Our website makes use of cookies. To find out more please read our privacy policy

Wilfred Owen's Places: The White City

On the 23rd January 1917 the 2nd Manchesters left the trenches at Serre near the Heidenkopf. Wilfred Owen considered that this was quite the worst sector that the battalion had ever held. This was a bold statement to make about a battalion which had been on active service since the 23rd August 1914 at Mons, especially by one who had only been with them for just over three weeks.

The White City

The battalion moved to new positions at "White City" on the Auchonvillers (known to Tommy Atkins as"Ocean Villas") to Beaumont Hamel road. Much work had been carried out here in constructing dugouts and tunnels by digging into the extensive chalk cliff of about forty feet in height. The whiteness of the excavated chalk and the extent of the accommodation gave rise to its name. Whilst Battalion HQ remained at the White City, the rest of the Manchesters took over new positions to the east of Beaumont Hamel . Conditions there were appalling. In this notoriously cold winter the frost came down on the men who were lying out in the snow and with the water freezing in the containers the men suffered severely from thirst.

At the end of this tour of the trenches Owen was sent on a three-week Army Transport course at Abbeville.

The photograph shows a portion of the 1st July 1916 battlefield and in particular the ground over which the 1st battalion Lancashire Fusiliers attacked at 7.30 a.m. on that day. On the right of the picture is a group of trees. This marks the edge of a mine crater which was blown at 7.20 a.m. on the 1st July below a German stronghold known as the Hawthorn Redoubt. The actual explosion was filmed at the time and is well known to students of the Great War.

The 1st battalion Lancashire Fusiliers won 6 VC's "before breakfast" at Lancashire Landing, Gallipoli.

The German front line was on the right hand side of the photo marked by the line of trees. The objective was the village of Beaumont Hamel just beyond the right-hand edge of the picture. Promptly at 7.30 a.m. the Lancashire Fusiliers left the comparative safety of the trenches in the White City and charged forward. They reached a sunken road (today marked by the white memorial in the centre of the picture) and made little further progress. By the end of the day the battalion was forced to withdraw and return to the trenches in the White City. Casualties were heavy. 7 officers had been killed and 14 wounded. 156 Other Ranks had died in the action, 298 had been wounded and 11 were missing. Beaumont Hamel was finally taken on 13th November 1916 and involved eight battalions and a new method of using gas.

Back to top