Military history

Chapter Seven

The final hours

10/11 July

Late into the evening of the 10 July the 10th South Wales Borderers had continued their efforts to secure the Hammerhead. All but the northern part had been captured and scouts sent out reported that a trench ran along the eastern edge with machine gun posts at its most northerly point. Four attempts were made to capture the position. Firstly by bombing up the trench where the assaulting bombers were driven back. A second attempt was made in waves formation through the wood but they too suffered heavily. Two more bombing attacks from different positions were also repulsed before darkness fell and the troops dug in for the night near the second crossride. In the dark a patrol was sent out into the open east of the wood and located another trench that ran from Flat Iron Copse into the Hammerhead just where the machine guns were situated. A strong picquet was put over the trench to cut off the Germans in the wood and at dawn Lieutenant-Colonel Harvey gave orders for a simultaneous attack on both flanks. By 5.30am the attack had succeeded and the Hammerhead was in the possession of the Welsh. Twenty four prisoners were taken and several field guns had been captured.

At 5.00am on 11 July Brigadier-General Evans, who had instigated the curtailment of the disastrous attack on the Hammerhead on 7 July arrived in the wood to take over command. He brought with him the remainder of 115 Brigade.

After the relief Evans reorganised the battalions. Along the railway line on the left were the 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and continuing along the railway on the right the 16th Welsh. In the centre were the 17th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and on their right the 11th South Wales Borderers. Finally as we have seen on the extreme right in the Hammerhead were the 10th South Wales Borderers.

Evans thought the wood to had been captured and was not expecting to have to make another attack. He immediately set out reconnoitring the wood with the assistance of Brigadier-General Marden from whom he was taking over command. Also accompanying him was Lieutenant-Colonel J R Gaussen commanding the 11th South Wales Borderers and a party of bayonet men. Gaussen recalled later that they lost their way and blundered on to the northern edge of the wood but were not fired on. A little later they were talking in whispers when the British artillery opened up on the northern part of the wood. A shrapnel shell burst overhead and killed eight out of the eleven bayonet men and wounded Major Veal who was Brigade-Major of 115 Brigade in the leg.


Map 21. The position morning of 11 July.

Evans who had been wounded in the arm sent for Captain Griffith who after giving assistance to Evans on 7 July had been made acting Staff-Captain to 115 Brigade as the original officer had become a casualty. Captain Griffith’s journey through the wood was a memorable one and is vividly recorded in his book Up to Mametz.

‘Men of my battalion were lying dead on the ground in great profusion… There were more corpses than men but there were worse sights than corpses. Limbs and mutilated trunks, here and there a detached head forming splashes of red against the green leaves… Blue sky above a band of green trees and a ploughed graveyard in which living men moved in and out of sight: three men digging a trench thigh deep in the red soil, digging their own graves, as it chanced, for a bursting shell turned their shelter into a tomb.


A Brigadier General consults with other officers in Mametz Wood.

Captain Griffith was to take over the duties of Brigade-Major. He arrived and was greeted by the signals officer Lieutenant Taylor. Brigadier-General Evans continued his reconnaissance and strengthened and consolidated the front line. He reported to Major-General Watts at 9.10am explaining that the whole position was still somewhat unstable. Watt’s reply received at 11.40am by Evans was uncompromising. He was told to make an attack. Watts told him that the Germans had no strong force and that a determined attack with only a few men should clear the wood that day.

At about the same time a staff officer arrived and gave orders to make an attack on the north and west edges of the wood. When the staff officer had finished Evans told him he was in no position to make an attack and he did not intend to do so until in his judgement it was appropriate. In that event he was going to make a surprise attack with the bayonet and he did not require an artillery bombardment to announce to the Germans that the attack was imminent.


Sergeant J Richards, 15th Battalion Welsh Regiment, was wounded in Mametz Wood. While doing some wiring in the: wood his right hand was around a tree and a sniper put five bullets into it. It was subsequently amputated, and a hook replaced the hand. On leaving the army he worked in the mines where an accident caused his hook to seriously injure his leg, which then had to be amputated at Cardiff Hospital. The ward where he recovered was, coincidently, the Mametz Memorial Ward.

Messages were being sent by runners and Evans also asked the staff officer on his return to tell 38th Divisional Headquarters that he did not want a barrage prior to the attack which he fixed for 3.00pm. This information must have got through to Divisional Headquarters as the diary records that at ‘12.50pm orders were issued by the G.O.C. 115 Brigade for an attack at 3.00pm’. Thereafter things did not go according to plan for Evans.

