William ‘Willie' ROOT was awarded the Military Medal for his gallant action on the 13th November 1916 in the attack on St. Pierre Divion after entering the German trench system. This marked the beginning of the end of the battle of the Somme. Details from his Battalion's war diary for that attack are shown below.
According to orders the Battalion marched from MARTINSART WOOD to the LEFT RIVER ANCRE SECTION.
CAPTURE of St. PIERRE DIVION. On November 13th the Battalion was ordered to make a subsidiary attack from the South up the River ANCRE in conjunction with a main attack by the 118th Infantry Brigade.
The objective of the Battalion was a line running east from the SUMMER HOUSE and short of St. PIERRE DIVION. The 4/5th Black Watch were to join up with us from the East. The 1/6th Cheshire Regt. were to capture St. PIERRE DIVION. The main attack was to start at 5.45am.
The 16th Sherwood's were to advance with three Companies at 6.13am - one Company being left in Reserve. A Tank was to co-operate on our right.
The assembly was successfully carried out without incident and the troops advanced at the scheduled time in a thick mist.
The Battalion successfully entered the German First Line trench, but here met with a certain amount of opposition and the right was held up.
At 6.30 a.m. The reserve Company was sent up to reinforce the right. Their arrival helped to clear the situation and the Battalion advanced bombing and driving the enemy before them into their dugouts.
The Objective allotted to the Battalion was secured but nothing could stop our men, who advanced with the greatest dash and finally secured the whole of St. PIERRE DIVION including the German Battalion Headquarters and the famous tunnel dugouts.
A party under 2nd Lt. A.HOLLAND continued their advance as far as the HANSA LINE joining up with the 1/1st Herts. Regt. on the extreme right of the 118th Brigade.
At 8.15 a.m. Owing to our running short of bombs and to so many men being required to guard the entrances of dugouts and guard prisoners, a Company of the 17th Sherwood Foresters were sent up to this Company and rendered most useful assistance. By 9 o/clock however the whole position was in our hands and there remained only to clear the dugouts of prisoners.
At 9.15a.m. Battalion Headquarters moved forward to the German Battalion Headquarters taking with them two more Companies of the 17th Battalion Sherwood Foresters to consolidate the line.
13 Officers including the Battalion Commander and 720 other ranks were taken prisoners.
Our casualties were slight and consisted of Lieut. S.G. BURCH and 4 Other Ranks were killed. 67 Other ranks including Company Sergeant Major J.H. ROBINSON wounded.
The 1/1st HERTS. Regt. lost direction to the right and took no part in the capture of the fortress.
The 4/5th BLACK WATCH lost direction in the mist and only two Officers and 10 men arrived at their objective. This party rendered useful assistance.
The Tank arrived at the German Front Line before its scheduled time and unfortunately subsided into a dugout and was put out of action.
Many fine feats were performed by the Battalion notably by:- Captain R.L.ILLINGWORTH who with his orderly entered the famous tunnel dugout and brought out 81 Germans. It was necessary to advance 150 yards down this deep tunnel to reach the dugout where the enemy had taken refuge.
2nd Lieut. HOLLAND who advanced with great dash and secured the German Battalion Headquarters and took prisoner the German Battalion Commander and 60 Other Ranks.
Sergt. Cook. C MONKS who despite his 56 years entered a defended dugout single-handed and brought out 6 prisoners.
Many other Officers, N.C.O's and men performed feats of exceptional gallantry which have been brought to the notice of Higher Authority.
Including the Military Medal to William Root which was promulgated in the London Gazette Supplement dated 19th February 1917 - the citation reads as follows:
"For his gallant action on 13.11.1916 when in the
attack on St Pierre Divion"
White Star bombs(1) were used for the first time and were found most effective in dealing with dugouts from which the enemy had been sniping or bombing.
At 9.30 a.m. we started to dig in a new line and to consolidate the position. A large amount of bootv fell into our hands but it was not possible to enumerate it.
The Battalion was relieved at 7.l 5p.m. and proceeded to PAISLEY AVENUE. It may be stated that the 4 assaulting Companies attacked each about 90 strong. The wire was admirably cut by our artillery, and the barrage of the 85th Battery 18th Division was beyond all praise.
The Battalion's war diary also records an entry for 15th September 1917 as follows:
The Battalion was relieved by the 13th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and proceeded to the Bivouac Camp N.6.d (Sheet 28) near Ridge Wood, Reningheist, near Zillebeke, Belgium.
Casualties - O.R. 1 Killed, 4 wounded, 2 missing.
The 1 Killed was Private William Root who died whilst leaving the trenches.
(1) A poison gas - mixture of chlorine & ‘phosgene' (carbonyl dichloride). The German army had first used gas at Ypres on 23rd April 1915