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Days 2 and 3 - 2nd & 3rd July 1916

The Diary of the 102nd Field Ambulance records that July 2nd was, like the 1st, clear, bright and warm.

Overnight, 4th Army HQ became more aware of the situation, and at 1.30 a.m. recorded that 102nd Infantry Brigade were holding the area around the mine crater, and although their flanks were open, they were being supplied through a tunnel. However, they were still uncertain of the position regarding Contalmaison, and noted that 101st Brigade intended to ascertain the whereabouts of all their Battalions. At 3.30 that morning a unit of the Cheshire Regiment arrived at the Tynesider's position, preparing to advance further. An hour later a heavy artillery bombardment on the section of trenches caused several casualties. The shelling continued for some hours. Attacks against La Boiselle continued to be largely unsuccessful, to some extent due to the congestion and damage in forward trenches caused by stretcher parties, and also a lack of knowledge of the trench system. The attack on the previous evening by 19th Division had failed partly because the men had lost their way. By 2.45 a.m. only a few companies had managed to get into the German lines on either side of the village, and at 5.30 a.m. III Corps gave orders that troops should concentrate on the south with the aim of clearing La Boiselle and making contact with 34th Division. Any attack from the north was considered impractical. During the night a party under Captain Sweet of the 18th Northumberland Fusiliers had attempted to take supplies to the men holding the Scots Redoubt, but had lost its way and returned without making contact. The fighting was still continuing around the village at 6.50 a.m. 19th Division providing the main attack. They had by now made contact with the Tyneside Scottish holding the crater, and reported that 17 Germans had been taken prisoner. All troops to the east of Round Wood had fallen back. At 9.00 a.m. III Corps was able to give 4th Army HQ an accurate picture of its troops' positions, and noted the fact that 22nd Northumberland Fusiliers were being supplied through a shallow tunnel. The Diary of the 18th Northumberland Fusiliers records that they continued to send supplies to the position, both through the tunnel and over land, for the whole of the day. During the night the Tynesiders had been in touch with other troops, assisting them with bombs, but this contact had now been lost. XV Corps had been asked to assist in flushing out German front line trenches in the area. A further report at 10.50 a.m. stated that a communication trench had been dug between the British and German front lines, and that an attack on La Boiselle was being planned for that afternoon without a preliminary bombardment.

During the day, the small party of Tyneside Scottish managed to improve the trenches, and at 2.40 p.m. received an order to "hold the position at all costs". Shortly afterwards units from the Lincolnshire Regiment and Royal Welsh Fusiliers, part of the 19th Division, passed through the position and succeeded in taking the next line of German trenches, which III Corps reported to 4th Army at 4.50 p.m. A further report at 5.55 p.m. said that 19th Division had captured the German front line south of La Boiselle "with only a few casualties from machine gun". Finally, at 7.41 p.m., III Corps was able to report the capture of the village, along with support trenches to the south east, even though the enemy was putting up "a stout fight by bombing". At 1 p.m. urgent calls for supplies had been made from Scots Redoubt and the Pioneers organised four parties, all except one managing to get through, returning by 6.20 p.m. In all some 300 loads of ammunition, food and water were delivered. The officer commanding the men in the Redoubt, Colonel Sir George McCrea, expressed his gratitude, especially for the water. The fourth party, under Lt Helsby, was held up by shell fire, the Lieutenant being wounded. Despite efforts by Captain Sweet to push through the party had to abandon its loads and return. At 4 p.m. a party from the 207 Company RE set off from Becourt Wood with more supplies, delivering them successfully and returning by 5 a.m. on the 3rd. (It is worth noting that the distance from Becourt Wood to the location of Scots Redoubt is little more than a mile, and today the course taken by the troops could be walked in some 30 minutes.) Further links with the position are recorded in the Diary of the 34th Division Signal Company, which notes than on July 2nd a line was laid between Moulin Vivier and the Redoubt, but this was frequently cut by shell fire. On the 3rd No. 2 Section laid three lines and also established wireless and visual signalling.

