I have to admit I'm not a fan of the BBC's Antiques Road Show. When the old vase someone has been putting the umbrellas in for years turns out to be Ming dynasty and worth more than the house they say “It's part of the family; we couldn't bear to part with it”. I don't think so.
But one Antiques Roadshow episode was required viewing for me. A special edition was produced to mark 100 years since the outbreak of WW1; it was filmed in front of the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme at Thiepval in Picardy. One item in particular was very familiar to me, for I knew about it from a WW1 forum where I probably spend too much of my time. It was a simple wooden trunk belonging to a retired German airman called Egbert Sandrock; it was originally his grandfather Gottfried's and it had gone to war with him in 1914. Egbert is great storyteller and he had posted the story of the trunk and its contents as a series of episodes on the forum over a period of months, all in excellent English.
How Egbert came to be on Antiques Roadshow has an Everton connection, as the BBC discovered the story through local author and fellow blue Anthony Hogan. Ant included Egbert's story on his Liverpool and Merseyside Remembers website, which tells the stories of local people in the two World Wars. Ant wanted to put a human face on the losses suffered by Germany and the story of Gottfried Sandrock's trunk was perfect. Egbert and Ant were invited to Thiepval for the filming and the trunk and its contents became the final section in the programme.
Prior to Egbert's appearance the camera periodically panned to the stunning backdrop, the last and largest of the Memorials to the Missing of WW1, which was inaugurated in 1932. It has 72,245 names of British and South African men who were killed in the area between 1915 and March 20th 1918 who have no known grave. Of these 90% were killed between July and November 1916.
There are Everton connections with the Thiepval memorial too. The word Everton appears twice; for Sydney Everton, a Londoner who served with the Royal Fusiliers, and Archibald Everton, who served with the 1st King's Liverpool Regiment. Archie Everton left a wife called Ada, whose address was in Ladywood in Birmingham so he may not have had Merseyside roots. Then there is James Thomas, an Evertonian who grew up just around the corner from Goodison, the youngest of the Liverpool Pals to be killed aged just 15.
There are also the names of two former Everton players and one who nearly became one. Malcolm Fraser was a founder of the Everton club in Chile and was killed on 1st July 1916 near Ovillers. He is named under the 2nd Lieutenant section of the Cameronians. Frank Docherty was also killed on 1st July probably not far from Malcolm Fraser near La Boisselle. We now know he turned down Everton's offer of a contract to sign for Fulham; but I thought of him when the BBC cameras cut to the Memorial. The British Army spelled his name wrong, something which happened frequently with Frank; he is shown as Dockerty F among the many names of the fallen Northumberland Fusiliers privates.
The other Commonwealth nations have their own Memorials to the Missing, but only that of the New Zealanders is on the Somme battlefield, and here too there is an Everton connection.
One Everton name is on the side of the Memorial facing the BBC cameras, high up among the Lance Corporals of the Royal Fusiliers; it reads ROUSE L R MM. It wasn't visible but my eye was drawn to the panel. Like Frank Docherty the name is misspelt; it should be Roose. The story behind it is remarkable, but then so was the man.
This is the story of the forgotten, muddy end of the Somme on the parts of the battlefield that the coach parties rarely visit. Inevitably it is a very sad story, but one which needs telling.
Frank Docherty (Alex White, Fulham FC Historian) and Malcolm Fraser (John Shearon, the Ruleteros Society)
Lost in France
Leigh Roose was a Welsh international goalkeeper before the First World War who was a celebrity as much for his personal relationships as for his brilliantly eccentric goalkeeping; he has been described as the first celebrity footballer. He has been described as a cross between Peter Schmeichel, George Best and David Beckham; although given his Wales and Everton connections maybe Neville Southall should be included in the list. The comparison with Best is a good one, and George's classic quote, "Most of the money went on booze, birds and fast cars: the rest I just squandered" could apply to Leigh Roose. Maybe not the fast cars, but with Roose you never know.
However Best, Beckham, Schmeichel or Southall didn't tell the crowd jokes during matches, Big Nev didn't swing on the crossbar when the play was at the other end, and none of them won a medal for fighting off a flamethrower attack.
Leigh Richmond ‘Dick' Roose was born in Holt, a village on the Welsh/English border east of Wrexham on November 27th 1877. His mother died when he was two and he was brought up by his father, a Presbyterian minister. One of the many legends associated with Roose is that he played in a particularly violent game at school in Holt during which the future author H G Wells, then a struggling teacher had his kidney ruptured by Leigh Roose's brother Edward. He went to Aberystwyth University in 1895 and later studied medicine at King's College in London though he never qualified as a doctor. He began playing for Aberystwyth Town while at university and made a name for himself there before signing for Stoke.
He had two spells at Stoke over six seasons either side of 24 appearances for Everton in 1904-05. Despite the shortness of his spell at Goodison, the period was almost crowned with silverware. He replaced the out of form Billy Scott between the sticks on November 19th 1904 in a home game with Sunderland, but could not prevent a 0-1 defeat. Roose made a rare mistake for the goal and reportedly apologised to the crowd. His second match was away to Woolwich Arsenal and was played at the Manor Ground in Plumstead, which incidentally lays claim to having the first end to be nicknamed the Spion Kop. The game was abandoned after 76 minutes due to fog, although both sets of players were reportedly keen to play on. A 0-0 home draw with Derby County left Everton 9th but with Roose in goal Everton went on a run which took them to the top of the table. At the same time they had an FA Cup run which included a victory over Liverpool after a replay, but ended in disappointment as they lost in the semi-final to Aston Villa, again after a replay. They were top of the table until the last week of the season when Everton inexplicably agreed to play three away games in four days, including the rearranged game at Woolwich Arsenal the day after a fixture at Manchester City. Defeats in Manchester and South London meant that the final victory at Forest could only secure the runners up spot. Roose did not play in the last game however; he had an argument with Everton secretary Will Cuff over the rearranged Arsenal fixture and despite sending a letter of apology, never played for Everton again.
