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Wednesday 31 March 2010

Somme trip:Tue 23rd March - part 1

Started of the day with a visit to Gommecourt  and Rossignol Wood, followed by a long walk around High Wood. Ended the day with a visit to Montauban. Ammunition and trenches seemed to be the focus of the day so that's what this blog entry will concentrate on. Obviously right from the start I will emphasise NEVER touch any unexploded shells etc - they are still dangerous and this blog accepts no liability if you go bang!
The shear number of shells found today will mean a two-part blog for Tue March 23rd ( a Brucie bonus for you!)
The first photo shows a German granatwerfer, literally a grenade  thrower along with a British Webley pistol round. Second photo shows three German 'stick grenades'. Third photo shows a couple of shells with the forth photo a close up of one of the fuses. Fifth photo shows shell and collapsing dugout in Rossignol wood. Sixth photo shows part of the remaining German trenches in Gommecourt Park. Last two photos are of a large dump of shells near High wood. More tomorrow. 

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Somme Trip: Mon 22nd March

A long day in the field today with glorious weather. Basically covered the Thiepval-Courcelette-Boom Ravine areas, but this post will concentrate on some of the more poignant items that still turn up in the fields. Today we found the remains of lots of metal strips that were used to mark the original wooden crosses in the 1920's before the more permanent grave stones were added. To date, we have over 20 names, most buried in Regina Trench Cemetery, but two are in Courcelette Cemetery. One can only guess these metal strips were just dumped when no longer needed. One name we have is Private William Edward Newson, 244, 24th Battalion Australian Infantry. He enlisted on 15/3/15 and served at Gallipolli, landing on 30/8/15 and being evacuated on 1/1/16. He landed in France on 27/3/16 and was killed in action during the bitter fighting for Pozieres on 29/7/16. His medals were sent to his mother, who died and were then kept by his sister. There would seem to have been some bad family blood as his elder brother (actually the 'correct' next of kin after his mother) also tried to claim them. The sister, Mrs I O'Donnell moved to Paddington, London.
In Boom Ravine we came across the bomb-disposal squad who blew up an 'unstable' shell. They also had several in the back of the van - quite how they decide which is stable and which is unstable is a mystery! It was all 'matter of fact' - one can only guess of the fuss that would be made in the UK!
Image No 1: metal grave tag of Pte W.E Newson, and his entry in the cemetery register
Image No 2: grave of Pte W.E Newson, Corcelette Cemetery
Image No 3: Pozieres, in the distance, from Corcelette Cemetery
Image No 4: View of Newfoundland Park which is on the other side of the Ancre Valley, from the dominating heights of the Thiepval ridge. Again the front line trenches show up as chalk marks in the bare fields.

Monday 29 March 2010

Somme trip: Sun 21st March

A walk today around  Serre, then over the Redan Ridge to Beaumont-Hamel in the morning. In in afternoon a walk around the area of Newfoundland Park.
Serre, a German Fortress village, was the northern limit  of the 1st July attack (a diversionary attack was made a little further north at Gommecourt). At Serre, the British had to attack up gently sloping ground towards the German line and most were annihilated within minutes by German machine guns which had not been dealt with during the preliminary barrage.
Beaumont-Hamel was another German position of incredible strength. The village itself sat in a hollow between the Hawthorn and Redan Ridges and was flanked by machine guns on both ridges. A huge mine was blown under the redoubt on Hawthorn ridge, but the British were unable to seize the crater, allowing the Germans to re-establish machine guns in the position. It is easy here to visualize the attack of the 1st Lancs. Fusiliers, 86th brigade, 29th Div. They had tunnelled from the British front line to occupy  a sunken road prior to the start of the attack on 1st July, had then to advance over an open field, then drop down a bank before advancing up a gentle slope towards the German front line. The battalion was cut to pieces in minutes of leaving the sunken lane.
Newfoundland Park is a memorial park to the Newfoundlanders. The 1st Newfounland Battalion, part of 88 Brigade (the reserve Brigade of 29th Div),  were ordered to attack despite the complete failure of the two main attacking brigades due to incorrect reports of troops fighting in the German reserve positions. The 29th Div history describes eyewitness accounts of the battalion advancing 'undaunted by a hail of machine gun fire' until only a hadfull of men were left (they suffered 90% casualties). Today the park is a preserved part of the battlefield (although actually from the 1918 lines). 
From the area of the park, good views across the Ancre Valley of Thiepval are to be had. In the bare fields, chalk marks can clearly be seen, actually the remnants of the chalk spoil from the deep German front line trenches and dugouts.
Image No 1: Unexploded shell, from approx approx German Front Line at Serre, overlooking British Front Line (the copses in the background)
Image No 2: Taken from German Front line, Beaumont Hamel. The cemetery is in no-mans land and the memorial and hedgerow in the background is the location of the sunken lane.
Image No 3: Remains of German Front Line, Beaumont-Hamel
Image No 4: 1st Lancs. Fus. attack, Beaumont-Hamel
Image No 5: Newfoundland Memorial Park
Image No 6: Newfoundland Memorial Park
Image No 7: Thiepval, across the Ancre Valley from vicinity of Newfoundland Park. The German Front line can be followed in the bare fields as chalk marks.

