Tag Archives: German enfilade Trench Gommecourt 1916.

1st JULY 1916: FONQUEVILLERS CHURCH CRYPT: FIRST FIELD DRESSING STATION.

J. V. WILSON, CHAPLAIN TO THE FORCES, 1/6th SOUTH STAFFS, FIRST FIELD DRESSING STATION FONQUEVILLERS CHURCH CRYPT: PLAIN POSTCARD (FPO) to A. HIBBETT Esq, Education Officer, Town Hall, Walsall, Staffs, England. (Posted 3rd July).

                                                                                     July 1st 1916.

I have just seen your son Bertie in Hospital (1). He is wounded in the right wrist, but otherwise is alright & I think you needn’t worry about him. He is being sent on to another Hospital so don’t write till you hear from him.

He just saw Sidney for a few moments this morning. He was alright.  I hope you will have Bertie back soon.

J. V. Wilson C.F. 1/ 6 South Staffs.

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MY MEMORIES OF THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME: 1967.

The Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett.
The Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett. 1960s.

‘The Men of the North Midland Division of Territorials did not turn their backs on the enemy. On a large board, posted against a wall of the ruined Church at Fonquevillers, was printed in large letters: ‘TO BERLIN – UP TRAFFIC ONLY’.

Up Traffic Only Fonqu
Fonquevillers Church. Up Traffic Only. Pen & ink sketch. Arthur H. Hibbett. 1918?

‘The climax of my war experience came on the first of July, 1916, when the Battle of The Somme began in earnest.  We learnt later that the whole of the British Army was to advance that day (2).The ‘Mad Staffords’ of the 46th Division went forward to capture Gommecourt.

The first of July 1916 was a bright, sunny day.  We had been allowed to buy biscuits in Fonquevillers village at the back of the lines.  I bought some, calledPetit Beurre‘, and they came in usefulWhenever we buy them now they always remind me of the time I was waiting to go Over the Top’.

We had been waiting in our trenches, facing the Germans, for many weeks before the Charge. During that time I was detailed off to do an official drawing of the German Front Line, showing Gommecourt Village and Wood with the Sunken Road beyond, the German enfilade trench and with all the trees as exact as I could.  This was my small contribution in preparation for the ‘Big Push’. I had the use of a periscope, and was disguised as a sandbag in case I had to look over the top of the trench to see the formation of the trees and the trenches more clearly (3).

Illustration for 'Sniper Atkins' doggerel by Arthur H. Hibbett May/Ju ne 1916.
Illustration for ‘Sniper Atkins’ doggerel by Arthur H. Hibbett. May/ Ju ne 1916.

It was while I was making this sketch that I was amazed to see some very old German soldiers, with long white beards, using mechanical excavators in their front line, and making great loads of earth fly up in the air.

I also spotted a dead cow’s head, which I presumed was used as a German sniper’s post. I feel pretty sure that it was from there that our parapet was peppered with German bullets whenever I attempted to put up my periscope.  “Keep away from Hibbett and his periscope !” was the general cry.

What terrified me more than the enemy shells and bullets was the sight of our men allowed to drink over much. It was a mistake to have given our men leave to drink alcohol before the Big Push. Some of them, delirious with too much to drink, were throwing mud at each other and I was afraid that they would throw mud at meIt was sights such as these that have made me keep off beer ever since.

Leicester Regt badge
Royal Leicester Regt. Tiger Badge.

I got wounded on that day. I was going forward in the trenches towards the front lines.  A Leicester runner, hastening to deliver an urgent message, his voice competing with the noise of gun-fire, came shouting from the rear: “Bend your backs, me lads! Bend your backs!  The Tiger’s face doesn’t turn away from the enemy!” (4).

Sap-Trench.
Sap-Trench. Shallow trench hastily dug before the battle to get troops further out into No Man’s Land without detection. This may be what my father called a ‘nam trench’?

We all bent our backs in the trench and the runner, I can see him now, ran along our backs, head and shoulders above the trench, exposing himself to the enemy, while shells kept bursting on either side of him.

