July 29th 1916

 

DW Brown

Capt. David Westcott Brown (Leicestershire Regiment)

It has now been confirmed that David was killed in the fighting for Bazentin le Petit on July 14th. Although his body has not been found, a Sergeant reported seeing it.

Like many, David realised in the spring that the summer months ahead would see the launching of a new offensive. Foreseeing the high number of casualties amongst officers, he felt the need to prepare himself – and his family. He wrote to his cousin Lillian in May:

“…. I am writing like this because summer is here, and I don’t think our present peacefulness can go on much longer. People at home are beginning to wonder what they pay us for; and I think Death must come to many of us, if not to most (I am talking of officers now) before very long: and, if it does come to me, I don’t want you to feel it as a shock, and I don’t want you or anyone to grieve.

You know it is rather an honour to die now, to die for all that we hold precious, for our country, to die that we may live, and to die with so many better men.

I don’t want to die. I want to live and tell how I was in the War, how I was a fighter in it, not merely a server; but, if I do get killed, I want you and everyone to know that I knew of the possibility, that I was ready for it, and facing it, and not shirking and dodging the thought of it. It seems to me that for a man who is, if not ready or willing to die, at least aware of the presence of death, and looking it in the face not caring or wondering what lies beyond, Death has lost its power. When you cease to fear Death you have conquered it, and Death has become only a gate, no harder to pass through than the door of a room.

Am I just being morbid? I hope not; because I feel somewhat that should the worst happen it may help Mother and Dad to know that I was not caught by surprise, not realising what I was in for…”

David also wrote a poem around this time, when still behind the lines:

Two Voices
“The roads are all torn” ; “but the sun’s in the sky,”
“The houses are waste” ; “but the day is all fair,”
“There’s death in the air” ; “and the larks are on high,”
“Though we die – ” ; “it is spring-time, what do we care?”
“The gardens are rank” ; “but the grass is still green,”
“The orchards are shot-torn” ; “there’s a bloom on the trees,”
“There’s war all around” ; “yet is nature serene,”
“There’s danger” ; “we’ll bear it, fanned by the breeze.”
“Some are wounded” ; “they rest, and their glory is known,”
“Some are killed” ; “there’s peace for them under the sod,”
“Men’s homes are in peril” ; “their souls are their own,”
“The bullets are near us” ; “not nearer than God.”

David was a cousin of Percy Campbell (one of the first OPS casualties) and the godfather of a current young Dragon, Per Mallalieu.

He won a scholarship to Marlborough and then went to Balliol to read ‘Greats’, when war broke out and he joined up.

July 27th 1916

Whilst we have learnt much from the newspapers about the ‘Big Push’ on the Somme, it is not the same as hearing from someone in the thick of things. Capt. Leslie Grundy (late of York & Lancaster Regiment, now serving with 90th Machine Gun Company) has found the time to provide us with a first-hand account of the events of July 1st.

He was involved in the attack on Montauban at the southern end of the battlefield. (Here the preliminary bombardment was clearly more effective than further north and casualties considerably fewer).

grundy-glo“We had done all the practising for the last fortnight and were now waiting in the assembly trenches. For us, these consisted of a few small trenches cut in a hollow between two woods about 700 yards behind our front line. We had arrived in these trenches late the night before, and had passed a very cold night indeed. Consequently we were all awake when dawn broke.

The guns had been keeping up a pretty heavy bombardment throughout the night, increasing in intensity every minute. The fringe of the wood behind us (curiously enough called ‘Oxford Copse’) was lined with 18-pounders, who were firing over our heads. As they were only 150 yards away, the noise was deafening.

Although we had not been given the time for ‘Zero,’ we judged it was near enough for us to issue the rum, so an issue of two jars among 150 men was made at 5 o’clock. We got word from Brigade Headquarters that Zero was to be at 7.30.

About this time a heavy ground mist appeared and for some time it looked as if the attack would have to be postponed. As it was near to 7.30 the Company Commander and I went over to a small piece of rising ground that was in front of us to watch the first wave go over the top. Over it went at 7.30 exactly, and as far as we could see there was only one casualty and it did not sound as if there was very much hostile rifle fire…

At 8.30 I went forward with my servant, and the two other sections followed 50 yards behind, interval 100 yards, but owing to the weight of our loads we fell behind our appointed place and found ourselves mixed up with some engineers. This ground was made up later on, while waiting for our artillery to lift.

When about 100 yards off our original front line, we saw that the enemy was putting up a barrage in No-man’s-land and a lot of our infantry were knocked out going through. When we got right up to this barrage we made a dash and, as far as I could make out, lost very few men. One of the section officers, however, was wounded rather badly in the back.

