Monday, August 27, 2012

The Plan

Divisional Symbol - 32nd Division
The plan for the 32nd Division's part in the 4th Army attack on July 1, 1916 was similar to those of other divisions along the 25 mile-long front. Go over the top and advance at a walking pace to  take the Germans' first three trench lines. No resistance would be possible because all the German defenders would be dead or shell shocked into complete incapacity by the unprecedented artillery bombardment. All three of the Salford Pals battalions in the division were to play major roles in the events of the day.

The 32nd Division was a New Army formation largely comprised of locally raised "Pals" units. It was a predominantly recruited from the North of England and from Scotland, although locally raised units from Birmingham and Bristol were also in the structure. It was part of X Corps under Lt. General Morland, acting with its sister 36th Division in a concerted Corps attack on the Thiepval Sector at the centre of the Somme battlefield.

The three brigades of the division were organized as follows:

14th Brigade
19th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers (3rd Salford Pals)
1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment (Regulars)
2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment (Regulars)
15th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Tramways)

96th Brigade
15th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers (1st Salford Pals)
16th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers (2nd Salford Pals)
16th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers (Newcastle Commercials)
2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Regulars)

97th Brigade
11th Battalion, Border Regiment (Lonsdale)
2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Inf. (Regulars)
16th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Boys' Brigade)
17th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Commercials)

Map from the Official History Showing the Infantry Divisions in the Centre

As the map above shows, the 32nd Division was arrayed directly in front of the town of Thiepval. On the left, the 1st and 2nd Salfords (15th and 16th Service Battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers) were part of the 96th Brigade, along with the 16th Northumberland Fusiliers from Newcastle and the Irish 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (Regulars). They were tasked with attacking north of Thiepval and with taking the town and assisting with the taking of the Schwaben Redoubt, one of the most complex and imposing fortifications on the Western Front.

The 97th Brigade of the Division consisted of the 11th Service Battalion of the Border Regiment (also known as the "Lonsdale" Battalion after the aristocrat who raised it), the 16th and 17th Service Battalions of the Highland Light Infantry, and the 2nd Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Regulars). This brigade was given the role of directly attacking the Liepzig Redoubt, a heavily fortified salient built around a quarry known as the Granatoch to the south of the town of Thiepval.

George's battalion was part of the 14th Brigade. This brigade was 'depth reserve' for the other 2 brigades of the division and it was arrayed in two separate columns. The brigade consisted of the 3rd Salfords (19th Lancashire Fusiliers), the 15th Highland Light Infantry, and unusually for this army, two regular battalions: the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and the 1st Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment. The plan was for this brigade to pass through 97th Brigade after it had taken the Leipzig Redoubt and for it to penetrate deeply into the rear of the German lines, taking the Germans' Mouquet Farm headquarters complex far in the rear.

Official History Map Showing 32 Division's Battalion Alignment Before Thiepval

Thiepval was possibly the strongest part of the German defences on the Somme in 1916, being built on a significant ridge overlooking the British lines. The German HQ at Mouquet Farm was on even higher ground about 1,500m to the East. Both the Schwaben and Leipzig Redoubts were on dominating land masses, to the north and south of Thiepval respectively. The lie of the land allowed the siting of machine guns with clear lines of sight to the British lines of advance and with excellent interlocking fields of fire. The Leipzig Redoubt was a heavily defended series of trenches and bunkers with supporting trenches, machine gun posts and wire. At its tip was the quarry known as the "Granatloch." Its approaches were covered by machine guns in other supporting fortifications on the Ovillers spur to the south, such as the Wonder Work and the North Work.

Modern view of the Trees at the Granatloch

On July 1, 1916, while the rest of the British army prepared for a quiet Saturday morning "walk in the park" across to the pulverized German trenches, the Colonel of the 17th Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Commercials) had other plans. He planned to have his men crawl out to within 40 yards or so of the German front line in the hour before the attack so they would be in position to rush the defences as soon as the artillery bombardment stopped. The plan was to be into the German trenches and on top of the defenders before the Germans could be up from their deep reinforced dug outs to man their machine guns.

