The village of Beaumont Hamel was one of the fortress villages located just behind the German lines on the 1st of July 1916. This position commanded the valley over which the attacking troops had to cross. The British attack on this part of the line was undertaken on that day by the 29th Division, part of VIII Corps, and there is a great deal more to see in the nearby Newfoundland Memorial Park, which has another page on this website devoted to it and which can be found to the south-west of the village. The first objective on the 1st of July was a line just beyond the village, with the third objective an ambitious further mile and three-quarters beyond that.
Map of Beaumont Hamel and surrounding area
In Beaumont Hamel at the bottom of the Rue de la Montagne stands the white painted base of a flagpole. This flagpole commemorates the capture of the village by the 51st Highland Division on the 13th of November 1916.
Until recently, however, only the base of the flagpole remained with a small conifer hedge behind it. An appeal was launched by the Scottish Branch of the Western Front Association to reinstate the flagpole. Generous donations were made by WFA members (and others), including one of £1,000 from a WFA member whose uncle was killed on the 13th of November 1916. The replacement flagpole was unveiled at Beaumont Hamel on the 90th Anniversary of the battle - the 13th of November 2006.
A new plaque by the flagpole with the insignia of the Highland Division gives information about the attack on the 13th of November, along with a verse written by Lieutenant E. A. Mackintosh of the Division who died in 1917.
Leaving Beaumont Hamel in the direction of Auchovillers on the D163, there are several sites of interest along the road. This road leads across the 1916 battlefield, crossing first the German lines (aligned roughly with the Hawthorn Crater), and then the British lines. Near the village was the Hawthorn Redoubt, a strong position in the German line, and this was where one of the mines was exploded on the 1st of July 1916. This mine was the only one north of the river Ancre, and was blown earlier than the others that day.
Lieutenant-General Hunter-Weston, who commanded VIII Corps, originally wanted to blow the mine four hours before the infantry attack. This was vetoed by GHQ (on the advice of the Inspector of Mines) due to experience being that the Germans were better at occupying mine craters than the British. In the end, the mine was blown 10 minutes before Zero Hour, at 7.20 a.m., whilst the other mines were blown at just 2 minutes before the infantry attacked at 7.30 a.m. In addition, the VIII Corps heavy artillery bombardment lifted from the German front-line trenches and support trenches to the reserve trenches at 7.20 and 7.25 a.m., again earlier than in other sectors. This meant that the Germans had good warning of the attack, and they were able to put down a barrage and machine-gun fire over the area, catching the attacking troops forming up.
The Official History (Military Operations France & Belgium 1916 Volume 1) states that "the explosion of the mine ten minutes before the assault undoubtedly prejudiced the chances of success, as it warned the Germans to be on the alert". The Germans were able to man the front line trenches, often standing in front and firing at the attackers. The 86th Brigade was to capture Beaumont Hamel, and men from the 2/Royal Fusiliers went forward to try and take the Hawthorn Crater, just ahead of the main attack. They did reach the crater, but the Germans were on the opposite side, and the Royal Fusiliers also came under fire from German trenches running to either side. Except for about 120 men of the 2/Royal Fusiliers, none of the other 86th Brigade troops (the other attacking battalions were the 1/Lancashire Fusiliers, 1/Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the 16/Middlesex) reached the German held positions here, and the attack failed.
The crater blown at the Hawthorn Redoubt can be seen today; there is a sign in French by the side of the road, and a narrow steep track on the left leads to the crater. The original crater was later the site of a second mine, this time on the 13th of November, the day a successful attack took the village. The first mine (1st of July) used just over 40,000lbs of ammonal; the second 30,000lbs. This was approximately ten times more than was used at High Wood, but less (on each occasion) than the single mine blown at Lochnagar. So this is actually a double crater, although it is very difficult to see much at all, as the crater is lined with trees and the undergrowth is thick. The crater is not water filled. However, there are good views showing the advantage of the German positions; the photograph below shows the view from the Hawthorn Crater (the German lines) towards the area of the British lines, where Beaumont Hamel British Cemetery can be seen.
