This is a story about distances and journeys. It starts with a journey that covered thousands of miles on a ground-breaking football tour. Then there is the distance over which the news travelled to inspire the formation of a new football team. It is also a story that is now at a distance of 100 years and ends with journeys that took three men across the fields of northern France and the bloodiest day in Britain's military history, and brought two of them together to within a distance of just a few feet.
Distance between Goodison Park and Buenos Aries — 6908 miles South-Southwest
In late March 1909 the board of Everton Football Club received an invitation from the FA to take a team to South America to play exhibition games along with Spurs. It was felt that the presence of two professional clubs from the UK would help the development of football in an area where interest was growing rapidly. In the days before air travel the tour would last nine weeks, with fixtures in both Argentina and Uruguay. The FA offered first class travel and accommodation for a team and two directors; Everton accepted the invitation.
Everton finished a distant second to Newcastle in the First Division a few weeks later while Spurs were runners up in the Second. An Everton squad of 13 was chosen and Edward Bainbridge and his fellow director Alfred Wade were asked to lead the expedition. Bainbridge was the administrator and sent reports of the trip back to the local papers while it is likely that Wade looked after the football side with long serving trainer Jack Elliot. Wade was a former player from the earliest days of St Domingo and the amateur Everton FC, having played in their first fixture on Stanley Park. His family connection went back even further, as his father had laid the foundation stone for the Methodist chapel that gave birth to the club.
There was a last-minute hitch with a request from the South American organisers to downgrade the travel and accommodation for the players to 2nd class, but the directors decided the tour should go ahead, although the players were not consulted.
The Everton party left Lime Street on 13th May and travelled via London to Southampton, however the Tottenham party missed the train at Waterloo. The Royal Mail steamer Araguaya left on the 14th and the Spurs squad eventually caught up with the ship at sea after chartering a tug, no doubt suffering serious ribbing from the Evertonians. The journey was punctuated with stops at Cherbourg, Vigo in Spain, Lisbon, Madeira, the Cape Verde islands, Recife and Rio de Janiero, arriving in Buenos Aries on 6th June.
Within hours of stepping ashore, Everton drew 2-2 with Tottenham in a game watched by 10,000 spectators including the Argentine President, who was introduced to the teams at half-time. Four days later Everton beat Alumni of Buenos Aries 4-0, a game notable for a Bert Freeman hat-trick and that the opposition included five men named Brown and one called Browne. The Browns were descendants of James Brown, a Scottish settler in the 19th century. In a curious twist, one of their descendants, José Luis Brown would play centre-half in Argentina's World Cup winning side in Mexico in 1986, scoring the opening goal of the final.
Everton then crossed the estuary of the River Plate to Montevideo to play a Uruguayan League eleven on the 13th; the below par 2-1 win was put down to a large meal eaten before kick-off. Everton returned to Buenos Aries to beat Tottenham 4-0 on the 19th with Bert Freeman again scoring a hat-trick. The following day, Everton completed their fixtures with an easy 4-1 win against an Argentinian League eleven, before heading home on the 25th. By the time they returned to Liverpool they had been away for 10 weeks and covered well over 14,000 miles.
Distance between Buenos Aries, Argentina and Valparaiso, Chile — 768 miles East
The details of Everton's pioneering tour progress were reported by the papers in Liverpool and fed an avid interest among Merseyside supporters; the news also spread across South America. It is surely no coincidence that, when a group of mainly British expatriate teenagers founded a football club in Chile's capital Valparaiso on South America's Pacific coast, they called themselves Everton. The date of their foundation was 24th June 1909, the day before the end of the triumphant tour over on the Atlantic seaboard.
The team for the first match was Arthur Foxley in goal, Percy Holmes and Frank Boundy as the full backs, Alberto González, Hugh Boundy and Carlos González as the half backs and J Escobar, A Aravena, David Foxley, V Estay and Malcolm Fraser as the forwards. Frank Boundy was the first president of the club and David Foxley was honourary chairman.
The left winger that day, Malcolm Goulding Fraser had travelled a long way for a teenager. He was born in Watertown, New York State on 19th June 1896 to an American mother and British father. He moved to Chile with his family as a youngster and was a member of the Everton team until returning to Europe to study in Switzerland and Edinburgh.
However, if there was a competition for the most travelled team member, it might have been between the Boundy brothers. Their father Frank was Cornish, coming from Kenwyn in Truro, and his work as an engineer for the Liverpool based firm of Balfour, Wiliamson & Co took him to Chile with his family. Frank junior was born on 11th November 1894, either in Cornwall or in Valparaiso, for the 1901 census has them back in Kenwyn but states that Frank and his mother and brother were born in Chile but were British subjects. So it would seem that the Boundy family would have made the long journey to and from Chile on more than one occasion.
Distance between Goodison Park and Jarrow – 124 miles North-Northeast
In the October following the triumphant tour of South America the Everton board authorised Edward Bainbridge and secretary Will Cuff to travel to Newcastle to watch, and if impressed, sign a promising right winger called O'Dougherty who played for Willington Athletic. The minutes of the board a week after the scouting trip reported that, at the 11th hour the player, now described as Dougherty, had turned down Everton and joined Fulham. Perhaps their offer was more lucrative, or the bright lights of the capital were more of a draw then as now. It may be that Frank Docherty objected to Everton's officials getting his surname wrong; it is a theme that runs through his story.
