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.