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First Name: Ernest John Last Name: BARNES
Date of Death: 01/07/1916 Lived/Born In: Wembley
Rank: Private Unit: London3
Memorial Site:

Current Information:

Enlisted-Edward Street, EC1

Gommecourt British Cemetery2, Hebuterne, France


The opening day of the Battle of the Somme 1st July 1916

This was a disastrous day for the British Army in France. Eleven divisions of Fourth Army attacked along a 15 mile front from Maricourt to Serre. Two further divisions of Third Army launched a diversionary attack just to the north of Serre at Gommecourt. For a week beforehand the British artillery pounded the German trenches but the Germans had been there for a long time and they had constructed deep, concrete reinforced shelters beneath their trenches and many survived the bombardment. The troops went over the top at 7.30 am but even before they had left their overcrowded trenches, many had been killed or maimed by German artillery. The Germans knew that they were coming. Once in No-Man’s-Land the artillery continued to take its toll and then the machine guns opened up on the advancing British infantry. They fell in their thousands and the attack came to a standstill almost everywhere. Survivors sought cover wherever they could find it and at night they crawled back to their own lines, often dragging a wounded soldier with them. Only in the south were any advances made with the attack on Fricourt and Mametz. Over 19,000 British soldiers were killed on this day, including 2,500 from London.

The attack on Gommecourt

The 56th (London) Division and the 46th (North Midland) Division carried out the diversionary attack on Gommecourt. It was intended to draw German reserves away from the main battle further south and to pinch out the Gommecourt salient. It failed on both counts. The German defences at Gommecourt were among the strongest any British attack faced on 1st July. Nevertheless 56th Division’s attack on the southern edge of the salient began promisingly. The first two German lines were taken but they could get no further. 46th Division’s attack came to grief on the uncut wire and by the end of a very bloody day, all but the dead and injured were back in their own trenches.

On 1st July, 167 Brigade of 56th Division were in reserve to the attack by 168 and 169 Brigades. Some of the 3rd London battalion were given the task of digging a communication trench to link up the front line with the captured trenches in the gap between the attacks of 56th and 46th Divisions. However, when they began this around 10am the German barrage on no-man’s land was so heavy that the task had to be abandoned. Elsewhere two companies of 3rd London moved up and occupied the front line trenches vacated by the attacking battalions. Their casualties amounted to over one hundred and twenty and continued into the next day as 167 Brigade took over the front line. One of those killed was Ernest Barnes.

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