"The gates of hell were opened and we accepted the invitation to enter"
26/880 Lance Sgt, Edward Dyke.
Twelve major battles were fought in the campaign known as The Somme, but for the Tyneside Irish the first day of battle was its defining and most fateful day. Designed primarily to distract the Germans and take the pressure off the French troops campaign at Verdun, the failure of the British to break through the German lines on the 1ST July 1916 led to a war of attrition and the appalling trading of losses on both sides.
The four Tyneside Battalions were made up of men from all corners of the north of England; answering the call to arms. Not all were Irish and of those that were, many had never been to Ireland, being second and third generation Irish catholic whose families descended from immigrants who settled in England to get away from the Irish Famine. Some joined simply because they wished to be with friends and colleagues with whom they had worked with in the coalmines of Northumberland and Durham. The battalions were part of the Northumberland Fusiliers.
The battles of Albert, Bazentin Ridge, Delville Wood, Pozieres Ridge, Guillemont, Ginchy, Courcelette, Morval, Thiepval, Le Transloy, Ancre Heights and Ancre, were the defining battles of this bloody and tragic offensive. However, it is that first day of battle that has gone down as the most bloodiest, wasteful and tragic day in British military history and it is that first day that defined the losses encountered by the men of the four Tyneside Irish battalions that made up the Tyneside Irish Regiment.
The number of casualties was tremendous with the majority of men who died never identified. Most were later interned in unmarked graves. It is difficult to determine how many men of the Tyneside Irish lost their lives as a result of fighting on the first day of battle at the Somme as many wounded would later succumb and die from their wounds over the passing months. However, records suggest that the four battalions between them lost a total of 574 men on that first day.
The Thiepval memorial shows the names of 74,412 men who died between 1916 and 1918 and are without a named grave. Of these, the highest number of missing from any one regiment is the 2,931 men of the Northumberland Fusiliers, of which 514 were from the Tyneside Irish and 590 from the Tyneside Scottish. Only 63 men who originally enlisted into the Tyneside Irish and who lost their lives on that first day on the Somme are buried in marked graves.
The 1st of July 1916 was described and will always be known as the British Army’s blackest day!
Lest We Forget. Lest Muid Dearmad.