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Webmatters : Battle of the Somme: Ovillers and La Boisselle, 1st July 1916
Rough Map of Area

Ovillers

The 8th Division

The 8th Division was in theory a Regular Army Division having been in France with the BEF since the outbreak of the war in 1914. They had suffered very heavy losses though and as part of the system of bolstering the new Kitchener Divisions had swapped one of its Regular Brigades for the 70th. Thus for many of the men, like the 34th Division, this would be their first taste of a major battle.

The village of Ovillers sits on the southern side of a spur of land which points towards Albert. It was thus hoped that the 25th Brigade, who were going to attack the village itself, would have some cover, up until the last few hundred metres as they came over the ridge.

To their right the 23rd Brigade would be very badly exposed as they made their way up Mash Valley. They were also required to cross the widest section of no man’s land on the Corps Front.

To the north of the ridge 70th Brigade were required to advance across another valley — called Nab Valley at the time but later designated as Blighty Valley. It was their task to push on past the village and up as far as Mouquet Farm.

Just before Zero at 0730 hours the Division had put down a short barrage of Stokes Mortars onto the German positions giving the first wave of the assault an opportunity to get out into no man’s land and closer to the German front line.

 

Looking down Mash Valley

Mash Valley with the Ovillers Military Cemetery on the left
The Ovillers church spire is also visible
The Main Albert – Bapaume Road is on the ridge on the right

 

The Attack

Leading the 23rd Brigade out into Mash Valley, the 2nd Bn Middlesex and 2nd Bn Devonshire Regiments managed to gain the German front lines and even a distance beyond, but they found themselves being fired at from three sides and their casualties soon grew to a thousand men between them — more than half their number. 70 survivors managed to hang on in the German front line for a while but soon their grenades and ammunition ran out and they too were forced to retire.

In the centre of the Division the attack against Ovillers was carried out by the 2nd Bn Royal Berkshire and 2nd Bn Lincolnshire Regiments. Whilst in theory they were going to be afforded some shelter from fire, they felt the full weight of a German counter barrage and half their number fell before seeing the enemy’s front line.

The 70th Brigade’s leading battalions: the 8th Bn Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) and the 8th Bn York & Lancaster, succeeded in crossing no-man’s land and got into the German front line but their supporting waves of infantry came under increasing fire from the German barrage.

On the Brigade’s left the defenders on the Thiepval Ridge were starting to beat off the assault by 32nd Division and now found themselves able to turn their attentions elsewhere — including the exposed flank of 70th Brigade.

Reinforcements

Believing that the 32nd Division were in fact making headway on his left and that the 25th Brigade were getting into Ovillers, Brigadier General Gordon of the 70th Brigade ordered his support battalion the 11th Sherwood Foresters into the attack. They struggled across no man’s land in the face of a storm of bullets only to be brought to a halt by machine gun fire a few metres from the German front line.

 

Mash Valley from the German view

Mash Valley from the German view with Ovillers on the right