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The battle for Pozieres Ridge - the Somme 1916

R.I.P.
- Lance Corporal William Henry Morley
- Private William George Jowsey
- Captain George Brown Bird Military Cross
- Private Albert Hartas Marshall

The British High Command had expected Pozieres Ridge to be taken on the opening day of the Offensive, twenty three days later the British were no nearer their goal. A renewal of the offensive to take the ridge was scheduled to begin in the early hours of the 23rd of July, using for the first time in the Somme campaign the newly arrived ‘Diggers’ of the 1ST Australian Division, fresh from the ill fated Gallipoli campaign, who were given orders to capture the village of Pozieres, and the British 3rd 10th 13th and 15th Corps of Fourth Army who would attack the ridge on a front which ran from Bazentin Le Petit to the village of Guillemont.

Typical of all the villages of the Somme destroyed in the 1916 offensive, Guillemont had been completely rebuilt after the war brick by brick in the form of the original, and today looks very much like it had done for hundreds of years. Today, like it always had been, the village is heavily reliant on agriculture for its income and lies on each side of the D20 road which runs in an eastwards direction towards the nearby village of Combles, and on the D64 which goes south west to the village of Montauban. To the North West is Longueval and the notorious Delville Wood. To the north east lies yet another village, Gincy. Liddell Hart had spoken graphically of Guillemont in his book, ‘The History of the First World War’;

‘Now a peaceful hamlet amid cornfields, then a shambles of blended horror and mystery. From Trones Wood it is down one slope, up another, only a few hundred yards of farm road now, yet in July and August 1916, an infinite distance'…

Amongst those who would be attempting to cover ‘the infinite distance’ in the forthcoming attack were the men of the 2ND battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, many of whom we have already encountered in a futile attack on Trones Wood on the eighth of July, [see part two], in which the Battalion had suffered grievously. No lessons from the first day of the offensive had been leant for this attack; they would be going forward as usual in a frontal assault, against a well emplaced enemy, a sure formula for disaster.

Following the attack on Trones Wood the Battalion had, according to ‘The History of the Green Howards’ had made ‘several short moves’, for what reason is not specified, but I would guess it had simply been a way of keeping the men occupied following their recent traumatic experiences. The 2ND Battalion had been at Morlancourt on the 11TH, Vaux-Sur-Somme on the 13TH, and the next day at Vecquemont, where the men of the unit had boarded trains that had taken them to Ailly-sur-Somme, marching from there to the village of Foudrinoy, where the Battalion had been inspected by the Commander of 30TH Division,[Major General J.S.M. Shea] who had also taken the opportunity of thanking the Battalion for their good work in the previous fighting,[it was a common occurrence during the war, for units of the British Army who had lost heavily to be given a pat on the shoulder by their C.O. as a supposed moral boost].

Zero hour for the impending assault on Guillemont had by this time, unknown to the men, had been set for 3-40am on the 23RD using the 21st Infantry Brigade of 30Th Division,[18TH King’s, 2ND Wiltshire, 19TH Manchester, and 2ND Yorkshire Regiments].

The Second Yorks had marched to the assembly point in the early afternoon of the 22ND,and had reached ‘Glatz Redoubt’ at about four thirty, where the unit had ‘rested’ until 9-30, when the Battalion had moved on to the north of their old stomping ground Trones Wood under heavy shellfire which according to Wylly ‘had caused some casualties’…

By 2-30 am of the 23rd the men were in position. The customary pre battle would have been doled out to the men as they had made their final preparations, one or two had perhaps taken this opportunity to write final letters that were to be posted in the event of them being killed. The flashes of the preliminary bombardment would have lit up their anxious drawn faces as they had waited those seemingly year long minutes before the signal for the off. With five minutes to go the order, ‘Fix Bayonets’! Would have rippled down the assembly trench, Officers, with whistles clenched between their teeth would be peering at the luminous faces of their watches, counting the last few seconds, possibly of their lives. The whistles were duly blown at the appointed hour, thousands of men carrying up to seventy pounds of junk lumbered ‘over the top’; at last released of the drag of time.

Before the advancing troops lay a distance of perhaps two hundred yards of open ground devoid of any sort of cover, before they reached the German wire. The Manchester’s found it uncut by the preliminary British bombardment but they eventually forced their way through it and into the village, but unfortunately due to heavy fire they had been forced to retire. Some men, however, managed, under very difficult circumstances to hold out until the afternoon.

The operation for the Second Yorkshires had also gone terribly wrong from the start. Owing to the darkness and a smokescreen that had been put up by the nearby 3RD Division, the Battalion had lost their way. Wylly, again states;

‘Some platoons of the Green Howards reached the trench south of Guillemont, but found the wire uncut and were then obliged to retire owing to enfilade [sweeping from end to end] rifle and machine gun fire. ‘D’ Company, with what was left of ‘A’and’B’did manage to struggle on to the trench north of Guillemont, beat off two counter attacks and consolidate their gains. The position was then taken over by the Third Division and the companies fell back on ‘C’Company in the assembly trench, and then at seven that evening the Battalion was withdrawn to Happy Valley’… [1]

250 officers and men of the Second Yorkshire Regiment had been killed, wounded, or reported as missing in the shambles of the attack on Guillemont. Amongst the latter had been twenty-one years old: 19681 Lance Corporal William Henry Morley.

