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First Name: William Last Name: MAY
Date of Death: 13/11/1916 Lived/Born In: Aldgate
Rank: Private Unit: Essex13
Memorial Site:

Current Information:

Age-19

245, Katherine Buildings, Cartwright Street, Aldgate

Born-Hackney

Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, France

 

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

By the beginning of November, 1916,  the Battle of the Somme had been raging for four 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, nearly all in the southern part of the battlefield, had been captured from the enemy. With November came the winter weather and this, combined with the sheer exhaustion of all involved, brought about the end of the battle by the end of the month. Since the 1st July, 1916, British, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African casualties numbered over 400,000, killed, wounded and missing.

During November the focus of the fighting switched to the Ancre valley where the last major British offensive was launched on 13th of the month. By now German defence tactics had evolved. They defended in depth without a well defined front line but rather setting up machine-gun nests in shell holes and other strategically important sites where just a few men could hold up an entire battalion. Meanwhile their artillery bombarded the British front line and all the communication trenches added to which the weather was simply awful turning the battlefield into a morass of mud. A few gains were made such as the capture of the village of Beaumont-Hamel and some of the marshy land either side of the river, but very few of the British objectives were achieved. Once again the casualty rate soared.

On 13th November, the day the Ancre offensive began, 2nd Division attacked due east along the Redan Ridge. 6 Brigade were on the left and were faced with the task of clearing the formidable German strongpoint, the Quadrilateral, before they could proceed further. But this proved to be their stumbling block. The artillery barrage had not dealt adequately with the enemy wire here and both 13th Essex and 2nd South Staffordshire were hit by machine gun fire and further hindered by mud and poor visibility, they went to ground. Some of 13th Essex, advancing on the right of the battalion front, were able to bypass the Quadrilateral and move forwards with other units to the next objectives. Some got as far as Frankfurt Trench on the reverse side of the ridge but were unable to remain there. German counter attacks drove them back  and by 9am the survivors of 6 Brigade were withdrawn to the British front line. There had been many casualties for 13th Essex, Nearly 100 men were killed, including William May, and many more were wounded. Curiously, William May is buried in a cemetery in Arras, some 20 miles north of the Ancre and an explanation for this is still to be found.

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