A British machine gun in action near La Boiselle

During the evening the fatigued men holding the mine crater received machine guns, Stokes mortars, ammunition and a welcome supply of food and water. In addition, their numbers were increased by bombers and machine gunners from 19th Division, and also men from the 102nd Brigade Machine Gun Corps. Their position was now considered to be secure. The attacks and shelling during the day had reduced the numbers of the Tyneside Scottish even further, and at midnight it was put at 5 officers and 155 NCOs and men. The final message of the day from III Corps to 4th Army HQ listed several infantry positions, including 102nd Brigade in a crater Map Ref. X.20.a.8.3. During the night it was possible to bury a number of dead, and also for some wounded to be dispatched back to the Field Dressing Stations.

The Pioneers meanwhile had continued to supply the men in Scots Redoubt, a party under Major Porch, along with Lts Bran and Nixon, leaving at 10.20 p.m. and returning at 6 a.m. the following morning. They reported fairly heavy machine gun and artillery fire all along the front, and that many parts of the line from La Boiselle southwards were still in enemy hands.

The 102nd Field Ambulance in Franvillers had begun to feel the effects of the heavy fighting and large number of casualties, and their Diary records that they were ordered to expand the Divisional Rest Station as much as possible. The Diary goes on to record that a marquee and some large tarpaulin covers with wooden uprights were being dispatched from behind the lines. Unfortunately "in some manner these were switched to Frehencourt while en route." The Unit then set about building shelters without these supplies, as the Diary records:

" Tents were borrowed from the sanitary section and the 104th Field Ambulance. A large tarpaulin was obtained from 34th Division stores and stretched over frames that had been built before in anticipation. The second walls of the marquee were taken off and used in the erection of shelters. Shelters covered in tarred felt were rushed up at the hospital, the office staff and orderlies working all through the night on these. The interpreter took out a G.S. wagon and bought several loads of straw which were filled into palliasses by the A.S.C. personnel. The billets of the personnel of the ambulance were taken and the bivouacs of the A.S.C. were also used for the accommodation of patients." The Diary was finally able to report that "Every patient was examined, every wound dressed, every patient was fed and every patient was placed under shelter, each was given a blanket, and the greater majority were given a stretcher or a palliasse."

A change in the weather was noted by the Field Ambulance Diarist, in that July 3rd was cloudy and dull most of the day. At 12 noon on 3rd July, 2 more officers joined the small group of men in the mine crater, and Lt Rutherford and Cpl Burns, working under heavy machine gun fire, reconnoitred the ground to the right of the unit, in order to select a route by which they could link up with other troops. Capt Longhurst, of the 4th Tyneside Scottish, and a party of some 100 men subsequently joined the group and succeeded in making the link-up. Meanwhile, the advance progressed favourably, according to the 102nd Machine Gun Company Diary, although 34th Division suffered heavily. The Diary also notes that its men in the crater were not relieved as they were pulling out the next day.

The 71st Field Ambulance had received orders at 6 a.m. to send a Medical Officer, the quartermaster and three men as an advance party to Dernancourt to take over the Casualty Station from the 102nd Ambulance. The bulk of the 71st arrived at 11 a.m. and proceeded to set up a main Dressing Station in the church, with tents pitched in the churchyard, a Collecting Station for walking wounded in a large hut, and also billets and extra tents, thus providing accommodation for 712 patients in all. At 4 p.m. a heavy thunderstorm passed over the area.

102nd Brigade Operational Order No. 37 gave orders for Major Acklom's party to be relieved that night by the 58th Brigade, and that Capt Longhurst's detachment, which was working down the enemy's front trench, be relieved by 69th Brigade as soon as the trench had been taken. At 10 p.m. the remaining men of the 2nd and 3rd Tyneside Scottish were relieved by the unit from the 58th Brigade (the War Diary of the 2nd Battalion names them as being South Wales Borderers), and the weary men made their way back to the reserve position on the Tara-Usna ridge, arriving at 11.20 p.m.

The 207th Field Company RE was also pulled out of its positions in Becourt Wood, and after a 2 hour march reached its new position in Long Valley. The 102nd Machine Gun Company was moved out at 8 a.m. on July 4th to rest billets in Millencourt, although a number of Officers and NCOs were transferred to 101st M.G. Company.

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Chapter 8

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