Elegy by Andrew Roberts


Elegy by Andrew Roberts

Author:Andrew Roberts [Roberts, Andrew]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781784080006
Published: 2016-03-04T05:00:00+00:00


A BIRD’S EYE VIEW

An aerial photograph of the south end of Gommecourt village and park, showing the destruction caused by the fighting, October 1916.

Attacking Gommecourt from the south was Maj.-Gen. C.P. A. Hull’s 56th (London) Division, which included the Rangers, London Scottish and London Rifle Brigade. The Londoners found the wire cut in several places and overran the first two lines of trenches but were held up at the third, as well as at Nameless Farm. The division then came under heavy German artillery attack out in the open, which prevented reinforcements reaching them across no man’s land. When the Germans began their counter-attack, therefore, the Londoners could not defend their gains. For all that a bombing section of the Queen’s Westminster Rifles got behind Gommecourt, it proved impossible for the 56th to join up with the 46th. Although the attack on Gommecourt had been purely diversionary, it was of course impossible for the General Staff to tell that to the divisions concerned, so support battalions were sent into the fray and were also destroyed. ‘Guns of all calibres pounded their system of trenches till it looked for all the world like nothing more than a ploughed field’, wrote an officer of the 56th Division.7

Cpl. Sidney Appleyard recalled how according to one report that his unit received, ‘Gommecourt Wood had been knocked to the ground and the Germans had evacuated the whole position’.8 But it was yet another over-optimistic report, a rumour. ‘Line after line advanced and disappeared in the clouds of smoke, and on several occasions one could see batches of men disappear as a shell exploded in their midst’, he later wrote. ‘On we went and it seemed marvellous how the pieces missed us, for the air appeared to be alive with missiles. At last after advancing about thirty yards (27.4 m) I was struck in the thigh by a bullet, the force of which knocked me over. The only thing to do was to crawl back, and this I did… Knowing that a good number had been hit, I decided to crawl out on top again and give any assistance that might be required. My efforts were useless for the only man left out there had been shot through the head and killed instantly.’9 He crawled to an ambulance station at Sailly, from where he was sent to Le Tréport hospital, from which he wrote the next day: ‘The doctors and nurses are very kind to us all and it is worth getting wounded. The weather is glorious and it is a treat to get away from the booming of the guns.’10 He was proud of what they had achieved: ‘The London Territorials were outnumbered and beaten, but by no means disgraced, for under such conditions we did remarkably well in taking the first two lines, and if we had been in the position to get reserves up we should certainly have reached our objective.’11

Despite taking their first objectives in places where the wire had been well cut, the men of the 56th Division were forced back into their own trenches by the end of the day.



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