The Germans trained their machine-gun fire into our trench (5). My hands got scratched with the barbed wire contraption getting caught in the sides of the nam trench (sic) (6). The situation got hopeless.  We were advanced beyond Gommecourt Wood and found it was no use carrying the chev de frieze any further (7). I got lost in the confusion of the bombing.

wiki Official_Photographs_taken_on_the_Front_in_France_-_A_German_front_line_trench_before_Gommecourt_(15560801016)
German Front Line Trench before Gommecourt. <www.en-wiki>

I got to where I believe was the point our Front Line faced the German enfilade trench I had sketched in the days before (8) There to my amazement I saw British soldiers lying close on the floor of the trench, like sardines in a tin – some dead and some dying with groans. 

A sergeant called out to me from a dugout“Come in here or you will soon be like those lying there.” To my lasting remorse I was forced to tread on the bodies of those poor men.  My right wrist was bleeding badly from a shrapnel wound and a chum called (Arthur) Venables*  (9) tied an emergency field dressing on it. I learned later that he was killed and I pray he may be rewarded in heaven.

My experiences before and during the Battle were terrible to me, but curious enough I felt serene until I was told to make for the First Field Dressing Station. I made my way in haste to get out of the trenches: full of our dead, all with tarpaulins and ground sheets over them.

Fonq-Church-painting.imgres
Fonquevillers Church of Our Lady. Watercolour. Adrian Hill. Imperial War Museum.

I stood waiting in the mouth of the trench near to Fonquevillers Church and the Dressing Station in the Crypt, and there I was interviewed by Padre T.Howard* (10)(whom I was to meet again, after the War, at Lichfield Theological College). 

I received treatment against tetanus, then it was a great relief, despite the cobbles that shook my wounds, to leave the Battle behind, and be sent by Ambulance to an open field to await the train which was to take us to Hospital.

Typical WW1 Motor Ambulance.
Typical WW1 Motor Ambulance. http://www.en-wiki.

I shall never forget seeing the wounded lying in the sunshine in that wide fieldIt was just as if so many washer-women had laid out their ‘whites’ on the ground to dry – men with wounded arms, legs and heads all bandaged up.

There on his horse sat the Colonel* (11), staring at the sorry sight. Then I saw, lying on the field, Alan Machin*, an old Grammar School Boy of QMS, Walsall (12).

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

Pte Bertie Hibbett appears to have got further, than I first thought, across No Man’s Land before he was wounded. In his Memories he describes the British Front Line Trench opposite the German enfilade trench as full of dead & dying. He mentions German machine gun fire & enfilade fire. This was about 9.30 am. 2 hours after Zero hour accord. to S. Staffords War Diary. NB Being ‘beyond Gommecourt Wood’ is puzzling until one remembers the objective was The Z.

Gommecourt Village, Park & Wood today from the air. Fonquevillers bottom left. 1/5th S Staffs Assembly Trenches & 'The Z'  & 'Little Z' objective marked .'Aerial Photo:
Gommecourt Village, Park & Wood today from the air. Fonquevillers bottom left. 1/5th S Staffs Assembly Trenches & ‘The Z’  & ‘Little Z’ objective marked . ‘Aerial Photo:

That the 137th Brigade attack had failed was reported to Major General Sir Stuart Wortley at 8.55 am. 1st Wave 5th N. Staffs were in advanced trench. 2 Waves were in Old British Front Line (with Pte Bertie Hibbett wounded & Corp. Venables). The 6th North Staffs were stopped; if in German First Line then not supported.  Orders made to open artillery fire on whole of western edge of Gommecourt Wood.  At 9.33 am 5th N. Staffs were unable to move forward because of congestion in forward trenches. At 9.35 am 6th S. Staffs reported not enough men to continue attack.

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ARMY CHAPLAINS.  5,000 Chaplains served in WW1, many going straight from their parishes without training. 168 or more lost their lives. Their original role  was to take services & burials well away from the Battlefields. Increasingly in 1914-1918 War Chaplains felt compelled to serve on the Front Line, experiencing the full brutality of War. Burials of soldier’s pals, where they fell, was important for morale but extremely dangerous. The service would be a simple prayer taken from Revelation 14.13: I heard a voice from heaven saying: ‘Blessed are they that die in the Lord, even so saith the Spirit for they rest from their labours’.  See Hugh Pym BBC <http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides&gt;

(1) The Revd J.V. Wilson, C.F. used the term ‘Hospital’ in his FPO to Pte Bertie’s father, no doubt to re-assure him that his son was being well cared for. But this would be a reference to the very basic First Field Dressing Station in Fonquevillers Church Crypt  – or the Field Ambulance (stationery tent/ not vehicle) in a field away from the Front; where the wounded would have been collected from the whole of 46th Midland Division.

