Dry Drayton, Cambridge
1st July 2013: 97 years ago today.
"See that little stream - we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it - a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches every day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs.
No European will ever do that again in this generation. This Western Front business couldn't be done again, not a for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn't. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation between the classes."
F Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night (1934)
Dry Drayton is a fairly non-descript village on the western outskirts of Cambridge. My ancestors feature in the parish registers back to when they begin in the 1550s. At the start of the 20th Century the parish was almost entirely agricultural, many of the farms owned by the non-conformist Chivers family of Histon, makers of jam and other fruit products.
Out of a village population of about 300 people, Dry Drayton lost 15 boys to the horror of the First World War. The first name on the Dry Drayton memorial, Henry Thomas 'Harry' Anable, was my great great uncle. He was the younger brother of my great grandmother Alice Anable. Here he is on the 1911 census. He was killed on the morning of Saturday July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He was just 19 years old.
Harry was a Private in the 11th Bn of the Suffolk Regiment, the renowned Cambridge Battalion, made up largely of working class men from in and around the city of Cambridge, many of whom knew each other, joining up in groups from factories, farms and shops.
Harry Anable was one of the first soldiers to go over the top that day, and one of the first to die. The 11th Suffolks attacked at 7.32 am, and suffered terrible losses. They attacked with the 10th Bn of the Lincolnshire Regiment, the Grimsby Chums, at a place known as Sausage Valley, just south of La Boisselle.
Malcolm Brown, in The Imperial War Museum Book of the Somme records that ...within two minutes of zero hour, before they had cleared the front trench, they had been raked by machine-gun fire. The Lincolnshires lost 15 officers and 462 other ranks, the Suffolk battalion 15 officers and 512 other ranks. An artillery officer who walked the ground later found 'line after line of dead men lying where they had fallen'.
Chris McCarthy, in The Somme Day-by-Day, notes that the 60,000 pound mine at Lochnagar south of La Boisselle exploded two minutes before zero hour: There was no surprise, and , ten minutes after zero, 80 per cent of the men in the leading battalion of the first column were casualties.... The 10th Lincolns with 11th Suffolks following received machine-gun fire from Sausage Valley, La Boisselle and the German front line trench, which inflicted severe casualties. On the extreme right a party which tried to storm Sausage Redoubt was burnt to death by flame-throwers and the Lincolns and the Suffolks were unable to cross the 500 yards of no man's land.
William Brooks and Allan Tack, also on the Dry Drayton memorial, died alongside Harry that sunny morning. None of their bodies were ever identified, and they are remembered, along with almost 75,000 other young men whose bodies were lost on the Somme, on the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval in northern France.
In 2000, Harry was recalled in the book Gallows Piece to Bee Garden: a Millennium History of Dry Drayton from memories of villagers recorded in the 1970s as a quiet, sensitive boy. His big sister Alice is shown holding me on her lap in this photograph taken on the day I was christened in 1961.