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First Name: Charles Samuel Last Name: WEBB
Date of Death: 15/09/1916 Lived/Born In: Kensal Green
Rank: Company Sergeant Major Unit: London20
Memorial Site:

Current Information:

106, Purves Road, Kensal Green

London Cemetery, Longueval, Somme

 

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. 141 Brigade was charged with an attack on High Wood itself and at 6.20am, 17th London and 18th London, supported by three tanks, made their advance. But the tanks proved largely ineffective. One broke down, another received a direct hit and the third was unable to make progress in the rough terrain of the wood. This meant that the enemy machine-guns were not put out of action and they took a heavy toll of the advancing troops of 17th London and 18th London, so much so that the attack ground to a halt and the men sought cover or returned to their starting line. This made it all very congested when, at 7am, 19th London and 20th London moved forward in support. All four battalions now found themselves crowded together. The commanding officer of 19th London rallied some of the men and led them forward once more, but he and all those who went with him were killed. A fresh approach was needed. Bombers worked their way round the flanks and at 11.40am, after a fifteen minute hurricane bombardment by 140th Trench Mortar Battery, a second attack succeeded. The Germans surrendered in their hundreds and the British line was extended to the edge of the wood. After two months of hard fighting, High Wood was finally in British hands. The four battalions of 141 Brigade were now formed into a composite battalion to hold these positions and even extend them beyond the wood. The enemy of course did not take this lying down and for the rest of the day and night plastered the wood with their artillery, adding further to the casualty list. Among the many casualties sustained by 20th London on 15th September was Charles Webb.

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