Prior to the attack all units sent out patrols to locate the German position. The western side of the wood was reported clear but the Germans had re-occupied the northern edge and set up several machine gun positions. At 2.45pm just fifteen minutes before the attack a massive British artillery barrage opened up on the northern edge of the wood. Many shells fell short and the awaiting troops took many casualties. Evans immediately postponed the attack and ordered it to proceed only on the cessation of the bombardment. With all telephone communication still lost it was impossible to stop the barrage except by runners. Evans was dismayed and ordered Griffith to send a message. Three runners set off by different routes to try and get to Queen’s Nullah. The Germans responded with their own counter-barrage and the wood was a storm of shells. Over half an hour later this had still not relented and Lieutenant Taylor despatched a further three runners. At 3.30pm the British barrage lifted.

Some of the battalions were badly shaken the 16th Welsh in particular, reported many casualties and the advance was disrupted, especially on the left. The Adjutant, Captain Harris, was carried back, dying, by Doctor Pettigrew so that he should not be lost, to whom he gave his wedding ring to pass on in turn to Major Angus who was to return it to his wife whom he had married the previous October.

The 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers pushed out patrols at the cessation of the barrage but the major part of the battalion held the line and did not advance until 6.00pm. Likewise on their right the 16th Welsh made no significant advance because of the weakness in numbers of the 17th Royal Welsh Fusiliers on their right who had attempted to get forward in the face of heavy machine gun fire on the right. The 11th South Wales Borderers also moved forward but found the going through the undergrowth and damaged trees desperately hard. Only two companies made the advance another two being left in the Hammerhead.


Captain L A P Harris knew he was dying and sent his wedding ring back to his wife, Mary, who remarried within six months.


A British patrol sets off into the tangled undergrowth.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gaussen commanding the 11th South Wales Borderers acting on his own initiative amalgamated detachments of the 10th South Wales Borderers to reinforce his own battalion. Reporting later, he realised the commanding officer of that battalion had become a casualty and also that Brigadier-General Evans, short of staff officers, had sustained a further wound this time to the head and was weakened through loss of blood. A Company of the 11th South Wales Borderers fought its way forward through the machine gun fire and in hand to hand combat and eventually reached the north eastern corner of the wood. B Company made slower progress but later arrived at the northern edge of the wood on the left of A Company and consolidated to within about seventy five yards of Middle Alley which was still occupied by Germans. It was through this trench that the Germans had been able to reinforce the wood overnight and during the morning of the 11 July with a thousand men.

Meanwhile on the extreme left the 10th Welsh who were in support at the first objective were quickly brought forward and advanced at 4.00pm ahead of the 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and the 16th Welsh who were still dug in. At 6.00pm these two battalions also moved forward. At precisely the same time the Germans unleashed a barrage of 5.9 howitzer shells on the attacking battalions.

The 10th Welsh, however, progressed to within forty yards of the western edge of the wood. They were joined by the 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and elements of the 15th Welsh also in support who found the ground ahead of them abandoned by the Germans. One platoon of the 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers was then able to penetrate into the north western portion of the wood. Additional machine guns had been brought in by Captain Job leading 115 Brigade Machine Gun Company. During the advance Captain Job assisted by Second-Lieutenant Southon captured some German troops during which action one of the prisoners was shot by Captain Job before the situation was under control.

In the centre the 16th Welsh were also able to advance with remnants of the 17th Royal Welsh Fusiliers but could not get to the northern edge of the wood owing to a flammenwerfer attack and they consolidated about sixty yards inside the perimeter where they attempted to hold on. This left the 11th South Wales Borderers who, it will be remembered, had successfully captured the north western part of the wood open to attack on their left flank. No reinforcements were forthcoming and there was no alternative but to withdraw and Lieutenant-Colonel Gaussen reluctantly retired with his exhausted men under the heavy bombardment which caused more casualties than had been suffered in hand to hand fighting during the advance.


The Hardwidge brothers. Tom, the eldest, was hit by a sniper’s bullet and when Henry went to his assistance he was also hit whilst giving his brother a drink of water. They died in each others arms and are buried together in Flat Iron Copse Cemetery.


German flammenwerfer in action.


At 12.00 midday the 14th Royal Welsh Fusiliers had been ordered back into the wood to the first objective where they waited until 4.00pm when further orders came to move forward to support the 11th South Wales Borderers. With only Captain Glynn Jones and Sergeant Thompson leading them, they soon got lost and were eventually fired on from the left. Glynn Jones decided to dig in and later some men of the 13th Royal Welsh Fusiliers arrived led by Captain Hardwick. Also additional units of the 14th Royal Welsh Fusiliers arrived under Captain Wheldon. The only contact made with the 11th South Wales Borderers was on the right when some of their men were seen retiring but from whom they were unable to get any information. The position they held, according to the battalion diary, was fifty yards from the edge of the wood, but exactly which edge of the wood is not stated and their exact position not known. At 10.00pm Captain Glynn Jones reported to Brigadier-General Evans and was ordered to retire to the position of the first objective where they remained until midnight when the battalion was relieved.

Meanwhile the 16th Welsh and the 17th Royal Welsh Fusiliers in the centre could not hold on and at 9.20pm they fell back to their original position.

