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1st Hampshires in the Great War – the Kaiser Offensive begins

Hindenburg and Ludendorff

Hindenburg and Ludendorff, architects of Germany's last throw of the dice (Image via Wikipedia)

As 1918 dawned, it seemed to most that the endgame of the First World War was in sight. Britain had expanded her Army hugely, and had taken massive losses, particularly on the Somme and at Passchendaele. The French Army, battered at Verdun, had mutinied and refused to take offensive action. Unrestricted submarine warfare had brought the USA into the war, but her troops would not start arriving in any numbers until later in 1918. The German commander, Ludendorff, propsed a knock out blow, using troops released from the Eastern Front after the newly Communist Russia had withdrawn from the war to reinforce the west. The intention was to defeat the French and British before the American reinforcements had arrived.

Even though most of the British Army on the Western Front was all too aware that an offensive was likely. However, for the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment March 1918 began as quietly as February had ended. In camp at Fosseux, the men practiced night attacks and marching at night by compass. On 6 March the Battalion marched to a Camp at Warlus, where training continued. Two days later the Battalion practiced an attack in conjunction with tanks, the tanks being represented by artillery limbers. All throughout this period, the Commanding Officer and Company Commanders were visiting sections of the line to familiarise themselves. At the same time a warning order was issued, preparing the Battalion to move up in support in the event of an attack anywhere on the front. But even though an attack was expected, the Battalion was also being prepared to attack.

After further training and inspections by the Brigadier and Major-General Commanding the Division, on 18 March the whole Battalion spent a day being drilled by the Regimental Sergeant Major. The next day the Battalion marched to billets in Arras at the College Communal. The day after the 1st Hampshires relieved the 2nd Coldstream Guards in support north of the Arras-Fampoux road.

The Hampshire’s first full day in the support lines was also the first day of the German’s Kaiser Offensive. From 5am to 8am a heavy barrage came over the Scarpe Valley sector, consisting of gas and high explosives. This proved to be a diversion, in support of the main attack further south on the Somme. At 11pm the Hampshires were ordered up to occupy the 2nd trench system, consisting of Coot and Colt Trenches. By this time the enemy had become quiet, however, and only one Hampshire was wounded throughout the day.

22 March was also a quiet day for the 11th Brigade, but news was received that the enemy had made considerable gains further south on the Somme and nearer at Wancourt. At 11pm news was received that the 15th Division to the right had pulled back, abandoning Monchy-le-Preux, where the Hampshires had fought on numerous occasions. As a result the Hampshires flanks were wide open. They did not retreat, however.

23 March dawned misty, adding to the uncertain situation. A good deal of machine gun and artillery fire could be heard around Monchy. Shortly after dawn the 11th Brigade received orders to pull back, during daylight – a highly risky move. Later during the day news was received that Monchy had fallen, and men could be seen streaming westwards from the town. At 4pm the enemy made their first attack on the Hampshire’s front line. Small parties of Germans managed to penetrate the front line, but were dealt with by the Somerset Light Infantry to the rear of the Hampshires. Between 5pm and 8pm the enemy’s artillery barrage increased, but no attack was forthcoming. At 7pm the Battalion moved back to the old reserve line.

The 24th was uneventful until the evening. At 8pm orders were received to pull back to the old third trench system. An attack was considered likely at dawn but did not materialise, and before daybreak the Hampshires relieved the Somerset Light Infantry in the front line. During the 25th the German Artillery registed on the Hampshire’s trenches, causing heavy casualties. Information was received that an attackl was expected the next morning. Interestingly, no information is ever given about the source of these expected attacks. The next few days were quieter, although at 3am on 27 March an enemy raid was beaten off by D Company.

28 April saw the German’s heaviest attack yet on the Hampshire’s positions, as the offensive switched from the Somme to the Arras sector. The CO, Lt-Col Armitage, filed a detailed report of the days fighting. At about 3am the enemy opened up a heavy bombardment, which mostly fell behind the first system. At 4.50am the barrage reached the Hampshire’s lines, and by 5.30pm all telephone communication between HQ and companies was cut. At 7.15am the enemy infantry began advancing in waves. Rifle and Machine Gun fire was directed on them, inflicting heavy casualties. An orderly withdrawal took place however, to a designated strong point in the reserve lines. By 9.30am the Hampshires line ran from Coral Trench-Coot Trench-Camel Avenue-Cadiz Trench. The enemy were still attacking however, attempting to turn the Battalions left flank. The Company in Cadiz Trench, however, held out srongly, until the neighbouring Brigade withdrew, forcing them also to pull back. The enemy followed up closely, delivering bombing attacks. A counter-attack by a company of the Rifle Brigade relieved some of the pressure.

At 2.15pm Colonel Armitage was informed that all troops south of the railway had pulled back, leaving his flank dangerously exposed. Rather than withdraw, however, Armitage merely ordered two Platoons of the Rifle Brigade Company to form a left flank along the railways embankment facing south, and sent back for reinforcements. At 4.15pm the enemy began another bombing attack, but were caught in the open by a Lewis Gun and wiped out. From then on the front was quiet. The Hampshires remained in their positions until ordered to withdraw at 8.30pm.

The Hampshires had faced a very serious German attack, but had inflicted heavy losses. Although tactical withdrawals had been made, these were orderly and well planned, and forced upon the Battalion by movements on their flanks. This demonstrates just how well the British Army had learnt to soak up attacks, by standing their ground but pulling back orderly to avoid excessive losses. Colonel Armitage’s decision to remain in the positions on the railway embankment, when he knew that his flank was open, was very brave indeed.

During March 1918 the Hampshires suffered significant losses. Two officers and 34 men were killed, and two officers (including the Padre) and 81 men were wounded. Two officers and seven men were missing and wounded, and two officers and two men were missing presumed killed. These were heavy losses, particularly among junior officers.

Two Portsmouth men were killed in the major battle on 28 March 1918. Private Robert Bevis and Private George Grainger are both remembered on the Arras Memorial.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – 1918 dawns

Laid up Colours, Royal Hampshire Regiment

Laid up Colours of the Hampshire Regiment in Winchester Cathedral (Image by David Spender via Flickr)

The 1st of January 1918 found the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment in the front line trenches near Moncy, in the Arras sector. According to the war diary the enemy tried to mark the occasion by fraternising, ‘but was not met in a friendly spirit’. Tony Ashworth has written about how a ‘live and let live’ system operated on some sectors of the western front, and that elite units were less likely to fraternise with the enemy.

On 2 January the Battalion was relieved, and went back into billets in Arras. Having spent the Christmas period on duty, the Battalion held their Christmas festivities in early January. 5 January was the Hampshire’s ‘official’ christmas day, and a football match was followed by the mens dinner, which was ‘indeed, a good show’. In the afternoon all attended divisional ‘follies’. The officers christmas dinner was held in the evening, and the Sergeant’s on the next day.

The ‘christmas’ respite was short lived, however, for on 7 January the Hampshires went into reserve at Wilderness Camp, where they spent three days digging under heavy snow. On the 11th the Battalion went into support at the ‘Brown Line’, and several days later on the 15th went into the front line north east of Monchy. A thaw set in, which when followed by heavy rain made the trenches impassable. It was impossible to send up cooked rations, so men had to take care of their own cooking. On 19 January the Battalion was relieved, and went into support. On the 23rd they were back in the front line, again north east of Monchy. The war diary records that the weather was improving, and that although the nights were misty and cold the trenches were much improved although they still required a lot of work.

