Somme centenary: the final attack on Guillemont

2 September 2016 by Karen O'Rourke

barren landscape with bare tree trunks stripped of branches and leaves

Guillemont after the September 1916 Somme battles

On 3 September 1916, after four unsuccessful attacks on the village of Guillemont, the British Army, as part of a wider push, launched another assault. Once again, men from the King’s Regiment were involved, this time from the 12th Battalion.

The Battalion had been in and out of the trenches to the west of the village from mid August and had already experienced some casualties. On 3 September, at 12 noon, the Battalion went ‘over the top’ to capture Guillemont. They moved through Trones Wood and across the exposed flat land to the west of the village. Their Brigade captured the north of the village, but it was a tough battle. The cost to the 12th Battalion for the ground gained was 187 casualties.

medal in the shape of a cross with a lion

The Victoria Cross medal awarded to Sergeant David Jones

Early in the morning on 5 September, most of the Battalion left the Front Line for some much needed rest. Unfortunately their relief Battalion from the Border Regiment did not have any Lewis Machine Gun teams with them. Liverpool born Sergeant David Jones and two Lewis Gun teams from the 12th stayed behind as support. The Borderers moved forward and the platoon Jones’ team was attached to, came under heavy machine gun fire. The commanding officer and a number of men in the unit were killed. Sergeant Jones took command and led the remaining men forward to take their objective. For his actions in that attack, David was awarded the Victoria Cross (the highest gallantry award in Britain). His citation best describes the circumstances:

“For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty, and ability displayed in the handling of his platoon.

The platoon to which he belonged was ordered to a forward position and during the advance, came under heavy machine-gun fire, the officer being killed and the platoon suffering heavy losses.

Sergeant Jones led forward the remainder, occupied the position, and held it for two days and two nights without food or water, until relieved. On the second day, he drove back three counter-attacks, inflicting heavy losses. His coolness was most praiseworthy. It was due entirely to his resource and example that his men retained confidence and held their post.”

David’s men withdrawing from the trenches, is the last action for the King’s Regiment in the capture of Guillemont Village. In the battle for that one village, the Liverpool Regiment lost almost 2000 men killed, and an unknown number of casualties. If you look at the scales on the maps that we have used in our blogs, that’s almost one Liverpool life lost for every yard gained. In the six week period between 23 July and 5 September 1916 the Regiment lost one eighth of their total number killed throughout the whole four-year war.

map showing positions of army and their objective positions

Map showing the final attack on Guillemont on 3 September 1916

David’s story after the battle is a short one. He never knew that he had been awarded the medal. He was offered leave after the battle, but chose to stay at the Somme with his men. Just a month later, on 7 October, he was killed at Bancourt. His widow, Elizabeth, accepted the medal from King George V at Buckingham Palace. The medal is now in Museum of Liverpool collections and is displayed in the From waterfront to Western Front exhibition.

David’s large family is understandably proud of him and have been to the Museum to find out information. If you have relatives who you think served in the First World War come along to our event A day to remember tomorrow, Saturday 3 September 2016, and maybe one of our expert historians can help you find out a little more about them!

  1. John Duvall says:

    Hi Karen,
    My grandads cousin James Duvall, a private in the 1/7th Kings, died on 24th September 1916 in France. I assume it would have been towards the end on the Somme battles, maybe around Courcelette?
    Would you have any information about where the 1/7th battalion were around 24/9/16.

    Best wishes, John Duvall.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Mr Duval,
      thank you for your comment – you relative’s papers are still surviving at the National Archive (although they are very sparse) – it would seem he was only with the Battalion at the Front for a month before he was killed.

      They were indeed at Flers at that time and had only gone back into the trenches on 24 September to prepare for the attack.

      The 7th Battalion War Diary, and a really good well-written regimental history by Everard Wyrall are both available at the Merseyside Maritime Museum Archive department if you should like to read more about the attack – see our website for further details regarding access.

      • John Duvall says:

        Thanks for that Karen, I’ll look up how I can access your archive.

        He originally joined the Loyal North Lancashire Reg in 1898 and served in the Mediterranean on Malta. I think he got bored as he was promoted and demoted several times. He was with the regiment until 1915, then rejoined in the Kings in 1916.

        Thanks again, John

  2. Joanne Plumb says:

    I am one of the privileged relatives who attended the ceremony for the unveiling of Sgt David’ Jones new plaque on Saturday 3rd September 2016. The family also got to view the medal later at a private viewing at the museum.
    The family are all extremely proud of his act of courage and bravery in the face of the enemy. He will not be forgotten.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Joanne,
      It was wonderful to meet with the families of both David Jones VC and Arthur Procter VC as we have both medals on display in our exhibition From Waterfront to Western Front at Museum of Liverpool. I hope you all enjoyed the day.
      Reading newspaper reports and articles about the action, David’s men clearly held him in very high esteem. it is such a shame that he never knew that he had been awarded the VC
      Thank you for visiting us

  3. Sue Oldham says:

    Hi Karen I too was privileged to be at the unveiling of our Great uncle Davids memorial plaque , (He was our granddad s brother) it was an emotional and very humbling experience. .. I would like to know if there are any trips being organised to visit Guillemont for the centenary. ..or if you have any suggestions of whom to contact.. thankyou Sue….

    • Karen says:

      Hi Sue,

      I know that a civic group from Liverpool went out to the Somme in August and there was a memorial plaque unveiled in Guillemont Village church. The group was a mix of Civic dignitaries, Veterans and families connected to the Regiment. I am afraid i don’t know if there are plans for any further trips. The Regimental Association would be best placed to advise on this – their website is here:

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