Ep83: Summer Madness on the Somme

Ep83: Summer Madness on the Somme

hello it’s matt mclaughlin from living history here before we get started on this week’s podcast some really exciting news for all our uk listeners now that the borders between france and britain have opened up we’ve launched a range of tours we’ve launched matt mclaughlin battlefield tours in the uk so now if you’re in the uk you can travel to france you can tour those battlefields or the western front where men fought and died during the great war so we’ve got great tours we’ve got weekends that explore all the battlefields a special tour for remembrance day there’s a whole range of great group and private tours there available now for you to travel on so they’re all escorted by pete smith who you would know from our battle walks podcast he’s an absolute expert he lives on the battlefields of the somme and he knows this better than anyone else he’s the perfect person to travel the battlefields with they’re going to be a great range of tours i’m really excited so jump on our website check them out book them now it’s battle walks dot co dot uk and you can book those tours today i’m peter hart and i’m gary bane and together we’re pete and gary’s military history podcast [Music] hello and welcome to the podcast hello hello hello and i’m here once more with the wonder that is peter i wonder why we all wonder why people that’s why you’re a wonder now today pete we’re going to continue with the story of the battle of the somme not a one-day battle then not a one-day battle uh and uh this this surrounds the activities beyond the 14th of july which was the night attack that we covered in an earlier podcast yeah the knight attack was quite a success it had smashed open on the in the southern sector the uh the the german second line system uh it’s but it’s a bit of a false storm wasn’t it it’s quite cruel in a way you get your hopes up and then they smash back down again um do you think they really learned the lessons uh for from the uh from the success of the 14th of july no i mean there’s there is a question whether the the lessons that that should have been learned such as you know the devastating use of messed artillery for example in support of an attack on a on a wide front uh and using more imaginative infantry tactics whether they’d actually deliberately so cast it to them cast it to the winds they replaced it with tactics which i’ve seen you described one of your books pete as the tactics of the lunatic asylum yeah i was not politically correct you mean yes as if they were nutters um so do you see if if this is a learning curve then it’s a bloody strange funny wobbly wibbly learning curve that’s a sad travesty of geometry oh you’re so intellectual yeah it’s kind of where i got that from from that bit i’ve just seen it written down there now so what the fighting does it degenerates into the very worst sort of attritional fighting um and you get obscure villages woods even trenches that that sort of send misery to their hearts of various parts of of england and and the rest of the empire there um uh i mean some places that i’m thinking about one we’re not covering today but things like moments would that there are still awful memories of that now uh sort of a hundred years later you know some that we are covering today things like daleville wood that still resonates in in south africa even today well let’s let’s get on with that one then first so that’s the first one we can’t do all of it can we because this is this is a huge battle and we’re covering the the high summer months uh at back end of july and into august and even into september we’re covering so what we’ve done is just pick three examples haven’t we and you’ve just led us into the first one um delville wood we’ll put a we’ll put some maps up or our map up um so so what are they trying to do in delville wood well the british are struggling to capture and hold the the blighted wood and the ruins of the adjoining village i think called longer vale pete is that that correct now in peace time this was 156 acre wooden and it had a typically sylvan aspect with mingled oaks and birch trees interspersed with thickets of hazel and undergrowth it was cut through with uh what they call rot well i don’t know what they call it them in rides they call them rides in this country but basically cut through brakes uh for like fire breaks between the trees and um what state is it in uh by mid july is it still lovely yeah by mid-july it’s uh it’s ripped to pieces smashed into tangled heaps by the shells and and it was known as the devil’s wood as the troops unsurprisingly called it well i’d say the name sort of gives it it does and and it presented a fearsome prospect now uh on 15th of july the ninth division they captured most of longerville on the 14th of july the battle we were we did in the last pod go out the last podcast on the song now they’re given the task of completing the capture of dalville wood and no one really could have guessed how long this was going to take um who’s ordered to do it well the south african brigade ordered to capture the wood and uh it’s an interesting phrase at all costs and the attack went in at 15 on the 15th of july yes it’s a stranger thing you you it made you ponder the first day ordered to attack it at all cost later on to defend it all costs yeah it’s an integer i mean what does it mean does it mean to the last man and and in which case if you’re defending it doesn’t that mean it’s a failure because you lose it and and do the germans do such things the germans did tend to hold their front lines to the last man um and and then counter-attack and that’s one of the reasons their casualties are so high because they they have this at all costs later on when they have defense in depth they’re more likely to pull back the french seem to have the most sensible approach to it yeah retreat if you’re in trouble uh yeah bring up your reserves and then counter-attack now i’m going to be private hugh mallett of the uh hugh mallett and your attack goes in at 06 15 on the 15th of july and your human as you said second battalion south african regiment what’s gonna happen we arrived at the edge of the wood at about dawn everybody on tenterhooks and just as the last man got in old fritz opened fire with