9th Bn KING'S OWN YORKSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
9th KOYLI, La Neuville, Corbie, April 1916. (©Paul Reed)
Somme - 1st July 1916
"When the barrage lifts..."
Many years ago I found a group photograph in a flea-market (see above). Research showed it to be officers of the 9th Bn King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, taken at a chateau in La Neuville, Corbie, in April 1916. This battalion was wiped out on the First Day of the Somme, 1st July 1916, losing over 500 casualties. For many years afterwards an 'In Memorium' notice appeared on the 1st July commemorating the battalion, and using the phrase 'When the barrage lifts'.
The story of this goes back to the eve of the Battle of the Somme, when the officers of 9th KOYLI met for one last time before going up to the trenches opposite Fricourt. Their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel C.W.D.Lynch DSO had been with the unit since 1915, and was awarded the DSO for bravery at Loos. He was not a popular commanding officer, and had a habit of promoting favourites, rather than those who deserved the position. Lancelot Spicer, then an officer in the battalion, recalled the incident in his memoirs:
At about 6pm on June 28th all officers received a summons to go to Battalion HQ for a final drink before going into action. We assembled, glasses were put into our hands, drinks were passed round and we drank quietly to one another – everyone was naturally feeling strained. The Adjutant and Second-in-command were away on some course, so the Acting Adjutant, Keay, was in charge. Lynch came into the room and was given a glass. Keay went up to Haswell, the senior Captain, and said quietly to him,
‘I think you should propose the CO’s health!’
‘I’m damned if I will’, said Haswell ‘I don’t wish him good health and am not prepared to be insincere on this occasion.’
‘You must’, said Keay.
‘I won’t.’, said Haswell.
For a few moments they argued, and then Haswell stepped forward and raising his glass said:
‘Gentlemen, I give you the toast of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and in particular the 9th Battalion of the Regiment’ – a slight pause – ‘Gentleman, when the barrage lifts…’
We emptied our glasses and were silent. Dramatically, Haswell had avoided an unpleasant scene, and the toast has never been forgotten.
Of those present, twenty-four went into action next day in the attack on Fricourt. Six were in reserve. Of the twenty-four, twelve were killed, including Lynch and Haswell. Three died of wounds afterwards, eight were wounded, one slightly and only one left untouched.(1)
The bodies of Lynch and Haswell
were recovered from the battlefield and buried in Norfolk Cemetery, Becourt.
They are buried alongside several other officers of the battalion.
POSTCRIPT - RETURN TO THE CHATEAU
Over the years of collecting Great War postcards I found several that shared the same background as that of the 9th KOYLI officers group. While I knew it was a chateau somewhere in La Neuville, I did not know precisely where. In the meantime I was contacted by a family in the UK who had a similar photo with the same background who wanted to know where it was. On their next trip to the Somme, they joined us in the search for the chateau. We made numerous enquiries with the tourist office, town hall and locals in the area, until an elderly gentlemen sent us to a street near the station. Here we found a large chateau, but the front of it did not match our photos:
Front view of the chateau, La Neuville, Corbie.
However, on taking a side road to the rear of the building, all became clear:
Rear view of the chateau, La Neuville, Corbie.
Here at last, was the place where these photographs had been taken in 1916. The owners knew little of its history, except that it was used by German officers in WW2. They had no idea of its connection with the Great War, or that the officers of this famous battalion had once stood on the steps of the chateau on the eve of the Battle of the Somme.
(1) Spicer, L.D. Letters
From France 1915-1918 (Robert York 1979)
©PAUL REED 2002-2006