Second phase of Somme campaign takes heavy toll on local battalions

Northumberland Fusiliers during the First World War.
Northumberland Fusiliers during the First World War.

AFTER the disastrous opening day of the Somme campaign lessons were quickly learnt, but progress to meet the objectives of Haig’s ‘grand plan’ was still pitifully slow and made at enormous cost.

Some of the first of the local volunteers from the north east into Kitchener’s New Army were men of the 9th to 11th Battalions of the Northumberland Fusiliers and formed part of the 17th and 23rd divisions.

Just to the south east of the scene of the disastrous attacks by the Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish on July 1, the battle of Fricourt had seen some success and an advance towards Contalmaison and Mametz Wood was under way.

The fighting which opened at 2am on the morning of July 7 included units of the Northumberland Fusiliers who met fierce resistance and were hampered by their own artillery support falling short and preventing their advance.

A large number of local men were killed or wounded and their names would join the steadily increasing recital in the most bloody month of the war - the town saw more than 140 eventually declared as victims of the war.

As the fighting continued the town was becoming increasingly aware that the much vaunted attack on the first of July had not been perhaps the most overwhelming success that had been painted in advance and in the early newsreels shown in cinemas.

Government film teams were present at the opening of the battle but only heavily censored footage taken in the areas of moderate success at the southern end of the front of attack were shown.

No scene showing any British dead was ever shown.

In fact, no one would have been aware that 78 men had died in the first day’s fighting.

It would only be in August 1917, when the Shields Daily News published details of all men known to have been killed in the first three years of the war, that the enormity of the losses in July 1916 would have been apparent.

One of these, Rufus Brooksbank, 21, was a sergeant in the 27th Battalion Tyneside Irish and is typical of the number of men who had come to North Shields to work as a miner – see casualty details.

Born in east Yorkshire near Bridlington he had lived previously in Dawdon near Seaham, in Durham.

Birth records for his brothers and sisters show birthplaces as far afield as Whitehaven, Scotland and north Yorkshire. If any reader has information about his family the project would be grateful to receive assistance in building up our records for him.

His siblings were Hannah, born Seaham; Margaret, born Whitehaven; Isabella, born Scotland; James Henry, born Yorkshire; and finally Florence and Gladys, born Dawdon Colliery. He is believed to have married in the summer of 1915 and a child Ada Cecilia was registered in the first quarter of 1916.

He is also recorded as possibly having used the alias of James Wilson.

The current exhibitions are stimulating a good number of contacts with the project by local people and even from as far afield as Australia and Baku in Azerbaijan.

The story of Richard Simpson – survivor of the sinking of HMS Hampshire – is now featured at the Oddfellows Arms, Albion Road, where owner Graham Oswald has kindly installed the exhibition for the coming two months.

The new exhibition about the Somme was opened recently at the Low Lights Tavern, Brewhouse Bank, Fish Quay.

The project still needs to trace almost all the men killed on July 1, 1916. Details are shown at the Somme exhibition.

Anyone who thinks a relative will be amongst the 78 killed is asked help by contacting the project.

Anyone interested to learn about the project and how to get involved can visit the Workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday – late opening on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to 7pm.

THIS week’s casualty list gives details of men from the former Borough of Tynemouth who were killed or died on July 7, 1916.

Northumberland Fusiliers 9th Battalion

Balmbra, Thomas, age 25, Lance Corporal, KIA, 12 Church Way. Born in Alnwick.

Kay, Robert, age 23, Private, KIA, 15 Toll Square, son of John Straker Kay and Mary J (nee Hobson).

Lamb, Charles Frederick, age 20, 2nd Lieutenant, 1 Newcastle Terrace, son of William Edward and Sarah.

Mellerborg, Julius Alexander, age 21, Private, KIA, 72 Church Way, son of Carl and Catherine.

Northumberland Fusiliers 10th Battalion

Bennett, Edwin, Private, KIA, 50 Ropery Banks. Details needed.

Maniger, John Andrew, Private, 15 North Street, Milburn Place. Details needed.

11th., Battalion

Haw, John Storey, age 37, KIA, foster son of Hannah Forrest, of South Shields, son of late John and Jane (nee Moar).

Died of wounds received on July 1.

Clark, William, age 29, 21st Battalion NF (Tyneside Scottish), 29 Beacon Street, son of James Henry and Sarah, died Stationary Hospital, Boulogne.

Craig, Joseph, Private, 22nd Battalion NF (Tyneside Scottish). Buried Guillame Cemetery.

Brooksbank, Rufus, age 21, Sergeant, 27th Battalion NF (Tyneside Irish), believed to have been husband of Mary (nee Blyth), child Ada Cecilia born 1916. Details needed – see story.