Whilst we have learnt much from the newspapers about the ‘Big Push’ on the Somme, it is not the same as hearing from someone in the thick of things. Capt. Leslie Grundy (late of York & Lancaster Regiment, now serving with 90th Machine Gun Company) has found the time to provide us with a first-hand account of the events of July 1st.
He was involved in the attack on Montauban at the southern end of the battlefield. (Here the preliminary bombardment was clearly more effective than further north and casualties considerably fewer).
“We had done all the practising for the last fortnight and were now waiting in the assembly trenches. For us, these consisted of a few small trenches cut in a hollow between two woods about 700 yards behind our front line. We had arrived in these trenches late the night before, and had passed a very cold night indeed. Consequently we were all awake when dawn broke.
The guns had been keeping up a pretty heavy bombardment throughout the night, increasing in intensity every minute. The fringe of the wood behind us (curiously enough called ‘Oxford Copse’) was lined with 18-pounders, who were firing over our heads. As they were only 150 yards away, the noise was deafening.
Although we had not been given the time for ‘Zero,’ we judged it was near enough for us to issue the rum, so an issue of two jars among 150 men was made at 5 o’clock. We got word from Brigade Headquarters that Zero was to be at 7.30.
About this time a heavy ground mist appeared and for some time it looked as if the attack would have to be postponed. As it was near to 7.30 the Company Commander and I went over to a small piece of rising ground that was in front of us to watch the first wave go over the top. Over it went at 7.30 exactly, and as far as we could see there was only one casualty and it did not sound as if there was very much hostile rifle fire…
At 8.30 I went forward with my servant, and the two other sections followed 50 yards behind, interval 100 yards, but owing to the weight of our loads we fell behind our appointed place and found ourselves mixed up with some engineers. This ground was made up later on, while waiting for our artillery to lift.
When about 100 yards off our original front line, we saw that the enemy was putting up a barrage in No-man’s-land and a lot of our infantry were knocked out going through. When we got right up to this barrage we made a dash and, as far as I could make out, lost very few men. One of the section officers, however, was wounded rather badly in the back.
We found the Boche wire, when we got up to it, had been blown to pieces by our artillery fire and the trenches themselves had suffered so terribly that it was difficult to tell in what direction they ran. I had my first rest here; it was a hot day, and the packs were beginning to tell on us.
As it looked as if the Boches were shortening their range, we thought it best not to make too long a stay at this spot and therefore pushed on as far as the Glatz Redoubt. In a few minutes No. 2 section came up; so far they had only lost three men.
At this point a party of about 30 Boche prisoners were marched past; all of them apparently in great fear of their lives! They had all, seemingly, been very much shaken by our bombardment, and in the trench we were occupying there were many of them lying badly wounded. After a few minutes we mounted our guns and opened fire on the Boches to the left of Montauban, as the Brigade there did not seem to have attained its objective.
All this time our heavy artillery had been keeping up an intense bombardment on Montauban, and we could see our infantry waiting in the open in long line, ready to go in when the artillery fire lifted. Later there seemed to be some slackening of the fire and our troops immediately went forward. The whole thing was done as if on parade. They went over at a steady walk, keeping their dressing all the time. As far as we could see, there was no hostile rifle fire from Montauban at all and, as yet, no shell fire was falling on them.
I then decided that this would be the time to get our machine-guns into Montauban, so we went forward…
The whole place was literally blown to pieces, and it was with great difficulty we discovered where the roads had been. However, somehow or other, we managed to get both sections to A. Keep, where we found some men already busily consolidating. We had only been there a few minutes when a Boche machine-gun started traversing the village…
Just before dusk there seemed to be a small attack, but it was easily dispersed by rifle and machine-gun fire. All that night we fired at all small parties of Boches who could be plainly seen, and as it grew light we heard the sound of bombs exploding and found the Boches were bombing Montauban Alley from the other end.
About 7 o’clock the bursting bombs seemed to be very close to one another and… about 30 of our men jumped out of the trench and started to retire towards us in Montauban. Immediately on seeing this, the Boches jumped out of their trenches and started firing on them. We turned two machine-guns on the Boches and wiped the party completely out, but not before they had accounted for all our men.
The wounded in our trench were coming into the dug-out at an alarming rate and soon it became evident that the only people holding the keep were the machine gunners, and we had only two men per gun. As the bombing attack seemed to be developing, the Company Commander sent a message back for an artillery barrage. In a short space of time our shells started to come over, bursting in the valley in front of Montauban…
After this, the attack seemed to fizzle out. Several Boche snipers however, had managed to get into position in the diagonal trench leading from Montauban Alley to Montauban. They managed to cover all the exits from C Keep and they got a number of our walking wounded, who were trying to get back.
The shelling was fairly heavy throughout the day, but there were no more infantry attacks…”
That evening Leslie and his men were relieved and here at least undoubted success was achieved.