Roose returned to Stoke the following season but maintained what would now be called a bachelor pad in London, travelling to matches in the north by train. Yet another Roose legend is that he would arrive at the station on match days and have a horse drawn carriage waiting for him to take him to the ground, which would depart with star struck schoolboys running alongside. While with Stoke he missed the scheduled service and simply hired a private train at the station, the bill was blithely directed to the directors at the Victoria Ground. After leaving Stoke he had three and a half seasons with Sunderland, where he was suspended by the FA for an assault on one of the directors. After Sunderland he had short periods with Celtic, Huddersfield, Aston Villa and Woolwich Arsenal, not to mention 28 appearances for Wales between 1900 and 1911. This being Roose there are stories of what would now be described as wanabee wags hanging around his hotel while on international duty. He came second in a Daily Mail poll of the most eligible bachelors in London (the cricketer Jack Hobbs was first), but did win the vote for goalkeeper in a World XI. His relationship with the married music hall star Marie Lloyd has led to comparisons with Posh and Becks.
His behaviour certainly scandalised sections of the Edwardian sporting establishment as did his creative approach to his sporting 'expenses', Roose even caused the rules of Association football to be changed; the goalkeeper was allowed to carry the ball in hand out of his penalty area at the time and Roose was adept at running up field and starting attacks with long throws. He was a big man, standing over six feet and weighing 13 stone, which was important in an era when goalkeepers were not protected by referees as they are today. He was also adept at leaving his box to help his defence in what would today be called a sweeper/keeper role, but was then almost unheard of.
He returned to England in March 1915 in preparation for the Dardanelles campaign against Turkey and sailed for the eastern Mediterranean from Avonmouth in April. The medical evacuation route was from the Gallipoli peninsula to the offshore islands of Imbros and Lemnos and from there to Egypt. Roose made several round trips with the wounded. Alfred Corlett, the Everton born star of the Auckland, New Zealand Everton team was evacuated this way in late April before succumbing to his wounds in Alexandria. The ill-fated Gallipoli operation came to an end with the evacuation of the peninsula in January 1916, and a journalist would report Roose back in Egypt that month playing cricket.
The circumstances of his return are unknown as Roose appears to have kept a low profile maybe due to his legal problems. However such a high profile personality could not remain completely incognito and he met a journalist in London during June 1916 and told him that he had joined the Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment) and was preparing to leave for France with the 9th battalion.
Today's standard tourist route across the Somme battlefield passes briefly through Pozières as the coaches have to make a short but awkward turn onto the main Albert to Bapaume road as they shuttle between the Thiepval memorial and the Lochnagar mine crater. Perhaps the tour guide has time to mention that the village was fought for by the Australians at the end of July 1916 as they wait for a gap in the traffic; but that doesn't tell the half of it. Pozières today is a bit of Australia transplanted to France, but it was also the location of Leigh Roose's literal baptism of fire at the beginning of August.
Pozières runs along the main road as it rises onto a flat plateau with Bazentin le Petit to the east and Martinpuich to the north east. The highest point on the whole battlefield is just beyond the village where a windmill used to stand. On the other side of the plateau a low ridge runs off the higher ground to Longueval before sloping gently down to Guillemont. High Wood and Delville Wood lie on the ridge and the third German defensive line ran along it. Its western end was just outside Pozières and this line was the focus of fighting during late July, August and early September. It is the dark heart of the Somme battlefield.
Although the maps and the histories of the battle for Pozières try to make sense of the struggle it reads like a huge and deadly game of hide and seek in the maze of trenches in and around the village. This involved both sides working their way along trenches throwing grenades around each turn; that was if the trenches could be identified. Such was the ferocity of the bombardments from both sides they were often indistinguishable from the shell holes. Having taken the village by attacking from the south the Australian troops cleared the whole of the village and started to extend their territory down the slope on the north side of the village. Because the village formed a salient it could be shelled from in front and also behind from the direction of Thiepval. The German guns made holding the village very costly for the three Australian divisions which successively defended the ruins. Charles Bean, the official Australian historian said nowhere else were Australian dead so numerous than Pozières. They suffered more casualties in the area than they had in the whole of the Gallipoli campaign.
However it was not all one sided; the Germans mounted counterattack after counterattack often suffering huge casualties in their attempts to wrest control of village and the windmill. Leigh Roose's introduction to the particular horrors of Pozières came on the evening of 4th August when the newly arrived 9th Royal Fusiliers attempted to take a German held trench called 5th Avenue or Ration Trench just north west of the village. It was their first taste of action. As they went forward they encountered a force of about 100 Germans in an unmarked position which resulted in a struggle which went on until the following afternoon. This may have been a sign of the Germans adapting their tactics to cope with the power of the British artillery and the unhindered control of the air by the Royal Flying Corps. Instead of concentrating their troops in forward trenches they started to spread out across the battlefield using the hundreds of shell holes for cover. The humble ground sheet became a key piece of camouflage as it was nearly invisible to the circling spotter planes when covered with earth. In some cases the Germans would occupy shell holes in no man's land close to the British trenches as this was the safest place when the pre-attack barrages began.
