36th (ULSTER) DIVISION Battle of the Somme 1st July 1916
For seven days prior to the start of the "Battle of the Somme", the British guns along a twenty mile front bombarded the German trenches and dug-outs. As zero hour 7.30 a.m. approached, the guns fell silent as the British troops prepared to leave their trenches.
The 36th (Ulster) division had been allotted the task of taking the German trenches beside the River Ancre, and north of the village Thiepval. This included the taking of the heavily fortified "Schwaben Redoubt". As the battle commenced things went well at first, then misfortune struck the Ulstermen. The 32nd division failed to take the fortress village of Thiepval, so the German guns were turned on the men from Ulster. They fell in dozens, those not killed crawled into shell holes for cover. Despite heavy casualties the Inniskillings (109 Brigade) surged forward, and somehow took the supposedly impregnable "Schwaben Redoubt" silencing the German machine-guns, by 8.30 a.m. having covered one mile of devasted land, they carried out their objective.
On their left, 108 Brigade was exposed to a hail of machine-gun fire from the "Beaucourt Redoubt" across the river Ancre. The 13th Irish Rifles lost nearly all of it's officers, before reaching the enemies trenches. "A & D" companies from the 11th Irish Rifles, were almost annihilated. The 15th Irish Rifles, pressed on over the top of the dead and dying to take their objective, the north-east comer of the "Schwaben Redoubt". The 12th Irish Rifles and the Irish Fusiliers, suffered horrendous casualties, twice they reformed, but were both times cut down.
Meanwhile 107 Brigade "8th, 9th and 10th Irish Rifles" advanced through the ranks of 109 Brigade "which included the 14th Irish Rifles (Y.C.V.'s) and occupied the German trenches before the Grandcourt Line, two thirds of them being cut down as they charged across the open ground. The surviving troops occupying their final objective, after hand to hand fighting. Later that day the Germans counter-attacked and pushed the Ulstermen back to the German second line. They held this line all the next day and were relieved in the early hours of the 3rd of July by the 49th Division.
The (Ulster) Division had lost 5,500 officers and men on the first day of fighting of which 3,000 were killed. Amongst the many rewards for bravery, were four Victoria Crosses.
The recipients were:-
Captain E. N. F. Bell, 9th BN. Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Tyrone Volunteers).
Lt. G. St. G. S. Cather, 9th BN. Royal Irish Fusiliers (Armagh, Monaghan & Cavan Volunteers).
Pte. R. Quigg, 12th BN. Royal Irish Rifles (Central Antrim Volunteers).
Pte. W. F. McFadzean, 14th BN. Royal Irish Rifles (Young Citizen Volunteers).