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Two weeks into the Battle of the Somme the British faced the obstacle of the Bazentin Ridge, a line of heavily fortified trenches and strongpoints which commanded an excellent view of all approaches. Along the ridge Bazentin Le Petit Wood stood to the west, Delville Wood lay to the east and High Wood (above) dominated the centre.
This aerial reconnaissance photo, taken on 7 September 1916, looks north towards Martinpuich, with High Wood, indistinguishable as such in the crater-strewn wasteland, on the far right, just above the Imperial War Museum watermark. Please bear in mind that all images on this website are Copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark. The black & white photographs from the Imperial War Museum`s collection have been used courtesy of its `Share & Reuse` policy and are also subject to copyright restrictions.
On 14th July, 1916, the British attacked and among those tasked to take High Wood were the 9th Glasgow Highlanders. On the left, five miles of the German second line was captured, as was Bazentin Wood, while on the right the epic six-day struggle for Delville Wood began.
In the centre High Wood was captured apart from a small corner but the Germans soon counter-attacked and regained control. Fierce fighting continued for two months until the wood was finally taken during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette when tanks were used for the first time.
Hardly a splintered tree stump was left above ground and it is estimated that the remains of around 8000 soldiers, British and German, still lie there today.
The shell holes have long since filled with soil or water and the woods have recovered but due to the vast amount of unexploded ordnance access is not permitted.
When the British Fourth Army, with divisions from XV Corps, made the initial attack on High Wood on 14 July, the wood was abandoned by the Germans, however, delays meant that the British did not attempt to occupy it until 19:00 hrs as they were wary that the then German-held village of Longueval threatened their flank.
The British advanced and two battalions managed to occupy and hold the southern half of the wood, despite the arrival of German reserve units which counter-attacked several times.
A squadron from each of the 7th Dragoon Guards and the 20th Deccan Horse of the 2nd Indian Cavalry Division, had been ordered forward but progress was slow across the trenches and devastated ground.
The 20th Deccan Horse made the only cavalry charge of the Battle of the Somme, galloping in against a German infantry Regiment concealed in crops east of the wood. As the attackers made last minute preparations, the crew of an aircraft of 3 Squadron RFC saw the cavalry and strafed the enemy several times while his observer did a sketch of the German dispositions. This was dropped on the cavalry before the aircraft, by this time riddled by ground fire and low on fuel and ammunition, was forced to retire. British machine-gunners suppressed any threat from Longueval and as the horses increased speed any German field artillery brought to bear was unable to take aim at such a fast-moving target. About 100 Germans were killed or taken prisoner in the cornfields. Together with the 7th Dragoon Guards, eight cavalrymen were killed, about 100 were wounded and 130 horses were killed or wounded.
The cavalry secured a line from Longueval to the southern corner of High Wood and remained there until the early morning of 15 July when they began to withdraw. Alarmist German reports announced that British cavalry had broken through between Longueval and Pozières on a grand scale and were advancing beyond High Wood. When this information reached German Army HQ, General Fritz von Below, the German 2nd Army commander, put four reserve divisions on standby for a counterattack, but the truth quickly emerged and the troops were stood down. The image below, taken from the edge of High Wood, shows the ground over which the Decan Horse and 7th Dragoon Guards made their charge.
Above left: Scottish troops in the mine crater in High Wood. The charge was sprung immediately prior to the attack made by the 1st Division on 3rd September 1916, a phase known as the Battle of Guillemont (3-6 September). The image alongside, shows preparations being made to bring out a German 5.9 gun captured in High Wood on September 15th during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette (15-22 September).
This cairn commemorates the attack made by the 9th (Glasgow) Highlanders Battalion (Highland) Light Infantry which took place on 15th July. The 192 stones incorporated in the memorial were collected near to the Culloden Battlefield and represent the total number of soldiers who fell. The cairn, topped by a Glasgow paving stone, reaches 5`7" which was the minimum recruiting height for the battalion. The inscription in Gaelic reads, `Just here, Children of the Gael went down shoulder to shoulder on 15 July 1916.`
The Highland Light Infantry Regiment was formed on 1 July 1881 when the 71st (Highland) Light Infantry, the 74th (Highland) Regiment of Foot, two battalions of the 1st Royal Lanarkshire Militia and several volunteer battalions of infantry from the same county amalgamated as the city regiment of Glasgow.
The HLI (apart from the Glasgow Highlanders Territorial Battalion) was the only Highland regiment to wear trews (tartan trousers) as standard, rather than kilts. This came about because the 74th had spent its first fifteen years in India where the kilt was considered too hot and heavy. Despite numerous requests over the years to have it reinstated it was not finally restored until 1947.
In the First and Second World Wars the regiment`s numbers swelled considerably. No less than twenty-six battalions fought in the Great War along with the additional garrison and reserve units that were formed to swell the ranks and replace the vast numbers lost in action. The HLI served not only on the Western Front but also in Gallipoli, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia and in 1919, Archangel in Russia. The IWM image shows Ben Tillett (trade unionist and founding member of the Labour Party) with some kilted men of the 9th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, near Fricourt, Autumn, 1916.
The Cameron Highlanders Memorial stands on the edge of High Wood. Its inscription reads `In Memory of the Officers, N.C.O`s and Men of the 1st battalion Cameron Highlanders who Fell in Action near this place in September 1916, and throughout the War of 1914-1918.` The scene below shows an intelligence officer questioning a wounded German prisoner on a stretcher near Contalmaison in July 1916. The stretcher-bearer is a serviceman of the Cameron Highlanders and the soldier on the officer's left belongs to the Cheshire Regiment.
