Battle of Loos, September 1916

Battle of Loos, September 1916


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Battle of Loos

Lt Col Harry Walker, commanding officer of the 4th Black Watch, mortally wounded at the Battle of Loos

The Battle of Loos on September 25, 1915 was the largest land battle in British military history and resulted in terrible carnage. It was also where the first British use of poison gas was made.

The British offensive was part of an attempt by the French to break through German defences in northern France.

The attack was partially successful, with the village of Loos taken quickly and enemy fire trenches collapsing across a wide front. But the Germans were ready on the second day. When British artillery failed to destroy reinforced positions, enemy machine gunners mowed down advancing Allied infantry with withering fire.


Aftermath

The failure of the autumn offensives in Artois and Champagne brought no fundamental change in Allied strategy or tactics, although politicla consensus in France was put under strain. A second inter-Allied conference at Chantilly in December 1915 agreed that coordinated offensives should be mounted on the different ronts - Western, Eastern, and Italian - in 1916, to dissuade the Germans from shifting troops from one front to another. German Chief of the General Staff Erich von Falkenhayn had his own plans, however. He intended to launch a major offensive on the Western Front at Verdun that would drive the French out of the war.

The heavy losses incurred in Artois and Champagne put strain upon the "union sacree" (sacred union) of French political parties in support of the war effort. At the end of October 1915, however, a new coalition government under Aristide Briand reaffirmed the shaky political consensus.


Battle of Loos 1915

However, in August 1915 the battalion was sent to France - and given just 6 weeks of trench hardening. They were thrown into the Battle of Loos. one of the first volunteer battalions to be part of a ‘Big Push’.

The war had not ‘ended by Christmas’ and both sides were desperate to end the stalemate of Trench Warfare.

The Fighting 10 th was at least teamed with the very experienced Regular 1 st Gloucesters, who had fought during the epic battles of Mons, Marne, Aisne and Ypres I.

The battle was ill-prepared - in the wrong place and with a shortage of shells. Gas was used as an experiment. On 25 September the 10 th lost 459 men: from Tewkesbury: T. Hall, J.A. Simms, E. Nunney, C. Wagstaff and forty-five-year-old teacher, A. Harrison.

The Germans counter-attacked and this time Regulars lost their lives: E. Rice, T. New and A. Didcote. By 13 October the battle petered out in failure - the British C-in-C was sacked.


An Irishman&rsquos Diary on Patrick MacGill and the Battle of Loos

In the lamentable roll call of first World War battlefields, the name of the old French mining town of Loos does not chill the blood as do the names of the Somme, Verdun or Passchendaele.

Yet, in its time, it was uniquely terrible. This was to be the “biggest battle in the history of the world”, according to Gen Richard Haking. It was certainly the biggest single battle to that date in British history.

The first day of the Battle of Loos was also the bloodiest day of the war for the British army aside from the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

On September 25th, 1915, some 75,000 British soldiers rose from their trenches under the cover of a gas cloud the British swore they would never use.

They attacked the German lines centred on Loos-en-Gohelle, an unremarkable place, framed, then as now, by two huge slag heaps which dominate the flat terrain for miles around.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) lists some 10,240 British deaths from September 25th, 1915, including 8,500 who fell on the battlefield of Loos. The six British divisions in action that day suffered more casualties per unit than during the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Fatal mistake

All momentum was lost. The attack was renewed on the second day, but against an enemy which had time and space to bring up reinforcements. Of the 15,000 or so soldiers involved in the second day of Loos, more than half were killed and injured. The third day involved the Guards Division. The 1st and 2nd battalions of the Irish Guards suffered grievous losses. The battle continued for another fruitless three weeks, but was effectively over after three days.

Of the 20,000 British soldiers who died during the Battle of Loos, some 7,000 were Scottish, yet what remains in the folk memory of this largely forgotten catastrophe is very Irish in character.

The best-known casualty of the Battle of Loos was Lieut John Kipling, the son of Rudyard Kipling. John Kipling could barely see the second line on an eye chart and was physically unfit for active service, but his father knew Lord Roberts, the old Anglo-Irish war hero, who was commander-in-chief of the regiment, and who was able to get John Kipling a commission. Kipling wrote the poem My Boy Jack in memory of his lost son, which became a stage play in 1997 and a film 10 years later.

There are two memorable accounts in literature of the Battle of Loos. The first is Robert Graves’s Goodbye To All That and the second Patrick MacGill’s The Great Push.

The Great Push was written with amazing haste after MacGill was wounded on the first day of the battle.

He had written much of it while waiting to go over the top a lot more on the “highway of pain” between Loos and Victoria Station. It was published in 1916. He was just 24, but was already a literary sensation with the publication of his novel Children of the Dead End.

When war broke out in 1914, he was working in, of all places, Windsor Castle, as a librarian. Though his inclinations were decidedly nationalist in character, he nevertheless joined the London Irish Rifles as a stretcher bearer.

This storied regiment had been formed in 1859 to facilitate the huge influx of Irish emigrants to Britain. Though MacGill was to remark that he was one of only two Irishmen in his unit, the London Irish Rifles was composed of Irish-born, second- and third-generation Irish and a lot of haitch-dropping Cockneys. It was a favourite of John Redmond who visited regularly while in London.

MacGill chronicles them all memorably in The Great Push which covers the lead-up to the Battle of Loos and his own fortunate “blighty” – a wound bad enough to be invalided out but not bad enough to cripple one for life.

