A Glimpse at Pozieres

On the afternoon of July 23rd 1916 we received our final instructions of the part we were to play in the great game on the succeeding days at Pozieres, having previously had a distant view of the battered village and surrounding country, as well as map instructions of the various battalion positions that were to be taken up, previous to storming the village and woods, and at precisely 10 o'clock on the Saturday evening, proud of having the command of the 3rd Brigade messengers and runners, we marched to the appointed positions.
Before giving you any details of the awful three days' fighting I will try and make plain the adjacent roads and landmarks; our main road of approach lay from the town Albert from where that great offensive began on 1st July, direct past two battered villages, Ovillers and La Boiselle, to what remains of another called Contal Maisson. This village was captured by the British 10 days previously, but for two or three miles before reaching Contal Maisson, we came under heavy fire from the enemy's big buns, especially where an old railway runs or used to run before the war, through the valley of what is known as Sausage Gully, which is about half a mile from Contal Maisson, or what remains of it, standing on a hill, not a building in it is intact, in many places scarcely one brick upon another. Away to the right our French allies are plugging away at Delville Wood, winning it back yard by yard; direct in front of Contal Maisson is an English regiment, also one of the famous Black Watch, facing our left from the main road is our objective, the remains of another village still more battered, and in ruins. It is divided from us by an offshoot from Sausage Gully, so that the two villages face each other, at a distance maybe of two miles on gently sloping country each towards the other, but screened around Poziers, and further to the left is a heavy wood, around which are the strong positions and strong works of the enemy, so strong that it beat off two previous attacks by the flower of the British army and the French had also lost between 20 & 30 thousand men in the attempt to capture it; still it lay secure in German hands. Well might we feel proud of the confidence placed in the first division to be given their first opportunity in this seemingly impossible position, and well might we look on each other that evening and wonder how many of us would meet again at our old rendezvous. I thought of it many times as I marched away with my little band, which was domed to soon become still smaller, they too bore a far away look thinking of many things, thoughts sacred, across the sea, of home, or maybe of the morrow, but on each continence was a look of calm resolution, not one of fear in that company. There was no need for Nelson's memorial signal to flash along those lines - "England expects this day every man will do his duty" - it was written on every face. At about 12 o'clock that night the whole division had arrived at their positions, though many brave lads had fallen by the wayside under the enemy's murderous shelling of the approaches. At exactly 13:30 AM Sunday morning every battery, every mobile gun 15 inch, 9.2, every calibre down to the French 75's and our eighteen pounders opened up on Poziers. It was the greatest bombardment yet recorded; so intense that the whole sky was instantly lit up, bright as noonday, by the flash and bursting of shells. It was as if some great electrician had devised a great scheme to turn our nights into day - the din was appalling, deafening, the earth trembled and vibrated under the fearful high explosive shell shocks, and the flashes of light when the strongest, almost blinding, so rapid was the fire, one artillery expert has estimated not less that sixty shells per second, or the enormous amount of 216,000 shells per hour were being poured into Posers and adjacent woods, what remained of the village was blown to atoms, huge trees already battered to shreds, were uplifted and tossed to earth, swept away as chaff before a storm by the huge shells; it seemed nothing could live five minutes in the inferno of shells. The crack of doom, the day of judgment could scarcely be pictured worse than this two hours bombardment. And what of the enemy? They too were doing their best, but their artillery was weak by comparison. Their shells were falling all over the lines, a grim task for our lads to hold, for our defenses were poor. Many were being buried alive, stretcher bearers in vain trying to cope with the demands of gaping, tearing wounds. Yet as I ran along those lines with an urgent message, I could not help but be proud of our boys, they stood there rifle with bayonet fixed in hand; the grenadiers with their supply of bombs, waiting for the great moment to arrive, and the order to charge forward, the officers cool and determined looking, giving orders calmly, as if on parade. As well as try to stay the waters of the Nile, as stop our boys in the great mad rush for the woods and defenses of the village. At 2:30 as if by magic, every gun of ours ceased fire for a second or two, only to increase the range and the order went out at the same time "Over the parapets, boys, and at them". There was no hesitation, everything had been planned and arranged like clockwork. Each company had an allocated task. The suspense of that two hours can never be described. The boys chafing to get away, get anywhere, for each moment their number was growing less, and the nervous strain was at breaking point. At the given signal every man faced the front and went forward with a cheer; the enemy's machine guns and rifles poured the lead into the thinned ranks, our boys fell, groaning with their ghastly wounds, yet the others pushed on to their goal; the German lines were sending up star shells and signals for reinforcements; some grim struggles took place. At one point a strong redoubt that had been a thorn in previous attempts yielded after almost all its defenders were slain. Gradually, but surely the defenders of Pozieres were being beaten back; little batches of prisoners were being brought in. Our ..................

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