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10th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Delville Wood

20th and 21st July 1916

10th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Welch Fusiliers [10 RWF] was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Albert de Lande Long during the fighting on the Somme in 1916 and was part of Brigadier-General Reginald John Kentish's 76th Brigade.

On Saturday, 1st July 1916, when the Battle of the Somme began, the 10 RWF was in the vicinity of St Omer and entrained to head south to Doullens. From Doullens they marched via Naours, Rainneville, Fanvillers and Bois Celestine near Chipilly before arriving on the Somme at Carnoy on Tuesday, 11th July 1916. At Carnoy they bivouacked at Bronfay Farm where they remained until the afternoon of Thursday, 13th July 1916 when they were ordered to move forward to become the divisional reserve in Montauban Alley ready for the dawn attack scheduled to take place the next day. At 15.00 hrs the 76th Brigade was ordered to be prepared to move at 20 minutes notice.

At 03.20 hrs on Friday, 14th July 1916 the bombardment intensified and at 03.25 hrs, zero hour, the Fourth Army launched their attack to capture the Bazentin Ridge and the Battle of Bazentin Ridge began. The 8th and 9th Brigades were the assaulting Brigades of the 3rd Division with the 76th Brigade held in reserve. The 8th Brigade was initially held up by uncut wire, but the 9th Brigade had no such trouble and Bazentin le Grand was taken by the 1st Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers [1 NORTH'D FUS]. Soon a steady stream of wounded and prisoners began to flow along the Montauban to Carnoy road, the unwounded Germans being pressed into service as stretcher bearers.

At 08.45 hrs 10 RWF received orders to move forward and take over the sector being held by the 1st Battalion, the Gordon Highlanders [1 GORDONS] who, with the 8th Battalion, the King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) [8 KINGS OWN] advanced to Caterpillar Valley and dug themselves in. 10 RWF moved forward by platoons and by the time they got into position the situation in the forward Brigades was quiet. That evening they saw the cavalry go forward to attack the enemy.

Saturday, 15th to Monday, 17th July 1916 saw the 10 RWF in the vicinity of Montauban providing work parties digging in cable (line). On Tuesday, 18th July 1916 the battalion moved forward to the Sunken Road leading from Montauban to Caterpillar Valley taking over the trenches originally begun by 1 GORDONS and 8 KINGS OWN.

The morning of Wednesday, 19th July 1916 was spent improving the trenches and at 16.00 hrs orders were received to move forward to take over the Breslau front and support trenches. At 20.45 hrs Lieutenant Colonel Albert de Lande Long reported to 76th Brigade's headquarters and received orders for an attack on Delville Wood.

Fricourt 1st July 1916

A sketch map of Delville Wood.

10 RWF paraded at 22.00 hrs and moved off in column of fours to arrive at the first rendezvous point without casualties. Here they were met by Brigadier-General Kentish who gave them some encouragement and advice.

At midnight on the night of the 19th/20th they moved off across country on a compass bearing. As they approached the last crest heavy machine gun fire and some artillery opened up. It was decided not to deploy into artillery formation and risk losing connection in the darkness. In the 20 minutes that they were compelled to wait two officers and a few others ranks became casualties. When the firing died down sufficiently 10 RWF moved forward and, although they experienced some difficulties due to shell holes and some French wire, met their guides close to the south west corner of Delville Wood.

In the early hours of Thursday, 20th July 1916 10 RWF was led eastwards along South Street, then north west up the side of Buchanan Street and in to Delville Wood, which was being held by the South African Brigade. They had not gone far when a large amount of rifle fire and short bursts of machine gun fired upon them. Very lights soared skywards a short distance to their front and Germans were heard shouting all over the wood. Still short of Princes Street 10 RWF began to deploy for the attack.

Taking a compass bearing due east and selecting an appropriate star they began to move in that direction. Captain George Blake and Captain Charles Albert Follit with Second Lieutenant Leonard Godfrey led the way with B Company following. Their intention was for Second Lieutenant Godfrey to halt after 200 yards to mark the right of C Company, Captain Follit to march 400 yards to mark the right of D Company and Captain Blake to march to the eastern edge of the wood. The Companies would halt turn to the left and extend out to the officers marking the flanks of their assembly positions.

They had gone about 100 yards when the Germans were seen advancing. More very lights went up and the enemy attacked B Company who repulsed them with steady rifle fire. The remainder of the battalion had to lay down whilst this was going on in order to avoid the machine gun fire.

By now it was evident that the plan had gone awry and the Germans were either in the process of mounting their own attack or were aware that British were deploying to attack and were disrupting their deployment. However, as their attack was part of a large attack the prudent course of action to withdraw from the wood was not open to Lieutenant Colonel Long and therefore he was faced with the onerous decision of continuing.

