Our next stop finds us at Serre, the northern extent of the main British offensive in July 1916 (there was a subsidiary attack a little further north at Gommecourt). In this field the men of the Pals Battalions fell in their hundreds as they tried and failed to breach the German defenses on the morning of 1st July 1916.
But first, in the village of Serre, this monument remembers the men of the Sheffield City Battalion who fell here in 1916. Serre was another of the heavily fortified villages that the Germans had incorporated into their defences.
‘To the memory of the officers & men of the 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment – Sheffield City Battalion – who fell before Serre 1916’.
This plaque contains a brief outline of the actions that took place here in 1916. It is well worth enlarging this photo, particularly to look at the map in the centre. You will see Sheffield Memorial Park, which is where we are heading, clearly marked.
It’s just 500 yards down the road to the memorial park, established at the point where the Pals lost so heavily. The calvary on the left of this picture is where Munich Trench, one of the longest German trenches on the Somme, once began. The British front line was just beyond the little chapel you can see if you follow the road, as we are going to do; we shall see the chapel again later in the post.
So, a little way outside the village, CWGC signs point our way…
…up a track that leads off the road.
We’d better follow it. The trench systems that formed the German front line crossed this track in a diagonal direction about here in 1916.
Attached to this shed next to the track…
…this plaque remembers the men of the 93rd Brigade who were killed here on 1st July.
Mind your step.
Cresting the rise, we begin to walk downhill towards the copse at the far end of the field. The cemetery ahead of us, Serre Road Cemetery No. 3, was made in the spring of 1917 when the Somme battlefields were cleared after the Germans’ voluntary withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line.
We are standing in what was once No Man’s Land. The British front line at this point bisected the two tracks ahead of us as far as the copse before sweeping to the right and crossing the picture in front of the trees, the German front line crossing the field a few hundred yards away to the right. From here to the far end of the trees, the men of the Pals Battalions – the Leeds Pals holding the line where we are standing, with the Accrington, Sheffield City & Barnsley Pals holding the tree line – awaited the signal to leave their trenches and advance towards the German lines. In trenches just behind, men of the Bradford and Durham Pals (we passed the memorial plaque to them on our way up the track) waited their turn. In reserve, the men of the Hull Pals.
During the Great War, as you can see on the trench map, the line of trees in the photographs was three separate copses, known as Mark, Luke & John Copse. You remember I mentioned that this was the very northern extent of the British offensive on 1st July. The plan was to take the German trenches and the village of Serre, pivoting on John Copse so that, an hour and three quarters into the battle, the Pals Battalions would be holding a line facing north from the copse to the village, creating a barricade to prevent any German counter-attack from the north. A complex manoeuvre at the best of times, and this would not prove to be the best of times.
So, where exactly are we? You can see a fourth copse, Matthew Copse, on the far left of the map (it no longer exists). We are standing to the right of this copse in No Man’s Land where you can see the number ‘2’.
Serre Road Cemetery No. 3. Most of the men buried here died either on 1st July or during a second unsuccessful attack on 13th November.
By far the majority of the identified burials are men of the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own) – the Leeds Pals – killed on 1st July…
…although over half of the men buried here are unidentified. Four special memorial headstones on the right commemorate men known or believed to be buried among them.
Further into the field, still in No Man’s Land, Queen’s Cemetery. The village of Serre is beyond the crest of the rise where the treetops can be seen on the right of the picture.
Queens Cemetery, another burial ground made in the spring of 1917, contains just over 300 burials, 131 of whom are unidentified. Many men of the Accrington, Sheffield City & Barnsley Pals lie in this cemetery.
The entrance to Sheffield Memorial Park.
Barnsley Pals memorial.
Accrington Pals memorial.
In the field just beyond the park, Railway Hollow Cemetery.
The vestiges of old British trenches still wend their way through the trees. These are the only remaining British (as opposed to Dominion) trenches that still exist anywhere on the Somme.
Railway Hollow Cemetery, another 1917 battlefield clearance cemetery.
107 men, 44 unidentified, are buried here, most killed on either 1st July or 13th November.
Many of the men buried here are Sheffield City, Barnsley & Accrington Pals.
School group among the craters, and I promise you…
…he was excellent. I hope some of them remember. Thanks to Balders for these pics.
I suppose the only saving grace for the men positioned here was that they were out of line of sight of the Germans due to the slope.
Railway Hollow Cemetery. This view looks south west across fields that were just behind the British front line in July 1916.
Okay, back up the slope and through the trees…
…and the remains of another trench.
It was from this trench that the men of the Accrington, Barnsley & Sheffield City Pals began their advance up the slope on the morning of 1st July 1916.
And this was the view they would have had, the German trenches a few hundred yards away up the slope.
Cross marking the spot where, in 1928, twelve years after he was killed, the body of Private A. E. Bull of the Sheffield City Pals was discovered. How many more men, I wonder, still lie beneath these trees.