Somme trip:Sat 20 March

Well, I'm back! My trip actually started on Fri 19th, having to travel up to Birmingham to meet up with my brother with whom I've been visiting the First War battle fields for the last 25 yrs. This allowed a stop off on part of the Eastern Command Line, but I will post about that at the end of the series of blogs on the Somme trip. It will signal a return  to the original idea of this blog. 
So on the Sat drove down to the Somme via Aubers, Fromelles and Neuve Chapell. The British made attacks at both Aubers and Neuve Chapell in 1915 and a joint British/Australian attack was made at Fromelles in July 1916 as a diversion to prevent the Germans from moving reserves to the Somme battlefield. Originally only planned as an artillery diversion, through misunderstands, bad communication and planning it ended up as being an utterly disastrous and costly attack.
The land in the Aubers/Fromelles/N Chapell area is low lying and it was not possible to dig trenches or deep dugouts in the area. Defences were based on breastworks and fortified buildings. Today many remains of German concrete shelters can be seen, most being concrete encasing corrugated steel, a common design used by both sides. Some are however quite substantial. One German observation post was built inside an existing building as camouflage, the building long gone but the observation post still surviving! Adolf Hitler is said to have sheltered in one of the bunkers during his First War service.
Image No 1: typical concrete shelter built around corrugated steel 'elephant' iron
Image No 2: large German concrete shelter
Image No 3: German observation post built inside a house
Image No 4: Observation slit inside observation post
Image No 5: Another large German concrete shelter
Image No 6: Interior of Image No 5.
Image No 7: Shelter in which Hitler is said to have sheltered in.
Image No 8: Another shot of 'Hitler's bunker'.
Image No 9: Le Trou Aid Post Cemetery - one of the nicest set military cemeteries I've seen
Image No 10: Australian memorial at 'VC' corner with ruined German bunkers.

Monday 15 March 2010

Continued mapping at Westleton today. Had a good look at the second dugout with concrete roof, not sure if I did not look properly the first time but today got a good idea how it was constructed. Basically a 'L' shaped trench was dug, revetted with corrugated sheets and 2" poles which were windlassed. The 10" concrete roof was constructed on site with 6x1 wood shuttering (at least from the bottom) which is  clearly visible. Have attached some photos along with a Google sketchup cross-section. I had to limit the recording today as I am collecting data far faster than I can process. Hence took the opportunity to have a good stomp around and found yet more earthworks! Many hours of mapping to go yet!
Well at the end of the week off to the Somme for eight days. Hope to post some blogs on this trip even though its not within the remit of this project, so if you follow this blog, don't panic if you find yourself reading about WW1 in the next few posts.

Sunday 14 March 2010

Dunwich Common Revisited

I could not believe that Dunwich Common had been completely cleared of its WW2 remains so had another walk around today. Found some screw pickets and angle iron pickets that have been reused for game enclosures/tree planting in the past, and eventually stuck gold with a remaining 'destroyed' concrete structure with associated trenches/weapons-pits, similar to those at nearby Westleton. I had walked past these on at least three occasions so shows the value of revisiting sites and just to keep looking! Of note this time is that these works do coincide with a platoon locality (10th Cams, 15th Div). So is this location an existing platoon locality that was incorporated into the training works of Exercise Kruschen? As the destroyed concrete structure is identical to those at Westleton there is no doubt that this area was part of Kruschen. When I get round to completing the mapping of these works it will be interesting to see if the fields of fire from these 'igels' are all supporting each other.
I have now been going 'seriously' for one yr and the website has been going for 6 months (although only appearing on search engines for four months). I've corrected some obvious mistakes although others probably remain as I'm learning all the time! For this reason I've added a comments box on the Home Page of the website and would welcome any comments, positive or negative. Only hope it works, my IT skills are not that good!
Top: Screw Picket embedded in tree
Second Down: Screw Picket used in old game enclosure
Third Down: Trench, Dunwich Common
Bottom: Dugout with 'destroyed' concrete structure in background, Dunwich Common

