For the past 12 months or so I have been working on a book which is based entirely on the wartime diaries kept by Pte Jack Smallshaw of the Accrington Pals. Although I was already aware of the slaughter which took place on the slopes in front of Serre on July 1st 1916, I had never really read that much about the fate which befell the Accrington Pals that morning. During the time I spent researching the book I spent countless hours pouring over the 31st Division, the 94th Infantry brigade, and the 11th East Lancashire's war diaries. The narrative accounts are quite moving in places.
A short piece from my book which is due out in June. This particular part concerns the morning of July 1st, a few hours after the attack, and includes the urgent message sent by Lt Col Rickman of 11th ELR to Brigade HQ later that afternoon. It gives an insight into the sheer scale of the slaughter which took place. When you consider that the battalion was just over 700 men strong on the eve of the attack, the situation that Rickman found himself in by the afternoon of July 1st is quite staggering. I have also included a picture of Jack's diary entry and the man himself. Click on the entry to read the script, and bear in mind this was written just a couple of days after the attack.
By 10:45 a.m., it was all but over. The fighting continued for much of the day, but such was the scale of the losses to the 11th East Lancashire's that Rickman became increasingly concerned about his ability to defend his own front line should the Germans choose to mount a counter-attack. The German artillery continued to shell the British front line throughout much of the day, and at 3:50 p.m., Rickman reported...
"Very intense bombardment of my front line. all posts driven in by artillery fire. Men accommodated in Excema.*
Urgently require more men.
Bombardment still intense especially from Rossignol.
Lt Ryden severely wounded.
I have 55 men in all. Some of whom are wounded, 2 Lewis guns - only five men to work them, one of them wounded. Pans* filled by officers servants."
* Excema... Excema trench. Pans... Lewis drum magazines.