Daily Archives: June 27, 2012

Martin’s model

The Battalion spent the next day, Wednesday, 21 June, at Grovetown. The new draft of men had to be brought in and allocated to their platoons and the Company commanders busied themselves inspecting clothing and equipment. Working parties were detailed to return to the trenches to assist the Royal Engineers. And on this day a familiar element in the story of the 9th Devons on the Somme first appears in the official record. On 21 June the Brigade Major sent an order to all the units in 7th Division. From 9 o’clock the next morning a contoured model covering the entire front over which 20 Brigade was to attack would be available at the Grovetown HQ. Battalion Commanders were to make an appointment to see the model and the officers of each and every company due to be involved in the battle must study it together.

The model showed how vulnerable advancing troops in the area of Mansel Copse would be to machine gun fire: not just from the one position always identified in connection with the story, the shrine in Mametz village cemetery, but in fact from German trenches in three directions; on the right, straight ahead in the line of advance, and above on the hillside. Accounts of the first day of fighting on the Somme always represent Captain Martin of the 9th Devons, who made the model, as a lone voice, pointing to a danger which his superiors refused to recognise.  Some even imagine him making a formal complaint and being told that it was his duty to advance no matter how many machine guns were waiting.  But the Brigade Order puts a different complexion on the story. Whether Martin had made the model on his own initiative, or had been asked to make it to demonstrate the dangers that could be expected in 20 Brigade’s line of advance, the Brigade order is evidence that his superiors were listening. Far from trying to silence Martin, they were using his insight and skill to help his fellow officers prepare.

The order’s timing must also be significant. With the model ‘going public’ just two days after the battalion’s return from the only sector of British trenches that could give a clear view of the hillside, it seems certain that Martin had checked out the landscape on the ground as well as he was able and had made final adjustments to the model on returning to Grovetown. He would also have discussed his findings with those closest to him, including Noel Hodgson. Hodgson, like Martin, was one of the dwindling number of original 9th Devon officers who had been together since their battalion was formed. With a major attack imminent, Martin is known to have been concerned about the capabilities of the new officers coming out from England as replacements; only one of the four platoon commanders in his company had even served in trenches before.

The pieces were falling into place. For Hodgson, Martin, all those remaining from the original battalion who had fought at Loos, the magnitude of the task ahead was now painfully clear.