Military history

Chapter Four

Tomorrow we must go to take some cursed wood

6 July

The weather showed no signs of improvement, the wind strengthened and there was intermittent rain. The newly captured British Front line positions were consolidated during the day. The Germans did not make any counter-attack but continued to shell the British positions. The British artillery replied putting down a barrage on Quadrangle Support Trench and Pearl Alley which was reported to be full of Germans.

At about four o’clock in the afternoon it was reported that four machine guns had been hit by shellfire at the southern corner of Shelter Wood. Lieutenant Stanbury set out from Fricourt Chateau with a rescue team. When he arrived he found three men already dead and the wounded still under shellfire. Some of the wounded were buried and frantic work commenced to dig them out. Private Straffon worked exceptionally digging down four feet with only his entrenching tool to rescue Private Coombes. In all there were three men killed Sergeant Taylor, Private Gibbs and Private Gibson and five others wounded in this incident who were all then successfully evacuated.

At 10.00am an order had been issued by XV Corps for attacks on Pearl Alley, Quadrangle Support Trench and Mametz Wood for 7 July. The orders were long and detailed and proposed a joint attack to be undertaken by the 17th and 38th Division on Mametz Wood.


The objective of the 38th Welsh Division was to attack the wood from the east and enter the wood at the ‘Hammerhead’, so called because of its shape, and push forward towards the centre and meet up with units of the 17th Division who would similarly attack the wood from the west. Both divisions were then to push northwards to the northern edge of the wood.

The co-ordination of this movement was to be ensured by a preliminary attack on Quadrangle Support Trench which would clear the way for the 17th Division to attack the wood which, unlike the eastern side, was still defended at its western approaches. It was still intended, however, to go ahead with the main attack even if this preliminary attack failed. With an amended timetable this trench would simply become the first objective of the units who were to move into Mametz Wood and meet up with the 38th Division. In addition the 17th Division were to send in units to clear up Strip Trench, Wood Trench, and Wood Support Trench and sweep the southern end of Mametz Wood in conjunction with a unit of the 38th Division who would enter the wood at its southern tip.

The preliminary attack at 2.00am was to be made by 52 Brigade but Major-General Pilcher was not convinced that the trenches could be taken and argued without success that an isolated attack subject to enfilade machine gun attack from Contalmaison on the left and Mametz Wood on the right could not succeed. XV Corps argument in proposing this attack plan was that if these trenches were taken then the planned attacks on Contalmaison and Mametz Wood would then be made much easier.

The attack of 52 Brigade was again to be entrusted to the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers and the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers who had not suffered severely in their successful attack on Quadrangle Trench on 5 July.

7 July

At midnight on 6/7 July the assaulting companies moved up into Quadrangle Trench. The 9th Northumberland Fusiliers were on the right of the attack up to the block in Quadrangle Alley. The 10th Lancashire Fusiliers were on the left near Shelter Alley. In support was the 9th Duke of Wellingtons Regiment.

A bombardment of twenty five minutes preceded the attack but, at 1.10am, all communication was lost with the attacking troops. At 3.15am a runner of the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers reported that the leading waves of the attack had failed to reach their objective and this was followed by a lamp signal message that the attack was hampered by uncut wire in front of Quadrangle Support Trench. In addition many British shells fell very short of the German lines. The troops were then met by the Germans who themselves were preparing to attack. An elite corps of the 2nd Division of the Prussian Guard left their trenches and advancing downhill met their attackers head on in No Man’s Land.


Map 6. First attack on Quadrangle Support Trench 7 July.

The 10th Lancashire Fusiliers, similarly, were immediately met with intense machine gun and rifle fire and were driven back. The two left companies however eventually got a foothold in Pearl Alley which was shallow and lightly held and pushed up towards Contalmaison. Supporting the attack of the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers was Lieutenant Stanbury leading gun crews of 52 Brigade Machine Gun Company who with the left companies of the Fusiliers fought up Pearl Alley with two gun crews. A platoon of the Fusiliers came under heavy attack in No Man’s Land. Private Cocks of 52 Brigade Machine Gun Corps went to their assistance, leaving the cover of Pearl Alley and taking his gun into the open and firing on the attackers and driving them back. Attacked again on the other flank he opened fire again and only retired when the enemy approached to within about fifty yards.


