiment, but was transferred to the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. At this time Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom, and when war was declared many Irishmen joined the British Army in order to fight the Germans. However, after the initial rush it proved more difficult to maintain the Irish character of the regular army infantry regiments such as the Connaught Rangers, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Leinster Regiment and the Munster Regiment due to insufficient numbers of recruits from what is now called Eire and so soldiers from other, non-Irish regiments were transferred into these Irish regiments to keep the numbers up. In what is now Northern Ireland there was no such shortage. It is worth noting that in 1916, when conscription was introduced in England, Scotland and Wales, it did not apply in Ireland.
Frederick served in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. This Regiment saw action on the Western Front, including the Battle of Cateau, the Battle of the Marne, the Battle of Aisne and the Battle of Messines. Then in 1915 they were involved in the Second Battle of Ypres, where the battalion suffered from a gas attack.
On July 1st 1916, Frederick was in the trenches on the Somme. It was the first day of the battle of the Somme. The Dublin Fusiliers had received orders to attack, and as they left the trenches, they were mown down by German machine gun fire. Apparently, there had been an order to halt, but this was never received.
Frederick has no known grave, but is remembered on the Thiepval memorial.
Private Reginald Vere Collins 22815 Killed in Action 7th July 1916
Reginald was born in Little Cheverell in 1894, the son of Joseph and Mary Jane Collins. Joseph was originally from West Lavington, but settled in Little Cheverell following his marriage to Mary Jane Sainsbury. He worked as an agricultural labourer and he and Mary Jane had five sons and one daughter. Reginald was the second son.
In 1911 Reginald was working as a shepherd. He enlisted in the 1st battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment.
On 7th July the battalion was in the trenches at the Leipzig salient in France. At 12.15 am they received orders to attack the German trenches. Whilst the matter was still being discussed, they encountered a very violent hostile counter attack. This started at 1.15am. The Germans tried to rush the trench, and managed to reach the very edges of it and they dropped bombs and opened fire. The Wiltshires managed to fight them off and they inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. For the next two hours they endured very heavy bombing, and intermittent bombing afterwards until about 5.30am.
At 9.30am the battalion mounted its attack on the German trench, which was successfully captured.
At 1pm a second wave of attack was made. In this action a large number of Germans were killed and 23 were taken prisoner. The captured trench was consolidated, but being very wide it offered little protection. At 1.30pm the enemy opened a terrific bombardment with high explosive. This bombardment lasted about five hours and the battalion’s casualties were enormous; about 160 men were wounded or killed. One of these was Reginald .
Lance Corporal Thomas Plank 19916 Killed in Action 14th July 1916
Thomas was born about 1886 in Lavington, the son of William Plank a farm carter from Rushall, and his wife May Ann who came from Urchfont. The couple had six surviving children, and Tom was the second son.
In 1891 the family lived in Etchilhampton, but by 1901 they were in Rowde where they seemed to be pretty settled.
Tom was probably a regular soldier in the 1st Wiltshire battalion as his medal record shows he was in France from 23rd October 1914. He was later promoted to Lance Corporal and transferred to the 8th battalion of the Devonshire Regiment.
On 14th July, the 8th Devonshires were involved in the British offensive at the Battle of Bazentin Ridge, which marked the start of the second phase of the Battle of the Somme. The objective was to take the villages of Bazentin le Petit, Bazentin le Grand and Longueval, which were located on the top of the ridge.
The assaulting battalions would make a night advance then move out into no man’s land, which was up to 1,100 m wide, and lie close to the German barbed wire, ready to rush the German trenches when the barrage lifted. The attack would be preceded by a hurricane artillery bombardment lasting only 5 minutes.
At 3.20 a.m. the British artillery opened their intense bombardment on the German front-line trenches. At 3.25 a.m., when the bombardment lifted to the second-line reserve trenches, the infantry rushed in. The bombardment fell on the reserve trenches for a further two minutes before lifting again. The first wave of British infantry, made up of bombing parties, was to push straight on to the reserve trenches, leaving the following waves to mop up the front-line. Surprise was not complete and in places the German defenders met the advancing infantry with rifle and machine gun fire but elsewhere the garrisons were caught in their dugouts. In places the attacking waves got held up trying to cut the barbed wire and they were cut to pieces.
The battle lasted all day, with the result that the British did take most of the Bazentin Ridge, but over the coming weeks and months it changed hands several times. The British losses on that day were 9,194 men, compared with German losses of 2,300. Thomas Plank was killed in action during this battle. His older brother, William had been killed in action near Ypres in January 1915.