We found the Boche wire, when we got up to it, had been blown to pieces by our artillery fire and the trenches themselves had suffered so terribly that it was difficult to tell in what direction they ran. I had my first rest here; it was a hot day, and the packs were beginning to tell on us.

As it looked as if the Boches were shortening their range, we thought it best not to make too long a stay at this spot and therefore pushed on as far as the Glatz Redoubt. In a few minutes No. 2 section came up; so far they had only lost three men.

At this point a party of about 30 Boche prisoners were marched past; all of them apparently in great fear of their lives! They had all, seemingly, been very much shaken by our bombardment, and in the trench we were occupying there were many of them lying badly wounded. After a few minutes we mounted our guns and opened fire on the Boches to the left of Montauban, as the Brigade there did not seem to have attained its objective.

All this time our heavy artillery had been keeping up an intense bombardment on Montauban, and we could see our infantry waiting in the open in long line, ready to go in when the artillery fire lifted. Later there seemed to be some slackening of the fire and our troops immediately went forward. The whole thing was done as if on parade. They went over at a steady walk, keeping their dressing all the time. As far as we could see, there was no hostile rifle fire from Montauban at all and, as yet, no shell fire was falling on them.

I then decided that this would be the time to get our machine-guns into Montauban, so we went forward…

The whole place was literally blown to pieces, and it was with great difficulty we discovered where the roads had been. However, somehow or other, we managed to get both sections to A. Keep, where we found some men already busily consolidating. We had only been there a few minutes when a Boche machine-gun started traversing the village…

Just before dusk there seemed to be a small attack, but it was easily dispersed by rifle and machine-gun fire. All that night we fired at all small parties of Boches who could be plainly seen, and as it grew light we heard the sound of bombs exploding and found the Boches were bombing Montauban Alley from the other end.

About 7 o’clock the bursting bombs seemed to be very close to one another and… about 30 of our men jumped out of the trench and started to retire towards us in Montauban. Immediately on seeing this, the Boches jumped out of their trenches and started firing on them. We turned two machine-guns on the Boches and wiped the party completely out, but not before they had accounted for all our men.

The wounded in our trench were coming into the dug-out at an alarming rate and soon it became evident that the only people holding the keep were the machine gunners, and we had only two men per gun. As the bombing attack seemed to be developing, the Company Commander sent a message back for an artillery barrage. In a short space of time our shells started to come over, bursting in the valley in front of Montauban…

After this, the attack seemed to fizzle out. Several Boche snipers however, had managed to get into position in the diagonal trench leading from Montauban Alley to Montauban. They managed to cover all the exits from C Keep and they got a number of our walking wounded, who were trying to get back.

The shelling was fairly heavy throughout the day, but there were no more infantry attacks…”

That evening Leslie and his men were relieved and here at least undoubted success was achieved.

 

July 25th 1916

Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph (p.7) told us of another tragic blow to the Leggett family.

Alan Leggett, the youngest of the four Leggett brothers, was killed in action near Armentières in October 1914. Now his eldest brother Wilfred, a Major in the RFA and in command of a siege battery, has also been killed in action.

Although he was not an Old Dragon, the family is one with which we have had the closest of ties. Their brother, Major Eric Leggett, is currently serving with the 188th Brigade Royal Artillery.

 

July 23rd 1916

Yesterday we came to the end of another school year and, as always, we concluded with our annual Prize Day.

I took the opportunity to pay tribute to the role that our Old Boys have played in the War in my annual speech to the parents:

“I cannot but strike a sad note and yet a very proud one on looking back on the past year; sorrow that in the War we have lost so many very dear Old Boys and Masters; pride in knowing that they have fallen gloriously in the noble field of duty and honour. We are indeed proud of them one and all: 31 killed, 52 wounded, 1 VC, 1 CB, 8 DSO, 14 MC, 3 Special Promotions, 4 Legion of Honour, 1 Croix de Guerre, 1 Order of St George and 34 Old Dragons Mentioned in Despatches.

It seems a terrible grim Fate which has robbed us of these our friends in their youth and manhood, and yet if the veil were lifted we might understand that it is not all sheer waste, that the life and death and memory of each one of them is a stone upon the Altar of holy doing and deserving, which will raise us and all who have known them nearer to a heaven of love and peace.

Let us look to a happy day, in no distant future, when the blast of war’s great organ shall be hushed in peace, and victory shall have crowned our great sacrifice.”

The holidays ahead, in the current circumstances, will I fear continue to bring further unwelcome news for many of us. May our children, at least, endeavour to enjoy them as much as they ever did.

 

Christmas Term starts September 20th 1916

 

 

July 20th 1916

DW Brown 2The length of the lists of those who have become casualties in the newspaper this morning is truly horrifying, and now we have heard that Capt. David Brown (Leics Regiment) has been reported as “wounded and missing” since July 14th.

