Safe and unhurt, but broke. The Battalion is no more. At least 400 casualties, but hard to estimate, as they keep coming in. ‘At.’ and Ensor missing. They got right in with their Coys. Brew, Gibson, Jackson, Shillington, Barcroft, all wounded, but none severe. Charlie Johnston wounded, I believe, and we hope to get him in tonight. Pratt, Cather, Menaul, all out collecting wounded. Every officer who went over is a casualty. Six H.Q. ones [officers] did not go over. 12th same, and 11th and 13th [Royal Irish Rifles] ditto, I hear. The men were splendid! Fergie just in and will take this. Pratt walked to dressing station to give my field P.C. [postcard] to a wounded man. So good of him. I was never in any danger, but am tired to death, and so sad. Jimmy S. all right. Nearly every Sgt. a casualty; Hughes v. bad.
SUNDAY, JULY 2nd
We have been pulled out of the line (the whole Div.) and I don’t know what will happen to us. Each Battalion had about the same casualties, viz., 15-20 officers and 400-500 men. My beloved Battalion and the companions of the last two years swept away in a few short hours. They did splendidly; on they went regardless of loss of officers, and charged, a mere handful of some half dozen. I fear ‘At.’ is killed; he was seen by a Sergeant apparently dead. Charlie Johnston we can’t find. From 8.00 p.m. to 3.00 a.m. no-man’s-land was searched deliberately and found many, but not him. I still hope C.J. may be found. Now Cather, who has been out rescuing wounded in daylight, has been caught. He went out this morning and they turned a M.G. on him, when he was out of sight of our line, and he hasn’t returned. I have left two orderlies to search for him tonight. Poor Montgomery. I fear he’s gone. Eight [officers] missing and seven wounded. The Battalion about 170 strong. I am heartbroken. So gallant and so splendid they all were. Will you go and see the relations. I will try to write to them. Thanks to Fergie I haven’t missed your letters for one day. Even last night he brought them in. Cather’s loss is a heavy one. He was an extraordinary good Adjt. I still hope we shall see him again. Meantime I have no one, and all the details of losses, etc., to be made out.
MONDAY, JULY 3rd
We came back today some three miles; all the Brigade here. Greatly fear about C.J. We have searched and searched for him, and tonight we search again. We’ve got more information as to when he was seen, but it’s so contradictory. I fear no doubt whatever about ‘At.’, Ensor, Montgomery, Hollywood, and T. and Seggie. Poor Cather. So gallant, he was found shot through the head, quite dead, but the man he went to bring in was brought in by the party looking for Cather. He is a sad loss to the Battalion; he was quite marvellous as an Adjt. I am going to try Menaul. Poor young Moore, badly wounded looking for wounded, like Cather. Alas for the Div.; the finest in France last Friday, and now a skeleton, with its best gone—nothing to show for it. We, the Div., reached out objectives, and owing to the Divisions on our right and left failing we had to fall back. Cruel luck! Our men were mowed down by M.G.
TUESDAY, JULY 4th
[Lieutenant Colonel Blacker’s birthday]
I am still dazed at the blow, and cannot settle down to anything; and everything crying out to be done and re-organised. Poor C.J. We found him last night, at last, but he must have been killed almost at once. Oh! How I feel for his poor wife and mother. Gen. [Nugent] saw the Bde. on parade today and was very complimentary. He published a very fine Order of the Day on the operations, and the behaviour of the Division. I fear Montgomery is dead. I must write now to the relatives.