The area of the 9th Royal Fusiliers attack on Ration Trench from a contemporary aerial photograph (The Long Long Trail)
The 9th Royal Fusiliers secured their part of Ration trench on the afternoon of the 5th but they were not allowed to rest on their laurels. Around midnight the Germans mounted a fierce counter-attack on the end of Ration trench held by Roose's battalion. This was led by flame throwers and the battalion war diary describes a wall of smoke with jets of flame suddenly bursting though it followed by German stick grenades. Although inexperienced the Royal Fusiliers refused to panic despite the fire and fumes. A group of soldiers were spread out in the open either side of the trench to give a wider field of fire and Roose, despite gasping for breath, having his uniform burned and losing his rifle refused medical attention and grabbed a bag of grenades. Returning to the disputed section of trench he used the strength developed throwing footballs to launch grenade after grenade at the attacking Germans. When his arm was too tired to throw he grabbed a rifle and joined the defenders either side of the trench to beat off the attack; only 40 yards of Ration trench were lost. Private Leigh Roose was recommended for the Military Medal as a result of his first taste of trench warfare, and for promotion. The 9th Royal Fusiliers left the Somme and went into the trenches 15 miles to the north at Agny near Arras where Lance Corporal Leigh Roose was awarded his medal.
An example of a Military Medal
For the rest of August and most of September the Australian divisions attempted to cut off the dominating fortress village of Thiepval by attacking north across the ground that links Pozières to where the Thiepval Memorial now stands. In the way was a courtyard grange called Mouquet Farm. The struggle for the farm and the trench system around it would go on until the wreckage of the farm and the labyrinth of tunnels below it was finally captured on 26th September, but although the honour went to British troops the farm is indelibly linked to Australia. The many Australian missing from the fighting in the area are named on the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux 14 miles to the south west; on a clear day the Thiepval Memorial is visible from the tower.
The Thiepval Memorial viewed from the Australian War Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux
Above Us Only Sky
Perhaps because of the concentration on 1st July 1916 the battle of the Somme is seen as an unmitigated disaster. But this was a battle that lasted until November and amidst the failures there were some real successes. One area of unqualified success was the performance of the Royal Flying Corps over the Somme battlefield. For most of the battle it achieved what is now called air superiority over the German Flying service which gave the British a real advantage.
When the battle opened it was less than 13 years since the Wright brothers had made the first powered flight. The strides made in military aviation since the start of the war less than two years before were remarkable; by mid 1916 the British had evolved tactics and developed aircraft that had nullified the advantage that the Germans had gained from the invention of the mechanical interrupter gear by Anthony Fokker which allowed a machine gun to be fired through the rotating propeller. Despite not having similar equipment the British responded by designing pusher aircraft where the engine and propeller were placed behind the pilot. This allowed a machine gun to be fired forward and the whole aircraft aimed at the enemy. Although the pusher design had performance limitations due to the airflow to the propeller being interrupted by the pilot, cockpit and engine the two seat Vickers Gunbus and later the single seat Airco DH2 wrested control of the skies over the Somme from the Germans.
An Airco DH2 pusher biplane
The improvements in aircraft design went hand in hand with new aggressive tactics. The Royal Flying Corps sought to take the fight over enemy territory, allowing their reconnaissance aircraft both to spot for the artillery and to take aerial photographs. At the same time they sought to deny the Germans the ability to do the same over their lines. In this they succeeded and recent study of the German archives has shown the German front line troops complaining that their own aircraft were nowhere to be seen, while the British observed them with impunity. During the early and middle phases of the battle the Germans still clung on to the highest ground on the battlefield so air observation was critical to see over the hill.
Major Lanoe Hawker VC
The Second Big Push
On 15th September the British and Commonwealth forces were ready to mount the biggest attack on the Somme since the 1st July. The costly and hard learned lessons of the previous two and a half months would be brought to bear and it was confidently hoped that the long awaited breakthrough would be achieved. British intelligence assessments suggested that the Germans were on their last legs and although they were over optimistic (a recurrent failing) the Germans were struggling. One big push would do it.
September 1916 was undoubtedly a bad time for the German Army, but they responded with their usual decisiveness and energy. On 29th August the Chief of the General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn was replaced by the heroes of the fighting against the Russians, Paul von Hindenburg and his brilliant but volatile partner Erich Ludendorff. They officially closed down German operations at Verdun, although artillery and troops had been steadily transferred north since mid-July when the last attempt to take the town failed. The French would not let them rest however and a series of costly but successful offensives would push the Germans back nearly to their start lines on 21st February. The battle of Verdun dragged on until the 18th December, a total of 303 days during which time some estimates for casualties are as high as 300,000 French and German soldiers killed and many more wounded. The French army would never be the same again after going through the ‘mill on the Meuse'.
The new German leadership also radically altered tactics on the Somme, listening to the troops at the front. Whereas the previous leadership had regarded the German front lines in France as the borders of the new Germany which were to be defended at all costs, Hindenburg and Ludendorff were more pragmatic. They allowed the commanders on the ground to give up territory to reduce casualties, instituting a system of elastic defence in depth. The front lines would be thinly held and enemy attacks slowed down as they crossed what became a battle zone rather than a series of lines. Specialised counter attack troops would be held back out of the range of most of the enemy artillery and then sent in to recover lost ground. One of the main complaints by the front line troops was that the British control of the air was a huge disadvantage, and steps were taken to bring in specialist fighter squadrons equipped with a new generation of aircraft.
It is one of the myths of WW1 that the British kept trying the same failed tactics over and over again. However this is almost completely wrong; the British learned remarkably quickly given that most of the army were civilians in uniform. What happened was that the Germans adapted at least as quickly as and often faster than the British for most of the war. They had the advantage of being on the defensive most of the time, and WW1 was probably the period in military history where the greatest advantage lay with the defender. They also had a professional military culture which drew on many of the best brains in Germany, and well trained conscript soldiers whose tenacity and endurance were superb. The culture allowed them to learn lessons quickly and then disseminate them throughout the army. It was not that the Germans didn't make mistakes, some of their generals clung to the idea of fighting for every inch of territory into 1917, they just made fewer of them, and fighting on the defensive meant their mistakes were not as costly. In the autumn of 1916 on the Somme they started to develop the tactics that they would employ for the rest of the war.
