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Somme centenary: the third attack on Guillemont 

8 August 2016 by Karen O'Rourke

map of Guillemont, France

This map shows the position of the Territorials and 1st Battalion (marked in blue), in the third attack on the village. The arrows show their proposed movement to their objective lines.

In the early hours of 31 July 1916, after two failed attacks on the Village of Guillemont, the depleted Liverpool Pals Battalions left the Front Line – but the Liverpool story continued. The 55th Division, which replaced them, included the six Territorial Battalions of the King’s Liverpool Regiment. Known as the ‘Liverpool Terriers’, they had all been in action since 1915 and were already experienced in battle.

The third attack on the village was planned for 4.20am on 8 August. There would be another heavy bombardment, this one lasting 17 hours, and then the attack would begin. The Terriers were attacking from the centre and right of the British line. As in the previous Somme battles, the French were on their right flank. Further north, another Kings battalion, the 1st Battalion, was also taking part and would focus on objectives in the northern part of the village.

In the days leading up to the battle, the British Front Line consistently came under fire and the 8th (Liverpool Irish) and 9th battalions particularly, suffered numerous losses. For three days prior to the attack, the 5th Battalion occupied the trenches previously held by the Pals. One of their tasks was to recover the dead left out in no-mans-land, after the previous battle. The dead men were wearing the distinctive Pals insignia – the unfortunate 5th Battalion must have known that the men they were dragging in and burying were fellow Merseyside men.

On the night of 7 August all of the troops moved to their assembly points and were in position by midnight. The Terriers were mostly assembled south of the Trones-Guillemont road, with the exception of the 8th (Irish) battalion who lined up in the trenches just north of the road, in front of Trones Wood.

At 4.20am mist and fog swathed the battlefield. The whistles blew and the men moved forward toward the enemy lines. They were confronted with a hail of fire from German rifles and machine guns. The 5th Battalion (with the 6th and 7th in support) made it only a couple of hundred metres before they were pinned down and forced to ‘dig in’.

photo of First World War soldier Corporal Albert Quine

This image from the ‘Liverpool Express’ newspaper shows 24 year old Corporal Albert Quine, from Anfield, who served with the 8th (Irish) Battalion. His death on 8 August was a double tragedy for his family, as his wife Margaret had died in February 1915.

The 8th Battalion made better headway and were able to advance into the village. However, the North Lancashire’s, advancing on their right, had come under such heavy fire that they were forced to retreat. The 8th Battalion was out flanked and vulnerable. The Germans attacked with machine guns from all sides, while also laying down a line of fire over no-mans-land – effectively halting any hope of support coming to their aid. At this point communication had broken down, and we can only guess at what happened, based on the stories of some of the men who made it back. When they found themselves surrounded, the Irish put up a good fight, but they faced an overwhelming German force armed with machine guns, grenades, and gas shells.

The 1st Battalion had also made it into the village. Due to the fog and smoke, they reached the objective line a little farther south than planned. Around an hour after the attack began, the Battalion reported that they had breached the German front line but there was some confusion over their exact location. It is known that they continued forward and took their objectives of the station, and High Holborn trench, but then communication with the 1st also broke down. An injured officer managed to make his way back to the British line. He reported that the Germans had somehow regained their Front Line trenches, and were now between the British Front Line and the beleaguered 1st Battalion.

British commanding officers realised that they had underestimated the fortifications in the village. The Germans were clearly making use of a warren of underground basements and tunnels to shelter from the British Artillery and were able to move around freely once the bombardment had stopped.

As night fell, fighting could still be heard in the village and the commanders knew that they must try and retrieve any men still holding out.

At 8.30 pm fresh operation orders were issued, that the attack would continue and the new ‘zero hour’ was to be at 4.20am on 9 August – the orders stated as follows:

  • The attack on Guillemont and its defences will be continued tomorrow by the 2nd and 55th Divisions.
  • The 55th Division will capture Guillemont ‘at all costs.’

Check our next Somme blog tomorrow, to find out what happened next.

If your relative was a First World War soldier and you want advice on how to find out more about his service, come along to our free research day A day to remember on 3 September at the Museum of Liverpool.

The exhibition First World War: Charity and Liverpool’s Home Front continues at the Museum of Liverpool until early 2017.

  1. Rosemary Collins says:

    This article is brilliant , I am soo interested in this as my grandfather was in the war along with two of his nephews, I have been desperate to find out where they fought, my grandfather was wounded 9th August 1916 , ended up with a metal plate in his head, and was In the war from 6/8/1914 to 14/12/1918. One of his nephews died 29/8/1915 and the other 30th oct 1918 .