Assuming a successful attack by Highlanders of 96th Brigade, the divisional plan called for the rest of 96th Brigade and the supporting 14th Brigade to sweep through the front-line trenches occupied by the Glasgow Commercials to maintain the momentum of the advance. The 8th Division would support on the 32nd Division's right taking the villages of the Ovillers spur (Ovillers la Boisselle and La Boisselle) and as previously mentioned the 36th would attack north of Thiepval on the Division's left.

The 32nd Division had been in the trenches before Thiepval for some months before the Battle of the Somme and many men had already died from artillery fire, sniping and trench raids. These casualties were attributed to what was termed "wastage." One such casualty from 32nd Division was a young 19-year old Irish soldier named Willie McBride.

Willie is recalled more than most of the faceless casualties of the Great War as he was the subject of a very poignant song by Eric Bogle. "No Man's Land" or "The Green Fields of France" has long held a special place for my family. I first heard it sung by a Scottish folk duo, one of whom was a school mate of very dear friends of mine, now passed away and much missed. Roy Williamson and Ronnie Brown, who together were known as "The Corries," perform the song in the video below. Roy, now also sadly passed on, is quite famous in Scotland for his song "Flower of Scotland," which is in the running to be declared the Scottish national anthem should Scotland ever declare independence.

I find it a very big coincidence that Willie McBride, like George, was 19 when he died and that he was a casualty of a sister battalion to George's, 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Willie fell before the Somme battle started but he is buried very close to where the 32nd Division made its doomed attack on July1, 1916.

Grave of Pvt. W. McBride nr. Authuille
The words for the Green Fields of France are very moving and could almost be taken as an epitaph for an of the young men who lost their lives on the Somme. In addition, the song illustrates the grip the battle still holds on the collective psyche of the Commonwealth nations that took part.
Well how do you do, young Willie McBride,
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside
And rest for a while 'neath the warm summer sun
I've been working all day and I'm nearly done.
I see by your gravestone you were only nineteen
When you joined the great fallen in nineteen-sixteen.
I hope you died well and I hope you died clean
Or Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene.

Chorus :

Did they beat the drum slowly, did they play the fife lowly,
Did they sound the dead-march as they lowered you down.
Did the bugles play the Last Post and chorus,
Did the pipes play the 'Flooers o' the Forest'.

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind

In some faithful heart is your memory enshrined
Although you died back in nineteen-sixteen
In that faithful heart are you ever nineteen
Or are you a stranger without even a name
Enclosed and forgotten behind the glass frame
In a old photograph, torn and battered and stained
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame.

The sun now shines on the green fields of France

The warm summer breeze makes the red poppies dance
And look how the sun shines from under the clouds
There's no gas, no barbed wire, there's no guns firing now
But here in this graveyard it's still no-man's-land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man
To a whole generaation that were butchered and damned.

Now young Willie McBride I can't help but wonder why

Do all those who lie here know why they died
And did they believe when they answered the cause
Did they really believe that this war would end wars
Well the sorrow, the suffering, the glory, the pain
The killing and dying was all done in vain
For young Willie McBride it all happened again
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Somme

The Battle of the Somme came about as a result of the British undertaking to remove pressure from the French to indirectly assist in their defence of Verdun, where the Germans were attacking ceaselessly and somewhat successfully. The French were feeding division after division into the Verdun defence and these were being ground up as fast as they were committed. Verdun took on the well-earned title "the mincer." The British leadership realized that the something had to be done to distract the Germans from Verdun to avoid a French collapse and to show the French that the UK and its empire were doing their fair share as an equal ally.

While this blog is not intended to be a study of the Somme, it is useful for the reader to understand the overall context of the battle. So this post is intended to provide additional background. The Somme battle took place between July 1, 1916 and the end of November 1916, only ending with the approach of winter and the exhaustion of both attackers and defenders. When it was over, the British army had lost about 600,000 men, almost 60,000 within the first 2 hours on the first day. 

The Somme River derives its name from the celtic term for "tranquility." It flows east-to-west in Northern France and it empties into the English Channel. In 1916, it formed the effective operational boundary between the French and British armies.

Today, the Somme is remembered by Britain and the Commonwealth countries as their worst single battle of World War I, although many in Germany and France consider Verdun to be worse. The first day on the Somme still ranks as the bloodiest single day in British military history. 