big and little guns rifle and machine gun fire what a time we had our men were being rolled over like nine pins but on went the boys and by 8 30 we had accomplished our task we gave old fritz the time of his life i took a slow and steady aim and made every shot tell my only regret was that i did not get my banner into him later there was a lull and it was during this lull that i was hit i was on guard at the time and it was my duty to keep a sharp look out over the parapet i’d only been on a few minutes when old fritz sent a huge shell right in front of our trench it blew away a portion of the trench and knocked a tree over on top of us one of the splinters of the shell landed me one on the right cheek which of course put me out for a few moments it made a nasty hole i did not wish to leave but i was told to take another wounded man into safety that’s uh pretty good so they managed to capture all but the north west sort of corner of the wood uh but then what would the germans do well we’ve talked about this time and time again and i’ll just reference it what the germans see what do the germans do gary well they’re going to counter attack people and and not only do they counter-attack but they’re increasing in in severity and and and it’s from all around this now developing salient and almost every available man was needed to repel them over the next four days so the south africans try and dig trenches around the perimeter uh but what problem well you’re a practical man i’m not uh what problems can you picture if you’re trying to dig in around the edges of a wood well we mentioned what state the wood was in earlier so it’s no small task with ground that’s filled with twisted roots and the mangled trees the south africans were they’re ordered to hold their ground as you mentioned at all costs so inspirational orders are undoubtedly easier to give out than to follow now the german shells they’re raking across the wood and the ceaseless roar gradually increases in volume as more and more guns were brought up uh to the line now you’re going to be private frank moriglia of the 2nd battalion south african regiment which is natalie free state absolute hell turned inside out i never expected to get out whole shells dropping everywhere we get orders to return in the the afternoon late i think in fact i’m almost sure that our lives were saved when a very brave officer captain hoptroff made his way to our position he wasted no time get out he said and was almost immediately hit by a bullet and killed outright it is strange how in the most urgent and tragic circumstances one notices things of minor importance for as captain hoptroff dropped my eye caught sight of his very beautiful gold wristlet watch and i have never ceased to regret that i did not take it off and send it to his family i’m sure that they would have appreciated it now of course you and your comrades would probably have had a different reason for having their eye on the wristwatch well and and and i have no doubt that that happened on occasion that’s a very noble sentiment that uh frank marillier has he’s a good lad now uh and just to give an idea of the scale um the the in 80 on 18th of july during these days while the south africans are defending defending the wood it’s been calculated around 20 000 shells fall on a single square mile of the devil’s wood and at a crescendo that there’s that the seven per second crashing down now can you imagine that i i mean i find it difficult to imagine um no i think it’s almost impossible to imagine that so what what what do you think it’s like in the wood well i mean all around the the perimeter the young and they are young south african officers are the the the truth that human courage alone can’t withstand huge quantities of high explosive and shrapnel the south africans they’ve given all they could and uh despite their orders to stick it out at all costs several reluctantly begin to fall back through the wood yeah the orders aren’t there’s no point giving orders if you don’t give the resources to support those orders and defend at all costs they needed more men didn’t they and in addition sniping was also a terrible threat and once more you’re going to be private frank morelia we set up our lewis gunn with tragic results in succession 10 of my mates were killed and and it looked as if my own turn was next whilst at the gun one bullet grazed the side of my face near the eye another hit the stock but the bullets were not coming from the direction our gun was facing after our 10th comrade had been killed one of our chaps thought he saw a slight movement in a tree some distance to our rear we gave the tree a burst and outdropped a german sniper a brave man he must have crept into the wood in the blackness of the previous night and set himself up well hidden in the branches i’m sure he would have known that his chances of survival were very slight i was indeed lucky not to be his next victim he certainly was now what situation do you well what do you think how do you think the lads are feeling the south africans in that wood right well they’re going to be totally knackered they’re going to be exhausted they’re probably running out of food and water because the shell fire would disrupt the russian system the carrying part absolutely and they’re probably going to be increasingly shell-shocked are they in deep trenches do you think but no they’re clinging on to what uh would be makeshift shallow trenches and and as each hour passes there are fewer men left standing to face the next german counter-attack now captain medley and his men they’re finally overrun uh by the germans a dawn on the 19th of july and you’re going to be captain rfc medlica of the third battalion south african regiment transvaal and rhodesia exhausted machine gun ammunition drove off attack from the wood but had to chuck it soon after 8 a.m handed back sorry to say all german prisoners captured during the day i got not a wink of sleep for four nights could not sleep in the night of the 18th got lieutenant’s garden thomas in a safe place both wounded with german prisoners i was satisfied at our marksmanship so many dead germans round us in the wood i was too busy waiting for the moment to attack which was maturing during the day the enemy shellfire was chiefly 5.9 inch too intense