Friday, 1 July 2016

The Battle of the Somme, 100 years ago



This was a battle on the Western Front between the British Army, which included soldiers from the Commonwealth, and the French against the German Army. The 15 mile front was alongside the Somme River in Northern France. The battle began on 1 July 1916 and lasted 141 days until the 18 November. More than a million men were wounded or killed. 

The first day was the worst in the history of the British Army when 57,470 men were injured, of whom 19,240 died.

The original British Expeditionary Force of regular soldiers had suffered heavy losses in 1914 and 1915. The Army at the Somme were made up of the remaining regular soldiers, the Territorial Army and Lord Kitchener's ‘Pals’ battalions, composed of men from local towns who had answered his call to volunteer. As well as the ground troops, the battle was noticeable for the use of air power and tanks.

There are various estimates of the casualties, but the general accepted figures for the numbers of wounded and dead for the whole battle from July to November are:
British: 419,654,   French: 204,253,   German: 434,500

Ninety percent of the British casualties were caused by German machine gun fire.

Many West Hampstead and Kilburn soldiers fought at the Battle of the Somme: here are just a few of them.

Lance Corporal Sydney Edward Patey, (b.1896) of the London Regiment and Lieutenant Anthony Sapte, (b. 1896) of the Middlesex Regiment, were both killed on the first day of the Battle, 1 July 1916. Anthony who lived at 44 Narcissus Road and 21 Crediton Hill, is buried in Gordon Dump Cemetery, Ovillers-La Boisselle, Somme. He is also named on the War Memorial outside Hampstead Parish Church in Church Row.

Sydney who lived at 4 Sherriff Road, is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the largest memorial to missing or unidentified soldiers who have no known grave.

Donald Owen Howard Tripp DSO, (b.1891) lived at 12 Crediton Hill. He was a keen sportsman and often played rugby for Harlequins. He got his commission in December 1914 and left for France in September 1915, attached to the 1st Battlion, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He was wounded four times and killed in action on 18 August 1916 at High Wood after capturing a German trench. He had been awarded the DSO that March for conspicuous gallantry and determination when he was wounded during an enemy bomb attack. He had his wounds hurriedly dressed, returning to his post and with only a Sergeant and two men kept the enemy at bay. When his men were wounded, he sent the Sergeant back for reinforcements, and single-handed held up the enemy for twenty minutes till relieved. Donald is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and on the War Memorial outside the Hampstead Parish Church. His brother Cyril (b.1896) is also named: he was killed in action on 13 November 1916.

In September 1916 Caroline Rimell of No.14 Ravenshaw Street, put an advert in the papers asking if anyone had any news of her husband, Sergeant Alfred Rimell of the Royal Fusiliers, reported killed in action. It’s not known if anyone responded but we know his body was never indentified, as he too is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Sergeant Alfred Rimell

Artist and illustrator Alexander Stuart Boyd lived at 17 Boundary Road. His son Lieutenant Stuart Boyd (1887-1916), also an artist, was attached to the 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in France in August 1916. He was wounded in late September 1916 in the phase of the Battle of the Somme known as the Battle of Morval. He died of his wounds on 7 October and is buried at Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension; his gravestone has the inscription, ‘He has outsoared the shadow of our night’.

Lieutenant Stuart Boyd

Roy Launceton M.C, born as Roy de Lohnstein (1884-1918) joined the 16th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment from the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps (OTC), which indicates his profession was the law. He was commissioned as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant in 1916 and was awarded a Military Cross the following year, for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Promoted to Lieutenant and then Captain, he died on 24 March 1918, after the battle of St Quentin and was buried at Assevillers New British Cemetery. Roy had survived almost three and a half years of fighting at the front and is commemorated on the War Memorial in Church Row. He lived at 5 Dennington Park Mansions, West End Lane.  


In 1917, the parents of 21 year old Captain William George Sellar “Growler” Curphey M.C. and Bar, were living at No.87 Canfield Gardens. William attended University College School and then King’s College, joining up in 1914 and transferring to the Royal Flying Corps in July 1916. He was one of the original pilots of 32 Squadron posted to the Battle of the Somme in May 1916. He received his M.C. that November for a series of attacks on enemy planes. In February 1917 the Bar was awarded for conspicuous gallantry in action. Curphey was shot down on 14 May after his squadron had successfully attacked enemy balloons and died the following day in a German field hospital. He is buried at Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, Pas de Calais.

Captain William George Sellar Curphey


Carl Adolf Max Bingen, (b.1895) was at 21 Inglewood Road in 1901. His father Max was living at 6 Gascony Avenue in 1894 when he got married and the couple were at 95 Canfield Gardens in 1921. Carl served in the 5th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment that went to France in 1915. It was re-formed as a Pioneer battalion and took part in several of the Battles of the Somme in 1916 – at Albert, Bazentin Ridge, Pozieres Ridge, Ancre Heights and Ancre. Near the front lines and sometimes beyond the trenches, the Pioneer Battalions built and maintained much of the infrastructure need to fight the war, including roads, railways, camps, stores, telephone and telegraph networks.

Carl was promoted to Lieutenant and was killed in action on 10 Feb 1916 after 13 months in France. He is buried at Hebuterne Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais and commemorated on the war memorial in Church Row. 

His commanding officer wrote to Carl’s parents:
None of my officers was cooler under fire than your boy and none more ready to undertake cheerfully any duty, however disagreeable and irksome. He was liked and respected by all ranks and was most popular with the men of his Company, his Captain and Adjutant. We all admired his pluck and good spirits.

Lieutenant Carl Adolf Max Bingen


Major Edward Whinney lived in Burgess Hill off the Hendon Way. He was killed in action near Thiepval on 26 September 1916, and is buried at Connaught Cemetery, Thiepval. He was a keen cricketer and his name is on a commemorative plaque at Hampstead Cricket Club as is that of Donald Tripp, who also played there.

The men from West Hampstead and Kilburn we have mentioned are just some of those who suffered in this bloody battle. To get some idea of the scale of the horror, over the 141 days of the Battle of the Somme, one man died every five seconds.

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