By 3.00am Sergeant Smith returned to Quadrangle Trench and reported he had left Lieutenant Stanbury lying out in No Man’s Land. He had been with him on the parapet of Quadrangle Support Trench when a shell fragment hit him in the left leg, virtually severing it below the knee. Sergeant Smith dragged him back into the cover of a shell hole where a stretcher bearer of the 9th Duke of Wellingtons bandaged him up. The area continued to be heavily shelled but at 4.00am Second-Lieutenant Michell led a patrol forward in broad daylight to search for Lieutenant Stanbury at the spot where he was left by Sergeant Smith to bring him in. Despite all their efforts, searching all shell holes in the area, no trace of him could be found and he was reported missing. The Fusiliers held on until daybreak when they were forced to retire to Quadrangle Trench by a German counter attack.

In the event of the preliminary attack on Quadrangle Trench failing the orders were to continue with the main assault as planned but with an amended timetable which allowed the artillery to bombard the German positions for a further thirty minutes than originally planned. The original bombardment was to commence at 7.20am and continue until 8.00am and a further thirty minutes should mean that it would lift at 8.30am. However XV Corps issued orders at 5.25am to attack Quadrangle Support again at 8.00am. The confusion over the orders for the timing of the attack and the congestion in the trenches, especially on the left where the 23rd Division were taking over Shelter Alley and part of Quadrangle Trench left insufficient time for preparation.

The battalions involved in the second attack were the 9th Duke of Wellingtons and the 12th Manchesters. The telephone lines had still not been restored and in Quadrangle Trench the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers did not receive orders until 7.00am for relief by the 12th Manchesters who although due to attack at 8.00am were still in Fricourt at 7.00am. Similarly on the left only two companies of the 9th Duke of Wellingtons were able to get forward and replace the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers having only received their orders at 7.25am. It was 7.45am before the 12th Manchesters reached Bottom Wood and the Hedgeline. They advanced towards Quadrangle Trench and without pausing passed through the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers still in Quadrangle Trench and advanced towards their objective, some 500 yards distant. The leading battle patrols arrived at their point of attack some minutes late. The artillery barrage had lifted by then and advancing in broad daylight and left without the protection of its own artillery the assaulting troops of were cut down by machine gun fire mainly from Mametz Wood. Small parties did penetrate as far as Acid Drop Copse but casualties were extremely heavy. The Manchesters suffered sixteen of their officers killed or wounded and similarly 529 other ranks.


The 9th Duke of Wellingtons on the left attempted to re-take Pearl Alley and bombed their way forward to the Cemetery led by Captain Benjamin with Company Sergeant-Major Green at his side. A very violent bombardment was opened by the Germans causing heavy casualties and a heavy counter-attack from Quadrangle Support Trench forced them back. Attacking in lesser numbers than the 12th Manchesters the 9th Duke of Wellingtons casualties were fourteen officers and 251 other ranks.


Calptain Benjamin

The showery conditions gave way in the afternoon of the 7th to incessant rain. The whole area was turning into a vast swamp, trenches were collapsing, clinging mud in places up to waist deep made any movement extremely difficult and exhausting. Amid these conditions the occupants of Quadrangle Trench were ragged and disorganised. The 9th Northumberland Fusiliers having been withdrawn to Bottom Wood and the Hedgeline were soon ordered forward again and shortly after 11.00am were back in Quadrangle Trench with four machine gun positions established. However at 11.20am the 10th Sherwood Foresters also received orders to occupy Quadrangle Trench and arrived at 12.15pm. They found it occupied by ‘representatives of three battalions’ and unable to squeeze any more than two companies into the trench. The confusion was further added to because the Germans in counter-attacking Contalmaison had forced troops of the neighbouring 23rd Division down the left hand side of Quadrangle Trench and into the 17th Division sector. There were only limited telephone communications and special liaison officers were organising runners to establish contact between the battalions at the front, brigades and divisional headquarters.


Company Sergeant-Major Green


Attacking British infantry being encouraged by their officer. Inset: badge of Manchester Regiment found recently on the battlefield.


