East Chinnock and World War 1
by Jeremy Churchill
Battle of the Somme
For someone from East Chinnock the Battle of the Somme can be best thought of as over half-a-million men spending 4½ months fighting their way from East Chinnock over the ridge to Stoke-sub-Hamdon by way of Lower Odcombe, Higher Odcombe and Montacute, all along a battlefront stretching from Chard to Sherborne. Every green lane, hedgerow, and ditch had been transformed into a network of trenches with machine guns placed in strongpoints everywhere. Every house had become a miniature fortress – a village like Lower Odcombe would become a defended locality which could take weeks to subdue. The only answer – in 1916 – was to blast a way through with explosive. This converted the landscape into a moonscape from which it is still recovering 100 years later. When it rained, which it did quite a lot in the late summer and autumn of 1916, the blasted soil became a sea of mud in which it was almost impossible to move. Troops could be desperately thirsty enduring heatstroke on one day, and drowning in flooded trenches a week later. Fighting against a numerically inferior enemy, they encountered fierce resistance the whole way which cost the British Imperial Forces (English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African and Indian troops) some 419,654 casualties. The French lost 204,253 men and the Germans are generally thought to have suffered 450,000-600,000 losses (although, as ever, these figures are disputed).
Men from East Chinnock would have been involved at every stage. Harry Rogers, of 454 Weston Street and serving in the 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade – part of the 17th Brigade, 24th Division – would have been fighting in the Battle of Delville Wood 14th July-3rd September 1916.
Cyril Andrews, Gerald Dane, Percy Dane, and Arthur Shire, serving in the 7th (Service) Battalion Somerset Light Infantry – part of the 61st Brigade, 20th (Light) Division, XIV Corps, arrived just too late to take part in that battle, but were involved in the fighting for the village of Guillemont on the 3rd–6th September 1916.
Between the 15th and 22nd September the next major stage of the Somme battles took place in the fighting for the villages of Flers and Courcelette in the northern part of the battle area. This is famous for being the first time Tanks were used in action, and the East Chinnock men of the 7th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, taking part in the attack on the village of Lesboeufs on the 16th September, may well have seen some of the new “landships” as they went into battle.
The 28-year-old Private Gerald Dane of 430 College, the son of George & Betsy, brother of Stanley, Albert & Percy, was serving in A Company of the 7th Battalion. He enlisted on September 1st 1914, and had been in France since 24th July 1915. Private Dane suffered a gunshot wound to his right forearm during the fighting for Lesboeufs. He was evacuated and entered hospital in Amiens on the 21st September, was discharged on the 19th October and given a spell of home leave. Attractions of home were too much, as he overstayed his leave. On the 29th November he was fined 4 days’ pay and given 14 days CB (Confined to Barracks) at Crownhill Fort, Plymouth. He was back in France on the 9th December but on the 18th (having served his punishment) he was posted to a strange unit – the 6th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry – away from his friends.
Meanwhile, far away from the new world of mechanized warfare, Private Frederick Giles Cooper Warr, of 437 College (later “Peace Lea”), grandson of Giles & Sarah Cooper, was serving in the 9th (Queens’ Royal) Lancers, as part of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. He was also at the Flers-Courcelette battle, but in the rear, doing what the cavalry mostly did in that War - waiting for a gap to open in the trenches through which they could pour to resume mobile, open-country warfare. Sadly for Private Warr (on his way to promotion to Corporal), although cavalry did serve a useful purpose at some points in the Somme fighting, Flers-Courcelette was not one of those moments. The Division hung around the rear areas hopefully, but was eventually ordered back to their base as the mud and congestion started to make them a nuisance to the passage of supplies and reinforcements.
Progress of the Battle of the Somme between 1 July and 18 November
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