The beginning of May found the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment in billets away from the front line. Battalion Headquarters was at Bienvillers, A and D Companies at Fonquevillers, and B and C Companies in Hannescamps.
It’s one of the peculiarities of war diaries that how detailed they are depends very much on who was filling them out – usually the Adjutant. In previous months the Battalion’s war diary had covered up to a page a day. Yet in May 1916 the whole month fits onto one page! This is partly because the Battalion was behind the lines, but still, it is hard to believe that nothing of any interest happened.
On 3 May the Battalion marched to Auteuil. On 6 May they marched from there to Longvillers. After a days Company training on 7 May, the Battalion then marched to Yrencheux. 15 May saw the beginning of Battalion and Brigade training. Preparations were well underway for what was already being called ‘The Great Offensive’. Ground had been chosen similar to that that the Hampshires were going to attack over.
On 18 May Lieutenant-Colonel Palk rejoined the Battalion and assumed command on the 19th when Lieutenant-Colonel Middleton left to take command of the 2nd Hampshires.
On 21 May the Battalion marched to Bernaville, and on the 22nd to Amplier. On the 23rd they reached Berthancourt, where they were billeted in huts.
From the 24th of May and the end of the month the Hampshires were occupied digging assembly trenches that they were to occupy prior to the forthcoming attack. Given the frequent references in the war diary to ‘The Great Offensive’ and the ‘forthcoming attack’ the men must have been under no illusions as to what was awaiting them. Time and time again in the First World War we find that each battle was awaited as the ‘big push’ that would lead to the breakthrough that the Generals craved.
The first ten days of June found the 1st Hampshires continuing to dig assembly trenches. On 11 June, however, the Battalion marched to Beauval, arriving at 3am on 12 June. After resting for two days on 16 June they marched to Braussart, where they remained until the 22nd, when they moved to Mailly. There time at both of these places was spent widening assembly trenches.
On 26 June A and D Companies relieved the 1st Warwicks in the front line North West of Beaumont-Hamel, with B and C Companies remaining in reserve at Mailly. A and D Companies were relieved on 29 June, and the next day the whole Battalion was formed up in the assembly trenches.