3429 Private Frederick Brunskill, 1/6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 5 November, 1916 and is buried in Warlencourt British Cemetery, France.[1]  He was 19 years old and is commemorated on the Etherley War Memorial in St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard and the Roll of Honour in St. Cuthbert’s Church, Etherley.

Family Details

 Frederick Brunskill was born 1897 [2] at Etherley the son of Frederick and Emma Brunskill.  Emma was born in Newmarket, Cambridge in 1865, had been married previously and had 3 children to that marriage:

  • Ester Gill bc 1887 at Toft Hill
  • Sarah Annie Gill bc.1890 at Toft Hill
  • Philip Gill bc. 1893 at Toft Hill

Emma Sangster married Frederick Brunskill in 1897 [3] and they had at least 4 children: [4]

  • Margaret bc.1896 at Toft Hill
  • Frederick bc.1898 at Etherley
  • Lizzie Annie bc.1901 at Etherley
  • George Albert bc.1906 at Etherley

In 1901, they lived at Hunters Hill (between Etherley and Spring Gardens, West Auckland) and Frederick was employed as a highway labourer.[5]  He died in 1906.[6]  By 1911 the family lived at High Etherley.  46 year old widowed Emma was the head of the family and only 18 year old Philip Gill is recorded as in employment, working as a coal miner. [7]

Service Details:

Frederick Brunskill enlisted at Bishop Auckland into the local territorial force, the 1/6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry and was allocated the regimental number 3429.[8]  His service details have not been traced so the exact date he enlisted is unknown.

The 1/6th Battalion were formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 became the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division. [9] The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war. Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (DLI)
  • 1/8th Battalion, DLI
  • 1/9th Battalion, DLI
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

Following heavy casualties in June 1915 the battalion merged with the 1/8th to become the 6/8th then it returned to its original identity 11 August 1915 and was then joined by:

  • 1/5th Cumberland) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916 [10]

The Division took part in the following engagements:

  • 24 April – 25 May 1915: The Second Battle of Ypres
  • 15 – 22 September: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 6th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916
  • 25 – 28 September: The Battle of Morval, 7th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916
  • 1 – 18 September: The Battle of Le Transloy, 8th  phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916[11]

  The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916 [12]

The Battle of the Somme was viewed as a breakthrough battle, as a means of getting through the formidable German trenchlines and into a war of movement and decision.  Political considerations and the demands of the French High Command influenced the timing of the battle.  They demanded British diversionary action to occupy the German Army to relieve the hard pressed French troops at Verdun, to the south.

General Sir Douglas Haig, appointed Commander-in-Chief in December 1915, was responsible for the overall conduct of British Army operations in France and Belgium.  This action was to be the British Army’s first major offensive on the Western Front in 1916 and it was entrusted to General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army to deliver the resounding victory.  The British Army included thousands of citizen volunteers, keen to take part in what was expected to be a great victory.

The main line of assault ran nearly 14 miles from Maricourt in the south to Serre to the north, with a diversionary attack at Gommecourt 2 miles further to the north.  The first objective was to establish a new advanced line on the Montauban to Pozieres Ridge.

The first day, 1 July, was preceded by a week long artillery bombardment of German positions.  Just prior to zero-hour, the storm of British shells increased and merged with huge mine explosions to herald the infantry attack – at 7.30am on a clear midsummer’s morning the British Infantry emerged from their trenches and advanced in extended lines at a slow steady pace over the grassy expanse of a No Man’s Land.  They were met with a hail of machine gun fire and rifle fire from the surviving German defenders.  Accurate German artillery barrages smashed into the infantry in No Man’s Land and the crowded assembly trenches – the British suffered enormous casualties:

  • Officers killed 993
  • Other Ranks killed: 18,247
  • Total Killed: 19,240
  • Total casualties (killed, wounded and missing): 57,470

In popular imagination, the Battle of the Somme has become a byword for military disaster.  In the calamitous opening 24 hours the British Army suffered its highest number of casualties in a single day.  The loss of great numbers of men from the same towns and villages had a profound impact on those at home. The first day was an abject failure and the following weeks and months of conflict assumed the nature of wearing-down warfare, a war of attrition, by the end of which both the attackers and defenders were totally exhausted.