Pte Bertie’s train might have gone from Arras, in which case it is possible my father might have known the underground ‘Hospital’ in the tunnels below La Grande Place (where names of wounded soldiers are scratched on walls). Since he never mentioned this it is more likely to have been Bethune? It took a painful ‘one & a half days’ for him to arrive at a Hotel cum Hospital on the cliffs at Le Treport, near Rouen.

(2The Battle of the Somme extended from Fonquevillers/ Gommecourt in the north  – to beyond Mametz in the south/ i.e. not the whole of the Western Front.

(3) Pencil Sketch: After the Somme Battle, one lesson learned was that every soldier, not just Officers & N.C.Os, was given a maps of enemy trenches which he was expected to learn.  My father kept a copy of this drawing very carefully for 50 years. Sadly it went missing following a Toc H Exhibition in Skegness in 1960s. Reward to anyone who may know of its whereabouts. Size 5″ x 12″ approx . Please contact: <e.f.webb@btinternet.com > .

(4) Royal Leicester Regt. ‘Tiger’ Hindoostani Badge. Awarded 1825 for services in India. 

(5) Machine gun fire at approx. 9.25. See Staffords War Diary. 1st July 1916. (6) Nam’ trench? Maybe my father meant a ‘sap trench’/ a shallow trench dug hastily at night before a Charge to help men gain further ground across No Man’s Land without detection (in this case about a 1000 yards. 

(7) Cheval de frise: barbed wire entanglement nicknamed ‘knife rest’;(ref. medieval defence against cavaliers). Before a Charge, each soldier had to carry forward a piece of equipment from piles at entrance to trenches: e.g. wire cutters/ shovels/ – or these iron stakes. <https://WW1 revisited.com>.

(8) German Enfilade Fire: at approx 9.30 am. See previous 1st July Post.

(9) Padre Howard*: one of a number of Padres who comforted my father in extremity; whose faith & courage no doubt re-enforced his own sense of calling to the Anglican priesthood. (10) Corp. Arthur Venables*: See Pte Bertie’s Tribute ‘To Fallen Comrade’, Walsall Observer & S. Staffordshire Chronicle. 12th August 1916. Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial to Missing. 

(11Lt Col Richmond Raymer. Evidence that Col. Raymer, though wounded, was still on duty on horseback/ in command 1/5th S. Staffords. Major Adabie* ordered Major Lord 1/5th S Staffs ‘to find his wounded C.O Lt Col Raymer, to order an advance led by 1/5th Bn & supported by 2 companies of 5th Leicesters.

cellar-Coy-HQ-Fonq-www.iwm.orgmid
Company HQ Cellar, Fonquevillers. Louven Court Chateau.

This order issued at 2.30 pm:  ‘Add all details of previous waves from this morning’s attack to new 3rd wave. Take forward all Lewis Guns you can find.  Instruct first wave to take all men forward they find in the New Front Line. Officers and N.C.Os must reconnoitre with periscopes all gaps in our wire and in the hostile wire so as to be able to lead the men through.  

See Staffords War Diary, previous 1st July Post/ List of Casualties below/ & Alan MacDonald: ‘A Lack of Offensive Spirit’.

(12) 2/Lt Alan Machin*: wounded with a ‘Blighty’, died 1918 in UK/ influenza epidemic? Mentioned many times in Hibbett Letters.

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APPENDIX 3.  

1/5th Bn. SOUTH STAFFORDSHIRE REGT. July 1st 1916.

LIST OF CASUALTIES.  ** Known to Pte Bertie Hibbett/ amongst original Walsall volunteers/ QMS Cadet Force, 1914. NB. recognition of Shell Shock.

Officers Killed: Capt F. Eglington.

Missing, Believed Killed: 2Lt G.T. R. Knowles. Missing: Lt J. F. Thorne; 2/Lt F. A. Fawcett; 2/Lt H.Allen** (Commemorated Lochnagar Crater by QMSchool, Walsall, 2016) ; 2/ Lt T.R. Sanger**; 2/Lt S. J. Ellison.

