I have mentioned in other pages the weight of equipment that the men had to carry as they advanced in 1916. I have heard the figure of 60 pounds or about 25 kilos, which sounds ridiculous.
How could a man be expected to dash across the fields trying to take cover with that sort of burden. If he had to go to ground he would hardly be able to rise again.
Of course it wasn’t exactly envisaged that the men would have to run or dodge bullets.
Whilst we have reports from German soldiers commenting that the British advanced as though on a parade ground, this was not always the case. In some places the Division had decided that the men should already be lying out in no-man’s land ready to dash the last hundred metres or so.
Sadly, it was sometimes the case that those who caught the Germans the quickest and thus advanced the furthest, were then confronted by exposure on their flanks where other attacks had failed.
Just to shed a little light on things here are some details from two of the Operational Orders for the 1st July 1916 — the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The style of the orders differ slightly as to where details were placed, but the main points can be gathered from the following:
SAA = Small Arms Ammunition
Bomb = Grenade
The 12th Royal Irish Rifles were about to take part in the attack on Beaucourt on the west bank of the Ancre river.
All Ranks will carry waterproof sheets, cardigan waistcoat, rifle and equipment (less pack), 170 rounds SAA, two mills grenades, 4 sandbags in belt, two smoke helmets and goggles, Iron rations and unexpired portion of days ration.
The rear platoons of each Coy will carry the following:
2 Coils (12 Rolls) French Expanding wire 4 men
1 coil of plain wire 1 man
12 coils of barbed wire 12 men
40 screw iron stakes 10 men
In addition 12 picks and 12 shovels and 200 sandbags will be distributed amongst these platoons. All other platoons will carry 8 picks and 8 shovels per platoon and 4 sandbags per man.
The 1st Lancashire Fusiliers were formed up in and behind the Sunken Road to the rear of the Hawthorn Redoubt.
‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies were the first line of the attack with ‘A’ Company in Support, and ‘C’ as the Consolidating Company.
Officers will wear mens clothing and equipment with badges of rank on shoulder. Sticks will not be carried.
Men will be equipped as follows:
Rifle and equipment (less pack), 170 rounds S.A.A. 1 Iron Ration, 1 day’s ration, 2 sandbags (in belt), Steel Helmet, 2 Bombs, Smoke Helmets in Satchels, Water bottle, Haversack (on the back), waterproof sheet (on the back), Shell Dressing, Identity Disc, Triangular tin disc on haversack.
40% of each Coy will carry shovels and 10% picks.
The first two leading lines of “B” and “D” Coys will only carry 120 rounds S.A.A.
In addition to the above equipment Companies will take the following with them.:
“A” “B” and “D” Coys.
2 Very Pistols, 100 Flares, 26 Rifle Wire Cutters, Large Wire Shears (“A” Nil, “B” 5, “D” 4) to be collected from 2nd Lieut Sheppard at White City on Y/Z night.
10 Small Wire Cutters with lanyards (to be collected from 2nd Lieut Sheppard at White City on Y/Z night) and fixed on to the equipment.
50 Bomb Buckets (“A” Coy 25).
16 Bomb Waistcoats (“A” Coy 12).
Buckets for Lewis Gun Ammunition (as required)
8 Trench Bridges
3 Bangalore Torpedoes (Except “A” Coy)
50 coils French Wire, 27 bundles of three 5’ wooden pickets, 10 Mauls, 40 Hedging Gloves, 150 French Staples, Plain Wire, Buckets for Lewis Gun Ammunition. Small Wire Cutters (as many as can be collected), 26 Rifle Wire Cutters.
Every man will carry a pick or shovel at the rate of 1 pick to 4 shovels.
The materials for wiring should be doubled by drawing from dumps in White City.
Arrangements will be made to carry as many bombs as possible to be dumped in German front line trench, by 2 men carrying 3 boxes slung on 5’ wooden pickets.
All Bayonets will be sharpened.