On 27 January the Battalion was relieved, and went back to billets in Arras. Motor buses were provided for part of the journey. A short-lived two day rest period was spent cleaning up and parading, before the Hampshires went back into support at Wilderness Farm. An attack was clearly felt to be imminent, for on 28 January a Warning Order was issued detailing what the Battalion was to do if an attack was made on the front line. The order detailed exactly where the Battalion was to reinforce, and the order of march.

At the end of January a number of awards were announced for actions the previous year. The Adjutant, Captain Flint, was awarded the Military Cross, and Sergeant Leamon the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Five men were mentioned in despatches, including the CO and the Adjutant, and two men were awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre. 20 NCO’s and men were awarded a new congratulatory certificate for ‘gallantry and good work’ in 1917.

 The first few days of February were spent working in the forward area at night. On 2 February the 1st East Lancashires, whom the Hampshires had served with since August 1914, left the Brigade to join the 34th Division, as part of the BEF‘s reorganisation to three infantry battalions in a brigade rather than four. On 3 February the Battalion marched to Schramm Barracks in Arras. The next day a firing competition was held to determine the best platoon in the Battalion, the winners being No. 11 Platoon of C Company.

The stay in Arras was relatively short, however, for on the 5th of February the Battalion marched to new billets in Fosseux, via Beauetz Les Loges and Gouy-en-Artois. Only one man fell out. The next day a draft of 125 men arrrived as reinforcements. The war diary records that they were mostly under 20 years of age, which shows just how short of manpower Britain had become after almost three years of trench warfare. Due to the wet weather however there was little chance for training or even parades. By the 11th however the weather had sufficiently cleared for the Battalion to exercise on a nearby training area, practicing moving from column to ‘artillery formation’ and other drills – something that was important given the large number of new, young recruits.

The Hampshires remained in Fosseux for the rest of February 1918. Companies took it in turns to go onto the ranges, while on 13 February the Battalion played the 1st Somerset Light Infantry in the first round of the Divisional Football Cup, winning 2-1. On 15 February the Battalion marched to Berneville to witness a Gas Projector Demonstration. The next day the Hampshires drew with the 1st Rifle Brigade in the Second Round. On 18 February Officers and NCO’s attended a lecture on co-operation between infantry and tanks, while the next day was spent practicing outpost and counter-attack schemes. The day after that the CO gave a lecture to all Officers and NCO’s down to section Commanders, on ‘the attack’. The evening was spent attending a Regimental Concert. 

 On 21 February the training programme entered a Brigade dimension, when the Hampshires provided the enemy for the rest of the Brigade in an exercise. Company parades, range practice and platoon marching competitions continued, meanwhile. 25 February was spent building anti-aircraft defences for huts, while the last few days of February were spent on a field firing excercise.

We can tell several things from the Battalion’s training. Firstly, that given the large number of new and young recruits – a total of 217 during the month –  a ‘back to basics’ approach was needed. Platoon and company level training, mainly physical and weapons firing led into Battalion and then Brigade level exercises. All the time football competitions, concerts, lectures and demonstrations were taking place.

Also, it is clear that the High Command had pulled the 4th Division, including the Hampshires, out of the line to enable them to rest, regroup and prepare for future operations in 1918. The training and lectures that they took part in make that clear – co-operation with tanks, and the attack. March would bring a rude awakening, however.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – Passchendaele

artillery barrage map from ...

An example of a creeping artillery barrage at Passchendaele (Image via Wikipedia)

The Battle of Passchendaele had begun on 31 Jul7 1917. The first phase during July and August had failed to make any serious progress. The Battle of Broodseinde was to be the last assault launched in the Ypres Salient as part of the offensive, and was an attempt to protect the southern Flank of the salient. The ever-elusive breakthrough was still hoped for, however.

After arriving at Proven on 20 September, the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment spent the next week training hard. It was hard to get much training done, however, due to the limited amount of space available. On 23 September a draft of 103 men arrived, and on the 27th the Divisional Commander, Major-General Matheson, inspected the Battalion.

On 28 September the Battalion entrained at Proven in the afternoon, and detrained at Elverindghe. From there the Hampshires marched to Roussol Camp. The next day Company Commanders instructed their NCO’s and men in the plans for the forthcoming offensive. The day after that on the 30th each Company rehearsed their plan for the attack.

later on the 30th the Battalion went into Brigade reserve at the Canal Bank, relieving the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers. The detailed operation order issued by the Adjutant listed the equipment and rations that the men were to carry. Officers were not to carry swagger sticks, and were to dress exactly the same as the men. Haversacks and entrenching tools would be left behind. Instead every man was issued with either a pick or shovel. Each platoon would carry 10 wire cutters, every man 2 aeroplane flares and every man 3 sandbags.

A detailed map was issued, showing the ground over which the Brigade was to advance. Starting in the area of Langemarck, the 11th Brigade was to attack on a narrow front, capturing ground to the North East of Poelcappelle. The 1st Hampshires were on the left, the Somerset Light Infantry on the right, and the 1st East Lancs in support and the Rifle Brigade in reserve. The Hampshires objectives, in order, were to be the Red House, Beek Villa, Imbros House, Kangaroo Huts and Tragique Farm. The principal objective, however, was merely a green line marked on the map. An even more detailed Battalion-level map was issued, that showed each of the Companies objectives, and also the distances between each landmark on the map. A diagram of how the platoons were to be set out in the advance was also included, and each platoon was allocated a specific objective, either to capture or, for the support companies, to consolidate once it had been captured.

The attack was to be on a 2 Company front, with each company’s front being 150 yards wide. The two other companies were to be in close support. A creeping Artillery Barrage was planned, as well as a Machine Gun Barrage. A detailed map showed the planned creep of the Barrage, beginning at Zero hour, and creeping forward on lines in front of the advance, moving forward every 2 to 3 minutes. Each Battalion was also alloted 2 Vickers Machine Guns to act in support. 2 Platoons were also designated as counter-attacking platoons, and designated authority to act on their own initiative to break up any German attacks. A Lewis Gun team of the 21st West Yorks was to be attached for anti-aircraft duties. A contact aeroplane was to overfly the area at set times to observe and report on progress.

On 1 and 2 October officers and NCO’s went forward to reconnoitre the line. The next day, on the 3rd, the Battalion went forward to its assembly area at Eagle Trench. It comprised 19 officers and 522 men. 3 officers and 118 men were to be left with the transport, to form a nucleus for reforming the Battalion if it were wiped out. Two tins of hot tea laced with rum were brought up for each Platoon. Heavy rain had fallen in the first few days of October, turning the artillery-riddled ground into a morass.