Located a little further south of the mine crater is Hawthorn Ridge No. 1 Cemetery. This is reached by tracks which lead from Auchonvillers or from the D73. The track leading to it is muddy and rutted, but there are superb views down into the valley, looking along the British lines, and the memorial to the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and also Beaumont Hamel Cemetery can be seen below (these are covered in more detail further down on this page).
Just where the small path leads off the track to reach the cemetery is where the British front line was located. The cemetery itself is located in what was No Mans Land in 1916. It is very small, with just two rows of graves and was one of the cemeteries made in spring 1917 by V Corps, and was originally designated 'V Corps Cemetery No. 9'. There are just over 150 men buried here, only 82 of whom are identified.
One of the identified officers buried here is Second Lieutenant Eric Rupert Heaton who like many others here is one of two names shown on a headstone. Eric Heaton, the youngest son of Reverend and Mrs Heaton of Hove, was just 20 when he died on the 1st of July, and a small plaque was later placed by his grave which is still there today (shown in the photo below). Also named on the same headstone is Lance Corporal John Schofield Heape from Bedford, who was the same age and died on the same day. In fact, the majority of the graves here are of men who died on the 1st of July, although there are also a few from late June 1916 and also from the 13th of November when the village of Beaumont Hamel was taken.
North of the cemetery and the crater, and a little further along the D163 after the sign for the mine crater is a sign on the right to the 'Monument Escossais'. This is the memorial to the 1/8th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (who attacked at Beaumont Hamel on the 13th of November 1916), which is in the form of a massive Celtic Cross.
In 1921, the site for the memorial to the 8th Battalion of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders was chosen. The owner of the site, which was located only yards from where the Battalion HQ was in 1916 (near Hunter Trench), gave the land on nominal terms and on Sunday the 4th of March 1923, the imposing memorial was unveiled by the Duke of Argyll. An officer and 20 other ranks from the battalion, plus French representatives including the Mayor of Beaumont Hamel, attended the ceremony, at which pipers played. The memorial is constructed of French limestone, and was sculpted by G. Paulin of Glasgow. It stands 27 feet high, with eight panels around the base, four larger ones on each cardinal face plus a smaller one at each corner.
The front panel has an inscription in Gaelic; then, moving to the right around the monument: -
- The first small panel lists the battle honours of the 15th (Scottish) Division and the 61st Division in 1918
- The large panel on the right hand side gives a brief synopsis of the 1/8 A&SH: Mobilised for Service 4/8/14 - 12/11/19; Service in the Field 1/5/15 - 11/11/18; Killed In Action 51 Officers and 831 NCOs & men; Wounded 105 Officers 2527 NCOS & Men
- The next small panel lists the 1915 51st (Highland) Division battle honours
- On the rear large panel are the unit emblems, the largest being that of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
- The rear left small panel lists the 1916 51st (Highland) Division battle honours
- The large panel on the left states: 8th Argyllshire Battalion, Princess Louise's Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
- The final panel, the small one on the front left, lists the 1917 51st (Highland) Division battle honours
On the 13th of November, the 8th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders were part of 152nd Brigade in the 51st (Highland) Division, and they attacked from a position slightly in advance of that of the 1st of July, along with the 5/Seaforths, with the 6/Seaforths in support and 6/Gordons in reserve. The second mine in the Hawthorn Crater was blown, this time just before Zero Hour. The leading troops here met with strong German resistance, but carried the village as commemorated both there and also at the 51st Division Memorial in the Newfoundland Memorial Park nearby.
A grass track directly opposite the memorial leads to Beaumont Hamel British Cemetery. Standing at the gate of the cemetery, and looking back towards the road one can see directly opposite on the ridge behind the road the tree lined crater of the Hawthorn ridge mine.
