John Francis Daly

John Daly was born in December 1893 in London, the third and youngest son of John and Ceilia Daly. In the 1911 census he was living with his widowed father at 21 Lichfield Grove, Church End, Finchley, and was working as a shop assistant at a provisions merchant.

John enlisted in the 10th battalion of the Essex regiment. 10th Essex was a K2 volunteer Service battalion which started to form at Warley, near Brentwood, Essex, in September 1914. The battalion initially trained at Shorncliffe Downs, living at St Martin's Plain Camp, Folkestone, where 1,000 strong, they paraded in civilian clothes; and then at Colchester (Hyderabad Barracks) where they received Kitchener Blues (Post Office uniforms).

Just before leaving Essex John married Ethel Eagle on 3rd April 1915 at St Alban's Roman Catholic Church, North Finchley. John was based at the Hyderabad barracks in Colchester.

10th Battalion finished their 'battle' training on the Warminster end of Salisbury Plain, living in camp at Codford St Mary, Wiltshire, in May and June 1915. They landed at Boulogne on Monday 26th July 1915. Twenty four hours later they arrived on the Somme and on the 4th August entered the front line for the first time, opposite the German held village of Thiepval, to receive instruction from the 152nd Highland Brigade of the 51st (Highland) Division.

The 10th Essex were one of four infantry battalions that formed the 53rd Infantry Brigade, itself one of three Brigades (the others were the 54th and 55th) that made the infantry arm, the fighting arm, of the 18th (Eastern) Division, under General Ivor Maxse. So began the 10th Essex’s war. During the next eleven months, they would hold the line and learn the art of trench warfare opposite the German held villages of Mametz, La Boiselle, Fricourt and Montauban on the Somme.

On 14th March 1916 the Battalion marched from Franvillers to Etineham Camp. Entering the line on 16th March they held the northern and eastern edges of Maricourt Wood. Spells in the line and at camp training continued into April, particular attention being paid to gas warfare. Several parties were sent out to take samples of the German wire. In early May the Battalion moved to Longpre, 1'/z miles NW of Amiens. The whole Battalion were inoculated against typhoid.

In prepartion for the battle of the Somme, an open piece of ground at Bertangles was used to represent a section of the German line, including trenches named Mine Alley, Bund Trench, Bund Support, Popoff Lane and Montauban Alley. Duties were assigned and it appeared 10/Essex would be in support of the first day’s forthcoming operation. During Divisional training General Maxse laid emphasis on efficient mopping-up. Hence each support battalion sent forward a platoon with each assaulting battalion whose task it was to see that the first position taken was cleared of the enemy. Other platoons later moved forward to clear communication trenches, support points in the main attack and carry up ammunition and generally assist the assaulting battalions. On 3rd May 10/Essex left Longpre for Corbie. Bn HQ and 2 Coys were at Bronfay Farm, all Coys were employed in various working parties. Actual strength of the Battalion at the end of May was 34 Officers and 985 ORs.

On 8th June 10/Essex were back in the line in the Carnoy sector. The Battalion was to capture its first PoW, this feat was achieved by 2/Lt F B Wearne and three of his scouts on 10"‘ June.

The latter part of June was spent in working parties digging a deep cable trench between Billon Wood and Maricourt.

The Allied bombardment began on 24th June and went, initially, virtually unanswered by the Germans. The Battalion was also using 2" trench mortars against the German wire. On the same day Bn HQ moved to Carnoy. On 25th June the trench mortars were again in use and two German observation balloons were brought down on the Battalion front by incendiary bombs dropped from aircraft. During 26th June smoke was used during the bombardment. At dusk that day 10/Essex were relieved by 8/Norfolks and were billeted in Billon Wood. There was a CO’s conference on 27th June and on 28th June came the news that operations had been postponed for 48 hours. The Battalion suffered retaliatory fire whilst in Billon Wood, on both 28th and 29th June. Gas shells were used by the enemy and two 10/Essex men were wounded.

During 30th June advance parties moved up to Carnoy, followed later in the day by the rest of the Battalion, which took up positions in the trenches of the Carnoy defences. Burrows reports that the men were in good spirits and that they were eager for the offensive to begin, replacing the monotony of trench duty. Each man was equipped with two grenades and extra ammunition.