The German trenches facing the British forces on the Somme had been established on high ground overlooking the British positions and had been occupied by the same troops since late 1914. The Germans had a lot of time to construct elaborate and very well-engineered dug-outs and bunkers dug deep in the chalk along the low range of ridges overlooking the British trenches. Various small villages had been incorporated into the defence and these were fortified as strong points, many with newly dug or expanded connecting cellars and underground forts. Extensive wire entanglements and well-sited machine gun positions, with interlocking fields of fire, completed the defence.

The British plan was to use Sir Henry Rawlinson's 4th Army to attack the German trenches in a "bite and hold" action. This involved taking the German trenches and then daring the Germans to counter attack and take them back. German doctrine was to counterattack and retake any lost position, without exception. If a full breakthrough could be engineered, the British Cavalry Corps stood ready to pour through any large gap created in the German defence. 

To assist in ensuring success, the British plan was to pound the German trenches in an unprecedented week-long artillery bombardment. It was generally felt that the size and immensity of the artillery preparation would be sufficient to allow the British infantry to slowly walk across no-man's land with shouldered rifles and take possession of the German field works. Every German defender and every other living thing was fully expected to be dead or so demoralized to be incapable of fighting. 

In the map below, one can see the planned direction of the attack with the central axis running along the old Roman road from Albert to Bapaume. One can also see the concentrated belt of fortified towns in and directly behind the German front lines, including the central towns of Thiepval, La Boisselle and Ovillers la Boisselle (also known as Ovillers). The three battalions of the Salford Pals were part of the 32nd Division, which had the overall objective of taking Thiepval and several fortifications beyond.

A graphic showing the British plan of attack - from Wiki

The first day's attack was a completely British affair, except for the tragic inclusion of the Newfoundland Regiment in the Beaumont Hamel sector. Newfoundland had not at that time joined Canada and was seen as a separate Dominion force. The Newfoundland Regiment was part of the British Army. It took 90% casualties in its attack at Beaumont Hamel, including the loss of all of its officers, many of them potential leaders who could have assisted it in gaining independence later. Fourteen pairs of brothers died in action in an hour. Some think that Newfoundland's decision to join Canada would never have happened without the catastrophe at Beaumont Hamel and while the rest of the country celebrates July 1 as Canada Day, Newfoundland memorializes its disaster of the Somme on that same day.

Newfoundland Memorial at Beaumont Hamel

The British attack began at 7:30 AM on the clear Saturday of July 1. The artillery bombardment ended with an increased hurricane of shells in the last few minutes before 7:30. Then there was silence, except for the singing of sky larks. The officers' whistles blew and the leading waves of British infantry climbed out of their trenches and stepped off in their attack, crossing no man's land at a slow walk.A slow walk to allow the under trained volunteers to remain under their officers' control and in part due to the heavy loads carried.

The Tyneside Irish advance on La Boisselle with shouldered rifles - July 1, 1916

What happened on the first day of the Somme has taken on an almost mythical stature and it has been said that it still represents a scar on the British national psyche. The German machine guns were not suppressed by the artillery bombardment and they almost immediately opened fire on the slow moving khaki-clad infantry as they appeared in the open ground of "no man's land." In may places the German wire had not been cut as intended by the exploding shells. The British battalions suffered crippling casualties but advanced with incredible valour anyway. The Newfoundlanders' Divisional General said that:

"It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault only failed of success because dead men can advance no further." 

Churchill famously wrote that the British plan on the Somme had been "to fight machine-gun bullets with the breasts of gallant men."

A total of 57,470 British soldiers became casualties on the first day, of whom 19,240 were killed immediately or died of wounds. Worse, many of the battalions committed were "Pals" or "Chums" battalions from Kitchener's New Army. Many of these units were effectively destroyed as useful military formations. A common saying at the time was "that which took two years to build was destroyed in a mere ten minutes." When the pals' casualties were reported back to the UK, whole communities were plunged into mourning and many families had to face multiple losses - father and sons, cousins, brothers, and uncles. 

An artist's conception of going over the top on July 1

The Somme battle ground on through the summer of 1916. Some consider the battle a costly failure for the British army while others see it as a necessary learning tool in its development into a war winning force, a major factor in the saving of Verdun, and a major factor in attriting and demoralizing the German Army. Current scholarship has taken more of a view that the Somme was a decisive step toward grinding down the German army and positioning the Allies for eventual victory in 1918.

