Remembering the brave soldiers of Alnwick and district who gave their lives

A map which shows the area attacked and secured by 50th (Northumbrian) Division, with which the Northumberland Fusiliers 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force, the Alnwick battalion, played a prominent role and with which so many local men served and died.

A map which shows the area attacked and secured by 50th (Northumbrian) Division, with which the Northumberland Fusiliers 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force, the Alnwick battalion, played a prominent role and with which so many local men served and died.

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This is the first part of a feature, the third in a three-part series spread over recent months, to mark the centenary of the Battles of the Somme, a campaign which lasted from June 24 to November 18, 1916.

As before, it reflects on the campaign’s impact on the wider Alnwick district by using statistical data and relating background information on some of the men who lost their lives during the campaign, as recorded in the database compiled last year by Alnwick District WW1 Centenary Commemoration Group (now held by Northumberland Branch of the Western Front Association), alongside a brief overview of events on the battlefields 100 years ago.

A tank atop a trench occupied by soldiers.

A tank atop a trench occupied by soldiers.

Exactly 100 years ago today, on September 15, 1916, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) launched the third and final phase of the Somme campaign with a coordinated attack along a 10-mile front stretching from Thiepval south-east towards the boundary with the French Army.

This phase of the campaign ran to November 18 during which time there were six recognised battles – Flers-Courcelette (September 15-21); Morval (September 25-28); Thiepval (September 26-28); Le Transloy (October 1-18); Ancre Heights (October 1 – November 11); and The Ancre (November 13-18).

Of the 204 local men who were killed or died of wounds received or from other causes during the Somme campaign, 104 met their fate during these final battles.

The Northumberland Fusiliers’ (NF) 1/7 th Battalion Territorial Force (TF), the pre-war station of which was Alnwick, as part of 149th Infantry Brigade in 50th (Northumbrian) Division, was heavily engaged in the first and last battles. 49 of the local men who were killed or died during this period served with the battalion and another 12 served with other battalions of the regiment.

A photo showing the conditions of the battlefield by September 1916.

A photo showing the conditions of the battlefield by September 1916.

The roll of honour on these pages makes salutary reading with 30 local men of the 1/7th Battalion losing their lives between September 15 and 17 along with another 16 between November 14 and 17.

Battle of Flers-Courcelette

By mid-September, the British had learned much about how to use artillery more effectively and there was one heavy gun for every 29 yards of frontage with creeping barrages in common use – the availability of heavy guns on July 1 had been one every 57 yards. Objectives for the attack were limited and tanks were introduced to the battlefield for the first time.

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette represented a significant victory compared to what had gone on before on the Somme battlefields since late July and the British front line advanced 2,500 to 3,500 yards. However, the achievements didn’t meet Sir Douglas Haig’s expectations and the German position, although badly shaken, was not broken.

The use of tanks was a major innovation. Haig embraced their concept as soon as he knew about them and ordered 150 to be available for the July 1 attacks, but they were not ready in time and only 60 were available for the September 15 attack. Of these, only 30 managed to cross the start line and only 21 seriously engaged the enemy.

The tanks of 1916 were not the battle-winning weapons seen in the Second World War. They were slow, mechanically unreliable and prone to breakdown. Once the Germans got over their initial terror and shock at seeing such an innovative weapon on the battlefield, tanks were vulnerable both to bad terrain and to enemy fire – they moved at an average speed of only two miles per hour, so made relatively easy targets for well-placed field artillery.

To compound matters, fears about the state of the battlefield in September 1916 led to a decision to use tanks in areas not so heavily bombarded, but that meant German defences in those tank lanes were largely untouched and, in consequence, supporting infantry often suffered severely.

Nevertheless, those early tanks performed sufficiently well to encourage Haig to place an order soon after the battle for a further 1,000 of them.

50th (Northumbrian) Division

Not only was Flers-Courcelette the first major battle in which 50th (Northumbrian) Division was engaged as an independent formation, it was the first time there was widespread use of what soon came to be known as a creeping barrage and the first time, also, infantry of the Division had attacked under such a barrage.

For the plan of attack between High Wood and Martinpuich, 50th Division was allotted a front of about 1,100 yards, increasing to 1,800 yards at the final objective. On the right flank the enemy held two-thirds of High Wood, and on the left flank the village of Martinpuich.