The enemy beaten off, 10 RWF continued with their eastward movement to get into position ready for zero hour. They had gone about another 200 yards when they were checked by machine gun fire from their right and rear. The Germans attacked again in large numbers, but the men of 10 RWF stood steady and held their line.

Between the two attacks Corporal Joseph John Davies and eight other men had become separated from the Battalion and were completely surrounded. When this second attack came in, Corporal Davies got his men into a shell hole and by throwing bombs and opening rapid fire they succeeded in routing the attackers; and even followed and bayoneted some of them in their retreat. For his actions in Delville Wood on Thursday, 20th July 1916 Corporal Joseph John Davies was awarded the Victoria Cross.

After this second attack Lieutenant Colonel Long decide to change the angle of the Battalion's deployment in order to avoid the machine guns and the direction of advance was amended to south east. At this point some very lights were sent skywards just in front of Captain Follit who gave the challenge. The challenge was greeted with more rifle and machine gun fire and any further deployment was by now out of the question. The situation was reported to 76th Brigade's headquarters and at 02.42 hrs the order were given to dig-in where they were and await zero hour.

At 03.30 hrs a message was received by 10 RWF to delay their attack by ten minutes. This was done in the hope that the attack by the 2nd Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment [2 SUFF] would draw attention away from 10 RWF thereby relieving the pressure on them. At 03.45 hrs 10 RWF's attack commenced and C Company on the left was met by heavy machine gun fire and bombs which held them up. This endangered the centre and the right, but Captain George Scale, C Company's commander, rallied them and led them forward to get level with the remainder of the Battalion.

When Captain Scales gave the order to press on Private Albert Hill dashed forward. He was met by two of the enemy who he bayoneted and killed. Later, Sergeant Hugh Green, his platoon sergeant, sent him forward to locate the enemy. Whilst doing this Private Hill got cut off and was surrounded by over twenty Germans. He threw two hand grenades that killed and wounded eighteen and scattered the remainder. Private Hill then joined another sergeant of his company and helped him to fight the way back to their own lines. When he got back, Private Hill heard that Captain Scales and a scout were lying out wounded. He went out with a few other men and brought in the mortally wounded officer and scout. Private Hill then captured two of the enemy and brought them in as prisoners. For his actions in Delville Wood on Thursday, 20th July 1916 Private Albert Hill was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The toll in officers and men in 10 RWF was such that it became impossible to retain cohesion and the line broke down into small isolated pockets each fighting its own battle. The situation was such that they were forced to withdraw and each small isolated group had to extract themselves as best they could. Those that had penetrated the furthest into the wood reported that they had seen the enemy being reinforced through the rear of the wood as they had pulled back.

At daybreak snipers began to cause further casualties and the remnants of 10 RWF were compelled to withdraw back to the line held by 6th Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment [6 R BERKS] and the 10th Battalion, the Essex Regiment [10 ESSEX] both of the 53rd Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division. They were now very much on the defensive and CO 10 RWF sent a composite platoon under Sergeant Pettifor to reinforce the 10 ESSEX on the right and deployed the remainder of his men.

At 14.00 hrs Lieutenant Colonel Long was sent for by 76th Brigade headquarters to which he duly reported. On appraising Brigadier-General Kentish of the situation he was ordered to make arrangements for all of the fractions of the battalions holding the wood, with the exception of the 8th Battalion, the Norfolk Regiment [8 NORF], to be relieved by the 4th Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers [4 RF]. This relief was carried out by 03.26 hrs on Friday, 21st July 1916 and the remnants of 10 RWF returned to their positions in the Breslau Trenches.

During the attack on Delville Wood 10 RWF sustained 227 casualties: 4 officers were killed and 11 wounded; and 33 other ranks were killed, 119 wounded and 60 were missing. The 4 officers killed were:

Captain George Penderell Blake who is buried in A.I.F. Burial Ground, Flers in grave XV. F. 26.

Second Lieutenant H Page who is buried in A.I.F. Burial Ground, Flers in grave XV. F. 25.

Captain George Devereux Scale who has no known grave and is remembered with honour on the Thiepval memorial to the Missing, Pier and Face 4 A.

Second Lieutenant Leonard George Godfrey who has no known grave and is remembered with honour on the Thiepval memorial to the Missing, Pier and Face 4 A.

On Tuesday, 25th July 1916 10 RWF was relieved by the 17th (Service) Battalion (1st Football), the Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex Regiment) [7 MIDDX] and moved back to Bois de Tailles. On Friday, 28th July 1916 they marched back to Mericourt l'Abbe and into billets away from the battle.

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Last updated: 17th December 2018