La Boisselle, 2015. It’s difficult to imagine the carnage here a hundred years ago. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s backtrack a couple of minutes.
The road to La Boisselle. This is the view that the advancing British troops would have had as they crested the rise between Tara and Usna Hills and began to descend over open ground towards the front lines on the southern edge of the village.
Looking north east through the village, the front lines only yards ahead of us. You can just see Ovillers British Cemetery in the field away to the left (see also photos below), and the Tyneside Memorial Seat on the right – we shall visit it shortly.
Ovillers British Cemetery, with the infamous Mash Valley in the foreground.
Sited in what was once No Man’s Land, the German front line cutting through the fields just to the right of the cemetery (marked in orange on the trench map below), almost 3500 men, nearly 70% of whom are unidentified, are now buried here, although during the war itself the cemetery only contained 150 burials, all made between August 1916 and March 1917. The vast majority of the men now interred here were brought in after the war from isolated battlefield graves around La Boisselle, Ovillers, Pozières and Contalmaison.
This trench map shows how close the British and German lines were as they cut through the southern edge of the village, although at Mash Valley, to the north of the road, as you can see, No Man’s Land was several hundred yards across.
Looking back the way we have just come, Usna Hill on the right, and Tara Hill beyond the houses on the left (see the map again), this is the view the Germans would have had as the British appeared over the horizon. Nowhere to hide.
The front line, 1st July 1916. The site of Y Sap Crater, one of two huge mines exploded by the British beneath the German lines before the attack on 1st July, but long since filled in, is just beyond the house.
Standing on the frontline looking north west…
…and south east. Can you imagine living in one of those houses?
The Tyneside Memorial Seat, remembering the men of the Tyneside Scottish and Irish who fell here on 1st July 1916. The attack on La Boisselle was nothing short of a disaster. Despite the week-long British bombardment the Germans were ready and waiting and the Tyneside Scottish, and a little later the Tyneside Irish, attacking over open ground from so far back that few even reached the British front line, were slaughtered in their hundreds.
Looking past the Memorial Seat towards the slopes of Usna Hill in the background. These now-tranquil fields would have been strewn with British bodies on the morning of 1st July 1916, the Tyneside Scottish suffering over 2400 casualties, and the Tyneside Irish nearly 2100, as the German machine gunners plied their deadly trade. Attacks on the village would continue for the next two days, La Boisselle finally being cleared of Germans on the afternoon of 4th July.
There’s more still to see around La Boisselle, including, of course, the other mine crater that I mentioned earlier, but first, just up a side road, there’s evidence of some of the earliest mining operations to take place on the Somme front during the war. We shall take a closer look next post.