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Webmatters : Serre: 1st July 1916
Rough Map of Area

Serre: 1st July 1916

4th Division

The attack on the Quadrilateral

Part of 4th Division’s task was to assist 31st Division on their left by taking out the Quadrilateral Redoubt – a remnant of the old trench system prior to the French attacks of 1915.

To accomplish the task they had been loaned two Battalions from 48th Division, made up of Birmingham Territorials.

In the first wave of the assault, 1/8th Bn Royal Warwickshires managed to advance 1500 metres into the German lines having passed the Quadrilateral, and reached as far as the Munich Trench and Ten Tree Alley.

They had in fact been unwittingly helped by the Germans who, it transpired, had never thought of the Quadrilateral as being tenable and had left it poorly defended with a mine primed and ready to destroy the position.

By error the mine was prematurely detonated, killing the machine gun crew (Whose gun had in any case jammed) and the engineers.

The Warwickshires were not, however, the only troops aiming for the Quadrilateral and the 1st Bn Rifle Brigade (11th Brigade) on their right also had some success in gaining and holding the position with them.

The initial waves from 11th Brigade had been met by a storm of fire from machine gun positions up on the Redan Ridge behind the German front lines. These had been putting down a constant barrage of fire even at the height of the British bombardment and were to continue throughout the day, reaping havoc in the lines of assaulting troops.

The second wave from 4th Division advanced as scheduled ten minutes after the first.

The 1/6th Bn Royal Warwickshires soon found itself in difficulties, as the German counter bombardment was by now ploughing up no-mans land. Those units that had managed to advance into the German trenches, now found that they were not only cut off from reinforcements to help push forwards but also hindered from going back.

On their right, the 1st Somerset Light Infantry suffered terribly but remnants managed to keep going for about another 400 metres past the Quadrilateral. There they were joined by parties from the two Royal Warwickshire battalions.

The Quadrilateral remained held by the British for the rest of the day by men from, for the most part, the 2nd Bn Lancashire Fusiliers and the 2nd Bn Seaforth Highlanders. These two units had formed part of a four and a half battalion strong, third advance by 4th Division.

 

The drummer hero

It was here in the Quadrilateral that a young drummer from the Highlanders called Walter Ritchie won the Victoria Cross by standing all the while on the parapet of the German trenches beating out the charge to encourage the men to keep going forward.

A partial breakthrough had thus been achieved but in a situation similar to that of the 36th (Ulster) Division on the Schwaben Redoubt they were now cut off on both sides. Many of their dead were to result from German defenders who managed to infiltrate into the trenches behind the attackers from the flanks.

 

The Cost

By the evening Lt Colonel Innes of the 1/8th Bn Warwickshire was dead and only one other officer was unscathed as the remnants crawled back into their original trenches.

Both of the Bradford Pals Battalions had lost their commanders: Major Guyon of the 16th West Yorkshires and Lt Colonel Kennard of the 18th. The 18th had never made it out of their trenches losing 490 casualties.

The 1st SLI had also lost their Commanding Officer that morning. Lt Colonel Thicknesse plus another 25 officers and 438 soldiers had been killed, wounded or were missing. Most had been brought down before even leaving their own trenches. Lt Colonel Thickness is buried in Sucrerie Cemetery at Colincamps.

Brigadier General Prowse commanding 11th Brigade (an ex SLI man himself) was mortally wounded in the morning as he left his HQ to find out what was going on in the Quadrilateral.

He is buried not far away at Louvencourt and also has a cemetery named after him: Prowse Point Military Cemetery in Belgium.


The following morning it was decided that the only gain that had been made – the Quadrilateral – could not be held in the face of a determined counter attack and the troops were withdrawn.

The offensive was over, indeed to all intents and purposes it had been over by noon on the 1st.


For his part, General Haig’s initial view was that VIII Corps hadn’t really put their backs into the fight, having made no gains at all.

For that no gain at all 31st Division had suffered 3,600 casualties – 1,349 of whom had been killed. Their neighbours in 4th Division (along with the two Battalions of Royal Warwickshires) a further 5,752 casualties – including 1,883 killed.

On 24 February 1917 as part of their Operation Alberich and retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the Germans gave Serre up. The village was never taken by the Allies by force.

 

Cemeteries and Memorials

The area has numerous cemeteries from the largest on the Somme at Serre Road No 2, to some of the smallest.

It has been justly quoted from one of the surviving Leeds Pals that they had been:
p(quote). Two years in the making and ten minutes in the
destroying.

In the communities back home, black curtains were to be found on every street. Everybody knew somebody that had a connection with one of the dead.

There is also a large French Military Cemetery recording the fact that the French lost more men in one single attack than the British were to do in two.