Battle of the Somme day 1, 18th division

The 10th Essex diary records that at 4.30am the men were served with a substantial breakfast of hot tea and rum, bacon, and bully beef. The battalion went into action with approximately 645 rifles (excluding Lewis gun teams).

The following websites give good accounts of the actions of the 18th division. This book is a detailed account with excellent maps of the 18th and 30th division preparation and attack on the 1st June.

The 53rd brigade were in the centre, with the 54th on the left and 55th on the right. (The 55th were supported by two of the famous Livens flame projectors, huge flamethrowers hidden under no-mans land.
and shown in a Time Team special
The left map shows the planned advance. The right map is the modern IGN with 1km grid squares.

The 18 Division attack, on the left of XIII Corps, started well. A series of mines (the largest 5,000 pounds, several others around 500 pounds) were blown under the German front line at 7.27 a.m. – three minutes before zero. In all, nine dugouts were destroyed along with many of their garrisons. In addition eight ‘Russian’ saps (shallow trenches dug across no man's land) containing machine-guns and flame-projectors were employed to enfilade the German line or incinerate those trench-dwellers who survived the bombardment.

Nevertheless, all did not go well. In the area of 53 Brigade, some German guns had survived the counter-battery onslaught and managed to inflict heavy casualties on British troops as they huddled in their assembly trenches. The results were particularly grisly, as one observer later noted:

‘Our men were lying dead in [the assembly trench], killed by the enemy's shells. In one place a man was kneeling, as if in prayer, his hands covering his face. Lying in the trench behind him was another man, face downwards, half buried in the earth thrown into the trench by the shells. A short distance away another man was sitting on the fire-step, buried to the knees, and looking as if he had suddenly turned to stone. A little further along the trench I stepped on something, and looking down I saw a piece of a man's backbone, and pieces of flesh strewn about the trench. Hanging down from the parapet, in the comer of the traverse, was a mass of entrails, already swarming with flies. And so on, here and there along the trench, wherever the enemy shells had dropped in.’ It is worth noting that the 53 brigade report described the enemy’s barrage in this area as ‘not heavy’.

Kasino Point mine

The Kasino Point machine gun post was located between the villages of Mametz, Carnoy and Montauban. It was marked out for special attention by British planners as it was a heavily defended position. Kasino Point mine was one of seven large mines that were due to be detonated at 7:28 a.m. on 1 July. During the tunnelling operation to place the 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) mine the British accidentally broke through one of the German dugouts. The British were able to cover up where they broke through. During this operation the mine was not placed properly.

At 7:28 a.m. all but two of the mines exploded, one of the two was the Hawthorn Ridge mine which was detonated at 7:20 a.m., the other was the Kasino Point mine. Just before the Royal Engineers were about to detonate the Kasino Point mine the British troops left their trenches and began walking across No Man's Land. The officer in charge was in a dilemma and didn't detonate the mine immediately. As the British crossed No Man's Land they started taking fire from the machine gun post at Kasino Point, inflicting many casualties. At this stage the R.E. officer decided to detonate the mine, blowing several machine gun posts sky-high. Unfortunately because the mine had not been placed properly, the debris did not fall back into the crater as it should have. Instead the debris was blasted over a wide area causing many casualties among at least four British battalions.

L/Cpl E. J. Fisher of the 10th Essex was crossing No Man's Land at the time;

'I looked left to see if my men were keeping a straight line. I saw a sight I shall never forget. A giant fountain, rising from our line of men, about 100 yards from me. Still on the move I stared at this, not realizing what it was. It rose, a great column nearly as high as Nelson's Column, then slowly toppled over. Before I could think, I saw huge slabs of earth and chalk thudding down, some with flames attached, onto the troops as they advanced'

The late detonation took all the German units by surprise allowing the British to sweep over the German trenches, making it the most successful mine detonation of the 1st July offensive.

These men were from 2 platoons of number 2 and 3 companies of the 10th Essex which were attached to the 8th Norfloks and 6th Royal Berks. John Daly was in number 1 company, = A company, so not one of these men.


On the right of the attack facing 55 Brigade, German machine- gunners in a cratered section of no man’s land survived the British bombardment, machine-guns, and flame-throwers. They inflicted heavy casualties on the leading waves of the brigade and effectively brought the attack in this section of the front to a halt.