10.00 p.m. Now to try and give you some idea of what occurred. After seven days’ bombardment, ending in an hour’s hurricane artillery fire, from 6.25 a.m. to 7.30 a.m., on July 1st, the attack was delivered—109th Bde. on right and 11th and 13th [Royal Irish Rifles] next, all on Thiepval side; 12th [Royal Irish Rifles] and ourselves Hamel side; 107th [Brigade] in reserve. We attacked in four waves. The leading wave got out all right, and the 2nd wave suffered fairly badly getting out, but the remainder were mown down by M.G. fire. The men advanced as if on parade, and regardless of losses to officers. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys. on right, then ‘C’ and ‘D’ Coys., [then] two Coys. of the 12th, then 29th Div. These latter were held up by M.G. and ‘C’ and ‘D’ and 12th only just reached the 1st line. 29th didn’t even do that. ‘A’ and ‘B’ leading two waves got right on through the three lines to their goal, which a few reached. A splendid performance! But no one being on their left they were annihilated. Meanwhile the 109th, and 11th [Royal Irish Rifles] had got right on to 4th line, and after staying some time, and lacking support and bombs and ammunition, were driven slowly back by counter attack, their right being exposed, the Div. here not having advanced. 107th badly mauled coming up. As soon as assault started Germans barraged no-man’s-land, where most of the casualties occurred. ‘At.’, C.J., and Ensor killed leading their Coys. gloriously. Failure to knock out M.G.’s, daylight attack from our trenches, and failure to have reserves near enough, were, in my opinion, the causes of failure. Bosche infantry surrendered in herds whenever a handful of our men came near them, but their M.G.’s were deadly. Ricardo came to see me today; his heart is broke. Gas used Thiepval side. That roughly is the way things went. To the South things are going well, but Oh! to have the finest Division in France wiped out and nothing to show for it but the knowledge that all did their duty magnificently, and as Gen. N. says, surpassed even the high expectations formed. I cannot face the organization and beginning all over again, without dismay, with all my old trusted companions gone. C.O.’s were forbidden to go over the parapet. The Padre worked for 60 hours, tending and comforting the wounded. The trenches were a shambles, and he organized parties to collect and bury the dead. I wrote to Mrs. Cather. Shill. has been and is splendid, and a tower of strength. He came out at exactly the right time. Pratt’s out with a party tonight looking for wounded. We have had parties out each night, but it’s dangerous work.
1. Major General Nugent’s Order of the Day stated:
‘The General Officer commanding the Ulster Division desires that the division should know that, in his opinion, nothing finer has been done in the war than the attack by the Ulster Division on 1st July. The leading of the company officers, the discipline and courage shown by all ranks of the division, will stand out in the future history of the war as an example of what good troops, well led, are capable of accomplishing.’
2. Although Lieutenant Colonel Blacker states that some men made it through the enemy first and second line trenches, the reports from the German diaries and records indicate that only one incursion was made into the first line trench; that was on part of the line attacked by 12th Royal Irish Rifles.
See: Whitehead, R. (2013). The Other Side of the Wire. Volume 2. Solihull: Hellion. (ISBN: 9781907677120).
WEDNESDAY, JULY 5th
We moved here suddenly this p.m., about nine miles. Our old friend P_____ [Puchevillers]. I believe we are to stay here a bit to refit. Pratt and his party were quite successful last night. They brought in old Ensor, who had been four days in a shell hole. He was quite wonderful, but of course, weak, and with a limp; had flesh wound in leg, and he lost a lot of blood. But he will do all right the doctors think. They also got three more wounded men in. A sad birthday; the feeling of sadness of one’s gallant comrades, and the hopeless feeling of having to begin all over again weighs on us all. Leave is to be opened again, I hear, soon, but I must get reorganisation well ahead before I think of coming home. I couldn’t face the sorrowing relatives yet. I must try and get Padre away. I saw some of our poor fellows in hospital. Sgt. Sewell, in great pain, but I hope will get all right. You remember him in U.V.F. days! I haven’t grasped who have gone yet. They don’t keep men in Field Ambulance, but clear them right away to England at once. The medical arrangements were good. It’s so hard to get any information as all who got on are either wounded and away, or missing. Two men told me they saw ‘At.’ fall and went to him later, and he was dead, but it’s not an absolute certainty, though I thought it was when I wrote to his father. It’s a bare possibility he may have been taken by the Germans when lying wounded. Such a relief to be away from the sound of guns. Things are going well in the South. Young Edgar is all right.
THURSDAY, JULY 6th
Apparently we are going to stay here for a bit, and we are gradually getting our baggage over. Today I began reorganisation work, promotions, and general sorting out; the disposal of officers’ kits, making inventories of their belongings, etc. The amount of writing that has to be done is awful—a narrative of the battle, recommendations for reward, letters to relatives—besides all the orderly room work, which, of course, is in arrears owing to these moves, and poor Cather’s death. Hessey’s Brigade has just come through—a very fine lot of men. It is so hard to get any evidence of gallant deeds, of which there are numbers. Everyone who came back, except about six, have been cleared away to England wounded. I have not yet been able to grasp in detail who has gone, every day some fresh loss which I had not known of. Of the 50 machine gunners with the Battalion only 14 are left. There will, I fear, be great anxiety till the casualties are out. I haven’t been able to complete mine yet, but hope to get them in tomorrow. Bob Maxwell has been cleared home, not at all bad, but they clear every one now to make room. Poor Jenks, in 12th, died here. Lyle very bad; they only have one captain left. I feel unable to settle to things, but hope that will wear off soon. I see the ‘Times’ noted the gallantry of the Division. It was given a hard task; as matters turned out, an impossible one, at any rate on our side of the river. Of course, none of the transport were in the push. Poor old Bernard killed! Orders just come in we are to be prepared to move tomorrow.
