Mametz

Mametz is located around three miles due east of Albert, and on the 1st of July 1916 was towards the southern part of front on which the British attacked. In this area there was success on the first day when Mametz village was captured. Nearby Fricourt was taken on the 2nd of July. It was the 7th Division which attacked here and gained these early successes. As well as the village itself, this page also covers the Bois Francais and cemeteries near to that woodland.

Interactive Map of Sites in and around Mametz



Devonshire Cemetery

In the lee of the slope to the south of the village is the beautiful and moving Devonshire Cemetery. Probably one of the most famous and most visited cemeteries on the Somme, there is a stone by the cemetery gate which bears the inscription “The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still“. The story behind this is tragic in the extreme.

The inscription was originally on a wooden sign, with the stone tablet put up in 1986. In Devonshire Cemetery lies the body of Captain Duncan Martin, who made a model of the ground his 9th Devonshire battalion was set to attack on the 1st of July 1916.

Martin examined the layout and where they were to attack. He predicted that the Devonshires would be wiped out by machine gun fire from the ‘Shrine’ (located just in front of the graveyard in the village of Mametz). The views from the cemetery to the Shrine (left – showing the ground the Devonshires had to advance over) and from the Shrine towards the British front lines (right) are shown below.

Martin proved correct; he was killed and  is buried in the cemetery. His name is inscribed along with two other Devonshire soldiers on one headstone. Many of the 8th and 9th Devonshires also died. In the Cemetery, only two of the 153 burials are not Devonshire men. Only one of the 151 Devonshires buried here did not die on the 1st of July.

A small cemetery with just two long rows of headstones, this is a location in which to remember the real tragedy of the Great War, as the Cemetery is effectively a mass grave in the trench from which the soldiers attacked on the 1st of July 1916.

Very near the site of the Shrine, I recently saw a large shell lying waiting for collection by the ordnance disposal experts. A paperback book placed beside it gives some idea of the size of this shell.

Large shell near 'The Shrine' in Mametz

Large shell near ‘The Shrine’ in Mametz



Gordon Cemetery

A little further south-east along the road from the Devonshire Cemetery is another beautiful and very moving cemetery – Gordon Cemetery. On the 1st of July 1916, the 2nd Gordon Highlanders attacked to the right of the Devonshires, so these two cemeteries, so close to one another, represent their respective attacking fronts. The bodies of those who were killed were buried very near to where they had fallen.

The cemetery contains just two short rows of headstones, with others are arranged in two semi-circles around the Cross of Sacrifice. Only the rows mark actual graves. At the front right of Gordon Cemetery in a row are the graves of six officers of the Gordons who died on July the 1st 1916 (photo above right).

They were all Second Lieutenants, including Second Lieutenant McNeil. He was just 21 when he died. He applied for appointment to the Special Reserve of Officers in March 1915, and his application had to be counter-signed by his mother, Marjorie, as he was under 21.

The report of his death, which was sent to the War Office 20 days after he was killed, describes his place of burial as “Behind grave in ’67 Support Trench’, by the roadside, near Mansel Copse, just S. of Mametz”.

Unlike the graves of these officers, the majority of headstones in this cemetery do not mark actual burials. All the ‘headstones’ in the two semi-circles record the names of soldiers who are known to be buried within the cemetery, but the exact location of their graves is not known. Not all burials are of identified soldiers, and one headstone commemorates “Four Soldiers of the Great War” – but otherwise the men commemorated by these special memorial headstones within these two semi-circles all died on the 1st of July, and all are Gordon Highlanders.

Special memorials for other ranks in semicircles at Gordon Cemetery

Special memorials for other ranks in semicircles at Gordon Cemetery

Despite the casualties, the attack here was successful, with gains made right through to the north of Mametz.

War Poets and the Bois Francais

The area around Mametz is of interest because the war poets Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon served in this sector with the First Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in early 1916. They both wrote memoirs of their time in the Army, and mention many of the places around here.

Another area of ground land here still bears the scars from the Great War. This can be found not far from the Devonshire Cemetery, by following a track that leads up past it, then turning right at the top where this meets another track. Follow this to some disturbed ground on the right, with woodland behind.

