27/83 Private Robert Bayles 27th Battalion (Tyneside Irish) Northumberland Fusiliers was killed in action 1 July 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.  He was 38 years[1] and is commemorated on a family headstone, West Auckland cemetery.

Family Details

Robert was born 1878[2] at West Auckland the son of John and Jane Ann Bayles.  There were at least 6 children, all born at West Auckland:[3]

  • Elizabeth Ann bc.1875
  • Robert born 1878
  • John bc.1880
  • Fred bc.1886
  • Herbert bc.1891
  • Albert bc.1894

In 1881 the family lived at West Auckland where 29 year old John worked as a coal miner.[4]  In 1891, the family lived at Front Street where 39 year old John worked as a “colliery engineman”. [5]

In 1900 Robert married Annie Richardson [6] and in 1901 they lived at Johnson Terrace, West Auckland.  Robert aged 23 worked as a “colliery mason”. [7]  By 1911, Robert and Annie Bayles lived at Johnson Avenue, Dipton where 34 year old Robert worked as a coal miner (hewer).  They had at least 5 children, all born at West Auckland: [8]

  • John Thomas bc.1901
  • Frederick bc.1903
  • George bc.1905
  • William bc.1907
  • Lizzie Jane bc.1909

At a later date, Annie Bayles lived at 18 Quarry Row, Tantobie, Co. Durham. [9]

Service Details

The service record of Private R. Bayles has not been researched.  Robert Bayles enlisted at Newcastle-upon-Tyne [10] joining the 27th Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers commonly called the Tyneside Irish and was given the regimental number 27/83. [11]

The Northumberland Fusiliers often known as the “Fighting Fifth” because until 1881 it was the Fifth Foot, the Northumberland Fusiliers. A total of 51 battalions were raised for service in the Great War, the second largest after the London Regiment.  The 27th (Service) Battalion (4th Tyneside Irish) was formed at Newcastle, January 1915 by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle and the City.  It came under the orders of the 103rd Brigade, 34th Division. [12] At the beginning of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, the 103rd Brigade comprised the following units:

  • 24th, the Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Irish)
  • 25th, the Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd t Tyneside Irish)
  • 26th, the Northumberland Fusiliers (3rd Tyneside Irish)
  • 27th, the Northumberland Fusiliers (4th Tyneside Irish)
  • 103rd Machine Gun Company joined 27 April 1916
  • 103rd Trench Mortar Battery joined February 1916

The Brigade was attached to the 37th Division between 6 July and 22 August 1916 following extremely heavy casualties incurred by the Brigade during the attack at La Boiselle 1 July 1916.[13]

Below is an account of the raising of the 27th Battalion, its training, move overseas and the first day of the Battle of the Somme, [14] the day when Private R. Bayles was killed in action.

The fledgling Tyneside Irish Battalion initially offered its services to the 16th Irish Division being formed in Southern Ireland but the Commander of the 16th Lt. Col. General LW Parsons declined the offer saying that he didn’t want any ‘slum birds’ in his division but rather the clean, fine, strong hurling playing country boys found in other Irish regiments!

Despite this setback recruits were enrolled. One of the first was Patrick Butler whose grandson and family are here at today’s service. With the British army in retreat at Mons an impetus was given to recruitment and the first battalion raised was to be eventually followed by 4 more, in total over 7,000 men.

So who were the Tyneside Irish? From John Sheen’s book[15] it is clear that they were not all from Tyneside nor were they all Irish. Some were first born Irish but many more were second and third born Irish. Surnames like Kelly, O’Neill and O’Reilly liberally sprinkle all five battalions. They came from Newcastle, Sunderland, the wilds of Co. Durham and Teesside in their droves. But they also came from all parts of Ireland, London and Scotland. Indeed, the 2 Victoria Crosses awarded to the Tyneside Irish were to men from well outside the area, one was a miner from Castleford and the other from Mossley, near Ashton under Lyne.

Some joined because they worked alongside somebody with an Irish background. They joined for a variety of reasons not all of which were truly patriotic. Many joined simply because it guaranteed them three square meals a day and money in their pocket:

“We didn’t plan on joining the Tyneside Irish. In fact we would’ve preferred the Durhams but me and my brothers ended up in Sunderland. We couldn’t find the DLI recruiting office so we went to the pub where this bloke told us where to find it. It was for the Tyneside Irish so we thought “Oh well” and took the shilling.” (Lew Shaughnessy, 27th Battalion)

Affiliated to the Northumberland Fusiliers they became the 24th, 25th, 26th, 27th and 30th Reserve battalions and following limited training on Tyneside, field training began in Alnwick in March 1915 in the shadow of the castle, on land donated by the Duke of Northumberland. The first St. Patrick’s Day of the war was celebrated there by the 24th. The 26th celebrated the great day in Newcastle, where, as the shamrocks were being handed out, a band played a selection of Irish airs.

Capt. Arnold of the 24th recalled those days in Alnwick:

“How the towns and villages sprang into life in those days, when a battalion descended on them. The male inhabitants did not respond to the invasion but the females certainly enjoyed the time of their lives, and welcomed the troops with open arms.”

