If you look back at the picture of grandfather in my post in December you can see the “109” on his helmet. He was the in the 109th Reserve Regiment, part of the 28th Reserve Infantry Division. (You can a listing of military units at the Somme here.) Unlike the United States, which entered the war much later, both Britain and Germany built units from communities. (I am not sure if France and Canada did the same.) Both sides paid a terrible cost for this during the war when entire units were devastated, leading to the devastation of the corresponding communities.
The 109th consisted of draftees from the area surrounding Karlsruhe in Baden. (Now Baden-Württemberg.) My family is from Liedolsheim, now Dettenheim. That article about Dettenheim contains some interesting facts about Liedolsheim after World War I, which will be a big part of my story later.
The 109th was at Montauban, one of the places where the German lines fell during the bloodbath of July 1, 1916. July 1, 1916 is colloquially (and somewhat confusingly) referred to as “The First Day on the Somme.” It was the first day that the British and French attacked the German trenches. For the most part that day was a terrible failure for the Allies, and their losses were terrible.
As mentioned in the Wikipedia article, when the lines broke many members of the 109th retreated back behind their own artillery. My grandfather was one of the leaders of that retreat because he knew the way, and he was considered hero because of the many lives he saved. The German trenches were, by design, a baffling maze 2 or 3 kilometers deep depending on where you were. He knew the way because he maintained the telephone lines between the trenches and the artillery.
For seven straight days prior to July 1, British and French artillery pounded the German trenches, in an attempt to soften them up. This strategy failed, and other than a few small pockets like Montauban, the German lines held and July 1 was the first day in a long and bloody battle.
At some point after July 1 my grandfather was captured and held as a POW of the French. That’s one of my next research projects.
Did you enjoy this post? Did you find it useful? Sign up for my newsletter. There's more
content like this coming!