The above memorial honours the 47th (London) Division: `To the Glorious Memory of the Gallant Officers, NCOs & Men of the 47th (London) Division who Lost their Lives in the capture of High Wood. Sep. 15 1916`. The image on the right above shows troops of the 17th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment (Poplar & Stepney Rifles), 47th (London) Division, crossing a muddy area in the Ancre Valley during the Somme Offensive in October 1916. The shell-blasted terrain is reminiscent of High Wood. The following gallery shows Lord Mayor of London, Colonel Sir Charles Wakefield, addressing and inspecting troops of the 47th Division, in France, mid-June 1916. Many of these men were to die on the Somme.
High Wood was fiercely fought over until cleared by 47th (London) Division on 15 September 1916 and although it was lost during the German advance of April 1918, the wood was retaken the following August. The original London Cemetery at High Wood was begun when 47 men of the 47th Division were buried in a large shell hole during the period 18 -21 September 1916. Other burials were added later, mainly of officers and men of the same division who had died on 15 September 1916, and by the time the Armistice was declared the cemetery contained 101 graves.
The cemetery was then greatly enlarged when remains were brought in from the surrounding battlefields, but the original battlefield cemetery is preserved intact within the larger cemetery, now known as the London Cemetery and Extension. This, the third largest cemetery on the Somme, is one of five CWGC cemeteries in the immediate vicinity of Longueval which together hold more than 15,000 graves. The London Cemetery and Extension contains 3,873 First World War burials, 3,114 of them unidentified.
After the end of the Second World War, this cemetery was used again in 1946 by the Army Graves Service for the reburial of Second World War casualties recovered from various temporary burial grounds, French military cemeteries, small communal cemeteries, churchyards and isolated graves, where permanent maintenance was not possible. These graves are in one central plot at the extreme end of the cemetery, behind the Cross of Sacrifice. Second World War burials number 165. The original London Cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, but the site was completely re-modelled after the Second World War by Austin Blomfield.
A short distance to the southeast of High Wood lies Delville Wood, another strongly defended German-held position. The South African Brigade, attached to the 9th (Scottish) Division were given the task of capturing the wood after the 9th (Scottish) took nearby Longueval village.
At dawn on 15 July, the same day as the HLI made their attack on High Wood, the South Africans attacked. By nightfall four of their regiments had been committed and despite a further five days of bitter, often hand-to-hand fighting the Germans were not fully evicted until 25 August.
More information on the capture of Delville Wood can be found here. Above: During the Battle of Bazentin Ridge, men of the 8th Battalion, Black Watch take their rum issue. The photograph was taken in the Carnoy Valley soon after the 26th Infantry Brigade, 9th (Scottish) Division, returned from heavy fighting in the village of Longeuval, 14 - 19 July.
Troops holding Delville Wood named the trench lines after well-known British streets and the large number of Scots seemed to have had an influence. Rides through the wood now have stone blocks (above) to mark the names of the main trenches. The large obelisk on the left marks the location of the South African HQ during the battle.
In July 2002, this statue was unveiled at Longueval to represent the the Pipers of the various regiments who fought in the Great War. The village was chosen as following its capture by the 9th (Scottish) Division many pipers from numerous regiments would have marched through it on their way to the front line.
Left: During the Battle of Bazentin Ridge: A piper leads four men of the 26th Brigade, 9th (Scottish) Division as they return from the trenches after the attack on Longueval, Montauban, on 14 July 1916.
The image on the right below shows the Black Watch marching back along the Fricourt-Albert road headed by their pipers in August 1916.
The other image was taken during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. Troops of the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division march back along the Albert-Amiens road to rest headed by their pipers after the taking of Martinpuich on 15 September 1916. The wee dog at the head of the formation appears to be enjoying the spectacle.
Below: This memorial, to the northeast of Longueval, marks the area from which the New Zealand Division advanced at the start of the battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916, in what was Phase 4 of the Somme Offensive. This was the division`s first major engagement on the Western Front. Together with men of the 14th and 41st Divisions, the New Zealanders entered and captured Flers which lay 1.5 miles away. The New Zealand Division fought for 23 consecutive days, advanced over 2 miles and captured 5 miles of enemy front-line trenches, suffering around 7,000 casualties in the process.
This memorial was unveiled in October 1922 by Sir Francis Bell, the Leader of the Legislative Council in New Zealand.
Across the road, about 650 metres away is Caterpillar Valley Cemetery which also contains the memorial to the New Zealand Missing on the Somme. This cemetery contains 5,569 Commonwealth graves, almost 70% of which are unidentified. Included are 125 New Zealand graves, dotted throughout the cemetery and recognisable by their silver fern insignia.
The memorial to the missing bears the names of the 1,205 New Zealander soldiers whose bodies were never found or identified after the battles of 1916.
The remains of an unknown New Zealand soldier were exhumed from this cemetery for reburial at the National War Memorial in Wellington, New Zealand. He is the New Zealand Unknown Soldier, representing all those men who came `From the uttermost ends of the earth` to fight in the First World War. An aerial view of Longueval after many months of intense shelling is shown above.
The wooden cross pictured below was erected close to the notorious German-held strongpoint known as Y Ravine near Beaumont-Hamel to honour the Officers, NCOs and Men of the 51st (Highland) Division who fell at High Wood in July 1916. The location of the cross now lies within the boundary of the Newfoundland Memorial Park.