“You will be proud of our boys when I tell of the splendid way they went over the top”

The first bloody day of the Battle of the Somme”>Battle of the Somme was described to Earley churchgoers by one of their lads who was wounded that day.

The Great Attack of July 1st

One of our old CLB and Sunday School boys now wounded writes:

My wound is most serious and I progress favourably. I still have bullet in my leg though, but am going to have it taken out soon. You will be proud of our boys when I tell of the splendid way they went over the top. We had a busy and sleepless night on the Friday. We all knew what the morrow meant, and were waiting in eager anticipation of coming to grips: it is a feeling which comes over you suddenly and makes you see red. Well, we saw red.

At 7.30 our colonel blew the whistle, and the line advanced. It was splendid; looking right and left, one could see a single even line “charging” at the walk. We were the first line over. Their artillery had been smashed by ours before, but oh! the machine gun fire we came under was hell itself, and we suffered.

When we got to the German line the enemy dead were piled in heaps; the sight was awful, but our boys stuck it and were just as though on the parade ground. It was a spirit never to be forgotten. We had captured three of their lines before I was hit. It was bloody work indeed, they do not like our bayonet at all, and I managed to get back to our lines after two hours struggle for the German machine gunners are cowards; if they saw a wounded man crawling back to safety, or in a shell hole, they would train their guns on him and give him an unpleasant time. This was one of my experiences; I got through though.

A Newbury man was among the many reported missing:

We deeply regret to hear that 2nd Lieut. Basil Henry Belcher has been reported missing in France after an attack on July 1st.

Meanwhile Florence Vansittart Neale was optimistic back home in Bisham.

1 July 1916
The great push began – we took La Boiselle. Going on well.

Earley parish magazine, September 1916 (D/P192/28A/14); Newbury parish magazine, August 1916 (D/P89/28A/13); Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)