Battle of the Somme: The Heaviest Hit Battalion
Posted on Jul 07, 2016
To commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme which began at 07.30 hours on 1st July 1916, we talk to York Army Museum curator Hannah Rogers, and discover stories of bravery and despair for the men of the Yorkshire Battalions who faced this, the most devastating Battle in British military history.
Article by Hannah Rogers
1st July 1916 was one of the bloodiest days in European History; the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Thousands of men from across the continent were engaged in combat, with 28 battalions from Yorkshire, each numbering around 1000 men, fighting on 1st July. 2, 413 of these men were killed.
As time has moved away from the events of the First World War, we have lost our first hand connections with the Somme. Collections preserved from the Battle by museums such as ourselves have become ever more important in understanding this incredibly significant incident in our history.
York army Museum curates the collections of 15 of those Yorkshire battalions present in frontline action on 1st July 1916. To mark the centenary of the battle we are working to share the remarkable stories of the men who fought.
Amongst those whose stories we are telling are the Leeds and Bradford Pals, and also the remarkable, yet tragic story of the 10th Battalion of The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment.
Pictured: Men of the 10th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment in the months before the Somme.
The 10th Battalion became the heaviest hit unit in the entire of the British Army on any single day of action on 1st July 1916.
The official battalion war diary for this day records losses as 750 soldiers and 27 officers, killed, missing and wounded. At dawn on 1st July the 10th Battalion had begun their attack with around 900 men. By nightfall they numbered barely more than 125.
Men of the 10th Battalion were attacking the German-held village of Fricourt on this day. They left their trenches at 7.30am following the cessation of an artillery bombardment, attacking the German position across no man’s land in four waves.
The first two waves of the attack successfully reached German lines without substantial losses. Whilst they were doing so, however, German soldiers who were largely unaffected by the artillery bombardment preceding the attack emerged from their dugouts and mounted their machine guns. As the final two waves of attack were launched from the 10th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment’s trenches, the men were walking into a wall of machine gun fire. These two waves of men were virtually annihilated. Those who had reached German trenches earlier in the offensive had to make their way back across no man’s land without support, resulting in more casualties.
Due to the immense bravery and courage required from men continuing in the attack despite heavy losses, all survivors from 10th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment were awarded a gallantry medal. These medals included the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Cross and Military Medal.
Pictured: The Military Medal awarded to Colour Sergeant Ernest Taylor, 10th West Yorkshire Regiment.
Private David Townend
Pictured: Private David Townend, 10th West Yorkshire Regiment, Killed 1st July 1916.
David Townend was the 2nd son of Joseph and Margaret Townend, born in 1889. He grew up at 38 Foster Street, Leeds, with his 4 surviving siblings. After finishing his education at a young age, David joined his mother and brother in the boot making industry, working for a moulder to produce new designs.
David was still single and living in Hunslet at the outbreak of war. He joined the Army in early September 1914, when the 10th Battalion was raised. David was assigned the rank of Private with the service number 13019, and joined the 10th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. He trained in York under the orders of the 17th Northern Division.
Army life would have been completely unfamiliar to David, who had to learn to use a rifle, increase his strength through trench digging, and instil a sense of army discipline through long arduous marches.
On 12th July 1915, David left England for the 1st time and arrived at Boulogne on 13th July. The first action David was involved with was at Ypres in Belgium. The 10th Battalion was at first unorganised and poorly equipped on reaching France. The first few months of life in France did little to prepare David for the Somme offensive, as he was not involved in any heavy action. Over winter David had a fairly miserable time, enduring knee deep mud in the trenches and gas attacks from enemy lines.
1st July 1916 was the first serious action David was involved with, the 1st day of the Battle of the Somme. David was in the last 2 waves to go over the top, he was shot as he climbed out of the trenches. His body is buried in New Fricourt Cemetery, France, with many of his comrades from the 10th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment.
Captain Archibald Joseph Anderson
Archibald was born 20th May 1893 to Edward and Mary Anderson in Winnipeg, Canada. Pre-war he lived with his family at 402 Electric Railway Chambers. He had previously served in the 18th (Mounted) Canadian Rifles. By 1914, however, his first period of service had come to an end. Archibald re-enlisted with the Canadian Infantry on 24th September 1914 in response to the First World War. At the time he re-enlisted Archibald was 6 foot tall, had a scar on his index finger and a birthmark on his left thigh and grey eyes and dark brown hair.
