Published By Ben Hillidge
High Wood. 20 July – 9 September 1916.
High Wood is a prominent feature on the skyline east of Bazentin le Grand and was one of the objectives for next phase of the Somme offensive following the Battle of Bazentin Ridge. The successes of that day had seen the Germans retreat back from the Bazentin area and past High Wood and, at that time, it was unoccupied and could easily have been taken with little or no resistance. However, the high command decided that the wood would be taken by the cavalry units 20th Deccan Horse and 7th Dragoon Guards. By the time the cavalry got into position the Germans had reoccupied the wood and established a strong defensive line and the advantage had been lost. The cavalry units failed in their attack and it was now up to the infantry. The first attack on the Wood was on 15 July but was repulsed. As with the other ‘woodland’ battles it was hard fought, the tangle of undergrowth hindered progress and visibility was severely limited which aided the defenders and impeded the attackers. The Wood was eventually taken on 9 September. It is estimated that total casualties were over 6000 killed.
GOOGLE MAPS Satellite view centres on High Wood.
2 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 20 July 1916.
The second assault on High Wood was planned for 19 July. The main assault was by Scottish troops from 1 Bn Cameronians, 5 Bn Scottish Rifles and 20 Bn Royal Fusiliers, The Public Schools Battalion. The 2 Bn RWF had been in billets at Mametz Wood. At midnight on the night of 19 July they moved up to Flatiron Copse as brigade reserves. They were heavily shelled from 3.00am until 8.00am and then intermittently until mid-day when they were ordered forward to High Wood which they reached at about 2.00pm, The wood had only been partially captured by the assault troops, the Welshmen were to capture the rest. This they managed to do but only after heavy fighting to reach the eastern side, here, because of machine gun fire from a German position known as the Switch, they had to retreat to establish and dig a defensive line about 100 yards from the edge of the wood where they spent the rest of the day and through to 1.00am on the 21 July when they were relieved and returned to billets at Mametz Wood. Casualties were Officers 2 killed and 9 wounded, ORs 29 killed, 180 wounded and 29 missing.
One of the officers wounded was Captain Robert Graves, 2 Bn RWF, war poet and author. His wound was so bad he was left for dead until it was spotted that he was still breathing – he recounted his story of the war in his autobiography ‘Goodbye to All That’.
References and Sources WAR DIARY 2 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Regimental History of RWF.
B&O 1916. Somme. High Wood. 2 Bn RWF. 20 July 1916.