  2. clare Smith says:

    My grandad Lance Corporal Thomas Shannon was killed at atronne wood Guillemont in July 1916

  3. R Davidson says:

    What we owe to these brave men who fought in both World wars cannot ever be repaid!! I have always had a sense of both pride and sorrow for their sacrifice.

  4. Carol Whiteley. says:

    My Grandfather William Devaney fought on the Somme. I would be very interested to know more about his war service..

  5. Mrs Barbara Potter says:

    My great uncle Sgt David Jones VC died at Guillemont ,and I have visited his grave and there is a plaque in the church with his name on .

    • Karen says:

      Hi Barbara,
      I have some news about commemorations for your great uncle’s award – I will send you a private message.

  6. Karen says:

    thank you to everyone for your messages. if you are interested in finding our more about King’s Regiment soldiers who fought in the War we have displays at the Museum of Liverpool that tell the wider story of the Regiment in the War, but also look at some of the individuals who took part. For further information on how to find us and find out about our displays and activities, have a look at our website: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/ or come along to our ‘Day to Remember’ event mentioned in the blog.
    Our Research information pages on our website: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/visit/galleries/soldiers/research/index.aspx offer advice about researching a soldier from the King’s Regiment, but most of the contacts listed apply equally to any other soldiers.
    good luck with your research!
    Karen

  7. Anne McCamn says:

    My great grandfather known as Charles Vincent Brown but born in Liverpool of German Descent, Carl Heinrich Fromme Braun was killed 100 years ago today (9 th August) in this battle .

  8. James keen says:

    My great uncle Laurence keen was killed on the 8th here his body not recovered have visited this little French village and the mamorial to the missing at threvill his brother was wounded with machine gun fire and there cousin was buried near passé dale

  9. Michael Hobart says:

    My great uncle, Nicholas Stedman Hobart, of the 1/8th Kings Liverpool Regiment was killed at at Guillemont on 8th August 1916. Just another 19 year old Liverpool lad. One day I shall visit Guillemont to pay my respects to his memory and to those of his mates, and their “enemies” who had their lives taken from them in those terrible days.

  10. Karen says:

    Thank you for all of your comments – millions of servicemen (and women) took part in the First World War and all of them have a story that is worth telling.
    Many families sent multiple relatives off to ‘do their bit’. In our Waterfront to Western Front exhibition, we include the story of two brothers killed within six months of each other, of cousins who ‘bumped into each other’ in the trenches and the very poignant story of a man who enlisted and survived, but lost three of his four sons, killed serving with the Liverpool Rifles.
    We also know that quite a few Liverpool men of German and Austrian descent joined up to fight on the British side. It is heart-breaking to read the newspaper reports of the anti-German riots in 1915 (after the sinking of the ‘Lusitania’) and hear that the homes and families of those same men had been attacked, because they had German sounding names.
    The War affected everyone both at Home and serving at The Front – even after the fighting had stopped, people continued to deal with illness, the loss of loved ones and a society that had changed forever. This series of blogs will hopefully give a little insight into what the men were experiencing at the Front, but please do come into the Museum of Liverpool to find out a little more about their experiences and the experiences of their families on the Home Front.

  11. Frank Brierton says:

    Francis Xavier Brierton (1890-1916) Rifleman 3557 1/6 Liverpool Regiment: during attack on Guillemont 8th August 1916 Frank was a bomber supporting 5th battalion bombers. They were called on to bomb down Cochranes Alley – occupied by Germans – to establish a block which they did about 40 yards in advance of new front line (ref Battalion Diary). However, he was badly wounded with gunshot wound to thigh. Passing through various casualty stations he finally reached Boulogne hospital on 10 August but gangrene had set in. He died 14 August. Buried Abbeyville Cemetery Plot 6 Row 6 Grave 15. I told his story in Liverpool Family Historian December 1997 issue. I was named in his memory. Frank Brierton (Born Liverpool 1946).

  12. Elaine Ayre says:

    My grandfather Owen Thomas Martin (1894-1965) was a driver in the Royal Field Artillery and his medal roll index card says RFA/116 B. Was that part of a Liverpool regiment? I would like to know where in France 116B went to. As a child I was told my grandfather went to France and I have a photo of him on his horse, then he was sent back to Scotland to convalesce after being gassed but was sent back to war when he had recovered. I think his war record must have been destroyed as the only thing I can find is his WW1 medal roll index card.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Elaine,
      Field Artillery units were not part of the King’s Regiment, but units were connected through Brigades and Divisions – however, i can’t find a connection to 116 RFA.
      I’m not sure if 116 B means 116 Battery (part of the 26th Brigade) or 116 Brigade (part of 26h Division) i think it is probably Brigade – you really need someone who is used to looking at RFA records to advise on this. Unfortunately, i believe the Royal Artillery Museum, Firepower, has recently closed – i understand Salisbury Plain Heritage Centre is managing the collection until a new venue is created.
      another on-line research group who might be able to help are the Long Long Trail Forum group at: http://www.1914-1918.org/forum/index.php – the forum is a collection of specialists, who are all very knowledgeable in their subjects – if anyone can help with your question, it will be someone on the Forum.

