My father, Fred Nicholls served as a bugler /stretcher bearer with the 2/2nd South Midland Field Ambulance, RAMC, from the outbreak of war in August 1914, until January 1919. In 1916, aged 19, he was posted to France, and served on the Somme, and later, at the 3rd battle of Ypres. This is his own account of the action at Beaumont Hamel , on the Somme, November 13 -16 1916.
On Sunday, November 12th, 1916, the unit was resting at the village of Auxi le Chateau after taking part in the Somme battle, and we were holding a church parade. During the service a despatch rider arrived with a despatch for the C.O., the service was concluded and we were ordered to return to our billets and parade again in half an hour in full pack.
|Beaumomt Hamel November 1916|
On re-assembling we marched down the lane from the village to where three old London buses awaited us, and after about five hours travelling we arrived at the ruined village of Mailley-Mallett, where we were issued with hot tea, two hard Spillers biscuits,and a very small portion of cheese.
It was here we were told that we had been bused in as stretcher-bearers to the 51st. Highland Division, who were in the trenches in front of Beaumont Hamel. We collected our stretchers and other equipment, and marched the two miles to the ruined village of Auchon Villers, where we fixed up an Advanced Dressing station in the vaults of the old ruined church.
It was dark, when we moved again, and the road was occasionally lit up by the ‘Very Lights’ from the trenches of both sides. On reaching the front line trench we were split up, six men to a dug-out, very deep in the ground and with many steps.
We had a very warm and reception from the ‘Jocks who were very lavish with the rum. They told us that next morning there was to be an attack on Beaumont Hamel which was impeding our advance to Bapaume and Cambrai, and had to be captured. Later in the evening a ‘Jock’ officer arrived and informed us that ‘stand-to’ would be at dawn and that the attack would commence at 7.00am and that we stretcher bearers would go over the top with the first wave.
For weeks beforehand our Artillery had put up a devastating barrage on the enemy’s lines between 6 and 7 am. Jerry had become accustomed to this and when the shelling commenced he would retire to his dugout until things calmed down.
November 13th was very cold and a thick mist hung over the trenches. Our artillery opened up as usual, and at 7.00am the first wave went over the top. There was little opposition from the enemy as Jerry was still in his dug-out and waiting for the barrage to cease so he was an easy target for the infantry, who threw hand grenades into the dug-outs.
|Memorial to Gordon Highlanders, 51st Highland Division.|
During the advance, we came upon a Jock sergeant, with a piece of shrapnel lodged in his throat. He was bleeding profusely and we applied dressings to his throat to assuage the bleeding, and got him onto a stretcher. It was very important that he sat upright to prevent the blood choking him, and I had to walk beside the stretcher with my arm around him to keep him upright.
Our three mile journey to the Dressing station took us across the trenches and No-Mans-Land of both sides, and we often had to drop into shell holes to shelter from shell and machine gun fire. It was after one of these ‘drops’ that we found one of the prisoners missing. It was very misty, and although we searched round we couldn't find him and decided that he had been killed. Our patient was still conscious but very weak from loss of blood and we had very little hope that he would survive the journey.
|The site of Beaumont Hamel today. |
It is now known as Newfoundland Park and is the Memorial
to the Newfoundland regiment who suffered heavy losse here
July 1st 1916
Some weeks later the C.O. received a letter from him saying that he was well on the way to recovery, and thanking the C.O. for the wonderful job he did in patching him up. He also sent a special ‘thank you’ to the brave Red Cross blokes who had carried him out of that "Bloody-Hell" He had been anxious as whether they would make it to the dressing station.
Beaumont Hamel was finally recaptured on November 16th. The multitude of dead and wounded scattered over the battlefield, told of the price that was paid for a heap of rubble. The village had changed hands four times since July, involving the sacrifice of thousands of lives, only to be lost again in the German advance of March 21st, 1918.
After this action we moved on to the village of Forceville, where we spent Christmas with the rest of the unit, before proceeding to take part in the third battle of Ypres.