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Centenary of the Somme battles: Attacking Guillemont

26 July 2016 by Karen O'Rourke

Medals and badge of Sergeant Herbert Lawrenson, displayed in the Museum of Liverpool. Herbert, from Smithdown Road, served with the 20th Battalion and was killed on 30 July. His body was never recovered.

Medals and badge of Sergeant Herbert Lawrenson, displayed in the Museum of Liverpool. Herbert (pictured below), from Smithdown Road, served with the 20th Battalion and was killed on 30 July. His body was never recovered.

In my last blog, we left the victorious Pals Battalions in early July 1916, consolidating the ground they had captured around Montauban Village. By the end of July, after three weeks of heavy fighting, the British Front line had moved just 1.6 miles and the Liverpool battalions were now in action just south of Trones Wood. The next objective was to capture Guillemont Village. Although it was just a small farming village, it was well situated with flat land on all sides and had been in German hands for around two years. By 1916, it was heavily fortified and well defended. This made it a key target for British commanders. 

The first attack on the village was on 23 July. The 18th Battalion were on carrying duties, the other Pals Battalions did not take part. The attack failed and the British were not able to advance their Front Line. The 18th Battalion, being based quite far back in support trenches, had relatively few casualties – less than twenty.

Black and white map of Guillemont and Trones Wood

This map shows the position of the Pals Battalions at 4.45am on 30 July (marked in blue). The arrows show their proposed movement to their objective lines, just south of the village.

The second attack on the village on 30 July, was a completely different story for the Liverpool Pals. This time three Battalions would take part (17th, 19th and 20th). They sustained casualties even before the attack: German gunners rained poison gas and explosive shells down on them in the dark, as they moved up to their positions the night before. At 4.45am the whistles blew and they began moving towards their objective lines, south of the village, across almost a mile of fog shrouded no-mans-land. Visibility and communication was poor and progress was difficult. When the fog finally began to clear, many of the advancing men were left out in the open with no cover. They were easy targets for the German machine gunners and snipers and were soon pinned down. The men from the 19th Battalion sustained heavy losses, but managed to reach their objective. Without support on their flanks, they soon came under attack from the machine gunners in the village and were forced to retreat.

The 20th Battalion failed to reach their objective at all – individual companies had become disorientated in the fog and soon lost touch with each other. When officers were able to get messages back to Battalion headquarters, most were reports of their units being pinned down or of being unsure of their location. Each message provided progressively worse casualty figures.  By mid morning, reports made it clear the attack had been another failure.

Photograph of Herbert Lawrenson

Sergeant Herbert Lawrenson from Smithdown Road, served with the 20th Battalion and was killed on 30 July. His body was never recovered.

By nightfall the huge losses were apparent. Less than 2,000 Liverpool Pals went ‘over the top’ on 30 July; of which in just that one day, an estimated 1,115 of them were killed, wounded, missing or captured. Almost 500 of those were confirmed killed on the day. The Liverpool Pals had moved their Front line forward just 300 yards.

The Pals Battalions were withdrawn from the line, as their numbers were so depleted they were no longer a fighting force. The Liverpool story however, does not end there. In my next blog, I will look at how more men from Liverpool arrived to take part in the fight for Guillemont.

Each day of the Somme commemorations, we are tweeting about the men featured on our King’s Regiment database on Twitter @MuseumLiverpool. We are currently unable to carry out individual family history research, however, you can search the 91,000 men of the King’s Regiment online for basic information or visit our City Soldiers gallery in the Museum of Liverpool to view richer information in the full database.

 

 

  1. john inglesby says:

    My Great uncle, James Inglesby was captured and taken prisoner at Guilimont He was in The Kings, but it states on his POW records as being captured on the 8th august 1916,

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mr Inglesby,

      thank you for your comment

      The fight to capture the village of Guillemont lasted from July to September – if you have a look on our blog site, there are several connected blogs – the attacks on 8 and 9 August included the Territorial Battalions and the Regulars of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, the casualty figures are amongst the worst for the Regiment, for a single day – i am guessing James was in the 1st or 8th Battalion? These two Battalions were decimated and numerous prisoners were taken – the two blogs relating to this action were posted on 8 and 9 August.

  2. Richard Crowe says:

    IN MEMORY OF THE SOLDIERS
    OF THE 20th (LIGHT) DIVISION
    AND OF THE 16th IRISH DIVISION
    WHO LIBERATED GUILLEMONT ON THIS DAY
    ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO
    3rd SEPTEMBER 1916
    AT THE BATTLE OF GUILLEMONT
    (PART OF THE SOMME OFFENSIVE)

    Also in memory my grandfather Capt Dr John Alexander Pridham
    a Medical Officer of the 62nd Ambulance Unit, RAMC, 20th (Light) Division
    who was wounded at the Battle of Guillemont while evacuating
    many wounded soldiers from an area exposed to enemy fire
    and was awarded the Military Cross for his actions

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mr Crowe,

      thank you for your comment. you must be very proud of your grandfather! There is a memorial to the Irish Division outside the church in the village – just a couple of weeks ago, Liverpool Town Hall led a party over to France to unveil a new memorial within the church to the men of the King’s – the village is the focus of so many stories and so many people, i find myself back there every time i visit the battlefields…..

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