The troops were formed up and ready to go at 2am on 4 October. The enemy began shelling at 5am. At 6am the advance began, advancing behind the creeping barrage. They met light resistance, but the barrage was reported as being ‘ragged’, and caused many casualties to the Battalion. 30 prisoners and a machine gun were captured in Kangaroo trench. The Battalion advanced well, however. At 1pm it was noticed that the 10th Brigade on the left flank were retiring. An advance by the Rifle Brigade, coming up from reserve, checked this withdrawl. The Hampshires held firm on their objective line as night fell. Overall the battle of Broodseinde was one of the most succesful of the war. All objectives had been captured, for relatively light casualties when compared with the Somme and the earlier phases of Passchendaele. This was

The Battle on 4 October inflicted heavy casualties on the Battalion. 4 officers and 36 men were killed, and 8 officers and 182 men were wounded. 25 men were missing. Among the wounded were Colonel Armitage and Captain Laurie, the Chaplain, who both remained at their post.

Four Portsmouth men were killed on 4 October 1917. Private William McCarthy, 32 and from Highland Street, Eastney, is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. 19 year old 2nd Lieutenant Henry Hall, of Victoria Road South, Southsea, is also remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Private Charles McCable is another man remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, while Private Frank Oxford, 29, is buried in Cement House Cemetery.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – after the Battle of Arras

Lewis gun

A Lewis Gun, as used by the 1st Hants (Image via Wikipedia)

As June 1917 dawned Company Training continued, as well as sports events, including a Company football competition. On 6 June the Divisional Royal Engineers commander lectured on consolidation. On 10 June a party of 100 men under Captain Johnston marched to Monts-en-Ternois, where medals were presented after the recent operations at Arras.

On 11 June the whole Battalion moved to billets in Arras by ‘motor bus’. The next day the men were bivouaced in the support lines, until 7.15pm when the Battalion relieved the 5th Cameron Highlanders in Brigade support. They remained in support until 16 June, when the Battalion went into the front line near the River Scarpe. The line ran to the east of Roeux. The Battalion had a very quiet time in the line, and were relieved on 20 June, when they went back into Brigade support. The next few days were spent on improving the trenches and erecting barbed wire, before the Battalion was relieved by the 1st Royal Warwickshires on 26 June. The last few days of June were spent in the usual post front line cleaning, inspections and then work parties.

During June 1917 the Battalion had received significant reinforcements, in the shape of 6 officers and 131 men. Notably, no members of the Battalion were killed during the month – a rare month indeed on the Western Front. By mid-1917 the BEF and its units had honed the routine of trench warfare. Each time the Battalion went into the line or was relieved, a detailed operations order was issued in advance by the Adjutant. Atlhough this was no dobt efficient, it was also motivated by a feeling that the high proportion of conscripts in the Army, as well as non-regular officers, needed more detailed orders.

 Early July was spent in Balmoral Camp, training and providing work parties. On 13 July the Battalion went into Brigade support, and on 14 July went into the front line, north east of Monchy-le-Preux. The Germans were very quiet during the day, but very busy at night with snipers, rifle grenades and trench mortars. No men were killed, and the Battalion was relieved on 18 July. After several days in Reserve, the 1st Hampshires went back into the front line on 22 July. This tour proved to be more eventful. On the 23rd the Artillery carried out a dummy raid on the German lines to which the enemy replied, and the next day the Battalion sent out a patrol to reconnointre the enemy line. Several members of the patrol were lost. One of them was Corporal John Leask, a Portsmouth man, who is remembered on the Arras Memorial. On the 25th the Artillery again carried out a dummy raid, before the Battalion carried out a genuine raid the next night. The raiding party advanced behind a strong barrage, and took four prisoners. Only one Hampshire was killed. The Battalion was relieved the next day on 27 July. The rest of July was spent in Brigade reserve and providing working parties.

The Beginning of August 1917 found the Battalion in Wilderness Camp, before on the 2nd of the month they marched to Balmoral Camp. The Battalion began training, including a tactical exercise for officers to illustrate how to advance after a retreating enemy. Divisional sports competitions were held, and medals were awarded for the raid carried out on 24 July. On 13 August a full Battalion exercise was carried out, complete with dummy enemy machine guns. On the 14th the Battalion went into Brigade reserve, and the next day into the front line. The Battalions line was in the area of Musket Trench and happy valley. The Hampshires remained in the line until 23 August – a very long tour – and suffered 4 men killed by enemy shelling. One of them was Private Francis Davis, 35, from Boulton Road in Southsea. He is buried in Level Crossing Cemetery.

On 23 August the Battalion marched back to camp in Scots Valley, apart from A Company who remained in Lance Lane. The accomodation at Scots Valley consisted mainly of tents, and a few tarpaulin shelters. There were no cookhouses, and these had to be built. Over the next few days the Battalion also provided work parties. On 28 August Colonel Armitage left the Battalion temporary to take charge of the 11th Brigade – presumably the Brigadier was ill or wounded. On 31 August the Battalion marched back to Balmoral Camp.

September proved to be an interesting time for the Battalion. Although the ever-present work parties continued, time was found for platoon training. On the 5th the Battalion was relieved, and marched to Pommier. During the day a draft of 129 men arrived. The next day the new arrivals were inspected by the CO, and the Companies were re-organised into 4 platoons. On the 7th individual training commenced, including bombing and Lewis Gun lessons. the next day Brigadier-General Marshall, of the 45th Infantry Brigade, gave a fighting on recent fighting at Ypres. On the 8th Colonel Armitage returned to resume command.

Interestingly, on 9 September a group of 3 officers and 80 other ranks went by lorry to visit the area around Beaumont Hamel, where the Battalion had fought in July 1916 on the Somme – an early form of battlefield tour. Meanwhile back with the Battalion training continued, and on the 10th all officers and NCO’s down to Platoon Sergeant were lectured on German methods of defence ‘and how to deal with them’. More and more lectures were taking place – a sign of the experience that was being gained on the Western Front, the new professionalism in the BEF, and the number of amateur soldiers in the Army.

Training continued, and on the 15th of September, when 14 officers and 350 men turned out for a cross-country run (one wonders what happened to the rest of the men). On the 18th the Battalion marched off to Mondicourt. At midnight on the night of the 19th/20th the Battalion entrained at Mondicourt, and 9.30am detrained at Hopoutre, south of Poperinghe. From there they marched to Piddington Camp, south east of Proven.

The Battalion had returned to the Ypres Salient, where the Third Battle of Ypres had been raging for several months.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – Battle of Arras #2

Troops embussing in Arras to go back for a res...

Troops embussing in Arras to go back for a rest (Image via Wikipedia)

 

As night fell on 9 April 1917, the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment were holding a section of captured German trenches after the Battle of Arras. Snow fell throughout the night, enough to leave a white blanket over the ground.

10 April seems to have been a relatively quiet day. The Hampshires observed the Germans very closely, and they seemed to be in the process of retreating. Judging by the traffic on the roads behind the enemy lines it seemed that they were pulling back, yet small groups of Germans in the front line kept up resistance. Attempts were made to continue the attacks, but the wintry conditions made fighting difficult.

At 7pm Germans were spotted moving towards the Hampshires front in a counter-attack. An artillery barrage was quickly called up – a great example of the improvements in all-arms co-operation – as well as rifle and Lewis Gun fire. After several hours it became clear the enemy’s attack was a reconnaisance in force, to assess the strength of the British line.