He was born in 1888 in Jarrow and grew up on the Tyne in a large family of Irish heritage; the parish registers, kept in Latin, have three different spellings of Docherty among his six siblings. He is likely to have followed his elder brothers into work in the shipyards but made a name for himself in local junior football, playing in more than one cup-winning side. He was with Fulham for two years following his move in October 1909 but did not make a first team appearance; he was forced to retire due to injury in October 1910. He returned home to Jarrow and, when the 1911 census was taken in the April, he was working with his brothers in the shipyard; his two younger brothers aged 16 and 14 are described as a rivet heater and a rivet catcher. The elder boy would heat a large iron rivet on a portable forge before throwing it with tongs to his younger brother who would catch it in an insulated glove and push it into the hole between two plates. The rivet would then be hammered down, possibly by the elder brothers. It must have been a hard life for the Docherty boys.
In a strange postscript, Edward Bainbridge was voted off the Everton board in 1913; perhaps he kept getting people's names wrong. He went on to become vice-chairman of another club but didn't have far to go, the other club was Liverpool.
Saturday, 1st July 1916 — Journey's End
Six years after Everton's ground-breaking tour to South America had inspired a group of Anglo-Chilean teenagers, and a young right winger from Jarrow had chosen Fulham over Everton, the world was a very different place. Two of the Chilean Everton's team and the Geordie whose name seemed so difficult to spell found themselves on the rolling chalk farmland of Picardie in France.
Malcolm Fraser was studying in Edinburgh when the First World War broke out; he applied for a commission in "a Scottish regiment" and joined the 3rd Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) on 14th August 1915 at Nigg, just north of Inverness. This was the reserve battalion of the regiment whose two regular army units were both at the front.
Malcolm Fraser's medal records show that he arrived in France to join the 2nd Battalion of the Cameronians on 27th May 1916. He joined D Company under the command of Captain James Jack. Jack was a pre-war regular who had been one of the first to arrive in France in August 1914. He had fought at Ypres in October 1914 and became seriously ill during the winter that followed. His recuperation probably saved his life as most of his fellow officers that survived 1914 were killed the following year. Throughout the war, James Jack kept an illegal diary which provides a vivid record of the war, in particular, 1st July 1916. Reading between the lines in his mention of Malcolm, it appears that Jack came to like and value his well-travelled young subordinate.
When war broke out, Frank Boundy, Malcolm's fellow founder of the Everton club in Chile, was working as a clerk for the same firm as his father, the Liverpool shipping company, Balfour, Williamson & Co in Valparaiso. He gave his notice and sailed back to the UK on the SS Orduna, leaving on the 29th August. He arrived in Liverpool on 30th September having rounded Cape Horn on the way back, enlisting in the Scots Guards on the 3rd October. He applied for a commission on 25th January 1915, stating on his application form a preference for a Liverpool unit. He was appointed a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1/9th King's Liverpool, one of the territorial battalions of the regiment. By 1st July 1916, he was an acting lieutenant and had won the Military Cross at Loos the previous November. He was now with the 17th King's Liverpool, the first Liverpool Pals, but was seconded to the brigade trench mortar battery.
Frank Docherty probably arrived in France with the 25th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers in January 1916. The 25th were the second of five Tyneside Irish battalions raised in late 1914 and early 1915. The Scottish and Irish communities had responded to a call to arms by the Mayor of Newcastle with a race to join up, with the Scots just pipping the Irish to the first full battalion, but the Scots only managed four in the end.
Distance between Ovillers/La Boisselle and Verdun — 135 miles East-Southeast
The timing of why Frank Boundy, Frank Docherty and Malcolm Fraser waited for the whistle to blow on that July Saturday was because of events at Verdun.
In the aftermath of the defeat by Germany in 1871, France had lost Alsace and eastern Lorraine as part of the humiliating peace terms, and Verdun became a border town. The shortest route to Paris crossed the river Meuse in the town and, from the hills on the right bank of the river, Germany was visible on the eastern horizon. The opening moves of the war in the autumn of 1914 had seen the town nearly captured by the Germans, leaving it in an awkward salient with its railway communications cut and only a single road into the town. Verdun was protected by forts on the high ground but these had been stripped of many of their guns during 1915 and its defences had been neglected.
When they reviewed their strategy at the end of 1915 the German high command decided that the French army remained the main threat; they did not think much of the British. They were conscious of the huge losses France had suffered in 1915 and conceived a plan to draw the French army into defending the Verdun salient which would be surrounded on two sides by their heavy guns. Its forts would be destroyed by huge German siege howitzers and the French army would be bled white trying to hold the town.
At much the same time, the Allies agreed on a strategy of coordinated summer offensives by Britain, France, Italy and Russia. The British and French would attack where their lines met near the River Somme with over 60 divisions, two-thirds of which would be French.
On 21st February 1916, the Germans began their bombardment of Verdun and, in the days following, came close to taking the town; Douaumont –- its key fort — fell in farcical circumstances on the 26th. French reserves and artillery were rushed to the town and the defence entrusted to General Phillipe Pétain, an artillery specialist. The defences held and, along the single road into the town, thousands of trucks driving bumper to bumper, day and night, brought the shells needed to hold the Germans at bay. Alongside the road, French engineers pushed a whole new railway into the town.
The battle settled into a terrible contest of attrition in a small area of hills and ravines above Verdun in which the Germans started to lose as many men as the French. Such was the power of the German artillery that the French had to rotate divisions in and out before they were ground down in what became known as the Mill on the Meuse. French soldiers could go through the mill more than once without ever seeing a German. Almost three quarters of the French army served at Verdun and the planned 40 divisions earmarked for the great Somme offensive shrank to just eight.
