Disaster for town’s families on first day of Somme campaign

The Thiepval Memorial in France.
The Thiepval Memorial in France.

THE bloody carnage on the Somme was not so much a battle but more a sharp and climactic clash over a few hours or at most days.

It was a slow grinding slog in the face of the barely endurable hardships and horrors of trench warfare as it had evolved over 22 months.

Haig’s ‘big push’, which began on July 1, 1916, was conceived at an inter-allied conference in December 1915 following the failure to achieve a break in the deadlock which had settled along the western front in 1915.

Early in 1916, preparations were made for a battle considered to have been fought on the wrong ground and for doubtful reasons.

Over five months the battle would cost more than 130,000 British troops their lives for gains of a few miles of shell torn wasteland.

A further 280,000, many maimed for the rest of their lives, made this perhaps the most tragic episode of the war.

The most poignant aspect of the disaster on the first day of the battle, when more than 19,000 soldiers were killed in a total casualty toll of more than 57,000, was the near destruction of many of these units of volunteers who filled what came to be known as the ‘Pals’ battalions.

Formed from close knit communities they were encouraged by the call of ‘train together and serve together’.

The Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish brigades were formed by the men of Northumberland and Durham who joined up and wished to serve with those of similar sympathies – in this case being of Scottish or Irish descent.

It was their fate to be allotted some of the most difficult tasks set for any units for the first day of the battle.

That they failed to achieve their objectives and suffered the highest casualties along the whole frontal attack was not for the want of gallantry and self-sacrifice in the face of impossible odds.

Their attacks at Ovillers-La Boiselle stand as testimony to the futility of throwing men at positions heavily defended and curtained by dense entanglements of barbed wire.

The impact in Tynemouth Borough of the loss of life on the Somme was mitigated by the slowness with which confirmation of a man’s death was received.

Often this would be many months later even for some of the 78 local men who died on the first day of the battle.

A significant aspect of the war was the number of men lost without trace.

The ‘to and fro’ of the fighting in France and Belgium meant the remains of many – placed in graves immediately after their death – were obliterated by later fighting.

The great memorials to the missing were built to provide a focus of grief for all those whose father, husband or son had been lost and of whom no identifiable remains were ever traced.

The largest of these is the memorial at Thiepval on the Somme, where 73,400 British and South African men are remembered.

Amongst them 2,931 Northumberland Fusiliers – according to Sheen (History of the Tyneside Irish Brigade 1998), the greatest number of names of any formation listed amongst the ‘missing’.

The new exhibition at the Low Lights Tavern, Brewhouse Bank, Fish Quay was opened last night and features aspects of the Somme campaign and local men.

It includes details of the 78 men lost on July 1, 1916, for whom the project is still seeking contact and information from relatives – if you believe a relative is included in this group, visit the exhibition.

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

Anderson, Peter, age 47, AB, Merchant Navy, ss Empress, LAS, 31st, born in Sweden. Details needed.

Armstrong, John, Private, 16th Battalion NF, DOW, 12th, employee of Ritson’s Colliery, 124 Church Way, son of Thomas and Elizabeth, of 38 and 124 Church Way.

Brown, Richard Thomas Lovet, age 22, Private, 9th Battalion NF, KIA, 20th, 56 Addison Street, son of Robert Brown. Arras Memorial.

Carr, Ernest James, age 25, Private 1st/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, DOW, 24th, 7 Eleanor Street, brother of George and Arthur, who also died in war. Family memorial in Hartley South Cemetery, Whitley Bay.

Dougal, James, age 28, Private, 22nd Battalion, DLI (previously in NF), KIA, 3rd, 46 King Street, son of George W and Margaret.

Hepple, Henry C, age 45, Engineer, MN, drowned on active service, Natal Bay, 5th, 27 Fenwick Terrace, son of the late Robert Hepple, of Mitford.

Papageorge, Stavros, age 36, Trimmer, MN ss Prince Abbass, LOS, 9th, born Samos, Greece, husband of Martha Papageorge (nee Smith), 1 Broad Quay, North Shields.

Perry, William Foster, age 19, Sergeant, 19th Battalion DLI, DOW, 13th, 41 Dockwray Square, son of John Thomas and

Elizabeth Perry.

Powley, John Frederick, age 17, Boy Telegraphist, RN, HMS Vanguard, former Wellesley boy, died of illness, 9th, son of Charlotte Powley, Horse Shoe Hotel, Wroxham, Norfolk.

Teasdale, Frederick William, age 19, Rifleman, 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade, KIA, 24th, 9 Whitby Street, son of Frederick William.

Toker, Luke, age 18, Private 1st/7th NF, KIA, 51 Bedford Street, Putter, Ritson’s colliery, nephew of Mrs Shelton.