32166 Private Thomas A. Alderson, 10th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 16 September 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. [1]  He was about 21 years old and is commemorated on the Etherley War Memorial and the Roll of Honour in St. Cuthbert’s Church, Etherley.

Family Details

Thomas Alderson was born c.1895 at Etherley Bank to John and Elizabeth Alderson.  There were 4 children:

  • Thomas Alfred born c.1895
  • Ernest born c.1896
  • Sydney born c.1902
  • William Oswald born c.1906 [2]

By 1911, the family lived at Low Etherley Farm and 15 year old Thomas was employed as an apprentice coach smith. [3]  He was unmarried. [4]

Service Record

Thomas Alderson attested 10 January 1916 being given the regimental number 32166.  He was aged 20 years 3 months. [5]  He was a Primitive Methodist.[6]  He was examined 4 May 1916, was 5ft.7½” tall, weighed 126 lbs. and considered fit for general service. [7]

He joined the Army Reserve 11 January 1916 and was mobilised and posted 4 May 1916 to the 4/DLI.  He entered France 25 August 1916 and was posted and sent to 10/DLI 4 September 1916. [8]  He was killed in action 16 September 1916 having served 251 days. [9]  He served in “A” Company, 10/DLI. [10]

The 10th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry was formed 22 August 1915 as part of K1, Kitchener’s New Army.  The battalion came under the orders of the 43rd Brigade, 14th (Light) Division.  Other battalions in the brigade were:

  • 6th Somerset Light Infantry
  • 6th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
  • 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

The Division landed in France 21 May 1915 and saw action at the following:

  • 30 July: Action at Hooge
  • 25 – 26 September: Second Attack on Bellewaarde

Then at the Battle of the Somme:

  • 15 July – 3 September 1916: Battle of Delville Wood
  • 15 – 22 September 1916: Battle of Flers-Courcelette. [11]

Private T.A. Alderson was posted to 10/DLI 4 September 1916 in time for the upcoming Battle of Flers-Courcelette.

 The Battle of Flers-Courcelette – a summary [12]

15 September 1916: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette commenced.  The XV Corps were made up of the New Zealand Division, the 41st and 14th Divisions and were under the command of Lieutenant General Henry Horne.  They were at the centre of the attack and were responsible for the capture of Flers.  10/DLI was part of the 43rd Brigade of the 14th Division.  The 6th Somerset Light Infantry, 6th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and the 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry joined the 10/DLI in the 43rd Brigade.  The 43rd Brigade took up position between Delville Wood and the village of Ginchy.  The 41st Division was to their left and the Guards to their right.

The attack was no local affair, it was a big effort.  It was the last chance to win the war in 1916.   The attack was preceded by a 3 day bombardment of some 828,000 shells – twice the concentration of that delivered on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.  To assist, 18 tanks of D Company, Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps were commissioned although only 14 managed to get to their starting points. The tanks would be used in small groups along the front with the aim of moving ahead of the infantry to suppress German strong points.  However, a creeping artillery barrage was not to be employed on these identified strong points.  Thus, if the tanks failed then the infantry would be left to its own devices.  The infantry was still the primary force on the battlefield.

The attack on Flers was successful but the men of the 41st Division suffered severe losses in the course of the long day – 15 September.  Alongside them, the 14th Division faced what looked like a dangerous manoeuvre of straightening out a “pocket” of German resistance pressing into the British lines to the east of Delville Wood.  A preliminary operation was ordered for 0515 but in the event, the Germans abandoned their position without much of a fight.  When the main advance came, the Division encountered much stiffer resistance before it was able to successfully conform to the general advance made by the XV Corps.

15 September: 10/DLI moved forward from Bernafay Wood via Pommiers Redoubt then advanced during the afternoon through Delville Wood to the trenches east of the Longueval-Flers road.  At midnight the battalion went forward to the front line facing Gueudecourt and attacked the Gird Lines at 9.25 am (16 September.)  The leading waves were soon checked by strong machine gun fire.  Renewed attacks followed at 6.55 pm before withdrawing to Bulls Road.  The battalion was relieved 17 September and billeted at Pommiers Redoubt.

On the Division’s front, the creeping barrage was weak and inaccurate.  On the right, 6/Somerset came under fire from Gas Alley and made little progress.  West of the Ginchy-Gueudecourt road, the 10/DLI came under severe fire from front and right flank and took cover in shell holes.  The 6/KOYLI and 6/Duke of Cornwall’s attempted to reinforce but suffered the same fate.  An order to renew the attack at 6.55pm was carried out with no success.

