Welcome to this blog which is intended to accompany a website on how Suffolk was defended during the Second War. The blog will describe my trips out and about looking for the remains of the Second War defences while the Website will concentrate on putting these into context.

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Friday, 29 March 2013

Royal Naval Division - Battle of Ancre

On our recent Somme trip, we spent quite a bit of time walking the fields over which the RND attacked during Nov 13th - 14th 1916 during the Battle of the Ancre, so a post on this seems a good idea. The reason we spent so much time in the area is that it was the first time either of us could remember that the entire area of the RND attack to their first objective, the "Green Line" on Station Road and the slopes behind it, was walkable (i.e no fields in crop).

On 13th Nov the attack was launched while still dark and with a thick mist. The Division made gains on the "Yellow Line" (second objective) on both the right and left sides of it's front.  This was largely due to the initiative of the commanders on the ground, Colonel Freyberg (who won the VC for his actions) and Lt. Commander Gilliland. However in the centre, the attack was brought to a complete standstill by a Redoubt between the German first and second line of trenches, both the Hawke and Nelson Battalions being cut to pieces. It was not until the 15th, with fresh reinforcements and the use of tanks that the Redoubt was overcome and all final objectives (the "Red Line") secured. 

Above: Map showing the RND attack and the advance of Col Freyberg and Lt Commander Gilliand, to the first objective the "Green Line" then onto the second objective, the "Yellow Line". The Germand Redoubt holding up the advance in the centre is circled. Col Freyberg wanted to push on and secure Beaucourt but was ordered to stay on the "Yellow Line" due to the situation on his left flank. Beaucourt and the Redoubt were not secured until 15th Nov.

Above: The ground over which Col Freyberg advanced. In the bottom picture, Station Road lies in the valley bottom with the "Green Line" on the opposite slope.  Beaucourt is on the far horizon.

Above: Remains of a concrete post on the German Front Line. The Redoubt that caused all the problems was in the fields behind.

Fist image: The Circus - see map. The remains of dugouts can still be clearly sen in the bank.
Second image: Screw picket still in situ at The Circus, overlooking Station Road.
Third image: The valley in which Station road ran.
Forth image: Looking across the Ancre valley to the Thiepval Ridge.
Fifth image: Mills bomb in the field. Evidence of the German wire obstacle was also plenty with the remains of several screw pickets and much barbed wire. No evidence of the RND was found but we did find a Hampshire Regt shoulder title form an attack in Sept 1916. This area was attacked three times, on 1st July, during September and then in November 1916.

Of interest to me were some old newsletters of the Royal Naval Division Association which I forgot I had but found them again just before going on holiday. They record two trips to the battlefields by members of the Association in 1974 and 1975. The report of the 1974 trip is particularly interesting to read. The 1975 trip  may have been the last time many ever returned to the battlefields as the Association was wound up in 1982.

On 18th Sept 1974, 30 members of the Association, including Colonel Lord Freyberg set off from London for Beaucourt-sur-Ancre, 58 years after they were last there. As the newsletter records:

 "Could this, now very peaceful scene, really be also the devastated scene of those terrible, though triumphant conflicts.

'And I thought how long we lay there, and
watched across the wire,
While the guns roared round the valley, and
set the skies afire'

Yes, it was indeed.

We are at the Divisional Memorial, overlooking the verdant valley. We recall the Battles."

The party also visited the Thiepval Memorial and attended a Remembrance Service at the RND Memorial and a reception laid on by the Maire of Beaucourt, then visited the "beautifully kept and secluded Ancre Cemetery in which so many of our R.N.D. comrades rest".  Today, it is still beautifully kept and secluded.

Above: Top - the RND Memorial, Beaucourt.
Bottom - The "beautifully kept and secluded Ancre cemetery". It is situated more or less on the British Front Line of the Battle of the Ancre.

Another reception was held for the party in Albert and the battlefields of Gavrelle, where the RND fought in 1917, were also visited.

The last word to the Association:

"Here lies a generation of youth. The price of freedom".


  1. Hi,

    Great blog and pictures. Can i possibly get a copy of the Ancre battle map for a lecture on my course without the Anson and Hood lines of advance on it?? Also do you know the exact whereabouts of the Redoubt in the 1st and 2nd German lines??

  2. Hi Will
    If you click on the link underneath the main banner that should take you to my website where you can email me. I can then send you a photo of the map without annotations (it is the map in the RND Div history if you can get hold of a copy).