to think of retiring the germans were rattled without gunfire our men who at that time owing to want of water and sleep were cold and stiff were calm and had a don’t care a damn appearance now by the end colonel thackeray and the scattered remnants of the third south african uh third battalion south african regiment they’re just clinging on to their fingertips just to a little tiny corner of the wood and they’re promised time and time again their promise more assistance is on the way does it come no no nothing came at all on the 19th of july when the remnants of the south african brigade finally emerged from what remained of the wood there are only 780 of the 3153 men present to answer the roll call now they’re all dead i mean most i mean a good most of them would be wounded of those casualties but a lot of them are dead uh far too many and uh the africa the south africans would never forget that would so so what should we look at next what’s your fantasy well next let’s have a look at the attacks in the footsteps as if it’s not written down in front of us on our notes yeah we’ll look at the attacks by the first and second anzac division uh which is the attacks on posier and the albert the palm road yeah it’s in the it’s on that straight is it a roman road it looks like a rug it is um it and it goes from well well would you say it goes from albert to bapone uh probably yeah i’ll say so sorry i’m just got distracted by life um now this is posiers very strongly defended isn’t it it’s part of the original second line defense system not line defense system we keep emphasizing this to give you an idea of how serious it all is yeah it was the original german second line wasn’t it second line system yeah it and it’s up on posiers ridge um important tactically would you say yeah it’s very important technically uh as it’s captured not only uh to some extent destabilizes the rest of the german second line system in that sector but it also begins to unravel the german strangle hold on the fortress of the thief valve spur now that uh that’s next to well the schwaben redoubt that’s the uh that that’s the what’s that german expression that i can’t pronounce yeah yeah now that still bars the way to any advance in the northern sector on the sun battlefront and that’s what joffrey had said with they should just get on with and capture because that is the key if you capture that then the germans are going to have to fall back now uh so so who’s in charge of the anzac divisions ultimately well well ultimately general sir hubert goff is commanding what was then the reserve army and later known as the fifth army and who goes first well he decides to to throw the newly arrived first anzac division into the freight or where they’ve arrived from being really billy land uh now they’re the tech at uh double o 30 on the 23rd of july i never know how to say that no you laughed at me when i had trouble with it the other day how how good it is to see you so half an hour past midnight half an hour past midnight on the 23rd of july striking across from the southeast at the junction of the reserve army and fourth army rather than straight up the albert possier coming at it slightly diagonally yeah now you you wrenching it the first answer australian division um or is it anzac i think it’s i noticed i keep changing anyway um they they’re fresh from from gallipoli uh they’re wasted endeavors because i i’ve never you know i’ve been unwavering in my opinion that was a waste of resources but uh um did do you think they had any idea what they were going to face on the western front no i mean we had mentioned before that you know the the what would be a huge barrage in gallipoli was was a minor skirmish on the western front so for the first time they’re they’re being exposed to the reality of warfare on the western front just the sheer power of the guns the number of the guns the amount of ammunition available they had our dna ammunition at gallipoli so the the the they’re supporting british artillery that’s pounding to buggery the uh ruins are possible it’s a technical expression used in the army from the 19th of july uh and and if that goes on for the four days before the attack at uh half past midnight on 23rd of july uh what do they now the australia the the australians they that there’s a there’s a creeping barrage and uh tell me what how do the the australians show a a refreshing origin well not originality particularly but they’re brave about how they do it aren’t they yeah about midnight the australians move up out to their jumping off tapes and many of them creep out into no man’s land so as to get as close as possible to the barrage line when it fell now in doing so they’re accepting the risk of casualties from shells that drop even as as much as a few yards short so at 12 28 there there’s the final massed barrage and the australians must have been amazed and you’re going to be sergeant harry preston of the 9th australian battalion down came our barrage onto the enemy line and possier village the germans replying with artillery and machine gun fire as we lay out among the poppies in no man’s land we could see the bullets cutting off the poppies almost against our heads the flashes of the guns the bursting of the shells and the very lights made the night light day and as a i lay as flat to the ground as possible i was expected to stop one at any time jamming my tin hat down on my tin helmet down on my head i brought the body of my rifle across my face to stop anything that might happen to drop low in the tumult it was impossible to hear orders my ears were ringing with the cracking of bullets a man alongside me was crying like a baby and although i tried to reassure him he kept on saying that we would never get out of it suddenly i saw men scrambling to their feet taking this to be the signal for the charge i jumped up and dashed across now i i find that an excellent uh uh quote it really gives the feeling um now one thing that would happen is that they then came on that besides the artillery german artillery heavy machine gun fight now what’s the difference between being under machine gun fire at uh on the som and at gallipoli what what you’ve been to anzac uh anzac co what why would a machine gun be more of a threat at uh well because you’re in relatively open