Flatiron Copse Cemetery
The small wood that stands across the road from this cemetery was known to British troops during the First World War as Flatiron Copse. Mametz Wood stands beyond the rear wall.
At dawn, on 14 July 1916, men from the 7th Division secured this location and the ground to the north during their attack on the German positions along Bazentin Ridge. An Advanced Dressing Station was then established in the copse and the cemetery began later that month. Used until April 1917, and again in August 1918 for 2 burials, this cemetery was greatly expanded after the Armistice when more than 1,100 graves were brought here from the surrounding battlefields and smaller burial sites.
Flatiron Copse Cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker and the Scottish architect, Arthur James Scott Hutton, who served with the Royal Engineers during the war. This cemetery is now the final resting place for 1,572 servicemen of the First World War, of whom 420 remain unidentified. Special memorials commemorate the 36 casualties known or believed to be buried among the unidentified, and the 9 soldiers that were buried in Mametz Wood Cemetery but whose graves were destroyed by shell fire.
The Somme Offensive: Mametz Wood and the 38th (Welsh Division)
On 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, men of the 7th Division captured the village of Mametz but German defences in and around Mametz Wood were a formidable barrier to further advances. The 38th (Welsh) Division launched an assault on these positions on 7 July and again on 8 & 9 July, suffering heavy losses with little success.
Before dawn on 10 July, 4 battalions of the 38th (Welsh) Division assembled in no man’s land just south of Mametz Wood. At 4:15hrs, after a brief artillery bombardment, the infantry began their advance coming under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire as they crossed no man’s land. While British shells crashed down ahead of them, they stormed into Mametz Wood with bayonets fixed. Ferocious hand-to-hand combat ensued, with the Welshmen bombing German machine-gun posts, and firing at snipers hidden among the tree tops and tangled undergrowth.
As noon approached, conditions became hot and humid among the ruined trees. In the ‘hammerhead’, a part of the wood close to this cemetery, German troops resisted repeated assaults until driven out by mortar fire. Supported by reinforcements, the attackers continued to battle forward, but were halted near the wood’s northern edge by machine-gun and artillery fire from the German lines beyond. Tired and dehydrated, they dug in and consolidated their positions.
Renewed attempts to advance were made the next day, but were met with German artillery fire. On the morning of 12 July the exhausted 38th (Welsh) Division were withdrawn from the shattered wood. The 21st Division took over the line and sent out forward patrols. Discovering that the German positions were now abandoned, they occupied the northern edge of the wood.
After the attack on Mametz Wood, the 38th (Welsh) Division reported more than 4,000 casualties with over 1,000 men killed. More than 80 of these men are buried in this cemetery.
The Mametz Wood Memorial to the 38th (Welsh) Division is located 650 metres south-west of Flatiron Copse Cemtery on the Bois Santin.
References, Notes and Acknowledgements:-
- Visitor plaques within the Flatiron Copse Cemetery grounds.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
- Photograph of the 38th (Welsh) Division, South Wales Borderers, in the UK before their departure to France, taken from the Flatiron Copse visitor plaque, Paul Reed Photo Archive. Image restored by me.
- The photograph of Flatiron Copse Cemetery taken 15 August 2016, ©2016 Wolverson Photography, is optimised for a ultra wide angle display, 3440 x 1440.