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First Name: George William Last Name: LEACH
Date of Death: 01/07/1916 Lived/Born In: Brockley
Rank: Private Unit: Royal Fusiliers2
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Hawthorn Ridge Cemetery1, Auchonvillers

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 7.30am 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.

On 1st July, 29th Division attacked the stronghold of Beaumont-Hamel. The action was carried out by 86 Brigade and 87 Brigade and despite the blowing of a huge mine at Hawthorne Ridge just before the assault, only a few men made it to the German lines. 86 Brigade attacked with 2nd Royal Fusiliers on the right and 1st Lancashire Fusiliers on the left.  When the mines exploded, 10 minutes before zero, 2 platoons of 2nd Royal Fusiliers, equipped with mortars and machine guns rushed forward to secure the lip of the crater whilst 2 companies of 1st Lancashire Fusiliers pushed forward to a sunken lane. But when the main assault went in at 7.30am, both 2nd Royal Fusiliers and 1st Lancashire Fusiliers were mowed down by fierce machine gun fire and except for 120 from 2nd Royal Fusiliers, none of 86 Brigade reached the German line and those few who did were unable to hang on for long. By midday they were all either dead, lying wounded some where in no-man’s land or back in their own trenches. Casualties for 2nd Royal Fusiliers on this day amounted to over 500. 

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