11.00 a.m. Rain again last night, and a threatening day. Your Saturday’s letter just come. We go in to the line tonight.
2.00 p.m. I shall just win my bet with Pak. owing to hard time we were relieved last night to get the men rested. Came back very short distance. Such a wonderful scene. The heavens alight for miles with discharge of guns, and a continuous roar, which goes on without ceasing. ‘Downs’ did a good raid; brought out 13 prisoners, one officer, and penetrated a long way. A chance big shell caught a platoon of them last night and killed 14 and wounded 30—Bob slightly, Adjt. severely. We had six killed and 33 wounded while we were in. All day yesterday they were trying to find the elephant; came very close but didn’t succeed. Fergie has fed the men splendidly, and they are in good form. 11th had a bad time—100 casualties, and standing in wet trenches for five days, on bully beef. Oliver paid us a visit at dejeuner today, 12-noon, and sat and talked while we ate. Very affable and optimistic. I took the opportunity of telling him some points which he promised to see to. I think everything promises well. George Bruce came to see us about 11.00 a.m. (I was in bed!) Full of chat. One more comfy night. Fine last night, but threatening rain now—warm. I used ear protectors last night, the noise here is worse than in the line. I am getting up my valise for a comfy night, and a change. Ugh! I’m so dirty. I wonder how you are getting these letters. Thanks to Fergie we’ve got them away each day. No one else has in the line. I got in at 2.00 a.m. wet to the knees. Every one resting, such a relief to have nothing to do. Fergie brought in letters, papers and parcels, so we are well provided. News good today; especially from our immediate front. Roads and tracks very bad.
9.30 p.m. We had six casualties today—two severe and four slightly wounded, but it’s been a great rest to the men, from the wet and discomfort of the line. I hear Bob Maxwell is in hospital after all, but wound only slight. The Adjt. severe in groin. I don’t expect I shall get another letter off after this for a day or two, but will snatch any opportunity. My valise is up, so I can get a change of underclothing, which is welcome. The din still goes on. It has been dry all day, and the men have been able to dry their boots and clothes, and are in excellent heart. Shill and Fergie visited us today from their bivouac. ‘Joseph’ is busy examining prisoners—one small man in ‘Downs’ was escorting two large Bosche prisoners back across No Man’s Land; they thought he wasn’t going fast enough, so they each took an arm and hurried him o’er the danger zone. Another yarn—one of the prisoners said to his captor “Hullo, I played cricket against you at Donacloney”.
The shell that hit the men of 13th Royal Irish Rifles killed 14 and wounded over 30 others, of whom nine died of wounds later. The fourteen men killed immediately were buried together—the first burials in what would become Martinsart British Cemetery. This cemetery is unusual in that the gravestones are made from red sandstone.
3.00 p.m. A wet night, and raining today. Everything very messy. Since we came in we have had 39 casualties. I didn’t go up in a ‘plane after all. They have been trying to find the elephant all this p.m. with 5.9’s, and some have come within a few yards. A change tonight, and I may win Pak’s bet! G.N. has issued an order of the day—quite good. It has been thick and raining all day. Pres’d ration and bully beef and biscuit, but Fergie brought up bread, tinned milk, etc. So while other Bns. have nothing but rations for a week our men have done well.
1. The poor weather caused a 48-hour postponement of the attack. As a result, the two Battalions north of the River Ancre would swap roles, with 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers moving into support in Mesnil.
2. The special ‘Order of the Day’ was issued on 20 June 1916 by Major General Nugent while the Division was preparing for the attack ahead:
‘On the eve of the offensive for which the Ulster Division has trained and waited for so many months I wish that every officer and man of the Division should know how absolutely confident I feel that the honour of the British army, that the honour of Ulster are in safe keeping in their hands.
It has been my privilege to command the Division in France during the past nine months, during which time I have had various opportunities of seeing that it has been steadfast in defence and gallant in minor offensives.
The time has now come to show to the world the qualities which fit it for the great offensive about to open.
Much is expected of the Ulster Division, and I am certain that the expectation will be fulfilled. Resolution, self-reliance and the spirit that knows no surrender and no defeat are present in full measure in every unit of the Division, and will bear fruit in the battlefield which will redound to the credit of our country.
Nine months ago the King after his inspection of the Division desired me to write and tell him how it bore itself in its first great encounter with the enemy.
I know that I shall be able to write and tell him that the men of the Ulster Division bore themselves like men in the day of battle, and did all that was expected of them.
To every officer and man of the Division I say — Success and Honour.’
A chance of sending out a letter. We had about 20 casualties yesterday—three killed—Sgt M’Cappin, Lurgan; Cordy, Portadown; Ogle, Lurgan, I think; Sergeants Girvan and Vennard [sic] also wounded, but not dangerous. Heavy rain all night and today so far; makes things unpleasant. Shill. turned up yesterday. Shill. goes out of the line as we have got our 20 allowed. A disturbed night; had to withdraw one company owing to suspected mine, in the middle of the night and rain. We are rather a crowd in consequence.
