Deaths still reported as Somme offensive finally drew to a close

IN December 1916, the war, as in the previous two winters, entered a period of relative quiet, but deaths were still being reported on land and at sea.

The Northumberland Fusiliers, Durham Light Infantry and Royal Naval Division had suffered terrible losses over the period from July 1, 1916, and the toll in Tynemouth Borough was a heavy burden for the town’s population.

Many men were missing in action and their deaths (presumed) would not be confirmed for many more months.

The Northumberland Fusiliers formed more infantry battalions during the war than any county or other regimental formation and were accorded a specific ‘battle honour’ in recognition of the 51 battalions contributed to the army.

The 11th battalion was typical of the Kitchener battalions formed at the outset of the war and was heavily engaged at the Somme, though it was spared from the slaughter on July 1.

Lance Corporal Wilfred Wilkinson died of wounds on December 18, although it is not known exactly when he was injured.

He is buried at Lijssenthoek Cemetery in Flanders, which suggests he was wounded after the battalion transferred to the Ypres Salient in October 1916.

He enlisted in York into the 17th Battalion (NER) Railway Pioneers and had been employed on the railways prior to joining the army.

He had transferred to the 11th battalion, a line infantry unit which was employed in front line fighting duties, and had been engaged in the battle of Contalmaison at Bailiff Wood on July 7.

In that action the battalion suffered 225 casualties of an initial strength of 682 that went into the attack.

Thity-one were killed and 34 missing with 187 wounded.

The battalion continued in front line duties, sometimes in support of other units through the fighting at Martinpuich, Flers Le Sars and Destremont Farm until the move to Ypres.

The project is grateful to Mr Dave Hall, who has provided a detailed analysis of the movements of the 11th battalion; including references to men killed and named on the Tynemouth Roll Honour for the period of the war.

This is an example of the co-operation between interested individuals and groups which is proving invaluable and will only grow as the centenary period of the war approaches.

Anyone who had a relative in the 11th battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers is welcome to contact the project and we will provide a copy of the summary supplied to us.

Whenever Wilfred Wilkinson was wounded, it seems certain he had seen a deal of heavy fighting and the loss of many of his comrades before meeting his own fate.

A talk will be given by Dr Dan Jackson, of the Tynemouth Project steering group, on the subject of the munitions industry and the long traditions of volunteering for military service in the northern region, on Tuesday, December 11, at 7.30pm in the Low Lights Tavern.

Tickets (free) are limited and can be obtained from Keel Row Bookshop, Preston Road, North Shields (open Tuesdays to Sundays) on a first come basis.

Copies of the booklet containing information about many of the men on the recently refurbished Christ Church memorials, (extracted from the Christ Church Parish monthly magazine) can also be obtained from Keel Row Bookshop, the project workroom or the parish office at Christ Church.

Project volunteers will have a stall at Tynemouth Station Market on Saturday and on December 15, when information will be available for anyone who is, or thinks they may be connected, to men on the Roll of Honour.

Anyone with information on this week’s casualties or anyone killed or died as a result of the war is asked to contact the project.

The project workroom is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday (until 7pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays) for visitors and for anyone interested to learn more ‘about the project and how to get involved.

THIS week’s casualty list gives details of men from the former Tynemouth Borough who were killed or died in December 1916.

Downs, James William, age 23, Engineman, RNR, HM Paddle Minesweeper, LAS, 29th, son of James and Isabella, husband of Jennie, of 7 Stewart’s Buildings, Bird Street.

Fenwick, Joseph Alexander, Private, 16th Battalion NF, died at home, 12th, 8 Wellington Street West, buried Horton St Mary Church, Bebside, Blyth, born Winlaton, enlisted Cramlington, 31st Battalion NF and 86th (Training Reserve) Battalion. See story.

Rutter, John Lumsdaine, age 24, Gunner, 6th Reserve Brigade, RFA, died, meningitis, at home, 3rd, 53 Coburg Street, son of Thomas and Mary. Preston Cemetery.

Sabourn, John Wilfrid, age 21, Private, 12th, N NF, KIA, 11th, 31 Simpson Street, Cullercoats, son of John and Jane. Vermelles British Cemetery.

Sadler, William Chatt, age 50, Master MN, ss Burnhope, died, exposure following immersion in water, 14th, 136 Chirton West View, husband of Ethel (nee Dobson). Tower Hill Memorial.

Swift, Sydney Reginald, age 28, 2nd Lieutenant, 2nd Battalion NF, DOW, 4th, son of Major (Tyne Elec. Engrs. TA ) and Mrs Edward Swift, of Tynemouth, and Crofts Park, Ilfracombe, Devon. He was ranching in Canada then returned to enlist, served nine months in France, returned to England to take commission, posted to France in October,1916, wounded November 24.

Warren, David Stewart, age 17, Mess Room Steward, MN, ss Hildawell (Hartlepool), cause of death not known, son of Alexander and Mary, 27 ½ Arthur Street, Hartlepool, former Wellesley Boy. Tower Hill Memorial.

Wilkinson, Wilfred, age 32, Lance Corporal, 11th Battalion NF, DOW 18th, 30 Bamborough Terrace, railway worker. See story.