To mark the day

The Somme is a region which has seen a number of significant battles: both Crecy and Agincourt are in the vicinity. Today I remember the lads named on our local war memorials who died there.

Edward Wallace Hancock, was in the RHA (Royal Horse Artillery) where he served with F battery. He died aged 23, on 5th September 1916. This day was marked by fierce fighting and artillery duels near the village of Guillemont, a fortified German position to the south of Delville Wood. The battle which began on 1st July, 1916 was to continue until the November.

Charles Townsend Cobbold was at Caius College, Cambridge, where he won his oar in the Lent races in 1913 and graduated in 1914. He rowed for his college at Henley in 1913, the year the Marlow and Cauis boats had a dead heat. He joined the Hampshire Carabineers yeomanry as a trooper and was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery in August 1915, joining a battery at the front (as an officer of 32 brigade) in the November of that year. Some of his letters home have survived and they speak vividly of life at the front – the wet, the rats, his horse, his men. He was killed in action on 3rd October 1916 near the village of Lesboefs and buried near the village in a marked grave but as the tide of battle twice more swept over the area in the following two years his grave was not found at the end of the war. His Commanding Officer had written of him: ‘We all liked him so much. He had an extraordinary disregard of danger, and always set an excellent example to the men, with whom he was very popular. His last words to his men were, “Don’t take any notice of the shells, they’re only strays and not meant for you.” Charles is listed among the “missing” of the battle and his name is engraved on the Thiepval Memorial.

Corporal Sidney Thomas Pressley, served with the 2nd Battalion Hampshire Regiment. He was killed in action on 18th October 1916, having previously been wounded. The regimental history states that on 18th October 1916 the 2nd Hampshires attacked German trenches north of Gueudecourt, going “over the top” at 3.40 am. Casualties were 35 killed and over 100 wounded. Corporal Pressley has no known grave and is also named on the Thiepval Memorial. The memorial lists a further 610 men from the Hampshire Regiment.

George Henry Gray joined the 14th Hampshires in 1914, serving in France from March 1916. He was killed in action on 3rd September 1916, near Hamel and is listed on the Thiepval memorial, having no known grave.

Alfred C Wise enlisted in 1915 and served with the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, taking part in engagements including the Battle of Hill 60. He rests near the village of Bertrancourt, having died of wounds on 30th June 1916, the day before the first Battle of the Somme started; one of 1st Battalion platoons had been hit by “friendly fire”, possibly as part of the prelude to the battle. The German positions were heavily shelled prior to the British assault, although with little effect.

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