Cecil Edward Potter, maternal relative: Battle of Delville Wood August 1916

Cecil was a nephew of the wife of an uncle of a stepson of one of my great grand uncle's.

Cecil Edward was related to the Hadley's & Ann Tolley, wife of Edwin Sheward who was father to Harold Sheward who died at Gallipoli. Harold's grandfather was Richard Sheward. Richard was also grandfather to my maternal grandmother Mary Louisa Sheward.

Cecil was born in Bristol, Gloucestershire during January 1894 and was Killed in action on 28th August 1916 in The Battle of Delville Wood during the Battle of the Somme at the age of 22.

Regiment

Cecil Edward was a Private (No. 3382) in 2/6th Battalion (Territorials) of the Gloucestershire Regiment.

2/6th Battalion

  • Formed at St Michael's Hill, Bristol in September 1914 as a home service ("second line") unit.
  • January 1915 : came under command of 2nd Gloucester & Worcester Brigade, 2nd South Midland Division, at Northampton. Moved to Chelmsford in April 1915 and on to Salisbury Plain in February 1916.
  • Landed in France on 24 May 1916.
  • August 1915 : formation became 183rd Brigade, 61st (2nd South Midland) Division.
  • 20 February 1918 : disbanded in France

The Battle of Delville Wood

The Battle of Delville Wood 14 July - 3 September, was an engagement in the 1916 Battle of the Somme. Delville Wood is to the north east of the town of Longueval in the département of the Somme in northern France. After the two weeks of carnage from the commencement of the Somme Offensive, it became evident that a breakthrough of either the Allied or German line was most unlikely and the offensive had evolved to the capture of small prominent towns, woods or features which offered either side tactical advantages from which to direct artillery fire or to launch further attacks.

Delville Wood was one such feature, making it important to German and Allied forces. As part of a large offensive starting on 14 July, General Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force intended to secure the British right flank, while the centre advanced to capture the higher lying areas of High Wood in the centre of his line. Delville Wood was a battle to secure this right flank. The battle achieved this objective and is considered a tactical Allied victory. However, it was one of the bloodiest confrontations of the Somme, with both sides incurring large casualties. This tactical victory needs to be measured against the losses sustained as well as the fact that the British advance to the north had made only marginal gains by the end of the battle.

The battle is of particular importance to South Africa, as it was the first major engagement entered into on the Western Front by the South African 1st Infantry Brigade, which also contained a contingent of Southern Rhodesians. The casualties sustained by this Brigade were of catastrophic proportions, comparable to those encountered by Allied battalions on the first day of the Somme. On the Western Front, units were normally considered to be incapable of combat if their casualties had reached 30% and they were withdrawn once this level had been attained. The South African Brigade suffered losses of 80%, yet they managed to hold the Wood as ordered. This feat has been described as "...the bloodiest battle hell of 1916."

Delville Wood is known for the well preserved wood with the visible remains of the original trenches, a museum and monument to the fallen South Africans.

The 52nd and 76th Brigades faced sniping and heavy shelling in the Wood until 26 July. At 0700 on 27 July, 22nd and 23rd Royal Fusiliers (99 Bde, 2 Div), the 1st Royal Berkshires and the 1st Kings Royal Rifle Corps< attacked the wood and cleared a large area of the southern part of the wood. During this action, Sgt. Albert Gill of Kings Royal Rifle Corps was killed, his actions earning him the Victoria Cross. The 2nd Division held the wood until 4 August when they were relieved by the 17th Northern Division who were in turn relieved by the 14th Light Division and 61st Brigade of the 20th Light Division on 11 August.

On 27 August, the Germans re-entered the wood from the northeast side. The artillery fire from the Germans had been so fierce and relentless, that only one tree still stood. That tree is still there today. Rain had turned the shell holes into pools of water and mud, many containing already decaying German and Allied corpses. Fighting resumed in all earnest and on 30 August the 72nd and 73rd Brigade of the 24th Division were sent in as reinforcements. The final German forces were driven from the wood on 3 September 1916.

