Massive logistical effort in preparation for Somme

More than a million shells were fired at the Battle of the Somme.
More than a million shells were fired at the Battle of the Somme.

This time 100 years ago, a sea battle had taken place at Jutland where the Royal Navy had intercepted the Kaiser’s Grand Fleet in the North Sea.

British losses were 6,784, over double the losses of the Germans. In North Tyneside we had our share of those statistics, with nearly 30 casualties confirmed by the Northumbria World War One project.

An exhibition about the area’s contribution to the biggest sea battle of the war is on show at the Old Low Lights on the Fish Quay, North Shields, until June 22. It moves to Whitley Bay Customer First Centre, then to Wallsend Customer First Centre.

The project is researching the estimated 5,000 deaths from the borough during the Great War of 1914-18. A free, accessible database has been built, outlining the life and death of the casualties.

From Whitley Bay, Tynemouth, North Shields and Wallsend to the mining communities of Killingworth, Shiremoor and Dudley, not forgetting Forest Hall and Benton, waves of sympathy reached out to bereaved families after Jutland. Little did the population realise that in only a few short weeks many more would be grieving a loved one as the full horror of the Somme became apparent in the first weeks of July 1916.

For the soldiers, signs of an upcoming battle would have been all too apparent. Over 400,000 men and 100,000 horses were being moved into the Somme area. Add to that all the equipment, munitions and rations. Depots at the ports were bulging with supplies, transported across the Channel, then moved by rail to their final destination.

In 1914-1918, everything was moved on the railways. New lines had to be laid, railheads built and rolling stock acquired. It has been estimated that over 100 supply trains were required per day to service the British Army on the Somme. All this work was carried out by the infantry. The fact that these huge logistical challenges were in the main overcome is testament to good leadership and organisation, and to a great deal of hard labour.

It was clear to all that something big was brewing. The Germans, too, would know that something was happening.

Men were still dying in the trenches – Wallsend men, such as Lance Corporal Robson Clark Churchill, of the 20th Northumberland Fusiliers, a Tyneside Scottish battalion, Private Michael McGuire and Corporal Daniel Kelly, of the 1st/5th NF, as well as Private Mark Allan, from Shiremoor, another Tyneside Scot.

These and others are being researched by volunteers to build up a picture of an individual and the times he lived in. If you would like to get involved, call into the Linskill Centre, North Shields. Visit www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk for more.