No sooner had the men of 11th Suffolk fanned out through the wire and started to get into position, than they began to fall.
Pte Senescall continues; "The long line of men came forward, rifles at the port as ordered. Now Gerry started and his machine guns let fly. Down they all went. I could see them dropping one after the other as the gun swept along them. The officer went down at exactly the same time as the man behind him. Another minute or so and another wave came forward. Gerry was ready this time and this lot did not get as far as the others."
The failure of the Brigade on the Battalion's left (102 Bde) to take the village of La Boiselle, meant that the Germans were able to pick off any men advancing through Sausage valley. The men still however pressed on. The War Diary noted “In spite of the fact that wave after wave were mown down by machine gun fire, all pushed on without hesitation though very few reached the German lines.”
This ‘polished’ view perhaps knocked the edges of a situation that was turning into chaos. Another patriotic account came from Major Brown commanding ‘A’ Company; “My very last memory of the attack is the sight of Gilson in front of me, and C.S.M. Brooks on my right, both moving as if on parade, and both a minute or two later to be mortally hit.”
There were however moments of success. Corporal Harley of March managed to get past the German front line and onto the land behind, but for lack of assistance, there was nothing more he could do "A great many of our Brigade not being bulletproof fell before they reached the German line, for the Germans were mowing the grass with machine gun fire. I managed to cross the enemy's front line, when I halted and looked around for my comrades. The nearest of them were about 50 yards away, so I thought I would wait for the reserves to come up. As I was standing there I felt something hit my left-hand top pocket, which reminded me I'd better move. I did so and a few minutes later a bullet passed through my left wrist."
By 8.00am, the fate of the battle was sealed for the Battalion. The intensity of the fire forced the men to ground. Those that could, sheltered in the shell holes, whilst the wounded lay all around on the ground. The grass; still high, shielded some of them from view and allowed men to crawl to shell holes for cover. Pte Arthur Ransom in ‘A’ Company was getting ready to move forward with the reserve wave. As he reached the top of the ladder in the Cambs trench, he was it five times. Four bullets through the left arm and one in the chest. He fell back into the trench where he was dragged away as other Cambs Suffolk immediately mounted the scaling ladder. His part in the battle was over and within a week, he was in a hospital in Brighton recuperating.
Mid morning, a determined section attack was put in against the ‘Heligoland Redoubt.’ A section popped-up and ran determinedly toward the German positions in from of the strongpoint. Almost making the front line, a German flamethrower stopped them in their tracks. No man survived to retire.
Just after noon, a message was received at Battalion HQ by the Adjutant; Captain G.L. Tuck, that Captain O.H. Brown (‘A’ Coy) was in Wood Alley with around 20 men and around 200 men from other units in the vicinity. After rallying them together, they put up a shield of covering fire to the left flank that allowed assistance to be brought forward to collect the wounded and behind them in the area of the 21st Division, they did the same, assisting the Divisional HQ to retire safely.
As the afternoon wore on, any movement was dangerous. Pte Senescall recalled when the enemy’s artillery; “During the afternoon Jerry started shelling no mans land in a zig-zag fashion to kill the rest of us off. As each shell landed they gave a burst of machine gun fire over where it fell, to catch anyone who should jump up. As they worked towards me I knew when my shell was coming. Sure enough it came and landed a few yards behind me. Over came the bullets as well but I kept perfectly still. A very large shell fell some yards to my left. With all the bits and pieces flying up was a body. The legs had been blown off right to the crutch. I have never seen a body lifted so high. It sailed up and towards me. I can still see the deadpan look on his face under the tin hat, which was still held on by the chin strap. He kept coming and landed with a bonk behind me."
Finally after a full day out under the sun and being continually shelled and shot at, as darkness descended, the men in the forward shell holes and in no-mans-land began to crawl back to the Cambs lines. In the fading light, the German ventured out to assist the wounded. Pte Senescall again; "At long last evening came and the light began to fade. I ventured a look forward and there was Jerry out of his trench moving among the fallen. Now, I thought, I am going to Berlin too soon. That decided me, I jumped up and ran as best I could, for I was stiff. I kept treading on wounded and they called out to me for help. Jerry let me have a few more shots as I ran, but the light had now gone. Anyway he couldn't hit me that day in daylight, could he?(!)"
Another Cambs man, Pte John Garner from March, recalled “I was wounded at 4 o'clock and lay in a shell hole until midnight. I was shot while holding my bottle to a wounded Scotchman when the bullet entered my wrist and came out at the elbow."
The casualties sustained that day by 11th Suffolk were the highest of any Battalion in the 34th Division. 691 all-ranks including 19 officers. Of these 190 were killed on the first day and 337 were wounded. More men would die as a result of wounds received in the days that were to follow.
Of the 190 killed above, a staggering 148 have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval memorial. 1st July 1916 was a black day for the 11th Battalion, but like its counterparts in the 2nd, 1st, 5th and 9th Battalion, it could, and would be reborn again.
Welcome to our online 'blog' charting the history of the many Battalions of the Suffolk Regiment and the part they played in the Great War.
Starting back in March 2014, we have recorded the events of 100 years ago on the centenary of their happening.
Keep checking back to see how the Great War is progressing for the men of the Suffolk Regiment.