Looking north past the trees. No time to visit Luke Copse British Cemetery, further down the track, nor Queen’s Cemetery, I’m afraid. You can just see the British front line trench beyond the CWGC signs on the left. When the Pals began their attack across this field, they were immediately subject not only to fire from directly in front of them, but also enfilading fire from the German trenches further north who were, of course, under no direct attack from the British themselves. By midday on 1st July any thoughts of further attacks at Serre had been abandoned. The Pals Battalions had suffered approximately 4,500 casualties; the impact of these losses on the villages, towns and cities of the north of England still reverberates today.
On our way back to the road, for the first time we see can the Cross of Sacrifice in Serre Road Cemetery No. 1 and the French cemetery of Serre-Hebuterne flying the French flag next to it. In the background you can see the huge cemetery of Serre Road Cemetery No. 2, which contains more than 7000 British burials, one of whom is Private Bull.
Back at the road. Come along Balders, no dawdling. You can just see the CWGC signs that directed us to Sheffield Memorial Park further along the verge on the left.
Thanks to Baldrick, however, we do have the photo above and the two following, which look the other way down the road, towards the British lines beyond the chapel (I told you we’d see it again), the two cemeteries we saw on our return hidden behind the trees and coach on the right.
More CWGC signs (above) pointing the way to the Redan Ridge (below). We shall take this road later.
Opposite the chapel…
…on the other side of the road, the French military cemetery of Serre-Hebuterne. The German front line ran from behind the trees, diagonally crossing the ploughed field and the road on the right, the British front line crossing the green field on the left; to get your bearings, should you need to, the coach we saw parked earlier is on the very far right of the picture.
The French held the line here in 1915; indeed they established the trench system at the three copses we have already visited.
This French cemetery was actually begun by the British who found the remains of many French soldiers whilst clearing the battlefield in 1917 and buried them together here, separate from the British burials.
To the east of the French cemetery, where the coach is parked in previous shots, is Serre Road Cemetery No. 1.
Yet another cemetery begun in May 1917, it was considerably enlarged after the Armistice.
There are now over 2400 burials here, 1728 of which are unidentified.
Many more men of the Pals Battalions lie in this cemetery.
Anyway, we must move on. Taking the road I mentioned earlier, we pass the rear wall of Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 (we saw it briefly in the distance earlier), the largest British cemetery on the Somme battlefields. Although there had been no opportunity to visit on this occasion, I did pass by on the Serre road in a coach a year later and snapped a few shots out of the window, which at least give you an idea of the size of this cemetery, and which you will find at the end of the post. The German strongpoint known as the Quadrilateral, incidentally, was sited just to the right of the cemetery.
As we traverse the Redan Ridge towards Beaumont Hamel, we first pass Redan Ridge Cemetery No. 1, sited in what was once No Man’s Land, where more than 150 men, the majority killed either on 1st July or in the later fighting in November, are buried. The identities of over half are unknown.
And then the tiny Redan Ridge Cemetery No. 3, with just 33 identified burials. Strangely, perhaps, only one man buried here was klled on 1st July 1916. All the other identified burials in the cemetery died during the fighting in November.
The road we are taking south towards the village of Beaumont Hamel parallels the course of the German front line which was sited a few yards into the field we are looking at…
…Redan Ridge Cemetery No. 3 being sited just behind the old German front line.
The British front line was beyond the horizon on the other side of the ridge.
Looking south west, the spire of Auchonvillers church visible on the horizon behind the trees.
Further up the track, past the cemetery, is the site of another German strongpoint, Ridge Redoubt, where now filled-in craters tell the tale of the mining activities that took place beneath the ridge.
And finally we pass Redan Ridge Cemetery No. 2, again sited just in advance of the German front line, where more than 250 British soldiers, of which over 100 are unidentified, are buried. The majority of the men buried here died on 1st July.
We shall see the cemetery, again from a distance I’m afraid, in a future post. All three of these cemeteries, by the way, were made in the spring of 1917 when the battlefields around here were cleared.
The fighting on the Redan Ridge, like that at Serre, brought no tangible results for the British. The casualties they suffered here amounted to some 6000 on 1st July alone.
We shall return to the Redan Ridge, but from a different direction, soon. In the meantime, a brief trip into Beaumont Hamel seems in order.
I promised you a few further photos of Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 earlier, taken from the passing coach on my most recent Somme trip.
This is another cemetery that was begun in the spring of 1917 when the Somme battlefield could begin to be cleared. Even so, by the end of the war less than 500 burials had been made here.
After the war it was greatly increased in size, as men buried in smaller cemeteries and elsewhere were reburied here, and by the time it was finally closed in 1934, it contained the bodies of more than 7000 men.
Of these, a mind-numbing 5000 are unidentified. You can see the Cross of Sacrifice and screen wall at the rear of the cemetery that we saw the reverse of as we began our traverse of the Redan Ridge a little earlier.
A big place indeed. So many men, and doubtless so many stories. Hopefully, one day we shall get the chance to spend some time here.
Next, a brief stop in Beaumont-Hamel.