The British became the senior partner in what they called “the big push”, and as winter gave way to spring and the bloodletting at Verdun continued, the French pressed them to bring forward their attack. While aware that their new armies were not ready, the British had to agree; the date of the attack would be 28th June.
The British attack area was shaped like an irregular letter L. The east-facing distance was 11 miles and the north-facing part 5 miles, joining with the French at Maricourt, just north of the River Somme. With the irregularities, the distance was over 17 miles. The French sector was mainly south of the marshy river valley and faced east, running for over 10 miles.
Splitting the British area in two was a long straight Roman road running East-Northast from Albert to Bapaume. This was would be the axis of the attack and Bapaume the objective on the first day. The British then hoped to swing north and east, rolling up the German lines and restoring a war of movement which would lead to the Germans being ejected from Northern France.
North of the Albert Baupaume Road — The Distance between Confidence and Over-confidence – imperceptible
It is the job of a commander to instil confidence in his men. But, when the line between confidence and over-confidence is crossed, the result is rarely positive. The massive expansion of the British Army, from the six divisions that crossed the Channel in late August 1916 to 65 divisions less than two years later, stretched organisation and leadership to breaking point. The almost complete loss of the regular army in the first six months of the war, and with it the trained officers, left the British Expeditionary Force with few experienced leaders. They were replaced with hastily trained young men, political appointees and retired regulars, referred to at the time as “dug outs”. At the top the expansion meant a lot of generals promoted at least one and often more levels above their competence. Lord Kitchener's new armies were fit, enthusiastic and committed; but their leadership was with a few exceptions poor.
The successive failures of the British army during 1915 were blamed on the shortage of shells, and it brought down the government. A huge expansion of production overseen by David Lloyd-George meant that more shells began to arrive in the spring of 1916. The battle of the Somme really started on 24th June when the bombardment of the German lines began. It was planned for five days, but was extended to seven due to bad weather; 1st July would be the big day.
The bombardment looked and sounded stupendous and gave the attacking troops and their commanders confidence. One senior officer said “Not even a rat could survive in that”; another made a pre-battle speech saying: "When you go over the top, you can slope arms, light up your pipes and cigarettes, and march all the way to Pozières before meeting any live Germans." They had seen nothing like it.
Unfortunately, the Germans had. They had experienced the French autumn offensives the previous year when the artillery bombardments had been as prolonged and even heavier. They had adapted and widened their defences and, learning from the hated rats, had burrowed deep into the chalk to create underground shelters; one at St Pierre-Divion was like a small village.
The British bombardment may have looked impressive but it had serious flaws. The frontage to be attacked was too long for the number of guns, and the fire plan, which targeted both the German first and second trench systems made this worse. The number of heavy, high trajectory howitzers capable of damaging the German bunkers and the concrete and steel machine gun posts was insufficient, and the British, unlike the French, did not target the German artillery enough. The guns concentrated on cutting the deep belts of German barbed wire, but tried to do so with shrapnel shells exploding above the wire and pelting them with lead balls, with at best mixed results.
Even with a vastly increased supply of shells, the rapid expansion of munitions production and the import of shells from abroad had resulted in serious quality control problems. From 24th June to 1st July the artillery fired 1.73 million shells, but it is estimated that between a quarter and a third failed to explode; they are still turning up in the fields 100 years later.
All of these problems were exacerbated by the inexperience of many of the artillery officers and gunners. Hard though they worked during those seven days, the results were patchy. Worse still, there was a fear that casualties might be caused by British shells dropping short, so some divisions planned to move forward only after the barrage had moved on to the German second line. The experiences of 1915 had shown that attacking troops often ran out of ammunition and the all-important hand grenades, so many (but not all) of the troops carried loads of up to 60 or 70lbs, including entrenching tools, empty sandbags and extra water. Some carrying parties lugged even more. Providing the German wire was cut and their machine guns silenced, it would just be a question of walking over and occupying their lines. Any doubts were concealed or ignored; "It would be alright on the night" seems to have been the prevailing attitude for many of the commanders.
It was not all like this, however, as we shall see.
Distance that phone messages could be intercepted underground by the German Moritz apparatus — over half a mile
The Germans called the almost constant shelling Trommelfeuer: drum fire. As they sat hidden in their bunkers with fetid air and constant noise, some went mad; the wait for the attack must have been almost unbearable. When would the Englanders come? The answer came on the evening of the 30th June when someone at 4th Army headquarters phoned the British front line near La Boisselle; the message was “Good luck for tomorrow”. This was picked up by the Germans deep below their front lines with their Moritz listening system. This detected the tiny electrical current that leaked from the buried British field telephone lines and amplified the result so that the messages could be heard though headphones. For the Germans, as much as the British, the wait was nearly over.
Distance between Private Frank Docherty and 2nd Lt Malcolm Fraser near La Boisselle at 7 am on 1st July 1916 — a few hundred yards.
Frank Docherty and Malcolm Fraser were in support lines behind a low rolling ridge, out of sight of the Germans. The Albert to Baupaume road crossed the ridge and, after dropping down the other side, ran up a spur past the village of La Boisselle which separated two dry valleys. South of the village was Sausage valley, so named for a sausage shaped German observation balloon that had been tethered at the top end. The northern valley was inevitably called Mash. The British front line ran in front of the low ridge along the western point of the village where 18 months of mining had left a crater field called the Glory Hole; it was here that the German listening post was set up. The Germans had fortified the village and their lines ran back up the side of Mash valley and round the top end towards the village of Ovillers. From being very close together, the two front lines diverged so that several hundred yards of no-man's land existed before narrowing as they crossed the spur forming the northern edge of Mash valley in front of Ovillers.
