The following graphic account is from a letter by a young subaltern of the 2nd Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment. It brings very closely home the realisation of what that fight meant to the heroes of the county regiment. In this battalion are officers and men from Luton and district.
Doubtless you have read of the stand we took there, and did not know it was us, and how we practically took the wood after three other battalions had failed.
We were misinformed from the first about it, and did not expect any opposition. They told us firstly that we held a trench at the north peak of the wood, across an open space to Burnafay Wood, that there was no one in the wood except perhaps a few snipers.
We got to the wood soon after 3 am [July11th, 1916], the zero attacking hour. I and my platoon were opposed immediately by two machine guns, and heaps of Huns well entrenched and supplied with bombs and good rifle fire; some men also up trees and hiding behind them.
I made the men lie down a little way from the wood, and then ensued a battle of bombs between our men and theirs, and finally we knocked out the machine guns and some Huns and got a footing in the corner of the wood. We then bombed the dug-outs and took 12 prisoners.
I am sorry to say G----, one of the bravest and most gallant subalterns was shot on my left, and all his platoon, except two sergeants and two men, at point blank range as they tried to enter the wood. Several of my platoon and I were binding up some of their men, but were sniped at all the time, and it became so hit, also losing two men in doing that that I made them give it up.
We then bombed along the German trench up to the wood and came on a very strong point, a battery of big guns, and things were so hot I retired the men again. I had some marvellous escapes, several bullets going right through a tree I was leaning against. I lost five men in this attempt.
We retired to south-west corner, where we had entered, and met Capt W---- and his company. We decided to join my men to his and thoroughly consolidate the corner of the wood, as we had two of our companies in the north-east corner and south-east corner of the wood digging themselves in.
The north-east corner was supposed to be my objective. My company commander, with 20 men, and P----, with ten men, were the only ones of the company to get there. B---- was cut off in the north-east corner for four hours, with Huns behind and in front of him, or in other words, surrounded. He made a marvellously cool and gradual retreat, and brought most of his and P----'s men back to where I was, losing his sergeant-major and orderly. By the way, B---- is to receive the D.S.O., I understand, for this.
I made up another bombing party to try and reinforce B---- and get to my objective, and lost five more men near the Huns' strong point, and so gave up the attempt, reasoning that 30 lilve men holding south-east corner of the wood would be better than arriving at B----'s with two or three, and the chances were that none of us would arrive. It was a wonderful presentiment, for while I was making this second endeavour B---- was retiring. I sent up orderlies to him giving details of my moves and plans, but they did not return.
'A' Company had got to their objective and started digging in. Capt T---- and a patrol went out to find the German strong point near them, also F----, one of our officers from the 4th Battalion. T---- was immediately wounded and several of his platoon hit, so he and F---- are both missing. We hope they are prisoners - not killed, as the woods are now in the hands of the British and nothing has been seen of their bodies.
I never in my life spent such a long, tedious and anxious day. The next day we dug a trench across the wood, having gained some of the wood, and consolidated our position as firm as we could. We did not lose many men after this.
In the evening we received heavy artillery bombardment from the Huns, but with few casualties, and at nightfall they made another counter-attack, which we again repulsed. At about midnight we were relieved by the West Kents. We were dead beat.
The regiment finally got out, having to go through a severe artillery barrage of the Huns, which most fortunately stopped for half an hour as we were about to leave the wood. This was a godsend - to get the battalion out without further loss.
We finally got out with five officer casualties out of 16 in action, and 230 other ranks. We are back some miles now for a week.
The Divisional Major-General inspected the brigade yesterday, and thanked us and congratulated us on our stand. We have received congratulations from all, including Sir Douglas Haig and the King.
[The Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: July 29th, 1916]
Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service is carrying daily Somme reports from Bedfordshire Regiment diaries on http://bedsatwar.blogspot.co.uk/ . The map above is included in the blogs.