The Great Push begins with a memorable line. “The justice of the cause which endeavours to achieve its object by the murdering and maiming of Mankind is apt to be doubted by a man who has come through a bayonet charge. The dead lying on the fields seem to ask, ‘Why has this been done to us?’” War, he would later write, was “an approved licence for brotherly mutilation”.

The novel tells the story of the assault by the 1st battalion of the London Irish Rifles. It includes his own account of the memorable, and possibly apocryphal, story of Frank Edwards, the footballer of Loos, who cheerily kicked a football across no-man’s land and lived to tell the tale.

To mark the centenary of the London Irish involvement in the Battle of Loos, the regimental association will unveil a stone plaque in the town square of Loos, rebuilt after the war on Saturday, September 26th.

MacGill also wrote poetry about the battle and his poem In The Morning will be recounted 100 years after he survived the terrible battle.


Want to know more about Battle of Loos 1915?

during the Great War 1914-1918.

  • Abernethy William. (d.25 September 1915)
  • Adams Frederick Guildford. Pte. (d.13th Oct 1915)
  • Ainsworth Albert. Cpl. (d.7th Oct 1916)
  • Aitken William Robertson. Private (d.27th Sep 1915)
  • Allan Gordon Stephenson. L/Cpl. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Anderson John. L/Sgt.
  • Anderson Thomas. Pte. (d.27th Sep 1915)
  • Aplin Noah. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Arculus Alfred. L/Sgt. (d.26th Sep 1915.)
  • Armfield Samuel Percival. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Ashby George William. Capt. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Aspley Henry. L/Cpl. (d.8th Jan 1916)
  • Bagguley William. Sgt. (d.13th Oct 1915)
  • Baker William Henry. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Bamber John Walton. Lt. (d.1st July 1916)
  • Barber Victor Albert. L/Cpl (d.20th November 1917)
  • Barlow George Edward. Pte. (d.4th Nov 1915)
  • Barlow George. Pte. (d.4th November 1915)
  • Barnett William James. Pte.
  • Barrett William. Pte. (d.23rd April 1916)
  • Barron Louis. Lt. (d.19th July 1916)
  • Bathard Samuel. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Baulk Harry Percy. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Beaumont Arthur George. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Beechey Albert. Rflmn. (d.15th Sep 1916)
  • Beglan Michael. Pte. (d.14th Oct 1915)
  • Berry Dennis Henry. Pte.
  • Birch William. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Bird Frederick Charles. Rfmn. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Bird James McArther. Cpl. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Bisset Thomas. Pte. (d.1st Oct 1915)
  • Bowes Norman. Pte.
  • Brabazon Francis Joseph. Pte. (d.12th Jun 1916)
  • Bright Frank. Sgt.
  • Broad Walter James. Pte. (d.10th Oct 1917)
  • Bullock Eli. Pte.
  • Bullus Ralph Henry Samuel. Pte.
  • Campbell Hugh. Cpl. (d.26th Sept 1915)
  • Cant David. Pte.
  • Carr Albert. Gnr. (d.14th Jul 1916)
  • Carr Robert. Pte. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Carrier Samuel. Pte. (d.30th June 1916)
  • Christelow John Thomas. Pte. (d.3rd Oct 1915)
  • Christie James Fairley. Cpl. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Christie John. L/Cpl. (d.28th Sep 1915)
  • Clark William. L/Cpl. (d.27th Sep 1915)
  • Clarke John Henry. Pte. (d.22nd April 1917)
  • Cleary Peter Flemming. Pte.
  • Cliffe Frank. Rfm. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Coar Edward Roland. 2nd Lt. (d.8th Jan 1918)
  • Coc Claude Cyril. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Cole Cecil. Pte. (d.8th October 1915)
  • Cole Leslie Stewart. 2nd Lt. (d.3rd Oct 1915)
  • Colgrave Joseph. L/Sgt,
  • Connelly Patrick. Pte. (d.30th September 1915)
  • Cook Herbert. Pte. (d.9th Apr 1917)
  • Cory Ernest Albert. Pte. (d.11th Aug 1916)
  • Cumpstey Fred. Pte.
  • Cunliffe Thomas. Pte. (d.23rd Oct 1915)
  • Dale Thomas James. Pte. (d.20th April 1919)
  • Davidson-Houston Charles Elrington Duncan. Lt-Col. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Davidson-Houston Charles Elrington Duncan . Lt.Col. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Davies Charles Albert. 2nd Lt. (d.22nd Sep 1918)
  • Davion Henry. WO1 (RSM)
  • Deary Robert R. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Devitt Robert. Pte. (d.28th Sep 1915)
  • Dick Richard. Pte (d.25th Sept 1915)
  • Disley William James. Pte.
  • Dodds John George. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Doherty John. Pte. (d.21st Jan 1916)
  • Douglas-Hamilton Angus Falcolner. Lt-Col. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Douglas-Hamilton Lesley Reginald Coventry. Mjr. (d.24th Jul 1916)
