The Battle of the Somme 1916 and what it meant to the 13th Battalion, The Royal Scots of the 15th (Scottish) Division.

The Division left the Loos Salient on the 2nd July, 1916 and made the journey to the Somme by route march, arriving in the Contalmaison area on the 8th August, and from then on, when not in the front line, was employed on working parties, especially on roads.

Torrents of rain fell, turning the region into a morass and the Royal Scots found themselves wallowing in a gigantic mud pie.

Early in September the Germans had been driven from the ridge along a front roughly extending from Delville Wood to Moquet Farm north-west from Pozieres and Sir Douglas Haig judged the time ripe to deliver a general attack. This was planned for the 15th September and the Division was withdrawn to the west of Albert to prepare for it.

It was to be on the left wing of the battle front, the objective being the hostile trenches in front of Martinpuich. The 13/Royal Scots, 45th Brigade opened the attack, and the objective was soon carried. Three hours later a strong patrol entered the village taking nearly two hundred prisoners.

The Battalion went on through the village to a trench known as Push Trench. This was the action in which tanks were first used, but the one with the Royal Scots did not reach the village until it was in our hands. The Battalion remained there until the 18th when it was relieved, and went into reserve in Malincourt

When it returned to the line on the 10th October the successes of the 15th September had been followed up and the village of Le Sars and almost the whole of the ridge was in our hands. Unfortunately the weather then utterly broke down, and throughout the whole of October scarcely a day passed without rain.

buttewarDuring this period until the end of October the 15th Division was partnered by the 9th (Scottish) Division made up of the 25th Brigade - South African troops, the 26th -Highlanders, and the 27th - 11 th and 1 2th Royal Scots, 6th K.O.S.B. and 9th Scottish Rifles. Some very fierce fighting must have taken place in appalling weather in the vicinity of Le Sars and the Butte de Warlencourt, a chalky mound fifty feet high which stood on the top of the rise.

On the 19th October orders were received for the 27th Brigade to take over the whole divisional front lying just north of Eaucourt-l'Abbaye. The whole battlefield was a chaos of slime, thickly strewn with British and German corpses.and the fighting must have been fierce and prolonged. That night when the relief took place was one of undiluted horror.

The 11/Royal Scots relieved the South Africans, who were in support trenches, without much difficulty; whereas the K.O.S.B's and 12/Royal Scots had to take over the front trenches from the Highlanders of the26th Brigade. They plunged into trenches like canals filled with liquid mud and water, the laden men struggling along with aching backs towards the front line.

It was then the Germans put down a sustained barrage, many men being killed and wounded, some of whom falling in the trench were even trampled under foot and suffocated in the mud.

The Black Watch when relieved were in a pitiable plight, many of them being so dog-tired that they tore off their kilts absorbed with mud and water which weighed down their leaden limbs. Both battalions occupied the line with three companies each in the front line trenches and with one each in support. The ground in front was thick with corpses, among them many wounded men, who were brought in.

The 11/Royal Scots, who had relieved the South Africans in the support trenches, were next called upon to take a more active part from the 21st to the 24th October to deal with a strong-point known as the Nose lying between Le Sars and the Butte de Warlencourt held by the Germans. The strong-point consisted of a trench called Snag Trench and part of a communications trench running towards the Butte known as the Tail. Dozens of German bodies lay near the Nose and also many in British uniforms lay dead.

After the K.O.S.B's relieved the South Africans on the night of the 20th, they captured the whole of the strong-point which had defied several efforts by the South Africans. Later they were relieved by the 11/Royal Scots who recovered many men lying wounded among the German corpses near the Nose, among them a South African who had been lying out for six days and nights. This gives an idea of what had been happening in front of the Butte during the 13/Royal Scots rest in reserve at Malincourt and what the situation was on their return. From then on until the end of December, it was in and out of this sector from Le Sars and the Nose south-westwards towards Flers.

In January 1917 after the Royal Scots had left it for good, two companies of the 8/10 Gordon Highlanders made a successful raid on the Butte when the ground was covered with snow and did much damage to dugouts and trenches with stokes mortar shells. The men taking part wore white smocks and some wore ladies white nightgowns a number of which had been purchased in Amiens by two Highland officers.

butteillustAt the beginning of February the 15th Division was relieved and moved north to Arras. The Butte does not figure so prominently again in subsequent fighting during the war, and although never taken as a static position, was voluntary vacated by the Germans when they retreated to the Hindenburg Line in February 1917 and re-taken when the Somme battlefield was overrun by them during the March Offensive in 1918. This area round Le Sars and the Butte was again the scene of some fighting during the Allied final offensive when on the 21st/22nd August 1918 Bapaume and the chief centres of the old Somme battlefield were once more in our hands.

This article was taken from Bulletin No: 20.

It was written by Eric Baker a former veteran member of the W.F.A.

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