The Somme 1916 (Paperback)
Martinpuich and the Butte de Warlencourt
Much of the popular attention on the Battle of the Somme 1916 is focussed on the first day of the infantry assault, 1st July, when such high hopes were dashed and British casualties ran into the tens of thousands. However, the Somme was a battle that lasted over twenty weeks, running well into the autumn.
This book is concerned with fighting south of the famous Albert-Bapaume road from mid September to the official end of the battle. The coverage includes Martinpuich, the hamlet of Eaucourt l'Abbaye, Le Sars and that strange topographical feature the Butte de Warlencourt.
The action starts with the major British attack of 15 September 1916, which enjoyed some success and which included the first use of tanks. The book takes up the story from the fall of Martinpuich and follows the British as they inched their way north eastwards to Le Sars and Eaucourt l'Abbaye. This was gruelling warfare, fought in fast deteriorating weather conditions and in the face of ever increasing volumes of artillery fire: the mud was almost as much the enemy of both sides as the weight of lead and iron fired at them.
The Butte de Warlencourt has come to have an almost iconic status. This rather insignificant hillock, almost certainly a burial mound of the Romano-Gallic period, marks the point at which the battle officially ceased along the Albert-Bapaume road. For days before the battle ended both sides tussled to secure its possession, numerous limited attacks taking place over devastated, utterly water logged and featureless ground. Indeed it was the 'emptiness' of the area that made the Butte of such significance, a fearsome, solitary landmark standing out against a backdrop of desolation. It was the focus of the fighting in the area for almost six weeks.
As well as the customary walks, essential to an understanding of the confused fighting in the area, there is a long car tour, covering many less visited parts of the battlefield to the east and north of the Butte and which places it firmly in the context of the battle. Charles Carrington, who wrote one of the classic memoirs of the war, was not alone amongst those who fought here when he commented that, 'the Butte de Warlencourt terrified us'.