From the pit to the trenches

A rolleyman and his rolley, pre-World War I.
A rolleyman and his rolley, pre-World War I.

The Northumbria World War One project has recently published the records of Private William Home.

It is one of 3,240 records online and available to view on the free, accessible database being compiled. Almost 4,000 records of casualties residing in the North Tyneside area who died in the Great War will eventually be available.

William was born in Cramlington in 1878, the son of William and Elizabeth Home. According to the census of 1891, the young William was down the pit, extracting the precious coal that powered the British Empire.

By the time of the next census in 1901 he was still in Cramlington, but had become a cartman with the Co-operative Society, a hard job, but one out in the open air, and he had married Elizabeth Jane Roberts that year.

The 1911 census records his occupation as rolleyman, another name for a cartman. He had moved to the Co-op Buildings between West Moor and Forest Hall. He would have been well known in the community as he went about his daily duties for the Co-op, perhaps the most prominent shop in the area.

William was a member of St Bartholomew’s Church and is commemorated on the plaque there. He had eight children, but sadly two died in childhood, baby Olive in 1903 and six-year-old William in 1910.

William joined up with the 18th Northumberland Fusiliers, known as one of the commercial battalions, comprising shop assistants, clerks and delivery men. They were regarded as the ‘posh’ battalion and came in for banter from some of the others.

The 18th were in one of the worst places on the Somme on the opening day of the battle, in trenches only 20 yards from the German lines. These trenches, with the continual rain of shells and the threat from snipers, were nicknamed ‘the Glory Hole’, after the place under the stairs in your house where all the unwanted household detritus was thrown.

From here, the brave advance of the Tyneside Irish and Scottish on that terrible day for the British Army was witnessed as they went to their slaughter. At some point after this William was transferred to the 834th Employment Company, part of the Labour Corps formed in 1917.

This corps was made up of companies to dig trenches, shore up and maintain them, and do all necessary manual jobs vital to the war effort. Many soldiers of these companies, like my own grandfather, had previously been wounded and were often still on the frontline, in many cases without weapons.

Forty-year-old William was killed in action between June 3 and 4 around the Bethune/Arras area and is buried at the Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension in France. Wife Elizabeth was granted £34 in war gratuity after his death.

The Northumbria World War One Project welcomes anyone with information on any of the casualties of the Great War from the North Tyneside area. Visit northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or call in to our office in the Linskill Centre, North Shields, from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. Alternatively, contact tommy@northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk