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First World War

1st Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment

Account of the 1st July 1916 and the first day of the Battle of the Somme by Major Henry Dearden Matson, 1st King's Own.

Major Henry Dearden Matson.
Accession Number: KO1307/07

Transcript of a letter from the Somme battlefield by Major Henry Dearden Matson, 1st Battalion, The King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, to his sister, Arzilles Matson, in Douglas, Isle of Man.

10th July 1916

Dearest Arziles,

We are now out for a rest after 9 days of strenuousness, to reorganise after our somewhat severe losses. The Battalion is full of kick and ready to go until it drops, but the powers that be seem to think we have done enough for the present. I can’t even yet realize so many have gone from us, but coming back to the same mess room we occupied before the battle brings it home to one. No use to dwell on that however. They die that England may live. The Battalion advanced – ‘went over the top’ at 7.30 am on Saturday 1st July. It was the left leading Battalion of the Brigade and the men marched out into a withering fire of machine guns and shells as if they were on manoeuvres. Whole sections were swept away but nothing stopped them. They surged up over the German front trenches in their proper formations until they reached a point from which it was impossible to proceed any further. A village which should have been taken by a division on the left was not taken. A hill and another village on the right resisted the efforts of another division to take it, so the poor old Bn. was left out alone in the front unsupported on either flank rapidly crumbling away under the concentrated crossfire of the Bosches were able to bring on it. Orders had to be sent up to retire and by nightfall it was back again in its assembly trenches and its glorious charge had achieved no result. Three officers were left of those who went over but others have come up and we are reorganising. For the first few days, I was in command as poor Bromilow is missing, the whole of Headquarters except me wiped out. We had to work our hardest in the worst conditions clearing the battlefield & preparing for another attack, being heavily shelled all the time. I have many mentions to make & at least two of my officers should get DSOs. The conditions were most difficult, but I managed to get a supply of hot soup for the men, who could cook nothing – too wet – greatcoats – they were in fighting order – change of socks, and did a lot of talking & cheering of them up. We could get no sleep that was the worst – work had to be done & we had to do it, and hold the enemy as well.

The 4th Division has done its work which was to draw the strongest possible German force to its front so that the French could smash through on the right, and they have done it, so that our Battalion according to all the Generals who had been interviewing us lately has covered itself with glory, even if it is reduced to half its strength. I feel poor Young’s death too much. I love the merry young fellow; only 19 & a company commander and veteran too. Then there’s Weatherhead, and Rowley and Hablutzel and Clegg, MacWalk’s, the fearless, Melly, with the bull’s roar in a fight, all killed and fourteen others wounded or missing; nearly all our gallant crew of officers. When a man is posted as missing it means that nobody present could say whether he was killed or wounded – there was no information. He may be killed, or wounded, or a prisoner. So now we are having this much needed rest. It is only a rest from the shelling and fighting, as there is hard work to be done straightening out companies and bringing them up to strength replacing specialists, signallers, Lewis gunners and so forth. We can do it in a week and be ready to fight again as we have fought before. Three times in this war this Battalion has been practically wiped out but it has always got going again. The discipline was magnificent, no regiment could have behaved better and all through the bitter days following not a murmur from the men. They are wonderful. Nothing daunts them and they are ready as they were this time to achieve the impossible.
Much love to you both from


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