Water Tanks for the Mesopotamian Front
The British and Commonwealth troops who lined up at 6.20am on the morning of the 15th September had also learned and adapted. They attacked along a curving front from Thiepval in the west to Combles in the south with massive artillery support, much of it heavy guns and howitzers. Creeping barrages were deployed to keep the defenders heads down and the enemy artillery was targeted far more than on 1st July. The attack was also supported by a new secret weapon, which came to be known as the tank; the 15th September was the first use of the weapon in warfare.
Championed by Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty, the tank was designed as an answer to the problems of crossing machine gun swept no man's land and enemy trenches protected by barbed wire. Discussions of such vehicles based on caterpillar tracked agricultural tractors began as early as the winter of 1914-15 and the Landships committee, led by the Royal Navy's chief ship designer first sat in February 1915. To keep the purpose of the new weapons secret they were described as water carriers for the Mesopotamian front which was changed to water tank due to the dual meaning of WC, although there are several versions of how the name tank came into being.
Production of the first tanks began in February 1916 and 49 were available on the morning of the 15th September. Of these only 36 reached the front line due to breakdowns with 27 making it across no man's land, but only six reached the third objective. Because nobody knew how to deploy tanks wide lanes were left in the creeping barrage to allow them to go forward without being hit by friendly fire. Unfortunately so many broke down that the infantry had to go forward though these lanes without artillery support and suffered badly from German machine gun fire. Of the tanks that got into German territory some got lost and even fired on British troops so poor was their visibility, but a few tanks managed to achieve good results, although the attrition rate approached 100% by the end of the day. It had proved the concept of the tank, but the real results were achieved not by technology but by the guts of the poor bloody infantry.
Overall the attack that began at 6.20 was a success by the low standards of previous operations. The Germans were swept off the ridge that they had successfully held for two months, High Wood and Delville Wood were finally captured and penetrations of over two miles into the German rear defences were made. The Germans, in the middle of their tactical reorganisation were pushed almost to breaking point. Roughly twice as much ground was captured compared to the 1st July for half the number of casualties. Unfortunately for the attacking forces the Germans were just able to hold on, and due to the exhaustion of the attackers the opportunity for breakthrough was lost yet again.
One of the first tanks to go into action on 15th September 1915 (Imperial War Museum)
In the centre of the attack area the New Zealand Division made their first contribution to the battle of the Somme. Among them were several members of the Everton amateur football club of Auckland, including Corporal David Peters Campbell of the 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade. ‘Scotty' Campbell had played for Everton for three years before joining Northcote. Campbell would have gone forward from lines between High Wood and Delville Wood, crossing the trench system called Wood Lane, where the Somme New Zealand Memorial now stands on the bare ridge. It bears the words “From The Uttermost Ends Of The Earth”, which is testimony to the fact that New Zealand is just about as far from the Somme as it is possible to get without leaving the planet. The performance of the New Zealanders was brilliant; they achieved the deepest penetration of the day and took all their objectives, though at heavy cost. They ran into their own creeping barrage at the outset and found themselves ahead of the troops on either side of them at various times, drawing fire from their flanks. They were held up by uncut wire at one point but the arrival of three tanks cleared lanes through it, caused panic in the German trenches and allowed the attack to go forward. The village of Flers on their right was not in their sector but having got ahead of the British troops attacking the village and suffering flanking fire the Kiwi's turned and fought their way into the village. The British press would later trumpet the story of a tank driving up the main street of Flers with the British army cheering behind it. In reality when it reached the top of the village it would have found a lot of tired but triumphant Kiwis waiting for it.
The village of Flers today viewed from the New Zealand Memorial. Gueudecourt is on the horizon.
Among the New Zealand casualties that day was Scotty Campbell. The New Zealand Memorial on the ridge is a good place to appreciate the feat that Campbell and his mates achieved. The advance was such that you have to look hard to see the extent of the advance beyond Flers, almost as far as the village of Gueudecourt. David Campbell's body was not identified after the war and his name is on the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Caterpillar Valley cemetery. It is just outside the village of Longueval and stands on the German front line captured in the night attack of the 14th July 1916. It is not in Caterpillar valley however which is about a mile to the south west, indeed it is not in a valley at all but stands on the ridge which joins Bazentin le Petit with Longueval and Delville Wood. It is a great vantage point. A mile or so to the south is the village of Montauban, scene of the Liverpool and Manchester Pals triumph of the 1st July while to the north is High Wood and the ridge captured on 15th September with the white obelisk of the New Zealand Memorial on the crest.
To the east of the New Zealanders British troops were attacking from the village of Ginchy on the 15th September. Among those killed was Raymond Asquith, the son of the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith serving with the Grenadier Guards. Another Grenadier Guards officer was hit in the pelvis and left thigh and lay in a shell hole all day and into the next. Harold MacMillan was lucky as no bones were broken, thanks to the bullet in his pelvis hitting his water bottle. He was a Greek scholar at university and fortified himself reading of the trials of the Greek hero Prometheus in the original language. He was rescued by his company sergeant major and evacuated to London, but his wounds became infected and he would later write that it was only the persistence of his mother with the doctors that saved his life. Harold MacMillan was unable to return to the front and his wounds left him with permanent disabilities. He would rise to become Prime Minister in 1957, and his experiences at Ginchy in 1916 would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Not far from MacMillan another man lay in a shell hole badly wounded. Corporal John Duesbery of the 2nd battalion, the Sherwood Foresters was from Swinefleet on the banks of the river Humber, and had taken part in an attack on a German strongpoint called the Quadrilateral just to the east of Ginchy. He was hit twice and died before help could reach him. His body was discovered and his pocket book retrieved and sent home to his mother.
Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness
The second half of September saw the weather on the Somme turn against the British and French as autumn rain started to turn the battlefield into a quagmire. The advances of the 15th meant that the artillery could be brought forward to support the infantry in their newly won positions. But moving hundreds of guns forward and preparing positions for them in the shattered landscape was a herculean task for the gun crews, and keeping them supplied across the ground that had been captured became increasingly difficult. And shells were just part of the problem, bullets, food and water became a similar issue. On the front line progress slowed and the fighting became a matter of small advances as it had done after the 14th July success between the village of Bazentin-le-Petit and Delville Wood. From lateSeptember it is only necessary to look at the weather report for each day to see why progress slowed. Rain features heavily.
One gun crew moving forward was B Subsection of the 6th New Zealand Howitzer battery, who had to move their 4.5 inch howitzer a mile from near Bazentin le Petit to just east of the blasted tree stumps of High Wood. Among them was another former player of Everton AFC of Auckland, Sergeant Arnold Cantell. They put the guns in pits to give some cover and their forward observers on the crest could see the all of the German positions beyond Flers and Gueudcourt.
Although the Germans were affected by the mud they had been pushed back towards their supply dumps and still had relatively undamaged roads and ground to their rear. They were now starting to get the reinforcements of men and artillery following the decision to close down the Verdun operation. One man who swapped the purgatory of Verdun for the hell of the Somme was Leutnant Kurt Thielicke of the 36th Reserve Infanterie Regiment. He went into the line just to the north of Gueudecourt on the 17th September, two days after the major British advance had brought the village nearly into the front line. Kurt was a native of Halle, near Leipzig and had been a student when war had broken out. At university Kurt's nickname was ‘Thilo the Sheikh', and his photograph shows a relaxed, carefree member of his fraternity. The contrast between this and the photo taken of him in uniform could not be more marked; by the autumn of 1916 he was commanding a pioneer platoon probably working night and day to strengthen the German defences north of Gueudecourt.
Pioneer battalions became critical to both sides once trench warfare began in late 1914, they were fully trained soldiers who specialised in construction, working with the military engineers. Harry Norris, the first former Everton player to be killed on the western front at Ypres in August 1915, was serving with the 11th King's Liverpool who were a pioneer battalion.
Thilo and Leutnant Thielicke (Egbert Sandrock)
On 1st October the New Zealand division mounted an attack on the village of Le Sars on the main Albert to Bapaume road, and the hamlet of Eaucourt L'Abbaye close to where Kurt Thielicke was positioned. The attack is likely to have included some of the members of the Everton club from Auckland, and Arnold Cantell and his howitzer crew would have fired support for the attack. Among the other weapons being used for the attack were a string of 36 Livens projectors, crude mortars made of steel piping which fired canisters of oil. They were half buried in a shallow trench, wired to a battery and then fired simultaneously by electrical charge at 3.15 pm; they produced a sheet of flame on the German positions and a smokescreen for the attacking troops.
You could be forgiven for wondering what connection Kurt Thielicke has to Everton. It is only that he is Egbert Sandrock's great uncle. Kurt Thielicke has become the representative of the German soldiers who were killed on the Somme, thanks to Egbert. There are still those who make the distinction between ‘our' dead and ‘their' dead. For Egbert and I they are just dead, they all suffered. 100 years to the day after Kurt was killed one of our internet friends, Sylvestre Bresson, who lives near the battlefield at Peronne took a cross to the area where Kurt was killed. On the cross were a red poppy, the symbol of remembrance for the British and a blue cornflower, the symbol for the French. I posted a little tribute for Kurt on the internet with pictures of a poppy, a cornflower and the German flower of remembrance, the tiny pale blue Forget-Me-Not (Vergissmeinicht) and mentioned Leigh Roose to Sly, who promptly went and visited Thiepval and found his name on the Memorial to the Missing. At a time when we seem to be looking for what divides us the idea of a Frenchman remembering a German and a Welshman mattered a lot to Egbert and I.
Health and Safety
Three days after Kurt Thielicke was killed, on the other side of the wire B Subsection of the 6th New Zealand Howitzer Battery was firing support for their troops beyond Flers from their gun pits near High Wood. A premature explosion of a shell in the barrel killed most of the gun crew. Among them was Arnold Cantell ; his would be the second death to affect the Everton club in Auckland inside three weeks on the Somme. Remarkably the circumstances of his death were recorded with horrifying detail in the diary of 2nd Lt. Reginald Donald, which is held at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.
“The whole sad catastrophe happened last night about 8pm. As far as can be gathered B Sub were in action & had a premature explosion in the bore of the gun which smashed it off just beyond the b hoop. This caused the wounding of the whole detachment Sgt Arnie Cantell, bomb(badier) C M Ricketts, Gunners Jacobs, S Saunders & Colin Williams. The explosion blew C M Ricketts right out of the pit & ignited the charges, which set the whole pit on fire. A further explosion was only a matter of minutes & so the order (was) to get back under cover. This was done but when all had been collected they found ‘Arnie' Cantell & P Jacobs were missing.
After everything settled down it was found that Capt Daniell & Lt Brookes who had been standing at the back of the pit watching, Len Chamberlain, Snowy Ricketts, Arnie Cantell & P Jacobs were missing, Only fragments, hardly recognisable, these were collected & carried back to the cemetery & buried with due ceremony on Wednesday 4 October. It was an awful business but all who nobly went to succour their comrades & gave their lives on the heroic attempt have died gloriously, recommendations have been made that Len Chamberlain & Snowy Ricketts memory maybe recognised as they so richly deserve.”
