Serre was the objective of the northern part of the main attack and was in the sector of Hunter-Weston's VIII Corps.  The 31st Division of the "New Army" would capture Serre with the regular army 4th Division attacking eastward from south of there. Like elsewhere that day the artillery bombardment had cut the enemy wire and damaged the enemy front line but had not destroyed enemy dugouts or made much progress in knocking out German artillery.   The VIII Corps attack was coordinated with the blowing of a mine at Hawthorn Redoubt further south.  The mine was blown at 7:20, and at the same time the British artillery fire shifted to the German second line.  This gave the Germans ample warning of the impending attack and 10 minutes to prepare for it.  The barrage supporting the attack had originally been intended to move forward 50 yards per minute, but this was changed to 100 yards a minute, too fast for the infantry to keep up.  At any rate, the British infantry would be doing well to simply reach the German front line.  

The blue line is the approximate German front line with the salient being the Heidenkopf.  The British attacked from the west - left on the map.

A) Trig Point

From a trig point on the D919 behind the British lines you can get a good view of much of the battlefield.  Auchonvilliers was known to British troops as "Ocean Villas".  To the south can be seen Beaumont-Hamel and the Hawthorn Crater and Newfoundland Park nearby.  In this vicinity the D919, or the Serre Road, was the axis of British advance.  The town of Serre, held by the Germans, is beyond Serre Road No. 2 Cemetery.  British front lines were just on this side of the cemetery with German lines on the other side.  Next we will drive nearly to the cemetery then turn left on a farm lane.

B) Turnoff to La Signy Farm

Here at the turnoff we are near the British front line, which roughly paralleled the cemetery wall.  The German front line was on the other side of the cemetery forming a salient called the Heidenkopf with one side parallel to the cemetery wall and the other parallel to the road and extending beyond the chapel before pivoting north across the road.  Next we will drive up the farm lane for a better view of the battlefield.

C) Light Rail Line

On this farm lane off of D919 is an excellent view of the Serre battlefield from the British rear.  The Gommecourt battlefield was a couple of miles north of here near Hebuterne.  British troops used the cellars of La Signy Farm for protection.  The front lines near the modern Sheffield Memorial Park were supplied by a light rail line running along a shallow valley hidden from German view.  The rail line divided the 31st and 4th Divisions at the front line.  The 48th Division launched their attack on German near the Heidenkopf from where we are.

D) Serre Road Cemetery 2

Scene of fighting on July 1st, this, the largest of the Somme cemeteries, has over 7,000 graves.  Next we continue down the road to the next British cemetery.

E) Serre Road No. 1 Cemetery

Struggling to peer over the cemetery wall, you can get a good view of the battlefield, particularly the German salient called the Heidenkopf.  Knowing the salient to be vulnerable, the Germans held it lightly and dug a defensive mine underneath.  Unfortunately for the Germans, they exploded to mine too soon, doing little damage to the attacking British troops of the 4th Division.  British troops south of here achieved some success, penetrating several German trench lines, but the failure of the 31st Division just north of here, combined with German counterattacks, limited any opportunity to exploit the success.  The failure of the 29th Division south of here at Hawthorn Crater also prevented any exploitation of 4th Division success.  The Brits ended up evacuating the Heidenkopf.  The 4th Division had lost 5,752 men.  

Next we continue down the road then make a left on a dirt road into the 31st Division sector.

F) Serre Road No. 3

This is the first cemetery that we encounter down the dirt road.  The British front line was roughly along the road that we have been taking then went along a line of four small forests named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  With one of the wood lots erased, the remaining three have grown together and are now protected as the Sheffield Memorial Park.  At 7:20, the British bombardment shifted tot he German second line, and 10 minutes later the infantry attack began.  Immediately German artillery pummeled the British front line.  As the attack began, unhindered by British artillery, German machine guns and riflemen began mowing down the attacking British, organized mostly by region in Pals battalions.  At the time, shells craters littered the ground, providing some cover for the attackers.  The 15th West Yorks from Leeds attacked toward Serre across the ground now occupied by the Serre Road No. 3 Cemetery, losing over 500 men in the process.  The follow-on unit also lost over 500 men.  Losses were so great, at least one Brit commented that the Germans now had a good opportunity to attack.  Most of the men didn't make it to the German wire, but due to a report that some Brits had reached Serre, a second attack was launched by two companies somewhere in this general vicinity.  It was soon stopped by German artillery.  Due to the nature of the fighting with men left unburied between the lines after the battle, the cemetery contains a majority of unknown soldiers. 

Next we continue to Sheffield Memorial Park.

G) Sheffield Memorial Park

Walking through the park down hill to the rear areas you can see the remains of trenches and shell holes, something that plowing has obliterated over the years in the fields.  Monuments to several units can be seen in the park.

H) Railway Hollow Cemetery

With just over 100 burials, this a good example of a small Somme cemetery.  At the time of my visit, the remains of a projectile had been left there for disposal, a fairly common sight at the Somme even today.  Among the most visited graves is that of Alf Goodland which includes an excerpt from a letter home in which he wrote, "The French are a grand nation worth fighting for."

The open ground here is a low area where the British troops could be safe from direct German fire.  The light supply railway that we saw earlier went through this valley.

I) Queen's Cemetery

Accrington Pals, a unit that lost 585 men that day, are the majority of burials in Queen's Cemetery.  Among the men from the unit is a company commander, Captain Arnold Tough, who had a very appropriate name for a soldier.

J) Luke Copse Cemetery

The last of the cemeteries in what was no man's land is Luke Copse Cemetery, directly across from the woods of that name.  The burials are oddly arranged for some reason.  In the area of the far left flank of the attack, a tunnel was dug forward, then blown up to create a trench that would connect the old British line to the German front line that they hoped to capture.

The attack at Serre was a total disaster.  Further south, perhaps a mine blown on Hawthorn Ridge would facilitate success.

Copyright by John Hamill, 2012

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