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First Name: Herbert Harold Last Name: FOWLER
Date of Death: 01/07/1916 Lived/Born In: Peckham
Rank: Rifleman Unit: Rifle Brigade1
Memorial Site:

Current Information:


Redan Ridge Cemetery1, Beaumont-Hamel

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.

4th Division attacked as part of VIII Corps against the fortress villages of Serre and Beaumont Hamel. The German positions here were a kind of amphitheatre with the British confronted by tiers of fire. Their defences also included two strong redoubts, Ridge Redoubt and the Quadrilateral. Their objective was to breach Munich trench, 100 yards behind the front line and then the supporting 10th and 12th Brigades would go through. However, no-man’s- land was bare of cover with well sited German defences which the bombardment had not destroyed. At 7.20 a.m. Hawthorne Ridge mine was blown and the artillery lifted off the German line giving them lots of warning of the impending attack.

On 1st  July,  4th Division  attacked with 11 Brigade. Leading the attack were, from right to left, 1st East Lancashire, 1st Rifle Brigade and 8th Warwickshire (on loan from 48th Division). Even during the intense bombardment that preceded the attack German machine guns had been firing and at 7.20am, when most of the British barrage lifted and when the infantry began forming up in no-man’s land, it increased.  Added to this the troops, as they waited, had to endure enfilade fire from Ridge Redoubt on Redan Ridge and of course German artillery hitting no-man’s land and the British front line.  10 minute spells or ‘crumps’ on short stretches of trench had very severe results creating a wilderness of shell holes.  At 7.30am, as the advance began, German machine guns manned the parapet to add to the carnage. 1st East Lancashire and the right of 1st Rifle Brigade suffered most. The wire had been well cut but the deep dug-outs not destroyed.  Some reached the German front trench and some even their support line but only two returned.  The left of 1st Rifle Brigade and 8th Warwickshire were, by being on the swell of ground formed by Redan Ridge, free from direct fire and only exposed to enfilade fire.  Consequently they were able to penetrate the German line and reach the ‘Heidenkopf’ or Quadrilateral Redoubt on the Serre-Mailly road, a stronghold that formed a pronounced salient.  The Germans planned to blow this redoubt when the British occupied it and it was only defended by one machine gun but this jammed and the engineers blew the mine too early.  Moving on, 1st Rifle Brigade & 8th Warwickshire were able to gain the support trench behind it on a 600 yard frontage. At  7.40am three supporting battalions started across no-man’s land. 1st Somerset Light Infantry inclined to the left to avoid the machine gun swept Redan Ridge and some of them reached 1st Rifle Brigade and 8th Warwickshire in the Quadrilateral.  From here small groups of 1st Somerset Light Infantry and 1st Rifle Brigade pushed on a further ¼ mile and occupied 300 yards of the further German front line position. But by now they were much reduced in numbers and running short of grenades and by 11am the Germans had worked round their flanks and behind them and strong German bombing parties were moving down from Serre. They were forced to retire to the Quadrilateral.  The meagre gains made by 11 Brigade that day were all back in German hands by the next and the price paid by 1st Rifle Brigade was well over 400 officers and men killed, wounded or missing. 

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