In the midst of the horror there was heroism; but there is no record that the sacrifice of Chamberlain and Ricketts was ever recognised with an award. The cemetery that the gun crew were buried in is called Flatiron Copse just under two miles from where they were killed; today it is a peaceful place, nestling in a valley between Mametz Wood and the copse which looked like a smoothing iron from the air. There is nothing in the records about what caused the shell to explode prematurely; but quality control problems were inevitable such was the speed with which shell production had been increased over the previous 12 months. Huge numbers of shells were imported from the USA and a whole industry had to be created in the UK with a workforce composed largely of women; the munitonettes as they were called. Full production would not be achieved until later in the war and shell shortages and the number of duds was a serious problem throughout the Somme fighting. But it should not be assumed that manufacturing was the cause; the shells had to be transported from the railheads and taken up to the guns across the wrecked landscape, the cause of the explosion could have been any of these things.
Leigh Roose and the 9th Royal Fusiliers returned to the Somme front line on the day Kurt Thielicke was killed, 1st October. After nightfall they relieved the 23rd Middlesex, the 2nd Footballers battalion who were formed around professional footballers and fans mainly from London. Would Leigh Roose have recognised any former opponents or teammates in the dark and mud of the trenches? It seems unlikely. The trenches that they occupied were called Gird Trench and Gird Support. The two battalions swapped places again on the 3rd, probably around the time that Arnie Cantell was killed three miles away at High Wood. The 9th Royal Fusiliers were to be part of what was later to be designated the Battle of the Le Transloy Ridges, named for the higher ground to the east of the British lines on which the village of Le Transloy stands. The attack was scheduled for the 5th October but was postponed for two days due to the weather. Rain delays were becoming part and parcel of the attempts to advance, as the mud delayed everything from ammunition to food and water. In the skies the bad weather made artillery spotting impossible and ominously the Royal Fusiliers reported German aircraft were now crossing the British front lines when the weather was good, in contrast to the advantage held by the Royal Flying Corps earlier in the battle. Roose and his comrades were subjected to heavy artillery bombardments waiting for the attack, and their ranks were significantly thinned. The mud, damp and cold also played their part with men falling victim to sickness.
At 1.45 on the afternoon of 7th October 1916 the understrength 9th Royal Fusiliers went forward behind a creeping barrage towards the German held Bayonet trench, or Eiserner riegel, near where Kurt Thielicke had been killed seven days previously. Another future British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan's predecessor Anthony Eden also took part in the attack just north of the Royal Fusiliers, and described the ground in his memoirs: “The incline at Gird Ridge towards the front line was a gentle one into a valley of dead ground which extended for at least one hundred yards. It ended against a bank topped with some scruffy and shell torn bushes.” As soon as Leigh Roose's battalion emerged from the shallow valley things started to go wrong. Instead of the wall of shells keeping the German's heads down as they closed on the front line they were immediately engaged from positions much closer than they had expected. The battalion war diary blamed the artillery, saying that it had missed the German front line. It seems much more likely that the Germans had taken position in shell holes closer to the British trenches using their new tactics to neutralise the impact of the smothering British barrages.
The attack failed with heavy casualties; 342 officers and men out of around 700. Most were posted missing but in time it would be established that of the 342, 139 men had been killed. Among them was Lance Corporal Leigh Roose; he was reported to have been seen running towards Bayonet Trench firing as he went, but was never seen again.
The area of Bayonet Trench/Eiserner Riegel today (Egbert Sandrock)
Four days after Roose was killed the Liverpool Pals battalions of the King's Liverpool returned to the same area. They had replaced the terrible losses sustained on 30th July at Guillemont, when Lt. Frank Boundy of CD Everton in Chile had been killed. They now tried to take Bayonet Trench. The regimental historian described what happened, and with the benefit of hindsight was able to pinpoint the reasons why they failed; they could just as well have applied to the previous attack in which Roose was lost.
At "Zero" hour the whole line went forward to the attack gallantly enough. On the right and in the centre little progress was made; the enemy's defences were strong, and he evidently expected an attack as his trenches were observed to be full of troops. On the extreme left of the attack the 17th King's found the enemy's wire uncut, which held up the assaulting troops during which hostile machine‑gun fire took heavy toll of the attackers, who were finally forced back to their original trenches.
The lie of the ground in front of the 17th Battalion, over which they had to make their attack, was dead against them. There was a rise in the ground against which the waves of men were clearly silhouetted, providing fine targets for the enemy's riflemen and machine gunners. The losses in crossing "No Man's Land" were, in consequence, very heavy.
Generally the attack was a failure, largely caused by the skill with which the enemy employed his machine guns. Instead of being placed in his trenches they were distributed all over the country behind his trenches and so sighted that by indirect or long‑range fire he could place a machine‑gun barrage on "No Man's Land." These guns had not been put out of action by our artillery barrage and were the principal cause of the failure of the attack.
Leigh Roose's body was not identified after the war, and in 1932 his name, still spelt wrongly as Rouse was inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial. It would take 90 years and the investigative efforts of Roose's biographer Spencer Vignes to identify that the name on the Thiepval Memorial was Leigh Roose, and while the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website now recognises him, the correction on the panel on the memorial will have to wait until it is replaced.
The ground where the Thiepval Memorial now stands was captured in late September with the help of two tanks, one of which was the exotically named HMLS (His Majesty's Land Ship) Crème de Menthe. Between then and the middle of November there was a protracted struggle for the Schwaben Redoubt, the mighty hill top fortress that had been captured but lost by the 36th Ulster Division on 1st July. Following its capture the now exposed German lines in the Ancre valley to the north were captured. Only the village of Serre, which would become symbolic of the sacrifice of the Pals battalions on the first day remained in German hands.