Frank Docherty and Malcolm Fraser were part of different divisions; the Tyneside Scottish and Irish battalions were part of the 34th Division whose objectives were La Boisselle and Contalmaison beyond it, while the 2nd Cameronians were with the 8th Division. Their objectives were Ovillers and Pozieres on the plateau beyond. Previous experience had shown that opportunities had been lost because support troops had been unable to get forward down narrow communication trenches quickly enough. The 34th Division decided on a simple solution; the support battalions would leave the support trenches behind the ridge at the same time as the front line troops went over the top, bypassing the communication trenches completely. They would sweep down the hill and either side of La Boisselle up the Sausage and Mash valleys and head for Contalmaison after the front line troops had secured the German positions in the village. Frank Docherty's 2nd Tyneside Irish would advance on the north side of the Roman road and head up Mash valley.
The 8th Division took a slightly different approach to the attack along the spur towards Ovillers. The front-line troops would advance on the village and be replaced in the front line by the support troops including Malcolm Fraser and the 2nd Cameronians. Once the village was secured, they would then leave the front line and advance on distant Pozieres.
It remained to be seen if they would be able to put their rifles over their shoulders and light their cigarettes and pipes...
The reverse slope of the ridge from Malcolm Fraser's position looking towards where Frank Docherty was
South of the Albert — Baupaume Road: Distance from Frank Docherty and Malcolm Boundy to Lt Frank Boundy's position at Maricourt — just over 5 miles East-Southeast.
Five miles away, Lt Frank Boundy would have been busy with the final mortar bombardment on the German lines defending the village of Montauban-en-Picardie. This was the point where the Liverpool and Manchester Pals would attack, and also where the British line met the French. Here, the lines ran east-west rather than north-south as the front swung round to parallel the lazy bends of the River Somme. The ground from the British lines sloped gently up to the village and was defended by three sets of German trenches. Despite this, the German defences were less formidable than those north of the Albert-to-Bapaume road, but still posed a serious obstacle. There was no such thing as a weak German line.
In contrast to the over-confidence north of the Albert-to-Bapaume road on this sector, the commanders of 30th Division, to which Frank belonged, and the 18th (Eastern) Division did not underestimate the Germans or overestimate the effect of the British shelling. They put in place a whole series of measures to give their inexperienced troops a fighting chance. They tried to train their troops behind the lines by rehearsing the planned attacks, and communicated the objectives to all of the troops and not just the officers. Their engineers also created a series of shallow tunnels called Russian saps under no-man's land. These would allow troops to get as close to the German lines as possible under cover; they were also extended laterally at the ends and charged with explosive to create ready-made pits for the trench mortar crews to use. The engineers also pushed long pipes filled with explosives out though no man's land ready to be exploded to create instant communication trenches. The wire cutting was also more sophisticated than many other parts of the attack area with a mixture of shrapnel and high explosive mortar shells used, an exercise that Frank Boundy would have been heavily involved in.
The attack area of the Liverpool Pals from the point where the British and French front lines met
The Optimum Distance for Troops to Follow a Creeping Barrage — 50 yards or less
The attack in this area also had the huge advantage of proximity to the French artillery. Their command stressed the importance of shelling the German artillery and they had a larger proportion of heavy guns. A whole battery of these was loaned to the British and fired on the German lines from across the River Somme. The 18th Division also had a singularly competent Artillery officer called Alan Brooke, an Ulsterman who had grown up in the South of France. He cooperated closely with his French counterparts and for the 1st July introduced a creeping barrage which the French artillery had developed. This was a wall of shellfire which moved at the speed of the advancing troops who followed it close behind, often 50 yards or less. The barrage would keep the Germans under cover until the attacking troops were almost upon them. Brooke would finish the war as the British Army's senior gunner, and in WW2 would rise be the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Britain's senior soldier.
Kick-Off At Zero
The morning of 1st July dawned warm and hazy with the promise of a fine, hot day. As the time ticked round to 7:30 am, Malcolm Fraser, Frank Docherty and Frank Boundy were three men among the thousands on both sides, waiting. At 7:20, as the shelling of the German lines grew to a crescendo, an early morning wakeup call was provided to the defenders when a mine was blown four miles north of Frank and Malcolm on the Hawthorn ridge.
The local command had wanted to blow the mine some hours before zero hour but in a disastrous compromise they were allowed to detonate the charge under the German strongpoint just ten minutes early. Troops went forward to try and seize the rim of the crater but failed, worse still the barrage was lifted early so as not to hit them. The shock wave of the explosion travelling though the ground would have been felt by the Germans in their bunkers for miles around and probably only served to warn them of the time of the attack.
There was plenty of evidence that the Germans knew the attack was imminent regardless of the mine explosion; the start of the final hurricane bombardment by the British artillery was the clue. The German artillery, hidden and silent until now, started to pound the British front and support trenches with high explosive. Captain James Jack at Ovillers records that they were heavily shelled from 6:25 as soon as the final bombardment commenced. He tried to keep spirits up by nonchalantly flicking the earth off his uniform with a handkerchief.
