Ruins of Bazentin-le-Petit
3 BDE, 1 DIV AT IN THE LINE EAST OF BAZENTIN-LE-PETIT
1 SWB, 2 WELCH and 1/6th WELCH were all part of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division and they were inaction between 20th and 27th August 1916 in the trenches to the east of Bazentin-le-Petit. This is the story of their battle.

3rd Brigade, 1st Division East of Bazentin-le-Petit

20th to 27th August 1916

The 3rd Brigade relieved the 1st and 2nd Brigades in the line in the vicinity of High Wood during the night of 19th/20th August 1916. 3rd Brigade headquarters took over the command post previously occupied by the 2nd Brigade and 1 SWB took over the location previously occupied by 1st Brigade headquarters. 1 GLOUC took over the frontline to the left of the sector, 2 WELCH moved into the centre and 2 R MUN FUS occupied the right of the frontline. 1 SWB were the 3rd Brigade's reserve battalion. The relief was carried out satisfactorily in spite of heavy enemy shelling while it was taking place.

Trench map showing area taken over by 3rd Brigade on Sunday, 20th August 1916

The area taken over by 3rd Brigade on Sunday, 20th August 1916. [© Ian R Gumm, 2016]

Throughout the night of the 20th/21st the enemy kept up an almost constant barrage though there was little machine gun and rifle fire. During the day the enemy kept up their shelling, 2 R MUN FUS pushed forward into Intermediate Trench and established a bombing position, and Lieutenant Colonel William Barry Lyons CO 2 R MUN FUS was mortally wounded by a sniper in the morning. He was evacuated but died of his wounds on 4th September 1916 and is buried at Abbeville Communal Cemetery, grave VI. B. 18.

On the night of 21st/22nd August 1916 the enemy put a heavy barrage over the frontline trenches occupied by the 3rd Brigade between 23.00 and 23.45 hrs and again between 00.05 and 00.15 hrs. They continued to fire their guns throughout the night and put up very lights. Patrols were sent out and work parties began the task of joining up the posts in the vicinity of Clarks Trench as a flank defence against High Wood. During the day then enemy artillery was very active firing from the direction of Flers and their airplanes were active in the skies over the battlefield.

During the night of 22nd/23rd August 1916 the enemy artillery was again very active which hindered the work of the 3rd Brigade. Around 02.30 hrs a party of 60 Germans was seen heading towards High Wood from the direction of Martinpuich and these were dispersed by rifle and Lewis gun fire. 2 WELCH captured a prisoner belonging to 1st Battalion, the 1st Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment and 2 R MUN FUS captured another belonging to the 3rd Battalion, 104 Infantry Regiment. Another party of about 100 Germans were seen in front of 2 R MUN FUS and these were fired upon by three machine guns and dispersed. During the day the enemy artillery was less active than it had been the previous day though the 3rd Brigade's trenches were heavily shelled between 06.00 hrs and 09.00 hrs.

Trench map showing the area between Bazentin-le-Petit and High Wood

The area in which the 3rd Brigade operated between 20th and 27th August 1916.

The enemy artillery was again very active throughout the night of 23rd/24th August 1916 especially between 02.00 and 02.45 hrs when the shelling became intense with 4.5-inch, 5.6-inch and heavy HE. This was concentrated on the frontline in the vicinity of Clarks Trench and the area behind the ridge between High Wood and Bazentin le Petit. Work continued on repairing and extending the trenches in the area including one running parallel to High Wood.

During the day the enemy artillery was less active, though the proportion of shrapnel to HE was greater. At 17.45 hrs 2 R MUN FUS attacked the German held portion of the Intermediate Line by working down it from both flanks. It had been intended to fire gas bombs from the 2-inch trench mortars, but the wind was in the wrong direction so this did not happen. The right hand party of the 2 R MUN FUS was met by heavy machine gun fire on the parapet and stopped. The left hand attack made some progress, but they found the trench obstructed and machine guns located in shell holes to the rear of the enemy's line opened fire upon them forcing them back. In the evening 2 R MU FUS were relieved by 1 SWB.

The enemy artillery was less active than previous nights though still persistent and heavy at times. Between 18.00 and 21.00 hrs the 3rd Brigade's trenches were shelled in retaliation to the British bombardment of the German positions in the Intermediate Line. The new trench parallel to High Wood was shelled with shrapnel and phosphorous. Work continued on improving and repairing existing trenches and extending the trench running west north west from Clarks Trench. The was extended out to 200 yards; the first 160 yards was complete to a depth of 4½ feet and the remainder was an average depth of 1 foot. Patrols were again out that night and two prisoners belonging to 2nd Battalion, 1st Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment were captured by 2 WELCH, but nothing else of note was reported.

At 15.30 hrs on Friday, 25th August 1916 about 30 of the enemy were seen withdrawing one-by-one from Intermediate Line towards Martinpuich and a Lewis gun and Vickers team accounted for 17 of them. At 16.30 hrs 1 SWB started bombing up the Intermediate Line from the right flank. They had gained about 30 yards of the trench when seven prisoners were taken. Eight other German soldiers were showing signs of surrender and Captain Francis Walshe MC climbed onto the parapet and one of the enemy threw a grenade that killed him. This took the stuffing out of the attack, which he had been leading, and the men retired back to the barricade. The seven prisoners belonged to the 3rd Company, 2nd Battalion, the 2nd Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. Captain Francis Weldon Walshe MC is buried at Peake Wood Cemetery, Fricourt in grave A. 15.

