A fitting tribute to great-grandad

Tim Layton took his great-grandfather's hip flask back to France.
Tim Layton took his great-grandfather's hip flask back to France.

He left an engraved hip flask in his trench before going over the top to fight the Germans. But he would never return for it.

Like so many men, Captain Thomas Murray, from Rothbury, lost his life in the Battle of the Somme, after being mowed down by enemy machine-gun fire.

Captain Thomas Murray

Captain Thomas Murray

One-hundred years on, and his great-grandson travelled to France to stand close to the spot where the 31-year-old was killed.

And, as the sun went down, Tim Layton pulled out Captain Murray’s hip flask and toasted the memory of his ancestor, as well as all the other brave men who made the ultimate sacrifice.

It was a poignant moment for Mr Layton, as he clutched his family’s most precious heirloom.

The 45-year-old, from Montenegro, was in France for a memorial service on Friday, November 18, to mark 100 years since the end of the Battle of the Somme.

A few days earlier, he had been in Rothbury, along with other descendants of Captain Murray, for the village’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations.

Organisers had chosen to focus on the brave soldier to personalise the community’s loss and resurrect a wartime story.

Captain Murray was killed in the early stages of the conflict, in May 1916. He left behind a widow, Dora, and a daughter, Katherine.

A valuable member of the 11th (Service) Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, Captain Murray was part of the 75th Brigade attack near Thiepval. He led D Company over the top, standing on the parapet, with revolver in hand, shouting ‘Come on Cheshires’, before he was cut down by German machine-gun fire.

To honour him and other fallen heroes, including those from the Coquet Valley, Mr Layton attended the commemoration at Thiepval Memorial.

He said: “It was a very moving experience. Before the ceremony, I attempted to find the famous Black Horse Bridge behind Authville cemetery.

“This was the route to the Front for this sector, so I followed in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of men; for many, this would have been their last walk, including my great-grandfather.

“After the excellent commemoration, I laid a wreath to Captain Murray, as well as his work pal and best friend John LWH Abell who fell beside him, and my own friend’s great-grandfather Walter Bugden, who fell a mile away in the same assault.

“As promised to the people of Rothbury, I added the names of the fallen of the Coquet Valley.

“Finally, I walked back to the German lines. You can actually stand in them. For me this was remarkable, as it pinpointed exactly where my great-grandfather fell. The war diary reported that the Cheshires got within 50 yards of the German frontline before it was cut down.

“That meant that I simply had to walk 50 yards from there and I would have found the spot he died. I had brought with me his hip flask, left behind a century ago when he went over the top, and now our family’s most precious heirloom.

“Within 20 miles of me, many men had been killed or wounded. But within yards of where I stood, Captain Murray had fallen.

“So, at the going down of the sun, I toasted his memory and that of all those who had given their todays for our tomorrows.”