The next day, 11 April, saw the Battalion return to offensive action. The 4th Division was ordered to attack and hold a low ride, about 1,200 yards to the East of the fourth line of German trenches. The Somersets were in the lead for the 11th Brigade. The Germans were holding their line in strength, however, and the plan had to be altered. The Hampshires attacked to the left, and extended their line by 150 yards, losing 1 officer and 11 men killed and 16 wounded in the process. A similar attack was enacted the next day in order to cause a diversion for another attack elsewhere near Arras. This attack was repulsed, and the Battalion again lost 11 men killed and 16 wounded.

The next two days were very quiet apart from heavy shelling, and one man was killed on each day. On 15 April another attempt was made by B Company to capture Hudson and Hazard trenches, but again it was found impossible to take.

On 16 April the Battalion was shelled heavily, losing 4 men killed, before being relieved by the 1st Royal Irish Rifles and going back to Divisional Reserve that night. D Company did not manage to get away before daylight and had to remain in Hyderabad redoubt until the next night.

The Battalion marched back to shelters in the old German second line. Whilst they would have been OK in decent weather, the rain and snow had made them uncomfortable. After several days in reserve the Battalion then marched back to huts in Agnez-lez-Duisans, six miles west of Arras. The next day the Battalion marched to crowded billets at Izel-lez-Hameau, twelve miles west of Arras.

After the ubiquitous church parade on the first Sunday and time spent cleaning up, the Battalion were paraded and read messages of congratulations from Major-General Lambton (GOC 4th Division) and Lieutenant-General Fergusson (XVII Corps) for their efforts in the Battle of Arras. By the end of the month the Battalion had recommenced training in a similar manner to that it had before going into action.

During April 1917 the 1st Hampshires had suffered their heaviest casualties since the Somme the previous year – 3 officers and 26 men killed, 8 officers and 122 men wounded, 3 men accidentally wounded and 5 missing.

On 2 May the Battalion returned to the front line. After marching up to the old German 4th system the Hampshires were occupying trenches immediately north of the Fampoux-Athies road. Major Earle was in command, as divisional orders had ordered that Lt-Col Armitage was to remain behind with the transport.

The next day the 4th Division attacked, with the aim of capturing the western outskirts of Plouvain. Zero hour was very early, at 3.45am. The Germans were obviously expecting an attack, and it seemed that little progress was made. In the afternoon the 1st Hants supported the 1st Rifle Brigade in their attack on the Chateaux north of Roeux. Due to delays the Rifle Brigade began their attack at 3.30am, but were held up by maching-gun fire.

The next few days were relatively uneventful apart from heavy shelling. On 4 May the Battalion was holding a position between the junction of Corona and Ceylon trenches and the railway embankment. The enemy’s snipers were very active between the Chemical Works and the Chateau that the Rifle Brigade had attempted to capture. On 8 May the Battalion made a ‘chinese attack’ on the Chateaux, Chemical Works and surrounding areas, but evidently were not succesful.

10 May was spent preparing for operations, and nightfall found the Battalion occupying Ceylon and Cordite trenches. On 11 May the 4th Division, together with the 17th Division, attacked on a fron from Roeux Cemetery on the left to the station buildings on the right. Maps showed blue and black lines which were the respective objectives. The enemy were completely surprised and offered little resistance. The Black line was reached by 7.30pm, and the Battalion had taken 150 prisoners and 7 machine guns. The next day at 6am the Battalion advanced on the Blue line, and was again succesful, taking very few casualties.

The Battalion was relieved on 12 May by the 1/8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. 13 May found the Battalion bivouaced south of the Fampoux-St Nicholas road, and from there the men marched to the Cavalry Barracks in Arras. On 14 May the 1st Hants boarded buses at Arras and moved to Magnicourt-sur-Canche. Over the next two days Major-General Lambton and General Sir Edmund Allenby inspected and addressed the Battalion, and operation awards were announced – 1 DSO, 2 MC’s, 1 DCM and 2 MM’s.

Although relatively modest, compared to the Somme the gains at the Battle of Arras were very impressive, and for much smaller losses. Little progress was made after the first day, however, and no breakthrough was made. The Hampshires were to remain at Arras for the time being, until the Third Battle of Ypres began – Passchendaele.

More Portsmouth men were killed in the days and weeks after the first day than on the first day itself:

11 April – Corporal Mervyn Offer (Arras Memorial), Private J.J. Cleaver (Bailleul Road East)

15 April – Private W.C.Brine (Etaples)

16 April – Lance Corporal George Jones (96 Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw; Arras Memorial)

18 April – Private Frederick Earwicker (Worlds End, Hambledon; Aubigny)

25 April – Lance Corporal W. Palmer (29 Mills Road; Aubigny)

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – The Battle of Arras

Battle of Arras in April 1917

Battle of Arras in April 1917 (Image via Wikipedia)

The 1st Hampshires went into the Battle of Arras better prepared than for any other operation since the beginning of the War. The men had taken part in individual, Company and Battalion training, and a number of Brigade exercises. And, thanks to the methodical and exhaustive staff work that went into planning the attack, historians are left with a wealth of documents to study, that allow us to tell the story of what happened to the Battalion on 9 April 1917.

The plan

At the end of March the Adjutant circulated a note on signals between Infantry and Artillery, and also a complicated table showing what equipment troops were to carry during the attack – ammunition, sandbags, barbed wire and poles, and screw pickets.

On 2 April the detailed Operation Order for the coming battle was circulated to Officers. Running to eight pages, its length and complexity show how the British Army had learnt the importance of good planning and preparation – the hard way, sadly. The XVIIIth Corps – comprising the 4th, 34th and 51st Divisions – were to capture the third system of trenches, around the River Scarpe. Rather ambitiously, if this objective was achieved, the next target was to be the southern section of Vimy Ridge. Detailed instructions were given for where the Battalion was to assemble prior to the offensive. The officers were assured that the Artillery Barrage would cut gaps in the wire in front of the German defences.

The Hampshires specific targets on day one were as follows: to capture the second German trench (code named HAGGARD) , and then to bomb the first and third trenches (HUDSON and HAZZARD), and then to push out patrols as far as the sunken road. D and B companied were to be in the front, with A Company in support. The companies were given very detailed instructions, down toobjectives for their platoons and sections. The plan also placed emphasis on consolidation and the building of strong points. Looking at the map, the plan was very much to break through the line, and then attack down the length of the German trenches.

The attack would have significant firepower support. The 11th Trench Mortar Battery were to move up immediately behind B Company. A incredibly complex artillery creeping barrage was put together, with very specific timings – to the minute, in fact.

The plan also made extensive use of very detailed maps, with the German trench system mapped and code named. All orders made thorough use of grid references. Communictations were also important – a Squadron of Royal Flying Corps BEC2 aircraft were assigned to work with XVIII to observe progress and sport for signal flares.

Medical arrangements were also thorough. The Regimental Aid Post was to remain with Battalion HQ, and from there officers were briefed on where the Main Dressing Station,  advanced Dressing  Station and Walking Wounded Aid Post were to be. Men were assigned to act as xtra stretcher bearers, and a special Labour Company was assigned to bury the dead.

The thought, effort and detail that had gone into the planning of the Battle of Arras shows how, slowly but surely, the British Army was learning how to fight on the Western Front. This, compared to the non-existant or minimal planning for previous battles, was much more professional.

