July 1, 1916, the date of the opening of the Battle of the Somme – a campaign that would endure for 141 days was marked by a number of events across the modern borough of North Tyneside.
Church bells were rung in North Shields and Whitley Bay to toll the number of war dead in the Somme campaign in each of the former boroughs.
On the eve of the centenary the Northumbria Project arranged a free showing in the Memorial Hall, Wallsend, of the iconic film, The Battle of the Somme. A film which was watched by more than 20 million people in the weeks immediately after the opening of the battle in 1916.
The film by Geoffrey Malins was made with government support and free access to the front lines and showed for the first time the reality of war. It was recognised by UNESCO as the first documentary film of the new cinema era when a register of important cinematographic works was established post 1945.
The audience today, as in 1916, got a good understanding of the sheer enormity of the battle and the preparations as the British artillery unleashed 1.7 million shells onto the German front lines.
Confident that none of the enemy wire or front line trenches could have survived the onslaught of shells, the British troops were, sadly, mistaken in the belief as their officers and commanders had promised, that the advance would be a ‘stroll in the park’.
After sustaining 19,240 deaths and a further 37,000 men wounded or missing, the campaign was stalled on the first day, few units reaching and holding even their preliminary objectives.
It would be 141 days and a long slog until November 18, 1916, when the campaign ground to a halt and was closed down for the winter, when some units would reach the positions that had been their objectives for the very first day. In all no units advanced more than five miles from their original setting off positions.
On Friday, July 1, 2016, the project held a memorial service at Linskill Community Centre to which relatives of men killed from the former borough of Tynemouth were invited.
Planned to be held in the Memorial Garden, which features the names of more than 250 men of the borough who died in the Somme campaign from July to November (85 on the first day alone) rain forced the congregation indoors, but the service was a poignant event with musical accompaniment provided by Northumbrian and Irish pipers, and buglers to sound the Last Post and Reveille. Mrs Norma Redfearn, the Elected Mayor, and other civic guests joined the many family descendants in a moving ceremony of remembrance.
Elsewhere the Killingworth WW1 group held a number of events at various war memorials in the north west of the borough.
The project’s next free talk at the Low Lights Tavern, Brewhouse Bank, Fish Quay, North Shields on Tuesday, July 19, at 7.30pm will feature our regular speaker Ian McArdle, who will consider the Somme campaign from the German perspective.
The project’s new exhibition, Deadly Apprenticeship, North Tynesiders at the Battle of the Somme is now on view at the Old Low Light Heritage Centre, Clifford’s Fort on the Fish Quay, until July 13 after which it will transfer to Wallsend Customer First Centre – library, until August 14. The exhibition can be seen in normal opening hours at both venues.
The project Workroom – B9 Linskill Community Centre is open from 10am to 4pm from Monday to Friday.
The project database can be accessed at: www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk
Anyone with information about anyone killed or died as a result of the war from homes across all of the areas of the modern borough of North Tyneside is asked to contact the project. Our address for correspondence is c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields NE30 1AR.