At 7:28, eighteen other mines were fired; the two largest either side of La Boisselle. 40,000 lbs of explosive was fired in Mash valley under a feature called the Y Sap, and 60,000 lbs went off just above Sausage Valley beyond a British communication trench called Lochnagar Street. Frank Docherty and Malcolm Fraser would first have felt the shock waves as they waited in the support trenches, then heard the explosions even above the din of the bombardment, then watched as the two columns of smoke that rose above the low ridge in front of them. Flying above the front lines two miles to the north, a 19-year-old pilot from Birkenhead described the scene:
At Boisselle the earth heaved and flashed, a tremendous and magnificent column rose up in the sky. There was an ear-splitting roar drowning all the guns, flinging the machine sideways in the repercussing air. The earth column rose higher and higher to almost 4,000 feet). There it hung, or seemed to hang, for a moment in the air, like the silhouette of some great cypress tree, then fell away in a widening cone of dust and debris. A moment later came the second mine. Again the roar, the upflung machine, the strange gaunt silhouette invading the sky. Then the dust cleared and we saw the two white eyes of the craters. The barrage had lifted to the second-line trenches, the infantry were over the top, the attack had begun.
The Lochnagar crater from the air (Imperial War Museum collection)
The writer was Cecil Lewis who, after the war, would help found the BBC. Such was the power of the explosions, his flimsy aircraft was hit by lumps of mud.
With the smoke still rising above La Boisselle, at 7:30 the whistles blew and Frank Docherty and the 2nd Tyneside Irish left their trenches and walked up to the brow of the hill. One of the official photographers of “the Big Push” captured the moment just before they reached the brow, some with rifles over their shoulders. Frank Docherty may have been among them.
The Tyneside Irish advancing over the brow (Imperial War Museum Collection)
The Effective Range of a German Maxim Machine Gun – 2,200 yards
The German Maxim machine gun could kill at 2,200 yards or a mile and a quarter. It was deadly to 3,900 yards if fired in an arc. The limiting factor was the eyesight of the gunner, so the Germans fitted many of their guns with telescopic sights. Its rate of fire was 500-600 rounds per minute and the limit to its fire was the fatigue of the men feeding it with ammunition and how quickly the water in the cooling jacket around the barrel would boil.
The Germans had studied and perfected the operation of the machine gun; the Kaiser had been given the first one by a regiment of which he was honourary colonel. The regiment was British, but then he was Queen Victoria's favourite grandson. The German army quickly worked out that firing directly at a line of soldiers was less efficient than firing in enfilade; that is across their line of approach. The gunner did not have to move the gun as much, and tiny variations in the propellant in each bullet would mean they each travelled different distances, creating what was known as the beaten area. The machine guns were positioned to be mutually supporting, with interlocking fields of fire and to use the contours of the landscape to best effect. On the Somme, most of the German machine guns fired along no-man's land and not across it. And there were plenty of them; the bombardment may have damaged some of the machine-gun positions but the guns themselves were mostly deep underground, and the gunners had time to get them up and into action.
Deadly was the curtain of shellfire which now began to fall on no-man's land. High explosive was mixed with shrapnel which took its name from its 19th century British inventor, Major General Henry Shrapnel. A shrapnel shell consisted of a charge at the base, on top of which were packed lead balls, topped with a time fuse. This was set to detonate the charge above attacking troops, showering them with supersonic lead.
The first waves in front of Frank Docherty left the front-line trenches and were scythed down with very few reaching the German wire, let alone their front-line trenches. The German machine-gunners were trained to fire at thigh level, so 'scythe' is a grimly descriptive term; the attacking waves were cut down like corn.
As the Tyneside Irish came over the top of the hills either side of the old Roman road, they attracted machine-gun fire from the German first- and second-line defences, some firing over the village of La Boisselle from where the Pozieres Memorial now stands. Shells also targeted the khaki lines as they struggled to cover the few hundred yards to their own front line. Their discipline was exemplary with the lines closing up as the machine guns and shells cut swathes through them, but they paid a terrible price even before reaching no-man's land. The survivors came up against the remnants of the first waves trying to take cover in shell holes and the front-line trenches. The 2nd and 3rd Tyneside Irish were stopped first along the road, but some of their comrades to their right reached no-man's land, and some small parties even managed to head up Sausage valley towards Contalmaison. They may have got as far as 4,000 yards into German territory but were never seen again.
By 8 am, it is likely that Frank Docherty was dead or mortally wounded, lying on the hillside a few hundred yards from where Malcolm Fraser now waited his turn to go over the brow.
Mash Valley and La Boisselle today looking towards the ridge over which Frank Docherty advanced
Distance up Hodder Street and St Vincent Street Communication trenches to the front line — 900 yards
Just after 8 am, Captain James Jack led the 2nd Cameronians forward to take their place in the front lines, still under heavy German shellfire. In front of them, the 2nd battalion of the West Yorks got out of the support trenches and advanced over the crest to the front line as divisional orders had prescribed. They met a similar hail of machine-gun fire as the Tyneside Irish half-an-hour before, losing heavily before they reached the relative safety of the forward trenches. James Jack ignored divisional orders and took his men up the communication trenches which were clogged with dead and wounded men from the first wave. Some were un-wounded and fleeing; Jack simply asked one which train he was rushing for, and positioned a sergeant to collect the panic stricken soldiers lest they affect his own men.
Around 8:30, the 2nd Cameronians reached the front line to find chaos. Much of the morning was spent trying to sort out the various units and evacuate the wounded, while trying to work out what was happening in the German trenches opposite. A message from the German lines arrived by runner and Jack was about to take a run at the parapet and sound his hunting horn to take Malcolm Fraser and the rest of his two companies forward when it was countermanded by orders from division. They were to stay where they were until the situation was clearer.