Either way, the three battalions of Pals from Salford played a large part in the battle and its clear that George was in the midst of the worst of it.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Value of Interest Groups

Most of my early information on George and his battalion came from two internet interest groups I was fortunate enough to find early on. The first was "SWARM," which is an acronym for the Salford War Memorials project. This is a local Salford group dedicated to preserving the fast disappearing local war memorials in the area. They also conduct research into service personnel from Salford and its surrounding towns and they have an active discussion forum.

When I posted George's letter on SWARM, other members posted useful information, including George's entry in the monumental "Soldiers Who Died in the Great War." His entry is as follows:

Name: George Leonard Ingham
Birth Place: Rochdale, Lancs                                    
Death Date: 15 Jul 1916                                    
Death Location: France & Flanders                                    
Enlistment Location: Rochdale                                    
Rank: Private                                    
Regiment: Lancashire Fusiliers                                    
Battalion: 19th Battalion                                    
Number: 25262                                    
Type of Casualty: Died of wounds                                    
Theatre of War: Western European Theatre 

This is essentially the same information as that found on the CWGC site, with the exception of two new pieces of information. Firstly, the SDGW extract confirmed that George enlisted in his home town of Rochdale. Secondly, George died of wounds on July 15. Died of wounds indicates that he was wounded in battle but died later, as opposed to the more usual inscription "killed in action." This detail was not available from the CWGC website. I recall hoping at the time that he didn't suffer too much.

Another member posted the following extract from the Lancashire Fusiliers' Book of Remembrance.

Lancashire Fusiliers' Memorial Book with Entry for George

Yet another member provided a photo of the Salford Pals' memorial in Trinity Church in Salford. The central portion of the memorial lists each of the Salfords killed in the attacks on Thiepval on July 1, the first day of the Somme battle. Salford suffered grievously on July 1 with the first Pals taking horrific casualties and the 2nd and 3rd Pals adding to the total.

Thiepval Memorial in Trinity Church, Salford

The flanking parts of the memorial list each of the Salfords killed on other days in the Great War, including George. 

Panel in Trinity Church Memorial - George is Included

Another member noted that George's death plaque (commonly referred to as the "Dead Man's Penny") was sold on ebay on 20-Aug-2009. More on that later. 

The second site I lucked into was the Great War Forum, an interest site that is the best research source on the net, being inhabited by expert and phenomenally generous people. The site was started as something called "The Long Long Trail," a personal web site with the original intent to build a comprehensive online order of battle for the British Army in the First World War. Along the way, mainly because people asked, sections have been added on how to research a soldier; the battles and battlefields of the war; and much more. Now it's discussion forum is the place to go to tap global knowledge on the details of the British army and its individual soldiers in the war.

This site is very popular and it has proved to be my door into getting a better understanding into George's experiences. I posted a scan of the letter on the site and within hours got very some very useful information.

One poster noted:

The 19th was initially in reserve on 1st July 1916 (first day of the Battle of the Somme) being the depth/reserve for the 1st Dorsets attack on Lepizig Redoubt at Thiepval.  Both battalions suffered very heavily from machine gun fire even before they were able to get to the step off point in the front line. Many of the 19th were killed attempting to cross open ground to get to their start point. By the time the 19th were able to come forward to join the Dorsets there were only 2 officers and 40 men left in action. It was withdrawn to Senlis over the next few days and reorganised into 2 companies due to casualties.

The battalion was back in action around Ovillers on 11th July. They conducted a number of assaults on the German positions on the 12th and 13th and also suffered a number of counter attacks. They were withdrawn from the line on 15th July 1916. If he Died of Wounds on the 15th he may have been wounded in one of the attacks of the previous days

This turned out to be a very accurate summary of George's experiences in the first half of July 1916.

Other posters focused on George's description of the fearsome German saw bayonets or on the reference made in his letter to German helmets as potential souvenirs.

After a couple of weeks, another member wrote as follows:

Hi Colin, I am sitting here in disbelief, I stumbled across this thread whilst having a look around and knew the name straight away- I own George's memorial plaque and it is definitely his because it is a unique name on cwgc!!!