The casualties were:
14576 Sergeant John McCappin, killed in action by shellfire at Hamel on 26 June 1916; Hamel Military Cemetery.
14048 Private William James Cordy, killed in action by shellfire at Hamel on 26 June 1916; Hamel Military Cemetery.
14594 Private Matthew Ogle, killed in action by shellfire at Hamel on 26 June 1916; Hamel Military Cemetery.
4.00 p.m. Just a line. Noise fearful and never ceasing. Three more casualties (all wounded), one officer, Stewart—slight; Sergeant M’Cappin, Lurgan, severe. Orders and instructions pour in. Two enormous packets and two cipher messages at 1.00 a.m. this morning! The different units I have to fit in and to place grows apace. We are getting very bored with the din. The Bosche is not retaliating on us much. Reports of all sorts have to go in nearly hourly. Pratt’s doing good work recording, and being most helpful. Awful week. No mail today.
3.00 p.m. A line on chance of someone going out. Bombardment still continuing, Bosche not replying much. Last night he put in a lot on our front line and we had two killed, and 11 wounded. Cloudy, warm, and no rain today. Fergie came in later yesterday himself and brought us some fresh meat. We bought 550 fresh loaves of bread and brought them into the line with us. They took a lot of carrying, but it was well worth it. Heating water is a difficulty for the men; only a little coke, no cookers. As long as it’s fine it doesn’t matter, but it’s hard for them to get dry, once wet.
5.00 p.m. Meat lozenges came all right. Cold never materialized. Fergie up again, very good of him.
The casualties were:
17929 Private Harry Molloy, killed in action by shellfire at Hamel on 25 June 1916; Hamel Military Cemetery.
14773 Private Alexander Weatherall, wounded by shellfire at Hamel on 24 June and died of wounds on 25 June 1916; Hamel Military Cemetery.
Fergie has sent in the letters. Rather a bad relief. Heavy thunderstorm 3.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m.; turned the tracks into mire, and trenches into rivers. Kit and men got very wet. Not finished till midnight. Bombardment now going on, but at present not very severe, and the Bosche has not warmed up yet. The elephant is very safe, but of course pitch dark, but really excellent. Have hardly brought anything in except coat. B.W. [British Warm], one blanket, and washing kit. The march over the track by which we were ordered to come was intensely hard on the men, and they were quite cooked, but are perking up today. Heavy showers with sun in between.
Saturday 24 June was ‘U’ Day, the first of five days of bombardment by British and French artillery prior to the attack by nine British and French corps across a frontage of over 20 miles, scheduled for the morning of 29 June—‘Z’ Day. While the majority of 36th (Ulster) Division would attack the Thiepval plateau south of the River Ancre, two battalions of 108th Brigade would attack north of the river, on the left flank of the Division, from Hamel to the railway station south of Beaucourt sur l’Ancre. The plan called for 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers, reinforced by a company from 12th Royal Irish Rifles, to attack on the right, alongside the River Ancre, and for the remainder of 12th Royal Irish Rifles to attack on the left. It was planned that, for the period ‘U’ Day – ‘Y’ Day, 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers would be forward in the trenches at Hamel with 12th Royal Irish Rifles in support in Mesnil. The latter Battalion would then move forward on the night prior to the attack.
Only a line; everything packed. I believe no letters out today. I think Lloyd George will be good as War Minister. Saw Farnham today. He is depressed at the muddle and misunderstanding. Says Carson has been tricked. It’s simply a roasting close day.
3.00 p.m. This is the last letter you can rely on getting for some time. I will try and get others off, but it’s very chancy. So hot today. I suppose we are in for the other extreme now; it’s certainly better, but the cold nights make it difficult to legislate in the way of clothing.
4.30 p.m. Was called away to see to various tocks. Will write again, probably tonight, on chance of posting it somewhere, but at present don’t see much chance.
9.45 p.m. Hope to be able to post this at Mesnil tomorrow passing through. This is the first warm evening we have had, and there is a haze, which I am sure is ‘all for heat’. We have now 42 Officers! I hardly know even the names of the last six that have come. Stronge has clipped his hair, and presents a strange appearance!
2.30 p.m. A lovely day. Conference with C.O.s of next Div. this a.m. to settle various tocks. Fairly satisfactory. More rescripts threatening pains and penalties, and even the privilege of writing home stopped, if more letters disclosing information were sent home. I hope the weather has taken up now. We shall probably get it very hot, but the nights are cold.
9.30 p.m. It was a lovely warm day but the evening has turned chilly. Bob Maxwell came over to tea and was very chirpy. Tomorrow we practice the attack again. Farnham is leaving and returning to N.I.H., to command a Squadron. The three Squadrons have been brought together and made into a Regt., and they have brought out some cavalry dug out to command them, at which they are furious. I hear Somerset Saunderson succeeds Farnham.
When the divisional cavalry squadrons were reorganised to form corps cavalry regiments in the late spring and early summer of 1916, ‘A’, ‘D’, and ‘E’ Squadrons of the North Irish Horse formed 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, which became the VII Corps cavalry regiment. Meanwhile, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Squadrons and the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons Service Squadron (the latter was the cavalry squadron of 36th (Ulster) Division) formed 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, which became the X Corps cavalry regiment. It was the 2nd North Irish Horse that Lord Farnham joined in 1916. 2nd North Irish Horse would amalgamate with 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers in the autumn of 1917, in the period beyond the scope of these letters and after the Battalion’s second near-destruction, at Ypres in August 1917.