5 NOVEMBER 2016: THE BUTTE de WARLENCOURT COMMEMORATION
5 November 1916: It has been estimated that there were the following casualties:
The 1/6 DLI
- 11 officers killed, wounded or missing
- 34 other ranks dead
- 114 wounded
- 111 missing
The 1/8 DLI
- 9 officers killed, wounded or missing
- 38 other ranks dead
- 100 wounded
- 83 missing
The 1/9 DLI
- 17 officers killed, wounded or missing
- 30 other ranks dead
- 250 wounded
- 111 missing
The 151st Machine Gun Company
- 3 dead
- 20 wounded
- 8 missing
It should be noted that “missing” usually meant dead and some of the wounded would die. There are 10 officers and 264 other ranks of the above DLI Battalions with 5 November 1916 recorded as their date of death. With almost 1000 casualties, misery was brought to many Durham homes including the following local men:
- 1672 Private Alfred Brown 1/6 DLI from Staindrop, buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery grave reference VIII.B.7.
- 2211 Corporal Ralph Hebdon, 1/6 DLI from Tindale Crescent, buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery grave reference VIII.B.6.
- 3429 Private Fred Brunskill, 1/6 DLI from High Etherley, buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery, grave ref, VIII.B.11.
- 3472 Corporal George Thomas Cox, 1/6 DLI from Evenwood, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
- 2264 Corporal George H. Smith, 1/6 DLI from Barnard Castle, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
- 3124 Private Robert Wilson, 1/6 DLI from West Auckland, he has no known grave and commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
- 7421 Private Charles Russell, 1/9 DLI from Cockfield who died of wounds 8 November 1916 and is buried at Douchy-les-Ayette British Cemetery grave reference III.E.6. His body was reinterred having been brought in from an isolated burial or small cemetery.
So had the Durhams failed? Perhaps Brigadier General Hugh Tudor and Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford had an answer:
“The attack is fixed for tomorrow, in spite of the weather. It seems rather hopeless expecting infantry to attack with any success in this mud. The trench mortars have only their muzzles showing above it. Yesterday we had 2 barrages by brigades. They seemed fairly good but I should like more guns. To be effective, a barrage should be an 18-pounder to every 7 yards of enemy front and the guns should be capable of firing 4 rounds a minute at least to start with, without the recuperator springs giving out.”
Brigadier General Hugh Tudor, Commander Royal Artillery, 9th Division
“There were many reasons why the 9th DLI was unable to hold its ground. The failure of the troops on the right to reach their objectives and the fact that the division on our left was not attacking caused both flanks of the battalion to be in the air. The positions to be held were very much exposed and the Germans could see all our trenches and control their fire accordingly. It was a local attack and the enemy was able to concentrate his guns onto a small portion of our line. The ground was a sea of mud and it was almost impossible to consolidate our posts. The terribly intense German barrages and the difficult nature of the ground prevented reinforcements from being sent up to help the 9th DLI. Four hundred yards north of the Butte the enemy had a steep bank behind which they were able to assemble without being molested. The terrain was very favourable to a German counter-attack.”
Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford, 1/9 DLI
Clearly, the contention was that they had not failed rather they had no chance of success given the shortcomings of the British artillery barrage, a narrow fronted attack against superior forces and appalling weather conditions. With the benefit of hindsight, it is generally agreed that the possession of the Butte was not a major asset to the enemy and from the British trenches it was possible to prevent the Germans from using it as an observation point. In any case, the Butte would have been of little use as an observation point. The Butte had become an obsession and the newspapers talked about “the Miniature Gibraltar” so it had to be taken. It was a local operation, so costly and rarely worthwhile. Sadly, actions like the attack of the 151st Brigade on the Butte de Warlencourt on the 5th November 1916 had no real importance within the context of the Somme offensive. This kind of attack achieved nothing but swollen casualty lists.
The Western Front Association placed a memorial on the Butte some years ago. This followed the principle made by the officers of the DLI who placed wooden crosses on the Butte at the end of the war. These crosses are now in Durham Cathedral, brought together for a Durham commemoration. The residents of the village of Warlencourt-Eaucourt which is overlooked by the Butte decided to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the tragic event.
Paul Simpson and I have been committed to visit the Butte on the 5th November 2016 for some time. Our friends the Bell family asked us to place a wreath at the Butte and a cross at the Thiepval Memorial  in honour of their uncle and great uncle Corporal George Thomas “Dode” Cox who met his death on that day. We were honoured to do so.
Together with Neil Milburn and Alan Goldsmith we visited the Butte, placed the wreath and “walked the walk” around the mound. We spoke to other groups of descendants with the same intentions at the Butte or in Warlencourt CWGC cemetery. We met Charles and Blanche Crossan residents of Warlencourt-Eaucourt and other members of the organising committee at the Butte and the village hall. The “official” village commemoration took place the following day, Sunday the 6th but we had to be away to catch a train home. Blanche described it as follows:
“The ceremony on the Butte on the Sunday was simple and dignified but the crowd was such that the Somme Battlefield Pipeband could not get a place on the Butte but had to remain below. However the piper had pride of place beside the memorial. Our mayor was the master of ceremonies and wreaths were laid by him, the local M.P. who also is the Mayor of Bapaume and a representative of the Souvenir Français followed by the National Anthems of Britain, France and Germany being played. It was quite poignant.”
Some of our photographs follow. Official photographs will be posted when we receive them.
 This action has been discussed in detail elsewhere on this website
 “The Somme” Peter Hart and Harry Moses’ books on the 1/6 & 1/9 DLI provide detailed accounts
 Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War
 Also for another uncle and great uncle, Lance Corporal John William Arkless, 2/5 Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment who was killed in action 11 April 1917