Unsung Heroes of the Somme

Unsung Heroes of the Somme

Postby kerchi » Mon Jul 16, 2012 9:54 pm

The following text is from The Cumberland News, which the editor has given special permission to be shown here.

Redan Ridge: The Last Stand by Peter Weston.

90 years ago: A soldier keeps watch as his comrades sleep in a captured trench during the Battle of the Somme

NOVEMBER 18 this year will be the 90th anniversary of the official end of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Yet the mere words Battle of the Somme still conjures up for many horrific visions of the sheer human suffering and sacrifice made in that “war to end all wars”. This battle which commenced on July 1 would finally come to a close four and a half months later on November 18.

In total Britain and her Dominions suffered more than 419,654 casualties and France 204,253, while German estimates vary from 437,000 to 680,000.

The 11th Battalion of the Border Regiment the “Lonsdales”, suffered the same fate as numerous other battalions. They were all but annihilated on July 1, the opening day of the battle, which has proved to be the blackest in British military history.

By the end of this day 60,000 casualties had been sustained. The following day would produce a further 40,000 to be added to the now bursting field hospitals frantically trying to cope with the wounded and dying on a scale that had never been witnessed before.

To make good the losses, hundreds of reserves soon found themselves being rushed to France in a desperate attempt to bolster the many battalions still engaged in the bitter fighting to break through the German front-line defences.

Some time in September, a draft of more than 200 reserves were transferred from the 3/1st Bn of the Herefordshire Regiment to 11th Borderers. Along with their new comrades from Cumberland and Westmorland the men from Herefordshire would, within weeks of arriving in France, take part in the final phase of the fighting of the Somme campaign in an effort to try to smash the enemy lines.

As winter approached the final battle was planned to break through the German fortifications on Redan Ridge and secure a decisive victory. For the men from Hereford this would be their first real taste of battle. They had only previously carried out short periods of trench warfare – this would be their introduction to the horrors of the Somme.

At 6.10am on the morning of November 18, in freezing conditions, the Lonsdales along with the 16th Highland Light Infantry (HLI) and the other battalions which formed the 97th Infantry Brigade set off towards the enemy’s front line trenches. Throughout the day a bitter struggle ensued but finally the enemy counter-attacked in great strength forcing the British to retreat to their starting-off point in Wagon Road.

Neither side knew that a small mixed band of British Tommies made up from both the Lonsdales and the HLI had not only succeeded in breaking through the German first line of defences but had managed to penetrate and barricade themselves into the second line of defences know as Frankfort Trench. Estimates put the defenders of Frankfort Trench as 60 men from each battalion along with a small number of officers.

Despite appalling conditions these men held out in the belief that the British authorities would eventually send help. For eight long, tiring days the men struggled on, fighting off several determined German attacks. Short of supplies their only way of replenishing provisions of food and water was to crawl out into no-man’s land under the cover of darkness taking what they could find from the bodies of their dead comrades lying out on the battlefield.

After several failed rescue attempts, the men were finally left to their fate and were forced to surrender eight days after their ordeal started. Only 15 unwounded men staggered from the trench to be taken into captivity. The exact number of survivors is not known but many of the wounded and those captured went on to be guests of the Kaiser, some forced to work in factories and coal mines in Germany, finally returning to Britain in 1918 following the Armistice.

With the passage of time it is not possible to be certain if any of the defenders were from Cumberland or Hereford but what is know is that 148 men from the Lonsdales perished on November 18 and many others who were wounded later died or were taken prisoner.

The story of the men from Herefordshire and their part in this epic action with the Lonsdales has been put together in a book privately published by World War One enthusiast Peter Weston who for many years has been researching local men who fought in the Great War.

Priced at £8 plus £1.25 p&p copies can be obtained by writing to Peter Weston at Holly Cottage, The Common, Winforton, Herefordshire HR3 6EB.

Copies are also available at the Border Regiment Museum Queen Mary’s Tower, Carlisle Castle.

The Cumberland News, Published on 31/3/2006
In memory of John Bardgett (15309 L/Cpl.), 11th Border Regiment who died 1st July 1916.

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The Border Regiment Forum is a small and friendly community for anyone with an interest in the British regiment throughout its long and colourful history. The forum was set up first and foremost to bring together those with an interest and passion in the Regiment; to ask questions, share stories, provide knowledge and post photos relating to the regiment during the various conflicts and peacetimes it bore witness to.

  -  Cumbria's Museum of Military Life
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  -  11th Border Regiment (Lonsdale) War Grave Project