Commemoration Project: Granda proved a crack shot in First World War
Like many people who become fascinated with the First World War, my own journey involved finding out about family relatives who saw service in that terrible conflict.
My two grandfathers fought in some of the greatest battles that defined the Great War.
On my mum’s side, information about Granda Kirk was rather scant. His service records, like hundreds of thousands of others, went up in flames when the building they were housed in took a direct hit during the Blitz.
Information from within the family showed that he was one of Kitchener’s volunteers, joining an East Belfast regiment, and was on the Somme on the first day of the battle. Being good with animals he looked after the horses behind the lines – that’s about all the family know.
Granda McClements was a different matter. His records survived and I spent a couple of emotional days piecing together his war record.
What I knew for certain was that before the war he had worked as a labourer on the building of the Titanic. By December 1913 he had decided to take the King’s shilling and joined the Inniskilling Fusiliers.
By the time his training ended he was preparing for war and on August 24, 1914, landed in France – less than 24 hours later he was shooting at the numerically superior advancing German troops outside the northern French town of Le Cateau as the British Army retreated.
His job, along with his comrades-in-arms, was to halt the advance. Crossed rifles on the sleeve of his jacket in a photograph taken during the war showed he was a crack shot with a rifle. His war medal entitlement, the 1914 Star with a bar and a clasp of roses, confirmed that he had engaged the enemy.
The 2nd Inniskillings role, along with other British battalions, was to hold up the advance while the army made its getaway towards Paris. Two weeks later they were bivouacking just east of the French capital.
The flight, often in hot weather, was very tiring. The soldiers were almost worn out. I was incredulous to discover that they pitched their tents on what is now the site of Disneyland.
Historians now agree that delaying the German advance during late August and early September was crucial to the eventual outcome of the war.
The British Army came close to being cut off or driven back to the coast in those early days, but the delaying action allowed the army to regroup and counter-attack at the Battle of the Marne.
Northumbria World War One researchers compiling information on the casualties from North Tyneside uncovered a handful of men who succumbed in those early weeks of the war.
The first casualty was Private John Tweedy of the Northumberland Fusiliers on August 24, a brother of Thomas, who was to later die on the Somme. John died near the Belgian town of Mons.
Most other casualties at that period were naval men. In the months to come the dreaded War Office manila envelope telling of the death of a loved one would be dropping on doormats with increasing frequency throughout the area.
If you have any information on casualties of the First World War from North Tyneside, contact the website www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or send me an email [email protected]