Map 7. Second attack on Quadrangle Support Trench 7 July.

At 12.20pm Lieutenant Colonel E G Harrison, Commanding Officer of the 12th Manchesters, arrived with orders to clear up the situation and organise an attack. Soon afterwards though, Harrison was wounded and had an amazing escape. He was shot through the neck, the bullet missing the spinal cord and main arteries. After having his wound dressed he was able to make his way through Bottom Wood and a hail of shells to Brigade Headquarters where, though shaken and exhausted, he was able to give a report.

Lieutenant Colonel H Bryan was placed in command and after consulting Lieutenant Colonel Clive (7th East Yorks) and Captain Duval, now commanding the 12th Manchesters reported at 2.00pm to ‘Brigade Headquarters and consequently the third attack was cancelled. At 4.15pm all units of 52 Brigade were ordered to withdraw. The remnants of the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers then retired with the 10th Manchesters and 9th Duke of Wellingtons and by 6.00pm marched from Fricourt in the pouring rain to Meaulte. During the period 4–7 July the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers casualties amounted to fourteen officers and 299 other ranks.


On the right hand of the 17th Division sector the result of the preliminary attack at 2.00am on 7 July was awaited in the early hours by the 7th East Yorks and 6th Dorsets. Their attack on the south-west approaches of Mametz Wood depended on the preliminary attack successfully capturing the junction of Quadrangle Support and Quadrangle Alley. Failure to achieve this would result in any attack on the Wood being subject to close range enemy fire from the left flank and rear from this position.

At 7.30am the news came through that the preliminary attack had failed. Initially it was proposed to go ahead with the whole of the original attack ordered. Major G C King, Commanding the 7th East Yorks, persuaded the Brigadier in extended telephone conversations to make the main attack dependent on successful bombing attacks on the junction of Quadrangle Support and Quadrangle Alley and so avoid this crossfire. The outcome of this venture is recorded in the report of the officer leading the attack, Lieutenant L Holroyd.


Lieutenant Holroyd was unable to reach the German trench as they had constructed a large ‘block’ about twenty yards from the junction of the two trenches. At 10.15am Major King sent the following message

Bombed up Quad Alley as far as Quad Support which is held by the enemy. Unable to dislodge him I am holding Quad Alley and Quad Trench. Enemy holding strip of wood down railway and Quad Support. Awaiting Instructions.’

The operation had resulted in sixteen killed in action, numbers of wounded were undisclosed and it still left any further attacks exposed to enfilade fire from that part of Quadrangle Alley held by the Germans.



Lieutenant Lister Holroyd

During the afternoon conflicting reports circulated about the situation in Quadrangle Support Trench. Some erroneous messages had been sent back stating that it was in British hands. At 2.10pm XV Corps issued orders for a new attack.


Map 8. Lieutenant Holroyd’s attack on the German ‘block’.

Zero hour was to be 5.00pm. The 50th Brigade, the 7th East Yorks and 6th Dorsets on the right were to advance on the western side of Mametz Wood and capture Wood Trench and the long strip of wood through which the railway ran. 51 Brigade with the 10th Sherwood Foresters were to make a third attack on Quadrangle Support Trench. There was much discussion on the telephone with XV Corps Headquarters regarding the actual situation in Quadrangle Support. This being inconclusive Lieutenant General Horne was obliged at 4.05pm to cancel this proposed assault.

Meanwhile in the trenches occupied by the 7th East Yorks the original orders to attack at 5.00pm had been confirmed. At 4.20pm the orders for cancellation arrived at Battalion Headquarters but by then Major King was in the front line intending to lead ‘B’ Company himself whose officers had all been wounded. Two runners set off and finding the trenches blocked ran over the top and somehow managed to reach Major King at 4.58pm, just in time to halt the lone advance.

At 6.10pm the cancelled attack was reinstated to take place at 8.00pm after a bombardment commencing at 7.30pm.

The Welsh at the Hammerhead

The tasks allotted to the 38th Welsh Division were in turn passed to 115 Brigade which was commanded by Brigadier-General H J Evans.