  13. MARTIN JONES says:

    My granddad George Sidney Jones was born in Toxteth in 1900. He worked in the docks and when war was declared joined the Royal Navy at age14 in 1914 and said he was 16. So at the end of the war he was still only 18. His family ran Edgehill dairy and they lived in Chatsworth Street, Edgehill. His two brothers joined a Liverpool Regiment? One of them was a medic as identified on his photograph. One brother was called David Jones is this the same David from Edgehill who won the VC?
    The other brothers name is not known unfortunately. Both brothers died on the somme. My uncle Tom Foster Joined the Royal Naval Brigade. His sister Alice Foster (my grandmother) was in love with one of the brothers (George’s twin David) who was killed. She eventually married my grand dad George as many women had to make choices because of the loss of life. My grandad ended up in Plymouth Naval Base he had been to Jutland and on the convoys to supply the white Russians. And my uncle Tom Foster who had been wounded 3 times in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli was recovering in the Royal Naval Hospital, Stonehouse in Plymouth. My uncle Tom married and settled in Plymouth as did my grandad. My dad was born in Plymouth he married and joined the Navy. My brother and I were also born in Plymouth and I joined the Army. We have no family left in Liverpool now apart from my dad’s half sister Olwyn Roberts of whom we have not been able to find. I often reflect on the families time in Liverpool, the Fosters came from Lanark probably in the 1850’s.

    • Karen says:

      Dear Mr Jones,

      thank you for your comment. Your family certainly had a strong connection to the First World War. David Jones VC was born in 1892. And on the 1911 Census, his brothers were listed as Joseph, John, Samuel and Walter, so i can confirm he is not your great uncle. We currently have 43 ‘David Jones’ listed on our database, and i’m afraid, i don’t have enough information on the ones listed to be able to say that he is, or is not one of them.
      However, i did look up George Sydney – he is listed as living in Chetwynd Street in 1911 with his parents John and Mary and his siblings John Samuel, Arthur Frederick and David Allen (his twin) – sadly Arthur and John both died. Arthur appears on the Commonwealth War Graves database – He served with the 17th (Pals) Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment. He was Killed in Action on 12.10.1916 (on the Somme as you suspected) there is a death notice in the Liverpool Courier on 20.11.1916 – his age is given as 19.
      John served with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He Died of Wounds on 25.11.1917 – i can’t find him on the CWGC database, so can’t tell you where he was injured, but his death notice in the Courier appears on 29.12.1917. The date would suggest most likely Ypres, but i couldn’t say for certain, as there was fighting going on elsewhere. i couldn’t find David Allen on the CWGC website either, but boys who enlisted underage, often gave a different name – as the family recorded both Arthur and John’s deaths in the Courier it would make sense for them to record David’s – if you are able, it might be worth a trip to the Liverpool Record Office to do a proper search of the newspaper archives. Similarly, i would check the Liverpool Roll of Honour at the Town Hall.
      I really hope that you find that David survived the war – it would be bad enough for his parents to lose their two oldest sons – to lose one of the twins also, must have been heartbreaking!
      Karen

  14. fiona Kennaugh says:

    my grandfather John Howard Bell 6th Liverpool rifles
    no 240877 a Liverpool terrier fought at Guillemont at Trones wood
    he mentions his division relieved the Pals
    bodies everywhere – the stench- the heat
    im transcribing his diary
    he had 3 brothers all were living in Waterloo- Crosby
    Frank Howard
    Tom Howard
    Stuart Howard
    all fought in the war
    Frank died at Arras

    • Karen says:

      Hi Fiona,

      thank you for your comment. how wonderful that you have your grandfather’s diary – such items are incredibly special. When i talk about the battle for Guillemont, i mention that the Terriers relieve the Pals and that they then have the task of retrieving and burying the dead – as the Pals had such a distinct cap badge, the Terriers would have known which ones were Liverpool boys, it always gives me goosebumps when i talk about it – what a horrible thing for your grandfather to have to experience……
      Karen

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