The officers’ mess was in the White Swan Hotel while the men lived in huts in the camp. Sgt Patrick Butler named his hut ‘Tara’s Hall’ others got called ‘Shamrock’, ‘Hibernia’ and ‘Killarney Cottage’.

Further training took place on Salisbury Plain. The journey south was poignantly recalled by Capt. Arnold:

“Somewhere about 5am on a wet morning near the end of August the whole Brigade entrained and rumbled along south through the long length of a summer day. The dull grey fields and dykes of Northumberland and Durham gave way to the softer tints and flat reaches of the Midlands. About noon we swung over towards the west and the type of country changed again. We skirted the Quantocks and the Mendips. Instead of the stark mining villages each with its slag heap and cage tower surmounted by two big pit wheels, we came to the old villages of Gloucestershire, some of mellow stone, some with thatched roofs and whitewashed walls – we were in a different world. The men gaped out of the windows in silence, home was left far behind and the war was drawing near at last.”

By early January 1916 they were trained sufficiently to set off for France. They had further training behind the lines at St. Omer including route marches, musketry etc. while specialists such as signallers, scouts, snipers and bombers were sent for intensive training.

By the middle of February they had had their first experiences in the trenches at Bois-Grenier south of Armentieres, indeed the first death had occurred on the 12th February, that of 31 year old Private Joseph March from Winlaton. There followed the steady drip, drip of casualties as the battalions became hardened to life on the frontline of the Western Front.

Back in England, the Raising Committee proposed a flag day and appropriately it was held on St. Patrick’s Day with the principal speaker 2nd Lieutenant Michael O’Leary VC who had won the Victoria Cross while a Corporal in the Irish Guards and had now been commissioned and transferred to the Tyneside Irish 30th (Reserve) Battalion. Among those speaking to the large crowd was the Lord Mayor of Newcastle Alderman Sir John Fitzgerald, Irish-born brewer and founder of the pub chain. He was to lose his son only months later.

It is recorded that most of the men got their shamrocks on the day with the 27th Battalion receiving theirs from John Redmond, leader of the Irish Nationalist Party.

By 7.30 on the morning of July 1st 1916 the Tyneside Irish Battalions were poised behind the Tara-Usna hills, astride the Albert-Bapaume road on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, as part of the 34th Division. In front of them, in a strongly defended key sector of the frontline, was the village of La Boisselle. The Germans had heavily fortified the village with deep dugouts, rolls and rolls of barbed wire and machine gun nests.

The British artillery barrage had pounded the German lines all along the front for nearly a week to obliterate the trench system and break up the barbed wire. Later German accounts told stories of men going mad with fear and despair. On the British side confidence was high. General Sir Henry Rawlinson said to his subordinates:

nothing could exist at the conclusion of the bombardment in the area covered by it.

However the German defenders were dug in so deep that they were able to survive the onslaught.

At 7.28, the mine in tunnels underneath part of the German lines just south of La Boisselle that had been in preparation for months before, exploded. A mile away on another part of the line facing the Tyneside Irish and the Tyneside Scottish another, much smaller pre-prepared mine exploded at the same time. The first mine left a crater 300 feet wide and 90 feet deep and is still there today, known as The Lochnagar Crater. Many of the Germans were incinerated, vapourised in the largest man made explosion in history up to that moment.

The heavy guns fell silent, some men heard the larks singing in that beautiful summers morning, the whistles blew…and the Tyneside Irish, along with many battalions along the whole frontline climbed out of their trenches. However, the Germans, the 56th Infantry Brigade along with the Bavarian Reserve Regiments 110 and 111, realising that this was the moment of the attack, quickly scrambled out of their dugouts and manned their machine guns. And well they knew that this was the moment because a German listening post had picked up a message some hours before sent by Headquarters 102 Brigade wishing the Tyneside Scottish good luck.

And what a sight they witnessed. Line upon line of Tyneside Irishmen were walking towards them, rifles at slope to arms against their shoulders, strolling across as if on a leisurely parade. The headquarters generals felt that because of the inexperience of the troops they wouldn’t be able to grasp tactics any more sophisticated than that.

Also, they were heavily equipped with not only rifles and bayonets, but water bottles, gas helmets, hand grenades and extra bandoliers of ammunition. Some had extra equipment such as wire clippers and ladders. Indeed this was to be one of the many criticisms of the planning of the fighting in the war, simply that the soldiers had too much to carry and that when they got to the German lines they were often dead beat by the weight of their packs.

Sir Martin Gilbert, in his book on the Battle of the Somme, has evidence to suggest that a couple of battalions sent some men across with large tins of grey paint and a paintbrush to coat the captured German guns with their battalion insignia so as to claim them as booty!

Many accounts refer to the big drum of the Brigade Pipes and Drums beating time as the men went forward. Others tell of the sound of the pipes playing ‘Tipperary’. Piper J. Brown told his family that he played the ‘Minstrel Boy’ because the words seemed to be the most appropriate he could think of.

