107 Brigade Objective - D Line from Grandcourt - 1 July 1916

36th (Ulster) Division
Map of 36th (Ulster) Division's objectives, 1 July 1916.

The Brigade was one of three infantry brigades in the 36th (Ulster) Division and was comprised of the four Belfast battalions of the Royal Irish Rifles, the 8th, 9th, 10th and 15th. The Brigade was commanded by Brigadier William M Withycombe, a veteran of the Boer War.

At last last light on 30 June, the final preparations could be made and 107 Brigade marched along country tracks, their way lit by red and green lanterns, into slit trenches in Aveluy Wood. This would be their assembly position for the attack.

It was a fine night with little breeze and so the tear gas fired by the Germans into the wood had little effect. It is well documented that with the first rays of sun, the men in Aveluy Wood heard a nightingale sing.

In the plan for the attack on 1 July 1916, 107 Brigade (less the 15th Battalion attached to 108 Brigade) was the Reserve for the Division along with the three Divisional Machine Gun Companies. At a preset time, 107 Brigade and the Machine Gun Companies were to follow behind 109 Brigade and advance through Thiepval Wood, then pass through the captured German A, B and C Lines, to reach and then attack the D Line which was the final objective on 1 July 1916.

The reality of the attack was very different. As the Brigade was leaving Aveluy Wood at 0730hrs the attack was underway across the whole battle front. On the right flank of the 36th Division was the 32nd Division. The latter’s attack on Thiepval village quickly ground to a halt with heavy casualties; this meant the German machine guns and mortars were able to concentrate their fire on Thiepval Wood just as 107 Brigade arrived at its edge to await the order to advance.

At 0915hrs, 107 Brigade left the Wood and, despite horrendous casualties, passed through Mouquet Switch and the Hansa Line, which had been captured by 109 Brigade. The 107 Brigade objective, the D Line from Grandcourt, lay over 600 yards away. As the Brigade moved forward they advanced into the artillery barrage, which fell according to a strictly timed fireplan. They lay down in the scant cover provided by the summer grass and waited until the barrage moved on. That delay enabled the Germans at Beaucourt Redoubt and Grandcourt to move out of their dugouts and get ready to fire on the approaching Riflemen.

By now, the remnant of the Brigade was decimated, scattered and in the confused fighting isolated groups, many consisting of men from both 107 and 109 Brigade, battled together against organised German counter attacks. One small group made it to a German trench towards Grandcourt, another group found shelter in Battery Valley and about fifty men made it to Stuff Redoubt. Eventually, out of bombs and ammunition, the survivors were forced to withdraw, first back to the Schwaben Redoubt and then back to where they had started - the front line trenches in Thiepval Wood.

What happened to 108 Brigade?

What happened to 109 Brigade?