On re-joining the Army Archibald was given the rank of Lance Corporal and the service number of 14789. Shortly after re-enlisting Archibald was promoted and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. At this time he was transferred to the 10th West Yorkshire Regiment. This was as new battalions in the British Army, raised in response to war, were short of experienced officers. Men from commonwealth forces were often brought in to make up for this shortfall.
Archibald joined the 10th Battalion in York for their training. In this he would have been leading and teaching a small group of men. He left the UK after a period of around 6 months with the Battalion, on 12th July 1915, landing in France at Boulogne on the 13th. Archibald was promoted to full Lieutenant in late 1915, and went on to become a Captain in early 1916.
On 1st July 1916, Archibald was one of the officers of C Company. C company was one of the last two companies to attack the German position at Fricourt and was virtually annihilated in doing so. Archibald was killed leading his troops over the top. His body was recovered and he is buried in Fricourt New Cemetery.
Corporal Edward Jackson MM
Picture: Edward Jackson with his daughters at the seaside, 1925.
Edward Jackson was born in Sculcoates, Hull, in 1894. He was the 3rd child of Sarah Jackson and her husband. Edward had four siblings, an elder brother and sister; Ethel and Charles, and a younger brother and sister; Peter and Anna. Edward’s father died in the early 1900s. When war broke out in August 1914, Edward was 21 and living with his mother and siblings at 2 Swinburne Street, Holderness Road, Sculcoates, Hull. Before joining the Army, Edward had completed an apprenticeship in electrical engineering, and was working at Earle’s Shipbuilding and Engineering Co. Ltd. Hedon Road, Hull.
Edward was 5ft 7 and ½ inches tall, weighed 119lbs and had brown hair and grey eyes. Alongside his work as a shipbuilding engineer, Edward had also been part of the Royal Engineers’ territorial force, before the outbreak of war.
As part of the territorial force, Edward would have received call up papers shortly after the outbreak of war. He responded to these, enlisting for service at Otley on 27th August 1914. Edward was assigned to the infantry regiment, The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment, and became part of the 10th Battalion, probably at his own request.
The 10th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment was officially formed on 3rd September, making Edward one of the 1st men to join its ranks. Formation and training for Edward Jackson and other men of the 10th WYR took place in York. At the start of his service Edward was assigned the rank of private and the unique service number of 11019.
Edward Jackson went over the top with the third wave of attack on 1st July 1916, they stepped into a line of murderous machine gun and rifle fire. Edward Jackson was shot in the thigh as he began to make his way across no man’s land at around 7.50am on 1st July 1916. He managed to pull himself back to his starting trench. From there he was sent to hospital in Boulogne, and then on to England on 8th July 1916. Once arriving back in his home country his wounds were treated first at Ripon and then at Alnwick.
Edward’s injuries were so severe that he could not return to active service and so he was discharged with a pension and a silver war badge. The Silver War Badge was given to men who were injured in the line of duty.
Edward was awarded the Military Medal for bravery and gallantry in the field, for his actions on 1st July.
The Battle of the Somme, not only the 1st July, but the entirety of the four-and-a-half-month offensive had a huge impact on the Yorkshire region and Britain. There was no escaping the profound effect so many deaths of young men had on the region. Records show these effects were both emotionally and economically draining for the area.
Due to the high number of Pals Battalions raised in the Yorkshire area, deaths and injuries were particularly concentrated.
Of the 136 Pals Battalions raised in the UK, 44 of them were from Yorkshire. These groups of men who fought and died together at the Somme came from the same areas and streets of their hometowns.
The Somme also marks a major turning point with regards to public perception in the war. The first two years of the conflict had been marked by enthusiasm and support from wide portions of the public to the war effort. People had believed in the war as a defence of the principles of freedom, innocence and a wealth of others. Support had continued with the approach of what was rumoured to be the big push against the Germans that would end the war. This is now known as the Battle of the Somme.
The Somme dashed hopes that had been held dear by the British public that the war would be over. There was no way of hiding the huge losses brought about by the Somme, and with the huge amounts of wounded retuning to the UK conditions in the trenches became far more well known. Furthermore, with the introduction of conscription, people began to doubt what they were fighting for. The liberal values the British army was seen to embody were being eroded by the introduction of compulsory service.
