Hawthorne Ridge Mine detonation
2 SWB AT BEAUMONT HAMEL
On 1st July 1916 2 SWB were one of only two Welsh battalions to take part in the fighting on the First Day of the Somme. They were at what we now know as Newfoundland Park and were the leading battalion of the 29th Division's assault againt the enemy holding Y Ravine.

2nd Battalion, the South Wales Borderers at Beaumont-Hamel

Saturday, 1st July 1916

2nd Battalion, the South Wales Borderers [2 SWB], commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John Going, was part of Brigadier-General Cuthbert Henry Tindall Lucas's 87th Brigade.

At Beaumont Hamel the 86th Brigade and 87th Brigades assaulted in the vicinity of Hawthorne Ridge and Y Ravine. The 86th Brigade was on the left and the 87th Brigade on the right.

29th Division plan at Beaumont-Hamel on 1st July 1916

The 29th Division's plan of attack 1st July 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

At 07:20 hrs the Royal Engineers detonated the mine under the Hawthorne Ridge Redoubt off to the left of 2 SWB. Two platoons of the 2nd Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers [2 RF] with two machine gun teams and two trench mortar teams rushed forward to capture the crater. They got held up on the nearside and the Germans occupied the far lip.

Hawthorne Ridge mine

The Hawthorne Ridge mine being detonated at 07:20 hrs on 1st July 1916.

2 SWB, as part of the 87th Brigade, attacked in the first wave as the left assault battalion with the 1st Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers [1 R INNIS FUS] on the right. 1 R INNIS FUS attacked to the south of Y Ravine and was held up by uncut wire. As 2 SWB left their trenches they were met by a maelstrom of fire from three German machine gun positions located on the far side of no-man's-land. They made little progress and only a few men under Captain Hughes made it across to the enemy trenches. None of them reported for duty the following day.

1 R INNIS FUS on their right continued to be held up and 2 RF on the left of 2 SWB were not making any headway in their efforts to secure the crater that had been the Hawthorne Ridge Redoubt. By 07:35 hrs 2 SWB had ceased to exist as a coherent unit though some scattered groups had reached to within 100 yards of the enemy's trench.

At 08.05 hrs the 1st Battalion, the Border Regiment [1 BORD] and the 1st Battalion, the Kings Own Scottish Borderers [ 1 KOSB] were sent forward to reinforce the two assaulting battalions, but they too met a similar fate. By 08:45 hrs all efforts to go forward had ceased and the remnants of the four battalions that had gone forward took shelter in no-man's-land as best they could.

Major General De Lisle on receiving (incorrect) reports that the 87th Brigade had made good progress and gone unchecked to their objective, ordered the 88th Brigade to move its two leading battalions, the 1st Battalion, the Newfoundland Regiment [1 NFLD] and the 1st Battalion , the Essex Regiment [1 ESSEX], forward. These two battalions assembled in the trenches along the Hamel to Auchonvillers road but had difficulty in going forwards as the forward trenches and communication trenches were blocked.

29th Division's attacking waves

The attacking waves of the 29th Division at Beaumont-Hamel on 1st July 1916.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Lovell Hadow commanding 1 NFLD decided to move his battalion forward across the open ground and they began their advance at 09:05 hrs. 1 ESSEX continued to be held back by the congestion of dead and wounded in the trenches as it attempted to move forward. St John's Trench from which 1 NFLD advanced was on a reverse slope from the German positions, but as they crossed the skyline into view of the enemy they were hit hard by German machine gun fire and 710 out of their strength of 800 became casualties. 1 ESSEX eventually got forward and suffered as they left the frontline trenches from enemy artillery and machine gun fire.

The 86th Brigade, who attacked across the Hawthorne Ridge, fared no better than the 86th Brigade.

At 10:05 hrs Major General De Lisle heard of the disaster that had befallen his brigades and immediately ordered that no further troops were to be sent forward into the carnage.

At 10:30 hrs the 2 SWB reserves under Major G Hilton arrived and took over the frontline trenches where they remained until relieved by 1 ESSEX at 17:30 hrs. The remnants of the Battalion and Battalion reserves assembled at Fort Jackson to reorganise and take stock of their losses. 2 SWB had started the day 832 strong and had sustained 69% casualties; 575 being killed, wounded, missing or taken prisoner.

The 29th Division remained in the Beaumont Hamel sector until relieved by the 25th Division during the night of 24th/25th July 1916.

Page last updated: 18th April 2018