Russell C.J.

CHARLES JAMES RUSSELL (1898 – 1916)

7421 Private Charles Russell, 1/9th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry died of wounds 8 November 1916 and is buried at Douchy-les-Ayette British Cemetery.[1]  He was 18 years old and is commemorated on the Cockfield War Memorial.

Family Details

Charles James was born 1898 at Poplar, London[2] to James and Elizabeth Russell.  There were at least 3 children:

  • Elizabeth bc. 1891 at Erith, Kent
  • Charles James born 1898 at Poplar, London
  • George born 1901 at West Ham, Essex[3]

In 1901, the family lived at Walthamstow where James worked on the railway.[4]  By 1911, the family lived at Draft Yard, Cockfield and James worked as a “shift man at the colliery.” Charles was 13 years old and still a school boy. [5]

Service Details

Charles Russell enlisted at Bishop Auckland into the 1/9th DLI and was given the regimental number 7421.  Usually men from south west Durham joined their local territorial force, the 6th DLI but in this instance Charles joined the 1/9th.  The service details of Private C. Russell have not been researched.

The 1/9th Battalion was formed at Gateshead in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 became the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division. The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war.  Other battalions were:

  • 1/6th Battalion, DLI
  • 1/7th Battalion, DLI
  • 1/8th Battalion, DLI
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment joined June 1915

Following heavy casualties in June 1915 the battalion merged with the 1/8th to become the 6/8th then it returned to its original identity 11 August 1915.  The following units joined the brigade:

  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916 [6]

Up to the date of the death of Private C. Russell, the Division took part in the following engagements:

  • The Second Battle of Ypres: 24 April – 25 May 1915.
  • The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 6th phase of the Battle of the Somme, 15-22 September 1916.
  • The Battle of Morval, 7th phase of the Battle of the Somme, 25-28 September 1916.
  • The Battle of Le Transloy, 8th phase of the Battle of the Somme, 1-18October 1916. [7]

Private C. Russell entered France 18 November 1915.[8]  He would have been 17 years old.

The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916 [9]

The Battle of the Somme was viewed as a breakthrough battle, as a means of getting through the formidable German trench lines and into a war of movement and decision.  Political considerations and the demands of the French High Command influenced the timing of the battle.  They demanded British diversionary action to occupy the German Army to relieve the hard pressed French troops at Verdun, to the south.

General Sir Douglas Haig, appointed Commander-in-Chief in December 1915, was responsible for the overall conduct of British Army operations in France and Belgium.  This action was to be the British Army’s first major offensive on the Western Front in 1916 and it was entrusted to General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army to deliver the resounding victory.  The British Army included thousands of citizen volunteers, keen to take part in what was expected to be a great victory.

The main line of assault ran nearly 14 miles from Maricourt in the south to Serre to the north, with a diversionary attack at Gommecourt 2 miles further to the north.  The first objective was to establish a new advanced line on the Montauban to Pozieres Ridge.

The first day, 1 July, was preceded by a week-long artillery bombardment of the German positions.  Just prior to zero-hour, the storm of British shells increased and merged with huge mine explosions to herald the infantry attack.  At 7.30am on a clear midsummer’s morning the British Infantry emerged from their trenches and advanced in extended lines at a slow steady pace over the grassy expanse of a No Man’s Land.  They were met with a hail of machine gun fire and rifle fire from the surviving German defenders.  Accurate German artillery barrages smashed into the infantry in No Man’s Land and the crowded assembly trenches.  The British suffered enormous casualties:

  • Officers killed 993
  • Other Ranks killed: 18,247
  • Total Killed: 19,240
  • Total casualties (killed, wounded and missing): 57,470

In popular imagination, the title, “Battle of the Somme” has become a byword for military disaster.  In the calamitous opening 24 hours the British Army suffered its highest number of casualties in a single day.  The loss of great numbers of men from the same towns and villages had a profound impact on those at home. The first day was an abject failure and the following weeks and months of conflict assumed the nature of wearing-down warfare, a war of attrition, by the end of which both the attackers and defenders were totally exhausted.

