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Webmatters : Beaumont-Hamel and the battle of the Somme: The Newfoundland Regiment
Rough Map of Area

Beaumont Hamel

The Attack on 1st July 1916

Just behind the Newfoundland Memorial Park is the Hawthorn Ridge Mine which was detonated at 0720 hours.

Whilst the crater produced from the mine’s 18,000 kg of explosives was 140 metres long, 90 metres wide and 25 metres deep, it had been detonated ten minutes before the rest of the attack.

At that same moment the heavy barrage on the German front line was lifted to allow the troops trying to secure the crater to get forward.

At 0728 hours further mines were blown in the southern part of the battlefield and two minutes later at 0730 hours whistles were blown and the battle of the Somme commenced in earnest.

Warning of the attack

This ten minute gap had been the cause of much debate in the planning stages but it was felt that it might give the attack, as a whole, a greater chance of success if it made the Germans concentrate their attention at the one point.

However the reality was that it not only gave the Germans warning it also resulted in a counter bombardment by the German artillery.

 

Zero Hour

Within five minutes the defenders machine gun crews had reoccupied their positions unmolested by a barrage that had already lifted.

Within the confines of the park the first troops to advance were the 2nd Bn South Wales Borderers who found themselves cut to shreds by machine gun positions in the Y Ravine directly opposite them.

On their right the 1st Bn King’s Own Scottish Borders (KOSB) were also badly hit as they were trying to support the Welshmen.

Confusion was further caused by the fact that the British Signal for: objective achieved (a white flare) was exactly the same as the German Signal requesting artillery support.

Half an hour after the attack had commenced, the 87th Brigade had been ground down to a halt.

The 1st July that year was in fact a hot sunny day and many of the wounded lay baking in the sun all day waiting for rescue.

The ground across which Newfoundland Regiment advanced

The ground across which 2nd Bn South Wales Borderers
and later the Newfoundland Regiment advanced

 

The Newfoundland Regiment ordered to advance

With reports coming in that men had been seen as far as the German lines and the impression from the white flares being fired that his soldiers were making good progress, General de Lisle in command of 29th Division ordered the first two battalions of his reserve into the line.

By this stage the artillery support had passed into the distance, controlled by an exact schedule that was allowing the infantry more or less a second to advance each metre.

The second assault would however be supported by a machine gun barrage.

The two battalions concerned were the 1st Bn Essex Regiment on the right and the Newfoundlanders on the left. The Essex Regiment, however, were completely held up by trenches filled with the dead and wounded and never got into position until after the Newfoundlanders had already advanced.

The area of the British front line

The area of the British front line

As they moved forward the Newfoundlanders found the communication trenches so clogged with men that they climbed out early and made their way across open ground towards their own front lines.

In doing so they came under the same barrage as the Welshmen before them from the Y Ravine.

As they tried to get out through the gaps in their own wire they were all but wiped out.

Those that succeeded in getting out into no-man’s land continued to advance and a handful reached the German trenches only to be cut down there.

 

Disaster

By 1005 hours it was evident to General de Lisle that the day had turned into a disaster. Further attempts to advance were put on hold.

Of the 800 soldiers that went into action that day, the 1st Bn Newfoundland Regiment lost 310 killed and over 350 wounded.

Their annihilation had taken just over half an hour.

In a message to their Prime Minister, General de Lisle stated:

It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further.

 


The Memorial Park

The Caribou at Beaumont-Hamel

Unlike the concreted trenches of Vimy Ridge, the Newfoundland Memorial Park a few kilometres from Thiepval has been left much as it was at the end of the war.