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  • Photo taken from German machine gun positions (now Ovillers British Military Cemetery) showing the terrain over which 8th Division including 11th Sherwood Foresters (70th Brigade), advanced on 1st July 1916. Houses beyond the distant tree line now stand on the 1st July 1916 British line.
Person Details
Ordsall
William was born in 1896 the son of Annie Merrills, (née Spray) of 13, Woolpack Street, Retford and George Merrills, a railway engine driver. They had 16 children, 14 surviving infancy. In 1911 William was living at 62, Darrell Road, Retford with his mother and three brothers George, Walter and Leonard and four sisters Mary, Hilda, Edith and Kathleen.
William was an errand boy in 1911.
01 Jul 1916
19
806018 - CWGC Website
14385
Private
11th Bn Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment)
William Merrills was killed on the first day of the Somme. Battalions attacking Ovillers on 1st July 1916 had to cross 'Mash Valley' one of the widest expanses of No Man's Land (750 yards) along the entire Somme front. Today, looking from Ovillers Cemetery (German front line) towards distant houses (British front line) across open fields offering little cover, the magnitude of their task is still evident. 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters' War Diary recorded: 'Casualties along the whole line were very heavy and a general attempt was made to crawl forward under intense machine gun and shrapnel fire, any available cover being made use of.... Lt Colonel Watson, walking diagonally across the front collecting men as he went gave fresh impetus to the advance by his personal example... A third attempt, led by Captain C E Hudson*, to reach the German trenches by the sunken road on the right flank was made but... was brought to a standstill by heavy frontal and flank fire as they came over the brow of the hill in the last 80 yards. The casualties sustained by the battalion during the day amounted to 21 officers and 508 men. The strength of the battalion on entering the trenches on 26th June was 27 officers and 710 men.' 11th Bn Sherwood Foresters War Diary TNA WO95/21871(3). 125 men from 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters were killed during the attack on Ovillers (CWGC Debt of Honour Register). *John Cotterill adds 'The man who brought the 11th Foresters out of action on 1 July and, one of the 6 unwounded officers, was Capt Edward Hudson who would go on to get a VC as CO of 11th Foresters on Asiago Plateau in Italy in 1918'. 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment suffered 264 fatalities during the same advance. Concerns of their CO Lieutenant Colonel Edward Thomas Falkiner Sandys DSO, a brave and well respected officer, that his battalion would be badly mauled crossing such an expanse of open ground with uncut wire an added hazard, did not impress his superiors. Sandys was wounded during the attack and evacuated to the UK. Depressed at the fate of so many men who had trusted him, Sandys shot himself in a London hotel room and died a few days later. 8th Division's Official History records a total of 5,121 casualties on 1st July 1916. Military Research by David Nunn
In July 1916 William's mother received a letter from Pte A W Morris saying that “I am sorry to have to inform you of the death of your son. We charged the German front line, and when almost about three parts of the way we lay down for a wind. I had a look round and I saw Bill get struck on the head by a “whiz bang” which sent his steel helmet about 50 yards away. I crawled up to him and spoke, but I got no answer. He never moved again. It was very sad. It was a great shock to me. I thought of you and the kids. It was terrible. Then we got the order to charge, and off I went. When we got to the German front line there were 6 of us, a corporal and a Major left. It was hell on earth. They, the Germans, were even firing on our wounded as they were getting back to our lines. I don’t know how I escaped it. I think I am very lucky, as I only got hit in the foot with a bit of shrapnel. It was not much of a wound, but just enough to get me back to England” William Merrills is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. William's younger brother George who served with the 2nd Cheshire Regiment was killed in action on 3rd October 1915. Information on William Merrills has been provided courtesy of Alan Laurie
Remembered on

Photos

  • Photo taken from German machine gun positions (now Ovillers British Military Cemetery) showing the terrain over which 8th Division including 11th Sherwood Foresters (70th Brigade), advanced on 1st July 1916. Houses beyond the distant tree line now stand on the 1st July 1916 British line.
    Photo David Nunn - Photo taken from German machine gun positions (now Ovillers British Military Cemetery) showing the terrain over which 8th Division including 11th Sherwood Foresters (70th Brigade), advanced on 1st July 1916. Houses beyond the distant tree line now stand on the 1st July 1916 British line.