The approach taken was to start with a known , and to end with an outcome that was established fact, and then – to try and find the most logical way in which the start may have evolved to the known endpoint. And, being mindful of the fact that nothing is more common in wartime than unexpected surprises.
The construct provided below, drew upon the following sources:
- The War Diary of 9 Div, courtesy of National Archives, Kew.
- The Diary of J A Brook, courtesy of The South African National Museum of Military History as trustees.
- A letter from W.R. Dewar to the widow of Sgt R.F. Ryder in Newcastle, Natal as published by the Star ( local ) newspaper in Sept/Oct/Nov 1916.
- The work “ Delville Wood “ by I.S. Uys, Uys Publishers, 1983.
- The work “ Rollcall “ by I.S. Uys, Uys publishers, 1991.
These were the guiding principles:
- Starting with the known initial deployment on Princes Street and ending with the known, final one around the perimeter of the wood.
- Utilising direct and simple manoeuvres, with the minimum of complicated wheeling or realignment procedures. (This was because the occupation of the northern sector was carried out under continual shell and rifle fire. )
- Bearing in mind that the wood was extremely thick and overgrown in the initial hours, minimise the possibility of “ friendly fire “ incidents between disparate companies and platoons.
- Given that the Germans were known to occupy the northern part of Longueval, and north west of the wood, – minimise the possibility for 2nd regiment to be caught in
- Ensuring that once a sweep had been conducted, the rear area was clear of Germans afterward and therefore
It is not possible to claim that the construct below is definitely what took place in the deployment phase. But, it is by far the best fit. Should definitive proof to the contrary arise, I would be delighted.
Extracts from 9 Div War Diary 15 July 1916.
Extracts from 9 Div War Diary 15 July 1916.
And the sequence of events shown above in the deployment of 2nd Regt in the wood , dictated which part of the wood, which platoon would be active in. And so it was, that no 8 platoon swept the northern extremity of the wood between Regent and Strand streets, just south of the A Coy positions on the extreme northern perimeter.
What are some of the likely events that took place on 15/7 to 3,4 and 7,8 Platoons 2nd regiment?
It seems that after a long hard slog through the wood west of Regent street, with occasional skirmishes with German pickets along the way, B Coy reached Strand street just before midday, with light casualties at first. However artillery shelling became steadily heavier. [ History of 9 Div ]. No 8 platoon under Walter Hill occupied the northernmost tip of Strand Street. Part of A company in the meantime under Capt. Claude Heenan, Lt`s Bru de Wold and Miller , had been holding off repeated German attacks from the Flers road. Lt. Bru de Wold was killed at the outset [ Mem R Brook ], and Capt Heenan wounded shortly thereafter. Private Brice- Bruce of B Coy, no 8 platoon recalled years later [ IU DW pp 86 ] “ Lieut Bru-de-Wold fell quite close to us , he was shot through the head “ . In his memoir, A J Brook ( A Coy no 3 platoon ) described exactly the same event from A coy positions. This clearly indicates the two respective platoons ( No 8 B Coy and no 3 A Coy ) were in close proximity.
In the meantime the rest of B Coy ( No`s 5,6 & 7 platoons from south to north ) were engaged in short range or hand to hand fighting with Germans advancing from Longueval and probably via the orchard trench. Capt Creed was killed early on in this fighting ( he was commanding no 7 platoon at that time ). Capt Barlow was wounded shortly thereafter. Sgt J. Ryder assumed command of no 7 platoon. The shelling continued unabated.
A J Brook mentions in his memoir that after repulsing the fifth German head on assault, A Coy were ordered to retreat, and they withdrew a short distance into the wood. D Coy in the north east had been engaged in heavy fighting at the same time. It is entirely possible that German troops entered the wood at this point, directly from the Flers road. In a letter published by a Newcastle newspaper, L/Sgt R. Dewar ( B Coy no 7 platoon ), wrote to Sgt Ryder`s widow as follows “ Our company ( platoon ? ) was sent to reinforce another ( either A or D, most likely A ), but unfortunately the Germans had worked their way in between ourselves and our D company ( In other words, through A Coy positions ) and were all well hidden , waiting for us. You can imagine how our poor company ( platoon ? ) suffered, after a few minutes there were hardly any of us left…” . Sgt Ryder was KIA during this action.
As Col Tanner later recalled [ IU DW pp 82 ] “ The Germans on several occasions penetrated our lines , and had to be dislodged by organised counter attacks. This constant fighting and continuous shelling soon began to tell on our strength… “. As often as not the Germans were “ dislodged “ by the simple expedient of a bayonet charge. As Pvt James Simpson recollected [ IU DW pp 75 ] “ The second regiment got cut up driving the enemy out of the wood…”
In the 9 Div war Diary quoted above, 5.08 p.m. entry, German forces also attempted a penetration on “ my left “ ( south ) of Strand street. This may have been the action mentioned by Pte N.J.Vlok ( B Coy no 5 or 6 Platoon ) [ IU DW pp 85 ] “ “ then hard fighting at close quarters followed and our men drove the Germans back. At this time the only officers left were Lt`s Hill and Tatham. Lt Tatham was with the men, fighting hard and encouraging the men. I did not see Lt Hill. He was on the other ( northern ) flank “.
Due to the losses of Capt Heenan, Lt`s Bru – de-Wold and Miller ( A Coy ) and Capt`s Barlow and Creed ( B Coy ), Capt HMW Bamford took over command temporarily of A & B Coy`s. He was later wounded on the same day as well.
An analysis of the losses of B Coy complement on 15/7/16 indicates about 112 men were KIA or wounded. As a result of much close range fighting in those first hours, B Coy suffered a disproportionately high number of dead then . Insofar as the wounded are concerned , a relatively high proportion of wounds were to the wrist, forearm, upper arm and thigh. Whilst not conclusive, this is indicative of a lot of short range rifle fire.