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Sunday, January 3, 2016



Unlike July 1, 1916 which has had a number of books published with the subject of  that date, including Martin Middlebrook's fine The First Day of the Somme, the last day of the epic battle, November 18, 1916, pretty much remains in anonymity. Save of course for the relatives and friends of the 545 Canadians killed on that date and the thousands more wounded, many maimed for life.

Battle Map Last Day of the Somme Nov. 18, 1916
Yes, the Battle of the Somme has had dozens of books written on that battle, perhaps over a hundred. However to my knowledge no Canadian work has been attempted on the Canadian contribution to the Somme other than a couple of guidebooks from Norm Christie and Paul Reed. I have already posted on this site some posts on the Somme battle and Canadian involvement - see my posts on Frederick Fulkerson, Howard Curtis and the 3rd Battalion history. However with the recent acquisition of a Victory medal attributed to L/Cpl Franklin George Osborne #410574 KIA Nov. 18, 1916, my interest in the last day of this horrific battle has been renewed.
War Diary Nov. 18, 1916 12th Brigade, CEF

The immediate events leading up to this final day centre around a battle called The Battle of the Ancre, 13-18 November 1916, was the final phase of the first battle of the Somme. It involved an attack on the German front line as it crossed the Ancre River, a sector of the front that had first been attacked on the first day of the battle without success. The attack along the Ancre had originally been planed for 15 October, as part of the battle of the Ancre Heights, but had been postponed repeatedly by bad weather. By November the original plan had been reducing in scope from an attempt to push the Germans back up to five miles along the Ancre to one to capture Beaucourt and push the Germans back at most two miles.
Attestation paper L/Cpl Osborne

This was a strong sector of the German front. The first British objective involved an advance of 800 yards and would require the capture of at least three lines of trenches. The next target was the German second line, from Serre south to the Ancre. Finally it was hoped to capture Beaucourt, on the Ancre. The attack would be launched by II Corps south of the river and V Corps to the north, with V Corps carrying out the main offensive. The attack immediately north of the river was to be carried out by the 63rd (R.N.) Division, under Major-General C. D. Shute. Nelson and Hawke). The division captured the German front line despite heavy German resistance. Further north the attack made less progress, and so despite Freyberg’s optimism the attack on Beaucourt was delayed until the next day. 51st Division captured Beaumont Hamel, and 2nd Division managed to capture parts of Redan Ridge, but further north no progress was made. The attack was renewed on 14 November. This time the 63rd Division was able to secure Beaucourt, which fell at 10.30am. The success at Beaucourt encouraged Gough to plan for a more ambitious offensive, but Haig ordered him to wait until after he could return from the Chantilly Conference of 15-16 November.

One final attack was made, on November 18. This began in snow and sleet and descended into chaos. On the right of the line the 4th Canadian Division captured its first objectives, but elsewhere little was achieved.
The attack was a relative success. Beaumont Hamel and Beaucourt were captured, but Serre and the northern part of the German line remained untouched. Once again mud intervened to help the defenders, preventing the use of the few available tanks, and making all communication difficult. All the early successes on the Ancre achieved was the creation of a British held salient on the Ancre, which proved to be a very dangerous area to be posted over the winter of 1916-17.
Going over the top at The Somme

More detail on the final day by the Canadian 4th Division is provided by Norm Christie in his The Canadians on the Somme"Finally on November 11, the newly arrived 4th Division threw three battalions at the completely-obliterated Regina Trench (see post on 3rd Battalion Somme) The 102nd, 47th, (British Columbia) and 46th (Saskatchewan) succeeded in capturing  the longest German Trench ever constructed on the Western Front. It had taken 42 days! On November 18th, 1916 the 4th Division's  38th Battalion (Eastern Ontario), 87th (Montreal), 54th (Kootenay), 75th (Mississauga Horse) and 50th (Alberta) succeeded in capturing Desire Trench, 800 metres north of the obliterated Regina Trench. The 38th and 87th even broke through to Grancourt Trench (not their objective), but were forced to withdraw. The Battle of the Somme was over. The Canadians had suffered more than 8,000 dead for a gain of 2.5kms of mutilated chalky Somme farmland. But the Battle had been a bigger catastrophe for the British Army. They lost 500,000 men!"
Casualty List 38th Battalion Somme

So like my relative 18 year old stretcher-bearer Frederick Fulkerson in the 54th Battalion, Franklin Osborne lost his life in the same attack on the same day, November 18, 1916. On Wikipedia, the 38th Battalion's involvement is described as; "On November 17, the 38th took over a section of front line from the 11th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers as part of the attack on Desire Trench and Grandcourt. The 38th went "over the top" for the first time on November 18 and all objectives were gained. The battalion had about 500 casualties, including 5 officers killed and 11 wounded. The battalion was relieved on November 20, and what was left of it returned to Albert."

From Ken Reynold's excellent blogspot on the 38th Battalion  "Born on 21 November 1893 in Iroqouis, Ontario-son of Albert James Osborne, Iroquois, Ontario-at the time of his enlistment in 1915: trade as cheesemaker; single; no current or previous military service; Church of England; height 5 feet 5 inches; chest of 36 inches fully expanded; fair complexion; grey eyes; fair hair. Joined the 59th Battalion,CEF, on 4 January 1915-transferred to the 38th Battalion, CEF on 10 June 1915 (number 410574)-served with the 38th Battalion during its period of garrison duty in Bermuda-landed in France with the 38th Battalion on 13 August 1916-wounded on 3 November 1916-Killed in Action on 18 November 1916-name inscribed on the Vimy Memorial, France." We know from his Circumstances of Death form that his body was recovered and originally buried map coordinates map 57D R16 3.4.

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