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  • Claire Jordan

"Bombardment Continued With Great Violence"

Fred and Will Canadine were the eldest and middle sons of a Nottingham coal-porter named William and his wife Susannah. There was a third son, little Aubrey, mercifully too young to go to War.

Will volunteered in the early spring of 1915, aged only 17 (he fibbed about his age), with his big brother, 20 year old Fred, at his side, and they were allotted service numbers only six apart.

They were in the same Section of the same Company of the same 1/7th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters when they landed in France in the autumn of 1915 and they were together in that same Section on 26th June 1916, as the entire British Army along the Somme frontline readied for the Big Push which would begin on 1st July and end the War.

All that week, the British artillery had kept up an unrelenting bombardment of the enemy positions, night and day, designed to annihilate the German positions, cut the barbed-wire entanglements and make it easy for the office-clerks and errand-boys of the new Pals Battalions to walk unhurriedly across No Man’s Land once the mines were blown in the early morning of Saturday 1st, to mop up the last remaining enemy soldiers.

Fred and Will with their Sherwood Foresters were at Foncquevillers (Funky Villas to the lads, obviously), with the deafening cacophony sailing endlessly over their heads.

There must have been great trepidation and also great excitement. This was the big moment come at last and the brothers would be together as they went over the top.

They were together, but they didn’t quite make it that far.

Sid Dore was also a lad from Nottingham in the same Battalion and the same Company as Fred & Will Canadine and he kept a notebook for the preceding days:

“Weather - very unsettled. Nothing doing for once. Bumping fatigue at night. Heavy bombardment begins. Very bad week for fatigues. Many casualties. Heavy thunderstorms in the week.

Bombardment continued with great violence.

Working in the advanced trench. Up to the waist in water.

26th - Bombardment continued. 4 casualties while in the advanced trench. Canadine brothers wounded. Drying clothes.“

So that day, five days before the Battle was to start, Fred and Will Canadine were both swept suddenly by machine gun fire as they worked in the advanced trench.

At 5’10”, eighteen year old Will was already a big lad for the time; it must have been extra difficult for him to keep his head low enough to be safe, especially in trenches waist-deep in standing water.

And that’s where they got him.

Will was shot in the head; the bullets inflicted compound fractures to his skull. His big brother fell at his side, though it’s not recorded where he was hit.

Will was still alive and Fred must have been frantic to get him help and to not let either of them drown in the flooded trench.

Both boys were rescued and carried back by 46th Field Ambulance to the 20th Casualty Clearing Station at Warlincourt Halte where Will somehow held on for 48 hours until he died #OnThisDay, 28th June 1916. You really have to hope Fred was at his side.

Fred was alone now in a sea of horror that was about to get so much worse but his injuries at least kept him out of the disastrous fight on 1st July; he would return to the fray in France after recovering (physically at least) from what happened at Funky Villas that day.

Their mates meanwhile hopped the bags at 7.30am three days later and plunged into history.

The massive bombardment had not killed the enemy en masse and it had not cut the impenetrable barbed wire entanglements on which so many of our boys would die.

Without the Canadine brothers, Fred and Will’s 1/7th Sherwood Foresters moved up from Funky Villas as June turned into July to attack Gommecourt that first day and were met with nothing but machine gun fire.

Of the 536 Sherwoods of the Battalion who started out that morning, 409 would be casualties by nightfall. Sid Dore was one of them; his body never found.

Fred Canadine survived the War, but what it cost him can only be guessed at and he did not see his 33rd birthday.

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