The Battle

The day broke with slight rain. Reveille was at 4.45am, and breakfast was served before the Battalion marched off. Arriving at the assembly area at 7.30am, the Brigade ate dinner from cookers. No news was heard from the first phase of the attack, but promisingly large numbers of German prisoners were seen being herded to the rear.

The Brigade finally marched off at 10am, at a compass angle of 90 degrees until it reached the original British front line. There enemy shells began to fall, and one landed in the middle of B Company, causing 17 casualties. After an hour, the Battalion then launched its attack.

The enemy  offered slight resistance, most German troops apparently turned and fled. The guns had not in fact cut the German barbed wire, but due to the lack of enemy activity the men were able to cut it themselves. The Battalion captured 80 prisoners, 2 Machine Guns and three 8 inch howitzers. By 4.05pm  all Companies had achieved their objectives. The captured position was a good one, giving good observation and a commanding view of the north east and east.

The Battalion had suffered remarkably few casualties. 12 men were killed, and 47 wounded. The Doctor, Captain J. Walker RAMC, was wounded but remained at his post. Among those killed was Private Gerald Gomer, from Portsmouth, who is remembered on the Arras Memorial.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – prelude to Arras

A British machine gun post in a captured trenc...

A British machine gun post during the Battle of Arras (Image via Wikipedia)

After returning from the front line on 2 February 1917, the 1st Hants spent several days going through the usual clean-up routine. After the ubiquitous church parade on the Sunday, attention then shifted to training, and also providing men for fatigue duties. On 8 February a party of 3 officers and 268 men were seconded to Maurepas to relieve a working party from another regiment. 268 men represented a sizeable amount of the Battalion’s manpower, at a time when they were supposed to be resting and training.

Although the remainder of the Battalion went on a route march on the 9th, and on the 10th marched to a new camp at Suzanne, on the 11th a party of 4 officers and 171 men were attached to 171 tunnelling company of the Royal Engineers near Maurepas. The remainder of the Battalion left in the camp did nothing but fatigues, with only a Lewis Gun class continuing. The party of men sent to Maurepas were engaged in making gun emplacements, and the men attached to the tunnellers were assisting in building accomodation for gun teams.

On 16 February the Battalion went into close support. Every available man was put to work improving the trenches, as the onset of the spring thaw was making them very very wet and muddy. On 18 February the Battalion went into the front line. By this time it was raining, making conditions even worse. After four days in the line the 1st Hants were relieved on 22 February. As the ground was in such a poor condition it took until midday on the 23rd for all of the Battalion to pull back to Hem crossroads, where they boarded buses for their new camp at La Neuville-les-Bray.

Having reached La Neuville-les-Bray, on 24 February the Battalion marched to camp 124, near Corbie. Once there the usual cleaning, inspections and church parades commenced. Finally, on 27 February, a full scheme of training began, starting with individual training within sections, and other training for specialists. A platoons football league was also begun.

On 4 March the whole 4th Division began the march to its new area of operations at Arras. The first day’s march was for 15 miles, and 16 men fell out. This was quite a low figure, given the Battalion’s fitness, the conditions and that they had become used to static warfare. The next day’s march of 10 miles saw only five men fall out, even with a snow fall. By 7 March the Battalion hard reached their new camp at Buire-au-Bois.

After the usual cleaning up and improving of billets, training began in earnest on 9 March. Individual training continued, with Company training beginning on the 10th. For several days D Company were attached to the 3rd Army, to give a demonstration to training staff and observers of ‘the company in attack’. Later, on the 18th, the whole Battalion have a similar demonstration.

No sooner had Battalion training begun on 19 March, than on the 21st the Battalion was transported by bus to Bajus. Company and Battalion training resumed, but time was found on the 25th for the final of the Platoon Football Cup, with 9 Platoon beating 5 Platoon 2-0.

Although the Battalion were scheduled to take part in a major offensive in only a matter of days, on 26 March 119 men under 2nd Lieutenant Stannard left for Anzin-st-Aubin, to form a work party. The next day the rest of the Battalion went to the divisional training area, and took part in a Brigade exercise. The Battalions assaulted positions almost identical to those that they had been given for the coming battle – in effect, a dress rehearsal. Another practise took place two days later, and another two days after that.

With plenty of individual, company, Battalion and now Brigade training behind them, the 1st Hants were certainly better prepared for Arras than they had been for any other battle so far in the war. At the end of the month detailed instructions were circulated to officers by the Adjutant, covering signals between infantry and artillery, and also a complex table showing what equipment men were to carry during the assault. Staff work was also beginning to come into its own.

Into April, poor weather limited the amount of training that could be carried out. 4 April was spent – for A and D Companies – practising consolidation, that is, keeping hold of positions that had been captured, clearly something that was of benefit when attacking enemy trenches. B Company spent the day exercising with the Trench Mortar Battery, a good example of co-operation. The next day was spent going through Operation Orders with NCO’s and men – again, the men were going into the Battle of Arras better informed than ever before.

On 7 April the Battalion marched to huts on the main Arras-St. Pol road, and the next day marched to camp at Maroeuil. The Battle of Arras was to begin the next day.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – Christmas and New Year on the Somme

For their first stint back in the front line since the grievous losses on 23 October, D Company was in the front line, C Company in support, and A and B Companies were in reserve. The Battalion’s front line was about 500 yards long, and opposite St Pierre Vaast Wood. This tour of the front line also saw a new rotation of companies. Instead of all of the Battalion being in the line for the duration and having other Battalions in reserve, the Hampshires held a shorter front, with Battalions rotating between front line, support and reserve every day. This caused less strain on the men by lessening the time they were in the front line for any continuous period, and also gave newer soldiers a chance to gain experience gradually.

The 1st Hampshires were relieved on 23 December 1916 by the 1st Somerset Light Infantry, after four days in the front line. After marching to Maurepas the next three days were spent carying out fatigues, including on Christmas Day. The Battalion were in the front line again on 27 December, relieving the 1st East Lancashire Regiment. A similar routine of rotating Companies was once again carried out. This was a very short tour, however, for on 29 December the 1st Hants were relieved by the 2nd Middlesex Regiment. After once again marching back to Maurepas, lorries took the men the rest of the way to Bray. There the Battalion worked on making its camp habitable, including building roads and paths. The day before New Years Eve a draft of 132 reinforcements arrived.

The first page of the War Diary for 1917 records that the first week of January was spent in a ‘plucky attempt’ at training in spite of very poor conditions. The camp now had a road into it, and chalk paths round the huts. Training was mostly limited to musketry and gas helmet training. A regimental course was set up for training men in using the Lewis Light Machine Gun. Due to operational commitments on the actual day, the 4th Division celebrated Christmas Day on 7 January 1917, putting on a good dinner but in a typically british manner the War Diary bemoans the lack of plates or glasses.

The next week was again spent on training, until 15 January when the Battalion marched to huts in Curlu. This camp was much better than the one at Bray, consisting of small huts with a capacity for 25 men each. Training was impossible, however, due to a heavy fall of snow. Therefore time was spent improving drainage and building cookhouses.

