If you remember, we had just left the Thiepval Memorial…
…and were heading towards a clump of trees I had spotted away to the south…
…that I thought might be worth a visit while we are here.
The others had returned to the car, and I had set off across the fields on my own. And for good reason.
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.
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’.
Once a chalk quarry…
…if you take another look at the trench map you can see the small escarpment, visible in the photos above, quite clearly marked.
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.
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.
Hmm. What’s this, I wonder?
Recognize one of these? It’s the first one I’ve come across on my travels.
Stokes mortar round. Still lying there after all these years. It once looked like this.
I don’t think we’ll go in there.
Anyway, I really can’t stay here too long, that would make me hugely unpopular, so we shall begin our return journey.
Unexploded British shell.
It does make you wonder how much more is still lying in the undergrowth.
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.
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.
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”.
Some of the shells…
… and many of the men, I am sure…
…are still here.
Better hurry now, or else I shall be in serious trouble!
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.
With one final look over our shoulder…
…we find ourselves back at the memorial…
…and just a few minutes from the Visitor Centre…
…where Baldrick and the others patiently (?) await.
Still, all’s well that ends well. As we leave Thiepval, it’s worth mentioning how useful the memorial is as a landmark when touring this part of the Somme, as you will see in future posts.
Next, we head for the battlefields of Serre.