1st Hampshires in the Great War – the winter of 1915 on the Somme

The 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment saw out the rest of 1915 serving in the relatively Somme sector of the western front.

The first seven days of October 1915 were spent in demi-repos at Mesnil. There was fine weather throughout the weak, and the men were mostly occupied working on the defences of the village. Several big ‘coppers’ from around the village were set up in an empty house, and the men were able to have a hot bath. 8 to 14 October were spent in the trenches at Hamel. It was a remarkably quiet tour – the only enemy activity being a heavy bombardment by trench mortars and ‘aerial torpedoes’ on 12 October. A great deal of damage was done, but casualties were exceptionally small. The war diary described it as a ‘most unpleasant day’.

On 14 October the Hampshire’s marched back to billets at Hedauville. There they had seven days good rest. Each company had to one day’s duty working on the divisional defence line, and on the 17th the whole Battalion took part in a route march. On the 22th the Battalion Football team played the Divisional Army Service Corps at Sarton, losing 2-0. On 21 and 22 October the NCO’s and officers lectured to the 12th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles. The Battalion went back into the trenches at Hamel on 21 October.

During the ensuing tour in the front line the length of tours was increased to eight days, to ensure that the relief would not always take place on the same night each week. This was no doubt a sensible precaution, especially if the Germans had worked out the predictable routine. Otherwise it was a very quiet tour, ‘the enemy scarcely firing a shot’. The weather was very bad, with incessant rain causing problems with drainage. As the leaves had fallen from the trees screens had to be erected to prevent the enemy from seeing into the village of Hamel. The tour ended on 29 October, with the Battalion once again marching back to Mesnil.

The start of November found the Hampshire’s in demi-repos in Mesnil, carrying out work parties. All the men were able to have a bath in the bath house. The next tour of the front line took place between 7 and 13 November, with little activity but more incessant rain. Back in billets at Hedauville on 14 November, there were hard frosts and two snowfalls. Never the less, a route march was carried out on the 14th. On the 18th the Battalion were notified that front line tours would henceforth last for 6 days, two days shorter. Colonel Palk went on leave on the 18th, leaving Captain R.D. Johnston in command.

The Battalion’s next front line tour, beginning on 20 November, was more eventful. Several patrols were carried out. Lieutenant Hills and a party of men twice managed to get behind the mill in the marsh. Lieutenants May and Goodford made a very daring reconnaissance of the German mound on the railway. Another patrol managed to cut off a two feet long section of the German barbed wire. The tour ended on 26 November, when the Battalion retired to Mesnil. The weather was getting colder and frosty. While at Mesnil Colonel Palk returned from leave. Major Perkins left the Battalion to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force at Galipoli.

The beginning of December 1915 found the Battalion taking over the trenches at Hamel. This tour was again more lively, including a more or less continuous bombardment between the 2nd and 5th, by Trench Mortars and ‘aerial torpedoes’. On 7 December the Hampshires were relieved and moved back to Hedauville – from then onwards, a scheme was begun whereby the Hampshires always rested in Hedauville, instead of Mesnil. Back in the trenches on the night of 13 December, another uneventful tour passed by.

The Battalion spent Christmas 1915 in reserve. With the help of the Regimental Relief Fund the Quartermaster – Lieutenant E.V. Tarrant – gave the men ‘a splendid christmas dinner’. Puddings were provided from Divisional funds. During the day General Prowse and General Lambton made a tour of the billets, and in the words of the war diary, ‘wished the men the compliments of the season’. Unlike the previous christmas, there was no truce on the front line.

The Battalion were back in the trenches on Boxing Day. The Germans brought up heavier guns and managed to fix their aim on several points in Hamel and its approaches. British artillery fired in turn on the German front line. British Machine Guns also fired continuously, but the Hampshire’s adjutant felt that ‘it is difficult to imagine they do any harm’. The year ended with a great burst of fire from the Germans at 11pm (midnight Berlin time), ‘and a certain amount of cheering and so on’.

So ended the 1st Hampshires second year on the western front. The last few months had been spent in relative peace compared to the early months in and around Ypres. For example, in December 1915 only one man was killed, and 9 wounded. 62 were admitted to Hospital.

It is remarkable, knowing what we know about the Somme and what 1916 would bring, what a quiet time the Hampshires had in the sector at the end of 1915.

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Filed under Army, Uncategorized, western front, World War One

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