The Battle of the Somme can be broken down into 12 offensive operations:

  • Albert: 1 – 13 July
  • Bazantin Ridge: 14 – 17 July
  • Delville Wood: 15 July – 13 September
  • Pozieres Ridge: 15 July – 3 September
  • Guillemont: 23 July – 3 September
  • Ginchy: 9 September
  • Courcelette: 15 – 22 September
  • Morval: 25 – 28 September
  • Thiepval: 25 – 28 September
  • Le Transloy: 1 – 18 October
  • Ancre Heights: 1 October – 11 November
  • Ancre: 13 – 18 November

Adverse weather conditions i.e. the autumn rains and early winter sleet and snow, turned the battlefield into morass of mud.  Such intolerable physical conditions helped to bring to an end Allied offensive operations after four and a half months of slaughter.  The fighting brought no significant breakthrough.  Territorial gain was a strip of land approximately 20 miles wide by 6 miles deep, won at enormous cost.  British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) of which some 131,000 were dead.  French casualties amounted to 204,253.  German casualties were estimated between 450,000 to 600,000.  In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

 The Butte de Warlencourt: 5 November 1916  [10]

The 1/9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry saw action at Butte de Warlencourt, an ancient burial mound, located between the towns of Albert and Bapaume in northern France.  Bapaume was occupied by German troops. The British front line had advanced from a few miles north east of Albert in the direction of Bapaume to the feature known as the Butte de Warlencourt which lay a few miles to the south west of Bapaume.  The Butte stood about 50 feet higher than the surrounding land and in theory provided a useful observation point for the Germans particularly towards High Wood and Martinpuich.  The Butte was honeycombed with tunnels and dugouts which provided shelter for the German garrison.  It had already resisted numerous British attacks over the previous month of October.

3 November 1916: the 151st (Durham) Brigade moved into line as part of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division.  The 151st comprised:

  • 1/5th Border Regiment
  • 1/6th DLI
  • 1/8th DLI
  • 1/9th DLI

The 3 Durham Battalions took over the front line positions and the 1/5th Borders came up behind them as the reserve battalion.

The 1/6th Durhams was a battalion recruited mainly in Bishop Auckland and the upper valley of the river Wear and were in the centre of the line.  The 1/8th was to the right and the 1/9th, known as the “Gateshead Ghurkas” was to the left.  Together they would attack the Butte, 5 November 1916.

The 1/9th was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford, a remarkable 24 year old man.  His father, George Bradford was manager of Henry Stobart & Co. Ltd. collieries and West Carterthorne Coal Co. in the Bishop Auckland area.  The family lived at Carwood Cottage, Witton Park until 1894 before moving to Darlington where the young Roland Bradford was educated at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Darlington.  He then attended Epsom College, Surrey before pursuing an Army career with the DLI.   It is recorded that:

“Under Roland, the 9th became one of the finest battalions in the British Army.  Known for its “esprit de corps”, much of the battalion’s efficiency and camaraderie can be traced to Roland’s leadership and the keen interest he took in the well-being of his men.”

The1/9th DLI was charged with capturing the Butte and a quarry beside its west face.  The 1/6 and 1/8th DLI were to seize the Gird Trench and Gird Support Trenches.  The 28th Australian Division was to attack alongside the 8th battalion. In support, to the right were the 1/4th Northumberland Fusiliers, to the left, the 1/6th N.Fs. and the 1/5th Border Regiment were in reserve.

5 November:  Zero hour was set for 0910, the 50th Division attacked with 1/8 DLI (151 Brigade) on the right.  The men had to pull one another out of the mud before they could start.  They almost reached the German front line but were stopped by machine gun fire and gradually fell back during the day.  The 1/6 DLI suffered a similar fate except on the left where they linked with 1/9 DLI in the line.  The 1/9 DLI went through 2 lines of German trenches, reached the Butte and established a post on the Bapaume road – some entering the Warlencourt line.  But these advanced posts were forced back and at 10.00pm the enemy was still holding the quarry and 500 yards of the German front line.  By midnight the Durhams had been forced back to their own lines.

1/9 DLI: in action  [11]

Lieutenant Colonel Bradford described events as follows:

“On the left the 9th DLI met with less opposition and succeeded in gaining all its objectives without suffering heavy casualties.  The German barrage came down at about four minutes after [the start of the attack].

