The Battle of the Somme: Exactly a hundred years ago men of the First Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment were involved in attacks on the German defensive position known as the Leipzig Redoubt – this stood on the western side of the Leipzig Salient. The Salient was attacked on the first day of the battle – July 1 – and fighting continued as fresh attempts were made to capture the Redoubt.
This contemporary report on the Wiltshires’ – and Worcesters’ – part in the fighting was signed by Lieutenant Colonel R F Legge of the Leinster Regiment – a Staff Officer with the 25th Division:
“The GOC [General Officer Commanding] wishes to congratulate the Wiltshire and the Worcestershire Regiments on their gallant behaviour during the operations which took place between the 6th and 8th July.
During this period the first Battalion Wilts Regiment successfully carried out two attacks, repelled several sustained and determined counter-attacks on two consecutive nights and firmly held the position won under an intense bombardment which lasted over four hours. He greatly regrets the death of Lieut. Colonel W S Brown, who was killed on the 6th of July whilst conducting the first attack, the success of which was greatly due to the careful preliminary arrangements made by him.
The command of the Battalion then passed to Captain S S Ogilvie, under whom on the night of the 6th and 7th the Battalion successfully repelled all enemy counter attacks. There Lieut. R J O Palmer (wounded) and C S M Lester (killed) behaved with the greatest gallantry.
On the 7th July Captain Ogilvie sent Captain Russell to take command of the advanced trenches and the fact that all enemy attacks throughout the day proved a failure was due greatly to the coolness and resourcefulness of this Officer.
Counter-attacks during the night 7th and 8th were easily repulsed with heavy enemy losses. At 6.30 on the 8th July, the second attack was organised and was launched about 8.30 under the command of Lieutenant Gooden (killed).
The moment the men of the Wilts appeared over the parapet they were met by an overwhelming fire from Machine Guns and Rifles, but despite their many casualties, they pressed on and at 9.30 the trench which was the objective had been successfully captured and consolidated.
This performance was all the more creditable owing to the fact that the weather conditions were bad, the ground was much cut up by shell fire and the troops fatigued by the strains they had gone through in the previous thirty six hours.
As the attacking troops reached the enemy’s trench the Germans were seen to bolt down the communication trenches, large numbers were killed, and twenty three prisoners were taken.
It was not possible to penetrate further down the enemy’s communication trenches, owing to the strongly made blocks and barricades previously erected. Lieutenant Clegg since wounded, the only Officer left, showed conspicuous ability in conducting the consolidation of the captured trench. This trench sustained a very heavy bombardment afterwards and though the cover was indifferent, due to the parapets being shattered by shell fire, the position was held with great determination.
The moment was now critical and the Wilts were reinforced by 2 Companies of the 3rd Worcesters which had been placed at the disposal of OC [Officer Commanding] Wilts. These Companies behaved with the greatest gallantry. They brought up plenty of ammunition and a large supply of bombs and with their assistance all enemy’s attempts and counter-attacks were easily repulsed.
The work performed by Lieutenant Harrison with the Trench Mortar Battery was most effective during the 30 seconds intense bombardment proceeding the attack. His guns fired no fewer than 100 rounds with greatest accuracy, putting out of action an enemy Machine Gun. These successes could not have been obtained without the very magnificent support given by the artillery Group under Lieutenant Cotton RFA.
But above all they could not have been obtained except for the heroic courage and stamina and devotion to duties of the Officers and NCOs men of the Wilts and 3rd Worcesters so many of them have earned undying honour by giving their lives in their Country’s Cause.
(signed) R F Legge, Lieut. Colonel. 25th Division.”