You’re in the Warlencourt British Cemetery on the Albert-Bapaume road, and you’re standing at the grave of Sergeant Donald Forrester Brown, VC, of the 1st Otago Infantry Battalion. Brown was the first New Zealand Victoria Cross winner on the Western Front, and he won the award for his bravery in the initial attack on 15 September, by taking out the machine gun posts on the edge of High Wood. He continued fighting with his battalion, and you’ll note the date of his death is 1 October 1916. By then the New Zealand Division had been fighting for almost 20 days, and 1 October was their last major attack.
Brown, a farmer from Southland, showed the same bravery in this attack that he’d displayed throughout the battle, and near the end of the fighting he was shot by a German sniper while leading his platoon. If you look around Brown’s grave, you’ll see scattered headstones, many of them from Brown’s Otago Battalion, all dated 1 October. By now, the battalions of the New Zealand Division had been reduced from 1,000 strong down to about 400. The 200 casualties suffered by the Otagos and by the other battalions on 1 October had reduced the Division to the point where it was no longer an effective fighting force, on 2 and 3 October it was withdrawn from the battle.
If you look back down the road behind you, you can see the spire of the village of Le Sars. Just this side of the village is the furtherest point gained by Haig’s armies in the Battle of the Somme 1916. On 16 November Haig closed the battle down. By now the New Zealanders had returned to Northern France around Armentières where they reorganised, took on new reinforcements, regrouped and assessed what they’d learnt in this, their first major battle.
On the British side, there were some 400,000 casualties. For the New Zealand Division alone, in 23 days of fighting, they suffered 7,500 casualties. On top of that there were 200,000 French dead and wounded. The German casualties have been estimated at anywhere between 450,000 to 600,000. Russell, the divisional commander, not only had to replace his casualties and retrain his division, but he also had to assess what lessons they had learnt from the Somme - so that they could prepare for whatever 1917 might bring.