26. Jun, 2016

The July Drive

July 1st 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the opening day of the Battle of the Somme. On the Canadian province of Newfoundland it is known as “The July Drive”, and with good reason.

Beaumont Hamel
On the morning of the battle the Newfoundland Regiment was in a support trench outside the French village of Beaumont Hamel. First to attack were battalions of the Essex Regiment. Beaten back by concentrated and deadly accurate enemy fire the responsibility for capturing the objective of “Y Ravine” fell to the young Canadians.

The Advance

“The Newfoundlanders started their advance at 9:15 a.m., moving in their pre-rehearsed formation with A and Companies leading in lines of platoons in file or single file at 40 pace intervals and 25 paces between sections, followed at 100 yard distance by C and D Companies in similar formation. As they breasted the skyline behind the British first line, they were effectively the only troops moving on the battlefield and were subjected to the full wrath of the 119th (Reserve) Infantry Regiment manning the positions ahead and the German artillery.

A great many fell before they even crossed the British line. Many more were hit as they picked their way through the gaps in the British wire. With exemplary courage, the survivors picked up their assault formations as best they could and "with chins tucked down as if walking into a blizzard" continued toward the German line about 400 metres further on. Halfway down the slope an isolated tree marked an area where the enemy's fire was particularly concentrated. Called "The Danger Tree," a representation of its twisted skeleton now stands at the spot where so many fell on that tragic July day. Incredibly a platoon led by the 24 year old Sgt. Francis Gladney got to within grenade-throwing distance of the objective before succumbing to enemy fire.

Putting this into context….“As at 23 July 2015, a total of 454 British forces personnel or MOD civilians have died while serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001. Of these, 405 were killed as a result of hostile action [in 14 years.]

At 9.15 on that 1916 July morning, 22 officers and 758 other ranks of the Newfoundland Regiment began their advance . Within fifteen minutes, 14 officers and 296 other ranks were killed, died later of wounds or declared missing. In addition, 12 officers and 362 other ranks were wounded. A generation from that sparsely populated island had been virtually wiped out in a quarter of an hour.

Hence the July (Cattle) Drive (to the slaughter)

The Battle of the Somme did not finally grind to a bloody halt until the November of that year.

With all its admitted faults and need for change, the ideals of the EU surely have a thick edge over the narrow nationalist interests that led to the deaths of those young Canadians and millions of others 1870,  1914-1918 and 1939-1945?

For those who ponder fate.

Among those young Canadians was Abe Mullet. Not only did he escape without so much as a scratch but he was to live with all his faculties intact until just after his 112th birthday!

Photograph...The Caribou Memorial at Beaumont Hamel, the site of the Newfoundland Regiment's "July Drive'"