The Battle of the Somme can be broken down into 12 offensive operations:

  • Albert: 1 – 13 July
  • Bazantin Ridge: 14 – 17 July
  • Delville Wood: 15 July – 13 September
  • Pozieres Ridge: 15 July – 3 September
  • Guillemont: 23 July – 3 September
  • Ginchy: 9 September
  • Courcelette: 15 – 22 September
  • Morval: 25 – 28 September
  • Thiepval: 25 – 28 September
  • Le Transloy: 1 – 18 October
  • Ancre Heights: 1 October – 11 November
  • Ancre: 13 – 18 November

Adverse weather conditions i.e. the autumn rains and early winter sleet and snow turned the battlefield into morass of mud.  Such intolerable physical conditions helped to bring to an end Allied offensive operations after four and a half months of slaughter.  The fighting brought no significant breakthrough.  Territorial gain was a strip of land approximately 20 miles wide by 6 miles deep, at enormous cost. British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) of which some 131,000 were dead.  French casualties amounted to 204,253.  German casualties were estimated between 450,000 to 600,000. In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

The 1/6th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry was to see action at Butte de Warlencourt, an ancient burial mound, located between the towns of Albert and Bapaume in northern France.  Bapaume was occupied by German troops. The British front line had advanced from a few miles north east of Albert in the direction of Bapaume to the feature known as the Butte de Warlencourt which lay a few miles to the south west of Bapaume.  The Butte stood about 50 feet higher than the surrounding land and in theory provided a useful observation point for the Germans particularly towards High Wood and Martinpuich.  The Butte was honeycombed with tunnels and dugouts which provided shelter for the German garrison.  It had already resisted numerous British attacks over the previous month, October.

3 November, it was the turn of the 151st (Durham) Brigade who moved into line as part of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division.  The 151st comprised:

  • 1/5th Border Regiment
  • 1/6th DLI
  • 1/8th DLI
  • 1/9th DLI

The 3 D.L.I. Battalions took over the front line positions and the 1/5th Borders came up behind them as the reserve battalion.

The 1/6th Durhams was a battalion recruited mainly in Bishop Auckland and the upper valley of the river Wear, who to the rest of the D.L.I. were known as the “black-buttoned bastards”.  The 1/6th were in the centre of the line.  The 1/8th was to the right and the 1/9th, known as the “Gateshead Ghurkas” were to the left.  Together they would attack the Butte on the 5th November 1916.

The 1/9th was under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford, a remarkable 24 years old man.  His father, George Bradford was manager of Henry Stobart & Co. Ltd. collieries in the Bishop Auckland area [13] and West Carterthorne Coal Co.[14]  He and his family lived at Carwood Cottage, Witton Park until 1894.  The young Roland Bradford was educated at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, Darlington before attending Epsom College, Surrey then pursuing an Army career with the DLI. [15]

It is recorded that:

“Under Roland, the 9th became one of the finest battalions in the British Army.  Known for its “esprit de corps”, much of the battalion’s efficiency and camaraderie can be traced to Roland’s leadership and the keen interest he took in the well-being of his men.”[16]

The1/9th Durhams were charged with capturing the Butte and a quarry beside its west face.  The 1/6 and 1/8th Durhams were to seize the Gird Trench and Gird Support Trenches.  The 28th Australian Division was to attack alongside the 8th battalion.  In support, to the right were the 1/4th Northumberland Fusiliers, to the left, the 1/6th N.Fs. and the 1/5th Border Regiment were in reserve. Zero hour was set for 0910 on Sunday, 5 November.

Battle of Ancre Heights: the Butte de Warlencourt: a summary [17]

The 50th Division attacked with 1/8 DLI (151 Brigade) on the right.  The men had to pull one another out of the mud before they could start.  They almost reached the German front line but were stopped by machine gun fire and gradually fell back during the day.  The 1/6 DLI suffered a similar fate except on the left where they linked with 1/9 DLI in the line.  The 1/9 DLI went through 2 lines of German trenches, reached the Butte and established a post on the Bepaume road – some entering the Warlencourt line.  But these advanced posts were forced back and at 10.00pm the enemy were still holding the quarry and 500 yards of the German front line.  By midnight the Durhams had been forced back – to their own lines.

The Durhams – more detail [18]

In the early hours of Sunday morning, the companies moved forward to man the front line trench.  The weather was dreadful – heavy rain, a howling gale, it was bitterly cold and there were rumours that men had drowned in the mud.  Owing to the boggy ground, progress was extremely slow.  The trench was in a deplorable condition and the men had to march along the parados to reach their allocated places.  Unfortunately, they were in full view of the enemy – shell, machine gun and rifle fire were thrown at them.

