Trones Wood - © IWM (Q 861)
Only occasionally have we heard anything of the county regiment's share in the great advance. From letters that have appeared it seems that out gallant fighting men had a comparatively easy task in the first stages, and casualties were quite small.
This was only one of the fortunes of war. It could not continue, and now it is well that we should be prepared for a sacrifice which will probably equal that of any other regiment. A letter had been received by a prominent Luton resident in which the writer places the casualties in his section at 50 per cent.
It is to be hoped this is an exaggeration, and it is a certainty that many of those who fell will soon be in a position to fight again. Many, alas, were stricken to rise no more. But the fact remains that they made history, and the value of their achievement is far in excess of any sacrifice, as sacrifices go in this war.
The following letter has been received by the Adjutant at the Bedford Depot, and it gives a graphic account of the capture of Trones Wood by the undaunted heroes of the county regiment.
Just a line to tell you that the battalion is now resting after attacking Trones Wood on the 11th at 5 pm. On the 10th I received orders from the Brigade that the battalions were to attack and entrench the wood on the eastern side facing Guillemont at 1.30 am on the morning of the 11th July. The wood is about 1,200 yards long from north to south and 400 broad at the southern end.
Two battalions had each attacked it previously; both got badly handled and failed to establish a footing, being driven out each time. The wood itself was very strongly held, entrenches and full of dug-outs, and had also tunnels under it, into which Bosches got when of our troops were in there, so that they could heavily shell in from three sides. The undergrowth in the wood was so thick that it was impossible to see more than four yards in front of you, making it practically impossible for companies to keep in touch.
The battalion advanced at 3.10 am, after half-an-hour's intense bombardment. Some of the dug-outs were touched, and also it would have taken two battalions to take it, as prisoners stated it was held by one battalion of Bosches.
At 3.30 am our men started getting into the wood, and by 3.45 a whole battalion got in, but we had many casualties from machine gun and shell fire, when about 150 yards from the south-west edge of the wood.
The way the men advanced through it was a sight worth seeing. They were simply magnificent. Suffering so many casualties on entering rather disorganised the companies, with the result that some got isolated and were not able to reach their proper objective, owing to the presence of two strong points inside the wood which held us up.
Heavy hand-to-hand fighting took place inside the wood, in which our men encountered a great number of Bosches with bombs and bayonet. The result of this was that we established ourselves in the southern part of the wood, dug in and consolidated, and held that part until we were relieved in the early morning of the 13th at 1 am.
Half of the 'D' Company got to the northern part of this and dug in until they were surrounded and had to withdraw. I eventually got them back to join the remainder in the southern end of the wood. Capt Beal handled them magnificently.
During the whole of this time the southern part of the wood was being shelled unmercifully from three sides, but at 7 pm they were well dug in.
'A' and 'B' Companies were holding the south-east side, and had dug a trench about 180 yards long to fire inside the wood as well as towards Guillemont. 'C' and 'D' Companies. under Captains Wynne and Beal, held out against three counter-attacks until relieved in the early morning of the 13th. It was a magnificent performance and the men were wonderful.
I was told beforehand that until we could get Trones Wood the advance on the left could not proceed. We didn't take the wood, but got part of it, enabling the Royal West Kents to attack from here the next day, also another regiment as well after our advice that it was more than one battalion could do.
I am glad to say the higher powers realised the magnitude of the task, and I was congratulated by all the Generals on our magnificent defence.
General Shea, commanding our Division, said, in addressing the Brigade, that the attack and defence of Trones Wood by the Bedfordshire Regiment would be written up in the historic events of the war. It certainly was a wonderful performance.
Wynne and Beal were simply splendid, and also Walker, who was left in command of 'A' and 'B' Companies on the south-eastern edge of the wood and got them safely out when surrounded at close quarters on three sides. In all, the officers did magnificently.
All the men who have been through the whole war said it was the hottest 48 hours they have experienced. We only took 32 prisoners, and in those 32 seven different regiments were represented.
Before starting off we were told that the South Africans had a post at the northern end of the wood, blocking a trench running down from Longueval, but they hadn't. Also it was not believed the wood was strongly held.
We captured one machine gun and found several big guns disabled in the wood. The artillery had done their work so thoroughly that the Brigade did not suffer heavily. Everyone is going strong, and the battalion are great, a real pleasure to be with such a happy lot."
We understand that the machine gun which was captured is being sent to the Depot, and it is hoped it will soon be on view in the county town.
Lieut-Col Geoffrey Glyn, who has been at the front since the early days of the war and who has been through some of the heaviest fighting, says in a letter to a friend: "I was talking to the General with whom the Bedfords serve, and I am sure it would please everyone to know how well the battalion has done. In this battle, at the first attack they were given an objective and, in spite of somewhat heavy casualties, they gained their objective, which speaks very highly for the NCOs and men, and is a credit to the battalion and Bedfordshire. Much is going on, and going well.
[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph: July 22nd, 1916.]