fields on the sun battlefield we we’ve described in the earlier uh podcasts the uh the way you have these uh sweeping hills and valleys of the somme but it but it’s wide open that means you can get enthalate fire um a long way and that is murderous and crisscrossing yeah absolutely what’s different about anzac surely could they not do that there no because it’s it’s very steep hills it’s cliffs uh the land is very rugged rugged they’re not wide open spaces at all you don’t have the field of fire it’s short-range deadliness but it is deadly but it’s different doesn’t it now uh so zero hour came um cut out of anywhere people always blow their whistles i’m not sure many people would heard and the men move forward as best they can the bomb was pretty effective and they forced their way into posiers trench that that baths away into the to the village of posies and again you’re going to be sergeant harry preston at the point where i entered there was a german doctor who afterwards did good work among the wounded private jack rogers who reached a trench with me baronetted two germans and after a sharp fight the trench was cleared and we immediately set to work to improve our position captain sn lawrence was in charge of this work the trench was in good order with dugouts let into the sides the dead bodies which had to be thrown out were used in building up the parapet something they got used to doing at gallipoli that’s a real feature of gallipoli fighting isn’t it now it it the fighting vicious it really is horrible again you’re sergeant harry preston i was with a party that was ordered to the right in an endeavor to force a way into the stronghold this however proved difficult as it was strongly held by the enemy whose egg bombs could be thrown farther than our mills after a sharp fight our bomb supply ran out and we were forced to barricade the trench and rely on rifle and ban it until more grenades arrived men were spread out along the trench and the bombs were passed from man to man the germans at first tricked us by putting helmets and caps on their rifles and walking along with them held above the parapet when our men put their heads up and attempted to shoot them they were shot by other germans further along the trench white but it did not take us very long to wake up to this ruse and very soon we were playing the same game while all this was going on and we were tunneling under a road into the strong post and by this means we succeeded in getting into the enemy trench this movement startled the germans who dashed out and across the ridge towards possier village making an excellent target for our rifles and machine guns in the meantime other australians had entered posier and driven out its garrison who were making their way to the stronghold so out over the top we went and chased the confused and panicked stricken enemy over the ridge in the direction of the old windmill a good many were overtaken and shot or bayoneted now that windmill’s still there it’s next to an absolutely ludicrous uh i don’t know it’s pets at war or bunny rabbits that will uh sort of thing that’s been placed next to it but the windmill is a great site to visit and uh i always like to go there and i still remember when i took a group of uh uh there for uh uh it was matt i think matt mclaughlin i took a group and i was saying and over there is mukey farm pointing off across the open fields and then i noticed chris baker was with a lone australian and chris just went just chested with his hand and just moved me right to where i was pointing to the right place other than the 30 degrees out i was because i’m not a some expert as you know you know more about the time than that and it’s fair to say that the windmill isn’t there it’s the ruins of the ruins oh no it’s just a mound isn’t it yeah it’s just a mound and uh and the mukey farm that’s there is the rebuilt muke farm yeah and it’s invisible well it’s just out there but i i had to i had the direction wrong and it always like there’s lots of pictures of me pointing on battlefields with with bullets the turkish guy pointed in completely different well so where are we i forgot where well what it means is the capturing most of the village means that the the consolidation was the priority as they awaited the inevitable violent german reaction now once they realized the situation the german artillery it wasn’t idle pretty it it took a steady toll of the australians it isolated them what do you mean what’s it what tell me how so it’s isolating what does the isolation mean well they’re trying to cut them off from reinforcement and basic supplies bombs yeah now this tactic was obvious and it was expected but almost impossible to counter without a concerted prior attempt to knock out the german batteries and you’re going to be captain jro three initials yeah must must all have a meaning pete of the third australian battalion as fast as one portion of the trench was cleared another was blown in there were no dugouts in which men on post could take shelter and the only thing to do was grin and bear it the men who were not wounded were kept busy digging out the men who were buried alive by the explosions caving in the trench sides i had occasion to bless my tin hat for in our portion of the trench the parapet was composed of of the debris of a ruined house and a shell pushed over a barrow load of bricks onto my head with no other ill effect but some bruises on the shoulders uh you’ve got a bruise on your shoulder today haven’t you well could you just tell them what happened to you gary because it’s i found it quite interesting in nope gary gary come on i’m okay what happened to you i fell over in the shower didn’t you old man’s trouble something like that peter now there’s nothing for the survivors to do but endure as best they can and you’re going to be once more you’re going to be private frank brent of the second australian battalion i think this is the first time i’ve been here mostly it is the first time you’ve been him but i’m just trying to move on from the unfortunate shower incident the affair de shower yeah now private frank print what does he say pete without doubt possess was the heaviest bloodiest rottnest stunt that ever the australians were caught up in the carnage is just indescribable as we were making our