Wounded. Lt Col.R. R. Raymer**; 2/Lt. L.A. Evans; 2/Lt H. G. Cozens**; 2/Lt L. W. C. Capsey; 2/Lt J. R. Cartwright; 2/Lt E. J. U. Turner; 2/Lt A.E. Machin**.

Capt. Wistance ()
Major. W. Wistance.

Wounded (Shell Shock). Major W. A. Wistance**; Capt. C.Lister**.

Other Ranks: Killed 12. Missing 23. Wounded & Missing 1 (Sgt Sydney Hibbett. Commemorated Lochnagar Crater by QMSchool, Walsall, 2016).

Wounded 105 (Pte Bertie Hibbett). Wounded (Shell Shock) 20. Total: 178.

SUMMARY OF CASUALTIES JULY 1916: Officers Killed 1. Missing, Believed Killed 1; Missing 5; Wounded 7; Wounded (Shell Shock) 2.

Other Ranks. Killed 13; Missing 23; Wounded & Missing 1. Wounded 108; Wounded accidentally 1; Wounded (Self inflicted) 1. Slightly Wounded, remained at Duty 4; Wounded (Shell Shock) 20; Injured, remained with Battn. for light duty. 1.

Signed: J. Lamond. Capt Adjt for Major (Lord) Comdg 1/5th Bn South Staffordshire Regiment.

NEXT POST: 9th July 1916. 

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21st June 1916: ‘TOMMY DOESN’T CARE TO STING POOR ‘OLD FRITZ’ WITH LEADEN PILL’.

Preface Title Page: 'Sniper Atkins composed by a Sniper during a tour in the Trenches and Illustrated with original drawings from the pen of the same'. Signed 'Sniper Hibbett'.

Bertie in Uniform

‘SNIPER ATKINS’

Composed by a Sniper during a tour in the Trenches and Illustrated with original sketches from the pen of the same. 

Preface.

In the Field. May 1916.

These verses of “doggerel” (for I cannot claim to be a poet like Shakespeare of whom we are commemorating the Tercentenary) formed the outcome of that species of fever which generally comes over those people poetically inclined about this time of year, & that is how Tom, Dick, Harry & Harriet, the four typical names of the common majority in the Poetry World got their title of ‘Spring Poets’.

Every time the season of Spring comes along, it is not at all rare to find an increase in poetry. The bright Sunny weather, and the sight of everything in nature starting afresh seems to fill the whole atmosphere and sky with poetry.  Everyone’s mind is fresh this time of year, & I believe inventors shine forth in Spring.  One cannot keep idle for long during the Bright invigorating Season, & so the mind must work when the body is not at work. 

How I came to write these verses was after hearing some rhyme written by a comrade. I thought I too would compose, & so while away my spare time in the trenches. My subject easily came to mind, and after much scribbling & correcting, which lasted for a week or so, the following verses came into being. 

During the last days of the tour in the trenches, I started illustrating the poem from the comic pictures in the “ Bystander”, but I could not bear to be a copyist of Capt. Bairnsfather, & it was not long before I drew something original, but not without copying Bairnsfather’s features. The frontispiece was a life drawing, while the two on the back page were drawn having some of my comrades to pose for me.

The quaint slang the reader will find out is frequent amongst Tommies in my Regiment. The joke over loading the rifle: “Placing five rounds in tin can & then one up the chimney or spout” is often heard, & anyone serving in the Batt. will confirm the fact.

Illustration for 'Sniper Atkins' doggerel by Arthur H. Hibbett May/Ju ne 1916.
‘Sniper Atkins’. Arthur H. Hibbett. May 1916.

 “Fritz” is the name Tommy calls the enemy, while the officers use the more swanky name of “Bosche”. 

The “Old Fritz” is in fact exaggerated somewhat in the sketch. But as for seeing old men, with white hair & bent backs carrying their packs  – & the remark an officer made that “ he wouldn’t shoot him for worlds”  – is quite true. 

The verse about the Kaiser was written while the fair copy was being made. Little children would think it funny not having something without the Kaiser in it. So I leave it to the reader to give his opinion if it is really “complete” yet.  

Yours faithfully Sniper Hibbett.

Sniper Atkins.

