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Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Somme Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Somme
First Name: Norman Edward Last Name: BALDWIN
Date of Death: 08/10/1916 Lived/Born In: Brockley
Rank: Second Lieutenant Unit: London5
Memorial Site: Brockley, St Hilda

Current Information:

Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval, Somme

 

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

By the beginning of October, 1916,  the Battle of the Somme had been raging for three 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.

The Battle of Transloy Ridge

On 1st October, 1916, a new offensive was begun by the British Army. The Battle of Transloy Ridge was the last major operation fought during the battle of the Somme and it continued throughout the first three weeks of the month until the terrible conditions of rain, mud and cold coupled with the sheer exhaustion of the troops, brought things to a standstill. The aim had been to push the enemy further back to the next ridge of higher ground running between Le Transloy and Warlencourt. It was a very hard fight, progress was painfully slow, the casualty figure was shockingly high and the final objective was not achieved despite the best efforts of the attacking divisions. Three factors worked against its success. The first was the weather. It was simply awful. The second was the miles of war torn terrain which soon became a quagmire over which troops, guns, ammunition and all the other supplies had to cross to reach the front and keep the momentum of the offensive going. For the Germans, falling back on their own supply lines across relatively unscathed ground, this was not such a problem. The third factor was the new methods of defence employed by the enemy. They defended in depth without a well defined front line but instead setting up machine-gun nests in shell holes and other strategically important sites where just a few men could hold up an entire battalion. And of course, the German artillery had the whole area covered.

7th October, 1916, was a costly day for London on the Somme and by the end of it some 750 men from the capital had lost their lives and many thousands more were wounded. The second stage of the offensive, which had been delayed by the bad weather, was launched on this day and both London divisions, 56th Division and 47th Division were fully involved. 56th Division attacked on the extreme right of the British line with the French on their right. Their objectives were to capture the German trenches in front of them after which a second wave of men would move forward to the crest of the ridge covering the village of Le Transloy. The attack was made at 1.45pm by 167 and 168 Brigades and in the face of overwhelming enemy machine-gun fire it failed to achieve its objectives with great loss of life among the attacking battalions. 169 Brigade was in reserve for the attack on 7th October but late that evening the 5th London battalion were ordered forward to the Lesboeufs trenches so as to resume the attack the following day.  At 3.30pm on 8th October A and B Companies, with C Company in support, attacked Hazy Trench on the extreme right of the British line, next to the French. Their attack was a  failure. The enemy machine-gun fire was as fierce as ever, especially from the gun pits on the left and although they nearly succeeded in reaching their first objective, the fire from both flanks forced them to seek what cover they could. C Company moved up and helped them to consolidate but after dusk a general withdrawal to the starting line was ordered. They remained here, under heavy shell fire, all of the next day, 9th October, until relieved that evening when they moved back to trenches between Bernafay and Trones Wood. Their casualties had been staggeringly high with over 450 of their number killed, wounded or missing over the two days. One of those who did not survive was Norman Baldwin.

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