  • Dundas Richard Charles. Lt.Col. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Dundas Richard Charles. Lt.Col. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Edwards Albert John. Sgt. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Ellams Herbert John . Pte. (d.30th September 1915)
  • Eustace James Henry. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Evans Daniel. Pte. (d.17th June 1916)
  • Evans Thomas. L/Cpl. (d.9th Jul 1916)
  • Everitt Percy Reginald. Pte. (d.12th Oct 1915)
  • Fenton John. Pte. (d.24th May 1915)
  • Findley John Hutchinson. Pte. (d.18th October 1915)
  • Fitts Sydney Albert. Pte. (d.8th Aug 1916)
  • Fitzhugh Alfred Hugh. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Fleming George. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Fleming Harry. Pte.
  • Foster G. Wilfred.
  • Foster John. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Fowler George Glyn. 2nd Lt. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Fowler George Glyn. Lt. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Gammidge Leonard Norton. Pte. (d.25th Sept 1915)
  • Geerts Walter Philibert. CSM.
  • Geraghty John. Pte.
  • Gogarty Christopher. Pte. (d.30th March 1918)
  • Gore Francis. Pte. (d.25th Sept 1915)
  • Grant John. Pte. (d.26th September 1915)
  • Greaves Norman. Bmbdr.
  • Green Charles Frederick William. Pte.
  • Greenslade Ernest. Sgt.
  • Gregory Henry. L/Cpl (d.1st Nov 1916)
  • Guest Joseph. L/Cpl. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Gunter Frederick Somerton. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Hall Alfred. Pte. (d.13th Oct 1915)
  • Hamilton Herbert Otho. Lt. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Hanna Samuel. Pte. (d.4th May 1916)
  • Harper Carl Horace. Pte.
  • Harris W. H. J.. Lt.
  • Hart Sidney George. Cpl.
  • Heron Robert Oates. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Heywood John Charles. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Hibbert Francis Benjamin. Pte.
  • Hillier William Watson. Pte.
  • Hines John Cecil Newhall. CSM.
  • Hodge Edward Lanyon. Pte. (d.10th August 1916)
  • Hodge John. Fus. (d.1st oct 1915)
  • Holden Thomas. Pte. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Hollands Charles Stephen. Sgt. (d.28th Sep 1915)
  • Home William. Cpl. (d.14th Sep 1914)
  • Hopkins William. Pte. (d.27th May 1916)
  • Hornsby John Arthur. L/Cpl.
  • Hoult Frank Ernest. Pte.
  • Huggett Jasper.
  • Hughes John Hughes. L/Cpl.
  • Hunt Walter. Pte (d.16th Oct 1915)
  • Impson William. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Imrie Robert. Pte. (d.3rd Oct 1915)
  • Jacob Donald McClean. (d.21st Aug 1917)
  • James Frank. Pte.
  • Jenkins Frank Mason. L/Sjt. (d.8th May 1918)
  • Johnson Joseph William. Pte.
  • Jordan Percy Seymour Dobbs. L/Cpl. (d.16th June 1916)
  • Judson John Reginald. Sjt. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Kay Elias James. Pte.
  • Kellett John. Cpl.
  • Kendall John. Pte.
  • Kidd Thomas. Pte.
  • King George. Pte.
  • King Thomas William. Pte.
  • Knight Charles William. Pte.
  • Lambie John Major. Pte.
  • Lascelles Joseph. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Lax Lorraine.
  • Lewis Arthur Edward. Pte. (d.27th Sep 1915)
  • Lewis Arthur Leslie Vernon. Pte.
  • Lewis David. Pte. (d.25th Sept 1915)
  • Lewis David. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Lewis David. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Lewis Joseph. Pte. (d.29th Jun 1916)
  • Lewthwaite William. Pte. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Littlehales Charles. Pte.
  • Lowrey John. L/Cpl. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Mabbott William. Sgt.
  • MacDonald William. L/Cpl. (d.16th Apr 1918)
  • Marriott Harry. Pte. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Marshall Harry. Pte. (d.25th Sep 2015)
  • Mason Henry. Pte. (d.17th Jan 1918)
  • Matley Albert. Pte. (d.3rd Oct 1915)
  • Matthews Alfred Rowland. Pte. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Maxwell Robert. Pte. (d.21st October 1915)
  • McFarlane Alan. Pte. (d.26th Sept 1915)
  • McFetridge James. L/Cpl.
  • McFetridge James. L/Cpl
  • McGeary Arthur. Pte. (d.26th Sept 1915)
  • McGugan J. M.. Pte. (d.1st October 1915)
  • McKay Watson. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Mcleod Frederick William. Rfmn.
  • Meadows Albert George. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Melville James. Cpl. (d.8th May 1915)
  • Menzies Andrew. Pte. (d.27th Jan 1916)
  • Milne Charles William. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Milne John. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Milson William James Denton. Sgt. (d.4th July 1916)
  • Milton Edward Thomas John. Capt. (d.25th Sept 1915)
  • Milton Joseph John. Pte. (d.16th Sept 1916)
