The Battle for Guillemont, 3-4 September 1916

Unusually I am presenting the text from the Battalion War Diary covering the role of 11 DLI in the attack on Guillemont. It conveys the matter of fact tone of these records for what were in fact momentous events. One would hardly realize the scale and nature of the attack on Gullemont on the morning of 3 September.

That some men of A and D Companies 11 DLI went in with the initial infantry attack, as indicated in some accounts, is not supported. However, war diaries are not necessarily always totally reliable. They are shorthand accounts made under pressure, they tend to be slanted towards giving a good appearance to the unit, and they will cover up any departure from Operational Orders that Division need not know about.

Whatever the actual facts, it cannot be denied that 11 DLI had spent several harrowing nights in the trenches preparing the attack infrastructure with the Royal Engineers, including the night before the attack, with little if any rest before they went over the top. Whether it was zero hour, or zero plus 2 or plus 10, it was under heavy artillery bombardment and blistering machine gun fire across ground that had been torn to shreds and strewn with dead bodies for weeks before.

Transcript from 11 DLI Battalion War Diary [TNA: WO 95/2108]

In Trenches

31 August 1916:

6 PM – Four companies proceeded to work. A Coy under the OC 96th Fd Coy RE. B&C Companies under the orders of OC 11 DLI and D Coy under orders 83rd Coy RE. Casualties night of 31st – ORs Died of wounds 2, Wounded 9

1 September 1916:

6 AM – Bright clear morning. British Heavy generally active during the day

6 PM – A&B Companies worked with Right Brigade. C&D Companies with Left Brigade. Casualties: Lieut J H Marples wounded Gas. O. Ranks killed 1, wounded 9.

2 September 1916:

6 AM – Fine morning. British Heavy Artillery commenced fire at 8 AM and continued all day. Great activity in the Air.

6 PM – Work carried out same as night of 1st. Casualties, Other Ranks wounded 4.

3 September 1916:

6 AM – The morning opened fine but cloudy. British Heavies continuing their fire from 8 AM yesterday. Very great number of British Aircraft up, also Kite Balloons.

8 AM – Battalion marched out for operations. A Coy working with 69th Brigade, D Coy with 47th Brigade. B&C Companies in Reserve at Bernafay Wood. Only sick men in camp. A Coy were employed in consolidating positions and making strong points. They went out at Zero hour + 10 the company worked all day and night. D Company moved to Guillemont at Zero + 2 hours and assisted 47th (Irish) Brigade to consolidate, worked all the afternoon and most of the night. B&C Companies worked with 84th Fd Coy RE at about 7.30 pm, they carried wire etc, dug a new trench east of GUILLEMONT STATION and cleared old German trench for Communication trench to new front line. Casualties: Lieut W A Cunningham very slightly wounded. OR 20 wounded and 4 missing.

4 September 1916:

5 AM – the CO went with Capt V Pollock to 1st objective gained after 3rd and found A Company assembling there. Shell fire very heavy, found 5 wounded men in SUNKEN ROAD. Men of A Coy were hit by shell fire. No water for men and no stretchers. CO and Capt Pollock left 2 Lieut Ward digging in with 2 platoons of A Coy. CO returned and reported to CRE and then received orders to send 2 companies to BRIQUETERIE. 12.45 PM CO and Major Lloyd proceeded to Brigade HQ at BRIQUETERIE. B&C Companies HQ with Lewis Guns moved off at 2.15 PM for BRIQUETERIE.

1 PM – CO went with RSM and Orderlies to front line and reported to Col White in command. Enemy barraging fairly geavy during afternoon. Received orders to bring the 2 companies up at dusk.

9.30 PM – Major Lloyd who had remained with 2 companies bear ARROW HEAD COPSE arrived and again received instructions to guide B&C Companies to front line and assist Infantry to consolidate near LEUZE WOOD. At 1.30 AM Major Lloyd and 2 Platoons C Company arrived in front line. Remainder had lost touch and arrived in support line. Brigade was relieved and the Battalion returned to CRATERS about 6 AM 5th Sept. Casualties Captains Pollock & Pemberton, Lieut Cunningham on sick list from 1 PM 4th. Lieut Robertson, 2 Lts Stubbs and Ward wounded. OR Killed 3, Wounded 52, Missing 1.

On 5 September, the battalion was rested for two days before going out for R&R.



5 thoughts on “The Battle for Guillemont, 3-4 September 1916

  1. Hello, I have only recently come across your blog. My gt Grandfather Private Fred Smith 17982 was in the 11th DLI. He was awarded the MM.His medals are still with the family as well as the St Christopher that he wore on a piece of string around his neck throughout the war. We also have his own war diary that he kept in secret, which details some of his time in the trenches. There’s also a couple of poems that he wrote during this time. We have his demob certificate & the letter he received telling him that he had been awarded the MM for his “devotion to duty, cool courage & good example to the troops on the 30th November” (Cambrai we think). My grandmother, his daughter, is now 90 but says her father said he got the medal for “shooting flies off the Captains coat”. He survived the war & died in 1951. I’d be happy to let you see copies of his papers if they are of interest.

    • That is a very moving story and illustrates graphically the conditions that applied on this particular battlefield, as well as the role of Pioneers like 11th DLI and their comrades from the Royal Engineers’ Field Companies. Thanks for drawing it to my attention. I hope others pick up on it and follow the link.

  2. Thank you for posting this information about the 11th DLI actions at Guillemont. I am taking a keen interest in this battle as my grandmothers uncle, Francis Brown, died of his wounds is this battle.

    The majority of the information I have learnt is from your blog, and would like to thank you for the time you have taken to find this information. I would however, like to ask where I could find more information on how he attained his injuries? I have been looking for a casualty list, but only officers names are ever given.

    Again, thank you.

    • Thanks for the kind words. Most all of that I know about Francis Brown is in the Roll of Honour on this site. I have double-checked his service records, which can be accessed through Ancestry (type in the name Francis Brown and Durham Light Infantry in the bottom box). Apart from some apparent confusion on the official casualty report form (killed in action crossed out and died of wounds written, and the wrong date of 6 September 1916), there is a copy of the telegram to the Army Records Office. This shows that he was with 5 Casualty Clearing Station when he died on 4 September. Sometimes, but not in all cases, the registers from the CCSs can be found at the National Archives in Kew, London. If the register for this period for 5 CCS still exists, there should be a record of him arriving and what his wounds were like, when he arrived and what happened. These are usually fairly general descriptions, so you may not learn a lot more, other than whether he received his wounds in the first attack on 3 September, or in the second day on 4 September. If he was in the first attack, he would have been part of the second wave whose main job was to consolidate the gains made, which would have been later in the day. The second day was largely consolidation work, unless he was a machine gunner, and it is likely that by this time the German artillery were targetting their old trenches.

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