Mash Valley and the Y Sap crater taken on 4th July 1916 from near the Cameronians' position on the 1st
(Imperial War Museum Collection)
The consequences of acting on inaccurate information was hideously illustrated north of the waiting Cameronians. Not far from the Hawthorn ridge crater which had been blown prematurely a few hours before, four battalions were ordered forward when German signal flares from the front line were mistakenly thought to be British. One of the battalions was from Newfoundland, then a country independent of Canada. The Newfoundlanders had joined up with the same enthusiasm as the Pals battalions in Liverpool; a society beauty in the capital St John's had even promised to marry the first man to win the VC.
The front-line trenches were full of dead and wounded men from the first two waves of attack so, when the Newfoundlanders went forward at 9:15, they and the three other battalions had to leave the support trenches and cross open ground. No artillery support was given because it was thought the German front line was in British hands. They were the only men above ground for miles and attracted fire from all around, in some cases over a mile away in the German second lines. The carnage that followed took place between the second line and the gaps in the British wire; only a few brave men made it to the German lines. There was a depression in front of the German wire which was dead ground out of sight and the survivors had to stay there all day until nightfall before crawling back.
When roll call was taken next day, only 68 men answered the call; 324 were killed, or missing and presumed dead, and 386 were wounded. The three other battalions also suffered serious losses. Terrible though the Newfoundlanders losses were, there was one other battalion further south which suffered even more.
Distance between the Front lines at Ovillers at 3:30 pm — just over 500 yards.
By mid-afternoon, 8th Division headquarters, still unable to find out what was going on in the German lines, was considering a new assault. Jack's own words tell the story eloquently:
At 3:30, I again reported the presence of hostile machine guns about La Boisselle and Ovillers. But in consequence of the proposed new offensive, I was instructed to send out a patrol to discover if the German line opposite our right company was held, and by whom. Accordingly, as soon as arrangements could be made 2nd Lieut Fraser with one sergeant and five privates from ‘D' Company stole forward. This was the smallest number of men we could employ, compatible with carrying out the order; they were told to go very carefully, returning at once if seriously fired on.
We were thrilled to watch, about 5 pm, British infantry groups swarming ahead south of La Boisselle, and hoped that their advance would make Fraser's mission less dangerous. But later the patrol reported back in our trenches having been heavily fired at; Fraser was missing, believed killed, to my profound sorrow.
The proposed attack was cancelled.
Jack said by this time he was beyond caring if the attack went ahead or not, such had been the strain of the day. The 2nd Cameronians were withdrawn that night; Jack's words again sum up the feeling:
I quitted the field on which such brilliant success had been expected that fine summer morning, leaving behind, dead and maimed, in the vast garden of scarlet wild poppies some 90% of the officers and about 60% of the other ranks of the twelve infantry battalions of my division. Exhausted and depressed, I stumbled into our bivouac at Millencourt at 6 o'clock on the morning of the 2nd.
Exhausted and depressed James Jack may have been, but a comparison of the casualties from the 2nd Cameronians and the 2nd West Yorks is testament to his experienced, common-sense leadership on that terrible day. The Cameronians lost one officer and one other rank killed and five officers and sixty other ranks wounded, with four other ranks missing. Almost all were from B and D companies which Jack had led into the front line. The West Yorks losses were sixteen officers and 490 other ranks.
Nothing is certain but the death of the one 2nd Cameronians officer leading his last patrol could well have saved hundreds of lives. 2nd Lieutenant Malcolm Fraser has no known grave but, if he did, a fitting inscription would be one that occurs on another WW1 grave, that of Noel Chavasse, VC & Bar:
Greater love hath no man but this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
The Distance Between Success and Failure — Fine Margins
In contrast to the disasters all along the line north of the Albert-Bapaume road, south of it there were pockets of relative success, although the cost was still high. However, it was not uniform, and one division shone north of the old Roman road.
At Thiepval, two miles north of where Frank Docherty and Malcolm Fraser had started the day, the 36th (Ulster) division staged one of the great feats of the 1st July. They left their trenches before the bombardment lifted and got into the German front line before the defenders could react. Buoyed up by their success, they swept up the hill and captured much of the keystone of the whole German line in the area, the Schwaben redoubt. However, the failure on their right at the village of Thiepval itself and on their left in the valley of the River Ancre meant that their attack created a narrow salient in the German lines.
The German machine guns in Thiepval now began firing along no-man's land, the lane that ran down the hill began to fill with dead and wounded as reinforcements were forced back. One German machine gun in the village fired 18,000 rounds. As the day wore on, the Ulstermen found themselves pressed on three sides by German counter-attacks and when their ammunition and grenades began to run out, they were forced to withdraw. The division suffered nearly 5,000 casualties, including close to 2,000 killed.
South of the road near La Boisselle, the Grimsby Chums captured and held the crater created by the mine in the German front line opposite the end of Lochnagar Street. They held it through the day despite being shelled by both sides. From here round to the Liverpool and Manchester Pals at Montauban, the attacking troops were getting into the German front lines and holding on, but often at great cost.