  • Monaghan James. Pte.
  • Mongan John James. Pte. (d.27th Sep 1915)
  • Mongan John James. Pte. (d.27th Sept 1915)
  • More Charles John. Pte. (d.29th Sep 1916)
  • Morrison Alexander. Capt. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Mount Francis. Capt. (d.13th Oct 1915)
  • Muirhead Thomas Barrie. L/Cpl. (d.16th March 1917)
  • Mulloy Daniel. Pte. (d.17th Aug 1916)
  • Mumford Joseph. Pte. (d.8th May 1915)
  • Munn William. Sgt. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Murphy Richard. Bmdr.
  • Murphy Thomas. L/Cpl. (d.1st October 1915)
  • Musson Thomas. Spr. (d.19th Sep 1915)
  • Nelson W. B.. Pte. (d.11th Aug 1916)
  • Newton William Trafford. Lt. (d.1st July 1916)
  • Nicholls George.
  • Nicholls William. Pte. (d.13th Oct 1915)
  • Norris Tom. Pte.
  • Northwood Richard. Pte. (d.1st Jul 1916)
  • O'Brien Thomas William. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • O'Hare John Joseph. Pte.
  • Ord George Henry. Pte.
  • Owen Henry. Pte. (d.17th Feb 1917)
  • Page Ernest. Pte.
  • Page George Clarence. Cpl.
  • Page Walter E.. Gnr.
  • Palmer Alexander. Pte. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Palmer Charles Stanley Banks. L/Cpl. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Paterson John. Pte (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Payne Jack. Sgt.
  • Peachment George. Rflemn. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Pearson Edward. Pte. (d.26th May 1915)
  • Perris Thomas. Pte.
  • Perry Thomas Cyril. Pte. (d.15th May 1916)
  • Perry Thomas Cyril. Pte. (d.15th May 1916)
  • Perry Thomas Edward. Pte. (d.25th Sep1915)
  • Price George. Pte. (d.13th Oct 1915)
  • Purvis William James. Pte. (d.13th Oct 1915)
  • Quigley Christopher. (d.26th September 1915)
  • Randall Henry John. L/Cpl. (d.3rd Jan 1916)
  • Reick Walter. Pte. (d.27th Sep 1915)
  • Richards Lawrence. Pte.
  • Ritson James Bede. Pte. (d.27th Sep 1915)
  • Roberts Albert John. Sgt.
  • Robertson David Elder. L/Cpl. (d.3rd May 1917)
  • Robertson James. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Robson Walter DeFrece. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Rochford Leonard. Cpl.
  • Rocks Patrick. Pte. (d.27th Sep 1915)
  • Rudd Charles Flower. Cpl. (d.9th Jan 1915)
  • Ruttens Edward. Pte. (d.19th July 1916)
  • Savage H.. Spr.
  • Scott James. Lt. (d.25th Sept 1915)
  • Scott John. Pte.
  • Scott Walter Eustace . Pte. (d.27th September 1915)
  • Seston Charles Joseph. Drvr.
  • Shepherd Ernest George. Sgt.
  • Shepherd Henry. Pte. (d.7th Jul 1916)
  • Shingleton Albert. Sgt.
  • Sillence Alfred Frank. Pte. (d.19th October 1915)
  • Simpson William John Sydney. Lt.
  • Smart William Henry. Pte.
  • Smith Arthur Leonard.
  • Smith Charles Henry. Pte. (d.22nd Nov 1917)
  • Smith Fred. Pte. (d.20th Oct 1918)
  • Smith Frederick. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Smith Thomas. Pte. (d.26th Sept 1915)
  • Sparrow Frederick. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Spencer George William. L/Cpl
  • Spencer Randolph Churchill. Sgt.
  • Spillane Edward. Pte. (d.29th Apr 1916)
  • Stanford James Vesey. Lt. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Stockton Robert. Dvr.
  • Stoddart Richard Thomas. Pte. (d.10th Oct 1915)
  • Strathdee George. Sjt. (d.12th Oct 1916)
  • Taylor David Anderson. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Taylor George Laird. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Taylor Thomas. Pte. (d.25th Sept 1915)
  • Terrington Arthur. Spr. (d.26th Sep 1915)
  • Thomas Francis Albert. Pte.
  • Thompson George. Pte. (d.28th Sep 1915)
  • Thrower Robert. Pte (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Tipping George. Pte.
  • Turnbull James.
  • Turner Angus. L/Cpl.
  • Voss William Thomas. Pte. (d.25th September 1915)
  • Walker Roland Alex. Pte. (d.8th Aug 1918)
  • Wallis William. Pte. (d.13th Oct 1915)
  • Ward James. Pte. (d.6th Oct 1915)
  • Warren Frank. Sgt. (d.13th October 1915)
  • Warren Walter Sydney. L/Cpl. (d.13th October 1915)
  • Watson John Douglas. Sgt.
  • Watt Stephen Adamson. Fus. (d.26th May 1915)
  • Wearne Frank Bernard. 2nd Lt. (d.28th June 1917)
  • Wells Edwin. Pte. (d.10th Jan 1916)
  • Wells Harry. Sgt. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Werrill Allan Dowey. Cpl.
  • Wheatley F. G..
  • White John. Pte. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Wilby Sydney Charles. 2nd Lt.
  • Wilde William Stanley. Pte. (d.7th Apr 1915)
  • Wilson Joseph Harold. A/Sgt.
  • Windle Michael William Maxwell. Lt. (d.25th Sep 1915)
  • Woodhouse William. Dvr. (d.28th April 1915)
  • Wright Joseph. Pte. (d.21st Feb 1915)
  • Wright Thomas. Pte. (d.8th May 1915)
  • Youell Stanley John. Pte. (d.14th Oct 1915)
  • Young John. (d.6th April 1916)