At 10.50pm the troops on the left in the north western portion of the wood were subjected to heavy artillery and trench mortar fire. The men were compelled to fall back to the line of the railway from which they had attacked at 3.30pm. Thereby all troops had retired to the positions from which they had attacked. Among the casualties was Captain Job killed by a shell by the railway line at the south western corner of the wood. In one final gesture of defiance at 11.20pm the Germans opened fire with rifles and machine guns on the Welshmen, probably in an attempt to locate their positions. There was no response from the exhausted troops and the Germans contented themselves with shelling the wood throughout the night.

Earlier that day the 21st Division had been ordered to take over. It was not possible, however, to make the relief during the daylight although Lewis gun crews of the 12th Northumberland Fusiliers set out from Meaulte as early as midday and later that afternoon entered Mametz Wood by the central ride. The officer and sergeant in charge halted the men on the ride and went forward themselves to locate 115 Brigade. Among the men was Corporal Fellows of C Company in charge of two Lewis guns. While waiting he and Private Templeton decided to go and look for some souvenirs, for which there was a lucrative trade behind the lines, especially such items as German watches and Iron Crosses and other medals.

While they were away four shells fell in the vicinity of the waiting troops and they hurriedly returned to find over half the complement of fifty men dead or wounded. They sent a wounded man back for stretcher bearers and picking up two Lewis guns went forward to find the officer and sergeant. They stumbled over the numerous dead in the wood and seeing no-one arrived at the northern perimeter of the wood about fifty yards to the left of the central ride. Calling out they moved to the right and eventually found three men of the 10th South Wales Borderers in a shell hole with a Lewis gun in the north-east part of the wood. The 10th South Wales Borderers had already retired but left the gun to cover and wait for relief. Two of the Welshmen left taking their gun with them but the third was wounded and dying. He was duly buried by the two Northumberland Fusiliers in the shell hole in which he had been lying who were surprised to find that the South Wales Borderer was in fact a Scotsman. At dusk the Germans shelled the front of the wood and the two men moved to a shell hole about thirty yards in front of the wood. As daylight approached sounds of digging came from the wood behind them as their colleagues arrived. They could not move back, however, as the Germans had two snipers in Bazentin Wood in front of them pinning them down.

The relief by the 21st Division took most of the night of the 11/12 July. One of the last battalions to move out was the 10th South Wales Borderers whose commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Harvey recorded his relief in the Hammerhead by the 7th Green Howards at 7.00am.

As darkness fell Lieutenant Taylor the signals officer had sought the whereabouts of Captain Griffith.

’I want to have a word with you’ he said drawing me away ‘I’ve got bad news for you …’

‘Whats happened to my young brother … is he hit?‘

‘You know the last message you sent to try to stop the barrage …well he was one of the runners that took it. He hasn’t come back …He got the message through all right and on the way back through the barrage he was hit. His mate was wounded by the shell that killed your brother… he told another runner to tell us’

‘My God, … he’s lying out there now Taylor!’

‘No old man … He’s gone’

‘Yes … Yes he’s gone’

‘I’m sorry …I had to send him you know’

‘Yes of course …you had to. I can’t leave this place … I suppose there’s no doubt about him being killed?’

‘None… he’s out of it now.’

So I had sent him to his death bearing a message from my own hand in an endeavour to save other mens’ brothers. Night came I could not sleep. At two in the morning we set out to join the battalion and as the dawn was breaking over Bazentin I turned towards the green shape of Mametz Wood and shuddered in a farewell to one, to many. I had not even buried him nor was his grave ever found.’

As we know Private David Jones too survived the battle to tell of his experiences but not before he had been wounded.

Unable to walk he had dragged himself back through the wood holding on at all costs, as all soldiers were very strictly commanded, to his rifle.

‘It’s difficult with the weight of the rifle. Leave it – under the oak. Leave it for a salvage-bloke. Slung so, it swings its full weight. With you going blindly on all paws, it slews its whole length, to hang at your bowed neck like the mariner’s white oblation. You drag past the four bright stones at the turn of Wood Support. It is not to be broken on the brown stone under the gracious tree. It is not to be hidden under your failing body. Slung so, it troubles your painful crawling like a fugitive’s irons. At the gate of the wood you try a last adjustment but slung so, it’s an impediment, it’s of detriment to your hopes, you had best be rid of it – the sagging webbing and all and what’s left of your two fifty – but it were wise to hold on to your mask. You’re clumsy in your feebleness, you implicate your tin-hat rim with the slack sling of it. Let it lie for the dews to rust it, or ought you to decently cover the working parts. Its dark barrel, where you leave it under the oak, reflects the solemn star that rises urgently from Cliff Trench. It’s a beautiful doll for us it’s the Last Reputable Arm. But leave it – under the oak. Leave it for a Cook’s tourist to the Devastated Areas and crawl as far as you can and wait for the bearers.’

The total number of casualties sustained by the 38th Welsh Division were:


Other Ranks













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