A fateful first day in battle of Somme

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THE Tynemouth World War One Commemoration Project’s research teams have begun the task of collecting information on the casualties of perhaps the most poignant event the conflict had.

July 1, 1916, was the day when the nation, as well as the inhabitants of the Borough of Tynemouth, waited with confident anticipation for news of a major offensive to be launched against German forces dug-in along the 600-mile trench system of the Western Front – stretching from the North Sea coast of Belgium through France to the Swiss border.

The battle unleashed at 7.30am on a sunny summer morning from Gommecourt in the north to Maricourt in the south, where the British linked with their French allies, was to become known as the battle of the Somme.

The most evocative name in the history of the whole war is for many the greatest exemplar of a disastrous strategy which was carried out on several occasions in the vain hope that the enemy lines would be breached to allow vast numbers of cavalry and mounted artillery units waiting just behind the front lines to break through.

The sad reality was that the intensive and unbelievably ferocious seven-day artillery bombardment of the front lines opposite the massed British, Dominion and French troops had failed almost everywhere to achieve the destruction of the enemy’s barbed wire entanglements and front trench systems, which was essential if the attack was to be successful.

All along the battle front were massed hundreds of thousands of troops, many of them awaiting the beginning of the campaign they had all eagerly trained for since their rush to join up.

Many had been recruited into so called ‘Pals battalions’ of men from small localities, cities and towns all over the British Isles who were told they could enlist and fight together.

On Tyneside, the rush to join up had seen the formation of a number of ‘pals’ battalions under the banner of the Northumberland Fusiliers.

The 16th, 18th and 19th battalions were known as the ‘Tyneside Commercials’; recruited from the quayside offices and businesses on Newcastle’s bustling waterfront. The eight battalions of the Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish (approximately 8,000 men) were recruited from across the north east, but principally from Northumberland and Durham, many of them from the Borough of Tynemouth.

These battalions had been embodied to divisions on the Somme front that had been identified to attack stretches of the line where the artillery bombardment had in reality proved to be almost totally ineffective.

The Germans were able to mount a withering machine gun fire into the advancing waves of troops who jumped off from their trench positions and walked across ‘no man’s land’ towards their objectives.

The British and Dominion troops suffered more than 58,000 casualties with some 19,000 killed, although this would not become known publicly for days and weeks.

In Tynemouth borough alone some 74 men were finally reported as killed in the first day’s action on the Somme.

The Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish brigades were so badly mauled they had to be withdrawn from the 34th Division and moved to a quieter sector of the front in order to replace losses.

We cannot now, at this distance in time, begin to imagine the reaction of the local population to the news of the multiple losses of family members, which is evident in the ‘rolls of honour’ and other memorials of the war, when such a tragic loss of life in a single day became known.

This week’s listing of casualties is drawn exclusively from those from The Tyneside Scottish battalions, killed in the battle of the Somme on the first of July, 1916.

Next week we will have details of more of the casualties drawn from other battalions,

The project is seeking information about any of those listed as killed on what was the most tragic day in a truly awful conflict.

THIS list is the 32 men of the Tyneside Scottish who were either killed or reported missing on July 1, 1916, and subsequently listed as presumed dead.

Northumberland Fusiliers – 20th, 23rd battalions (Tyneside Scottish), 102nd Brigade, 20th Battalion.

Chambers, HRL, age 27, Private, 81 East Norfolk Street.

Clay, William, Private, 3 Smith’s Place, Toll Square.

Cranson, George William, Private, 15 Chapel Street, Chirton.

Davidson, Roland C, age 25, Lieutenant, son of Robert and Annie Isabel, Bank House, Howard Street.

Donaldson, John, James, age 28, 2nd Lieutenant,10 Albury Park Road, son of Elizabeth and the late Robert.

Dormand, George Davison, age 21, Private, 9 Mill Street, Chirton, son of Peter and Margaret.

Glaister, John, Lance Corporal, Preston, employee of Ritson’s Colliery.

Grant, William Henry, 3 Tennyson Terrace.

Grindle, John Thomas, Private, 83 Bedford Street, employee of Ritson’s Colliery.

Heslop, John Thomas, age 22, Private, 42 Gardner Street, son of Tom and Isabella.

Hogg, Thomas Edward, age 34, L/Sergeant, 8 Henry Street, employee of Smiths Dock Company.

Kell, George, age 28, Private, 12 Council Houses, Sherburn Hill, son of Joseph and Ellen, husband of Margaret Reay (formerly Kell), lived at Popplewell Terrace, Preston.

Lowes William, 8 Bird’s Yard, Beacon Street.

Martin, Owen, Private, 1 Dockwray Square, born Whitby.

Venus, Frederick Arthur, 2nd Lieutenant, 10 Park Avenue.

21st Battalion

Aggett, Albert Edward. Lance Corporal, 45 Percy Street, Tynemouth.

Bell, Thomas, age 38, Sergeant, son of late John and Esther, of 2 Middle Engine, Percy Main, husband of Mary Eliz. of 11 Balkwell Avenue, lately of 69 Elsdon Terrace.

Haw, Robert William, age 24, Private, son of George and Margaret, of 31 Dene Street.

McDonald, Anthony, 11 Blyth Street, Percy Main.

Thompson, George, age 39, Private, son of late George and Mary, husband of Ellen, of 1 Walton Avenue, employee of Ritson’s Colliery

Trewick, Matthew, Private, 13 Linskill Street.

22nd Battalion

Brown, James Fawcett, age 20, grandson of Mary J Dixon, 36 Northumberland Street.

Dale, James, Lance Corporal, Manor House, Tynemouth.

Jasper, Robert Ellis, age 24, Private, 24 Beacon Street.

Johnson, Henry Kempster Horatio Druce, 5 Connick’s Terrace

Malcolm, Alexander, Sergeant, 38 Front Street, Chirton.

Morgan, Sam, age 33, Private, 8 Murton Row, Percy Main.

23rd Battalion

Davies, Robert, 28 Saville Street West.

Lauder, John Scott, age 38, Private, 11 Simpson Street, Chirton.

Patterson, John Hylton, age 22, Lieutenant, 15 William Street West.

Richardson, Augustus Albert Private, 67 Hudson Street.

n Anyone with information on this week’s list or who wants to find out more about the project, should visit www.tynemouthworldwarone.org, e-mail contact@tynemouthworldwarone.org or write to Tynemouth World War 1 Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.