Luckily for 18 Division, the experience of the 54 Brigade, and of the large section of 53 Brigade which had escaped the early attentions of the German artillery, was quite different. These brigades, aided by the confusion caused by the mines, had captured the German front line shortly after 7.30 a.m. Following the creeping barrage, and with only scattered opposition, they progressed rapidly through the support line and rearward trenches of the German front system. So rapid was their progress that most of the strong Pommiers Trench was in their hands by 8.15 a.m. By 8.30 they had advanced 1,000 yards in total and were closing on Pommiers Redoubt. There they encountered their first setback. The wire in front of the redoubt had not been adequately cut and the attack halted. It took them half an hour to cut their way through (‘a nightmare for years to come,’ according to one participant). Even when the wire was cut the enemy garrison in the redoubt fought on, prepared, as the Bedfords noted, ‘to defend this last vital point in their line to the last’. It was at this point that the meticulous training given to the troops by General Maxse, and their familiarity with the German trench layout from the realistic models constructed during training, paid dividends. Parties of troops simultaneously swung to the left and right flanks of the redoubt. From the left it was found, a rnachine-gun could enfilade the front face of the German position. Some other troops, in contrast, tried to assault from the rear only to be fired on by German troops in a trench behind the redoubt. However, they turned about, charged that trench, subdued the defenders, turned about again, and captured the rear face of Pommiers. By then other troops were entering the trench fortress from all sides. By 9.30 a.m. the formidable Pommiers Redoubt was in British hands.

All this action, and the final subduing of the German garrison in the cratered area at 9.30 a.m., relieved the pressure on 55 Brigade, which, as related earlier, had been brought to a halt. The survivors of the leading battalions of this brigade, reinforced by their support battalions, were now able to advance on their final objective (Montauban Alley just to the north-west of the village). All went smoothly until they reached a trench halfway towards their objective. There some German riflemen and machine-gunners put up a considerable resistance which failed only when they were outflanked by a party led by the intrepid Lt Tortoise of the Queen’s battalion. At this point German resistance in front of 55 brigade finally crumbled and the brigade was able to link hands with the 53 brigade on its left and troops of the 30 division on its right.

All objectives in front of the 18 division had fallen. On the left elements of the 54 brigade were holding positions some 500 yards beyond Pommiers redoubt and in the centre patrols had even been sent forward to Caterpillar Wood which lay beyond the final objectives. The wood was found to be empty but as evening was now falling and German shelling growing heavier it was prudently decided to consolidate Montauban Alley and await the new day. The Gernans strongly counterattacked on the 2nd to try to recapture Montaban village, but with no success.

John Daly was in A company. However, in the 10th Essex diary the companies are numbered 1 to 4, so presumably John Daly was in 1 company. In the orders for 1st July, companies 2 3 and 4 were assigned to the attack but number 1 company was assigned to carry small arms and bomb ammunition forward. There is no mention of number 1 company throughout the 1st July, so it seems they were not in the front line.

On the evening of 3rd July 10/Essex were warned to prepare to take Caterpillar Wood. This wood comprised a strip of land, covered in trees and running parallel with the British Front Line. It could not be seen from the Allied trenches, however, as it lay on a steep slope. The order stated that the task must be completed by 4.30am on 4th July. The operation began at 2.52am and was completed by 3.20am, no opposition having been encountered. An outpost was taken on the southern edge of the wood and from this vantage point sentries had a good field of view over the southern edge of Mametz Wood to the left, the approach to Bazantin on the ridge ahead and the valley to the right. Five abandoned guns were found. During the day bombing parties moved forward and established a post in Marlborough Wood. Companies 2 and 4 were used for this attack.

On the night of 4th/5th, 1 and 3 companies relieved the 7th Buffs at Mine Alley, Back Trench and Breslau Alley.


The battalion held the line until the 7th when they were relieved and sent back to Bronfay farm, then to Grovetown camp some 4km SW of Carnoy ( just south of the modern airfield) until the 14th.

On the 9th they had congratulatory messages, church parade, the Divisional General visted, and they refitted. On the 10th numbers 1 and 4 coys bathed in the Somme down at Etinehem.

A few heavy shells fell on Bray, some 8km behind the front line.