“The enemy kept up a ceaseless bombardment of our trenches in conjunction with the merciless rain and cold.”

Lance Corporal Harry Cruddace, 1/6th Bn., DLI

As Zero Hour struck, all the available artillery laid down a barrage some 200 yards in front of the jumping off line.

“Nothing but HE was used.  We began with a stationary barrage of four minutes whilst the infantry were getting out of their trenches and thereafter the creeping barrage was lifted in range 50 yards every minute and firing continued at the rate of 4 rounds per minute.”

Brigadier General Hugh Tudor, Commander Royal Artillery, 9th Division.

The Durhams went over the top – with mud high above their knees, wading, slipping, stumbling and falling forward, laden with the usual infantry equipment necessary for such an attack (rifle, packs, grenades, entrenching tool, pick, Lewis gun drums) – it was worse than they could ever have imagined.

“The officers’ whistles sounded the advance.  Immediately, the first wave mounted the trench and made off in the direction of the enemy trenches.  They were met by terrific and annihilating fire and crumpled up like snow in summer.  The second wave was by this time on its way.  I was in that wave and placed my gun sections in single file to make a less target.  The enemy barrage was doing enormous damage and our fighting strength was fast diminishing.”     

Lance Corporal Harry Cruddace, 1/6th Bn., DLI

Clearly, the Germans were not caught by surprise and with such a narrow front attack they could concentrate all their machine gun fire on a devastating onslaught on the hapless Durhams.  The British artillery failed to eliminate the German batteries.  They opened up a barrage of shells all along the sector.  They succeeded in isolating the British front line and cut off the assaulting troops from any reserves.  The Durhams were isolated and fought the battle on their own.

On the right the 1/8th was badly hit by a combination of both German shell fire and British shells dropping short.  They were even hit from behind by their own long range machine gun barrage that was meant to be supporting them!  Many men had difficulty getting out of the trench and needed assistance from their mates – all under heavy fire.  Despite this, the left of the line managed to get within 30 yards of the Butte before they were overwhelmed.  The few survivors fell back in disarray to their original front line.

Meanwhile, the1/6th Durhams were dying one by one as they found themselves marooned between the lines:

 “By this time the whole line was held up and Lieutenant Ludgate ordered me to proceed and engage the enemy machine guns, a task almost impossible.  Out of my 2 sections of fourteen men there were two of us left – a No. 1 on the gun by the name of Private Allen and myself.  I pushed on with one gun and a quantity of ammunition to about 30 yards from the German trench and took up position in a shell hole.  We opened fire on the opposing troops who formed an excellent target….After firing one or two magazines, the enemy found us with a machine gun and succeeded in wounding my No. 1 in 4 places down his left side….I carried on until want of ammunition forced me to withdraw to our troops in the rear…we set about organising and consolidating in preparation for a counter attack from the enemy.”  

Lance Corporal Harry Cruddace, 1/6th Bn., DLI

The wounded were left scattered around No Man’s Land, marooned in shell holes and slowly sinking down.  Many who were too weak to save themselves must have slowly drowned.

The only success came on the left where the 1/9th Durhams directly faced the Butte.  Why this should have been is unclear but they swept up and over the Butte and by 10.00 the Durhams grabbed most of the low mound and the surrounding trenches, including the German front line trench, Gird trench.  But the first German counter attack commenced at about 12.00.  Bombing attacks then hand to hand fighting took place.  The 1/9th Durhams were entirely cut off from any reinforcements by the accurate German artillery fire and well directed machine gun fire.  As their numbers gradually dwindled, they fell back from their advanced position around the Butte to Butte Alley to where the 1/6th had its bloc.  Despite the desperate need for assistance, they hung on until 18.00 when the enemy launched another determined counter attack preceded by a terrific bombardment.  Yet more German reinforcements appeared, hand to hand fighting and bayonet charges bit deep, the exhausted Durhams had been fighting all day with no respite.  Retreat had become inevitable and the precious gains of the morning were lost to the German counter attack.

“At about 11 pm battalions of Prussians delivered a fresh counter attack.  They came in great force from our front and also worked round from both flanks.  Our men were overwhelmed.  Many died fighting, others were compelled to surrender.  It was only a handful of men who found there way back to Maxwell Trench and they were completely exhausted by their great efforts and the strain of the fighting.”

Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford, 1/9th Bn., DLI

Eventually the survivors fell back across No Man’s Land and the hard pressing Germans were soon threatening even the jumping off positions of the British front line.  Back in the front line the Durhams rejoined their comrades of the 1/6th and the 1/8th Battalions who had fallen back hours before.

“The expected happened and the enemy counter attacked under the cover of darkness but we staved off the assault at a great price.  Despite our weakened condition we held on till the night of 6th November.”

Lance Corporal Harry Cruddace, 1/6th Bn., DLI

After hard fighting, the Germans were held back and so, after a day of drama and death, the situation was exactly as it had been before they started.  On the evening of 6th November, they were relieved by the 1/5th Durhams who formed part of the 150th Brigade.

“Snag Trench was full of mud and water with bodies sticking out all along.  It is in fact no exaggeration when I say that in our part we had to tread from body to body to get past.  Dead from all regiments were there, including our division, South Africans and Jocks of the 9th Division and hands, arms and legs were sticking out of parados and parapet where the dead had been hastily buried.”

Lieutenant Cuthbert Marley, 1/5th Bn., DLI

The 6/DLI War Diary contains the following account: [19]



Companies moved into battle positions about dawn, being rather late in getting onto position and it was daylight before “Z” Company arrived.

9.10AM Zero hour.  Advance started well but got held up by machine gun and rifle fire before getting very far.

10AM “W” Company sent up on right to reinforce X Company.

11.35AM Battalion placed under command of Col. Bradford of 9th Durham Light Infantry in order to ensure safety of his right flank.

11.50AM 2ndLt G. W Robson ordered to bring up his raiding party and establish a double block on the right of the Battalion in the GIRD LINE.

1210PM 2LtMcVicker went out with Private Parker and Private Dowson to reconnoitre

12.30PM Commanding Officer (Major A.E. Ebworth) went to MAXWELL TRENCH and sent up men remaining there to reinforce companies in front.

4.20PM Sergeant Young reported at Headquarters with remainder of raiding party, 2Lt. G.W. Robson having been killed.  This party were given flare lights to be taken to the QUARRY.

8PM 2Lt. K.B. Stuart and 2Lt. R.H.C. Wharrier collected about 150 men from MAXWELL TRENCH and endeavouring to get to THE BUTTE to reinforce 9th Durham Light Infantry, 2Lt. K.B. Stuart was killed.

11PM German counter attack forced 9th Durham Light Infantry to retire from ground gained.


1AM Orders to resume attack at 8AM cancelled.

10AM Headquarters moved back to normal position.  During the night 6th/7th Battalion was relieved by 5th Durham Light Infantry and moved back to the old camp at MEMETZ WOOD

Casualties during the period in the front line


Killed – 2/Lt. K.B. Stuart, 2/Lt G.W. Robson, 2/Lt A.S. Robson

Wounded – 2/Lt. Ludgate, 2/Lt Tyerman, 2/Lt R.H. Stewart, Lt. G. Corbett, 2/Lt. T. Burton

Missing – 2/Lt. H. Fell, 2/Lt. Applegarth, 2/Lt. A.S. Ritman

Casualties amongst the ranks – approximately 150″

It has since been estimated that this action, contributed the following numbers of casualties:

The 1/6th Battalion DLI

  • 11 officers killed, wounded or missing
  • 34 other ranks dead
  • 114 wounded
  • 111 missing

Private F. Brunskill was killed in action 5 November 1916.  He was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[20]

The 1/8th Battalion DLI

  • 9 officers killed, wounded or missing
  • 38 other ranks dead
  • 100 wounded
  • 83 missing

The 1/9th Battalion DLI

  • 17officers killed, wounded or missing
  • 30 other ranks dead
  • 250 wounded
  • 111 missing

The 151st Machine Gun Company

  • 3 dead
  • 20 wounded
  • 8 missing

It should be noted that “missing” usually meant dead and some of the wounded would die.  There are 10 officers and 264 other of the above DLI Battalions with 5 November 1916 recorded as their date of death. [21] With almost 1000 casualties, misery was brought to many Durham homes including that of Private F. Brunskill.  Others to be killed that day were:

  • Private Alfred Brown, 1/6 Bn., DLI, born in Evenwood.  He is buried in Warlencourt British Cemetery, grave ref. VIII. B.7 and is commemorated on the war memorial in St. Mary’s Parish Church, Staindrop.
  • Corporal Ralph Hebdon, 1/6 Bn., DLI, born Barnard Castle and buried in Warlencourt British Cemetery, grave ref. VIII.B.6 and commemorated on the St. Helens Colliery Memorial Cottages memorial plaque.
  • Corporal George Henry Smith, 1/6 Bn., DLI, born Barnard Castle and commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and Barnard Castle War Memorial.
  • Private Robert Wilson, 1/6 Bn., DLI of West Auckland and commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and the West Auckland War Memorial.
  • Corporal George Cox, 1/6 Bn., DLI born Evenwood and commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and Evenwood War Memorial.[22]

No doubt in such close communities these service men were known to each other.