Near Mametz, the 8th and 9th Devonshires were attacking towards nearby Fricourt. Their front line trench had a kink where it skirted a small chalk quarry in a clump of trees called Mansel Copse. To the right of the copse was the Mametz communal cemetery where the Germans had built a machine gun post under the cemetery crucifix. This was sited to fire along no-man's land across the Devonshires' line of attack. Captain Duncan Martin of the 9th Devonshires had analysed the maps of the front line and built a model in plasticine. He correctly predicted that, unless the machine gun under the crucifix was knocked out, it would cause severe casualties as they emerged from beyond Mansel Copse. He was even able to show where the casualties would fall. At 7:30, Martin was proved right; the machine gun was undamaged and he was one of the men killed crossing its line of fire. Despite this, the Devonshires pushed on to their objective.
After the front line had moved on, the bodies of the Devonshires were placed in the trench alongside the quarry in Mansel Copse; among them Captain Duncan Martin, the war poet Noel Hodgson, and a private called Awbery Trebilcock. He is as far as we know no relation to the Everton hero of 1966. When the bodies were covered over, the burial party placed a wooden sign by the graves; on it was written “The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still.” Today the message is carved in stone at the entrance to the cemetery; it is one of the most poignant places on the battlefield.
However, south of the Roman road, there were still disasters. At Fricourt, the 10th West Yorks suffered 710 casualties, some in no-man's land and others who rushed over the German front line only to be caught between there and the German second position when the defenders emerged from their bunkers. The battalion suffered nearly 400 killed, an appalling ratio. Their losses were the worst of any battalion on 1st July.
The Distance Between Machine Gun Wood and Montauban-en-Picardie — 2,200 yards
Although he was almost certainly too busy, if Frank Boundy had scanned the horizon to his left with his binoculars at 7:30, he would have seen some extraordinary sights. He may just have been able to see footballs being kicked towards the German front line. These were the idea of Captain Billie Nevill of the 8th East Surreys who provided the footballs for his men to kick across no-man's land. One of the balls was painted with the words “The Great European Cup Tie Final — East Surreys v Bavarians — Kick off at zero.” The East Surreys successfully took the German front line and two of the balls survived. Sadly Captain Nevill did not, being shot in the throat as he reached the German parapet, a few days before his 22nd birthday.
Beyond the East Surreys and the footballs, Frank might have seen a cloud of black smoke rising from the German lines; these were from two Livens flame projectors near Mametz. The two massive flame throwers were constructed in shallow tunnels close to the German lines and at 7:30 their nozzles were pushed up through the surface by hydraulic pressure and then compressed gas pushed oil out of the nozzle which was ignited and sprayed the German front lines.
Looking from near Frank Boundy's position near Maricourt towards the East Surreys and the footballs
A few seconds after 7:30, Frank Boundy would have felt and then heard the mine at Kasino Point explode; this was a matter of seconds late due to an engineer's watch being slow, and injured some of the attackers, but they pressed on and captured the German front line.
Frank Boundy had his hands full supporting the 1st and 4th Liverpool Pals' battalions attack towards the German lines on the right of Montauban. Here, there were no mines or flame projectors but the German front lines had been shelled sufficiently for the attackers to fight their way through the three lines of German trenches. The 2nd Liverpool Pals and the 4th Manchester Pals attacked on their left directly towards the village and were equally successful in seizing the whole of the German front line system. The 1st and 2nd Manchester Pals supported by the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers then passed through and advanced on Montauban village itself. They were briefly held up by the flanking fire of a single German machine gun but, because it wasn't supported by other German guns, they managed to silence it.
At 9:30, the French on the right of the Liverpool Pals attacked and caught the Germans completely by surprise. Over-confidence was not confined to the British as the Germans believed that the French had lost so many men at Verdun that they were incapable of mounting an attack elsewhere. They achieved their first day objectives all along the ten-mile front with relatively light casualties. Where the lines met, the French and British commanders went forward arm-in-arm.
By 10:30, the British attacking waves had captured the village of Montauban and the German trench called Montauban Alley beyond it. They also had two field guns and a lot of prisoners. By 12:30 two companies of the 4th Liverpool Pals had captured the brickworks just east of the village. Together, the Liverpool and Manchester Pals had achieved the biggest advance of the whole day. Frank Boundy probably moved forward with the advance and must have been a tired but happy man.
For a short time on the afternoon of 1st July, an opportunity existed to exploit the Liverpool and Manchester Pals' success and unhinge the German defences to the northwest. There was a rare opportunity for cavalry, who were still the only really mobile force capable of the task. However, in the confusion, the opportunity was lost.
Distance between the names of Frank Docherty and Malcolm Fraser on the Thiepval Memorial — a matter of feet.
The full scale of the disaster on the 1st July 1916 took a long time to emerge, such was the confusion at the end of the day. But slowly, as the roll calls were taken and the information collated, cards started to arrive at addresses all over the country.
On 17th July, the Liverpool Daily Post reported Malcolm Fraser's death:
The death in action on July 1 of Second-Lieutenant Malcolm G Fraser, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), is officially reported. He was the son of the late Mr Harry Fraser, Valparaiso, and Mrs Mary Lee Fraser, Edinburgh, and nephew of the Rev Norman Fraser of Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church, Liverpool. His superior officer wrote “His men were devoted to him, and followed him splendidly during the battle in which we were engaged. About 5 o'clock in the afternoon he was sent with an experienced sergeant on a most important reconnaissance.
Of all the patrols that I have sent out during nearly two years' experience here, his was quite the most dangerous, and we knew it. I gave him what advice I could, and he left the trench bravely determined to do his best and he did, and succeeded. Two hours later he got back information which enabled the General Staff to make a decision on which hundreds of lives depended, but it cost him his life. We brought him in that night. He had been shot by a sniper, and killed almost instantly.”
