Tyneside Pipers: First Day of the Somme

Poppy Cross amidst the mud of the Soome.

Poppy cross amidst the field of battle…somewhere on the Somme.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

La Boiselle this day so many years ago…

This Day – 1 July 2019

When I can…I walk this ground, towards La Boiselle…

We are in this place, peaceful now, but where the hearts of men once beat with adrenaline as they advanced. Their rhythms interrupted by the stuttering power of the seemingly endless machine gun, the burst of shell, grenade and all matter of hurt. Today we can only hope that the souls of those who fell here are at rest and that the souls of their surviving friends (in their day) found peace once again. All I can do as a visitor is hope…to wander…see…and record…my thoughts this same day but for 2019.

That Day – 1 July 1916

The Tynesiders were on our right, and, as they got the signal to advance, I saw a piper – I think he was the Pipe Major – jump out of the trench and marched straight towards the German lines. The tremendous rattle of machine gun and rifle fire completely drowned the sound of his pipes, but he was obviously playing as though he would burst the bag, and, faintly through the roar of battle, we heard the mighty cheer his comrades gave as they swarmed after him. How he escaped I can’t understand, for the ground was literally ploughed up by the hail of bullets; but he bore a charmed life, and the last glimpse I have of him as we, too, dashed out showed him still marching erect, playing on regardless of the flying bullets and of the men dropping all around him. (A War Correspondent)

(Seton and Grant, Pipes of War, University Press, 1920 p. 25)

At that time, 1 July 1916, four Pals battalions (Northumberland Fusiliers) of the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade advanced. The 20th Battalion (1st Tyneside Scottish), 21st Battalion (2nd Tyneside Scottish), 22nd Battalion (3rd Tyneside Scottish) and the 23rd Battalion (4th Tyneside Scottish). The attack commenced at 7:30 am with the battalion played into the battle by their pipers.

Near La Boiselle.. Looking from the Memorial at Lochnagar Crater.

Near La Boiselle. Looking from the Memorial at Lochnagar Crater, Somme, France.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

The First Day of the Somme saw the Tynesiders attack up through Mash Valley towards the Glory Hole at La Boiselle. Starting from the Tara-Usna Line from behind the British front line they had to cross 1 mile of open ground before coming upon no man’s land. About 50 men managed to survive across this terrain and into Sausage Valley located south of La Boiselle and very near to Contalmaison. This was the furthest advance of the day, but for these men, they would spend the rest of their Great War as prisoners of war.

The 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade suffered the worst losses of any brigade on this black day of the British Army. The day was bleak the British army suffering 57,470 casualties of which 19,240 were fatal.

20th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish)
584 casualties – 320 killed

21st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Scottish)
Total casualties unknown – 131 killed

22nd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (3rd Tyneside Scottish)
537 casualties – 162 killed

23rd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (4th Tyneside Scottish)
23rd Battalion     629 casualties – 240 killed

Looking towards the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

Looking across the battlefields towards the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.
(P. Ferguson image, October 2009)

The Tyneside Battalion Pipers
List of Pipers compiled from Seton and Grant Pipes of War. I have provided amendments to this record. In addition, several service numbers are given in Pipes of War only as partial numbers. Many are not included in this listing.

1st Tyneside Scottish
Pipe Major John Wilson.
Awarded the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field.

Lance Corporal Garnet Wolsley Fyfe (Killed) 20/237
Shown in Commonwealth War Graves Commission as 23rd Battalion [4th Tyneside Scottish].
Buried at Ovillers Military Cemetery, France.

Piper Alex Boyd (Wounded)

Piper Ernest Arthur Boyce (Missing) 20/223
Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France.

Piper E. Scott (Wounded)

Piper Stephens (Wounded)

Piper John William Fellows (Missing) 20/1585
No. 1 Company. Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France.

Piper James Downie (Missing) 20/154
Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France.

Piper Charles McLean (Wounded)

Piper Robert Davidson (Missing) 20/1594
Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France.

Piper William Inglis (Wounded)
Recorded as Wounded as well as Killed in Pipes of War. Not traced in Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.

Piper George Taylor MM. Awarded the Military Medal for Bravery in the Field.

2nd Tyneside Scottish
Piper Munro Strachan

Piper John Strachan (Wounded)

Piper Alex Scott

Piper William Alexander Scott (Missing) 21/1230
Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France.

Lance Corporal W. Clark

Piper G.C. Griffiths

Piper James Phillips (Killed) 21/1151
Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France.

Piper J.M. Phillips MM 1225

Piper James Phillips Mentioned in Despatches 1525
After his pipes were shattered he began bombing the enemy trenches.

Piper James Carnegie

3rd Tyneside Scottish*
Piper A. Boyd (Wounded)

Piper J. Stephens (Wounded)

Piper J. Steele (Killed)
A Joseph Steele is recorded as killed 1 July 1916 with the 2nd Tyneside Scottish. No other details traced.

Piper E. Finley (Killed)

Piper R. Greaves (Died of Wounds)
Not traced in Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.

Piper T. Wilson (Killed)
Not traced in Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.

* (Service numbers not published in Pipes of War)

4th Tyneside Scottish

Pipers’ names not recorded in Pipes of War.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


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