Sniper Atkins Title Page: ‘Wait & See’. A.H.Hibbett. Yours Faithfully Sniper Atkins. ‘A few verses from my pencil written in the trenches during the Reign of Good King George V.’

Sniper Atkins inside pages

Sniping Allemandes all day long, To the tune of British guns. Coolly sniping with a song, Sending ‘Greetings‘ to the Huns. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots. 

Sniper Tommy pots a Bosche And gains a ripping goal. And he sees                   him dive – splosh ! Down his muddy hole.  I shot. 2 shots. 3 shots. 

Placing 5 rounds in tin can. Then another up the spout; Tommy spies another man So gives the Bosche an awful clout. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.

Sniper-Atkins-binocularsTommy has a lucky ‘go’, His sharp eye spots the Kaiser. Tommy says -‘Just ‘arf a mo‘ Take this to make you wiser’. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots. 

Atkins with his glasses spies A Jerry working party. Keenly marks it with his eyes, ‘Just wait and see me hearty‘. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots. 

Opponent snipers in some trees, Little knowing of their fate, When Tommy snipes at what he sees They’ll sing no more their hymn of hate‘. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots. 

Sniper-Atkins-Outer-page

PILLS POUR LES ALLEMANDES

From early morning with the lark At his occupation, Tommy carries on till dark Giving Bosche inoculation. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.

To serve His Majesty the King Tommy gives his heart & will But does not always care to sting Poor Old Fritz with leaden pill. 1 shot. 2 shots. 3 shots.

Three more rounds T. A. has got “Will he dare to waste them?” – no So at a periscope he’ll pot To “bust” the thing all up for show. Crash Bang CRASH!

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Revd. Arthur H. Hibbett 1965‘MY MEMORIES OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR’.

PREPARATION for the BATTLE of the SOMME: FONQUEVILLERS OPPOSITE GOMMECOURT. 

During that time I was detailed off to do an official drawing of the German Front Line, showing Gommecourt Village and Wood with the Sunken Road beyond, the German enfilade trench and with all the trees as exact as I could. This was my small contribution in preparation for the ‘Big Push’.

I had the use of a periscope, and was disguised as a sandbag in case I had to look over the top of the trench to see the formation of the trees and the trenches more clearly.  It was while I was making this sketch that I saw some very old German soldiers, with long white beards, using mechanical excavators in their front line, and making great loads of earth fly up in the air. I also spotted a dead cow’s head, which I presumed was used as a German sniper’s post.  I feel pretty sure that it was from there that our parapet was peppered with German bullets whenever I attempted to put up my periscope. 

“Keep away from Hibbett” was the general cry.

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ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB
ELIZABETH HIBBETT WEBB

My father in ‘My Memories’  describes his official drawing of No Man’s Land & Gommecourt Wood as ‘my small contribution in preparation for the Big Push’. It was however a very important contribution. His drawing would have been sent to HQ and all officers & serjeants would have been made familiar with it and memorized it. Sadly a precious copy my Dad brought back from the War disappeared at a Toc H Exhibition in Skegness in 1967.

Tommy Hibbett’s ‘heart & will‘ was to serve his King but like the Officer in the Preface ‘he does not always care to fill ‘Poor Old Fritz with leaden pill’.  He would rather draw or write a poem.

The work of a Sniper was a very dangerous one but, in ‘Sniper Atkins’, Pte Bertie Hibbett makes a joke of it to amuse his pals. He makes light of the danger he shares with his enemy sniper. It was ‘killed or be killed’.  There is evidence that my  father was a ‘good shot’ almost as good as his brother. When as a child I asked him how many people he had killed in the War he said, with look of awe on his face, that he thought he ‘might have killed one‘ – I saw a German helmet, took aim, heard a shout and the helmet disappeared’.  My father must have caused many deaths when he was collectively throwing grenades in the crater warfare of Hill 60 & Vimy Ridge. But perhaps the only time he felt personally responsible for another man’s death was out in No Man’s Land, opposite Gommecourt Wood, in the days before the Battle of the Somme. 

The Revd. A.H.Hibbett, Louth 1960s.
The Revd. A.H.Hibbett, Louth , Lincolnshire. 1960s.

 

NB. My father made several illustrated copies of ‘Sniper Atkins‘ which he sent Home to his family & to special friends. He was glad to have it received favourably by the Officers.

NEXT POST: 23rd June 1916.