1916 The Battle of the Ancre

The Battle of the Ancre (13–18 November 1916), was the final large British attack of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The Hertfordshire Regiment, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Page DSO, achieved a notable success in the battle advancing 1600 yards and holding their position.

The Battle was preceded by seven days of heavy shellfire ahead of the main attack in the early hours of the 13th November. The attack was launched before dawn to try and take the Germans by surprise. The men travelled lightly, each had been given bombs and around half the men carried spades. Lieutenant Colonel Gripper later said “experience proves that at least 80% should have had spades.”

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Moving an entire Brigade into position in the dark was a very difficult operation and careful reconnaissance had to be carried out ahead of the attack. The Hertfordshire Regiment’s 2nd Lieutenant Gilbey had carefully marked out the lines on which the different Companies had to assemble over the previous nights and this work helped the Brigade get into position without too many difficulties. Every man was in his place before 2am, ready for the attack.

The Hertfordshire Regiment attacked from the Schwaben Redoubt which they had been involved in capturing earlier in the year. The attack was aided both by the darkness and also a mist which hid the soldiers. It had also been dry for several days leading up to the 13th November which allowed the men to move much faster across the battlefield although they still had to carefully avoid shell holes some of which contained up to a foot of water.

Despite the mist and darkness the battalion kept together and moved quickly towards the Hansa Line, their ultimate objective. The advance was a great success and the battalion was able to seize the whole of the Hansa Line as well as capturing 250 prisoners and nine machine guns. During the battle, seven of the Regiment’s officers were wounded and another 150 men were either killed or wounded.

Lieutenant George Harold Yates Gilbey

George Gilbey was a student at Haileybury College from 1910 to 1912. At the start of the First World War he joined the Honourable Artillery Company before being transferred into the Hertfordshire Regiment.

Lt. Gilbey was in charge of marking the starting positions for the different companies ahead of the Battle of the Ancre and Lt Colonel Gripper reported:

Practically all land marks had been shelled out of existence and the assembly area was merely a sea of shell holes with a few badly defined tracks. By the aid of Lieut. Gilbey and his men however, each Platoon was led into its place silently and without the least confusion.

Lt Gilbey was awarded the Military Cross for his reconnaissance under fire and his “most valuable assistance in assembling the battalion in an extremely difficult area”.