The Redbridge troops of the 10th Essex and the Battle of Delville Wood

Soldiers inspect graves at the South African First World War cemetery at Delville Wood, 13 November

Soldiers inspect graves at the South African First World War cemetery at Delville Wood, 13 November 1944. Photo: Imperial War Museum - Credit: Archant

Historian Richard Crowe shares the story of the brave Redbridge men of the 10th Essex regiment who gave their lives to try and save their South African counterparts during the Somme.

After the success of the 10th Essex on the first day of the Battle of The Somme on July 1 1916, they found Caterpillar and Marlboro Woods abandoned.

Montauban village and Bernafay Wood were also abandoned.

Did the Germans encourage the British to occupy these woods in the valley, which they overlooked from a massively fortified arc?

Would the best British plan have been a multi-Divisional artillery and infantry advance on this entire arc, or a strategic retreat to higher ground?

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Instead the generals made the questionable decision to attack Longueval and Delville Wood, in the middle of the German arc, which left troops vulnerable to a counter-attack.

The South African Brigade was ordered in on July 15 and sure enough was attacked from three and sometimes four sides at a time.

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The brigade was left cut off from any hope of relief for five days, and in that time more than 2000 men died.

The 10th Essex was ordered into Delville Wood from July 19-20 to finally relieve the beleaguered South African Brigade.

They moved into the north east corner of the wood, which had unfortunately been fortified by well-supplied German forces.

The 10th Essex took heavy losses: a colonel and brigade major were killed along with several officers and more than 200 men.

In the words of their adjutant: “Every officer and man, I honestly believe, did his very best to carry out the task originally allotted.

“We just hadn’t a dog’s chance.” It took a further month to drive the Germans out of Delville Wood.

We commemorate the bravery of the following Redbridge men of the 10th Essex Regiment:

Sergeant Major Harry James Gaster was killed in this terrible conflict while leading his men in Delville Wood on 19th July 1916.

His parents Alfred and Ada Gaster lived at 3 St. Mary’s Parade, High Road, Ilford, Essex. He left his wife Mary and two children.

Private Horace Waller was killed in action on 20th July 1916 at the age of 22. His parents Caroline and Charles Waller lived at 86 Westbury Rd, Ilford.

Private Arthur Leonard Mickley was killed in action on 20th July 1916 at the age of 17.

His parents Anna Maria and James Mickley lived at 4 Jubilee Terrace, Sylvan Road, Ilford.

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