Thursday 11 March 2010

Dunwich Part 3

Ended up after a good days walking in the churchyard at Dunwich where three Commonwealth War Graves are to be found - one of an unknown merchant seaman, one of a marine (H Booth) on HMS Watchful and a gunner (WPG Evans) of 107th Medium Regt, R.A.
A quick search on Google revealed the following details on HMS Watchful. It was built in 1935 on the order of E.W Longfeld of Great Yarmouth as a pleasure steamer and originally named Britt. It was taken over by the Admiralty on Sept 16th 1939 for war duties and apparently sailed to Dunkirk and back on three occasions saving 900 lives on the evacuation. It spent the rest of the war on anti-submarine and mine sweeping duties, based at Great Yarmouth. It was returned to its owners on Dec 12th 1945.
Details on WPG Evans are a bit confusing - the gravestone gives his Regt as 107th Medium Regt (part of  9th Army Group, Royal Artillery (AGRA)) while the details on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission  website give it as 107th (The South Notts Hussars) Regt (part of 4th AGRA). There is also a slight discrepancy between the register and gravestone on date of death. Wish I had the time to look further into this.
I am doing this blog and website because I enjoy looking into the whole subject, but we should never forget the grim reality of this period in history, or forget the sacrifice made by the armed services during this war.

Dunwich Coast Battery now on the website.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Dunwich Part 2

This post concentrates on Sandymount Covert. The top photo shows how this covert, on rising ground, would have dominated the low laying marshes. It perfectly demonstrates the principal of beach defence being a special case, with defended localities sited on forward slopes to maximise fields of fire and observation over the enemy. 1/7th Middlesex Regt had a Vickers machine gun section located in the area. Nearby at Dingle Great Hill was the location of 409 Coast Battery. This location formed a separate defended locality, sited between Dunwich and Walberswick and was to be defended by personnel from 409 Coast Battery. Later in the war a 'Diver' Battery was sited in this area ('Diver' being the V1 Rockets). Remains today at Sandymount Covert include the concrete bases and sewage system of the huts to accommodate personnel from the Diver Battery and also some weapons-pits. The weapons-pits could either relate to 1/7th Middlesex Regt Vickers mg section or perhaps dug by the personnel of 409 Coast Battery to defend this area. Most are crescent shaped and obviously dug to 'fire trench' dimensions as opposed to slit trenches. I have included a Google Sketchup reconstruction of the crescent shaped weapons-pit, assuming a corrugated steel sheet revetment with angle iron pickets. Angle iron pickets are certainly still present in at least two of the pits. A quick look  at the building of 409 Coast Battery showed it was boarded up (I think its a holiday home) and nobody about to ask for permission for a few photos, so I took the opportunity to grab a few which I will shortly post on the website. I only had time to map a few of the weapons-pits, so will have to return to map the rest along with the remains of the 'Diver' camp.
Top: Photo showing Sandymount Covert in the background dominating the low-lying marshes.
Second  down: crescent-shaped weapons-pit.
Third down: Angle Iron embedded in the trunk of a sycamore tree.
Bottom: Google sketchup of  one of the crescent-shaped weapons-pits.

Monday 8 March 2010

Dunwich Part 1

Sun 7th March - visited Dunwich area today. In the large (and free car park!) can be found some anti-tank cubes and a twin Vickers machine gun pillbox. The cubes are no longer in their original location and have been used to reinforce the rear of the shingle ridge, with fishing sheds/boat winches placed on top. At least 52 remain and they are approx 3 ft cubes. The pillbox, mostly hidden with corrugated sheet is a twin Vickers machine gun pillbox. One of the embrasures can be seen from the nearby field. More or less sheltered from the elements, some of the camouflage paint has remained around this embrasure. Remains of turf camouflage on the roof  can also be seen. The 1/7th Middlesex did have a Vickers machine gun section in the area during 1940/41 but the grid ref I have puts the guns a little to the north of the pillbox, but it could be that the grid ref is slightly out? The field of fire of the pillbox would have meant  a hail of fire in enfilade along the beach and fields to the north of Dunwich.
Top photo - anti-tank cubes.
Second down - twin Vickers machine gun pillbox.
Third and forth down - camouflage paint clearly visible around one of the embrasures.
Bottom - field of fire along the beach from the right hand embrasure.

Thursday 4 March 2010

Southwold Part 3

These photos show one of the remains of the Southwold battery -  the base of one of the Fighting Lights (or search light).
On the way home stopped of at Middleton to photograph this type 22 guarding the road bridge over the Minsmere River. The pillbox has a separate blast wall (with embrasure), metal paltes above each embrasure and is also flooded inside.