Rare success in the Battle of the Somme for Redbridge troops

Capt Herbert Edwin Hawkins, of Ilford, who died during the Somme. Picture: Hawkins family

Capt Herbert Edwin Hawkins, of Ilford, who died during the Somme. Picture: Hawkins family - Credit: Archant

We have seen and heard much about the Battle of the Somme this year, its centenary. But what conclusions can we draw? Was it all badly planned?

Some operations were well planned on the first day of the Somme, the bloodiest day in British military history.

The 10th Essex Battalion, which included a number of men from Redbridge, achieved great success.

Its commandern, Gen Maxse, ordered a fast advance which surprised and unnerved the enemy. This was in defiance of the order for a slow, measured attack.

On July 1 1916 the 10th Essex had breakfast at 5.30am: “Hot tea and rum, bacon, bully beef.” They were “in extremely good spirits”.

At 7.30am the whistles blew, and some platoons of the 10th Essex went over the top with the first waves of its 53rd Brigade.

So successful were they that “within 10 minutes” they had taken front-line trenches and captured many prisoners. Further platoons then joined the battle.

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The soldiers fought until almost midnight, taking one Pommiers Trench, Montauban Alley and Caterpillar Trench. Over 2000 yards was gained, and the men were congratulated by the generals.

At midnight rations for the ravenous troops were brought up on pack animals. The part played by such support services was crucial.

Equally important was the task of moving ammunition stores, or dumps, forward to Pommiers Trench during the battle.

Capt Herbert Edwin Hawkins of the 10th Essex was in charge of this operation.

Sadly he was killed when an enemy shell exploded close to him. He was just 21-years-old.

Herbert was the son of Edwin and Mary Hawkins who lived at 89 Coventry Road, Ilford, near Valentines Park. He went to Ilford County High School, in Barkingside, and then worked as an accountant’s clerk.

He was an intelligent and resourceful young man with a good career ahead of him.

In 1914 he was working in a barrister’s office at the Inns of Court.

He received a commission in the 10th Essex Regiment with the rank of Lieutenant, and was promoted to captain in May 1915, just after his 20th birthday.

We commemorate the supreme sacrifice he made on Britain’s bloodiest day in conflict.