attack after the third brigade had gone through we were literally walking over the dead bodies of our cobbers that have been slain by this barrage i can’t imagine anything more concentrated than the artillery barrage of the germans at that particular stunt he was even shelling our front line with great coal boxes his artillery was registered right smack on it the bay on our left went in two or three chaps were killed the ban our right went in i said to this chap it’s our turn next he seems to be from lancashire i hadn’t said it before we were buried i was quite unconscious buried in what had been the german frontline trench i was picked up and sent back to the battalion first aid post i was given a bottle of sal volatile is that how you pronounce it or something oh wish it had been rum i was sat in the corner of this aid post for a little while but then the wounded just streamed in and the chap in charge of the post said oh well you’ve had enough rest you better get back again and i went back during the whole of that period i can’t remember anything more nerve-wracking than the continuous shelling day and night this is what we mean they’d never have this in gallipoli nothing even an inkling of it ah and what about what you do under shell fire i mean what would you do or you’re in your trench the shell fire what would you do well you try and move out of the way and which way it wouldn’t matter whether they move left or right they couldn’t second guess the random uh machinations of high technology machinations and you mean if the bloke twiddles his little knob if he twiddles his little knob and and the degrees are set then blind fate guides the shelf to their final resting place and that could be where you’ve just moved to or or it could be that you’ve moved out of the way absolutely so it made nerve-wracking and that must be one of the causes because extreme stress is one of the causes of shell shell shock isn’t it yeah and uh you know this is going on and on and on and at 8 30 on the 25th of july the long expected major counter attack oh german captain yeah last materialises from the direction of the windmill further along posier ridge and this once more is sergeant harry preston of the ninth australian italian as i happened to be on the right flank i found myself right in the thick of it the enemy came over the ridge like swarms of ants rushing from shell hole to shell hole our men full of fight and confidence lined the parapet and emptied magazine after magazine into them some of the boys anxious to get a shot at the germans pulled one another down from the fire step in the midst of the fight under this fire and that of our machine guns and the artillery which tore great gaps in the advancing lines the enemy attack withered the survivors were later seen retiring beyond the ridge which was barraged by our artillery so this is why the german when people say that oh it’s ridiculous the british the allies must have suffered terribly more than the germans the germans the the some some people have worked out the germans attack as much as we do uh it this is two huge armies smashing hell out of each other and they’re caught in the open in that case because you know they are attacking uh against the defending position the artillery are going to rip them apieces now the australian lines hold against this attack uh and they’re eventually relieved by the second australian division um but by then they’d lost over five thousand casualties which must have been a and and the australians too suffered dreadfully on posies ridge gough um well he’s undeterred he was always a vigorous commander not one of our favorites is he uh but he’s determined enough and he he’s determined to drive through potty as soon as possible and so uh so who does he send up well partly in consequence the second australian division was um invigored into launching an attack without adequate preparation oh that’s bad it’s always bad not no chance to to to find out where they’re going so so what time what time i wonder why you were asking me to say so at 0 0 15 on the 29th of july so quarter past midnight the 7th australian brigade attacked the og1 and og2 lines which i think we discovered before was is our old german one an old german too i said that was an original of the germans to call it that because it’s us that’s going yeah i was thinking when i listened to that podcast i thought you’re an idiot pete and then towards the posies windmill that lay beyond them so a stretcher bearer is watching the doomed advance of the the proud anzacs of the 28th battalion and you’re going to be private tom young of the 27th australian battalion they marched across no man’s land as if they were on the parade ground with their own shells screaming in droves over their heads and the german shells blowing them to bits the men dropped like flies the german wire remained intact and they could go neither forward nor back they tore up the barbed wire with their hands searching for openings under one of the most intense machine gun barrages australians have ever faced so they’re just trapped in front this is the old hanging on the old barbed wire in front of thick german barbed wire uh so what do the survivors do well they’ve got little or no choice and most of them take shelter in shell holes that’s the only blessing there that the ground is starting to be created and you’re going to be corporal percy blythe of the 28th australian battalion we left a long line of the best and bravest boys that australia ever produced lying along that wire some fell across it with the wires in their hands others died with the wire cutters still on the wire but they were glorious lads every one of them i got into a shell hole right under his wire and could go no further forward so i sent my supply of bombs in the direction of his machine gun right in front of me i cannot vouch for the result but this time everything was in a state of chaos and i took the risk of going from shell hole to shell hole trying to get the boys together for another try the word came up for us to withdraw to our original front line they all did this but i stayed and did my best for several wounded fellows now they made a few trivial gains uh but most of the seventh brigade they just end up back in the jumping off trenches the casualties were