Travels on the Somme Part Two – Thiepval: The Leipzig Redoubt

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If you remember, we had just left the Thiepval Memorial…

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…and were heading towards a clump of trees I had spotted away to the south…

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…that I thought might be worth a visit while we are here.

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The others had returned to the car, and I had set off across the fields on my own.  And for good reason.

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You see it was at this point that the German front line deviated from its slightly south western course to turn sharply south east and then east (see trench map below), leaving the defenders of what was in effect a small salient vulnerable to attacks on two sides.

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Unsurprisingly the Germans created a strongpoint here which, like the Schwaben Redoubt to the north of Thiepval village, bristled with machine guns and defensive fortifications.  The map shows the Leipzig Redoubt in the bottom left hand corner, opposite the word ‘Avenue’.

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Once a chalk quarry…

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…if you take another look at the trench map you can see the small escarpment, visible in the photos above, quite clearly marked.

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In fact the storming of the Leipzig Redoubt by men of the Highland Light Infantry on the morning of 1st July 1916 was one of the very few successes achieved by the British north of the Albert-Bapaume road that day.  Creeping forward to within 40 yards of the German positions a few minutes before the British bombardment lifted, the Scots rushed the redoubt, catching the German defenders still sheltering in their dugouts.  Little further progress could be made, but the Leipzig Redoubt remained in British hands despite German attempts to recapture it.

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Looking south west, the site of the redoubt on our left; the German front line would have turned to the left here, pretty much where the track begins to do so.

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Hmm.  What’s this, I wonder?

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Recognize one of these?  It’s the first one I’ve come across on my travels.

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Stokes mortar round.  Still lying there after all these years.  It once looked like this.

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I don’t think we’ll go in there.

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Anyway, I really can’t stay here too long, that would make me hugely unpopular, so we shall begin our return journey.

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Unexploded British shell.

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It does make you wonder how much more is still lying in the undergrowth.

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The German trenches would have crossed this field towards the memorial in the distance.  The British attack came from the left hand side of the photo.

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Turning to our right, this would have been the view that the men of the H.L.I. would have had as they stormed the redoubt.

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In March 1917, following the Germans’ voluntary withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, the author John Masefield, commissioned at the behest of the Foreign Office to write a book on the battle, travelled the Somme battlefields.  He wrote to his wife; “Took in the Leipzig Redoubt…I never saw such mud, or such a sight, in all my days.  Other places are bad and full of death, but this was deep in mud as well, a kind of chaos of deep running holes and broken ground and filthy chasms, and pools and stands and marshes of iron-coloured water, and yellow snow and bedevilment.  Old rags of wet uniform were everywhere, and bones and legs and feet and hands were sticking out of the ground, and in one place were all the tools of a squad just as they had laid them down; in order, and then all the squad, where they had been killed, and the skull of one of them in a pool, and, nearby, the grave of half a German, and then a German overcoat with ribs inside it, and rifles and bombs and shells literally in heaps…such a hell of desolation all round as no words can describe”.

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Some of the shells…

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… and many of the men, I am sure…

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…are still here.

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Better hurry now, or else I shall be in serious trouble!

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But it was definitely worth it.  Of the thousands of people who visit the Thiepval Memorial each month, very few, I suspect, make the walk to the redoubt.  Most probably don’t know of its existence.  The ten minutes I spent there was a lonely and sobering experience.

I wouldn’t have missed it.

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With one final look over our shoulder…

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…we find ourselves back at the memorial…

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…and just a few minutes from the Visitor Centre…

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…where Baldrick and the others patiently (?) await.

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Still, all’s well that ends well.  Next, if you wish to continue on the rest of our Somme tour, we head for the battlefields of Serre.  However, as you also know that I have returned to Thiepval since this particular trip, there are now additional Thiepval posts to be found here, starting with a look around the trenches in Thiepval Wood.  Which way to go?  Decisions, decisions.

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24 Responses to Travels on the Somme Part Two – Thiepval: The Leipzig Redoubt

  1. Mrs Baldrick says:

    I have to say you were hugely unpopular during those 15 minutes we have to wait in the car, but now I know it was for a good cause. You’ve found a very special place we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. And now you are back to your regular levels of popularity anyway so: Well done Sir!

    • Magicfingers says:

      Heh heh! I feel terribly guilty when I go off wandering for too long (unlike when it’s just Baldrick and me, when I never feel guilty about anything!) but thank you for appreciating that there were very good reasons on this occasion.

  2. Walter Keey says:

    Remembering my 18 year old Grandfather who was awarded the Military Cross for valour shown on 7th September 1918. Épehy (Capron Copse near Saulcourt) South African fighting for, I think 7th London Regiment. He went on to live to the age of 74 in the Eastern Cape in South Africa. This posting on 11 – 11 – 2015 (97 years on from Armistice day) I’m so thankful he survived that terrible war and grateful to those that fell in the service of mankind. Thank you for your posting

    • Magicfingers says:

      Well said Walter. And thank you for commenting, particularly on this day. I have just posted my own tribute on the Home Page.

  3. C. Fraser says:

    Thank you for taking the time to photograph, describe and post this. My Great Uncle was in A Coy, 3 Pltn of the 3rd Salford Pals (19th Lancs Fusiliers) on July 1 and was apparently one of only about 40 men of that battalion to get into the Redoubt. I know this because his letter describing the day refers to sites he could only have seen in the Redoubt. Your pictures make it clear what the Redoubt looks like today. Amazing how few photos there are on available online to show one of the few British successes of the day. I hope to visit one day but if I don’t get there, your photos are almost as good.

