Pages

Friday, 9 December 2016

A Butte de Warlencourt Commemoration

This week’s blog post is by Kevin Richardson of the Fallen Servicemen of South West Durham project. Some of the text has already appeared on the website, with more information about the action: https://thefallenservicemenofsouthwestcountydurham.com/brown-a/


A view of the Warlencourt Cemetery and the Butte, taken by Kevin Richardson
A view of the Warlencourt British Cemetery and the Butte, taken by Kevin Richardson
Background
5 November 1916: It has been estimated that there were the following casualties:
1st/6th DLI
11 officers killed, wounded or missing
34 other ranks dead
114 wounded
111 missing

1st/8th DLI
9 officers killed, wounded or missing
38 other ranks dead
100 wounded
83 missing

1st/9th DLI
17 officers killed, wounded or missing
30 other ranks dead
250 wounded
111 missing

151st Machine Gun Company
3 dead
20 wounded
8 missing

There are 10 officers and 264 other ranks of the above DLI Battalions with 5 November 1916 recorded as their date of death (from Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War). With almost 1000 casualties, misery was brought to many Durham homes including the following south west Durham men (information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

1672 Private Alfred Brown 1/6 DLI from Staindrop, buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery grave reference VIII.B.7.

2211 Corporal Ralph Hebdon, 1/6 DLI from Tindale Crescent, buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery grave reference VIII.B.6.

3429 Private Fred Brunskill, 1/6 DLI from High Etherley, buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery, grave ref, VIII.B.11.

3472 Corporal George Thomas Cox, 1/6 DLI from Evenwood, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

2264 Corporal George H. Smith, 1/6 DLI from Barnard Castle, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. 

3124 Private Robert Wilson, 1/6 DLI from West Auckland, he has no known grave and commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. 

7421 Private Charles Russell, 1/9 DLI from Cockfield who died of wounds 8 November 1916 and is buried at Douchy-les-Ayette British Cemetery grave reference III.E.6. His body was re-interred having been brought in from an isolated burial or small cemetery. 
Warlencourt British Cemetery with the Butte in the background, taken by Kevin Richardson
Warlencourt British Cemetery with the Butte in the background, taken by Kevin Richardson
So had the Durhams failed? Perhaps Brigadier General Hugh Tudor and Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford had an answer:

“The attack is fixed for tomorrow, in spite of the weather. It seems rather hopeless expecting infantry to attack with any success in this mud. The trench mortars have only their muzzles showing above it. Yesterday we had two barrages by brigades. They seemed fairly good but I should like more guns. To be effective, a barrage should be an 18-pounder to every seven yards of enemy front and the guns should be capable of firing four rounds a minute at least to start with, without the recuperator springs giving out.”
Brigadier General Hugh Tudor, Commander Royal Artillery, 9th Division

"There were many reasons why the 9th DLI was unable to hold its ground. The failure of the troops on the right to reach their objectives and the fact that the division on our left was not attacking caused both flanks of the battalion to be in the air. The positions to be held were very much exposed and the Germans could see all our trenches and control their fire accordingly. It was a local attack and the enemy was able to concentrate his guns onto a small portion of our line. The ground was a sea of mud and it was almost impossible to consolidate our posts. The terribly intense German barrages and the difficult nature of the ground prevented reinforcements from being sent up to help the 9th DLI. Four hundred yards north of the Butte the enemy had a steep bank behind which they were able to assemble without being molested. The terrain was very favourable to a German counter-attack.”
Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford, 1/9 DLI

Clearly, the contention was that they had not failed.  Rather, they had no chance of success given the shortcomings of the British artillery barrage, a narrow fronted attack against superior forces and appalling weather conditions. With the benefit of hindsight, it is generally agreed that the possession of the Butte was not a major asset to the enemy and from the British trenches it was possible to prevent the Germans from using it as an observation point. In any case, the Butte would have been of little use as an observation point. Roland Bradford also wrote:

“The Butte de Warlencourt had become an obsession. Everybody wanted it. It loomed large in the minds of the soldiers in the forward area and they attributed many of their misfortunes to it. Newspaper correspondents talked about ‘that miniature Gibraltar’. It seems that the attack was one of those tempting and, unfortunately, frequent local operations which are so costly and which are rarely worthwhile.”

Some of the above was taken from Peter Hart's book 'The Somme', he goes on to say "Actions like the attack of the 151st Brigade on the Butte de Warlencourt on 5 November had no real importance within the context of the huge Somme offensive.  However, they surely contained a seed of truth within them, this kind of attack was achieving nothing but swollen casualty lists."  Detailed accounts of the action can also be found in Harry Moses' books on the 6th and 9th Battalions, and EH Veitch’s history of 8th Battalion.

A Commemoration
The Western Front Association placed a memorial on the Butte some years ago.  This followed the principle made by the officers of the DLI who placed wooden crosses on the Butte. For commemoration of the action, these crosses were brought together in Durham Cathedral.  
Warlencourt-Eaucourt Village Remembrance Committee poster, photo by Kevin Richardson
Warlencourt-Eaucourt Village Remembrance Committee poster, photo by Kevin Richardson
The residents of the village of Warlencourt-Eaucourt which is overlooked by the Butte decided to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the tragic event.  

Paul Simpson and I have been committed to visit the Butte on the 5 November 2016 for some time. Our friends, the Bell family, asked us to place a wreath at the Butte and a cross at the Thiepval Memorial in honour of their uncle and great-uncle, Corporal George Thomas 'Dode' Cox who met his death on that day. We were honoured to do so. We also did this for another uncle and great uncle, Lance Corporal John William Arkless, 2/5th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment who was killed in action 11 April 1917
The Butte de Warlencourt: the Western Front Association Memorial, Kevin & Paul with Charles & Blanch Crossan, photo supplied by Kevin Richardson
The Butte de Warlencourt: the Western Front Association Memorial, Kevin & Paul with Charles & Blanch Crossan, photo supplied by Kevin Richardson
Together with Neil Milburn and Alan Goldsmith we visited the Butte, placed the wreath and “walked the walk” around the mound. We spoke to other groups of descendants with the same intentions at the Butte or in Warlencourt Cemetery. We met Charles and Blanche Crossan, residents of Warlencourt-Eaucourt, and other members of the organising committee at the Butte and the village hall. The ‘official’ village commemoration took place the following day, Sunday 6 November, but we had to be away to catch a train home. Blanche described it as follows:
“The ceremony on the Butte on the Sunday was simple and dignified but the crowd was such that the Somme Battlefield Pipeband could not get a place on the Butte but had to remain below. However the piper had pride of place beside the memorial. Our mayor was the master of ceremonies and wreaths were laid by him, the local MP who also is the Mayor of Bapaume and a representative of the Souvenir Fran├žais followed by the National Anthems of Britain, France and Germany being played. It was quite poignant.”

No comments:

Post a Comment