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Thiepval Memorial, France Thiepval Memorial, France
First Name: Alfred Last Name: HAZELL
Date of Death: 15/09/1916 Lived/Born In: Waterloo
Rank: Private Unit: London24
Memorial Site: Thiepval Memorial, France

Current Information:

Age-25

30, Delarch Buildings, Webber Row, Waterloo

Enlisted-Southwark

 

The Battle of the Somme (July-November, 1916)

By the beginning of September, 1916,  the Battle of the Somme had been raging for two months. Thousands of men had already been killed or wounded or were simply missing, never to be seen again and and just a few square miles of the French countryside, all in the southern part of the battlefield, had been captured from the enemy. Mistakes had been made by the various commanders and would be continued to be made but there was no turning back as the British, Australians, South Africans, New Zealanders and Canadians carried on battering away at the German defences in the hope of a breakthrough, So it continued all the way through to November with nearly every battalion and division then in France being drawn into it at some stage. In the end the German trenches had been pushed back a few more miles along most of the line but the cost in lives had been staggering. By the end of the fighting in November, 1916, British Army casualties numbered over 400,000, killed, wounded and missing.

On 15th September, 1916, the offensive on the Somme was renewed with a full scale attack on the German 3rd line of defences. Four Army Corps were used on a front that stretched from Combles, through the village of Flers and on to Courcelette.. The artillery barrage that preceded this attack was more concentrated than that on 1st July and the attack itself was more successful. The villages of Flers, Martinpuich and Courcelette were captured and the enemy was finally pushed out of High Wood, but the breakthrough was not achieved and the reality was that when the battle ended on 22nd September, the front line had just been moved forward a mile or so. The battle is notable for being the first time that tanks were used.

47th (London) Division attacked on 15th September with 140 and 141 Brigades. At 6.20am, 141 Brigade launched a frontal attack on High Wood itself and after some bitter fighting and with many casualties, they finally captured the wood. After two months of hard fighting, High Wood was finally in British hands. But the battalions of 141 Brigade were so weakened that they could do little else than to entrench as best they could along the edge of the wood. The next objective, the Starfish Line was still 700 yards away and late that afternoon, 21st London and 24th London from the reserve 142 Brigade were sent up to carry on the attack and to plug the gap that existed between 140 and 141 Brigades. At 5.30pm, 21st London  and one company of 24th London advanced east of the wood while later that evening, the rest of 24th London did likewise on its western edge. Unfortunately there had not been time to organise a preliminary artillery barrage leaving the German defences fully manned and ready. As they emerged from cover they were confronted by heavy rifle, machine-gun and artillery fire which brought progress to a halt. 24th London, now down to a fighting strength of just over 200 men, dug in as best they could and formed a rough front line which they held until 17th September, all the time under artillery fire. They were relieved on 17th September, not for a well earned rest, but in order for them to continue the attack on the Starfish Line, in the early hours of the following morning. The attack went ahead at 4.45am on 18th September in the pouring rain and was confronted by fierce machine-gun fire. Once again the attack faltered and halted. All they managed was to reinforce the existing line. Any further progress proved impossible. That night, 24th London were final relieved. Over the four days of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 24th London suffered many casualties. One of these was Alfred Hazell who was killed on 15th September.

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