On 20 January the Battalion relieved the 1st East Lancashire Regiment in the front line. D Company, however, remained in Curlu and was attached to the East Lancs. The front line was around 500 yards long, and about 500 yards east of Bouchavesnes, which itself was three miles north of Peronne. Rations had to be carried 5 miles from the nearest road – a significant logistical undertaking. The front line was exposed, as the enemy occupied higher ground. The front line does seem to have been relatively quiet during this stage of the war, however; the Germans limiting themselves to the odd shell and the odd sniper.

On 24 January the 1st Hants were relieved by the 1st East Lancs, and went back tot dugouts in Clery or camp in Curlu. No work could be carried out while the men were out of the line, as the ground was so hard. The Battalion were back in the front line again on 28 January, and again the Battalion practised a roulement of Companies. On 1 February the Hampshires were relieved by the 1st Kings Own Regiment, and marched back to camp near Suzanne, the last Company arriving just before 6am on the 2nd.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – Respite on the Somme

The day after the bloody battle on 23 October 1916 the 1st Hampshires were relieved in the front line by the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and went back to bivouac in Trones Wood. After reaching the wood at 4am, at midday they marched on to Mansell Camp near Carnoy. On the 27th they went to new billets at Meaulte, then 3 days later entrained at Mericourt. They arrived at Arraines – about 13 miles south east of Abbeville – and marched to billets in Merelessart.

By this time the Battalion was severely understrength after its losses on the first day of the Somme and 23 October. In terms of officers, the Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Armitage, and the second in command was Major F.H.W. Guard. There were three Captains, three Lieutenants and eleven 2nd Lieutenants. In peactime, a Battalion would have five Majors, and a similar number of Captains. Losses had been so heavy that young and inexperienced officers were given a lot of responsibility very quickly (Incidentially, its noticeable from my research that very few officers came from Portsmouth, and those that did tended to be pupils of the Grammar School).

The attrition rate amongst officers was particularly high on the Western Front. On 23 October alone the 1st Hampshires lost one Captain and two 2nd Lieutenants killed, and seven 2nd Lieutenants wounded. Its not difficult to see how the Battalion needed to rebuild after such losses. Many officers were also away on courses.

On 2nd November 1916 the Battalion marched to a new area at Ramburelles. On the 4th the General commanding the 4th Division, Major-General Lambton, made an inspection. On the same day training began, and would continue for the rest of the month. The war diary gives an unusually detailed account of the training that was carried out – close order drill, arms drill, physical drill, Bayonet fighting, musketry, firing on the range and small attacks. The ubiquitous church parades also took place each Sunday.

After a week of basic training to build up the men, Company training began on 20 November. At the same time a draft of 73 reinforcements arrived, going some way to making up the Battalion’s losses – 159 arrived during the month in total. On the last day of the month the Battalion carried out a full exercise. Battalion training continued into December. Private Alexander, Sergeant Oliver, Corporal Golding and Private Patterson were presented with the Military Medal, and Lance Corporal Alexander received a bar to the Military Medal.

On 7 December the Battalion marched to Morlancourt. The next day they marched to Bray-sur-Somme. On 15 December the Battalion was transported by lorries to Maurepas, and from there marched to Combles, where the sheltered in old dug outs while in Brigade reserve. On 19 December 1916 the 1st Hampshires once again went into the front line on the Somme.

The Somme offensive had been ‘closed down’ after the failure to make a breakthrough at the end of October. The British Army was therefore pausing to rebuild in time for the next offensive, which would come in the north at Ypres in the Spring. A pattern was therefore emerging – of units taking part in the latest ‘big push’, and then withdrawing to rebuild in time for the next effort. In between there were relatively quiet spells in the trenches on the front line.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – return to the Somme

The beginning of October 1916 found the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment billeted at Cobie, a town some 20 miles behind the Somme front-line. The men were under no illusions as to what they were preparing for, as they had been informed sometime previously that they would be going back into action. After the failure to make a breakthrough on the first day, Field Marshal Haig kept pressing his Generals to keep attacking on the Somme, and the battle was still raging there over 4 months later.

Tellingly, the 1st of October found the Battalion practising attacking an entrenched position. The next day found them practising consolidation – that is, the tactic of holding onto positions that had been captured. After being confined to billets for several days due to wet weather, on 5th October the whole 11th Brigade, in conjunction with the 10th Brigade, practised assaulting a village.

On 7th October the Battalion marched eight miles nearer the front line, to Meaulte. The roads were crowded with troops, all moving in preparation for the next phase of the Somme offensive. The Battalion were billeted in 20 man tents. The next day the Battalion marched even nearer to the line, on flooded country tracks. When they arrived at Montaubaun the tents earmarked for them had already been occupied, so the men had to devise makeshift shelters, which they slept in until their tents became free on the 12th.

While the officers went forward to familiarise themselves with the front-line, the Battalion also continuted practising assaulting trenches. On the 17th of October 1916 the Hampshires were in Brigade reserve, while the other 3 Battalions were in the front line east of Guillemont. (The 14th and 15th Battalions of the Regiment – the Portsmouth ‘pals’ Battalions – had suffered heavy losses in the Battle of Guillemont during September). The next day the 1st Rifle Brigade and the 1st East Lancashires attacked the German front line. There was not much success, due to the very wet conditions. The Hampshire supplied carrying parties for the Brigade Headquarters and the front-line Battalions.

The next day the Brigade retired to support lines near Lesboeufs. On the 22nd the Battalion relieved the 1st Somerset Light Infantry in the front line, midway between Morval and Lesboeufs. The next day, the 23rd, dawned very misty. Zero hour for the coming operation – the Battle of le Transloy – was put back from 11.30am until 2.30pm in order to allow the ground to dry. The Hampshires were in the front-line, and were next to the French Army on their right. Their objective was an ‘imaginary line’ on the map, known as ‘the brown line’. The British Guns were falling short of the German lines most of the morning, leaving them relatively unscathed.

At 2.30pm the Battalion went over the top. C Company were on the right, A Company on the left, D Company in support and B Company in reserve. As soon as they entered no mans land very heavy Machine Gun and Rifle fire was directed at the Hampshires. The right flank suffered very heavy casualties, but managed to enter the first line of German trenches. They had to retire, however, due to a shortage of ammunition. Eventually the whole line had to retire to their original positions.

The next day the Battalion counted the cost – 10 officers and 192 other ranks. After being relieved the Battalion marched back to bivouac in Trones Wood. By the end of the month the Battalion was billeted at Abbeville. After such serious losses on the first day of the Somme, during the Gas attack in the Ypres Salient and on the 23rd of October, the 1st Hampshires were by now seriously understrength.

The battle on 23 October 1916 caused more casualties to Portsmouth men than the first day of the battle on 1 July. The men from Portsmouth who were killed on 23 October were: Private William Bampton (27, Stone Street, Southsea), Private Cyril Baker, Lance Corporal Albert Boyle (28, Peckham Street, Southsea), Private James Kneller (Oxford Street, Landport), Private Harry Carter, Private Douglas James, and Private Joseph Green. All have no known grave and are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial. Private Frederick Hatch (40) died two days later – presumably of wounds – and is buried at Guards Leboeuf Cemetery.