Flanking attacking divisions were 250-300 yards in rear of the Division’s flanks so the General Officer Commanding had to decide whether to delay his attack until the flanking divisions came up level or whether to risk taking losses and start at zero so as to help the other two divisions get forward, by threatening to envelope enemy positions. He decided on the latter.

149th and 150th Infantry Brigades carried out the Division’s assault with 149th Brigade on the right (High Wood side). The Division had two tanks in support which worked on the left flank, moving up between the Division’s flank and Martinpuich.

The Divisional history records: ‘At 06.10 hours [on 15 September] there was a buzz of excitement in the front line. With a ‘whirring’ sound, two tanks were seen approaching in rear of the left of 149th Brigade, and at 06.18 these gigantic monsters reached, and lifted themselves over, the assembly trenches of the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers and started off across No Man’s Land towards the enemy trenches.

‘The German soldiery had received warning of the use of these tanks; nevertheless, when the latter appeared they produced terror and consternation. SOS signals went up from the enemy’s front line, and numbers of his troops bolted from their trenches back towards their second line. Four minutes later, the hostile barrage fell but, as the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers record, “our men got away before a heavy fire was opened on them”.’

The NF’s 1/7th Battalion TF was 149th Brigade’s left-hand attacking battalion. At 6.20am, the Divisional barrage fell and the Brigade advanced in good order close up to the screen of fire and quickly gained the first objective. On high ground at the north-west corner of High Wood, the enemy held a strong defensive position and poured heavy machine-gun and rifle fire into positions the 1/7th Battalion (and its sister 1/4th Battalion) had just taken and were trying to consolidate.

The advance to the second objective was timed for 7.20am. It was immediately apparent that a flanking division was held up and had not taken High Wood, which made it all the more urgent for 149th Brigade to push on and outflank the enemy in the Wood. The advance went ahead as planned but 1/7th Battalion got held up. Its objective was not immediately visible, so the advance had to be by compass bearing.

Contact with adjoining units was lost and when near the second objective the advance had to halt because what is generally thought to have been the British barrage held them up. Several attempts were made to get forward but the battalion lost heavily to what would now be termed ‘friendly fire’. The second objective should have been taken by 7.25am, but it was 8.35am before the battalion could move forward.

The Divisional narrative records: ‘Both Brigades lost very heavily and became considerably disorganised, especially the 149th Brigade... However, by their splendid dash and gallantry they enabled High Wood and Martinpuich to be subsequently occupied by the flank divisions...’

More grief for local families

Earlier articles in this series highlighted the number of families in the wider Alnwick district who lost two or more sons during the First World War.

Over 20 did so but, possibly, the most tragic was that of Margaret Taylor, of Rock, and the late William Taylor. Lance Corporal William Taylor (31) and Private George Taylor (34) served with the NF 1/7th Battalion TF, both were killed on the same day, September 15, and both are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. George is also commemorated on Bamburgh Castle War Memorial.

Both men are recorded as having ‘Died’, their deaths having been presumed, which probably means they were initially reported as ‘Missing’ and their bodies were never found. William left a wife, Jane, of Thornington, Mindrum, in Northumberland.

Captain John William Merivale (29), the son of Professor John Herman Merivale and his wife Blanche, was another killed in action on September 15, when serving with the NF 1/7th Battalion TF.

On July 31, 1913, he also married a Blanche (née Liddell) at St Mary’s Church, The Boltons, West Brompton, London. He was then 26 and a solicitor, she was 29 and from Shanklin, Isle of Wight. One of the witnesses to the marriage was John William’s younger brother Vernon who, during the war, also served as a Captain with the 1/7th Battalion and survived the war.

The battalion’s War Diary records in detail the actions of September 15, 1916, and Captain V Merivale is mentioned several times as being the senior officer present at the head of the attack. Captain JW Merivale may have been the Officer Commanding ‘A’ Company but the only mention of him in the War Diary is as a casualty. He is buried at Bazentin-le- Petit Communal Cemetery and Extension and he’s commemorated on Amble War Memorial along with another younger brother, Lieutenant Francis Merivale (23).

Francis, too, served with the NF 1/7th Battalion. He died of influenza, on 17 November 1918, during the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic which killed more people than the total number of casualties sustained by all belligerents in the First World War. Estimates of deaths caused by the pandemic vary between 20 to 40million worldwide. Francis is buried at St Sever Cemetery and Extension, Rouen.

