Page 168 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME,
1916
was to make two strong points, each capable of holding a platoon ,
two machine guns and a mortar.
The assembly area of the battalion lay in a reserve line of trenches
about a thousand yards north of Mailly-Maillet. "A" and "B"
Companies were in front, each on a frontage of a hundred and fifty
yards, "C" (Captain H. W. Sayers) and "D" (Captain W. D. P.
Mansell) in rear and close to battalion headquarters. Direction
posts for the advance were put up in places out of sight of the enemy;
and bridges for crossing the support trenches were laid on the night
of 30th June. Each section leader had two lengths of rope weighted
at one end and looped at the other: he, being comparatively
unladen, was to cross unbridged trenches first, swing the rope back
to his heavily burdened men and pull them across one by one.
The device is said to have proved effective. The load carried by
each man, except certain specialists, included 170 rounds of ammuni–
tion, two bombs, a day's rations and an emergency ration.
It
is of
interest to note that steel helmets were worn in action for the first
time on this occasion. After deducting carrying parties and the
ten per cent. reinforcement, the strength of the battalion in the
assembly area was 24 officers and 591 other ranks.
The battalion moved from its camp at Bertrancourt at I1.30 p.m.
on 30th June, receiving a rum ration before leaving and an issue of
hot tea on arrival at the assembly area at 2 a.m. A breakfast of
bacon and tea was served at 6.30 a.m. Sleep in the interval had
been almost impossible, as the area was close to guns of all sizes
which fired more or less continuously throughout the night; but
fortunately no casualties resulted from the enemy's retaliation.
Between 8 and 8.30 a.m. on 1st July the battalion advanced
in artillery formation on a frontage of two hundred and fifty yards,
with two hundred yards between companies. On crossing the
Mailly-Sucrerie road, it heard from wounded men that the attack of
the IIth Infantry Brigade had been completely successful and that
the German front line had been occupied. But, soon afterwards, the
sound of German rifle and machine-gun fire began to be heard, and
it was evident that no "walk-over" was in store. The Roman
road running north-west from Beaumont Hamel was reached at
9 a.m. Up till then no casualties had been incurred. But a few
minutes later the first serious barrage was met, and thereafter
casualties became frequent, Captain H. W. Sayers, Lieutenant
R.
S.
MacIver and Second-Lieutenant C. D. Roberton (signalling officer)
being killed and Captain J. Collis-Browne, Lieutenant G. G. Bowen
and Second-Lieutenant C. Gregory wounded. Nevertheless the
advance was carried out in perfect order, though at a faster pace
than laid down in orders, until the Roman road had been passed,
when sections began to become separated. Much cross-fire was
coming from enemy machine guns in the villages of Beaumont Hamel
and Serre, which should by then have been in the hands of the 29th
and 31st Divisions-or at least so fully engaged as not to be able
to spare any attention for the 4th Division. In some places troops