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The Battle of the Somme - More Stories

This feature tells the stories of Scottish soldiers and units on the Somme front in France from early July until mid-November 1916. Separate features, Battle of the Somme 1916 on this website and Stories of the Somme on the ScotlandsPeople website, highlight stories of eight men who took part in the initial assaults on 1 July.

Private Thomas Murray, 9th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) 6 July 1916

Few documents reflect so starkly the carnage of the prolonged Battle of the Somme than the will of Thomas Murray, 11718 Private, 9th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), who was killed in action on 6 July 1916.

Detail of Thomas Murray’s will (286 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, SC70/8/370/78/3

During the first day of the Battle of the Somme the 9th Cameronians remained in reserve as part of 27th Brigade, 9th Division, and on 3 July moved up to the front line at Montauban. When the Cameronians relieved the 2nd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, heavy German shelling depleted their initial strength of 20 officers and 659 men. The work of consolidating their front line trenches was made difficult by heavy rain and very dangerous by artillery fire. The Battalion’s war diary in The National Archives records that between 3 and 8 July, when the Cameronians were relieved, their casualties amounted to 32 dead, 5 died of wounds, 100 wounded, and 2 missing believed killed.

One of the 11 men killed on 6 July, when the enemy artillery was ‘most active’, was Private Thomas Murray, aged 24. His will from his pay book is preserved in NRS, with those of six of his comrades who also died that day. Like other soldiers, Murray probably carried his pay book in a breast pocket of his tunic. The document is the usual simple will, but it testifies to the terrible effects of shellfire in the blood-stained impact marks of the piece of shrapnel that probably contributed to Murray’s death.

Although his will was recovered, his body was subsequently lost, and he is commemorated on the Thiepval war memorial to the 72,000 men with no known grave on the Somme. A full image of Thomas Murray’s will (352 KB jpeg) can be seen here.

Thomas Murray was born in Govan, Glasgow, where he enlisted with hundreds of other volunteers in the locally-recruited battalion of the Cameronians. Before the war he seems to have followed his father into one of the Govan shipyards, where he worked as a plater’s boy. In 1913 he married Margaret McDonald, to whom he left everything in his will, written on 13 May 1915, the day after his battalion landed in France. The will is unusual because a comrade with a practised hand may have written and signed it on his behalf. The couple's first son had died in infancy, and the second, John, was born shortly after Thomas went to France. It seems the family were reunited during a brief leave from the Front that Thomas enjoyed in about January 1916, for Margaret gave birth to a daughter, Jane, on 15 September 1916.

Second phase of battle – life and death in the front line

Assaults along the British front were renewed on 14 July on a much reduced scale and at fewer points. The high ground around Bazentin and Longueval was a target with the aim of straightening the new front line in preparation for a later campaign.

Once again the attacking divisions suffered heavily. The 51st Highland Division took 3,500 casualties for few gains, although the 9th Division fared better in winning ground on Longueval Ridge. Nearby the 8th Brigade (in 3rd Division) attacked north of Montauban, where for example the 1st Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, was held up by uncut barbed wire, one of the factors that had made 1 July a disaster. Sixty men were killed by enemy fire on the slopes of the Longueval Ridge. This was the local cost of the British strategy of attrition. Incrementally such losses amounted to 9,000 British casualties on 14 July, and many more over the following weeks.

Private Alexander Dryburgh, 2/7th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 19 July 1916

On 19 and 20 July further attacks began on the Somme sector. In order to exploit any weaknesses in the German defences caused by the transfer of troops to reinforce the Somme, the British pressed home attacks elsewhere. At Fauquissart near Aubers Ridge, about 50 miles north of the Somme, 182nd Brigade took up a position on the front line, having embarked for France on 22 May. The brigade mainly consisted of battalions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Serving in D Company, 2/7th Battalion was Alexander Dryburgh (born 1892), on attachment from the Highland Cyclist Battalion, an example of the many Scots who served in English regiments. On 29 May 1916 he wrote to his father John Dryburgh, a coalminer, and his stepmother Ann, who lived in Coaltown of Wemyss, Fife. He enclosed a copy of the will in his pay book, and joked about his comfortable brick bed, and the shelling by the ‘Grey fellows’ that rocked him in his sleep. To avoid the censor’s pen he described his location as the ‘land Watt’s in’, referring to his cousin Walter Dryburgh of the Machine Gun Corps.

As part of what became known as the Battle of Fromelles, at 6pm on 19 July the battalion attacked the Germans’ well-prepared positions. The Warwickshires made some gains before being forced to withdraw two hours later, having suffered casualties of 13 officers and 305 NCOs and men. Alexander Dryburgh was one of the many killed. The day after he wrote his letter, another cousin, John Dryburgh, a sergeant in the 8/10th Gordon Highlanders, died elsewhere on the Western Front. John’s younger brother Watt, who won the French Medaille Militaire, lost his life a year later on 1 August 1917.

1/6th Battalion, Black Watch, 153rd Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division 25–30 July 1916

On 25 July, in preparation for a divisional attack as part of the protracted battle for Bazentin Ridge, the battalion moved up from a reserve position at Mametz to the front near Bazentin-le-Grand. It lost men killed and wounded by shellfire in the days before it was ordered to make its first attack on 30 July. Supported by other battalions and the 29th Division, the 1/6th Black Watch assaulted High Wood, south west of Bazentin-le-Grand and Bazentin-le-Petit, and was met by heavy machine gun fire. The attack failed. More than 100 officers and men were killed after the 1/6th moved into the front line. The deaths in this Territorial battalion fell heavily on its Perthshire recruiting grounds, for example in the parish of Tibbermore near Perth, which lost four men that day.