Beaumont Hamel British Cemetery has brick entrance pillars by the gateway, but otherwise a low hedge surrounds the cemetery (although behind this on the field side at the back and the right of the Cemetery is a very low concrete wall, presumably for structural reasons). The Cemetery, standing in the old No Mans Land, was started after the village was taken on the 13th of November 1916, and was used until February 1917. As with many other cemeteries, more graves were moved here after the Armistice.
It now contains 97 identified and 82 unidentified burials from the Great War, in two long rows of graves. Many of the burials are 1st of July casualties. There are two special memorials to men known to be buried here, which are located directly behind the Cross of Sacrifice at the back of the cemetery.
After the war, it was decided that the headstones of the fallen would be of a common design, and one of the few areas of choice that the next of kin had was the religious emblem. Usually, this was a cross, although families could request that this be omitted, or of course for other religions another appropriate symbol be in its place - such as the Star of David. This symbol can be seen on the grave of Private Harry Steinberg, buried here at Beaumont Hamel British Cemetery. However, until very recently Harry Steinberg's headstone actually bore a cross. Only in 2005 was this error was rectified by the Commonwealth War Graves Comission, and after I first noted the basic facts on this website, I was contacted by Andy Green with the full story.
Western Front Association (WFA) member Andy was the man behind this change. On a tour of the Somme Battlefields, he noticed that Private Steinberg's grave bore the cross, although his name suggested he may have been Jewish.
On returning home, Andy found that Harry Steinberg was listed in the "British Jewry Book of Honour" which lists details of all Jews who had served in the Commonwealth forces. The 1901 Census enabled Andy to trace the Steinberg family, and he then pursued several lines of research. Many records relating to the Great War are held at the National Archives, Kew. Unfortunately, Private Steinberg’s service record was one of those destroyed in the Blitz; however his Medal Index Card was available. The National Newspaper Library in Colindale held copies of the "Jewish Chronicle", and in 1916 Harry Steinberg was listed as "Killed in Action", and his obituary was published there.
Harry Steinberg's grave with original cross (left) and now with Star of David (right) Photographs courtesy of Andy Green
The War Diary of the 2/Queens (also at the National Archives, Kew) gave details of the action in which Harry Steinberg died, and Andy found that Harry's brother, Emanuel, was also wounded in the same action. Sadly, Emanuel too was subsequently killed, just two weeks before the end of the war, when his unit was serving on the Piave front in Italy. His headstone already had a "Star of David" on it, and his details were also listed in the "British Jewry Book of Honour" and in the "Jewish Chronicle" for 1918.
When Andy presented all this evidence, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission agreed to change Harry Steinberg's headstone. Andy, along with Geoff Spring (Chairman of the Ox. & Bucks Branch of the WFA) attended the rededication ceremony on May the 9th 2005, after the new headstone bearing the Star of David had been put in place. About 60 people were present at the ceremony, including local dignitaries, the military (including a Jewish French General), members of the WFA, members of the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) Standard bearers, a bugler and a pipe player.
The service consisted of a selection of prayers, hymns and short speeches in English, French and Hebrew. This was followed by the playing of the "Last Post", two minutes silence, "Reveille", a piper's lament and wreath laying. The service concluded with the singing of the British and French National Anthems after which those attending were invited by the mayor of Beaumont Hamel to the town hall for a "Vin D'Honneur".
Religion is perhaps not as important to as many people today as it was during the Great War, but the fact that now this soldier's grave correctly shows his religious faith can only be a good thing. Although he lay for nearly 90 years in a grave marked with a cross, he now lies in a grave marked with the Star of David, like his brother many miles away. This has only come about because of the interest, endeavours and perseverance shown by Andy Green, and his efforts should be recognised and applauded.
It is a Jewish tradition, which goes back long before the First World War, to place a small stone on top of a grave. These stones can be seen on headstones in many of the cemeteries on the Western Front, and now, as shown in the picture below, on the headstone of Private Harry Steinberg.