About a mile and a half north west of where Leigh Roose had been lost a prehistoric burial mound called the Butte de Warlencourt stands on a low ridge at the bottom of the slope down from High Wood two miles away. The original builders had chosen the site well; it is visible from the whole of the surrounding area and allowed observation in all directions. The Germans had fortified it accordingly. British shelling stripped the turf from the mound leaving its chalk core gleaming white in the landscape. A series of attacks by understrength and weakened British and Commonwealth battalions managed to reach and in some cases get beyond the Butte, but they were all beaten back by heavy German counterattacks. In some cases the front lines from which the attacks had started were lost such was the ferocity of the German counterstrokes.
In mid-October another former Everton international goalkeeper returned to the Somme for a second time. Donald Sloan, who played briefly for both Everton and Liverpool as well as representing the Irish league, entered the trenches near Le Sars with the 8th Battalion of the Black Watch. In mid-July they had helped capture the village of Longueval three and a half miles to the south of the white mass of the Butte de Warlencourt. Here the 8th Battalion were involved in bitter fighting in the area of the Butte, particularly on the 18th to the 20th October when they fought off a fierce German counter-attack and retook trenches lost by the neighbouring battalion. Their losses were 206 killed, wounded and missing. The battalion were relieved on the night of the 20th October but were so exhausted after their exertions and the mud was so bad that it took them sixteen hours to cover the two miles back to the trenches in the High Wood area.
Aerial photograph from 16th October 1916, the white hump of the Butte de Warlencourt is in the bottom right corner. (Imperial War Museum Collection.
The Man Who Fell To Earth
Three days after Donald Sloan and the 8th Black Watch had slogged their way back up the slope to High Wood another fight took place, this time above the quagmire around Warlencourt and Gueudecourt. Major Lanoe Hawker and his flight were well inside German territory when they encountered a larger group of German fighters; Hawker and one of the German fighters became separated and engaged in a solo dogfight. The German pilot was flying a new Albatross single seater which was faster and more heavily armed than Hawker's DH2 pusher aircraft. The German pilot was a young minor aristocrat called Manfred Von Richthofen, and the new fighter aircraft and the tactic of flying in larger formations was part of the German effort to wrest control of the air from the British.
Although outgunned and unable to outrun his young opponent Hawker was a skilled pilot and had the advantage of manoeuvrability over Richthofen's aircraft. The German was unable to get a clean shot at the nimble DH2 until Hawker ran short of fuel and made a run for the British lines. With his last burst before his guns jammed Richthofen hit Hawker in the back of the head and his aircraft crashed just inside German lines. It was near the ruins of Luisenhof Farm, just north of where Leigh Roose was lost, and possibly the same area where Kurt Thielicke was killed. The German troops buried Hawker's body close to the wreckage and placed a cross on the grave but this was later lost. Hawker is remembered on the RFC/RAF Memorial to the Missing at Faubourg d'Amiens cemetery in Arras 15 miles to the north of where he crashed.
Richthofen went on to be the highest scoring ace of the war on either side, he was killed in 1918 and like Hawker came down in enemy territory. He was buried near the aerodrome at Bertangles near Amiens, ironically where Hawker had taken off on his last flight. After the war his body was taken to the German cemetery at Fricourt on the Somme, but was repatriated to Germany in 1925. It was intended to bury Richthofen with his family but instead he was buried in Spandau in Berlin at the government's request. During the Cold War the cemetery was on the border between East and West Berlin and the Richthofen headstone was damaged by bullets fired at East Germans escaping to the west. Finally in 1975 the body was removed and buried in the family plot near Wiesbaden.
Lanoe Hawker's crashed DH2 and his grave (simhq.com)
After the war the grandly named Battles Nomenclature Committee deliberated long and hard about how long the battle of the Somme lasted and what its constituent parts should be called. It was trying to impose a semblance of order to allow regiments to claim battle honours. It concluded that the Battle of the Somme ended on the 18th November 1916. The troops at the time would not have seen very much difference after this date, and the British and Commonwealth forces kept the pressure on the overstretched German forces. The fighting diminished in scale but not in ferocity. In early 1917 it seemed as if the German forces were giving way as they started to give up large chunks of territory. However the Germans had a trick up their sleeve. On 9th February 1917 they began withdrawing up to 25 miles to a new defensive line, allowing them to shorten their front and compensate for some of their losses in 1916. The new defences would come to be called the Hindenburg line by the British; and, like the German offensive at Verdun in February of the previous year would again throw Allied plans for 1917 into disarray.
The New Army battalions that attacked on the 1st July were enthusiastic amateurs, by the end of the battle the survivors were no longer amateurs, but the enthusiasm had gone forever. They now knew what the war as about; the Somme was the hardest of schools of hard knocks. For the Germans the Somme represented the point where their excellent army began to deteriorate as a result of the losses suffered there and at Verdun. The losses of experienced men like Kurt Thielicke could not be easily made up.
The Australian War Correspondent Charles Bean in one of the Gird system communication trenches on a good day (Australian War Memorial)
So what are the real numbers? Martin Middlebrook, author of ‘The First Day on the Somme' has been studying the Somme since his first visit in 1967. Over half a century he has forgotten more about the battle than I will ever know; his ‘Guide to the Somme Battlefields' is always in my rucksack when I go there. For the book he worked out the number of British and Commonwealth dead on the Somme by visiting every cemetery and memorial and sampling the numbers killed. Martin calculated that 127,751 soldiers died on or near the battlefield and maybe 10,000 to 11,000 more died at base hospitals or back in the UK. Subtracting these figures from the total casualties gives further 292,000 who were wounded. Of those killed 60% have no known grave, a total of 78,531. Martin further calculated that of these almost exactly half are buried under unknown soldier headstones, the rest are still in the fields; a number close to the capacity of Goodison Park.