Rifleman Robert How Hunter, MA, served with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 21 st (Service) Battalion (Yeoman Rifles). He was 27 when he died of wounds received, on September 17, 1916. He is another of the 72,244 men commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and closer to home he’s also commemorated on the Kirknewton War Memorial.

On Ancestry.co.uk, Hunter’s British Army Service Records are available, however, there’s not a lot of information about his service as the records are in poor condition. At the time of his attestation, on November 17, 1915, Robert was a school teacher at Palmer’s School at Grays, Essex.

Initially posted to the 21st Battalion Depot Company, on February 7, 1916, there’s a record of one offence of him having a dirty rifle (on May 9, 1916), which appears to have been on either the second or fifth day of his service in France. Hunter was born at Milfield, Northumberland, the son of Andrew and Rachel Hunter.

He was educated at Berwick Grammar School and later studied arts at Edinburgh University from where he graduated with a MA in 1908. He had two older sisters, Ann Hilda and Catherine May and two younger brothers, Wilfred Bertram and Norman Archbold. Temporary 2nd Lieutenant Norman Archbold Hunter served with the NF’s 26th (Service) Battalion (3rd Tyneside Irish), ‘A’ Company. He originally enlisted into the Royal Army Medical Corps, in October 1915, as a Private before becoming an Officer Cadet in December 1916. He was commissioned in May 1917 and went to France the following month.

Like his older brother, Norman was educated at Berwick Grammar School and then Edinburgh University where he, too, was a student of arts and excelled at cricket. He was 22 when killed, on September 3, 1917, during a raid on Triangle Trench near Hargicourt, France. The battalion’s War Diary records the raid cost two officers and 16 other ranks. Norman is buried at Hargicourt British Cemetery.

Another tragedy to strike a local family was the loss of Lieutenant Henry George Michie (24), who died on September 26, 1916, of wounds received. He belonged to the NF’s 15th (Reserve) Battalion, but he was attached to the NF’s 8th (Service) Battalion.

Michie was the son of Andrew and Elizabeth Michie, of 14 Bondgate Within, Alnwick. He, too, is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial as well as Alnwick War Memorial.

The tragedy for the Michies was that 12 months beforehand, almost to the day, they lost a younger son during the Battle of Loos. Born at Kelso, Private Gilbert Archer Michie (21) served with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), 10th (Service) Battalion and was killed in action on September 25, 1915. He is commemorated on the Loos Memorial (Dud Corner Cemetery) and Alnwick War Memorial.

The second part of this final feature, including the second part of the roll of honour, will appear in next week’s Gazette.

Roll of honour – September 15-30, 1916

For each entry, the format is the name and rank; regiment/battalion; date of death; age; where commemorated (or buried, if found).

Sergeant Robert Baxter: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 26; Thiepval Memorial.

Private John Brewis: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private William Buddle: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 23; Thiepval Memorial.

Lance Sergeant Norman Charlton: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/4th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Sergeant William Joseph Clancey: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Captain Geoffrey Matthew G. Culley: Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment), 11th (Service) Battalion (Lewisham); 15 September; 33; Bulls Road Cemetery, Flers.

Private Robert Cummings: Coldstream Guards, 2nd Battalion; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Guards’ Cemetery, Lesboeufs.

Sergeant Thomas Davison: Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment), 1 st Battalion; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Flatiron Copse Cemetery, Mametz.

Private John Brydon Douglas: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Adanac Military Cemetery, Miraumont-Pys.

Rifleman James Forster: London Regiment, 1/8th (City of London) Battalion (Post Office Rifles); 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private Vincent Furlonger: Grenadier Guards, 2nd Battalion; 15 September; 24; Serre Road Cemetery No. 2, Beaumont-Hamel.

Sergeant Arthur Gray: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force, ‘C’ Company; 15 September; 22; Thiepval Memorial.

2nd Lieutenant John Ivory Grey: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 21; Bazentin-le- Petit Communal Cemetery and Extension.

Private Adam Davidson Hill: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private John Hinson: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Sergeant James Frederick Hood: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 20; Cobles Communal Cemetery Extension.

Lance Corporal Robert Hudson: Coldstream Guards, 3rd Battalion; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Lance Corporal William Lawson: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Lance Corporal William Lyell: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Captain John William Perivale: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 29; Bazentin-le- Petit Communal Cemetery and Extension.

