Caterpillar Valley Cemetery
You are standing by the entrance to the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery. There are 213 New Zealand graves in this cemetery, and at the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing you can see the names of 1,205 New Zealanders who were killed in the battle of the Somme - but have no known graves.
It was from this cemetery that the Unknown Warrior’s body was taken and returned to New Zealand in 2004. He is now buried at Pukeahu, the National War Memorial Park, in front of the carillon in Wellington.
Longueval is significant because this was where the New Zealand Division carried out its first major attack and suffered the greatest losses of any single campaign on the Western Front.
The New Zealand Division went into action here on 15 September 1916, and stayed through until 3 October when the division was withdrawn. For 23 continuous days the New Zealanders fought forward of where you’re standing.
The road immediately in front of you is the Pozieres-Longueval Road and you can see Longueval on the skyline along that road to the right. The trees immediately beyond the village are Delville Wood, or Devil’s Wood. The New Zealand position was between Devil’s Wood and High Wood, which is on the skyline to your left front.
On 15 September 1916 the land in front of you was nothing like it is now. Imagine this as a stinking morass of destroyed trenches, craters, and mud, strewn with bodies from previous attacks. This is where the New Zealanders had to live, fight, and die. On the skyline in front of you, you can see a very prominent memorial. That is the New Zealand Memorial at Longueval, and it commemorates the New Zealand achievement in the Battle of the Somme. The memorial stands on Crest Trench - the former German frontline, and the New Zealand position - the starting trenches - was about 400 metres back from the crest.
Standing where you are now, the Otago trench was on the left, and the Auckland trench linked up with it on the right. Their combined positions made up approximately one kilometre of frontline. That was the New Zealand start line.
On the morning of 15 September, the New Zealanders were ready to attack the German positions. Picture the 2nd Otago Battalion on your left - 800 men-strong. Each man is equipped with a steel helmet, and two gas masks, one pinned to his jacket, the other in his satchel. Each has his rifle and bayonet, Mills bombs, smoke grenades - which were Phosphorous bombs, used to kill or smoke out the Germans from their deep dugouts - 200 rounds of ammunition, a satchel, and tied to their backs - a groundsheet with a cardigan wrapped up in it - plus a pick or a shovel to dig in. His bayonet, scabbard and his own personal entrenching tool would be attached to his webbing.
That was standard kit for each company of about 200 men strong. They also had light machine guns, Lewis Guns, two per company. These were very important in this attack because for the first time the New Zealanders were launching an attack with a machine gun that could be used to suppress the enemy as they charged forward.
This attack was also marked by its enormous artillery support. Behind you, all the way back, were masses of artillery, ammunition, and men, all preparing for this offensive. In front of you, and in the valley below you, were mortar positions, and on the road by the side of Devil’s Wood four tanks were ready to support the New Zealand attack. There was also a major ammunition supply, ‘Thistle Dump’ which is marked by the small cemetery in the valley to your left, which was also the site of a casualty clearing station for the wounded.
On these slopes in front of you behind the Otagos and the Aucklands, who were on the starting line - were the assembly areas for the rest of the New Zealand Division. There were four battalions of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, which contained another 3,200 men, and in reserve, the other battalions of the 2nd Brigade. So there were something like 8,000 New Zealanders, across a frontage of 1,000 meters - between High Wood on your left and Devil’s Wood on your right. They were all prepared and ready to attack.