The letter was written by James Jack. It follows his diary entry but differs in mentioning that the body was brought in. It is likely that this was a white lie to reassure his mother, as was the statement that he was killed almost instantly. James Jack was following the convention for officers' letters to the families of dead men which avoided the terrible truth. Malcolm Fraser was just past his twentieth birthday.
On 7th August 1916, the Newcastle Journal carried a similar short news item:
Mrs Docherty, of 22, Palmer's Terrace, Willington Quay, has received official intimation that her son, Lance-Corporal Frank Docherty, has been missing since July 1. Lance Corporal Docherty was a well-known footballer, and he had been connected with the Jarrow, Willington Athletic, Everton and Fulham clubs. A brother, Sergt Wm Docherty, was killed in January last.
The same day, the Liverpool Echo reported the story:
Many will recall Frank Docherty, the outside right, who was transferred from Wellington Athletic to Goodison Park a few seasons ago. He also played for Fulham. His brother Sergeant Docherty, well known in Northern boxing circles, was killed some months ago.
Given what we know about Frank Docherty's decision to turn down Everton for Fulham, Everton fans reading the paragraph might have scratched their heads. Maybe someone in the Echo office remembered someone ‘in the know' telling them of a ‘done deal' six years before, hence the confusion. One thing is certain: in a country where so many dwellings had their curtains closed in mourning, the house on Palmer's Terrace had double reason for grief.
The official statistics for 1st July 1916 on the Somme record 57,470 casualties, of whom 19,240 were dead. Martin Middlebrook, author of the classic ‘First Day On The Somme' gave a figure of close to 21,000 dead when those who subsequently died of wounds are taken into account. He has analysed the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the whole of the four-and-a-half month battle and established that nearly 128,000 men are buried on the Somme or remembered on memorials to the Missing. Of these, over 60% have no known grave; half of them lie under headstones bearing the words ‘An Unknown Soldier of the Great War'; the rest of the missing are still in the fields. Frank Docherty and Malcolm Fraser are among them, although it is possible that due to the proximity of where they fell they may lie in Ovillers Military cemetery which sits on the ridge in front of the village. It is close to where Malcolm Fraser was killed and contains many unknown graves of the Tyneside Irish, identified by their metal shoulder badges.
Frank Docherty and Malcolm Fraser were finally given a symbolic resting place with the completion of the huge Thiepval Memorial in 1932. They are two among 72,191 names of British and South African soldiers, the vast majority of whom were killed in 1916. Their names are on opposite sides of the central arch, a matter of feet apart. The arches follow the points of the compass and their names are picked out by the evening sun as it sets.
And Frank Docherty's name is still misspelt.
The Distance Between Then and Now — 100 years
That summer Saturday on the Somme is now a century ago. The men who survived are now all gone and it has moved from memory to history. In that time, the events have been interpreted, reinterpreted and in a lot of cases mythologised. The memory of that day is not helped by lazy journalism of a kind that readers of transfer rumours would recognise. The most common misconception is that 60,000 men died on 1st July 1916, and a million fell in the battle as a whole. This figure has even been given as a million British dead. This arises from a misunderstanding of the word 'casualties'. It is taken to mean 'dead' when it actually means 'dead, wounded and prisoners'. The numbers are terrible enough without misinterpretation.
A commonly-held view is that the stupid generals in their chateaux deliberately sent the ordinary soldiers to walk towards the German machine guns in some kind of bizarre sacrifice. I hope we have shown that this is a gross oversimplification. The command on the Somme was in many cases appallingly poor and the troops suffered as a result. But the casualties were not all ordinary privates as some believe; the most deadly rank to hold on the 1st day of the Somme was captain. Indeed, a significant factor in the disasters that befell the British was that the Germans targeted the officers resulting in attacks losing direction. And senior officers were not all in chateaux; two Brigadier-Generals were killed and among the battalion commanders, almost all lieutenant-colonels, there were 55 casualties including 31 dead. Some of them weren't very good but they were not cowards.
Equally, the "lions led by donkeys" school of history ignore the opposition. The raw British army were up against a German army that was at the peak of its power, dug in on the defensive in superb positions that they had been fortifying for nearly two years. To use a footballing analogy, it was like getting together a group of enthusiastic lads who had never played football before, bringing a coach out of retirement to train them in the tactics of 50 years ago, and then not giving them a ball until late in their training. Then you put them up against Bayern Munich, away.
And yet, at the southern end of the British lines, the battle went to plan and the bravery and determination of the attacking troops, backed up by good tactics and good artillery support, achieved all that was asked of them. Further north, the troops were just as brave and just as determined, but faced with stronger positions and hampered by poor tactics and artillery fire, the result was tragedy.
Among the twenty thousand individual tragedies were the names of Frank Docherty and Malcolm Fraser, while Frank Boundy lived to fight another day. In telling their story, we hope we have honoured their memory with the truth – not the myths. We all owe them that.
EFC Heritage Society
This piece is dedicated to the late Tony Heslop; a great Evertonian, a gentle man and a gentleman. I valued his wise counsel, quiet humour and friendly encouragement. He is much missed.
John Shearon of the Ruleteros Society
The Everton Collection
JP Levinge — for being able to reach parts of the internet other researchers cannot reach
The EFC Heritage Society — particularly Dr David France, Peter Lupson, Billy Smith and Paul Wharton
Morgan Phillips and Alex White at Fulham
Ken Lees for his help with the King's Liverpool information.
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