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1st Hampshires – The Ypres Salient, Summer 1916

The next day the Battalion went into the front line, relieving the 1st Grenadier Guards. It was very hot and the trenches in most part were dry, unusually for Flanders, which normally had a very high water table. The spell in the line was relatively quiet, with the only interruptions being Trench Mortars and mainly snipers. Enemy Machine Guns were also more active at night.

On the 28th Major Armitage of the West Yorkshire Regiment arrived to take over command. It was most unusual for an officer from outside the Regiment to be posted, especially to take command. The losses on the Somme had been so great, however, that it is likely that the usual tribal considerations had fallen by the wayside.

On 31 July the Battalion was relieved, and went back into support at Elveringhe. The time in support, and the men found time to bathe in the lake at Elveringhe Chateau. Some training was carried out, as well as providing fatigues for night work. On 4 August the Battalion went back into the line. It was still extremely hot, but the men were able to get on with work to improve their trenches.

The quiet was shattered, however, on the 8th. A warning was issued the day before that the enemy might use gas, as the wind was from the north east. Sure enough, at 10.30pm on the 8th the Germans discharged Gas. 10 minutes later a raiding party of 20 to 30 enemy was spotted, but was beaten back by rifle fire and grenades. An artillery barrage was called up, which effectively cleared no-mans land in front of the Hampshires sector.

The day afterwards Major Armitage submitted a detailed report of the incident. The numerous anti-gas devices, such as ‘gas gongs’ and klaxons, had not worked. 3 men had been killed, 14 wounded and 8 missing. 3 men were killed by gas, 37 suffering from the effects of gas, and 1 from shell shock. 1 officer had been wounded, and 1 affected by gas.

The Battalion went back into support for some much-needed rest, but D Company in particular were still feeling the effects of gas. Working under the threat of gas not only caused horrific casualties, it also seriously hampered the ability of a unit to resist attack – men wearing gas masks found breathing, moving and fighting much more difficult.

Among the dead during this period were Lance Corporal Wilfrid Cox (18, Copnor) who was killed on 4 August 1916, Private Albert Harris (29, Fratton) who was killed during the Gas attack on 8 August 1916, and Sergeant H.W. Doige who died on 10 August 1916. Cox and Harris are buried at Essex Farm Cemetery, and Doige at Lijssenthoek.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War: Aftermath of the Somme

On 10 July 1916 the 1st Hants left billets in Bertrancourt to take over front line trenches from the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers – this only nine days after the Battalion had been decimated on the first day of the Somme. – in the Beaumont Hamel-Serre sector. There they found trenches in a very bad condition. In some places Mills Grenades were buried in the mud – B Company lit a fire which exploded some grenades, killing one man and wounding two. There were only six officers in the front line, excluding Battalion HQ.

On the 13th a big fire demonstration was put on along the front line of the whole Corps. Gas, Smoke and High Explosive Shells were sent over all night, but retaliation from the enemy was light. By the next day trenches were beginning to dry out. Two patrols were sent out that night, and found that the German front line was strongly held. On the 15th the Battalion was relieved, and went back to billets in Mailly-Maillet. They were still close to the front line, and had to sleep in cellars to avoid shelling.

On the 16th the men attended a church parade in the morning, followed by 100 men forming a working party on the communication trenches. A draft of 15 men arrived, most of them men who had recently been lightly wounded. This suggests both how seriously understrength the Battalion was, and how desparate Britain’s manpower situation had become after the losses on the Somme. The next day a draft of 300 men arrived, mostly from the 16th (Depot) Battalion, but some from the 14th (1st Portsmouth) Battalion. Again, taking on such a huge number of men in one go suggests how depleted the Battalion was. The War Diary notes that the physical condition of these men was very poor – one man was sent to the Hospital within two hours of arriving. More new arrivals appeared on the 19th, including, as the War Diary puts it, ‘our old friends Capt Lockhart and Lt. Smythe’. Slowly, the Battalion was rebuilding. The influx of men who were no doubt volunteers or conscripts marked the point at which the Battalion lost much of its regular make-up.

On the 22nd the Battalion paraded for inspection. The next day they marched at 3am from Beauval to Doullens (Nord) Station, where they boarded trains for a 5 hour journey to Esquelbeeq (Nord) in Belgium. From their the men were billeted in farms. Battalion HQ was in Wormhoudt. The move to Flanders was evidently unpopular, as the War Diary records ‘those of us who were in Flanders before showed no zeal at renewing our acquaintance with this part of the world’. This is somewhat intriguing, given that the Battalion had suffered crippling losses on the Somme only weeks earlier, and that during 1916 the Ypres Salient proved to be relatively quiet. It is very possible that the 1st Hants were sent to this quiet sector in order to rest, rebuild and integrate their new recruits.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – The first day on the Somme

After a hiatus of a few months, its time to find out more about what happened to the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment in the First World War. We left them on 30 June 1916, the night before the British Army launched its attack on the German lines on the Somme.

The Somme offensive was originally planned as a joint British and French effort to break the German front line. After the German offensive at Verdun, however, the battle evolved more into an relieve the pressure on the French defenders of Verdun by diverting German reinforcements. The ground had not been chosen for any reason other than that it was at the boundary between the British and French sectors of the Western Front.

There were arguments among the Generals about the tactics to be used. The commander of the Fourth Army, General Sir Henry Rawlinson, was mindful of the limitations of the New Army units, and proposed to use a ‘bite and hold’ strategy of assaulting the front line, and then reinforce these gains before moving on to the next objective. He was overruled by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig -the Commander in Chief of the BEF -however, who ordered a more ambitious strategy of aiming to over-run the whole front line.

The Battalion had formed up in their assembly trenches the day before the attack was due to begin. A huge artillery barrage was planned, to neutralise the German front line, cut barbed wire and kill Machine Gunners. At 7.30pm the whole line assaulted. The 4th Divisions objective was the German front line between Beaumont Hamel and Serre. The Brigade’s front line consisted of the East Lancs and Somerset, and the second line was made up of the Hampshires and the Rifle Brigade. As soon as the troops left their trenches they encountered heavy machine gun fire from all directions, and it was impossible to even reach the German front line.

After hiding in shell holes in no mans land throughout the day, the survivors trickled back to the British lines. That same night the remains of the Brigade were relieved, and went back to billets at Mailly. From Mailly, the remnants of the Battalionwent back to billets at Betrancourt. On 10 July the Battalion relieved the Lancashires in the line near Beaumont Hamel, and stayed in the trenches until the 16th.

Losses were so great on the first day of the Somme, that the Battalion’s War Diary does not even give figures for men killed, wounded or missing. The stark figure of 100% casualties amongst officers tells its own story. Thousands of Tommies had been thrown against the German line, which despite a massive preliminary artillery barrage was still intact. Casualties among the officers amounted to 100%, and was also very heavy in other ranks. If these levels of losses are replicated across the whole Army on the Somme, only then do we get an idea of how heavy a price was paid for so little. The British Army on the Somme had suffered 19,240 dead, 35,493 wounded, 2,152 missing and 585 prisoners. In ONE day.

Among the dead from Portsmouth were Private Frank Goldring, Private Henry Bushnell and Corporal Phillip Brymer who have no known grave and are remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, Private Reginald Buckland (27, Copnor) who is buried at Serre Road War Cemetery, and Sergeant Norman Blissett (23, Southsea) who is buried in Beaumont Hamel War Cemetery. Corporal Walter Gubby (21) died the next day, and is buried at Doullens Cemetery.