Of course there are storeis behind all those buried or commemorated in each war cemetery. Another man buried here, Second Lieutenant Owen Fox of the 1st Dorsets had served in the South African campaign and, the register notes, had been awarded the Queen's and King's medals with six clasps. He was 47 years old when he died on the 6th of February 1917. When I last visited someone had placed a photo beside the grave of Private John W Ridings, a 1st of July casualty. The photo had an inset of him in soldier's uniform, but the main picture was obviously of his family when he was young - three children sitting around their mother, with innocent faces looking gravely towards the camera.
In between the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Memorial and Beaumont Hamel Cemetery is a track running up the hill. This is the Sunken Lane; from which British troops attacked the German lines (which were to the right as you look directly up the lane) on the 1st of July. Private John Ridings may have been one of those who died in the attack launched from this lane; he was with the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers who attacked here that day.
A little further along the road from Beaumont Hamel to Auchonvillers, on the right, is the position where Geoffrey Malins famously filmed the mine explosion on Hawthorn Ridge on the 1st of July 1916. This footage is often shown on documentaries about the Great War, and in fact can also be found on the internet, for example at the Virtual Seminars for Teaching History website.
A track leading up from here runs to the position which was known during the war as 'White City'; another video sequence on the Virtual Seminars for Teaching History website shows this location, where there were stores and also dugouts used in the Somme offensives.
A small road leads north from Beaumont Hamel up to Redan Ridge, which is an area of high ground. The 4th Division attacked here on the 1st of July 1916, and suffered what the Official History calls 'disastrous losses'. Some soldiers did reach the German front line, and a few even reached the German support line, but so few that they were surrounded and killed or captured, with only two returning. However, there were some gains made here in the attacks in November 1916.
There are a number of cemeteries to see in this area. Redan Ridge No. 2, the largest of the three cemeteries named after this ridge, can be found off a rough track leading to the left, opposite farm buildings. This track is not really negotiable by car, so it is best to walk to the cemetery. The cemetery has just three long rows of graves here, with a triangular apex where the Cross of Sacrifice is located.
There are just over 250 graves here, and almost all the headstones have two or more names, often with two different badges engraved to respresent the different regiments. One stone in row B has just a cross on alone, probably because the number of names on the surrounding stones did not allow for a religious symbol on each headstone. Just over 150 of those buried here are identified, and the cemetery is one of those which was made by V Corps in the spring of 1917. Like others, it is located in what was No Mans Land during the summer of 1916. One man buried here was a regular soldier: Serjeant J. H. Gristwood served with the 2nd Highland Light Infantry, and had eleven years service when he was killed on the 13th of November 1916. His name is one of two on a headstone in row B, along with Private A. E. Ward of the Hampshire Regiment, a 1st of July casualty.
Continuing along the road, a small track leads off to the left signposted to Redan Ridge No. 1 and No. 3 Cemeteries. There is a calvary where the track leads off.
The first cemetery reached along this track is Redan Ridge No. 3. This is a small cemetery, and no register is kept here. The graves are set in three rows at right angles to the entrance.
Rows A and B at the back are complete rows, with the headstones close together, whereas row C contains only four stones, which are more separated. The last two headstones in Row C however commemorate seven and five unknown soldiers respectively.
Redan Ridge No. 3 is just behind the position of the 1916 German front line trenches here. To the left and right of the entrance are thirteen special memorials to men known to be buried here. Their graves were destroyed later by shellfire. With one exception, the known burials here date from mid-November 1916, with many from the 13th November when there were successful attacks near here. There is one grave from the 1st of July: L/Cpl F. Purdue of the Hampshire Regiment.
It is possible to see another five cemeteries from Redan Ridge No. 3. Standing at the gate of the cemetery, you can see another straight ahead. Looking left, at almost 90 degrees, across a field, a second Cross of Sacrifice is visible, with a third a little more to the left and further away. If you then walk to the back of the cemetery, the top of Serre Road No. 2 Cross of Sacrifice is visible, and then to the left is Redan Ridge No. 1. This shows the concentration of cemeteries in this area.