During the morning of 6 July Evans reconnoitred the ground over which the attack was to be made. A long, narrow, winding valley runs down the northern face of Caterpillar Wood which provided some cover for attacking troops in addition to that provided by the wood itself, Further north, though, on the ridge above the valley the troops would be very exposed not only to frontal fire from the edge of Mametz Wood but from the right hand side where the German lines ran parallel to the direction of the attack and where there were certain to be machine gun posts dug in. Evan’s plan was to attack with two battalions, but he decided not to have any troops on the exposed ridge. Instead he proposed to attack on a single battalion frontage in the more sheltered valley, with the second battalion following the leading battalion into the attack. Another was to be in support in Caterpillar Wood and a fourth in reserve further back. Accordingly he put arrangements in hand to proceed on that basis.

When news of the formation was received at XV Corps Headquarters a message was sent to 38th Division Headquarters at Grovetown that no more than two battalions should be assembled in the western end of Caterpillar Wood and the valley as this would cause overcrowding and with it the risk of high casualties from shell fire ‘.…. two battalions are considered sufficient for the attack on the eastern projection of the wood with a third in support in Montauban Alley and a fourth further back’ it concluded.

Evans was dismayed but had no alternative but to set about issuing revised orders for the attack which was due at 8.30am the next morning. It was 2.00am before he was able to send the revised orders to the battalion commanders concerned. Evans then made his way to

Caterpillar Wood to help re-organise the battalions which were now to attack on a two battalion frontage.


The Red Dragon getting the better of the Imperial German Eagle. A card sold to raise funds for soldiers and sailors from the town of Llandilo.

The disposition for the attack placed the 11th South Wales Borderers on the left near the edge of Caterpillar Wood and the 16th Welsh on the right on the ridge above the valley, the whole width of the attack being about 500 yards. The 10th South Wales Borderers were to be in reserve in Montauban Alley.

It is not clear why Evans came to change the frontage of the attack from one battalion to a two battalion frontage. The message from XV Corps ordering the withdrawal of two battalions from the immediate area of the attack, passed on by 38th Division Headquarters made no comment or recommendation on the proposed width of the attack, only the number of battalions to be involved. It could be of course, that Evans, in his frustration made verbal contact with 38th Division Headquarters and subsequently received a verbal response about this matter which has not been recorded.


Attached to 115 Brigade Headquarters’ staff at that time was a young officer by the name of Captain Wyn Griffith. Some years later Griffith was to write of his experiences at Mametz Wood in that Great War Classic Up to Mametz.


Griffith was preparing to move early on 7 July to Pommiers Redoubt where Brigade Headquarters was to be established for the forthcoming attack. He had spent the night in an old German dugout and awaking at 4.30am he went up into the trench above to have a look around. Returning to the dugout he found Lieutenant Taylor the brigade signalling officer who had been out all night putting down telephone wires to Pommiers Redoubt. Eventually they set off together along Danzig Alley to make the journey to the new headquarters. On the way Griffith confided in Taylor that he was worried about his younger brother Watcyn whom he had not seen for some days.

‘He’s such a kid, for all his uniform. He ought to be still in school, not in this bloody shambles.’

‘He’s all right’ replied Taylor ‘I saw him last night. The brigade called for two runners from each battalion and he came as one of them, he’s somewhere near that old German dugout we came from.’

‘I wish I’d known; it was his birthday two days ago and I’ve got a little present for him in my valise. I wonder if he’ll see another birthday?’


Captain Wyn Griffith

The Brigade Headquarters had good views of Mametz Wood itself but the area from which the battalions were to attack was hidden from view. Soon after the British artillery commenced their bombardment at 8.00am, the German artillery response cut communication between the Brigade Headquarters and the attacking troops. The assault however got under way on time, at 8.30am, attacking the Hammerhead which was defended by 11/Lehr Regiment (3rd German Division) and the 11/163rd Regiment. As soon as the leading waves of the 16th Welsh came over the crest of the slope they were hit by heavy frontal machine gun fire from the Hammerhead and enfilade fire from Flat Iron Copse and Sabot Copse on their right. It had been intended to place a smoke screen barrage on the right of the attack to protect the 16th Welsh against enfilade fire from the copses but it never appeared. Major Angus of the 16th Welsh personally directed every attempt to get forward showing a fine example of leadership and disregard of danger by constantly exposing himself to fire.