Among the officer casualties on 1 July 1916 was the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel the Honourable Lawrence Palk. Born in 1870, Palk was the second son of Lord Haldon, and fought in the Boer war between 1901 and 1902. He had served with the 1st Battalion since the start of the war, and had been awared the French Legion d’Honneur, the DSO and was mentioned in despatches. He is buried in Sucrerie Military Cemetery, Colincamps. Colincamps is back from the front line, suggesting that Palk died of wounds received. Another officer killed was Lieutenant Charles Goodford, who had won the Military Cross the previous winter for leading a daring raid across no-mans-land. He is also buried at Colincamps.

The Battalion would not take part in another attack on the Somme until October. Its not difficult to see how the devestating losses on the Somme – and the first day in particular – cut a swathe through the British Army. Losses amongst Officers, NCO’s and experienced men were keenly felt, especially among regular battalions such as the 1st Hants. The Portsmouth Pals Battalions – the 14th and 15th Hants – would suffer even bigger losses when their turn to fight came in September 1916.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – The Hampshire Regiment in focus

The Hampshire Regiment in focus

114 men from Portsmouth died serving with the Hampshire Regiment during the Second World War, more than any other infantry Regiment. Between 1939 and 1945 six Hampshire Battalions fought overseas – the 1st, 2nd, 1/4th, 2/4th, 5th and 7th.

11 men died in England, 1 in Algeria, 1 in Burma, 1 in Egypt, 21 in France, 1 in Germany, 1 in Greece, 5 in Holland, 41 in Italy, 2 in Malta, 1 in Singapore, 1 in Syria, and 27 in Tunisia.

Traditionally British county infantry Regiments consisted of two regular Battalions and several territorial Battalions. In wartime these might be joined by a number of war-raised Battalions, and also Depot Battalions. Unlike in the Great War no ‘pals’ Battalions were formed, after concerns that too many men from the same communities were being killed together, which was bad for morale at home and for the men concerned.

For many years the Hampshire Regiment Depot had been at Winchester, but during the Second World War it was evacuated to the Isle of Wight. Almost all wartime recruits would have undertaken their basic training there.

Regular Battalions:

1st Battalion – 20
2nd Battalion – 22

Most line infantry Regiments began the Second World War with two regular Battalions. In peacetime normally one Battalion would be serving overseas – such as in India, or Egypt – while the other would be at home.

The 1st Hants began the war in Egypt. After pecekeeping duties in Palestine and guarding Italian prisoners in Egypt, they spent some time in Malta in 1941, suffering two casualties there, before joining the Malta Brigade and fighting in Sicily and Italy. At the end of 1943 they were withdrawn to England, after Montgomery requested experienced troops to take part in the D-Day operations. When the Battalion laned in England in 1943 it was the first time it had set foot in the UK after 23 years overseas. The 1st Hants landed on D-Day, with four Portsmouth soldiers being killed among total losses of 182 men, including the CO and second in command. After fighting at Hottot, Villers-Bocage, Belgium and Holland, along with the rest of the 50th Division the Battalion was disbanded in November 1944 and the men dispersed to other units.

The 2nd Battalion was based in Aldershot when war began. They landed in France in September 1939, serving on the Maginot Line and the Franco-Belgian Border, but were evacuated through Dunkirk with its equipment intact and without suffering any casualties. The 2nd Hants then went to North Africa in November 1942, fighting in Algeria and Tunisia. The Battalion suffered very heavy casualties between 1 and 3 December 1942, with 7 Portsmouth men killed. After the fall of Tunis they joined the 128th ‘Hampshire’ Brigade.

Territorial Battalions:

1/4th Battalion – 15
2/4th Battalion – 16
5th Battalion – 14
7th Battalion – 17

On the outbreak of war in 1939 most Regiments also possessed two Battallions of the Territorial Army. To provide a firm basis for new recruits, the 4th Battalion were split in two to provide an extra Battalion, of the first and second line, ie 1/4th and 2/4th. The 5/7th Battalion, meanwhile, was split up into the 5th and 7th Battalions. Therefore these Battalions were made up roughly half of territorials and half of conscripts, although they would have taken on conscripts during the war to make up losses.

The 1/4th, 2/4th and 5th Hants were formed into the 128th ‘Hampshire’ Brigade, part of the 43rd (Wessex) Division. In January 1943 the Brigade left the 43rd Division and joined the 46th (West Riding) Division for North Africa. After the end of the war in North Africa the Brigade landed at Salerno in September 1943, suffering very heavy casualties, with 8 Portsmouth Hampshires killed. After fighting up trough Italy the Brigade was taken out of the line in February 1944, and taken to Egypt where reinforcements were taken on. In August 1944 the Hampshire Brigade was back in action in Italy. In December 1944 they were relieved once again, and in January 1945 were sent to Greece to disarm communist guerillas. One man of the 5th Battalion was killed in Greece. Although the Brigade moved back to Italy in April 1945 the war was over before they could go into action again.

The 7th Hants was part of the 43rd (Wessex) Division, and were grouped with the 4th and 5th Dorsets in 130th Brigade. They landed in France on 22 June, and were initially in reserve. In July the 7th Hants went into action in the bitter bocage fighting, culminating in the capture of Mont Pincon. The Battalion was then involved in the breakout and the great swan across France, before being involved in the latter stages of Operation Market Garden. After rest the 7th Hants took part in the battle of the Reichswald in February 1945. After crossing the Rhine on 24 March 1945 they ended the war at Barkhausen in Germany, between Bremen and Hamburg.

Home Service/Depot Battalions

12th Battalion – 3
13th Battalion – 2

Home Service and Depot Battalions were formed to act as holding units for recruits, or for older men who were maybe not suitable for service overseas. Younger men could in turn be posted overseas. Four of the five men who died while serving in Depot Battalions died in the UK. The other man died in Burma, perhaps while he was travelling to another unit or while he was serving as a Staff Officer.

Of the Portsmouth Hampshires killed during the Second World War, only Lance Corporal Leslie Webb of the 1st Battalion was decorated for bravery. He won the Military Medal for his part in D-Day, but after being evacuated wounded to England died on 14 June 1944. He was 27 and from North End, and is buried in Milton Cemetery.

Information taken from ‘The Royal Hampshire Regiment 1918 – 1954′ by David Scott Daniell.

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Private Arthur and Rifleman Charles Merriott

Private Arthur Merriott, 19, was serving with the 1st Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment when he was killed on 23 December 1914. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Le Touret Memorial in France.

Rifleman Charles Merriott, 23, was killed on 19 April 1917. He was serving with 1/8th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, a territorial unit, and is remembered on the Jerusalem Memorial.

Arthur and Charles Merriott were the sons of the late John and Agnes Merriott, of 47 Boulton Road, Southsea. We know that Arthur was educated at the Duke of York’s Royal Military School in Kent. This would suggest that the Merriotts were a military family, as the Duke of York’s School was for the children of servicemen. That Arthur was serving in a regular Battalion and killed early in the war in 1914 also suggests that he had joined the Army pre-war.

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