This is also not far from the site of Kiel Trench, where Seigfreid Sassoon earned his Military Cross on the 25th of May 1916.  However there are also the remains of World War Two gun emplacements here.

Shrapnel can still be seen in the furrows of the fields around, rusty fragments of metal 100 years old lying alongside clay pigeon fragments from the ‘Ball-Trap’ shooting site a little further along.

In his book Walking the Somme, Paul Reed describes very rewarding walks which cover this area, giving the historical background. The book is thoroughly recommended to those visiting the area.

A little further along the track is the Bois Francais. This is the area of woodland on the ridge, where the enemy lines were relatively close together as neither wanted to concede the high ground. The trenches near here had London names: Park Lane and Shooters Hill for example. Shell-holes and what may perhaps be the remnants of trench lines can be seen in the right side of the wood off the track. German trenches can also be seen on private land just beyond.

The lines here were incredibly close. The GPS based Linesman system allows a very good estimate to be made of locations of the German and British front lines. The right hand photograph above shows the view from the position of the British front lines towards the German front lines in early 1916. The German front lines were located just where the shadows begin on the track from the trees above. So the front lines were only some 40 paces apart.

Other Cemeteries

Turning left away from the Bois Francais, a contour line here was marked on trench maps as Point 110. Today there are two cemeteries near this track which bear that name. The first reached is Point 110 Old Military Cemetery.

The Bois Francais is visible on the ridge above, and the gleam of the Basilica in Albert can be seen from here too. This cemetery is the larger of the two with just less than a hundred burials, all identified men. It was originally a French cemetery, taken over by the British in August 1915. This was probably given the name ‘Old’ as it had been started by the French earlier than the ‘New’ Point 110 Cemetery. The original French graves have long since been removed.

On the headstone marking Private William Blandford’s grave is an inscription that reminds you of the pain for those left behind: ‘He waits for us above, resting in the Savior’s love. His wife and little Nance.’ William Blandford was from Blandford in Dorset, and served with ‘B’ Company of the 1st Dorsets. His wife was Lucy Amelia Blandford, living at 51A Dorset Street in Blandford. Since  William himself was only 22 when he died, ‘little Nance’ was a few years old at the most .

Several men from Tunnelling Companies are also buried here, and one can reflect on the particular bravery it took to dig underground with the constant threat of the enemy blowing a counter-charge, or the tunnel collapsing, and those trapped being literally buried alive.

On the headstone of Private Edwin Isaac Harper’s grave  is the inscription ‘To our hero from Mother, Dad, brothers and sisters‘. On Private Charles Cameron’s headstone are the words ‘Ever remembered. Our thoughts are always with him in this foreign land‘.

A little further down the hill is Point 110 New Military Cemetery, set a little back from the track off to the left. The left picture below shows both cemeteries.

The Cross of Sacrifice stands directly in the entrance to this small cemetery, which was begun by the 403rd French Infantry Regiment in May 1915. The bodies of the 26 Frenchmen buried here were removed after the war, as were two German graves. The cemetery today contains just 64 Commonwealth burials, all made between February and July 1916. All are identified.

In his autobiography Goodbye to All That Robert Graves describes the deaths of three officers; David Thomas, David Pritchard and Mervyn Richardson. They are buried here, next to each other in the second row back on the left (right hand photo above). Their deaths, on the 18th and 19th of March 1916, apparently followed shortly after a comment by the adjutant of the battalion about how fortunate they had been in not suffering any officer casualties in recent times. Sassoon described Thomas in some detail as ‘Dick Tiltwood’ in his semi-fictionalised Memoirs of an Infantry Officer.

Sassoon first met David Thomas in mid-1915 at Litherland, and described him as ‘good as gold’. Thomas was a close friend of both Graves and Sassoon, and the latter’s account of David Thomas’s burial to the sound of machine gun fire is very moving. The inscription on Thomas’s headstone reads ‘Per crucem ad lucem‘ (through the cross, we reach the light). He was just 20 when he died.