At 10am the 9th DLI was disposed as follows: Four Posts were established in the Gird Front Line, the left one being on the Albert-Bapaume Road.  There were four Posts in the space between the Butte and the Gird Front Line.  The front edge of the Quarry was strongly held and two Company Headquarters were situated in the Quarry in telephone communication with Battalion Headquarters.  Each of the assaulting platoons had a reserve platoon in Butte Alley, the trench running immediately south of the Butte.  Two machine guns were sited in Butte Alley and a 2nd Stokes Mortar in the Quarry.  Two Battalion Observers were on the Butte.  The Reserve Company of the Battalion was in Maxwell Trench…..The Germans were still holding a dugout on the on the north east side of the Butte.  The Parties who should have “mopped up” the Butte dugouts had either gone forward without completing their work, carried away in the enthusiasm of the assault or had been shot by German snipers while at their work……..many of their [German] batteries concentrated their fire on our new positions.  Snipers from Warlencourt-Eaucourt were subjecting our men to a deadly fire and it was impossible for them to move….The Germans in the dugout on the north east edge of the Butte had brought a machine gun into position and were worrying us from behind.  Many gallant attempts were made throughout the day to capture this dugout but without success…The first German counter attack was made about 12 noon.  It was a half-hearted one and was easily stopped…” [12]

The initial task met with success but then after 3.00pm a heavily reinforced counter attack and gradually, the battalion forced back.  At 5.00pm Lieutenant Colonel Bradford reported that he had been driven out of Gird Front Line, posts had been captured, the enemy was in considerable force, still counter attacking, difficult to hold Butte Alley and asked the artillery to shell specific positions north of Bapaume Road.  The machine gun post mentioned above was clearly causing major problems.  Hand to hand fighting was taking place.  Then 4 hours of bombardment followed and a final, successful counter attack.

Lieutenant Colonel Bradford reported:

At about 11pm Battalions of Prussians delivered fresh counter attack…Our men were overwhelmed.  Many died fighting.  Others were compelled to surrender.  It was only a handful of men who found their way back to Maxwell Trench and they were completely exhausted by their great efforts and the strain of the fighting.” [13]

6 November: 12.20am, a final message spelled out the position:

“We have been driven out of Butte Alley by a strong attack and 9 DLI and 6 DLI are now in Maxwell trench.  Enemy are in great force and we cannot get back into Butte Alley.” [14]

The battalion losses were high:

  • Officers: 6 killed, 8 wounded and 3 missing
  • Other ranks: 36 killed, 220 wounded and 154 missing

Many of the missing later were found to be dead.

The Brigade casualties numbered 38 officers and 929 other ranks. [15]

Unit casualties were estimated to be as follows: [16]

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

Later research records that there were 10 officers and 264 other ranks of the above DLI Battalions with 5 November 1916 recorded as their date of death.  Between 5 and 10 November 1916, 10 officers and 285 other ranks were either killed in action or died of wounds.  [17] Between 5 and 10 November 1916, 9/DLI suffered a total of 94 casualties, 2 officers and 92 other ranks as follows: [18]

  • 5 November: 2 officers and 72 other ranks killed in action or died of wounds
  • 6 November: 7 ORs died of wounds
  • 7 November: 7 ORs died of wounds
  • 8 November: 4 ORs died of wounds including Private C. Russell
  • 9 November: 1 OR died of wounds
  • 10 November: 1 OR died of wounds

Private C. Russell was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War and Victory medals.[19]

With almost 1000 casualties, misery was brought to many Durham homes.  Local men to be killed 5 November included: [20]

  • 1672 Private Alfred Brown, 1/6 DLI born in Evenwood.  He is buried in Warlencourt British Cemetery, grave ref. VIII. B.7.
  • 3429 Private Fred Brunskill, 1/6 DLI of High Etherley.  He is buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery, grave ref, VIII.B.11.
  • 2211 Corporal Ralph Hebdon, 1/6 DLI of Tindale Crescent.  He is buried in Warlencourt British Cemetery, grave ref. VIII.B.6.
  • 3124 Private Robert Wilson, 1/6 DLI of West Auckland.  No known grave and commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
  • 3472 Corporal George Cox, 1/6 DLI of Evenwood.  No known grave and commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

No doubt in such close communities these men would have been known to each other.

One who survived this ordeal and lived to tell the tale was Corporal Monty Watson M.M. and Bar, “A” Section, 151 Machine Gun Company, a pitman from Cockfield.  His story is below.  [21]

151 MGC had 2 Vickers guns with each front battalion, 6 guns in support and 4 in reserve (16 guns).  2 guns were attached to 9/DLI and when the Butte was captured, Corporal T.H. Rutherford of “B” Section, established his gun on the Bapaume Road but very soon afterwards became casualties.  Corporal W. Mewes’ gun team attached to the same battalion suffered the same fate.  Corporal M. Watson then went forward to replace those knocked out.  Both flanks were open and Serjeant J. Glennell and Corporal M. Butler also went forward with their guns to help cover the exposed positions and the 3 guns played a vital role in repulsing the first German counter-attack which took place at about 11.00pm, 5 November.  The Germans counter-attacked again in strength and with the 151 Brigade decimated, it was forced to withdraw.  It was relieved by the 150 Brigade at night, 6 November.  A whole German Guards Division was rushed up from Bapaume to take part in the counter-attack at midnight, 5 November and these elite troops were well supported by guns of army corps strength.  A plan for a British attack 7 November was abandoned due to very heavy rain and the Butte remained in German hands.