From the end of 1916 onwards a notable change in the tone of reports regarding the war is witnessed Gone was the enthusiasm and widespread support for the British Army command. Support still remained for the soldiers, but it had a note far more of empathy and pity than previously.
Alongside these well-known negative impacts of the Battle of the Somme, it is also important that we remember the advancements enabled by the experience on the Somme which ultimately contributed to the allied victory in the First World War, and to some extent, the Second World War.
The British Army saw huge leaps forward in weapons and tactics throughout the battle of the Somme, which continued until 13th November 1916.
The Somme was preceded by a huge artillery barrage that was designed to destroy German lines. When the barrage lifted and men went over the top it was found that this tactic and been ineffective, and the lifting of the barrage had left infantrymen with no cover as they attacked, causing huge losses.
By the end of the Battle of the Somme, tactics had changed so that barrages were no longer lifted before an attack. Soldiers had begun to recognise that the lifting of barrage was a signal of impending attack, and so when this happened preparations for defence were made. By the end of the Somme the British Army introduced ‘The Creeping Barrage’. In this instance, the barrage of artillery was not lifted before and attack, instead the line of artillery fire moved forward, just ahead of the infantry. The smoke, explosions and debris from the artillery shells provided cover for the troops crossing no man’s lands, whilst simultaneously preventing enemy soldiers from leaving their dugouts and mounting defensives actions.
Alongside this incredibly important tactic, tanks also saw their first use on the battlefield. This essentially spelled the end for the old cavalry charge as break through action. The horse had been impractical for trench war fare as they were not able to cross the lines of trenches which littered the landscape in northern France. The tank, however, had no such problem, with the tracks which propelled it able to cross trenches up to 12ft wide.
The Battle of the Somme was a tragedy for all armies involved. It resulted in approximately 1 million losses. Important advancements were made in the offensive, but at a terrible cost.
Centenary events at York Army Museum
York Army Museum is currently hosting an exhibition discussing these and other stories, sharing knowledge about the Somme. We start with accounts from the 1st day of the Somme and trace the tales of both the infantry and cavalry throughout the battle, highlighting information often unknown.
Pictured: Images of York Army Museum’s Somme 100 exhibition.
To mark 100 years since the Somme we are not only discussing stories within the museum, but attending and organising events to share stories elsewhere.
An exhibition relating to our Pals Battalion who served at the Somme is currently touring the Yorkshire region.
We conducted a special whistle blowing ceremony at 7.30am on 1st July to remember those who served at the Somme, and will be showing The Battle of the Somme film in November the mark the closing of the battle.
Modes and planning the exhibition
Throughout the planning of the Somme exhibition and events, effective use of Modes records has been imperative. Over recent years we have been working to optimise our Modes records to allow us to utilise our collections to their utmost. This involved marking objects with clear simple titles. We then build our Modes records alongside guidance from Modes staff and SPECTRUM procedures to document as clearly and concisely as possible all key information linked to the object.
Our record keeping has been effective and as such we have been able to easily identify key objects, such as military medals, uniform and weapons. These objects allow us to bring the Somme stories in to a three dimensional visual realm with which our visitors can interact.
Vital in enabling us to bring this vision into being has been the Modes records documenting the dates, places and organisations associated with objects. We are now working to improve all our Modes records so we can continue to host such high quality exhibitions.
Modes has also enabled us to share information relating to the Somme with researchers and press.
Features such as the exhibition captions, images and PDF outputs have hugely simplified the process of working on collaborative projects. The result has been a number of successful schemes which have helped share our stories and promote our museum. Project partners have included Common Wealth War Graves Commission, The Yorkshire Post, BBC, Morley Archives, and a number of others.
About the museum
York Army Museum is home to the regimental museum of the Royal Dragoon Guards and The Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire. Recently refurbished by a Heritage Lottery Funded project, we are currently employing Modes to expand our audience and make the best possible use of our collections.
York Army Museum
3 Tower Street, York, YO1 9SB.
Telephone: 01904 731532
Pictured: Image of Displays at York Army Museum.
Other Centenary Commemorations and Resources
You can find out about other Centenary projects and events taking place across the UK at Somme100 #Somme100
Royal British Legion Remembering the Somme Events Toolkit