Continuing along the track, this actually crosses the position of the German front line trenches in 1916, and then moves on into what was then No Mans Land. Past a rusting farm cart, to the left is a beautifully maintained grass path which leads to Redan Ridge No. 1 Cemetery. There is a register at this cemetery, and the graves are grouped in three long rows with the headstones touching, apart from one about a quarter of the way along row B.
This cemetery is located in what was No Mans Land. Many of the burials date from the November attack here, although there are also a fair number from the 1st of July. Overall, there are just over 150 burials here, nearly half of which are unidentified. The headstones re placed so close together that in most cases they are touching.
On the headstone of Second Lieutenant Henry Davies of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry is the inscription 'A friend of children: he died that the children of today may have peace tomorrow'. Private George Johnston was just 18 when he was killed in action on the 27th of November 1916. His mother, Margaret Johnston of Bilbo Cottage in Port Erroll, Aberdeenshire chose the inscription for his headstone 'Your glorious work is over dear son. Rest in Peace. From his Mother'. The inscription on Nicholas Nicholson's headstone is much shorter: 'God's finger touched him and he slept'.
Near the cemetery when I visited last (may 2008) were piles of gleaming white chalk dug from the ground for some reason; seeing there shows how difficult it must have been to conceal the digging trenches in the chalky ground of the Somme. If you return back along the track to the minor road, this runs past the back of the large Serre Road No. 2 Cemetery and joins the D919 opposite Serre Road No. 1 Cemetery. This area is covered on the Serre page.
North-East of the Village
In the centre of the village of Beaumont Hamel, where the D163 and the D163 meet, a small road leads off to the north-east. Green CWGC signs show that this leads to two cemeteries: Waggon Road and Munich Trench Cemeteries. The small road leading uphill to them was known as Waggon Road during the war. The first cemetery reached is Waggon Road Cemetery, located off to the right of the road.
This was also known as V Corps Cemetery No. 10 (and this name is inscribed on the cemetery gatepost). The cemetery is quite small, witth 195 soldiers buried here in six fairly regular rows, although the headstones are not evenly spaced. Row F at the front is a shorter row. Of these men, 36 are unidentified, and 46 belong to the 11th Border Regiment which was in action near here in both July and November 1916. On the headstone of an unknown soldier here is a somewhat unusual wording: "A British Private of the Great War, Name unknown" rather than the more common "Known Unto God".
A little further along the road, this time off to the left is Munich Trench British Cemetery. Like Wagon Road, this too was made by V Corps in Spring 1917, and also has an alternative name: V Corps Cemetery No. 8. The more usual name was taken from the Munich Trench which was captured by the 7th Division on the 11th of January 1917. This trench crossed the road near the cemetery and ran parralell to the track as it ran north-east towards Serre.
This is the smaller of the two cemeteries: there are 126 buried here, 26 of whom are unknown. Just to the west of the cemetery in the fields is where Hector Hugo Monro was killed on the 14th of November 1916. Munro was better known under his pen-name of 'Saki', and has no known grave; he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
These two cemeteries are very isolated and peaceful. The road leading to them turns into a cart track just beyond them, and so there is no through traffic. There are good views around, and this is a lovely spot where I have eaten my picnic lunch to the sound of bird song and little else.
Sources & Acknowledgements
Commonwealths War Graves Commission website
Brig-General Sir James Edmonds: Military Operations France & Belgium 1916 (Volume 1)
Andy Green for details of the story of Private Harry Steinberg, and for use of photographs
Major & Mrs. Holt: Battlefield Guide to the Somme
Chris McCarthy: The Somme - the day by day account
Martin Middlebrook: The First Day on the Somme
Martin & Mary Middlebrook: Somme Battlefields
Paul Reed: Walking the Somme
Geoff Spring for use of photographs
The Times & The Scotsman Archives
WFA Bulletin No. 73 November 2005