 10/DLI: in action [13]

 15 September:, afternoon, the battalion occupied trenches east of the Longueval-Flers Road, German shelling, 8 men killed.

Midnight:  10/DLI moved off in artillery formation, German shrapnel and a few casualties

16 September: dawn, considerable enemy movement near Gueudecourt village beyond Gird and Gird Support trenches.

9.25am: orders received to attack with the objective to break through the Gird defences, clear Gueudecourt and establish a line beyond.  A heavy British bombardment opened up.  10/DLI went forward at the appointed hour.

“…as soon as they appeared in the open there came heavy machine gun fire from the front and from the right.  On they went, paying dearly for every yard but when nearly a quarter of a mile had been gained the survivors had to seek cover in shell holes and stay there.  Before mid-day parties of Germans were seen coming forward of the Gird line from the direction of le Transloy but no counter attack was attempted.  The afternoon passed and then came orders for another attack to be delivered at 6.55pm.  Colonel Morant collected about 100 men which included all employed at battalion HQ…The creeping barrage was again negligible and the German machine guns were as active as before.  With no troops in immediate support and both flanks unprotected a withdrawal was inevitable and after dark the survivor of the battalion fell back and put Bull’s Road in a state of defence.  Many wounded were then brought in.”

17 September: dawn, the 21st Division were coming up as relief and the 10th handed over positions before dawn.  A very weak battalion reached Pommiers Redoubt during the morning 17 September.  Losses in killed, wounded and missing amounted to 381.

Later research confirms that 3 officers and 136 men of the 10/DLI were killed in action 16 September 1916 [14]  including Private T.A. Alderson.

Private T.A. Alderson had been in the Army for 251 days. He had landed in France on the 25 August and was posted to the 10/DLI “A” Company 4 September and was killed in action 16 September 1916 having been in France for only 22 days.

Private T.A. Alderson was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[15]

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette raged on for another week and was regarded as a major success particularly when compared with the results of August and early September.  A considerable stretch of the German front line had been captured and their second line system had been breached in the Flers sector.  High Wood and the Bazentin Ridge had been captured and opened up an improved tactical position for the British – enhanced observation positions over the German lines.  The Germans made a tactical retreat to the Le Transloy Ridge.  But, the British casualties were atrocious and were comparable in percentage terms to the debacle of July.  It was estimated that the Fourth Army suffered over 29,000 casualties.  All 3 Divisions involved in the central push – the New Zealand, the 41st and the 14th all suffered severe casualties in achieving their objectives but significantly, there were no fresh reserve divisions behind them to surge forward and leapfrog onto victory.

Furthermore, the new weapon, the tanks had shot their bolt. In the analysis of the overall performance of the tanks, the general consensus is of disappointment, if not failure.

  • The officers and crew had not enough time to be trained properly.
  • The infantry had no time to train with them.
  • The tanks were plagued with mechanical failure.
  • They were too slow and noisy.
  • The visibility from the tanks was poor.
  • The working environment was a mechanical hell!

At this stage of development, common sense rather than specialist military knowledge counted for more in their analysis – their virtues were exaggerated, they needed to be more powerful and the noise needed to be reduced!

Most significantly, the German artillery was not silenced.  The Royal Artillery undoubtedly needed more fire-power if it was ever to have a chance of winning this major duel in the Battle of the Somme.

In conclusion, the German line had been under immense pressure 15 September 1916 but it held out.  Their artillery was struggling but had not been overwhelmed.  German supplies were depleted but had not run out.  German morale was failing but had not collapsed.  Their resistance was still strong.  The German nation was not ready for defeat!


 Private T. A. Alderson is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme which bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the UK and South African forces who died in the Somme sector and who have no known grave.  Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916, the duration of what we now call the Battle of the Somme. The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, 31 July 1932.  [16]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] 1911 census

[3] 1911 census

[4] Army Form

[5] Army Form B.1512

[6] Descriptive Report on Enlistment

[7] Army Form 178 Medical History

[8] Army Form B.103

[9] Statement of Service

[10] Army Form – Field Service

[11] &,

[12] “The Somme” Peter Hart & “The Somme: the day by day account” Chris McCarthy 1993 p110

[13] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: the Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry.” Captain Wilfred Miles 1920

[14] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[15] Medal Roll card index

[16] Commonwealth War Graves Commission




ALDERSON T.A. Inscription Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval Memorial

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  1. Pingback: ETHERLEY | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

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