The losses suffered by the three Evertons bear this out, of the five men who died only Arnie Cantell and Frank Boundy have identified graves, Malcolm Fraser, Scotty Campbell and Leigh Roose are missing. From where he was killed it seems possible that Malcolm Fraser is in an unknown grave in Ovillers Military cemetery, Scotty Campbell too may be buried this way but the circumstances of Leigh Roose's death make him the most likely to still be out in the fields.
German losses are harder to work out than for the British; estimates range from 450,000 to 650,000 killed and wounded, including between 100,000 to 200,000 deaths. My feeling is that the real numbers are at the lower end of the ranges as the higher ones are often put forward to suggest that the Somme was a British victory. But it is feasible that the numbers of German dead and wounded match those of the British. And nearly always forgotten are the French, who suffered between 190,000 to 210,000 casualties on the Somme, which includes 60,000 to 75,000 dead. The French took almost as much territory as the British, and it has been suggested by some historians that they caused more German casualties; an unpalatable thought to those who still like to see the Somme as a great if bloody British triumph.
So maybe a third of a million dead, and not far off three quarters of a million wounded, British, French and German. But as Joseph Stalin said one death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic, and he knew what he was talking about. After a while the numbers become meaningless.
In 2013, when I took a couple of mates around the Somme battlefield the Thiepval Memorial was an obvious focus; I wanted to put a meaning to the 72,245 names so I took with me a letter. It was written by John Duesbery who had died in a shell hole on the 15th September and was in the pocket books sent home to his mother. His body was later lost and he is on the memorial, although his name is spelt wrongly. I pointed John Dewsbury out to my friends and then we went to the site of the German strongpoint called the Quadrilateral near the village of Ginchy where he had died. I started to read the letter but only managed the first sentence. The historian Peter Barton is made of sterner stuff than me. In his documentary trilogy on the Somme broadcast to mark 100 years since the battle he read the letter on the same spot. Peter probably knows the words by heart as he had been sent the letter by the Duesbery family, had researched John's service and published the letter. And consummate professional though he is I thought I detected a wavering of Peter's voice as he read the words.
Egbert Sandrock read another letter at the culmination of the Antiques Road Show programme on WW1. It was written by his grandfather and came in the trunk, along with all the other little treasures. There is the tiny child's shoe, belonging to Egbert's father that Gottfried Sandrock took to war with him, which is my favourite item. Then there is a spent British .303 rifle bullet, which may be the one that severely wounded Gottfried at Geluveld near Ypres in November 1914. And there was the wallet with a picture of Gottfried's family; both wallet and picture are torn, for a piece of British shell penetrated the wallet and killed Gottfried on 1st May 1918. He is buried near where he was killed in a predominantly British cemetery at Merville near Bethune to the north of the Somme. The letter was left by Egbert's grandfather to be opened in the event of his death. Egbert read it perfectly, and although I already knew the words listening to him was immensely moving.
These are those two letters.
John Duesbery, 15th September at Ginchy.
I am writing these few lines severely wounded. We have done well our Batt. advanced about 3 quarters of a mile. I am laid in a shell hole with 2 wounds in my hip and through my back. I cannot move or crawl. I have been here for 24 hours and never seen a living soul. I hope you will receive these few of lines as I don't expect anyone will come to take me away, but you know I have done my duty out here now for 1 year and 8 months and you will always have the consolation that I died quite happy doing my Duty. Must give my Best of Love to all the cousins who (have) been so kind to me time I have been out here. And the Best of Love to Mother and Harry + all at Swinefleet. XXX.
Gottfried Sandrock, 1st May 1918 at Merville
I cannot tell you much, only that I spent the most happiest days with you, days that you have sweetened with your great love. Thank you so very much. Keep me in good memories, and never forget that I always treasured you as my greatest value and that I faithfully loved you in true love. Educate our beloved little ones well, so that they bear our name in honour.
God bless you my good wife, it was not meant to be that we spend our lives happily ever after.
Faithful until death yours Friedel
Can you see any difference between the love expressed by a British soldier towards his family and the love expressed by a German soldier to his? I can't. Think of the pain encapsulated in those two letters. Now think of Malcolm Fraser's widowed mother in Edinburgh, the Docherty family in Newcastle, for whom Frank was the second son to die; of Frank Boundy's family in far off Chile and for the families of David Campbell and Arnie Cantell on the other side of the world in Auckland. Then there is Kurt Thielicke's family and friends in Halle, and Leigh Roose's relatives who would not know what happened to him for 90 years. Then think of those close to the other 300,000 dead, not to mention the families of the hundreds of thousands of injured, both in body and mind.
Nobody won the battle of the Somme. There was only loss.
As ever JP Levinge for all her assistance. And to one of her extended family, Noel Jordan who is buried in Warlencourt Military Cemetery within sight of the Butte de Warlencourt.
Ant Hogan, for his excellent remembrance website.
Sylvestre Bresson, for being our man on the Somme.
Rodg Sheppard for all his help with Arnie Cantell.
The EFC Heritage Society, especially John Rowlands, Billy Smith and John Shearon
Egbert Sandrock for all his help with the stories of Kurt Thielicke and his grandfather Gottfried. He has done what his grandfather asked, and borne the Sandrock name with honour.
Leigh Roose's biography is called "Lost in France" by Spencer Vignes if you are keen to know more, it's well worth a read.
Peter Barton's The Somme: a New Panoramic Perspective. John Duesbery's original letter is on the back cover.
Martin Middlebrook: The Somme Battlefields.
Antiques Roadshow WW1 Special with Egbert Sandrock on the BBC I-player
Reader Comments (15)
Note: the following content is not moderated or vetted by the site owners at the time of submission. Comments are the responsibility of the poster. Disclaimer
Add Your Comments
In order to post a comment, you need to be logged in as a registered user of the site.
Or Sign up as a ToffeeWeb Member — it's free, takes just a few minutes and will allow you to post your comments on articles and Talking Points submissions across the site.