30th Week at War - 24th June - 30th June Villers Chatel - Ransart - St Hilaire
On Saturday 24th, as the Unit took part in the 114th Brigade manoeuvres, the Battle of the Somme began with the commencement of the greatest bombardment the British Army had ever carried out. With 427 heavy guns, there was one heavy artillery piece per 58.5 yards of frontage. For the 38th (Welsh) Division, Divisional manoeuvres were conducted, the Unit's A.D.S. was located at Monchy-Breton under the command of Capt Anderson. During the afternoon, the A.D.S. was moved forward in the afternoon to Rocort. Six officers and 145 other ranks of the Unit bivouacked out for the night.
On the following day, Divisional manoeuvres were carried out. On this occasion, the A.D.S. at Monchy-Breton was under the command of Capt Ffoulkes while the main dressing station at Ostreville was under the command of Capt Anderson. Lt Col Davies visited the A.D.S. and the M.D.S. and then joined the Brigade Headquarters for the rest of the manoeuvres.
The three stretcher bearer sub divisions of the Unit under Capt A Jones, Lieut F A Anderson and Lieut Burke took part in the exercise alone with two of the three tent sub divisions. The third tent sub division remained at Viller-Chatel/Mingoval to care for the sick and injured there.
The Unit war diary records that the A.D.S. was opened at 9am and closed at 3.30pm while the M.D.S was opened at 9am and closed at 1.30pm. Subsidiary advanced dressing stations were formed during the day as an advance of the whole line took place.
The Unit worked over very heavy and hill ground carrying a large number of dummy 'wounded' on stretchers and wheeled stretchers and as the collecting ground was exposed (for the purpose of the exercise) to enemy fire, motor ambulances were only able to proceed a mile in front of the A.D.S.
At the end of the manoeuvres, the men of the Unit marched the 10 miles back to Villers-Chatel arriving at 9pm with no men falling out.
On Monday 26th June, a foot inspection of the men of the Unit was carried out and fatigues were performed in preparation to closing both the hospitals at Chateau Villers-Chatel and at Mingoval and arrangements were made to evacuate all the cases remaining in the hospitals. Chateau Villers-Chatel was handed over to the 60th Division who were going to use it as their Divisional H.Q.
Having completed their training in the St Pol area, the 38th (Welsh) Division was now to start their final move to the Somme. An infantry division of some 18,000 men with their motor and horse drawn transport, artillery etc has a very large 'footprint' and took up a great deal of road when on the march. A field ambulance unit alone would occupy approximately 450 yards of road when on the march so it is easy to imagine the logistical nightmare that the Army H.Q. faced playing a very complex game of chess, moving new divisions into the correct location to exploit any breakthrough or even to replace battle worn divisions in the line while evacuating bloodied divisions away from the battle area and all the while, keeping the army supplied with food, water and ammunition.
At 5pm, the Unit paraded and marched with the 114th Brigade the 26 miles to Ransart, arriving at 4am! A billeting party had been sent ahead and on arrival, the men were accommodated in barns. The 197 men belonging to units of the 114th Brigade who were unable to march were transferred by motor vehicles and lorries to Ransart.
On the 27th, Lieut Elliott reported from leave. 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips records as sleeping until 10.30 am after the Units long night march but there was little time for rest and at 6pm, the Unit paraded and marched with the 114th Brigade to St Hilaire arriving at 3.15am! Once again, a billeting party had been sent on in advance and again the men were accommodated in barns. Again, the Unit was responsible for transferring the men who were unable to march but because of the scatted nature of the Brigades billets in the Ransart area, only 110 of 228 were transferred during the night of the 27th/28th June.
At 8am on the 28th, the 38th (Welsh) Division came under the command of IInd Corps and at 11am, Lt Col Davies reported to Brig. General T O Marden C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., the G.O.C. of the 114th Brigade that there were still men of the brigade that required collecting from the Ransart area but he was instructed to cease further transferring pending application for lorries.
A bathing parade and a further foot inspection was carried out and preparations were made during the day to march again in the evening but in the mid afternoon, orders were received to 'stand fast' and at 11.45pm further orders were receive by the Unit to continue to collect the men left behind in the Ransart area. Cars (ambulances) were immediately dispatched to collect 8 men of the 10th Welsh at Neuvillette, 50 of the 14th Welsh at Bouquemaison and 60 of the 15th Welsh at Barley but it was discovered that these men had moved and no information could be obtained as to their whereabouts.
Thursday the 29th must have been a pleasant rest for the men of the Unit with a parade being held at 9.30am followed by physical drill (exercise) for an hour and then yet another foot inspection. Lieut D C M Page reported from leave and only 4 other ranks were admitted sick. 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips records that the vehicle he was in, transferring the sick, had a breakdown and he had to walk for assistance, the vehicle being towed to Fienvillers at 4.30am. He had to wait until 11.30am for the vehicle to be repaired before returning to St Hilaire. He had dinner and then set out again for Beauval at 2.30pm, returning at 7.15pm to finally lay down in a barn for a rest as he was tired out. He was up again at 5.30am the next day and was out again on the 30th collecting and evacuating the sick of the Brigade again.
At 9am on the 30th, Lt Col Davies inspected the rifles of the A.S.C. men attached to the Unit (the only men in the Unit who carried weapons) and at 9.30am carried out an inspection of the entire Unit and their iron rations, gas helmets and goggles. This was followed at 10am by Capt Ffoulkes instructing the Unit on the method of wearing their gas helmets in front line trenches. At 5pm, the Unit had another night march from St Hilaire to Val de Maison, arriving at 3.15am. Another long night march at the end of a full day!