That night orders were received by 1 SWB to attack the part of the Intermediate Line that had been previously attacked by 2 R MUN FUS. The attack was to be a surprise attack without preparatory artillery bombardment and had a zero hour of 23.45 hrs. However, the guides leading two companies making the attack got lost and they failed to get into position ready for zero hour. By the time they eventually arrived the men were so fatigued that the attack was postponed.

During the night of 25th/26th the German artillery was once again active and work continued improving, repairing and extending the trenches. The trench running west north west from Clarks Trench (shown on later maps as Swansea Trench) was extended another 120 yards. About midday the trenches in the vicinity of High Wood were shelled by enemy artillery and the British artillery replied with counter battery fire.

At 18.30 hrs on Saturday, 26th August 1916 1 SWB carried out a bombing attack westwards along the Intermediate Line from the barricade. This attack was covered by an artillery barrage that lifted in sections. As the sections lifted, 1 SWB advanced and for the first two sections no enemy were encountered. As they crossed the barricade, six Germans bolted; these were killed by a Vickers gun. About 100 yards down the trench they came upon a barrier made of crossed bayonets buried in the ground with their points protruding by around 4-inches with wire strands drawn across the trench. The enemy in the vicinity had been killed by the artillery barrage.

A further 150 yards down the trench 1 SWB captured a German machine gun in an emplacement. The gunner was bayoneted and afterwards it was found that he had been chained to his gun.

In the third section eight German soldiers were found lying on the parapet feigning death. 1 SWB threw bombs at them and they bolted before the bombs could explode. They made off in the direction of a strong point that ran out at right angle towards the sunken road and were fired upon as they ran. The men of 1 SWB pushed onwards towards the strong point and got to within 80 yards before they were stopped by rifle and machine gun fire. Reinforcements were brought up and the men of 1 SWB extended out to either side of the Intermediate Line in shell holes to form a defensive front. As it was now getting dark, they began consolidating their position by blocking the trench and digging a T position extending about 30 yards to each side of the trench. Three Lewis guns were brought up, two were dug-in on either side of the T head and the third was kept in reserve.

Sometime after midnight the enemy made a counterattack which was beaten off. By about 03.00 hrs the Lewis guns and most of the rifles had jammed due to the mud, it was raining in torrents. The remaining bombs were distributed, as these were the only weapons they had until fresh Lewis guns and rifles were brought up. Just after dawn the enemy made a counterattack with about 100 men in extended order from the right flank. They advanced in successive lines that soon got broken up by the machine gun fire and rifle fire of 1 SWB.

As daylight came an officer wearing a snipers helmet accompanied by a few men sniped from a shell hole just out of range of 1 SWB's bombs. He inflicted a number of casualties, but was eventually hit in the head by one of 1 SWB's sergeants. It then became relatively quiet with just the odd sniping. At 15.00 hrs a message was passed back to Captain Harold Inglis, the company commander, to send over a message inviting the enemy to surrender. This was fired over by a rifle grenade but fell short.

An NCO and Private then crawled out about 25 yards to a mound and on peering over the top of this they saw that the enemy asleep without a lookout posted; they beckoned Captain Inglis who joined them. Two bombs were thrown to wake the enemy and nine of them surrendered to the three men of 1 SWB who were pointing revolvers at them. Captain Inglis and Lieutenant Frank Vanderpump then crawled out a further 30 yards where they saw between 30 and 40 of the enemy in a communications trench running north west from the elbow. They waved and shouted for them to come over, the Germans waved and shouted and invited them to do the same. This went on for nearly half an hour, but neither side surrendered.

Captain Inglis decide to put in another post at the point they had now reached, which was about 120 yards from the enemy communication trench. On his return he received orders to fire on the enemy in the communications trench with a stokes mortar and took the mortar officer forward to reconnoitre. The mortar officer decided that the ground was too exposed to set up the stokes mortar and reported that he would not be able to fire until after dark. Shortly thereafter the relief arrived and Captain Inglis and his men withdrew.

During the night of 26th/27th August 1916 the enemy artillery located in the vicinity of Flers shelled the trenches to the west of High Wood until about 01.30 hrs and heavy barrages were kept up on the area to the east of Bazentin le Petit. Work continued on repairing the trenches and where possible clearing the dead. The trench running west north west from Clarks Trench, which now extended out to 320 yards, was completed to a depth of 5 feet. During the day the 3rd Brigade was relieved by the 45th and 46th Brigades of the 15th (Scottish) Division.

During this period 1 SWB sustained 155 casualties; 1 officer killed and 3 wounded, and 26 other ranks killed and 125 wounded. 2 WELCH sustained 256 casualties; 1 officer killed and 2 wounded, and 45 other ranks killed, 203 wounded and 5 missing.