Deaths of members of 1/6th Battalion, Black Watch, 30 July 2016
National Records of Scotland, Minor Records, volume 123/225

Private Andrew McNulty, 16th Battalion, Royal Scots, 101st Brigade, 34th Division 1-3 August 1916

Having suffered very heavy losses on 1 July, the 16th Battalion, Royal Scots were once again in action. On 31 July they moved up into the line at Bazentin-le-Petit. During the following days, when the battalion raided the Germans in their newly-created trench called the ‘Intermediate’, many men were killed by heavy shellfire. During the night of 3-4 August, two companies took part in what was planned to be a wider assault in the area, and their costly failure to capture ‘Intermediate’ led to unjust criticism by the divisional commander of a battalion still weak after 1July.

Among the casualties in the first three days of August was Private Andrew McNulty, a grocer and member of the Independent Labour Party in peacetime. Owing to battlefield conditions his body was not found and he is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial. He was born in 1887 in Cockpen, Midlothian, four months after his father Charles, a paper mill worker, died of tuberculosis. For years he lived with his uncle Jeremiah McNulty at Mauricewood farm, Glencorse, and latterly worked for the Penicuik Co-Operative Association. On the outbreak of war he enlisted in the 16th Battalion, Royal Scots, also known as McCrae’s after its gallant commanding officer and founder, Sir George McCrae.

In October 1915 while the battalion was at Sutton Veny near Warminster, Andrew contemplated his possible death during the inevitable overseas posting. His thoughts turned in gratitude and love to his extended family, and he wrote to his aunt Kate, asking ‘all my friends to think of me at my best, to remember the good of me and forget the bad.’ Kate was to be his main beneficiary, and his brother, cousins, nieces and nephews were to receive choice possessions. The McNultys were Roman Catholics, and Andrew wished a mass to be said annually for the repose of the soul of Kate’s older sister, his beloved aunt Rose (1855-1911), ‘who was more than a mother to me’. (NRS, SC70/8/415/77, letter from Andrew McNulty to his aunt, Kate McNulty, 20 October 1915)

First page of letter from Andrew McNulty to Kate McNulty (131 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, Soldiers’ Wills, SC70/8/415/77

Private Robert Purves, attached to 5/6th Battalion, Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), 19th Brigade, 33rd Division 29 August 1916

Detail of envelope of Purves's will, 1916 (197 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, SC70/8/418/2/1

Occupying front-line trenches that were subject to enemy artillery bombardment, sniping and raids told on the nerves of officers and men alike, and could drain men’s physical as well as mental resilience. It was not uncommon for soldiers to inflict wounds on themselves in order to be removed from the front line, but it was rare for men to kill themselves.

In late August, a private in the 5/6th Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), despaired of ever getting home to see his parents near Prestonpans in East Lothian, and decided that he could not ‘stand the hardships and sufferings of this life any longer’. On 29th August 1916 he shot himself through the head with his rifle, and died soon afterwards. A note that he wrote in his pay book made his feelings and intentions explicit. It was the main evidence that led the Army’s Court of Enquiry held the following day to conclude that he intended to kill himself. The original document is preserved among the Soldiers’ Wills in NRS (SC70/8/418/2), while his service record, containing the Court’s findings and related papers, is in The National Archives (WO363/P1669, ff.182-256).

According to his service record Robert Andrew Lomax Purves was a twenty-nine year old law clerk when he signed up for military service at the recruiting office in Edinburgh on 3 December 1915. He was single, slightly-built and short-sighted. At the end of January 1916 he joined the 9th Battalion, Royal Scots at Glencorse Barracks. After only a few months’ training, on 14 July he was sent to France, and on 22 July was attached to 5/6th Battalion of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), a recent amalgamation of the 1/5th and 1/6th Territorial battalions. In August his unit was in reserve at Fricourt Wood in the middle of the Somme sector, in preparation for a renewed assault in October.

On 1 August Purves wrote a will making his mother beneficiary of his ‘property and effects’ – he was an only child. On 29 August, when he had resolved on his final course of action, Purves hoped that God would ‘bless and comfort’ his parents, and that Mr Clarkson and Mr Collins, ‘two fine officers’, would survive. His pals were to have any of his personal possessions at the front, something that was usual after a soldier died. The stark words of his note are the only known evidence of his thoughts and feelings as he contemplated without hope his future in the war. In handling his will the War Office recorded the cause of his death as ‘Killed in Action (self-inflicted)’, but in the Service Returns of Deaths and elsewhere it became simply ‘killed in action’.

The battles of September 1916

From early September a series of heavy British attacks gained ground, driving the Germans from their second and third lines. The strongpoints of Guillemont, Ginchy, Delville Wood and High Wood were taken, which opened the way for further advances. During the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, which began on 15 September, the British deployed tanks for the first time in warfare. Canadian and New Zealand divisions also fought for the first time and distinguished themselves. Among the many British units involved was the Guards Division, which as soon as it concluded its part in the costly fighting at Flers-Courcelette, was preparing for a renewed offensive on 25 September, which became known as the Battle of Morval. Even holding the confused front line between attacks was very dangerous.

Lieutenant the Honourable Edward Wyndham Tennant, 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards, 3rd Guards Brigade 22 September 1916

Portrait of E W Tennant by John Singer Sargent, 1915 (296 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, GD433/2/357/83, p.8 courtesy of Michael Brander

In late September 1916 the 4th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, part of the 3rd Guards Brigade, was in the line near the newly-captured village of Guillemont. One company occupied an exposed position in a sap, or projecting trench, whose other half was occupied by German troops. Among the company’s officers was Lieutenant Edward Tennant. On the night of 21-22 September, while attempting to snipe the Germans, Tennant was himself shot in the head by a sniper, a fate that befell many soldiers at the front who were picked off in unlucky or careless moments. His death at the age of nineteen was mourned by the men whom he commanded as well as by his fellow officers.