sobering uh how many to the 28th battalion that we’ve just been talking about how many did they lose they lost about 467 men that so that that that’s terrible now uh the poor they make two attacks in all and then the battered second australian divisions finally pulled back on the 6th of august uh by which time how many casualties well by that time they’d suffered about 6 800 casualties over the two attacks they finally got the crest of posiers ridge they they’d secured a tactically valuable vista it stretches over their possess ridge and uh towards course lad martin police towards baphome along the road um now um they’re they’re pulled back and the fourth australian division comes in uh does it’s at the end of the fight for the for the australians no uh we’re going to leave them there but the fight actually goes on pete yeah the the reserve army um the fifth army would batter its way forward on the possess ridge edging towards muke farm that’s the very thing i was talking about um how would you describe the process for the australians on that ridge well two steps forward and one step back it might well have exaggerated the speed of this i mean it wasn’t that quick it wasn’t that quick the fighting was so hotly contested this is attrition isn’t it yeah now it’s it’s evident it’s descended into a traditional battle of the worst kind the constant barrages of the british guns were gradually grinding away at the bedrock of the german army yes because this is what we forget the germans not only are they making their own counter-attacks but they are exposed time and time again to incredible barrages by british guns um feeling their way all around the german lines constantly causing a trickle of casualties and in a big barrage they they caused a lot of casualties wouldn’t they um but there’s something wrong uh with the british attacks what would you describe uh well i i’m i i i’m very i’m not impressed by british generalship during this phase uh no it’s it’s it’s it’s possibly incompetent and it’s and it’s often uncoordinated tactics mean that when they went in the attack that they were losing men whole scale to achieve practically nothing so both sides are getting a complete hammering both sides are losing terrible casualties and no end in sight really um um so um well while the australians are being so brutally introduced to the horrors of the western front in july and august the fourth army front had once more embarked on a difficult period of trying to seize a string of local objectives that would serve to ease and prepare the ground ready for the next big assault on the integrity of the whole german line which was going to be made on the 15th of september and that’s the battle of flares curse a lot it is the battle of florence now this reminds me of the period before the 14th of july a lot and we discussed that lots of little battalion or smaller attacks that that that are on a narrow front they’re not properly supported by a proper barrage um um well preparation is a double-edged sword isn’t it it’s um it’s got pros and cons you’ve got time to prepare for an assault but that means there’s time for the germans to repair and prepare their own defenses the time to bring up fresh divisions and more gun batteries to to deal with the british artillery for the control of the battlefield yet if you attack without proper preparation pete it simply guarantees defeat yeah to us you’re going to get properly smashed and that happened time and time again it is not a great period of british generalship this isn’t directly related by the way to the very top this is general ship throughout uh both golf and uh rawlinson lose control of the bat they they fail to exert grip and in the background hague’s actually slamming into rawlings and telling them to get a grip so you mean the general generalship yes um so what’s the next big battle pete well we’re we’re flitting across the battle i want people to realize that these are just three highlights we’ve picked or low lights to be absolutely honest uh the next one is the attack on the 9th of september which was to be made by the 16th that’s the irish division on the benighted village of ginshi um now there’s a character there’s a couple of well you’re going to be a real character in this um lieutenant tom kettle uh who’s left tell me a bit about yourself gary well he he was a prominent irish nationalist mp he was born in dublin in 1880 he was a leading intellectual and was elected the first president of the young island branch of the united irish league and he later became editor of the nationalist newspaper now in 1906 his burgeoning political career culminated in his victory in the east tyrone seat for the house of commons now his life changes when he was in belgium on a mission to purchase rifles for the republican volunteers no that’s highly illegal pete so basically this man is uh what we call not iraq but but he is a republican uh and by nature uh he’s on the revolutionary side yeah purchasing rifles he was but but caught up in the outbreak of war he’s actually soon repulsed by witnessing the brutality of the german army ah he’s in belgium he’s in belgium and he firmly identified with the invaded belgian whose position he compared to ireland and in the end despite his republicanism he enlists in the british army so this is a case of an irish nationalist who considers that the german army the germans posed the bigger threat so british bad germans worse yeah now during his service he gains a kind of hope for the future of ireland from the the shared experience of protestants and catholics within the 16th and 36th ulster division 16th is essentially catholic and 36th oh ulster division so they’re the red hand gang yes well now they’ve got red hands on that division also i wasn’t bad i just wondered where you were going you know yeah so is it fair to say that protestant catholics don’t always get on yeah it’s fair to say and and you know it’s not overestimating to say that you know tom kettles held his beliefs firmly as a republican now i’m going to be lieutenant tom kettle of the ninth royal dublin fusiliers and he says this had i lived i had meant to call my next book on the relations of ireland and england the two falls a tragedy of errors it has needed all the folly of england and all the folly of ireland