I have researched George and compiled a file on him as I do with all my plaques/medals but not much to report as no service records survived. 

As a previous member stated, I believe his fatal wounds were from the attack on Ovillers on the 12/13th July. 

A day or two later, he provided the following photos:

George's "Death Penny" - private collection
This gentleman had purchased the Death Penny on ebay in 2009. I still own the death penny for my other great uncle who was killed in WWI - my Grandfather's brother Clement Finney, who died with the Royal Welch Fusiliers very near to where George fell, but 2 years later. George's had gone to the other side of the family and had obviously been less treasured. These momentos were provided to the families of all Commonwealth service personnel killed in the war. They are now very collectible, and are of higher value if the soldier commemorated was the recipient of a valour award or can be shown to have taken part in a major or famous action.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A link to JRR Tolkien

Now for a bit of a sideshow: 

In researching George's unit, I found that one of the junior officers in his battalion was a very close friend of JRR Tolkien, famous author of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings." 

Lt. Geoffrey Bache Smith was a member of what Tolkien and his friends called the "Tea Cup and Barovian Society" or "TCBS." The TCBS was a literary group started by Tolkien and his three close friends while they were at King Edward's School in Birmingham. They met regularly at Barrow stores and in the school's library to drink tea on the sly (how daring!) and to discuss their literary interests. The four founding and core members were Tolkien, Geoffrey Bache Smith, Robert Gilson and Christopher Wiseman. There were also five other peripheral members who came and went and who never achieved the closeness of the original four. After King Edward's school, Gilson and Wiseman attended Cambridge and Tolkien and Smith went to Oxford. As a result, Tolkien's friendship with Smith deepened. Nevertheless the four members still managed to meet now and then and continue their comradeship of the TCBS.

The four founding members of the TCBS (note that the portrait designated as Smith shown above has subsequently been determined not actually to be of Smith)

When war broke out, all four joined up as junior officers. Tolkien joined later than the others as he needed to finish up his degree work first. Christopher Wiseman joined the Royal Navy, Rob Gilson the 11th (Cambridgeshire) Service Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment and Tolkien and Smith both joined the Lancashire Fusiliers. Geoffrey Bache Smith was assigned to George's battalion, the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers, as a platoon commander. Tolkien hoped to join this battalion too and efforts were certainly made to influence events in favour of this posting. Luckily for him (and for fans of his books), Tolkien was posted to the 11th Service Battalion of the Fusiliers as the battalion communications officer rather than a platoon commander. As communications officer he was not in the front line.

Lt. JRR Tolkien - 11th Lancashire Fusilier
After a short stint as a platoon commander, Smith was appointed as the 19th Battalion`s Intelligence Officer. As such, he was responsible for such day-to-day duties as keeping the battalion's war diary up to date, writing intelligence summaries and interrogating prisoners. The war diary is a detailed daily summary of operations at the company level. Less lucky, Rob Gilson remained an infantry platoon commander in the Cambridgeshires.

Rob Gilson led his platoon over the top in the attack near Becourt on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Going forward with his men, Gilson was reported by Corporal Hicks of C Company as having been killed by a shell. When they learned of Gilson's death, the remaining three members of the TCBS were inconsolable.

Geoffrey Bache Smith was not directly involved in the 19th Battalion's attack just north of Gilson's on July 1 as he was stationed as part of the battalion HQ alongside Colonel Graham. He was also not involved in the later vicious hand-to-hand struggle in Ovillers la Boisselle during the night of July 12 and 13. But Intelligence Officers are not indestructible. On November 29, 1916, after the battalion had been converted to a pioneer unit, Smith was lightly wounded by shrapnel from an exploding shell as he walked well behind the lines. He should have laughed off the injury but instead he developed "gas gangrene," an infection caused by bacteria from manure in the earth being carried into his wound. He died four days later, aged 22. A book of Smith`s poetry was published posthumously with a forward written by Tolkien.

