In reference to the Military Operations France and Belgium, 1914-18, as compiled by Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds, the Battle of the Somme began on a sunny Saturday morning on July 1, 1916, and officially closed on another Saturday morning, a dull and persistently wet one on November 18 of that year.
The official death toll among all combatants – British, French and German – was calculated as anywhere between 1.25m and 1.5m people in six months.
In a war of big numbers does that one get lost? To put it into perspective, according to the census in 2011, the population of Newcastle, Gateshead, Tynemouth, Wallsend, South Shields and Jarrow combined was 774,891. The official four-and-a-half month Battle of the Somme claimed more casualties than nearly double the number residing along the banks of the Tyne.
Whether it was this battle or that battle, the majority of soldiers hadn’t a clue what division they were in, often what country they were in, or who their commanding officer was, never mind what the battle was and what it was supposed to achieve. The ordinary soldier, sailor or airman was clueless in the main.
Nevertheless, despite the official history, British Army personnel were still being killed along the Somme front all through November, December and into the winter months of 1917. In the last throes of the battle lads from this area were losing their lives.
Private Thomas Haycroft was with the 11th Border Regiment facing Beaumont Hamel on the morning of the 18th. Thomas died sometime during that attack. The War Diary states that some British shells fell short of their targets and among the attacking Borderers, but it is unclear whether Private Haycroft was among those killed at that time.
Killed a couple of days earlier was Gunner John George Adams, of the Royal Field Artillery, from Willington Quay, whose body was never found. His name is one of more than 72,000 other names on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme.
By November 19 the battle was petering out.
Private Ernest Scott Hunter lived in Whitley Bay, where he had been a waiter, and later a butcher, leaving England behind him in 1911 to seek a new life in Canada. At the advent of war he signed up with the 50th Canadian Infantry, the Alberta Regiment. Sometime during the final skirmishes he was declared missing presumed dead.
On that same day, Private Thomas Buglass, from North Shields, was killed.
The Tynemouth Parish Church monthly magazine reported the death of Tom Buglass: “He helped to capture a village and 1,000 prisoners, but unfortunately gave his life as part of the price. His Captain described him as ‘an excellent soldier in every way’, ‘absolutely fearless’, and ‘very popular’.”
These and other casualties of the First World War from North Tyneside are being researched by the Northumbria World War One Project, which is building a free and accessible database of the casualties. If you would like to get involved, or have any information, please get in touch. Visit www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also call into our office in the Linskill Centre, Linskill Terrace, North Shields.