Map 9. 38th Welsh Division’s attack on the ‘Hammerhead’ 7 July.

Captain Williams of C Company was also prominent among the officers leading the attack of the 16th Welsh but he was badly wounded coming over the ridge.

Company Sergeant Major Thomas was lying close to the ground alongside his company commander, Captain Hardman. He attempted to move forward and raised himself up but was immediately shot through the head.


Major Angus

Among the other officers of the 16th Welsh that day were two brothers Lieutenants Arthur and Leonard Tregaskis who had joined the 38th Division on the same day, were promoted Corporal on the same day and later commissioned on the same day. They were also to die together, on the same day. Eye witness reports stated that as one brother fell mortally wounded so the other was killed going to his assistance.

They were not the only brothers from the battalion to die that day. Private Henry Morgan and his younger brother Private Charles Morgan both of A Company enlisted together in Cardiff and died together.

Two other brothers were also serving in the 16th Welsh and both were to die in Mametz Wood. Private Albert Oliver died on 7 July while his brother Ernest was only to outlive him by three days being killed on the 10 July.

On the left the 11th South Wales Borderers pushed forward through the valley but were also driven back by intense frontal machine gun fire from the Hammerhead. Several officers immeditely became casualties including the Adjutant Lieutenant Pryce-Hamer.


Lieutenant T Pryce-Hamer who played Association Football for Wales.

Back at Brigade Headquarters, Evans sent Captain Hinton from Brigade Headquarters to Caterpillar Wood at 8.45am to send back early information. However, at 10.00am messages were first received from the attacking battalions that the attack was temporarily held up by heavy machine gun fire. Ten minutes later Captain Hinton’s first report arrived and confirmed that heavy rifle and machine gun fire had held up the attack 200 yards from the objective on the right flank (16th Welsh) and about 400 yards on the left flank (11th South Wales Borderers), casualties did not appear to be heavy and supplies of ammunition and grenades were being maintained.

Further artillery support was called for and more machine guns were pushed forward into Caterpillar Wood to try and fire northwards up the valley to counteract the enfilade fire of the German machine guns in the two copses.

The initial response from XV Corps to the message received at 10.10am for more artillery support was not sympathetic. The 38th Division were told to “continue the fight keeping the situation in their own hands” and to get support of the Divisional Artillery at Treux. They were also warned that the two battalions that “were alone engaged were sufficient for the task in hand” and not to throw any more men into the fight. XV Corps for some reason had a change of heart about the barrage and at 10.20am informed 38th Division that there would be a barrage by the heavy artillery on the eastern edge of Mametz Wood. This would commence at 10.45am and continue until 11.15am. This information was immediately dispatched by runners to the assaulting battalions with instructions to dig in and make a further attack after the bombardment had been completed.


The Tregaskis Brothers. At the outbreak of war both brothers were farming in Canada and returned to Wales to enlist. They were promoted Lance Corporal on the same day and later they were commissioned on the same day. An eye witness said that as one brother was wounded so the other went to assist and he was also hit – they died together. Their father, a director of Spillers Nephews, later left Wales to live in the Channel Islands.


The village of Montauban and the hollow behind Marlborough Copse and the ground over which 115 Brigade battalions assembled.


Captured German position at Pommiers Redoubt, it became the HQ of 114 Brigade. (See Map 9)

With apparent disregard for XV Corps instructions Brigadier General Evans sent for the Commanding Officer of the 10th South Wales Borderers to receive orders to move up his battalion, which was in support, in readiness to join the attack. Two companies of the 10th South Wales Borderers were ordered up and they were to be reinforced by the remaining two companies. Lieutenant Colonel S J Wilkinson commanding the battalion was instructed to press home the attack ‘with vigour’.

The artillery bombardment commenced as planned but when telephone communications were restored soon after 11.00am and the Commanding Officer of 16th Welsh was able to notify Brigade Headquarters that some shells were falling short and on to the British position which was at that time about 300 yards short of the wood.

During the early part of the afternoon casualties continued to mount and Brigadier General Evan’s decision to involve the 10th South Wales Borderers was well founded. The heavy rain made conditions very difficult and the 10th South Wales Borderers made slow progress towards the front line.

