Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ninety-five years ago today...

Detail of the Somme battlefield (map approx. 10 miles across)

It is 6am on the 15th September 1916, near the village of Ginchy, on the Somme. The Coldstream Guards are preparing to attack the German positions, some 2500 yards away. It will be the first time in the war that all three battalions of the Guards will have mounted an attack together.

It will also be the first time that tanks have ever been used in warfare, although the three allocated to the Division will soon break down.

Mark I tank

At 6.20 the attack begins. The plan had been for them to capture their targets within two hours, but as we all know, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The Guards come under intense shell and machine gun fire and suffer heavy casualties, with the first two waves being decimated.

At this critical moment in the battle, Lieutenant Colonel J V Campbell DSO rallied the 3rd Battalion with his hunting horn, and led them in a successful attack. Later the same day, he led a further successful attack, being himself one of the first to enter the enemy trenches; for his gallantry he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Showing tremendous discipline and bravery, the Guards succeed in taking and holding all of their initial objectives, but the price has been terribly high. Forty officers and 1326 men had become casualties.

One of those casualties is Private Samuel Walter Bolch, my great-grandfather. Somewhere in the maelstrom he is killed. His body is never found.

He is not, however, forgotten. His name appears on the Thiepval Memorial:


And here is my great-grandfather:

S W Bolch, centre, with comrades in arms

[Note: I have pieced this short account of the battle together from several sources. I believe it is accurate, but any errors are mine.]

8 comments:

  1. Astonishingly courageous people - worth taking a moment to remember them and what easy lives we do, in fact, live.

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  2. Yes, it does rather put our troubles into perspective.

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  3. We will remember them.
    Marilyn.

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  4. respect.
    maybe a cliche but, yeah, respect. my grandfather survived the first day of the somme. and indeed the whole war. i wouldn't have survived the war because if i had ended up there i would have been shot as a deserter. high time all the 'cowards' were properly recognised on the memorials.

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  5. and speaking without a shred of evidence, i believe that those who fought alongside them and showed the immense fortitude that enabled them to keep their sanity amongst the madness, would have felt that way too.
    but respect to all of them. the dead, the survivors, the decorated, the 'cowards' and those who simply got through it as best they could. not just on 11 november but every day. ordinary heroes every one of them from every country, 'our' side and 'theirs'. (and in my book victims, though that doesn't diminish my admiration one jot for any of them).

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  6. Yes, one of my points in posting this is that it wasn't the 11th of November.

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