Two Years in the Making, an Hour to be Destroyed

Two Years in the Making, an Hour to be Destroyed

Postby kerchi » Mon Jul 16, 2012 10:43 pm

1. The following is a transcript from the Cumbrian newspaper, The News & Star, which the editor has given special permission to be shown here.
2. Please note that due to certain copyright issues images from the original article cannot be shown.
3. This article is from the Memory Lane series written by David Hay.

EIGHTY-FIVE years ago this week, all of Cumberland and Westmorland were mourning the destruction of the Border Regiment's Lonsdale Battalion on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.

At 7.30am on July 1, 1916, the Lonsdales left the relative safety of Authuille Wood, where they had spent the night, and began walking to their jumping-off trench. They had been told not to run as the German trenches would be empty, their occupants killed by the week-long bombardment. (The 66lbs of equipment each soldier carried would have made running impossible anyway). But the Lonsdales left the wood, the German machine-gunners emerged from their deep dugouts and they were scythed down, like hay in a field. Those who reached the jumping-off trench were rallied by their commanding officer, Lt Col Percy Machell, who was shot dead as he went over the top at the head of his men.

An hour later, of the 828 officers and men who had begun advancing towards the German lines so confidently that sunny July morning, 516 were killed, wounded or missing.

The Battalion had been formed and kitted out by Lord Lonsdale, from 'men of the hills and dales' of the two counties. He had told them that any group of friends who joined together would serve together. But this conception of friends, neighbours and workmakes serving together in what were called Pals or Chums battalions was to have tragic consequences, plunging close-knit streets, workplaces, villages and towns into deep mourning. And Lord Lonsdale was forced to apologise for his recruiting campaign posters, which had asked civilian men if they were 'patriots or cowards'.

Most of the Lonsdales' dead are buried in the cemetery of the same name in the Picardy countryside, along with men of other regiments who were to die in later Somme offensives.

I visited the cemetery in the early Seventies, the culmination of a walking and hitch-hiking tour of the old front line from Ypres to Albert. Of the 1,519 graves, 815 have no name, an indication of the ferocious way in which the soldiers died. Many headstones bear only the words 'An unknown soldier of the Great War', with beneath them that most poignaant of all inscriptions, 'Known unto God'.

As I walked along the long rows of graves and then read the cemetery register, it became apparent just how deep the grief in so many Cumberland homes must have been.

…Tom Richards, 19, Workington; Lewis Bell, 20, Roweltown; Tony Bell, 22, Armathwaite; Chris Blackburn, 31, Silloth; Gordon Hay, 25, Carlisle; William Hogarth, 21, Keswick; Hardy McDougall, 20, Brampton; Tom Warbrick, 19, Wigton…An endless list of dead.

Before I left Picardy I visited the huge Memorial to the Missing on the Somme at Thiepval, a vast construction commemorating the 73,000 soldiers of the British Empire who died on the Somme and have no know grave. Among the names engraved on the stone panels are those of 876 Border Regiment men.

  • The 1st Battalion The Border Regiment, a regular one, suffered 575 casualties on July 1, 1916.
  • By the end of the four year war 13,000 men from the Border Regiment battalions had lost their lives.
  • The Lonsdales took part in several other battles, notably at Nieuport in the early summer of 1917 when they lost eight officers and 350 other ranks in 24 hours. Then, on july 31, 1917, the Lonsdales were disbanded.

Next week: The memories of a few Lonsdale Survivors who were still alive in 1978.

Published Tuesday 3rd July, 2001, The News & Star
In memory of John Bardgett (15309 L/Cpl.), 11th Border Regiment who died 1st July 1916.

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The Border Regiment Forum is a small and friendly community for anyone with an interest in the British regiment throughout its long and colourful history. The forum was set up first and foremost to bring together those with an interest and passion in the Regiment; to ask questions, share stories, provide knowledge and post photos relating to the regiment during the various conflicts and peacetimes it bore witness to.

  -  Cumbria's Museum of Military Life
  -  5th Border Regiment War Grave Project and Roll of Honour
  -  7th Border Regiment War Grave Project and Roll of Honour
  -  8th Border Regiment War Grave Project and Roll of Honour
  -  11th Border Regiment (Lonsdale) War Grave Project