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Webmatters : 18th (Eastern) Division Memorial at Trônes Wood
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18th (Eastern) Division

Location

The monument will be found on the D 64 midway between Guillemont and Montauban de Picardie.

Leaving Guillemont it will be found at the edge of the Bois de Troncs (Trônes Wood) on your right just after the Guillemont Road Cemetery.

The British misread the name of the wood from the French maps substituting an – e – for the – c – changing the name from Tree trunk to Thrones Wood.

Monument to the 18th Division

 

Background

By the 7th July 1916 the southern half of the British sector on the Somme Battlefield had managed to advance to a line that ran slightly south-east from the horizontal out of La Boisselle. It skirted underneath Mametz Wood over the top of the village of Montauban and then downwards on the eastern side of Bernafay Wood to where it met the French 39e Division d’Infanterie (39th Division) of Général Fayolle’s 6e armée.

For ease in distinguishing units they are given in their own language. In French the – e – (often written as è) is the equivalent of -th etc. Thus: 39e / 39th.

Having taken Bernafay Wood the British XIII Corps (Commanded by Lt General Sir William Congreve VC) were now faced by another: Trônes Wood, which was under observation from the German Second Position running from Longueval to Guillemont.

The attack had to be coordinated between the two armies and required the British to attempt to gain the southern tip of Trônes Wood as a preliminary to the assault on a German position known as the Maltz Horn Trench which ran from the wood due south and then south-west and around the hill on which sat Maltzkorn Farm.

The Maltzkorn Farm Calvaire

The farm was named after the family founder Paulus Maltzkorn who had been born in Cologne in 1774, had served with the French and married a local girl, Marie-Anne Colombier.

The change in spelling by the Military may have stemmed from a wish to make it sound less German. Regardless of spelling the farm was completely destroyed in the fighting and a calvaire (crucifix) was erected by the family on the former site.

Over the next few days successive battalions tried to get into the wood and hold it. None were definitively successful. As the date for the next offensive had been set for a night attack on the morning of the 14th July the XIII Corps found itself under pressure to deliver the wood.

With the 30th Division worn out from five days of hard fighting the 18th (Eastern) Division was brought back into the line just before dawn on 13th July.

18th (Eastern) Division

The 55th Brigade took over the positions in Trônes Wood and along Maltz Horn Trench with the intention of attacking at 1900 hours that night following a two hour bombardment. Unfortunately all did not go well. The 7th Bn Royal West Kent Regiment got lost within the wood whilst the 7th Bn Queen’s Regiment trying to attack across the open ground towards the north of the wood were forced to ground a 100 metres short of its edge.

Harry Dickens RWK Regiment

In the wood Harry Dickens of the RWK is remembered
He is one of the missing commemorated at Thiepval

When a second bombardment of the wood at 2045 hours appeared to have little effect the Queen’s were ordered to pull back.

The Queen’s had not had their losses replaced since the 1st July and were down to a strength of just 280 strong (under half their theoretical strength). With a further 200 casualties during the day, the battalion had effectively ceased to exist.

The Division was now placed in the difficult position of being asked what it intended to do to remedy the situation; the new offensive was due to start within three hours whilst it was still dark.

At 0045 hours Brigadier General Shoubridge was informed that his 54th Brigade was required to have the wood under his control before dawn.

As it was not going to be possible to properly reconnoitre the position and time was on essence the 54th Brigade decided to go for simplicity. They would advance through the wood from south to north securing the eastern edge as they did so.

Trones Wood, Montauban

Behind the monument the wood has grown back
It is easy to imagine the difficulties of fighting through it

As the attack was going to be made in the dark through a wood it would not in all likelihood be possible to locate all the German positions so these would have to be mopped up as and when they were discovered.

At 0430 hours (An hour after the main offensive had begun) the 6th Bn Northamptonshire Regiment advanced out of the sunken road near the brickworks towards the wood 800 metres away. They had to brave a storm of artillery fire as they crossed the open ground and entered the wood but from there they managed to make good progress despite being as disorientated as their predecessors.

If you look at the wood there is a small section that juts out on the right hand side and this was initially mistaken for being the northern edge of the entire wood.

At 0800 hours the 12th Bn Middlesex Regiment were sent forward in support and Lt Colonel Maxwell VC who was also in command of the operation went forward into the wood with his men. There he found that fighting had stopped and that there was a mix of men from different units who had either already been there from previous attacks to men lost in the current assault.

Rounding up every man that he could find Colonel Maxwell formed them up in an east-west line and swept the wood northwards. At first they were harassed by snipers hidden in the undergrowth, but once the order was given to shoot at will into anything that could conceal the enemy the problem appeared to have been efficiently dealt with.

About half way up through the wood there was a light railway line running through it and on its western edge the Germans had set up a machine gun post. This held the line up for a moment as Colonel Maxwell and a party stormed the post, killing the Germans and capturing their machine gun.

By 0930 hours the remaining Germans were being pushed out of the wood and were forced to flee towards Guillemont. As they did so they suffered numerous casualties from fire directed at them from the new cordon securing the eastern edge of Trônes Wood.

The wood was finally in British hands.

Victoria Cross

Sergeant William Boulter
6th Bn Northamptonshire Regiment

…when one company and part of another was held up in the attack on a wood by a hostile machine-gun which was causing heavy casualties, Sergeant Boulter, with utter contempt of danger, and in spite of being wounded in the shoulder, advanced alone over open ground under heavy fire, in front of the gun and bombed the gun team from their position. This act not only saved many casualties, but materially helped the operation of clearing the enemy out of the wood.

Sergeant (later Lieutenant) Boulter survived the war.

 

26th August 1918

The wood fell to the Germans during their great offensive in March 1918 and remained in their hands until the 26th August 1918 when, by a quirk of fate, the 18th Division were once again required to take it.

On the evening of the 25th August 1918 the Division (which had recently taken Montauban) were brought forward after a days rest and ordered to take the wood: this time from north to south.

An artillery barrage was organised to follow their movement which was based on the presumption that their flanks were, or would be covered by the flanking Divisions which was not actually the case.

The 7th Bn Royal West Kent Regiment accompanied by the 8th Bn Royal Berkshire Regiment had little difficulty in getting through the German forward positions where they then waited for the barrage to turn from east to south before continuing on.

The 8th Berkshire were supposed to pivot about the northern apex of Trônes Wood with two companies either side of the wood

The failure to have Longueval secured put the Berkshire battalion in difficulty as it came under enfilading fire from Waterlot Farm on its left, whose garrison also launched a counter attack which pushed the Berkshiremen towards the western edge of the wood where they linked up with the West Kent battalion.

Despite the fact that the British artillery was shelling the wood the Germans now launched a strong counter attack against the southern part of the wood and the British were ejected from the wood.

An immediate riposte was ordered by 18th Division and two companies of the 10th Bn Essex Regiment and one from the 8th Bn Royal Berkshire Regiment crept up as close as they could to a new barrage and caught the new defenders by surprise killing fifty and capturing seventy-three along with twenty machine guns.

This time the wood was definitely held by the Allies.

 

The Memorial

Monument to the 18th Division

The memorial is dedicated:

To the Glory of God and in imperishable memory of the officers, NCOs and men of the 18th Division who fell fighting for the sacred cause of liberty in the Somme Battles of 1916 and 1918.

On the left side of the obelisk are listed the Division’s battle honours 1916-18, whilst on the right are listed the units which made up the Division.

 

The other memorials in the area