FRIDAY, JULY 7th
We’ve been hanging about all day, expecting orders to move up in support, but so far none have come. As far as we can make out so far, our casualties are as follows:
|Missing, believed killed||6*||157|
|*4 of these found later and buried|
Our present available strength here is 280, of which we could put about 196 into the line.
Such fearful showers today. They are trying another go at Thiepval today, but rumour says it has been repulsed; Haig has just gone through here. The Push is doing well in the South, where it was not expected, but at present it’s hung up in N. and centre. We have to be ready to move within the hour.
In fact, the final casualty count for the Battalion after that fateful day was:
|Killed in action||8||214|
|Died of wounds||25|
|Captured and died of wounds||1|
These figures do not include the seven men killed and over forty men wounded in the period between ‘U Day’ and the morning of the attack. The total casualty figure for the period beginning 24 June 1916 is, therefore, no less than 582 casualties of whom 255 were killed in action or died of wounds.
SATURDAY, JULY 8th
Still standing fast here, though expecting to move at any moment, I expect up into the line again, to hold a bit and relieve others. Such thunder showers yesterday, and all night, and today hot, steamy and threatening. Brew writes he is at Rouen and getting on splendidly. I hear Friday’s ‘Daily Mail’ has great praise of the Division. We were told yesterday p.m. that we would almost certainly move last night, and at short notice, so we all slept with our loins girt, and with one eye open, but nothing disturbed us except numerous messages. It turned out fine. Now the news is that we go to railhead, and thence N. by rail to 2nd Army! Probably tomorrow. I have been all day writing out recommendations for honours. Every case, with the evidence, has to go in quadruplicate.
SUNDAY, JULY 9th
We move tomorrow about 7.00 a.m., but where to is obscure. I believe about 10 miles back, near a railway. Some say to go to St. Omer to refit; others to go into the line near La Bassée. Church parade was a sad one today with the depleted ranks. It seemed to bring home the loss of our gallant comrades. I stayed for communion. The Padre was wonderful; he brought tears to my eyes, but he said exactly the right thing. At last, I have sent off the honours list. Charlie has recommended all. Very close and warm today, and dust flying. There is a possibility that some of our wounded in and near the German line are prisoners, ‘At.’ among the number. Could you get the D. of Abercorn’s Association to try and find out if any Irish Fus. were taken on July 1st, and if so, names.
The difficulty of our surplus kit crops up again on a move to a new area. The Division are going to make a big dump, but it would be unsafe to leave private kit here; bound to be lost. We are going to hire a country cart and take private and mess kit along with us. Another man came in and said Montgomery and Hollywood were lying dead close to him. T. was also seen to fall. Pratt and I passed Haig on the road near here, walking evidently for exercise. His horses were being sent home and his motor had gone. He has grown stout since I saw him at Mhow, in 1894. The 1st Battalion were also in the Push, N. of us a few miles.
1. Only one soldier of the Battalion is known to have been captured on 1 July 1916—20500 Private Thomas Warren. He was wounded in the attack and died of wounds in captivity on 4 July 1916; original buried in Velu churchyard, his body was reinterred in Favreuil British Cemetery.
2. The 1st Battalion was in a reserve role in 10th Brigade, 4th Division, taking part in a number of smaller actions during the course of the day, in particular an attack on the Heidenkopf—known to the British as the ‘Quadrilateral’; the Battalion lost 10 killed in action, 93 wounded (some of whom died later) and seven missing.
MONDAY, JULY 10th
We leave here at 6.30 a.m. and have to put in the day on the road, as we don’t entrain till 11.17 p.m., about 11 miles from here, and then a 40 mile railway journey, and then a march of any distance—we shall be near St. Omer. Saw G. Bruce just now. Bob Maxwell an out-patient in London. I feel ashamed almost to be alive. I didn’t take part in the Push and was never in danger, and I feel I didn’t do enough, while all these gallant fellows gave their lives. We hadn’t a long march today, about nine miles, and the weather is nice. Tomorrow about 12, but taken in two bits. There is a big officers’ hospital here, and a large men’s clearing station also—heaps of nurses. Orderly going, trying to get a field post office at D_____ [Doullens] about 1½ miles from here.