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First Name: William Augustus Last Name: GONNING
Date of Death: 10/07/1916 Lived/Born In: St. Luke's
Rank: Private Unit: Royal Welsh Fusiliers14
Memorial Site:

Current Information:

Enlisted-Holborn

Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz, France

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

On 1st July 1916 The British Army launched a massive offensive along a section of the front line running north of the River Somme. The French attacked south of it. The first day was a disaster for the British army which suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, 19,000 of whom were killed, and made hardly any inroads into the enemy lines. But the battle had to go on, if for no other reason than to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun where they had been facing the full onslaught of the powerful German Army. 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 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 days immediately following the carnage of July 1st on  the Somme, had two main priorities. They were to rescue the wounded and to consolidate what gains had been made. However, despite the slaughter of 1st July, there was no going back. This was the “Big Push” and the attacks had to continue and Haig decided that they would continue on the southern sector of the front where the few successes had occurred. The first two weeks of the battle saw Fourth Army pushing forward towards the German second line from Contalmaison, through Mametz Wood to Trones Wood. The problem was that these attacks were uncoordinated, with divisions and  corps operating independently and without direction from Army HQ. In a series of isolated operations the British Army struggled forward and took territory but the price in human life was far higher than it should have been.

An example of this was the attack made by 38th (Welsh) Division against Mametz Wood. On 5th July 1917, they moved up to positions north-west of Montauban in preparation for this attack which was launched on 7th July. In the face of well sited German machine guns and the battle hardened Lehr Regiment of the Prussian Guard the attack failed but so displeased were the high command that they sacked the divisional commander The next two days were spent holding their forward positions and re-organising and then on 10th July they attacked once more. After two days of bitter fighting the wood was cleared of Germans but the cost to 38th Division had been exceedingly high with nearly 4,000 casualties.

The attack on 10th July was made by 113 Brigade and 114 Brigade. On 113 Brigade’s front 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers led the attack with 14th Royal Welsh Fusiliers following close behind. 15th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and 13th Royal Welsh Fusiliers were held back with orders to follow on and take over the attack as the Brigade advanced. 114 Brigade attacked with 14th Welsh and 13th Welsh with 10th Welsh in close support and 15th Welsh in reserve. A fierce artillery barrage was opened up on the wood at 3.30am and at 4am the men moved forward behind a creeping barrage, a new innovation. Throughout the day the fighting was intense. Ground was gained, lost and then regained as counter attack followed attack with the Germans able to bring up reinforcements along a sunken road running into the wood. By mid afternoon both brigades were firmly established on their first objective, a ride that ran west to east across the wood about 500 yards in and here they stayed, repelling counter attacks but unable to advance further themselves. In the morning of 11th July, 115 Brigade took over this front line. 115 Brigade had been involved in the attack on 7th July and some of its battalions had also been in action on 10th July and were therefore too weak in numbers to do any more than fend off enemy counter attacks. It was not until the following day, 12th July, that Mametz Wood was finally captured when 62 Brigade of 21st Division relieved the the Welsh and with fresh troops were able to force out the enemy. Among the many men who were killed during the fighting in Mametz Wood was William Gonning, of 14th Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

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