Born at Scarborough in 1895 at No 21 Highfield, William had been the only son of Eleanor Elsie [formally Edeson] and ‘Lithographer’ William Henry Morley, who were living at No 80 Highfield at the time of their son’s death. Another soldier of the great war who died leaving little personal history, William Morley had been mentioned in name only in a casualty list published in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday August 11th 1916, in which his address is given as No 80 Highfield, a house in which his parents would live in until well into the 1930s. [2]

William Morley had enlisted at Scarborough during the autumn of 1915 and had duly been sent to the Yorkshire Regiment’s Depot at Richmond, where he had spent three months undergoing basic military training before being sent to the 2ND Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, which had been heavily involved in the Battle of Loos, where the battalion had lost a large amount of men [339 men killed, wounded, and missing] in the fighting there from September 25TH to October 1ST. Morley had eventually joined the battalion in a contingent of reinforcements that had landed in France of the 3RD of October 1915 at Le Preol, in Northern France.

For the remainder of his military career Morley had been stationed in various sectors of the Westren Front in France. At Bray by the beginning of 1916, by March the 2ND Battalion had been moved to Corbie thence to trenches near Maricourt, where the men had been issued with the newly introduced steel helmet and a new pattern of anti gas respirator. However, by the end of June Morley and the remainder of 2ND Yorks had returned to Corbie, where the Battalion had been stationed in ‘Trigger Wood’, a place that had contained many batteries of artillery that shortly after Morley’s arrival had begun the five days bombardment that had heralded the start of the Somme Offensive.

Amongst one officer and twenty one other ranks of the 2ND Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment that had lost their lives during the assault on Guillemont, no identifiable remains of Lance Corporal William Henry Morley’s body had ever been recovered from the battlefield, and his name is therefore commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme [Pier and Face 3A, and 3D]. Also included on Scarborough’s Oliver’s Mount War Memorial, William Morley is also commemorated in the town in Manor Road Cemetery [Plot M, Row 18, Grave 7] on a small, now almost indecipherable, headstone commemorating his grandparents; John Edeson, who had died on January 4TH 1907 aged 59 years, and Ann Stephenson Edeson, who had died on the 26TH of January1927 aged 79 years. This grave also contains the remains of William’s aunt, Ida Maud Edeson, who had died during March 1945 aged 60 years.

The failure to capture Guillemont on the 23RD of July had meant that there was then a large question mark hanging over the prospect of any joint Anglo French attack north of the River Somme. Undaunted, at 6-15 pm on the 23RD Rawlinson issued further orders for the continuance of operations. Thirteen Corps orders continued as before: clear Longueval and Delville Wood, in conjunction with the next French Army attack north of the Somme and to assault the German main second positions between a farm just south east of Guillemont known as ‘Falfemont Farm’ and Guillemont, including the village itself.

The British again attacked the village on the 30TH of July with exactly the same results as the 23RD. ‘The Official History’ says that it was hardly surprising that these attacks failed because the tactics used were the same, and goes on to say…‘An attack from the west up the exposed shallow trough which marked the termination of Caterpillar Valley and from the south west over ground that was sloping and devoid of cover, had little chance of success’…. What this statement fails to explain are the physical obstacles that the troops had had to contend with. Guillemont had been a very strongly defended fortress. The depth of the German dugouts and their many interconnected tunnels meant that any limited British Infantry attack on the village could then be isolated and dealt with as the defenders emerged to take these units from the rear. Another factor was the inability of the British artillery to pin point and silence the many machine gun positions hidden in the wreckage of the village.

Unperturbed by these unsuccessful attacks the British High Command insisted that the slaughter should continue. Throughout August and into September thousands of men were thrown into the meat grinder to capture for all intents and purposes was by then simply a very large pile of bricks. Not a building remained upright, the trees and all vegetation had disappeared.

In the wake of the fighting the battlefield was said to have been ‘the revelation of a most unspeakable concentration of death’. The dead were trampled underfoot, the terrain littered with the remains of the men who had contested Guillemont. A Padre who bore witness to the dreadful carnage would later write:

‘The first part of our journey lay through a narrow trench, the floor of which consisted of deep thick mud, and the bodies of dead men trodden underfoot. It was horrible beyond description, but there was no help for it, and on the half rotten corpses of our own brave men we marched in silence, everyone busy with his own thoughts…Half an hour of this brought us out in the open into the middle of the battlefield of some days previous. The wounded, at least I hope so, had all been removed, but the dead lay there stiff and stark, with open staring eyes, just as they had fallen. Good God such a sight! I had tried to prepare myself for this, but all I had read or pictured gave me little idea of the reality’…[3]

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