It seems strange that the successful attack on the first day was not followed up immediately, giving the Germans time to bring in reinforcements and dig new trench lines. A major set-piece battle was planned for the 14th, advancing north to the ridge running from the Bazentin villages to Longueval and Delville Wood. ( Before this, it was neccessary to capture Bernafay Wood and Trones Wood on the right flank. After 7 unsuccessful attacks from the 8th to 13th, Trones Wood was finally captured by the 18th division on the 14th July, and there is a memorial to them at the southern edge of the wood. The 53rd brigade were not involved in this attack.).

On the 14th, John Daly's number 1 company were ordered up Longueval Alley to NE corner of Bernafay Wood. There is a full description of 1 company during the 14th.

The attack of 14th July went very well after a short accurate barrage and the troops had crept close to the enemy front line in the dark. Some troops reached High Wood, well beyond the objectives, and even the Indian cavalry made a brief attack. But High Wood was not finally taken until 15th September after many desperate battles.

However only a small part of Delville Wood and the village of Longueval were captured on the 14th July, and the Germans were able to fire machine guns from the wood and from cellars in the village, so there were more attempts to capture it.

Woods were vital areas to capture, because enemy troops could fire from concealed positions in the woods, and move under cover. However it was very difficult to dig trenches through the tree roots, so the opposition could pour artillary shells into the woods and the soldiers inside were unable to take cover. Advancing through a wood was also very difficult due to all the fallen trees.

Battle of Delville Wood

This was the most difficult part of the front, the very apex of the right angle. Here it was essential that German forces and batteries to left and right be distracted by simultaneous attacks so they could not bring murderous fire on the attacking troops from three directions. Yet on most occasions, no such supporting operations were mounted. This meant that even when some progress was made, as it was by the South African Brigade on the 15th, retention of the captured ground proved impossible. Great groups of German batteries on the three sides of the wood poured a deluge of shells into the newly won areas, followed by German counter-attacks (delivered by fresh troops) which forced the South Africans back to their original positions. Some South African were forced into the south-east corner of the wood, cut off and eventually had to surrender.

Between 18 and 23 July repeated attempts were made to capture the wood and village of Longueval. Troops from four divisions were consumed in these attacks. On the same day that Congreve, who had been present at Rawlinson’s conference of corps commanders, heard his chief announce that the time for isolated attacks was now over, he received instructions from Fourth Army headquarters ordering him to capture Delville Wood at all costs and without delay.“ In other words, isolated attacks were being ordered by the same commander who earlier had announced that they should cease.
Haig contributed nothing meaningful in this period. To start with he seemed to favour operations against Delville Wood, on the grounds that it commanded the German line around Guillemont to the south. Then he changed his mind and decided that operations against Guillemont could proceed without the capture of Delville Wood. After that he then instructed Rawlinson to broaden his front and include High Wood in any future attacks. In the end nothing of this signified. Rawlinson continued to blast away at Delville Wood and Guillemont and High Wood as though Haig had never spoken.

The 10th Essex battalion was billeted in Billon Wood until, at 7.00pm on 18th July, orders were received to move to Carnoy. Once it arrived at Carnoy the Battalion was told to be ready to move at a moments notice.

In the early morning of 19th July l0/Essex received urgent orders to report to Brigade Rendezvous in Caterpillar Valley, this order coming after two days of orders and cancellations. By 4.30pm the Battalion lay in artillery formation on the right of the Montauban-Longueval road near Bernafay Wood. At 5.00am further orders confirmed that 10/Essex had been loaned to 9th Division to retake Longueval and Delville Wood.




Each individual clear ride through Delville Wood was given its own name, and bitterly fought over. The task assigned to10/Essex on 19th was to clear the area of the wood to the north of Princes Street 1 company taking the section from Bond Street to Regent Street. A and D Coys of 10/Essex moved off at 5.45am, B Coy to follow at an interval of 120yds, C Coy were in reserve. At 10.10am part of A Coy were supporting 8/Norfolks, Lt-Col Scott went into the wood and was very soon hit. Later in the day at about 4.00pm he was carried to Bernafay Wood by the Padre. A and D Coys, now commanded by Lt-Col Clay (8/Norfolks) were ordered into the wood but were to remain south of Princes Street. From 3.30pm onwards three attempts were made to move north of Princes Street, but enemy fire and Bbritish artillery made this impossible.


