Posted by: michaeldaybath | November 18, 2016

Corporal Frank Rendall: The final attack and Desire Trench

The 18th November marks the centenary of the official end of the 1916 Somme Offensive. Fighting on the Somme front had continued on-and-off for 141 days. By November, the days were getting shorter and the weather conditions were becoming far less-well suited for operations, compounding the effects of the infamous Somme mud.

The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval

The Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, Thiepval, on the 1st July 2016

The Battle of the Ancre

The final big operation of the Somme offensive was the Battle of the Ancre. This had commenced on the 13th November and had resulted in the capture of Beaumont Hamel and Beaucourt-sur-l’Ancre on the north side of the River Ancre. On the south side of the river, the village of St Pierre Divion had also fallen. Due east of St Pierre Divion, Regina Trench, near Grandcourt, had been captured earlier in November by the Canadian 4th Division. Starting on the 18th November, the final operation in this part of the line was an attack on Desire Trench  that involved the Canadian 4th Division as well as the British 18th and 19th Divisions. North of the Ancre, a further two divisions attacked Munich and Frankfurt trenches east of Beaumont Hamel. By now the conditions were very wintery; around Courcelette, there was slow and sleet during the night before the attack and the visibility in the early morning was extremely poor [1].

One of the many casualties of this final operation was Corporal Frank Rendall, who had been born at Maiden Newton in Dorset. He was a member of the 7th (Service) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), which was one of the units in 18th (Eastern) Division. The report on the Desire Trench operation attached to the 7th Buffs war diary is a good example of how planning often goes awry when faced with the reality of war [2]. The poor light and weather conditions were one factor:

The morning at ZERO time on 18th was very dark. It was snowing and touch at first must have been extremely difficult to maintain.

There had also been significant intelligence failures:

The information given to all concerned previous to the attack was that our aircraft had reported that there was no sign of the enemy in GRANDCOURT OR IN DESIRE Trench. An Intelligence Summary published after the attack shows 3 hostile Companies as in occupation of DESIRE Trench on the front between SIXTEEN STREET and STUMP ROAD.

Above all, during the operation, the Buffs commanding officer had no real knowledge of how things were progressing further forward. While based in Regina Trench, there was next to no communication possible with the assault companies, despite the use of several runners:

No runners sent forward during daylight on 18th instant except one, returned unwounded. This one man could give no information of any value. Two are known to have been killed four were wounded, and the remainder did not return.

Despite the uncertainty at battalion level, the 18th Division did eventually take all of its objectives and the Somme offensive came to an official end.

Corporal Frank Rendall

Corporal Frank Rendall was killed in action on the 18th November, aged 32, and is buried in Stump Road Cemetery, Grandcourt.

Memorial for Frank Rendall, Church of St Mary, Maiden Newton

Memorial for Frank Rendall, Church of St Mary, Maiden Newton (Dorset)

Just under a year or later, a memorial service was held in St Mary’s Church, Maiden Newton in Dorset, the village where Frank was born and grew up. Also taking part in the ceremony was the vicar of nearby Frampton, Canon Charles Lloyd Sanctuary, whose eldest son had served in the same division, but who had died-of-wounds a few days before Corporal Rendell. A short account of the service appeared in the Western Gazette [3]:

MAIDEN NEWTON
MEMORIAL SERVICE.– On Thursday afternoon, in the Parish Church, a memorial service was held to Frank Rendall, a son of Dr. W. and Mrs. Rendall, who formerly resided in the parish, to whom a brass tablet has been erected by the family, bearing the inscription:– “To the glory of God, and in loving and honoured memory of Frank Rendall, East Kent Regiment, who was killed at Grandcourt, France, November 18th, 1916. His boyhood was spent in the parish.” “Also in grateful memory of ten other men, who had given their lives in the cause of freedom:– M. H. Barrett, F. Vallance, H. Matthews, Sydney Roberts, W. T. Pinney, W. Hallet, J. Hardy, S. Copp, C. T. Samways, M.M., and H. Corbin.” The congregation was large, Canon Hankey, the late rector, dedicated the tablet and gave the address. The Rev. J. L. Templer (rector) and the Rev. Sanctuary, vicar of Frampton, also took part in the service. Psalm xlvi was chanted, and suitable hymns were led by the choir. Mr. Dodd presided at the organ.

The plaque is still in St Mary’s Church, although the names of Maiden Newton’s other dead are now listed on the village war memorial.