Private Frederick Charles Middleton: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Rifleman Frederick Rod: London Regiment, 1/8th (City of London) Battalion (Post Office Rifles); 15 September; 34; Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval.

Private Robert William Pattinson: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7 th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 21; Thiepval Memorial.

Lance Corporal James Purdy: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private David Rollo: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private Arthur Sample: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private George Sanderson: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/6th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Lance Sergeant Gilbert Swan (NB. Spelt Swann on the ‘Soldiers Died...’ database); Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion, Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private John James Tait: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private Matthew Tate: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Lance Corporal William Taylor: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 31; Thiepval Memorial.

Private George Taylor: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 34; Thiepval Memorial.

Private John Thomas Temple: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 32; Thiepval Memorial.

Private George Todd: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 24; Adanac Military Cemetery, Miraumont-Pys.

Corporal Edmund Webb: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 15 September; 19; Thiepval Memorial.

Private Robert Henry Dagwood: Prince Albert’s (Somerset Light Infantry), 6th (Service) Battalion; 16 September; 20; Sorceries Military Cemetery, Colin camps.

Private Joshua Locke: Durham Light Infantry, 15th (Service) Battalion; 16 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Lance Corporal Robert Maugham: Prince Albert’s (Somerset Light Infantry), 6 th (Service) Battalion; 16 September; 23; Thiepval Memorial.

Private James Hopper Nesbit: Northumberland Fusiliers, 13th (Service) Battalion; 16 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private Thomas Wilson: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 16 September; 29; Thiepval Memorial.

Private James John Wilson: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 16 September; 20; Thiepval Memorial.

Rifleman Robert How Hunter: King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 21st (Service) Battalion (Yeoman Rifles); 17 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private William Ireland: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 17 September; 32; Heilly Station Cemetery, Méricourt-Abbé.

Private Arthur Johnson: Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 17 September; 23; Thiepval Memorial.

Sergeant Ernest O Logan: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 17 September; As yet, unknown; Dernancourt Communal Cemetery and Extension.

Private Peter Eadington Moir: Kings Own Scottish Borderers, 6th (Service) Battalion; 17 September; 29; London Cemetery and Extension, High Wood, Longueval.

Private John Robson: Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) 150 th Company; 19 September; 22; St Sever Cemetery, Rouen.

Private Robert Tait: King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry), 1/4th Battalion Territorial Force; 20 September; 35; Lonsdale Cemetery, Aveluy.

Private George Anderson: Canterbury Regiment, New Zealand Expeditionary Force, 2nd Battalion; 21 September; 40; Caterpillar Valley (New Zealand) Memorial, Longueval.

Private William Bell: Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment), 10th (Service) Battalion; As yet, unknown; 22 September; Thiepval Memorial.

Private Thomas George Elliott: Durham Light Infantry, 12th (Service) Battalion; 22 September; 26; Thiepval Memorial.

Private Jack Adams Liddell: Royal Army Medical Corps; 24 September; 35; Alnwick Cemetery.

Private Michael Dagg: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/4th Battalion Territorial Force; 25 September (NB. ‘Soldiers Died…’, available via Ancestry.co.uk, records the date of death as 28 September 1916); As yet, unknown; Etaples Military Cemetery.

Private John Henry Gibson: Northumberland Fusiliers, 8th (Service) Battalion; 25 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private Edward Brookes: Northumberland Fusiliers, 8th (Service) Battalion; 26 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Private Joseph Hepburn: Northumberland Fusiliers, 8th (Service) Battalion; 26 September; As yet, unknown; Thiepval Memorial.

Lieutenant Henry George Michie: Northumberland Fusiliers, 15th (Reserve) Battalion attached to 8 th (Service) Battalion; 26 September; 24; Thiepval Memorial.

Sergeant Thomas Rutter: Northumberland Fusiliers, 8th (Service) Battalion; 26 September; 28; Courcelette British Cemetery.

Lance Corporal John William Douglass: Northumberland Fusiliers, 11th (Service) Battalion; 27 September; 27; Dernancourt Communal Cemetery and Extension.

Private Matthew John Stanton: Northumberland Fusiliers, 1/7th Battalion Territorial Force; 28 September; 20; Bazentin-le- Petit Communal Cemetery and Extension.

Lance Corporal Andrew Thompson: Northumberland Fusiliers, 8th (Service) Battalion; 29 September; 24; Puchevillers British Cemetery.