SERRE 1916...To the North there would be a diversionary attack by the 46th (North Midland) and 56th (London) Divisions at Gommecourt but in essence 31st Division formed the northern point of the Somme battle line and left flank of VIII Corps – who were also charged with the taking of the village of Beaumont-Hamel.
To the left, the 48th Division’s input would be limited to covering smoke screens and the loan of two battalions to the 4th Division on the 31st’s right flank.
The 31st were required to swing up and round on a pivot at Serre to face northwards and thus act as a guard for the remainder of 4th Army to the south.
The front line for the 31st was formed by four small copses: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A distance of about 1600 metres and about 1000 metres distant from the village of Serre.
The tiny patch of trees that formed John Copse was therefore the pivot point on which hundreds of thousands of men would be rotating.
The small village of Serre had already defied three murderous assaults by the French in June 1915 and it was known that the Germans had made good use of the landscape and the buildings to turn the area into what they hoped was an impregnable fortress.
The German soldiers within the village were from the 169th Regiment (8th Baden) and had been familiarising themselves with the area for well over a year. The French assaults in June 1915 had knocked them off the ridge opposite and given the French (and now the British) their current front line, but the French had paid dearly for their meager gain.
The left flank of the battle was allotted to 94th Brigade and they placed half of the 14th York and Lancs to form a north facing buffer to the north of John Copse.
Formed up between John and Luke Copse, the 12th Bn York and Lancs (Sheffield City) would be attacking Serre village along with the 11th Bn East Lancs (Accrington Pals) who were positioned on their right as far as Matthew Copse.
As the essence of their manoeuvre was an uppercut the 31st Division placed the weight of its might on the right flank.
Thus, the 93rd Brigade were formed up in a column of all four battalions ready to deliver the swinging blow to the underside of Serre. 15th Bn West Yorkshires were in the lead followed by the 16th and 18th West Yorkshires with the 18th DLI in the rear.
Units would advance in a leap-frogging motion passing through each other allowing them to reorganise and consolidate their positions.
These men would be passing to the north of the Quadrilateral, under Serre and then as far as the ridge opposite and Pendant Copse before turning northwards.
To the south 1/8th and 1/6th Bn. Royal Warwickshires (from 48th Division) would be assaulting the Quadrilateral redoubt.
Throughout the week prior, the British artillery had commenced an intense bombardment on the German lines at 06:25 hours each morning. This usually continued until 07:45 hours, but this morning at 07:20 hours and 3 kilometers to the south of the Pals’ positions a huge mine was detonated under the German position at Hawthorne Ridge.
At the same time, men along the line were moving out from their own trenches into no-mans land and getting ready for Zero Hour at 07:30 hours.
During the night holes had been cut in the British barbed wire to allow the men passage and white guiding tapes had been placed to aid the men find gaps in the German defenses.
At 07:28 hours further massive explosions could be heard to the south around La Boisselle as huge mines were detonated. As the dust from the mines fell, a line of soldiers 25 kilometers wide stood up and advanced towards the German lines.
The story of what happened in the next couple of hours has gone into the history books as one of the British Army’s bloodiest days...