Kemble War Memorial (Gloucestershire)

One panel of Kemble war memorial cross (Gloucestershire)

It is possible to find out a little more about Frank Rendall from census records. Frank Rendall was born at Maiden Newton in around 1885 and was the son of William Rendall, a medical doctor, and Anna Maria Rendall. He first features in the 1891 Census as a 6-year old, living at Church Street in Maiden Newton. By 1901, Frank is a 16-year old schoolboy studying at the Isle of Wight College at St Helens, Isle of Wight (at that time, most of the rest of the Rendall family were still living at Maiden Newton). By the time of the 1911 Census, Dr Rendall had retired, and the family had moved to Monks Horton, near Elham in Kent, where they lived at Hempton Lodge. In the census return, Frank and his younger brother Conway are described as farmers. Frank’s parents later moved to Kemble, near Stroud, and Frank Rendall’s name appears on the war memorials there.

War Memorial in All Saints' Church, Kemble (Gloucestershire)

Detail of the War Memorial in All Saints’ Church, Kemble (Gloucestershire)

Some reflections on the Somme Offensive

As with the rest of 18th Division, the 7th Buffs had been involved in the Somme Offensive from the very start. On the 1st July, the division were in the southern part of the British lines, helping to successfully capture the village of Montauban. Before the attack, the brigade commander issued a Special Order [4]:

SPECIAL ORDER
I wish it to be impressed on all ranks the importance of the operations about to commence. Success will mean the shortening of the War, failure means the War prolonged indefinitely. Success or failure depend on the individual efforts and fighting spirit of every single man. The Germans are now out numbered and out gunned, and will soon go to pieces if every man goes into the fight determined to get through whatever the local difficulties may be.
I am confident that the 55th Brigade will distinguish itself in this its first battle. Let every man remember that all England and all the World is watching him.
GOOD LUCK. WE MEET AGAIN IN MONTAUBAN.
30/6/16.
S.D. T. D. JACKSON, Brigadier Gen.,
Commanding 55th Infantry Brigade.

This order summarises some of the hopes that the British higher command had for the Somme Offensive in 1916, especially prior to the first day. The confidence that the Germans were outnumbered and outgunned did not really survive the first day. After that, there was less thought of a decisive breakthrough or a shortening of the war. What replaced it was a grim determination to follow the war through to its end come what may.

Thiepval, on the Battle of the Somme centenary, Somme 100

Thiepval, on the Battle of the Somme centenary, Somme 100, 1st July 2016

The overwhelming focus given to the events of the 1st July has been a problem for some historians, especially when credit is not given for the successes on the southern part of the Anglo-French front . For example, Andrew Robertshaw, in his small book on the Somme, says that those that attend remembrance events on the Somme battlefield on the 1st July are myopic, “by concentrating on tragedy, they can effectively ignore the triumphs of the same day” [5]. I think that this is unfair. Significant errors were made at the planning and preparation stages of the battle and these had significant consequences for many (and their families) on the 1st July. Given how long it took to exploit the successes on the southern part of the front, it is hard to see any part of the first day of the Somme as really being a triumph.

It is fashionable now among some scholars to consider the 1916 Battle of the Somme as an essential part of the learning process of the British Army, something that needed to be endured to make the eventual successes of 1918 possible. In this context, the Somme becomes a kind of moral victory, thus William Philpott [6]

Its [the battle’s] purpose was to show the enemy that her army could be beaten; to show the French and British, both soldiers and civilians, that the German army could be beaten, if not quickly and easily, then eventually and conclusively. By instilling this belief in the allied armies, and by gaining the initiative and advantage in the land war that up to that point had lain with Germany, the Somme was the decisive victory of the attritional war of which it was the centrepiece: a moral victory based on growing materiel predominance and improving tactical and operational ability.

This is a more rounded view of the battle than the (still) popular view that the Somme was an exercise in futility. But it may be a vision that is only fully visible with hindsight.

References:

[1] Paul Reed, Battleground Europe: Courcelette (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1998), p. 109.

[2] The National Archives, WO 95/2049/1.

[3] Western Gazette, 5 October 1917.

[4] The National Archives, WO 95/2049/1.

[5] Andrew Robertshaw, Somme 1916 (Stroud: Spellmount, 1914), p. 126.

[6] William Philpott, Three armies on the Somme: the first battle of the twentieth century (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010), p. 539.


Update: 21/11/2016: Checking the CCCBR Rolls of Honour, I noticed that a Private Walter Richard Busbridge, also of the 7th Battalion, The Buffs, died on the same day as Corporal Rendall. He is also buried in Stump Road Cemetery, Grandcourt. Pte Busbridge was a bellringer at Maidstone and a member of the Kent County Association of Change Ringers. A total of 31 members of the 7th Buffs are buried in Stump Road Cemetery, and all died on the 18th November 1916. See: http://www.cccbr.org.uk/rolls/

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