The Honourable Edward Wyndham Tennant was born in 1897, the son of Sir Edward Tennant, whose family originated in Glasgow and great great grandson of Charles Tennant, the founder of an industrial chemical empire based in Glasgow. Married to the aristocratic Pamela Wyndham, Sir Edward pursued a political career as a Liberal MP, and in 1911 was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Glenconner. At the age of five Edward attended the village school near The Glen, the family’s baronial mansion near Peebles. Later he was privately educated and became in some ways a typical product of the class and education system that supplied the British Army with most of its junior officers during the Great War. Of the 594 boys who left his boarding school, Winchester, in the six years before the war, 531 joined up before conscription started in 1916. Having left school in 1914 with the intention of visiting Germany to learn the language in preparation for a diplomatic career, Tennant volunteered in August 1914. As a former member of the school’s officer training corps, he was quickly commissioned as a subaltern, despite being under age at only seventeen years old.

Known to family and friends as ‘Bim’, Edward Tennant was born to a privileged position, but he belonged to an even smaller elite. His mother was one of ‘the Souls’, the social and intellectual circle of the 1880s and 1890s which included A J Balfour, the Conservative MP, and members of the Asquith family. Edward’s aunt Margot Tennant was married to Herbert Henry Asquith MP, so he went to war as the Prime Minister’s nephew. With his family firmly embedded in the Anglo-Scottish establishment, it was natural for him to join the senior guards regiment. In August 1915, at the end of a year’s training, Tennant’s likeness was capture by the fashionable artist John Singer Sargent. Soon afterwards the eighteen year-old subaltern was posted to the Western Front with his battalion, in time to see action in the Battle of Loos in late September.

Like others of his generation and class, Tennant was schooled in the values of faith, patriotism, duty, courage, and sacrifice. By all accounts he more than fulfilled the expectations placed on him as a leader, and although severely tested by front-line conditions, he was full of fun and took pains not to show fear to his men. As one of them wrote: ‘When things were at their worst, he would pass up and down the trench, cheering the men’ (‘Edward Wyndham Tennant: a Memoir’, p. 242). His help and encouragement, and no doubt the extra cigarettes that he obtained for his soldiers, reportedly endeared him to them. To the battalion he was known as the ‘Boy Wonder’, and his fine character was also appreciated by his brother officers, who included Harold Macmillan, a future prime minister.

Tennant had another quality that distinguished him from most of his comrades. From his schooldays he was a budding poet, and his first published volume, ‘Worple Flit’, appeared in the month he was killed. In October 1916 a memorial service was held in St Margaret’s, Westminster, timed to allow MPs and peers to attend. To family and friends attending the service, his grieving mother distributed a private commemoration, a copy of which is preserved among the Balfour family papers (National Records of Scotland, GD433/2/357/83). It reproduced Sargent’s portrait, which reappeared in his mother’s memoir in 1919.

Tennant’s cousin Raymond Asquith, son of the premier, a barrister and fellow Grenadier officer, was killed as the Guards advanced in the battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September. They were buried in the same cemetery row. Another cousin, Mark Tennant of the Scots Guards, was killed on 16 September. The loss of these and other members of the youthful generation of Britain’s cultural and political elite has helped shape posterity’s perception of the Great War. The question of what they might have achieved had they survived is unanswerable, as it is for countless other humbler combatants.

Final phase November 1916

By the end of October successive British attacks had gained the high ground along the centre and right of the Somme front, and were pushing against German defences further back, despite being hampered by torrential rain and appallingly muddy conditions. Positioned on the far right of the British units where they adjoined the French forces, the 100th Brigade in 33rd Division included the 1/9th ‘Glasgow Highlanders’, a territorial battalion of the Highland Light Infantry.

Private William Broad Grossart, 1/9th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, 100th Brigade, 33rd Division 1 November 1916

Private William Grossart of 9th Battalion had turned twenty on 12 July 1916. Born in Alloa in 1896 to an unmarried servant, Betsy Scott, William was adopted at a young age by Betsy’s sister Helen and her husband John Grossart, a bakery manager. Later the family moved to Glasgow, where John worked as a shoemaker. William enlisted in Glasgow and was posted to France by 1916.

Like other British soldiers, Grossart had the remarkably efficient army postal service to thank for the delivery of mail and parcels sent from home - the lifeline that connected soldiers to their family and friends. Parcels of treats such as cake, tinned food, sweets and chocolate supplemented the monotonous army rations, and were usually shared with comrades. The touching birthday letter that Grossart received is proof of a mother’s love, and survives because he wrote his will on it, leaving everything to her.

On 1 November 1916, 100th Brigade was part of a co-ordinated assault with the adjacent French forces on German positions east of Lesboeufs. Attacking in late afternoon, the Glasgow Highlanders and the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment struggled forward over very muddy and cratered ground, into which they sank, only to come under devastating machine gun fire. About 100 Glasgow Highlanders and 80 Worcesters died in the failed attack. So bad were the conditions that the remains of very few men were identified for burial, and most, including William Grossart, were therefore commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. Many more were wounded, some of them surviving in the open until 3 November, when a second attack by two other battalions allowed them to be rescued. But the 1/9th also had to cope with the loss of their inspirational commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel J C Stormonth-Darling, who was killed by a German sniper on the morning of 1 November.

