N MEMORY OF CUTHBERT BLACKETT (1889-1916)
Cuthbert was one of my great great uncles and a great uncle of Pat Longbottom’s. He was a son of Joseph Blackett and Mary Ann Winship and was Private Cuthbert Blackett 6/3222 of the 1/6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry Territorial Force (part of the 151st Brigade. 50th Northumberland and Durham Territorial Division) during the First World War.
He took part in and was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 during a subsidiary attack, the Battle of Flers-Courcellette, which took place between 15th- 22nd September of that year following a bloody attempt started on 14th July to take High Wood.
The attack took place near Bizantin-Le-Petit, south of Albert in the time following the bloody battle earlier in July amidst the mud and squalor and stench of this gruesome First World War battlefield. Although successful in the eventual capture of this objective, and others, the offensive, overall, was indecisive.
The action itself was to be the last of the largest offensives of the Battle of the Somme and was notable in history as the first occasion when the tank was used in warfare.
According to regimental records the action in which the 50th Division and Cuthbert participated, started on 15th September, a Friday, with a major attack involving the new Mark 1 tanks, along a twelve kilometre front. Commencing amidst smoke and mist at 6.20 am, an average advance of two miles was to be made over three days. Of the forty-nine tanks to be used in the battle only fifteen made it into no man’s land due to their mechanical inefficiency. In view of the limited number and their inefficiency this secret weapon had limited effect, with the British suffering heavy casualties although they did impact on German morale.
A Mark 1 tank preparing in Chimpanzee Valley for action on 15th September 1916
High Wood was, after two months, along with Martinpuich and Courcelette, taken with the 50th Division having commenced their section of the attack from the west, immediately in front of Bizantin-Le-Petit.
Over the period from17th to the 19th September attacks had been made, in mist and pouring rain, on various obstacles including “Crescent Trench” where, on the 17th, Cuthbert’s battalion, the 1/6th battalion, were broken up by heavy shell fire and forced to return disorganized. If family reports are accurate it was during this action on the 19th that Cuthbert received his fatal wounds. “Starfish Trench” was also attacked with the 1/6th attacking on the right and the 1/9th attacking on the left each with a hundred men. This particular attack was unsuccessful and was broken up with machine gun fire forcing the 1/6th to move back to “6th Avenue East” where it remained, cleaning up before, on the 20th September, moving back to the shelter of Mametz Wood to the west of Bizantin-Le-Petit.
A Mark 1 tank in action on the Somme on the 25th September –the day before Cuthbert died
The action to take High Wood was so infamous that one soldier wrote of it in a parody of Chalk Farm to Camberwell Green
“High Wood to Waterlot Farm,
All on a summer’s day,
Up you get to the top of the trench
Though you’re sniped at all the way.
If you’ve got a smoke helmet there
You’d best put it on if you could,
For the wood down by Waterlot Farm
Is a bloody High Wood. "
To this day, it is believed, that the remains of up to 8000 German and British troops remain undiscovered, the woods having not been fully cleared of debris and bodies after the war. The wood still remains, in many places, an unsafe place to walk in view of the large amounts of munitions still left to be recovered.
Cuthbert died on 26th September, aged 27, in a field hospital at Heilley Station near Merricourt L’Abbe to the south of Albert about a week after receiving his wounds – although this cannot be verified he had, according to the family, had both his legs blown off. Records indicate that he died of wounds received in the Bizantin-Le-Petit area and it is here at Heilley Station in a small War Commission Cemetary that he is buried (Plot 4, Row 1, Grave no.26).
• a battalion consisted of 1000 men