The following pages carry my own interpretation of how the attack on Serre by 94th Brigade developed throughout the morning of 1st July 1916. The exact course of events will never be known.
"Behind this English line are several small copses, on ground which very gently rises towards the crest of the plateau to the west. In front of most of this part of our line, the ground rises towards the enemy trenches, so that one can see little to the front, but the slope up." (John Masefield, 19171)
It was meant to be a walkover. A week-long artillery bombardment should have left nothing alive in the German trenches. The Sheffield City Battalion and the Accrington Pals were to take four lines of German trenches before pushing through Serre behind a creeping barrage, clearing-up operations being taken care of by two platoons from each of the 1st and 2nd Barnsley Pals. The two forward battalions were then to form a defensive flank extending westwards from the far side of Serre village to the Serheb Road. Further west, the flank was to be held by 1½ companies of the 2nd Barnsley Pals coming out of Nairne Trench. The remainder of the two Barnsley battalions formed the Brigade reserve.2
In reality, as the final 10-minute hurricane bombardment of the German front line began at 7.20am, the attack on Serre was already condemned to fail. The artillery had lacked the quantity and calibre of shells needed to destroy the reinforced shelters deep below the German lines where the men of I.R.169 - badly shaken but largely unharmed3 - waited for the bombardment to lift. Nor had shrapnel proved effective at clearing the barbed wire entanglements, long stretches of which still stood in front of the German lines. Moreover, the Germans had skilfully assembled and hidden artillery batteries behind Serre, and these were now poised to deliver a devastating counter-fire.
At 7.20am whistles blew along the British front line to signal the first wave of the leading battalions to move into No Man's Land under the cover of the hurricane bombardment. Some 250yds away, German sentries were alert to the movement.
"The sentries, who had to remain outside throughout the drumfire, rise out of the shell-holes. Dust and dirt lie a centimetre-thick on their faces and uniforms. Their cry of warning rings piercingly in the narrow gaps that form the dugout entrance. "Get out...get out...they're coming!"" (Otto Lais, machine-gunner I.R.1694)
© Andrew C Jackson 1999, 2006