The five month battle had three phases and would be fought between July and November of 1916. The horrific battle would be one of the largest in the war, would involved over 2.6 million troops on both sides and when it was all done.... little in the way of ground was taken by either side by the time the allies called it off. And for that both sides lost about 1.1 MILION soldiers... over 1 in three would be killed, or wounded, Missing in Action or taken as a POW. It would be one of the most horrendous battles in world history.
On day one alone the allies took 60,000 casualties, 20,000 of these being killed. For several days before that attempted advance, over 3,000 artillery pieces dropped well over 1,600,000 shells on the enemy, but little did the allies know it, the Germans just sat back and watched the show. Then when the shelling stopped they moved out of the shelters, took up their positions behind machine guns and just mowed the allies down as they attempted to advance. It was nothing short of a massive slaughter.
The allied start point shown here is the bold red line. That was on day one...or July 1. by the 14th they had reached the end of the first phase. By mid September they had reached the 2nd phase and by mid November they had advanced to the end of the third phase before the plan was celled off.
It would be during the second phase, at a place called the Monquet Farm that stretcher bearer Mickey O'Rourke found himself in the trenches in an advanced position and within throwing distance of the advancing enemy. He grabbed some bombs (hand grenades) and, without any sort of orders whatsoever, took it upon himself to leap over the parapet, move forward quite a distance in advance of the rest of his troops and start to lob the bombs at the Germans.
In doing so he took out several of the enemy from their vantage points and held the no-man's ground till his comrades could join him,
Mickey would later state that he was in one of the forward sap's (a listening post trench) and lobed bombs on them for three hours while snipers tried to shoot him. One of his comrades came up with a Lewis machine gun but ammo ran out and whist waiting for resupply he was killed. A 2nd gunner arrived but was also killed.
At one point in the fight he left his trench to attach a German in another trench, killed him, seized his riffle and quite a lot of hand grenades, then nick-named Potatoe Markers , and continued to lob these right back at other Germans. For these acts he would later be recommended for bravery and still later the London Gazette would announce that he had been awarded the Military Medal (pictured below) for these actions at the Somme.
For three days and nights the Germans launched attack after attack against the Allies...and Mickey's 7th battalion was in the midst of this. (one ref says they attacked 22 times.) There were 16 stretcher barriers in Mickey's unit. Two would be killed and 11 injured as they braved out onto very heavily defended territory under shell attack and sniper and rifle fire..to rescue the wounded. They as the numbers reveal, even had snipers concentrating of the unarmed bearers like Mickey.
Time and time again Mickey would race out into harm's way to help treat the wounded and haul them back. Often when a shell landed near him the concussion would knock him off his feet, and as often he would find himself almost buried under rubble. But he'd crawl out and continue on his many missions. At one point he saw a blinded soldier trying to find his way back the 7th lines... so he raced out and rescued the man, like on so may other incidents in this three day period. And often these missions took him upwards of 50 yards under MG and sniper target to reach his wounded comrades.
For this complete disregard for his own safety, he was written up by his superiors and later gazetted as being awarded the Victoria Cross. A cross that was pinned on his chest by HRH King George V on 5 December 1917 at Buckingham Palace.
There would be other battles, but I will leave them till Monday