Jaywick Martello Tower and From the Trenches to Tendring will be commemorating 100 years since the start of the Battle of the Somme by holding a special screening of the Imperial War Museum’s Somme film.
The film was created as an official documentary and recorded the preparations for battle, movement of men and artillery and scenes of action. When the film was shown in 1916, the Imperial War Museum estimate it was seen by 20 million people, many of whom were hoping to catch a glimpse of their loved ones.
The Battle of the Somme took place from 1 July 1916 to 18 November 2016 across a 25km front line in France. On just the first day nearly 60,000 men were wounded including nearly 20,000 men who were killed. Relatives of some contributors to our project saw action in this battle and most communities at the time would have been effected in some way.
Signaller Charles Gardiner arrived at Moliens-au-bois in the Somme region with the 7th Suffolk Regiment just before the offensive. The dates of Charles’ diary entries are uncertain but he does record leaving for the line on 30th June 1916 and that on the 1st July the 8th and 34th divisions had taken “4 lines of trenches near Albert” and the 12th division “goes over the top”.
On 3rd July the 7th Suffolks went into action in an attack on Ovillers. The battalion war diary records these events:
The first four waves (C&D coy) penetrated to the enemy’s third line and portions of them into the village itself but owing to the darkness touch was lost with succeeding waves and with the 5th Royal Berks on the right so that the leading waves were not supported closely enough thus allowing the Germans to get in between the waves…it was at this 3rd German line that the chief casualties occurred and the assault was brought to a standstill
Charles writes about this attack in his diary, referring to Tuesday but it seems that the events he describes are actually Monday 3rd:
“3.7 am Tuesday morning Battalion goes over the top, C&D first A&B succeeded in getting to German frontline and bombers went to storm village with grenades our men were driven back but dug themselves in between the two lines”
Casualties for the 7th Suffolks on 3rd July were recorded by the war diary as 479 killed, wounded or missing. Charles himself records 600 casualties and 11 signallers. The battalion were immediately relieved by the Royal Fusiliers and moved into billets at Albert. They remained in reserve at Varennes until moving back up into the frontline at Auchonvillers on 21st July. Charles records “heavy bombardment” overnight.
The beginning of August finds Charles in reserve at Bouzincourt and in his diary he writes “bath in R.Somme.” It was not long lasting though as the battalion diary tells:
Orders received at 7pm [3rd August] that all ranks to sleep in clothes and boots and to be ready to move off at short notice.
On 7th August they were back in the trenches, this time near Pozieres. Shelling of their position started at 4pm on 7th and lasted throughout the night becoming particularly intense at 2am when the enemy attacked Ration Trench. On 10th August the Australians made an attack with the Suffolks. Charles writes:
Our boys and Anzacs go over at 9.30pm. Backhouse and I go on the line, tapped in twice after mending several breaks. 3rd time I was buried and lost touch with Backhouse. Phone blown up, pretty well shaken up, go with Anzacs to dugout stop till morning.
Charles and the Suffolks were relieved on 13th and moved into bivouacs in back in Bouzincourt.
Tim Gardiner’s book East of Arras which tells Charles’ complete story is available to buy at Jaywick Martello Tower and on Amazon.
The 2016 screening of the Battle of the Somme film, which is held 100 years to the day, will take place at Jaywick Martello Tower at 6pm on Friday 1st July. The event is free but booking is essential.