His father understands that David went out with a sergeant to reconnoitre prior to an attack. The sergeant was subsequently found dead but there was no sign of David.

Further information is awaited.

* * * * * * *

One of the hardest hit regiments on July 1st was the Leeds Pals Battalion (West Yorks). Their commanding officer, Lieut. Col. Stuart Taylor, was not with them as he is recovering from wounds he received in an earlier encounter with the enemy in May.

He has written from the Queen Alexandra’s Hospital in London to the Yorkshire Evening Post:

Stuart Taylor 2“I mourn the loss of tried comrades and dear friends with whom I have been closely associated day and night, in sunshine and storm, for the past fourteen months. But with my sorrow is mingled an immense pride, a great gladness, as I hear from all sources of the magnificent bearing and heroic conduct of our dear lads, who have cheerfully given their lives for their King and country.

The tidings of their gallant conduct and courageous deeds causes me no surprise, as I well knew how splendidly they would stand the test when the supreme call was made upon them.

To those who are left behind to mourn their loss, may God grant consolation in the sure knowledge of their dear ones’ valiant deaths. For the wounded I pray earnestly for a speedy return to health and strength.

For myself, my only wish is that I had been able to be with the battalion in their great and glorious attack.”

On July 1st, 233 of his men lost their lives. In addition, 15 of his 24 officers were killed (and the rest were wounded).

July 18th 1916

 

Lt Robert Gibson

Lieut. Robert Gibson (South Staffs Regiment attached to 2nd Bedfords)

The letter dear Robert wrote to us at the end of June warned us that the ‘Big Push’ was imminent and that he was going to be part of it.

It was clear from all he wrote that he understood that, not withstanding all the planning and practising for the ‘Push,’  much of what happens in battle is a matter of chance:

“It lies in the lap of the gods.”

He has become the fourth Old Boy to have been killed in the last two weeks.

Lieut. Col. HS Poyntz, the commanding officer of the Bedfordshires, has kindly written to the family with his condolences and to give an account of the attack in which Robert was killed:

“On July 11th at 3.27 a.m. we were ordered to attack Trones Wood where very heavy fighting has been going on. It had been taken by us and re-taken by the Germans, so we were ordered to re-take it again.”

A fellow officer, 2nd Lieut. Primrose-Wells, was close by when Robert and his platoon attacked a position that, as the gods would have it, had not been destroyed by our bombardment:

“We estimate that there were 300 Huns in the wood when we attacked. Your son was on my left and he and his platoon were to enter the wood a little way up on the west side. The Germans had a trench all down the west side of the wood, which we did not know about and just where your son wanted to enter was one of their strong points.

He and his platoon opened fire and he fired several shots himself with his revolver, but the Huns had the advantage from the trenches, besides being excellent shots. Your son was shot and died instantaneously, not making a sound.

I had to advance over the same ground and tried twice to get his body in, but lost men both times, so we left it until we could finally get the whole wood. We were relieved after 48 hours of very hard fighting – hand-to-hand – and very nerve-wracking.

Two days after, when the wood was finally taken by the British, I asked the Colonel if I might go up again and get your son’s body and bury it, but he refused to let me go and our Chaplain with four volunteers went up and found the body and buried him in Maricourt Cemetery.” 

 

Robert had a very successful school career, winning scholarships to Winchester and New College Oxford. A teacher who knew him at Winchester said that, during an experience lasting over twenty years, he had never come into contact with a mind so naturally gifted for classical scholarship as Robert Gibson’s.

The following tribute has been written by a great friend of his, both at the OPS and afterwards at Winchester.

“… When he came to Oxford, he looked round for some kind of service into which he might throw himself, and so discover something about a stratum of society widely separated from that which he knew. This he found in the boys’ club which had lately been started by New College in St. Ebbe’s; and if he was anything like as successful in winning the confidence of his men as he was with these boys, he must have been one of the most popular officers that ever entered the army.”

His Headmaster at Winchester has written a capital letter to Robert’s father:

“Your one consolation will be that he takes a very white soul to the other world, that he lived a keen, joyous, wholesome, and honourable life, very free from any sort of stain.” 

No tribute could be higher, and it comes from one who loved him, and knew him through and through.

 

 

July 15th 1916

CH Counsell

Lieut. Christopher Counsell (Hampshire Regiment)

The Counsell family have suffered a week of grief, mixed with hope and despair. First they received a telegram informing them that Chris had been wounded in the “Push”:

Counsell wounded

Three days later has come the news that Chris is dead.

Counsell killed

His battalion had received their orders too late on July 1st to launch a further attack on Beaumont Hamel that day and thus they remained in the original British Front line.

Chris was providing cover for a working party on July 6th, whilst they placed some advanced outposts. A machine gun opened fire and Chris was severely wounded.

It transpires that he died on the way to the Casualty Clearing Station.