Lt. Geoffrey Bache Smith - 19th Lancashire Fusiliers
In a letter he wrote to Tolkien from the trenches before his death, Geoffrey Bache Smith wrote with a presentiment of his own death:

"My chief consolation is, that if I am scuppered to-night... there will still be left a member of the great TCBS to voice what I dreamed... may you say the things that I have tried to say long after I am not there to say them, if such be my lot." He continued that the TCBS "had been granted some spark of fire that was destined to kindle a new light in the world... The death of one of its members cannot... dissolve [it]."

Geoffrey Bache Smith`s Signature Taken From a 19th LF Intelligence Summary

Tolkien`s own first experience of battle was in the village of Ovillers la Boisselle on July 15, the same day that George died from a mortal wound sufffered two days earlier in that same place. That infamous fortified village consumed many British battalions and ground them up. It's very possible that as Tolkien marched up to the front-line trenches in Ovillers, he could have been passed by George`s ambulance returning to the casualty clearing station at Warloy.

Tolkien's experiences in approaching that terrible village inspired his description of the dead marshes in "Lord of the Rings."

“They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, with weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead” 

- Frodo “Passage of the marshes” from The Two Towers.

Tolkien also said Frodo's faithful friend Sam Gamgee personified his experience of the British soldier of WW1.

Tolkien`s lost friends illustrate the literary and personal potential that was lost to Britain in the Great War.

For further reading on Tolkien and the Somme one can look no further than "Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth" by John Garth. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN-10: 0618331298

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Family Affairs

One of my wife's friends had a subscription to and she was good enough to pull a copy of the 1911 census entry for the Ingham family and send it to us. The census shows my Grandmother's family living in a small terrace house in Rochdale. My grandmother is shown in the census form as the youngest in the family, aged 11, and George is her youngest older brother, aged 14 in 1911. 

My Grandmother was the only girl in the Ingham family. I recall her only as an elderly woman who was always the gentle English lady. She was artisitic, as was my mother. Elizabeth Finney (nee Ingham) painted in oils and developed her own distinct style, often painting in muted tones with pallet knife rather than brush, and using any paint support that came to hand. We still have an oil of the skyline of New York that she did on the inside of a Cheerios box. She also painted in water colours. I remember that she was deaf in one ear and I have a dim recollection that her loss of hearing might have been the result of a silly prank by one of her brothers. In her later years, she visited us here in Canada for several weeks at a time. I certainly saw more of her than I did of my grandfather but typical of teenagers, I took completely her for granted and paid little attention when she spoke of her family.

The white bit in the census form shown below is a field that records medical issues. As these issues are in some cases genetic, they are redacted by Ancestry for later family privacy reasons:

1911 census form for the Ingham Family

Here is a close-up of the most interesting part:

Close-up of a portion of the 1911 census
At age 14 in 1911, George was already out of school and working as a full-time wool presser. I don't know at what age he started full time work or when he stopped attending school but I have seen elsewhere that 13 was the norm at that time. The family's address is shown as 53 Grouse Street, Rochdale. Google street view provided a sidewalk view of the house, which is still there and seemingly in good repair.

Google Street View - Ingham Home 2nd Door From Left

The head of the family, my great grandfather, was named George as well. He was also in the military, serving in a territorial battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers on a part-time basis. The only picture I have of him shows him in a ~1880 carte de visite wearing the red serge uniform of a corporal of the regiment with its distinctive white facing colour. The back of the photo says he was in the 2nd (Rochdale) Volunteer Battalion of the Fusiliers and that his service number was 3243. He is probably late 20's or early 30's at the date of the photo.

George Ingham Sr. c. 1880

The only other notable document that came out of the Ancestry search was a 1932 probate notice for my great grandmother Emma Ingham.

The Salford Pals

Despite my having a solid knowledge of British military history, my knowledge of the Great War and of the Somme battle in 1916 was very limited. I knew that the Somme is still considered to be the worst catastrophe in British military history. I also knew that an infantry battalion numbered as high as "19" would be a New Army volunteer battalion, likely raised as part of Field Marshal Lord Kitchener's famous recruiting drive of late 1914 and early 1915. Kitchener was one of the first to realize that Britain's small professional army and its existing reserves numbering in the low hundreds of thousands would not be nearly large enough to allow Britain to sustain a multi-year effort commensurate with its stature as a great power in a major European war where the other powers were fielding millions of troops. As a result, he put out a call for a new all-volunteer army of 100,000 men. Instead, he got 500,000 volunteers from all walks of life who raced to join the colours, either out of patriotism, a need for adventure, or a desperate drive to escape the drudgery of their working lives. 

