Why is High Wood Battle important to us?
The attack on High Wood on 15th July 1916 was a significant event in the Church Lads’ Brigade war history because the battalion suffered heavy loses amounting to more than half of its establishment.
The real name of High Wood, as used before the War and as marked on French maps today, is Bois des Fourcaux, relating pitchforks. The name 'High Wood' probably derives from the fact that the wood was at the top of a slope on slightly higher ground. In fact, the elevation is not that great, but in a relatively flat landscape, improved vision was therefore a tremendous advantage. The Germans held it in July 1916, and they were not about to give up these advantages lightly. High Wood is not large, but was of tremendous significance during the Battle of the Somme. The Wood was first attacked on 14th July, 1916, but the British were unable to take it.
High Wood was the last of the major woods in the Somme offensive of 1916 to be captured by the British. The fighting in Mametz Wood was grim, and in Delville Wood it was hellish, but they eventually fell, as did Trones Wood. Despite a whole series of attacks spanning two months, High Wood held out until 15th September 1916. It was never fully cleared after the war, and it is estimated that the remains of around 8000 soldiers, British and German, still lie today in High Wood.
Unlike other periods, there is no single clear casualty entry in the 16th KRRC war diary for the action at High Wood. Even the strength return sent to HQ on 21st July may be misleading, as it's not clear if this includes the draft of 79 Other Ranks that joined on the 18th. But this return shows the scale of loss, it is just 6 officers out of 27 and 214 other ranks out of 877. The war diary entry for the 24th July remarks upon the loss of Non Commissioned Officers which were reduced to just 1 sergeant and 7 corporals. Like so many other “New Army” battalions on the Somme, who were a year or more in the making, the 16th KRRC was decimated in a single day.
Information compiled and written by High Wood 2016 History group.