Private 17250 Harry Bennett of Darlaston and the Battle of the Somme
The 1st July 2016 marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. My maternal grandfather Henry (Harry) Bennett, from Darlaston took part in that terrible action, whilst serving as Private 17250 in the 7th Battalion of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment.
Harry was born on 15th June 1897 in Cross Street, Darlaston. During the Great War like many others he enlisted and first served abroad in early 1916, before he was even nineteen years of age. Within months of arriving in Europe he took part in some of the most savage fighting seen so far in the Great War, and was to go on to participate in some of the conflict’s most notorious battles. The following is a brief summary of the 7th Battalion’s involvement in the early days of the bloody Battle of the Somme, based on the battalion’s actual daily war diary.
In the final days of June 2016 the 7th Battalion was on the move in northern France, headed toward the frontline to take part in a major offensive they knew was coming. With a summer offensive highly likely the men went into training near to Allonville between the 13th and 24th of June. On the 27th with training completed the 7th received Order 66 and travelled the 16km to Heilly on 27th June. There they awaited what for many of the men was to be their fate. The next order they received took them 8km to Morlancourt on June 30th, the eve of the Somme offensive. There they awaited further orders, they must have known the battle was imminent, we can only imagine how they felt as they waited.
In the early morning of July 1st the Battle of the Somme commenced.
Sometime before 8am the 7th marched to Becourt Wood via Meaulte and into the Fricourt frontline trenches where they relieved the 6th Dorsets. There they waited for their moment to come, and come it did as the attack went ahead all along the front line. The 7th received their orders at 8am, to attack Fricourt with the South Staffords.
At 12.15pm the 7th advanced reaching their first objective, Fricourt Wood by 12.50pm where they took up positions. With the battle raging all along the front the 7th stayed near Fricourt for the next two days.
On July 3rd the battalion took a number of casualties due to enemy machine gun fire, but by 1.20pm they had captured the enemy trench known as Railway Alley and along with it no less than 1000 German prisoners. The next day they took another enemy position which was located just six yards in front of their own position, such was the closeness of the fighting on the Somme.
July 5th saw the 7th reorganising and refitting. By this date, just four days into the battle their casualties included four officers and thirty-five other ranks killed. Another four officers and one hundred and fifty-three other ranks had been wounded. Reinforcements in the days that follow, but the losses were of course destined to get worse. It wasn’t until the end of August 1916 that the 7th had any respite from the fighting.
As for Harry Bennett, he survived the mud and the blood of the Somme when so many of his friends did not do so. He went on through the Great War to face the Battle of Arras in April 1917 and the awful fighting at Passchendaele between July and November 1917. Incredibly he survived it all and returned home to the Black Country at the end of the war.