    • Magicfingers says:

      That’s very kind of you to say so. I’m glad you appreciated this post. When I was researching for this post I also realised that there was very little online, as you say, so hopefully this post fills a bit of the gap. And thanks for telling us about your Great Uncle – your site is a fine tribute..

  4. John Henderson says:

    Magicfingers, thank you so much. My wife and I have just watched this evening’s service from Thiepval (on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Somme) vaguely knowing that this was somewhere close to where her grandfather had seen action on the 1st July with the 17th HLI in the assault on the Liepzig Redoubt. Thanks to your photos we can now see just how close. Miraculously Matthew Cullen survived Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele, but the Second World Ware broke his heart and his mind. Just one story among millions.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello John. Thanks ever so for your kind comments. As you will have gathered, my visit to the Leipzig Redoubt was thought-provoking to say the least. If you ever get the chance…

      And thanks for telling briefly Matthew Cullens story; and how sad in the end.

      Watch out for a new post which should hit this site at 7.30 in the morning. Not Thiepval, but I think you might find it of interest nonetheless.

  5. Paul Clark says:

    Nice to see my poppies cross is still attached to the tree.

    • Magicfingers says:

      And it was nice to see it when I arrived there. Glad you found my site Paul. These photos were, of course, taken a few years back now, though, so whether it is still there, who knows?

  6. Eric Mueller says:

    An excellent post. When I visited Thiepval in 2016, just prior to the centennial, Google Maps took me on an odd route to the monument. When I saw your photos, I immediately recognized that this was the two track that I had been driving on. And I drove straight through the Leipzig Redoubt without even knowing it! There were some folks there having a picnic, so I had to squeeze past. I wish I had found your site earlier on. A question, where do you find your trench maps? I have had no success. While I enjoy touring any battlefield, Ypres and the Meuse-Argonne (what with me being an American) are my particular interests.

  7. Andrew White says:

    Thank you for these clear photos and descriptions.

    My great uncle Jamie White of 16th HLI died on 1st July. Good to see where he may have walked and fought and of course died. He is on the memorial.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks for commenting Andrew. Glad you found this of interest. So many different experiences from that day – I had a Great Uncle who gained an M.C. on 1st July and survived the war (POW from 1917).

  8. David McDowell says:

    Hello,
    Many thanks for this fascinating stuff. I’m taking some sixth-formers to the Western Front in October; several of their predecessors were in 17th HLI and 6 were killed or wounded at the Redoubt on 1 July 1916. I first went to the Redoubt, and Lonsdale Cemetery, earlier this year, but you’ve provided more detail – much appreciated.
    thanks again,
    David

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello David. It’s a special, if that is the right word, place, the Leipzig Redoubt, and still very atmospheric, I feel. Thanks for your kind words, good for you for taking some teenagers out there, particularly some with links to the place – hope the trip goes well – and glad you found some stuff of interest on my site.
      The HLI were a highland regiment (obviously) who mainly recruited in Glasgow (lowland) and who wore trews (lowland) not kilts until after World War II (when they changed to kilts) except for 9th HLI (Glasgow Highlanders) who wore kilts not trews anyway.
      Where do I get this stuff………..?

      • David McDowell says:

        A lot of our lads were in 9 HLI too (although our school, Fettes, is in Edinburgh, being boarding not many of the former pupils actually lived in the city so were less likely to be in our local batts of the Royal Scots. Absolutely loads in the Glasgow batts associated with the business community – 9 & 17 HLI and 8 SR. When we visited in April we walked in from the other side, having just visited Lonsdale Cemetery, and there was an extraordinary dark sky above the golden fields of wheat. I can try to send it. Anyway, thanks again.
        David

        • Magicfingers says:

          I will need to email you, so you can mail me that photo, and for that I need your permission, David. I have your email, of course.

  9. John Deans says:

    Great post, especially having just walked the road on May 31. My great uncle was in the 16th of the HLI, and went missing on July 1. I am wondering if it is known what building(s) lay as on the road in the form of what appear to be former brick walls, now horizontal yet in fairly large pieces. The location is closer to the monument, and possibly shown in the picture above that points toward the Monument, adjacent to the iron post at the side of the track. Among the buried bricks are what I am pretty sure are the blasted remains of a black marble floor. I found no building on the maps. Any ideas?

  10. Magicfingers says:

    Hello John. Glad you enjoyed this post, particularly having just been there, and thanks for taking the trouble to comment. Your black marble floor intrigues me – particularly as I didn’t spot it, which I am most miffed about! If there are no buildings marked on the maps, and I shall take your word for that and not bother checking, that leads to either something much older, or post-Great War and no longer there. Have you checked old photos? I wondered at first whether it could be some structure constructed for early battlefield tourists, although with a marble floor that seems unlikely. And you say ‘blasted’, suggesting it was there pre-war too. I wonder whether it could have been part of a 17th 0r 18th Century building – great views, after all, like many English stately homes have. Unfortunately, I have checked the location of Thiepval Chateau, and it doesn’t fit. Anyway, just riffing here really, but I am intrigued.

    • John Deans says:

      I have a sample of what I am calling the black marble, and a photo showing what I believe are portions of clay brick wall which are visible under one’s feet while walking. The black material appears to have been affixed to a substrate of some type…as there seems to be a cement compound under my sample. One doesn’t see much of the marble intact, but I noticed samples around the area, some in newly ploughed fields. Can I send you or post some photos?

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