Cecil Edward Potter was Killed in action on 28th August 1916 during this last action and he is buried in the Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery, La Gorgue in the Nord region.

Cemetery

Pont-du-Hem is a hamlet situated on the main road from La Bassee to Estaires.pottercemetery

Pont-du-Hem was in German hands from mid-April to mid-September 1918. The Cemetery was begun, in an apple-orchard, in July 1915, and used until April 1918, by fighting units and Field Ambulances; these original burials are in Plots I, II and III, and Rows A and B of Plot IV. In April and May 1918, German burials were made in Plots III and IV. After the Armistice, 426 German graves were removed to other cemeteries; the Portuguese graves of 1917-1918 were removed to the Portuguese cemetery of Richebourg-L'Avoue; and British graves were brought in from the suurounding battlefields and from smaller burial grounds, including:-

  • Beaucamps Communial Cemetery German Extension, a cemetery of 1,800 graves: 104 U.Km, A.I.F. and N.Z.E.F 1914-18
  • Bousbecque Communial Cemetery German Extension, (2,300 Germans): 21 U.K, 2 A.I.F 1917-18
  • Comines Communial Cemetery German Extension(2,400 Germans): 21 U.K, 1 Canadian, 1 A.I.F, 1 N.Z.E.F, 1915-17
  • Devasier Farm German Cemetery, Wambrechies, on road to Quesnoy-sur-Deule (1,500 Germans): 19 U.K 1916-18
  • Edward Road Cemetery No.3 (Windy Corner), Richebourg-L'Avoue: 12 U.K 1914-15
  • Ennequin Communial Cemetery German Extension, Loos (near Lille): 977 Germans, 9 U.K, 2 A.I.F, 1917-18
  • Estaires Convent Cemeteries No.1 and No.2, made by the Germans, on the North side of town: 4 U.K 1918
  • Ferme Deloux-Bouquet, Nouveaumonde, La Gorgue: 17 U.K, 1 A.I.F, 1915-16
  • Festubert North Cemetery, on North-West side of village: 20 U.K. and 5 Canadian, 1915-16
  • Halluin Communial Cemetery German Extension (2,216 Germans): 36 U.K, 3 Canadian, 1 N.Z.E.F, 1917-18
  • Indian Village Graveyards No.1 and No.2, Richebourg-L'Avoue and Festubert, North of Rue de Cailloux: 39 U.K. and 1 Canadian, May-Sept 1915
  • La Cordonnerie Farm Cemetery, North of Fromelles: 58 of the 2nd R.W.F, Oct-Nov 1914
  • Lacouture Churchyard: 1 R.F.A, Oct 1914
  • La Fosse German Cemetery, in a chateau garden South of Lestrem: 6 U.K, 1918
  • Laventie North German Cemetery, near the railway station
  • Le Trou-Bayard German Cemetery, Estaires: 36 U.K. (mainly 50th Div.) and 2 A.F.C April-Nov 1918
  • Locon Churchyard: 1 U.K Nov 1914
  • Rue Masselot German Cemetery (made round the British Cemetery, and called by the Germans Wangerie): 8 U.K. and 1 Italian 1918
  • Verlinghem German Cemetery, on South-West outskirts of village (1,152 Germans): 14 U.K. and 1 A.I.F 1916-17
  • Vielle-Chaelle Churchyard: 14 U.K 1914-15

There are now over 1,500, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, over half are unidentified and special memorials are erected to nine soldiers from the United Kingdom believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of 44 soldiers from the United Kingdom, two from Canada, two from Australia and one of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry, buried in this or other cemeteries, whose graves were destroyed by shell fire, and of five Indian soldiers whose bodies were cremated. There are 107 German burials and 1 American.

The cemetery covers an area of 6,433 square metres.