Private John Wood, 1/5th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, 153rd Brigade, 51st Division 13 November 1916

On 13 November, among the many Scottish units fighting in the final assault of the Battle of the Somme, known as the Battle of the Ancre, was 51st Highland Division, tasked with the capture of part of the German lines at Beaumont Hamel. It included the 1/5th and 1/7th territorial battalions of the Gordon Highlanders.

On the morning of 13 November 1916, before going over the top to attack the German positions, an eighteen year old British soldier wrote his will in his pay book. Private John Wood was born into a fishing family, in Portlethen, Kincardineshire, but at the outbreak of war it was the army that he joined, along with many other men of this coastal community. Wood and about 60 other ranks of the 1/5th Battalion were lost that day, alongside 6 officers. Some 9,500 Gordon Highlanders died during the First World War, and the wills of almost 3,000 of them are held in NRS.


John Wood’s will, 13 November 1916 (41 KB jpeg)
National Records of Scotland, SC70/8/473/7/3

The 51st Highland Division captured its objectives on 13 November, and its success cemented its reputation as a fine fighting force. The capture of Beaumont Hamel was achieved at the cost of 2,200 casualties, far fewer than the loss of more than 5,000 men of the 29th Division during its failed attack on the same German strongpoint on 1 July 1916. Nevertheless, British casualties were so high, and the weather so adverse, that further attacks on the Somme were cancelled. The British Army had suffered about 400,000 killed, wounded and missing since 1 July. Counting the French and German casualties, the total has been estimated at more than one million men.


HMS Invincible

The bow and stern of HMS Invincible stick out of the water during the Battle of Jutland. HMS Invincible's ammunition magazine exploded after the battlecruiser was hit by German shells. HMS Badger can be seen in the distance as it moves in to rescue survivors, but only six men survived.

Beatty withdrew until Jellicoe arrived with the main fleet. The Germans, now outgunned, turned for home. The British lost 14 ships and over 6,000 men, but were ready for action again the next day. The Germans, who had lost 11 ships and over 2,500 men, avoided complete destruction but never again seriously challenged British control of the North Sea.

Although it failed to achieve the decisive victory each side hoped for, the Battle of Jutland confirmed British naval dominance and secured its control of shipping lanes, allowing Britain to implement the blockade that would contribute to Germany’s eventual defeat in 1918.


The Footballer of Loos

Frank Edwards, known as the “Footballer of Loos”, was a keen footballer who brought team spirit to the battle that was for the Allies, the first ‘big push’ in the First World War.

A list of men who appealed against conscription during the First World War has been made available by the National Archives. These were men who were not prepared to enlist for military service. One such claimant, Henry Henderson, resided at the house at Number 42, Colonial Avenue in 1914. Fifty years later, in 1964, reporters congregated outside Number 42, to report on the death of a new occupant living there – a man who had, in contrast to Mr Henderson, enthusiastically enlisted for service when Kitchener’s call to arms came.

His name was Frank Edwards.

Frank Edwards was born and raised in a working class district of Chelsea. At the age of just nineteen, he suffered the loss of his young wife and child, during labour. When the call for men to enlist came, it is little wonder then that he eagerly signed up with his then local regiment: the London Irish Rifles. A keen footballer, Edwards soon became captain of his regiment’s football team, and led them to a win at the Brigade Final, days before they left for France in March 1915. Within just a few weeks of arriving in France, Edwards saw action on the front line, and by September, the Rifles were “dug in” at a small mining village in the north, known as Loos.

Frank Edwards Image Courtesy of Susan and Ed Harris

The 1914 Christmas ceasefire, and the football games played by both sides, had led to the banning of footballs on the Front Line. Many Generals in the military perceived socialising with the enemy as near mutiny. An attack by the infantry, which included the London Irish Rifles, was planned for the 25 th September, 1915. Edwards, inspired by the Christmas Truce, was determined that he and his pals would enjoy the game as they went over the top of the line. Concealing a deflated ball in his tunic, he challenged the orders of the Generals, and when the whistle blew at 6:30am, the Rifles advanced towards the German lines, following Frank’s re-inflated football.

Dodging the hail of bullets, aerial mines and artillery shells bursting around them, the infantry took the first, second, and third German lines, finally halting close to the village of Loos, where they awaited reserves. The following days saw the German army prepare for a successful attack, which allowed them to recapture the British gains.

Suffering from not only gunshot wounds, but also from the effects of poison gas, Edwards was returned home. After the war, he worked in a variety of roles, including serving with the Military Police, and with the NSPCC. He and his family moved to Twickenham, and later, following the death of his wife, Edwards came to live with his daughter, in Colonial Avenue – once home to Mr Henderson.

His death in 1964 was widely reported. The story of Frank Edwards, the Footballer of Loos, thereafter became somewhat forgotten. The Loos football was stored in a shoebox before being uncovered in 2011, when its significance was rediscovered. The football has since been restored, and holds pride of place amongst the great history of the London Irish Rifles.

Frank Edwards Image Courtesy of Susan and Ed Harris

At 6:30am on September 25th, a free 40 minute audio drama entitled ‘The Greater Game’ was released to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Loos. Click here for more information and to listen or download the podcast.

Find out more about Frank Edwards and the Battle of Loos at Twickenham Museum.


Watch the video: somme over the top