to produce a situation in which our unhappy country is now involved i have mixed much with englishmen and with protestant ulsterman and i know that there is no real or abiding reason for the gulfs saltier than the sea that now dismember the natural annoyance of both of them with us irish nationalists it needs only a few lux i don’t know what that means other kind very easily compass do you know what he means by that no but it’s interesting that he uses the words of a kind very easily compass which suggests a direction or pointing to to replace the unnatural with the natural in the name and by the seal of the blood given in the last two years i ask for colonial home rule for ireland a thing essential in itself and essential as a prologue to the reconstruction of the empire ulster will agree oh sorry ulster will agree and i ask for the immediate withdrawal of martial law in ireland and an amnesty for all shin famed prisoners if this war has taught us anything it is that great things can be done only in a great way now that that so he sees a hope for the future in in the way that the two the two sides in the island dispute or the three sides because there are three sides at least have cut sort of come together and can mix and have a common project uh he’s an intellectual isn’t he’s a man of letters how do you think he gets on well how does he think he gets on with the lads does he get unwell with him sorry i can’t speak yeah i think um he sees them as having good spirits and enduring you know the hardships that that they face and and i think um you know he genuinely genuinely feels the the a real respect and love for his men and i think this shows in the next quote you’ve got from from tom kettle the bombardment destruction and bloodshed are beyond all imagination nor did i ever think the valor of simple men could be quite so beautiful as that of my dublin fusiliers i have had two chances of leaving them one on sick leave and one to take a staff job i’ve chosen to stay with my comrades i’m calm and happy but desperately anxious to live this is quite sad isn’t it uh he just i remember looking it up he just had a baby daughter born a couple of days before uh she’s called betty i looked her up in fact i looked up when she died for when i was writing my song book in 2005 six and uh he never saw her because she was born he was away um what happens to kettle well he’s he’s hit very early in the attack um and uh and it is witnessed in fact and you’re going to be second lieutenant emmett dalton of the ninth royal dublin fusiliers i was with tom when we advanced to the position that night and the stench of the dead that covered our road was so awful that we both used some foot powder on our faces when we reached our objective we dug ourselves in and then at 5 pm on the 9th we attacked ginshi i was just behind tom when we went over the top he was in a bent position and a bullet got over a steel waistcoat that he wore and entered his heart well he only lasted about one minute and he had had my crucifix in his hands he also said this is the seventh anniversary of my wedding i forgot whether seventh or eighth i love the the last touch of the the memory there but that that i i remember i found this we’re all very touching it’s just one of many but he is seen as that bullet it doesn’t just kill tom kettle does it because he did have his hopes for a record a peaceful solution to the irish problem um do you think he was realistic about his hopes we’ll never know we we will never know um that bullet took away any possibility certainly did um he’s uh if his body was never recovered and he’s uh he’s on the tfl memorial i think i might see if i can see that next time i’m there um uh right uh so uh so let’s carry on so what happens to these poor irish lads attacking uh you’re going to be second lieutenant second lieutenant arthur young of the seventh royal irish fusiliers earth shells bursting in the village of genji made it belch full smoke like a volcano we couldn’t run we advanced at a steady walking pace stumbling here and there but going ever onward and upward a shell landed in the midst of a bunch of men about 70 yards away on my right i have a most vivid recollection of seeing a tremendous burst of clay and earth go shooting up into the air yes and even parts of human bodies and that when the smoke cleared away there was nothing left now they went on against what’s officially described by the official history i presume i mean by that uh as the slight opposition uh they overrun the german front line and burst uh through through through that gin she much left again should you think by this time no uh it it’s uh it’s it’s rubble and powder to be frank yeah right pinky the brick dust they often describe these things as uh now um so uh so so how are they gonna consolidate well they do eventually manage to consolidate now alongside them were the first six colt rangers who were commanded by colonel roland fielding uh who had only just taken over commander the battalion uh which had already suffered some really severe casualties now you’re going to be lieutenant colonel roland fielding of the first six conant rangers i always think he’s a chap who can’t spell his own name every time i see it i think and he wrote a wonderful book is it letters to a wife it’s a cracking book and this is him the trench in front of us hidden and believed in oculus which had in consequence been more or less ignored in the preliminary artillery program had perhaps for this very reason developed as the enemy’s main resistance this in fact being believed to be the easiest section of the attack had been allotted to the tired and battered 47th brigade such of the surprises of war supplemented by machine gun nests and shell holes the trench was found by the few who reached close enough to see into it to be a veritable hornet’s nest moreover it had escaped our bombardment altogether or nearly so now this is you’re going to be now uh it i found this is i loved when i interviewed a chap called second lieutenant francis jordan he never used the word he was always just his initials uh he’s also a first six con connect rangers and uh i remember interviewing him saying well i still remember the walk to his house from the train station and he died uh during the interview not not while i was there