The Divisional History notes:
“The hand-to-hand fighting between small parties of men was of so desperate a nature, and the German attacks were so persistent, that non-combatant Chaplain David Randall, who was with Col Scott and the Bn HQ party, armed himself with a rifle to be ready for all emergencies. "
At 5.10pm orders were received to consolidate and hold the line of Princes Street. This was carried out by approximately 250 men, a reserve also being held in the south of the wood to counter-attack should this prove necessary. At one point in the night Sgt Maj Mercer perceived Bn HQ to be under threat and deployed servants, signallers and runners to defend it.
10/Essex took over a line from the junction of King Street and South Street to the eastern end of Princes Street early on the morning of 20th July. During the following night A, B and D Coys were relieved, C Coy was required to remain and reinforce 4/R Fusiliers who had been so adversely effected by casualties it could not man the whole sector. C Coy remained in the line for another 24 hours during which some further hard fighting took place.
During this short, but bloody, action three officers were killed, 19 others were wounded. 75 ORs
were killed, 38 were missing and 402 wounded.

Delville Wood was not finally captured until 25th August after the Germans had repeatedly retaken the wood and then been forced out. By the end of the battle only one tree was left standing.

( Note : the Wikipedia maps for this time are not correct ).




At some time during the 20th July, John Daly was killed. He has no known grave, but may be one of the 3,593 unmarked graves in the Delville Wood cemetary, He is also remembered on the Thiepval memorial, at Pier 10, Face D.

2nd Lt C. Howard Walker was killed on 28th Sept 1916, at the battle of Thiepval Ridge.


The History notes:
"Our men were wonderful. The majority of all ranks who went into Delville Wood were ‘original ’ 10th Essex. It was a very meagre skeleton that came out... The 53rd Infantry Brigade 's counter-attack on Delville Wood was the most miserable and at the same time most costly operation in which the Battalion took part during the time I was serving with it, and I believe no one will contradict me if I say that the Battalion never again played a part in any battle anything like so unsatisfactory as this."

The lower-order commanders who participated in these operations were quite aware of the futility of their endeavours. General Higginsons' 53 Brigade (18 Division) suffered severely in Delville Wood on 17 (?) July and he wrote a bitter report in which he compared this operation unfavourably with his brigade’s successful operation on 1 July. The attack on the first day of campaigning, he noted, was characterised by: careful attention to all details of the attack; artillery preparation and wire-cutting; and co-operation of the artillery with the infantry in the attack. The latter operation, by contrast, was characterised by: insufficient time for careful consideration of plans; insufficient time for artillery preparation; difficulty of communication with battalions; lack of co-operation between artillery and infantry; difficulty of obtaining accurate information about the situation; intense hostile artillery bombardment and machine-gun fire; lack of co-operation with neighbouring units; and (perhaps most damningly) the fact that the attack was not launched until 45 minutes after the artillery bombardment had ceased.”

Eighteen years later Higginson’s indignation is still manifest in a letter he wrote to Edmonds complaining about the description of this attack in the draft Official History:
"The account . .. does not bring out a very important point, namely that this attack was carried out at such short notice that no previous reconnaissance or adequate preparations were possible and there was no time to arrange any effective fire plan. When it received orders to move the Bde was in bivouac at Talus Bois and was not expecting to be engaged immediately. In my opinion this attack demonstrated the futility of such hastily considered and ill-prepared attacks. At the time I thought that XIII Corps made a grave mistake in not allowing sufficient time for its preparation and I am even more firmly of that opinion today . . . .I notice that the Official History does not comment on the wisdom or otherwise of attacks such as this. The failure of these attacks was not due to lack of determination on the part of the troops: the units of the 53rd Bde were in great form after their successes of the 1st July and their morale was high . . . I know it is extremely difficult in an account of operations of so great magnitude . .. to give more than a bare outline but if you can bring to light the hasty nature of the attack I will feel that the official account does justice to my old Brigade.“

The whole of Delville Wood is now a regarded as a military cemetary with all the rides marked out and has a number of memorials. There is a South African Commemorative museum and an information centre. The Delville Wood cemetary is across the road.

Delville Wood website has a great deal of information.

Delville Wood, then and now :-

Sadly the war memorial back home in Finchley does not have any names of the fallen, but a group are trying to raise funds to build one.

Sources :-

The Somme, by Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson

Delville Wood, by Nigel Cage

The Hell they called High Wood, by Terry Norman

Men of Essex, volume 8, the 10th (service) battalion

10th bat Essex regiment diary July 1915 to April 1919

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