Grave of David Thomas

Grave of David Thomas

A 1000 metres down the track,just before this meets a road is Citadel Cemetery.  This was named after a point marked as ‘The Citadel’ on trench-maps. There was a camp of the name here, and the cemetery originally started by the French, with the first British burials made in August 1915. Most burials were made by Field Ambulance units, and most of the 378 buried here are identified. The majority died before the Somme battles of 1916.

This is a beautiful cemetery; to the right of the entrance a grass slope with flowerbeds either side leads up to the Cross of Sacrifice and the rest of the Cemetery beyond.

In Plot 2 Row A, Brigadier-General Louis Phillpotts is buried. This officer was with 24th Division Royal Artillery, and is one of many  senior officers who were killed in the Great War.

A headstone in Plot 3 Row F is inscribed ‘Believed to be Sapper H Curtis’. This is fairly unusual: when the identity of a body was uncertain, it was more usual to have an unidentified grave (inscribed ‘A Soldier of the Great War Known Unto God’), with a special memorial ‘headstone’ elsewhere in the cemetery to commemorate the man.

Also buried here is Corporal ‘Mick’ R O’Brien of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. It was this man that Siegfreid Sassoon carried in from No Mans Land on the night of the 25th of May 1916, and for this act he was later awarded the Military Cross.  He later threw his medal in the River Mersey as part of his protest against the War.

Corporal O’Brien had been a regular raiding partner with Sassoon before that night, but Sassoon was not one of the raiding party on the 25th of May. However, he waited anxiously for the raiders to come back into the British lines, and then, when some did not return, against orders went out after them. With help, he dragged O’Brien back in, although the man was already dead when they reached safety.

Moving away from this area, Dantzig Alley British Cemetery is located to the east of the village, on the D64 road which leads to Montauban. It is very near to the site of Dantzig Alley trench, which was captured by the 2nd Queens and 22nd Manchesters on the 1st of July 1916. The photograph below right shows a stone inset in the wall, on the left side of the cemetery. This stone commemorates the Royal Welch Fusiliers killed on the Somme between 1916 and 1918.

This cemetery was started in July 1916, and used on and off nearly until the Armistice, when it contained 183 graves. These now form Plot One which is the upper tier, at the front and nearest the road. As with many cemeteries, more graves were concentrated here after the war ended, and these are found in the lower tier at the back.

In all there are now just over 2000 burials or commemorations here, around a quarter being unidentified soldiers.  It is a beautifully kept cemetery. There is another memorial to the Royal Welch Fusiliers (this time the 14th battalion), which is located at the rear of the cemetery and takes the form of a stone seat.

There is a Hedd Wyn quotation and the inscription”Erected by the Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Men of the 14th (S) battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 38th Welsh Division in memory of their comrades“. Also at the rear of the cemetery is a special memorial to 70 soldiers who were buried in two other cemeteries (Vernon Street, Carnoy and Bottom Wood, Fricourt) whose graves were later destroyed.

Mametz Village

Mametz in ruins after capture on the 1st of July

Mametz in ruins after capture on the 1st of July. Photo: Vise Paris

Within Mametz, near the village’s own war memorial there is a Memorial to the 20th, 21st, 22nd and 24th Manchester Regiment, which was erected by the Lancashire and Cheshire branch of the Western Front Association. These battalions were among those who successfully took the village of Mametz on the morning of the 1st of July 1916.

 

The village of Mametz itself is small, peaceful, and little changed for many years, although it was very badly damaged during the Great War.

Sources & Acknowledgements

Commonwealths War Graves Commission website
Brig-General Sir James Edmonds: Military Operations France & Belgium 1916 (Volume 1)
Robert Graves: Goodbye to All That
Major & Mrs. Holt: Battlefield Guide to the Somme
Rudyard Kipling: The Irish Guards in thr Great War
Chris McCarthy: The Somme – the day by day account
Martin & Mary Middlebrook: Somme Battlefields
The National Archives: Various files
Paul Reed: Walking the Somme
Siegfried Sassoon: Memoirs of an Infantry Officer
The Times & The Scotsman Archives
Jean Moorcroft Wilson: Siegfried Sassoon – the making of a war-poet