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,

 In the ranks of death you’ll find him;

His father’s sword he has girded on,

And his wild harp slung behind him;

 The Tyneside Irish objectives were to take the trenches at La Boisselle, then further lines a mile or two away in front of Pozieres and Contalmaison before taking the village of Contalmaison itself. A considerable undertaking on any account.

The men climbed out of their trenches and descended the Tara-Usna hills towards the German lines. The machine guns opened up…and the Tyneside Irish went down like ninepins. They pressed on into the morning mist and the dust from the shellfire. In some places the barrage hadn’t cut the wire and men became tangled up, others were corralled in areas that were raked with machine gun fire.

The lines of the Tyneside Irish were decimated. Bombing Sergeant Patrick Butler and Corporal James Bonner between them rescued their commanding officer Col. Howard who had been wounded, got him into the safety of a shell hole then into the Lochnagar Crater. Sgt Butler and Cpl Bonner died later that day. Colonel Howard died the next day of his wounds.

Many German remains still lie in the crater and indeed in October 1998 the remains of a soldier were found in the land just behind the crater. A cross now marks this spot, and the soldier was identified as Private George Nugent, of the 22/Northumberland Fusiliers (3rd Tyneside Scottish). He was later reburied in Ovillers Military Cemetery. The crater is now privately owned to ensure that it will always remain a memorial.

Many of the wounded from that day had to wait until darkness fell to make their way back to their lines. Some were still coming in days later.

Along the entire frontline the picture was the same. The worst hit battalion was the 10th West Yorks, followed closely by the hardy Newfoundlanders of Canada and the 4th Tyneside Scottish. Other Irish regiments badly mauled that day were the Co. Down Volunteers, the Donegal and Fermanagh Volunteers and the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

The remainder of the Tyneside Irish went on to serve with distinction on other fronts in France and Flanders but the 1st July on the Somme was their defining moment. It was said that it took 2 years to train them and 10 minutes to kill them.

In total the British Army had over 19,000 killed and 36,000 wounded on that first day…the worst single day in the history of the British Army. The Battle of the Somme dragged on until halted by the rain and mud of November of that year. Many of the dead from that opening day remained exposed on the battlefield until November…arguably a silent testimony to the initial failure of British generalship and tactics.

Later research records that 27/NF lost 4 Officers and 139 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds 1 July 1916.  A further 11 Other Ranks died of wounds by 5 July 1916.[16]


Not counting the 30th Reserve battalion, a total of 5,560 served in the brigade. Of these 2,675 made the supreme sacrifice and few escaped unscathed: the casualty rate was well over 80%.  A fitting tribute was paid by chaplain Fr. McBrearty in June 1919 when the 25th’s colour was laid up at St.Mary’s Cathedral:

“Four and a half years ago they had their first parade in St.Mary’s…..None of them dreamt for a moment that only a mere handful would return to their native Tyneside.”

Sadly that colour was stolen but on 7th April 2001 the colour of the 27th (4th Tyneside Irish) was placed there having been restored and retrieved from Beamish Museum and on 16th September 2003 Mary McAleese, The President of Ireland, rededicated the colour and was piped in by Vincent Robinson of New York whose family have faithfully preserved the brigade’s war pipes entrusted to them by the chaplain.

Private R. Bayles was killed in action 1 July 1916.  He has no known grave.  Private R. Bayles was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[17]


Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme:  Private R. Bayles is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial 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, on 31 July 1932.

Family Headstone in West Auckland Cemetery:[18]

In loving memory of JANE ANN beloved wife of JOHN BAYLES who died 24 January 1918 aged 63yrs.  Also JOHN husband of the above who died 23 February 1931 aged 79 yrs.  Also ROBERT son of the above killed in action in France 1 July 1916 aged 38 yrs.

Local War Memorial: To date, I have not traced a relevant local war memorial with the name of Pte. R. Bayles included on the list of those commemorated.


The memorial is located to the west of the village of La Boiselle.  It contains the following inscription:


In front of this monument on the 1st July 1916 the “Tyneside Scottish” and “Tyneside Irish” Brigades attacked the enemy.  For many hours the fortunes of arms fluctuated but ere night had fallen the two Tyneside Brigades with aid from other units of the 34th Division attained their objective

Think not that the struggle and sacrifice were in vain.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.235 Auckland 1878 Q1

[3] 1881, 1891, 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1881 census

[5] 1891 census

[6] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.420 1900 Q3

[7] 1901 census

[8] 1911 census

[9] CWGC

[10] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[11] Medal Roll note Christian name given as Thomas



[14]  Article attributed to Tommy McClements

[15] “Tyneside Irish”  2010 John Sheen is regarded as the prime reference for the battalion

[16] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[17] Medal Roll

[18] “West Auckland Cemetery: Monumental Inscriptions” 1994 Cleveland, N. Yorks. & S. Durham Family History Society compiled by Carol A. McLee



Tyneside Brigades Memorial

Tyneside Brigades Memorial

Tyneside Irish Badge

Tyneside Irish Badge

Lochnagar Crater

Lochnagar Crater



BAYLES R. Thiepval Inscription

Thiepval Inscription

BAYLES Robert Family Headstone

Family Headstone