Eventually a renewed attack was launched and following his orders Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson endeavoured to press home this second assault and was in the second wave of attacking troops of his battalion when he fell wounded. The attack gained nothing and was no nearer the Hammerhead than at the outset. Many officers had become casualties, now estimated to be in the region of 400 in total. Brigadier General Evans decided to leave Brigade Headquarters and go down to Caterpillar Wood to assess the situation for himself, telephone lines having again been cut. As he was about to leave just after 4.00pm orders came through from Divisional Headquarters to renew the attack at 5.00pm. Prior to that an artillery bombardment would take place at 4.30pm. Evans accompanied by Captain Griffith did not arrive at Caterpillar Wood until twenty minutes before the attack was due to take place and found the attacking battalion no closer to the wood than 250 yards ‘partially dug in and somewhat disorganised’.


Captain J L Williams, Captain of the Welsh Rugby team, also played for the British Lions. Worked as a clerk in the Cardiff Coal Exchange. His ability to speak fluent French assisted in his promotion after joining the ranks of the Royal Fusiliers in 1914.

Griffith writing later observed that

‘men were burrowing into the ground with their entrenching tools seeking whatever cover they might take….. wounded men were crawling back from the ridge, men were crawling forward with ammunition. No attack could succeed over such ground as this swept from the front and side by machine guns at short range.’

On the way down, near Caterpillar Wood, Griffith spoke with an artillery officer who had a telephone that was still working. When they arrived at Queen’s Nullah where there was an advanced dressing station they found scores of wounded men crowded under the protective bank out of sight of the enemy but very exposed to possible artillery bombardment.


Company Sergeant Major ‘Dick’ Thomas. Member of the Glamorgan Constabulary, joined up in 1914 but was retained for police duties until January 1915. He was a Welsh Rugby International.

Reluctantly Evans started to re-organise the troops and the positions of the machine guns and trench mortars. By 5.15pm this had only been partially completed. He had always had doubts about the viability of making an attack in daylight over such ground and had favoured a surprise attack by creeping up to the edge of the wood in the dark and rushing it at first light. Griffith remembered the telephone he had seen near Caterpillar Wood and went to check if it was still working. Running back again to Queen’s Nullah he found the General and guided him to the trench from where Evans contacted Division and argued with determination for a postponement of the attack, especially as by the time the troops could be organised properly the effect of the bombardment would have worn off.


View of the area in front of the ‘Hammerhead’ where many of the attackers were pinned down by German machine gunners. See Map 9

It is not difficult to imagine the atmosphere at XV Corps Headquarters in Heilly. At about the same time 38th Division were passing Brigadier General Evans comments back there was similar confusion on the western side of Mametz Wood in the 17th Division sector where no-one could establish whether Quadrangle Support Trench had been captured or not. As we have seen the proposed attack by the 17th Division also to be at 5.00pm, was cancelled.

By 6.40pm the delayed 5.00pm attack by the 38th Division was also called off. To ensure safe delivery of the orders Evans and Griffith returned to Queen’s Nullah by different routes. On the way back to Pommiers Redoubt the General confided in Griffith.


Frank James King DSM, 48068 RAMC 130th (St Johns Field Ambulance) 38th Division, took many wounded out of No Man’s Land on the 7th July 1916.


Queen’s Nullah was in constant use throughout the battle. Along this banking was an advanced dressing station, trench mortar positions and was later used as both battalion and brigade headquarters.

‘I spoke my mind about the whole business….. you heard me. They wanted us to press on at all costs, talked about determination, and suggested that I didn ‘t realise the importance of the operation. As good as told me that I was tired and didn’t want to tackle the job. Difficult to judge on the spot, they said! As if the whole trouble hadn’t arisen because someone found it so easy to judge when he was six miles away and had never seen the country, and couldn’t read a map. You mark my words they’ll send me home for this: they want butchers not brigadiers. They’ll remember now that I told them, before we began, that the attack could not succeed unless the machine guns were masked. I shall be in England in a month.’

Evan’s opinion about the deadly effect of machine gun fire had been shared by his Divisional Commander, Major-General Phillips, who is reported to have given instructions to 115 Brigade to the effect that if any machine gun fire was experienced while advancing against Mametz Wood the Brigade was not to try and push home its attack but to return to its starting point and await another bombardment of the wood.

