1915 was the year that war changed for ever

Daniel Ward, a North Tynesider killed in the battle of Loos in 1915.
Daniel Ward, a North Tynesider killed in the battle of Loos in 1915.

Lyn MacDonald, an author who assembled the memories of hundreds of First World War soldiers to prepare a series of books looking at the fighting man’s experiences, gave as the title of her volume for 1915 the sub-heading ‘The Death of Innocence’.

She noted that the early months of the war in 1914, conducted largely by the pre-war regular Army had been a swansong for the old, almost-chivalric norms of warfare.

The Northumbria World War One Commemorative Project banner.

The Northumbria World War One Commemorative Project banner.

Cavalry actions and movements finally came to an end in the mud of Ypres in November 1914, and the squalor and dreary routine of trench warfare began, to be punctuated over the next four years by large-scale and bloody attempts to break through the opposing enemy lines.

The second Battle of Ypres, in April and May of 1915, saw the burden of fighting carried by many of the territorial units brought out to France and Belgium.

By September, as the Dardanelles campaign in the east drifted towards an ignominious, if brilliantly-executed, withdrawal in January 1916, the Western Front was the scene of the first major employment of units of Earl Horatio Kitchener’s new armies – K1, K2 and K3.

The Battle of Loos was to end the career of John French as commander of the British forces on the continent and brought to the supreme command Douglas Haig, after behind-the-scenes lobbying to oust his superior.

Both Haig and French were agreed that the area suggested by our ally for the battle was singularly unfavourable, but under pressure from the French high command, an assault was launched in the area around Lens, north of Arras.

The newly-arrived units of the 12th and 13th battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers (NF) were part of the reserve brought forward for the second day of the battle to try to consolidate and extend the initial gains made on September 25.

Arriving at the battle after a 36-hour march in heavy rain and without hot food, they were thrown into the battle and suffered heavy losses as the German forces regrouped and took advantage of the bleak industrial landscape with the familiar sights of mine spoilheaps and pit winding gear to remind our local men of home.

Some 33 men on the Tynemouth roll of honour, published in 1923, were killed in the battle between September 25 and 28.

Eighteen were members of the 12th and 13th battalions of the NF, part of the 62nd brigade in the 21st division, a K3 formation.

Only issued with rifles in June 1915 and arriving in France on September 5, they suffered appallingly at Loos just 21 days later.

One local man, the late Jack Rigby, still well known to older generations today, lost his brother Robinson at Loos.

He was the owner of a dancing school in Alma Place.

The family was then living in Dockwray Square, from where 23 men were lost in the war.

Daniel Ward, of Walker Place, North Shields, serving in the 12th NF, was the first of two brothers both working as miners at the town’s Preston Colliery, to be killed.

Daniel died at Loos, and his younger brother Patrick was to lose his life two years later.

Two of their cousins, John and James Taylor, would also end up being victims of the war.

 On Tuesday, October 27, Ian McArdle will give a talk about shell shock at 7.30pm at the Low Lights Tavern in North Shields.

This talk was first given as part of the Victor Noble Rainbird Exhibition at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre in August.

 Anyone with information about anyone from North Tyneside killed in the First World War is asked to contact the project.

The project workroom at Linskill Community Centre, in Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors and anyone interested in learning more about our work.

Our address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.