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Cyril Bartlett - France


Context

At the beginning of 1916, the Army in France had grown steadily as the men who had responded to Kitchener’s call completed their rudimentary training and it numbered eight divisions. It was by far the greatest volunteer force ever to go into battle.

On 1 July 1916, thirteen British Divisions went ‘over the top’ in regular waves. Machine guns killed 19,000; 57,000 were injured, the greatest loss in a single day ever suffered by a British Army.

A J P Taylor, English History 1914-1945

February – November 1916 - Verdun

The Battle of Verdun was launched by the German, General von Falkenhayn, in an attempt to ‘bleed France white.’

July – November 1916 – The Somme

In an attempt to relieve the pressure of Verdun, the British Army launched the Battle of the Somme, with the first use of tanks in battle. The British Third, and Fourth Armies and the French Sixth went ‘over the top’ from their trenches and advanced into ‘no man’s land’.

The Battle of the Somme was the biggest battle on the Western front before 1918. Preparations for it were massive. On 24 June 1916 a seven-day artillery barrage commenced during which 1,500,000 shells were fired on German fortifications. But this massive bombardment, which could be heard in England, failed to destroy the German dugouts, which were deep and well fortified. It also failed to destroy the miles of barbed wire stretched in front of the German trenches. The British and French Armies found to their surprise that the German resistance was fierce, and the advancing waves of troops were cut down by machine-gun fire.

Lieut. Gen. Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston

History has not dealt kindly with Hunter-Weston. He returned to France after being invalided back to England in July 1915 (from sunstroke and nervous strain) where he led VIII Corps during the Somme Offensive. It was Hunter-Weston’s unit, which suffered the greatest number of casualties on 1 July 1916, while failing to achieve any of its objectives. To a large extent this can be attributed to his decision to fire off two mines earlier than planned (two and ten minutes prior to the infantry assault), thereby warning the Germans opposite him of his impending attack. He died in 1940.


A Record of the Battle

Two British cameramen, Geoffrey Malins and J B McDowell, joined sections of the British Fourth Army on 28 June 1916 specifically to film the new offensive. On the morning of 1 July Malins filmed the explosion of a giant British mine under a German strongpoint; he then followed men of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers up the approach trenches to their attack positions. As the men went over the top they were mown down and Malins was unable to follow without being killed himself. He therefore joined McDowell at the Minden Post dressing station. Here they filmed the wounded of both sides. Later in the day, or perhaps the following day, they filmed German prisoners and captured German trenches. Finally they filmed the troops who had initiated the attack on 1 July coming out of the line to rest.

The film The Battle of the Somme was shown all over London on 21 August and a week later in provincial cities in Britain and Allied countries. We do not know what the first audiences made of the film, although it is clear that many were shocked to see men fall dead as they went over the top.

WW1 and its Consequences. Open University Press


The following letter dated 4th July 1916 was received by Cyril along with all others under the command of the Lieut-General. Cyril kept it with his papers throughout the rest of the war.

Hunter-Weston's Letter

Later in 1916

On the reverse of this card, dated 18th October 1916 A Postcard with a sailboat
Dear Jessie,

I don’t suppose you know I had to start away from Reading at 6-o-clock this morning. I am now at Folkestone and shall be crossing the water this afternoon. Please write me a letter and let me know how you love me, with much love

Cyril

We can assume that after events of the Summer, Cyril had been sent home on leave and was now going back to France.


Ernest Charles Bartlett (left) and Cyril George Bartlett c 1916

Ernest Charles Bartlett and Cyril George Bartlett c 1916

Cyril joined up as a Private, was promoted Corporal and left the Army in 1919 with the rank of Sergeant

Ernest was Cyril’s younger brother and was called up in June 1916. He was posted to the front in May 1917 as a Gunner with the Royal Field Artillery.

He was later promoted to Lance Bombardier in 1918 and was demobbed in 1919.