DELVILLE WOOD

LONGUEVAL - SOMME - FRANCE

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EXTRACTS FROM MEMORIES COLLECTED

OF FRANCIS HERBERT COLLINGWOOD

2nd S.A.I. - A Company

                

                 We were billeted 15 kilometers behind our front line of trenches. For many days we marched the 15 kms to the ammunition dumps, where each man picked up a Morton bomb, weighting 60 lkbs, shouldered it and, walking on slippery duck-boards along communication trenches about 10 feet deep, and depositing our loads at a given assembly point at the front line. All trenches are dug in niche  instead of straight and direct lines, because if a single Mills bomb exploded in a straight trench, avery mother’s son would be killed by the blast (blast evidently can not get arounded corners° I’ve no idea of the distance each bomb was carried, but we could do no move than three trips, when itw as time to march back our seven miles to billets, where we were ready to drop from exhaustion.

                Your lucky day was made, if whilst waiting in line to be dismissed for the night, the sergeant came round with a little book and pencil and warned you for guard duty that night !!!

                This went on for days. We thought we were badly off for water, whilst in the desert in Egypt, but itw as nothing to what we suffered in th trenches.

                The comissariate schemed well that each company should have : a) a water wagon b) a food wagon for each company and so imagine our feelings when words got around « No water (or) no grut today  - Jerry got A Company wagon with a shell ».

                The big day of the Push started and kept up sending these bombs over until the Jerry front line was smashed, end the Allies advanced.

                My next recollection takes me and my company (A) of about 250 men to occupy Bernafay Wood and relieved a Manchester crowd who, when they saw relief coming, just rushed out of the wood, looking like demented men. We were soon to find out the reason, for no sooner had we entered, that all hell was let loose on us by German artillery turned us from front, left and right.

                This terrific bombardment concenrrated on this small wood (much smaller than Delville Wood) kept up for 60 hours, when we were ordered to retreat.

                At no time did we see a German and we just sat around, doing nothing. It is small wonder that any of us were alive and as itw as, half of A Company marched out on our feet – the rest were either killed or wounded.

                After Bernafay, we were set behind the lines « for a rest » !!. We were still under enemy shelling an,d there were casualties.

DELVILLE WOOD

                Early on the morning of 15th July 1916, the Brigade entered Delville Wood, which borders the village of Longueval.

                I was ordered to attend Captain Heenan as his runner (I was to « run » here or here with messages to other officers in the wood, if necessary).

                Captain Heenan party, comprising his runner (who carried his mackintosh, ine the pocket of which, was a bottle of whisky !), a machune-gun crew and two or three others.

                We were supposed to proceed half way into Delville Wood and report back if anything was spotted. Nothing, however, was seen or heard and itw as almost like a lovely stroll through Stella Bush in Durban on a lovely day ! But not for long ! We gones right to within 50 yards + or – of the end of the bush (I call it that because of the bush growth) and we came across a huge shell hole which accomodated our entire party.

                We stayed there for some time, when one of our men spotted odd Germans walking along the edge of the wood and asked Heenan for permission to go out of the shellhole to see if he could « get » some. Permissionn granted, so I also go leave to go out and I took up a position about 15 yards from the hole. About half-an-hour afterwards, I heard firing and noises and, what worried the shots were falling near me, from behind and I shouted to my mates and asked if they know I was there ? No reply, so I dash back to the hole to find only one man there, lying on his stomach and groaning. He was our sergeant Wilkinson who could’nt tell me anything. Whilst talking to him, I heard shouts, looked up saw four Germans pointing rifles at me. They jumped in and gragged me out and marched me to the edge of the wood. Looking to our right, wa saw one of the boys who asked to go and do a bit of shooting. He shaw the Jerries and tried to run for it, but was shot down. As he was wounded in the arm, they hoicked him up and handed him over to join we and my four guards.

                By this time, all hell was let loose as the Germans assaulted where B Company fully engaged them. Reg Trewearne was in the front line ans, as he told me afterwards, the enemy came at them in a huge mob and, as he said, he was « killing Germans with every shot », when an order came from his officer to « Stop firing ! ». When he shouted « what the hell for ? », he turned to find that he and eighteen of his pals were cut off and ringed around with Germans !

Now I must go back to where I, with four guards and my wounded pal, were being escorted out of the wood.

We proceeded to the edge of the wood and had to jump down to a lower level (about 5 feet which accounts for our seeing an occasional Jerry, walking along the edge of the wood, as if for a morning stroll – at this time, as mentioned earlier, there was no noise or any hint of a battle) and marched on about a thousand yards to a forward german headquarters. This spot was a large cave dug in to rising ground, where in 3 or 4 officers were stationed – equipped with field telephone, to advise headquaters in rear, as to what was going on.

An officer grabbed my collar and took off my badge, which told him I was of the Natal & O.F.S. Regiment and he asked me this stupid question « When do you expect the next attack ? » - as if a private would know !

On our way from the wood to this officers cave / dugout, I got a shock to see just what Delville Wood was in for and very soon ! Lined up in front of the wood were three very long trenches, packed with infantrymen who should attack in three waves.

The first wave attacked whilst we were being interrogated by the officer and who should be joining our party of three but Reg. Tremearne and eighteen others of his B Company !

This is how Reg described their capture : his company was on the edge of the wood, saw the first lot advancing in close formation and B Company fired into them, dropping men by the hundred, as they simply could not miss. This massacre went on for some minutes, when the order came from their rear to « Stop firing » (The order « Cease Fire » was abolished). Reg said he shouted « What the hell for ? Were winning ! Imagine my disgust, on turning round to look to find we (19 of us) were completely surrounded by Germans ! »

After more questioning of the 19 POWs we started on a long, long march…