Many of those who volunteered joined up together as members of a "pals" or "chums" battalion. These battalions were organized by influential individuals or towns and then offered to the crown. These battalions consisted of companies recruited from neighbourhoods, family members, work mates, members of sports clubs etc. The pals units had such unlikely names as the Glasgow Tramways Battalion, the Grimsby Chums and the Accrington Pals. The battalions took on distinctive individual characters. For example, when a significant number of professional football players from Edinburgh's Heart of Midlothian Soccer Club joined the 16th Service Battalion of the Royal Scots, many of their supporters demonstrated loyalty to their heroes by also joining the same unit. This excellent BBC documentary tells the story of this battalion.

Today, only a sub-set of Kitchener's new army battalions are recognized as officially falling into the unique "pals" category. Most of the newly raised service battalions of old county regiments were raised through general recruiting efforts that were not concentrated in local areas. The pals battalions were raised through local initiatives and then offered to the army. They were later aligned with the old county regiments and were designated as service battalions. But they were originally raised under their local "pals" titles. Thus is is not unusual for a pals unit to carry two titles - its pals designation and its official county batallion designation.

George was a member of what was officially termed the 19th Service Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, a famous infantry regiment formerly designated the 20th Regiment of Foot. The 15th, 16th, 19th and 20th service battalions of this regiment were raised by the relatively small town Salford, an heavily industrialized centre on the outskirts of greater Manchester. These four Lancashire Fusilier battalions were respectively the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Salford Pals. 

The 3rd Salfords were a proud unit of soldiers recruited from many of the smaller outlying villages surrounding the town, whereas the 1st and 2nd battalions were recruited primarily from the Town of Salford proper. George's 3rd battalion included miners, mill workers, traders and factory workers. The locally raised nature of the battalion trickled down to the company level: A Company was from Pendleton; B was from Eccles and Patricroft (aka their name of the "Patricroft Pals"); C was from Swinton and D was the Worsely, Walkden and Little Hulton Company. The Salfords' officers were either community leaders from the local upper middle class or public school boys with university OTC experience who brought in after newly graduating from schools like Oxford and Cambridge.

For Christmas 2012, I received an excellent history of the four Salford battalions written by local Salford historian and Somme expert Michael Stedman, a local teacher. Stedman recounts the history of the Salford battalions from the first idea to raise volunteer soldiers to the end of the war. 

Book cover- The Salford Pals by Mike Stedman

The book is an excellent primer on the Salford Pals. It includes some platoon photos and lists all of the original members of each of the four battalions. Sadly George is not listed as an original member of the 19th Battalion. From his regimental number, it seems clear that he joined the 3rd battalion after it was established, probably from one of the Lancashire Fusiliers' reserve battalions in late 1915. His limited extant official records and medal card indicate that he did not join his battalion in France until early 1916, confirming that he was a later replacement. He didn't miss much action as the first sustained engagement for his battalion was the First Day of the Somme on July 1, 1916. 

On eBay in 2012, I chanced to see a shoulder title for one of the first 3 Salford battalions (the fourth battalion had a unique design) up for auction. It went for about $300, demonstrating the collectibility of Salford Pals-related militaria.This is the design of brass shoulder title George would have worn proudly on each of his epaulettes.

Brass shoulder title of the design worn by the 19th LF

As noted above, I was lucky enough to find George's medal index card (MIC) through the internet geology site A soldier's MIC generally records his first theatre of service and all of the awards earned. The MICs were held outside the soldier's actual service record file, which is a lucky thing given that about 2/3 of all WWI soldiers' individual service records (including George's) were destroyed by German bombing in WWII.

George's MIC - obverse

George's MIC shows that he was awarded the Victory Medal and British War Medal, providing indirect evidence that he entered the theatre of war in France in 1916 rather than in 1915. Had he entered the French theatre in 1915 he would have qualified for the 1914/15 Star. Sadly, the MIC does not refer specifically to the date of arrival in theatre. His actual medals are long gone but they would have looked like this:

British War Medal (L) and Victory Medal (R)