but before it was finished but we finished the first world war part he was a very bright lad very bright and he was a very bright 90 odd year old when i saw him now you’re going to be him and this is where we get a wonderful connection between him and fielding whose book a lot of us uh first world war enthusiasts well enthusiasts are people interested in have got that bulk so go go gary be second lieutenant francis when the battle started it was all very horrifying shell shooting over the trench knocking the sand at the parapet the troops went forward and they very soon came back they were really knocked to bits by the germans i did not take part in the actual movement because it wasn’t my business to do so i was the signal officer and i was in the front line trench looking after whatever signal communications there were d3 telephone and lines which kept on being broken the only useful communication was back to brigade i had one or two ncos and soldiers with me trying to keep a lying game down the communications trench one single wire on which everything depended that kept on being bombarded and the thing got cut and several brave men kept on mending it the whole thing developed into some glorious model and there wasn’t anything very coherent sent back in the middle of the battle the adjutant decided to go sick with trench fever he retired from the war in fact and was never seen again which was not a very good thing for an adjutant to do in the middle of a battle fielding who took a certain liking to me thought i was reasonably intelligent and made me the adjutant on the spot i was militarily speaking of no height and only eighteen the point was i was there the thing finished as a shambles now and and he’s mentioned in the book his efforts are very much appreciated he is a very bright lad um uh fielding says uh jordan had wisdom far beyond his years and found uh he did remarkably well under pressure he says again fielding says the boy jordan is still acting agitated and he’s doing marvelously well in in spite of his extreme youth and uh i think it’s absolutely fascinating and later on he becomes a staff officer and we’ve actually mentioned him in quotes on the on 1918 where he ends up as a staff officer a divisional staff officer and one memorable day forgot to send the food rations forward but the men under him never complain gary no no well they wouldn’t now in some ways the study of august and early september is the least rewarding and most utterly depressing chapter in the whole tragic epic of the sun offensive the brits why well the brit british had had the troops they had the guns the ammunition and even the weather the perpetual enemy of british generals you mean it always snows or rains when it was reasonably favorable yeah now yet the period went by unredeemed by anything that could be considered a success just just thousands upon thousands more casualties i’m not sure if i agree with myself in one sense i i i am arguing with myself but i would point out that we are killing a lot of germans which is i suppose the point but it could have been done better couldn’t it i think this is the point that the the lessons of the 14th of july mass bombardments short massed hurricane bombardments uh surprise attacks flexible infantry tactics these have been ignored haven’t it but but i i is it anyone’s fault it it it’s so distracting it’s difficult to keep a grip and that’s what rawlinson fails to do and golf they fail to keep a grip no they’re worse and hague failed to keep a grip on them let’s let’s not beat about the bus and is hague be going and beating about the wrong bush anyway in fact they should perhaps should have been going direct for uh schwab and redoubt and and tiatvar ridge so this is so in my view this is not a great period of british generalship um no and there were some local successes you know a few german trenches and strong points are captured yeah but they’re replaced by new ones that blossomed just behind the german flag oh g2 og so they just they just dig new ones done yeah it seems like there’s no end in sight are they as good as the ones the trenches that um well they won’t be because they haven’t had the time uh and and i shouldn’t imagine that the british artillery leave them in peace to do this no that’s true now um so so there’s one quote that i remember that um that really sums up how people were feeling and it’s a depressing quote and we’re going to finish on this one aren’t we you’ve got a couple of comments to make at the end but uh who am i going to be you’re going to be captain philip pildich at c battery 235 brigade royal field artillery i’m afraid we are settling down to siege warfare in earnest another most sanguinary kind very far from our hopes of our hopes in july but it’s always the same festival loose and now this both sides are too strong for a finish yet god knows how long it will be at this rate none of us will ever see its end and children still at school will have to take over now i thought that was brilliant but it also triggered a memory for you yeah when we went to verdun and and i did a stand i passed around a postcard it was a french postcard and we’ll put this up i think because um it it showed babies and and it was the the class of 37 i think and the influence was that the war was going to go on so long that there were children as yet unborn who would be necessary uh to fill the the depleted ranks and uh that just resonated with me with that last comment and of course uh those children would be at war but it would be the second world war it would now uh so there’s not a lot not a lot of good cheer about uh this week’s episode uh our loyal and loving listenership must be feeling quite depressed well most of them are that way after any of our podcasts be oh yeah well luckily we’ve uh got our book coming out so well we’ve been working on our book laugh or cry which and there’s a couple of episodes uh coming up which are based on recruitment training and uh which i hope will cheer you up a bit anyway gary i’m sorry that you’ve had your terrible accident this morning in the shower and i hope your shoulder gets better soon thanks pete cheers cheers
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Ep83: Summer Madness on the Somme

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