Remembering those who fought in the Great War.

John LM Rodger

Son of WC Rodger, South Coast Junction, late of Greenock

Fighting on: 17 July 1916 
During the night of 16/17 July the north-west corner of Delville Wood was subjected to an Allied artillery barrage, in order to enable the combined attack launched by the 27th Brigade and 1st South African Infantry Regiment to be initiated by dawn. Once again the attack met with fierce enemy resistance and failed. 
At 08h00 the Cameron Highlanders, supported by two companies of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment, attacked and captured Waterlot Farm. At the same time, Lt Thomas sent a further situation report:

'The enemy continued shelling the wood very heavily all last night, inflicting many casualties. The Vickers machine-gun has been put out of action and the gun withdrawn. . . Nothing has been heard or seen of the 3rd Div [Division]*. I was given to understand that they were attacking at dawn. My Coy has been so depleted, & the remaining few are now so exhausted that I do not consider we could put up an effective resistance if the enemy were to attack.' {Editor's note: The 3rd Division, commanded by Maj Gen A. Haldane, had replaced the depleted 27th Brigade; which was withdrawn.}

Brig Gen Lukin visited the battalion commanders in Longueval and at Buchanan Street. Upon his return to brigade headquarters he telephoned Maj Gen Furse and pointed out that his troops were exhausted. Furse replied to the effect that the wood was to be held at all costs.

At 09h30 Capt A. MacDonald (Battalion HQ) requested from Capt Liebson, the 3rd South African Infantry Regiment's medical officer; stretcher bearers, but the latter replied:

'Cannot cope with situation here. Please remember that I shall send all I can . . . when possible.'(6)

At the same time Capt MacDonald circulated to all the company commanders a request for machine gunners but, owing to the heavy casualties incurred by these specialist troops, Capt MacDonald's request could not be met.

The Germans were becoming more active in the north western sector of Delville Wood. At l0h00 Capt Sydney Style, acting adjutant of the 1st South African Infantry Regiment, requested mortar support from the South African Trench Mortar Company:

'Lt Isaacs reports Germans are digging themselves in parallel to his trench about 60 yards from it . . . Could you give him a barrage? You had better see Lt English and find out from him the exact position of Lt Isaacs trench so as not to hit our own men.

At 14h00 German batteries from Ginchy began bombarding the wood. A patrol of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment erroneously reported the Germans to be east of Strand Street. Tanner advised Lukin of this state of affairs, and Lukin then sent the brigade intelligence officer, Lt Percy Roseby, to investigate. At 18h40 Tanner advised Lukin of the error. Twenty minutes later Tanner was shot in the thigh and, despite his protestations, was evacuated. Lt Colonel Thackeray then took command. He was ordered to attack the German positions southeast of the wood, but refused as he had only 200 men available for such an operation. Brig Gen Lukin assisted in having this Divisional order cancelled.

The Germans then attacked from the north-west, reaching Princes Street, but were halted and then driven back by a counter-attack. That night the British artillery fired on the Germans who were east of Delville Wood. At 20h50 Capt Medlicott despatched the following irate message to those directing this fire:

'Will you please get our artillery to lengthen range. Firing from south-west. They are breaching our front line and causing us considerable casualties'

Lt Thomas of A Company seconded this request:

'Our artillery are bursting on the SE fringe of Delvile Wood. Can you send back and ask them to range about 100 yards away from the Wood. Our men are in danger of being hit'.

At 21h00 Capt MacDonald replied:

'This has already been done. Please let me know if their registration is now better'

Twenty minutes later he received a message from Lt Thomas, to the effect that the gunnery had not improved:

'The Artillery are still bursting right over my lines, firing through Wood. They want to lift 400 yards. Firing on SE fringe of Wood. They want to fire 100 yds further away from Wood'

At 21h30 Capt MacDonald acknowledged the complaints of the company commanders in the following message:

'For your information the strafe discussed this evening has been postponed by the GOC [General Officer Commanding].'

That night the German artillery commenced their barrage on the wood. Many of the 186 guns involved had been hurriedly transported from Verdun. The thunderous explosions illuminated the forest in flashes, making sleep virtually impossible.

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John LM Rodger