That night two companies of the 17th Royal Welsh Fusiliers moved up to hold the line opposite the Hammerhead while the three depleted and exhausted attacking battalions were withdrawn having suffered a total of over 400 casualties.

17th Division’s Third Attempt on Quadrangle Support Trench

We can now return to events during the evening of the 7 July on the western side of the Wood where, it will be recalled Major King was about to lead his men into an assault when he received orders with two minutes to spare telling him the operation had been cancelled.

As we have seen the proposed attacks at 5.00pm by both divisions were cancelled but while the 38th Division was withdrawn the 17th Division were told to prepare for a third assault on Quadrangle Support Trench. The instructions issued to the 38th Division were to make a raid on Strip Trench that night and at daylight to push on and join up Strip Trench and Cliff Trench.

Although it had stopped raining in the late afternoon the ground was exceptionally heavy and made any movement extremely difficult. Reports of water and mud up to the waist were still reported from more than one source.


The attacking battalions were to be the 6th Dorsets on the right, the 17th East Yorks in the centre and the 10th Sherwood Foresters on the left. The assault was to be led by the bombers of the battalions concerned but was again going to be made alone with no advance being made by the division on the right against Contalmaison. On the right of the 6th Dorsets were the 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers who had been waiting in Cliff Trench all day to exploit any success of the 38th Division assault on the Wood, with instructions to clear up the southern portion of the Wood.

The attack was timed to commence at 8.00pm in daylight. After a bombardment lasting half an hour, the Sherwood Foresters attacked over the open but could not get nearer than forty yards to Quadrangle Support because of severe rifle and machine gun fire. Communications were cut by the enemy barrage which also fell on the advancing troops. A similar fate befell the 7th East Yorks who again assaulted the ‘block’ south of the junction between Quadrangle Alley and Quadrangle Support in an attempt to force their way up the valley carrying the railway line to the south west corner of Mametz Wood.


Map 10. Third attempt on Quadrangle Support Trench and Wood Trench 7 July.


Approximate position from which Brigadier General Price Davies observed the 6th Dorsets attacking Strip Trench.

The 6th Dorsets were to attack Wood Trench with one company and the battalion bombers and expected support from the 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers whom they had been told were to attack Strip Trench on their right. Leading the attack was Second- Lieutenant Albertanson. They were immediately fired on from three different directions and were decimated. Second-Lieutenant Albertanson, managed to struggle back with only three men in time to prevent a further company being sent in, thereby saving many lives, The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel L A Rowley seeing that there was no co-operation whatever on the right decided not to commit another company and they retired.

The 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers had seemed unaware that their raid on Strip Trench was part of a much larger operation only sent in a patrol led by Lieutenant A Jones. It was described in the diary as a ‘small operation….. not pushed as the enemy suddenly revealed his strength in machine guns which crossed the approach to the wood. ‘In the operation they suffered twelve casualties.

Brigadier-General L A E Price-Davies commanding 113 Brigade was at that time visiting the position held by the 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and writing later stated that he had never heard about this proposed attack.

‘It must have been 7 July when I was visiting my forward posts and looked down on Mametz Wood at a few hundred yards’ range. I was by a Lewis gun post when I became aware of an attack in progress by what I believe were the 6th Dorsets [of 17 th Division, then attacking Mametz Wood from the west while the Welsh division’s 115th Brigade was attacking from the east]. They were creeping forward and using rifle grenades against the strip of wood jutting out towards us. I had never heard of this attack and got covering fire to work as quickly as possible, but the Lewis gun jammed and the attack fizzled out….. We occupied a position from which very heavy covering fire could have been brought to bear had this been organised.’

During the action Private J Harris of the 6th Dorsets crawled out and went to the assistance of a badly wounded man of the 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers. After dressing his wounds Private Harris under heavy fire brought him in although wounded five times himself.

At the end of operations on the night of 7/8 July XV Corps which Lieutenant-General Horne had intended to be in position to launch an assault on the main German second line had not gained a single yard of ground and in spite of all efforts of both the 17th and 38th Divisions had achieved nothing.

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