July 2nd

The night of 1-2 July
Some parties of men remained in the German front line throughout the night. Others who had been stranded in inaccessible positions, or lay wounded north or south of the river, would soon become prisoners of war, or if their wounds were too severe they died in some lonely hour of that short July night.
Back in the casualty clearing stations and the advanced dressing stations, behind the lines, doctors and their assistants were literally falling off their feet with exhaustion. They stared in horror at the wounds made by the German machine-guns, “so big you could put your fist in to them”, and there were amputations to be done, many of them quickly and crudely improvised, and yet they worked on, taking only a few minutes break, to have a bite to eat.
In command posts, such as the one at Hamel, despondency alternated with desperation as the full day’s calamity came home to those in charge.Eventually some tried to get a little sleep on the hard wooden chairs or curled up in greatcoats on the stone floor. There were lorries parked on the village street and some men slept in these.
At midnight the sole remnent of the day’s conquests was a scattering of troops in the enemies front line; all else was lost.Although at 11.30pm word had come through that me of the 148th Brigade would be placed at the disposal of the 36th in an attempt to retake the Schwaben Redoubt, it seemed futile to consider such an operation by night with troops who did not know the terrain. Equally it would be foolish in the extreme to attempt an attack by day light unless Thiepval were first taken. Later in the night the proposed operation was cancelled.



With only yards now separating the Ulstermen in the German front line and the German second line,
periscopes were used to spy on the enemy.

Sunday 2 July
At seven o’clock in the morning, as the ground mist dispersed in the warmth of the sun, observers in Mensil would see the Ulstermen and their assistants from the 146th Brigade in small groups in the German trenches. Maj. General Nugent ordered that an attempt be made to support the, sending word for supplies of ammunition and water and more machine-guns. The task would be made more difficult by the fact that the enemy had brought up a high-velocity gun on the Grandcourt-Beaucourt railway overnight, and it was firing souhwards into the Ancre valley and beyond.
The men of the Pioneer Battalion were particularly busy during the morning, gathering supplies and crawling along the shattered trenches to vantage points in the front line.
Up to 400 men were to be rounded up and made to undertake the journey across no-mans-land at about 2pm. Many were reserve troops who were holding the Ulster line, others were from the 146th Brigade. Two guns of the 107th Machine-gun Company went with them and the entire group was lead by Major P.J. Woods of the West Belfast Volunteers. By 2pm most of the remaining YCVs had made their way back to Martinsart Wood in single file, via the causeway. The party of men was only 120 strong, with just two of the officers who had gone over the parapet on the previous morning. Meanwhile the West Belfast men had set out for their objective, only to be met with the same horrific gunfire as on the previous day. Each man carried far more supplies than in the previous advance and was grossly weighed down. When a man fell killed of wounded his comrade lifted as much as he could of the other mans load, and so some of the fitter soldiers arrived at the German lines with twice the weight of supplies they had started out with. A third of the party, however, never got there.


The men who never made it across no-mans-land lay where they fell.

Thus strengthened, the British troops in the German trenches proceeded to hold their own against enemy counter attacks but never really managed to advance further into German territory. Later, two small parties of Pioneers went across with bombs and ammunition from Thiepval Wood. It was a question of holding on now, until the 49th Division finally and fully relieved the Ulstermen sometime that night.
Casualties who had fallen on the previous day were still being brought in - occasionally, and incredibly, some were still alive. The tramway had been hit in several places but the engineers always got it working again. Mechanics also worked hard to keep the engines of the motor ambulances ticking over.
Finally, in the hours of darkness, the 49th Division relieved the 36th of responsibility for the front line. The last remnants of the Ulster advance were sent back across no-mans-land to the wood, utterly worn out. Battalions endeavoured to reform and then to head back to rest areas in Martinsart, were they could throw themselves down and try to sleep despite the thunder of the continued bombardment.The 36th had contributed all that they ever effectively would to the Somme campaign and they were played out.



An ambulance at the front, sketched by Jim Maultsaid

 

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