The following account recalls the actions of Corporal M. Watson:

“The position was most precarious which made Captain Palmer, in charge of infantry on the spot, decide to climb the Butte and discover what was happening on the German side of the hill.  What he saw convinced him that the Germans were about to launch a counter-attack on a big scale.

Arriving back in our lines Captain Palmer immediately ordered his men to return to the original trenches and Corporal Watson was instructed to get his gun back right away to the old gun position.

Watson reached up to take the gun from the trench, turned round and found his solitary gunner Pte. McRoberts holding a revolver in the ribs of a Prussian Guardsman,  who had somehow found his way to the rear of the machine-gun post.

Watson knew that McRoberts’ revolver was unloaded for they had no revolver ammunition left.  Corporal Watson took over and both the gun and the Prussian Guardsman were safely brought back to 151 Machine Gun Company HQ where Major Grierson DSO, Croix de Guerre CO of 151 Machine Gun Company obtained valuable information from the prisoner.”  [22]     

Why was the attack a failure?  Brigadier General Hugh Tudor and Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford expressed their views:

“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, 1/9th Battalion 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
  • 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
  • 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 151 Brigade on the Butte de Warlencourt had no real importance within the context of the Somme offensive.  This kind of attack achieved nothing but swollen casualty lists.  [23]

Burial

7421 Private C. Russell is buried at grave reference III.E.6. Douchy-les-Ayette British Cemetery.  His body was reinterred having been brought in from an isolated burial or small cemetery. [24]

Commemorations

Durham Cathedral DLI Chapel: the Wooden Cross

A timber cross, to commemorate those who had fallen, was made and erected by Pioneers of the 9/DLI using what scrap wood, ration and munitions boxes they could find.  Another 2 smaller crosses were erected to commemorate the 6th and 8th Battalions and they stood together on the Butte de Warlencourt battlefield until they were removed in 1926.  In February 1927, the large cross was then placed in the DLI Chapel, Durham Cathedral and the other crosses were placed in St. Andrew’s Church, South Church, Bishop Auckland and the St. Mary’s and St. Cuthbert’s Church, Chester-le-Street.

Butte de Warlencourt Memorial

 The Western Front Association erected a Memorial to those who fell in the capture of the Butte de Warlencourt.  The Butte is now clad with trees and the Memorial is positioned to the east on the high ground in a small clearing overlooking the battleground.  Due to the dangerous nature of the site, access is by way of a clearly marked footpath.  The gate is usually locked and only limited access is available.  The CWGC Warlencourt Cemetery is located about a kilometre to the north, visible from this memorial and here lies other souls who lost their lives in actions about that time.

References:

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.1a p.630 Poplar London 1898 Q3

[3] Ditto Vol.4a p.304 West Ham Essex 1901 Q2

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census – probably should have been recorded as a “shaftsman”

[6] www.1914-1918.net/dli.htm & http://www.1915-1918.net/50div.htm

[7] http://www.warparth.orbat,com/battles

[8] Medal Roll card index

[9] Various sources, www.1914-1918.net, CWGC, “The Somme” Peter Hart, “The First World War” John Keegan

[10] Various sources, “The Somme” Peter Hart; “The Gateshead Gurkhas” Harry Moses & “The Fiftieth Division” Everard Wyrall

[11] “The Gatshead Gurkhas: a History of the 9th battalion, the Durham Light Infantry 1859-1967” 2001 H. Moses p.63-70

[12] Moses p.67

[13] Moses p.68

[14] Moses p.68

[15] Moses p.69

[16] “The History of the Fiftieth Division” Everard Wyrall & “The Somme” P. Hart

[17] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[18] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[19] Medal Roll card index

[20] CWGC

[21] Machine Gunner 1914-1918” C.E. Crutchley  1973 p77-81

[22] “Machine Gunner 1914-1918” C.E. Crutchley  1973 p77-81

[23] “The Somme” Peter Hart

[24] CWGC

Photographs:

RUSSELL C.  Headstone

RUSSELL C.
Headstone

One thought on “Russell C.J.

  1. Pingback: COCKFIELD | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

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