Regina Trench

1 October – 11 November 1916

The Regina Trench system dominated the area held by the Canadians after the initial attack at Thiepval on 26 September. Regina Trench had been part of the original Thiepval objectives, which called for the capture of the system by the end of the day on the 26th, but like most of the battles fought on the Somme, the attack had devolved to a multi-week slog, as the British army tried in vain to take increasingly smaller chunks of territory.

The 3000m system was perfectly placed for defense, being slightly over the top of Thiepval ridge, and surrounded by miles of thick barbed wire. To take Regina Trench, the Canadians would have to advance in full view of the defenders up the slope, with no options for outflanking and massed in a tight area of attack. Pre-attack bombardments were largely unsuccessful in removing the wire and many shells fell short as the Canadian gunners struggled to hit their target. Byng would again be calling on the beleaguered 2nd Division, fresh from the attempt to take Thiepval Ridge in September, to take Regina Trench. Despite protestations from the divisional commanders Turner and Lipsett, and an additional protest from Byng himself, Gough refused to call off the attack, and the 2nd  and 3rd Divisions would go forward into Regina Trench on 1 October at 3:15pm.

The German Marine Brigade, an elite group originally stationed in Belgium, had been moved to the Somme as the German regiments slow weakened from loss of men, and were stationed at Regina Trench. The attack on 1 October briefly took control of Kenora Trench and part of the eastern end of Regina Trench proper, but were pushed out by the Marines by 2 October and forced to abandon their positions. Bad weather and low visibility delayed the next attack until 8 October, though the Canadian barrage continued during this time, always trying to remove chunks of the barbed wire that had proved so disastrous the 2nd and 3rd Divisions on 1 October.

The attack on 8 October would be carried out much as the failed attack on 1 October, this time with the 1st and 3rd Divisions. Both went over the top before dawn behind a creeping barrage towards the maze of trenches making up the Regina system. Most of the battalions would run again into uncut barbed wire, which funneled them into concentrated zones of German machine gun fire. Both attacks, on the Quadrilateral and Regina Trench proper, were ultimately repelled as the Canadians were pushed back to their jumping off points.

A combined British and Canadian attack on 21 October would finally see a large part of Regina Trench captured by the Canadian 4th Division, and many German prisoners taken. It would not be until 10-11 November that the final western section of the trench would be captured during a lightening night attack by battalions of the 4th Division. The same division would be called upon to take Desire Trench, the final support trench in the Regina system on 18 November, which they would do in four successive waves, following their creeping barrage closely. Unlike the early attacks on Regina, Desire was taken relatively easily, though fighting was still fierce in some areas.  In the end, Regina trench would cost thousands of Canadian lives; in total, the Canadian Corps counted over 24 000 casualties during the time it was on the Somme, almost all in the area surrounding Courcelette, Thiepval Ridge and Regina Trench.

Technological advancements

After Thiepval and the first attempt to take Regina Trench, General Gough released a “Memorandum on Attacks” addressing many of the problems that had arisen, and calling for a more platoon based organisational structure empowering leaders at the company and platoon level to make decisions on how to reach their objectives as the need arose, instead of waiting on high command. Gough also called for better organisation of reserves and using those groups who had already taken their objectives to better maintain the force of battle; almost all the battles fought by the British on the Somme had suffered particularly in this regard, with reserves held back behind the front lines who could not move quickly enough to support those objectives already taken. In 1917, the reogranised Canadian Corps would use this “leap frog” technique in every battle, greatly increasing their ability to take and hold objectives.

Notable participants

Lance Corporal Ralph Lewis (25th Battalion CEF) One of the few survivors of the battalion to take Kenora Trench on 1 October, Lewis manned  a Lewis gun in the defensive line formed to hold the trench. He was awarded the Military Medal.  Later a Lieutenant of the battalion.  [Battalion report detailing the conditions in Kenora trench that Lewis fought under ]

Piper James Cleland  Richardson (16th Battalion CEF) The 16th Battalion was tasked with a portion of Regina Trench on 8 October and were being driven back to their own trenches when their piper, James Cleland Richardson, stepped above the trench and began to play his bagpipes. Richardson was surrounded by flying bullets, but continued to play, and the men of the 16th turned and stormed into Regina Trench, taking their objective. Richardson continued to play throughout the day, later putting down his pipes to bring in a wounded comrade, when he returned to retrieve them he never returned and was listed as MIA. His body was found in 1920 and buried in France. His pipes were found in 2006.  Piper Richardson, age 20, was awarded a posthumous VC for his bravery.

Lance Corporal Leo Clarke VC (27th Battalion) Clarke received the VC earlier in September for his actions at Pozières. The 27th Battalion was ordered into Regina Trench on 11 October to secure the area, Clarke was buried by a shell hit and his spine broken. His brother, Charles, was able to dig him out and he was sent to hospital, but died under care on 19 October 1916.

German Prisoners captured by Canadians in the storming of Regina Trench. October, 1916. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada. PA-000825.
German Prisoners captured by Canadians in the storming of Regina Trench. October, 1916. Photo courtesy of Library and Archives Canada. PA-000825.

Download our poster about Regina Trench here.