The fifth day of my count down to the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1.
I will pick up Walter’s story a year after Loos, the early autumn of 1916, by which time 71st Brigade Royal Field Artillery, still attached to 15th (Scottish) Division, had been transferred south… to the Somme. They were spared the horror of the first day of the Somme offensive on July 1st and by the time they arrived on this front in August the battle had bogged down. But another major push was planned for September and 15th Division’s objective was the village of Martinpuich… or what was left of it (not much judging from these photographs).
This action, later to become known as the battle of Flers-Courcelette, was to be where the British would reveal their new secret weapon for the first time. It saw the first ever use of tanks on the battlefield, the British deploying the Mark I shown below which seemed as perplexing to the British troops as it was horrifying for the Germans. To disguise the advance of the tanks to their assembly area the Royal Flying Corps flew continuous sorties over the German front line to drown out the sound of the tank engines and when they advanced on the morning of 15th September the surprise was total.
At 6.20am, to coincide with dawn, in a thin mist, the attacking troops went over the top, heading for the ruins of Martinpuich, tanks in support.
Soon, messages were received at the German Reserves from the defending 17th Bavarian Infantry Regiment that the British had broken through. By 9:30 a.m., observers of 34 Squadron Royal Flying Corps watching the attack from the air reported that the 15th Division were on the southern edge of the village. The defenders managed to establish a weak line and isolated parties fought on but the defence collapsed as soon as the Scottish troops pressed on to the second objective. Resistance stiffened again but by the end of the afternoon the whole village was in the hands of the Scots.
Later, an officer of the German 17th Bavarian Infantry Regiment wrote of the “close co-operation of the opposing infantry and artillery” and that “artillery observers had advanced with the infantry and established [forward] posts with telephones in a few hours”.
And it is in this action that I am persuaded to believe Walter won his Military Medal. There is no concrete evidence to absolutely confirm this but I think the theory is quite compelling.
But that’s for tomorrow…