So why had the Durhams failed 5 November 1916?  Perhaps Brigadier General Hugh Tudor and Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford had the answers.

“The attack is fixed for tomorrow, in spite of the weather.  It seems rather hopeless expecting infantry to attack with any success in this mud.  The trench mortars have only their muzzles showing above it.  Yesterday we had 2 barrages by brigades.  They seemed fairly good but I should like more guns.  To be effective, a barrage should be an 18-pounder to every 7 yards of enemy front and the guns should be capable of firing 4 rounds a minute at least to start with, without the recuperator springs giving out.”  

Brigadier General Hugh Tudor, Commander Royal Artillery, 9th Division

 “There were many reasons why the 9th DLI was unable to hold its ground.  The failure of the troops on the right to reach their objectives and the fact that the division on our left was not attacking caused both flanks of the battalion to be in the air.  The positions to be held were very much exposed and the Germans could see all our trenches and control their fire accordingly.  It was a local attack and the enemy was able to concentrate his guns onto a small portion of our line.  The ground was a sea of mud and it was almost impossible to consolidate our posts.  The terribly intense German barrages and the difficult nature of the ground prevented reinforcements from being sent up to help the 9th DLI.  Four hundred yards north of the Butte the enemy had a steep bank behind which they were able to assemble without being molested.  The terrain was very favourable to a German counter-attack.”  

Lieutenant Colonel Roland Bradford, 1/9 Bn., DLI

Clearly, the contention was that they had not failed rather they had no chance of success given the shortcomings of the British artillery barrage, a narrow fronted attack against superior forces and appalling weather conditions.  With the benefit of hindsight, it is generally agreed that:

  • The possession of the Butte was not a major asset to the enemy
  • From the British trenches it was possible to prevent the Germans from using it as an observation point.
  • In any case, the Butte would have been of little use as an observation point
  • The Butte had become an obsession
  • The newspapers talked about “the Miniature Gibraltar” so it had to be taken
  • It was a local operation, so costly and rarely worthwhile.  Sadly, actions like the attack of the 151st Brigade on the Butte de Warlencourt on the 5th November 1916 had no real importance within the context of the Somme offensive.  This kind of attack achieved nothing but swollen casualty lists. Any change in tactics would be too late for the gallant Durhams.


3429 Private Fred Brunskill, 1st/6th Battalion, D.L.I, of High Etherley, enlisted Bishop Auckland and buried at Warlencourt British Cemetery, grave ref, VIII.B.11. There are 3505 burials here, 1823 unidentified.[23]


There are several commemorations to the DLI who fell on 5 November 1916.  Those in Durham Cathedral are recorded elsewhere.

 St. Andrew’s Church, South Church, Bishop Auckland:  The cross was brought to St. Andrew’s and placed in the chapel on the 26th June 1927.  A brass tablet is inscribed as follows:

“This wooden Memorial Cross of the 6th Bn. The Durham Light Infantry was originally erected on the summit of the Butte be Warlencourt in the Department of the Somme, France immediately after the severe attack which they made there on the 5th and 6th days of November 1916.

The Cross with its plinth was prepared and constructed by the Pioneers of the unit under war conditions from material which was, it is believed, supplied by the Royal Engineers.  The Memorial remained where it was erected for nearly 10 years exposed to all the varying climatic conditions of Northern France until the Autumn of 1926 when at the request of the unit it was brought to England and placed in the Church on 26th June 1927”

Butte de Warlencourt Memorial:  The Western Front Association erected a Memorial to those who fell in the capture of the Butte de Warlencourt.  The Butte is now clad with trees and the Memorial is positioned to the east on the high ground in a small clearing overlooking the battleground.  Due to the dangerous nature of the site, access is by way of a clearly marked footpath.  The gate is usually locked and only limited access is available.  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Warlencourt Cemetery is located about a kilometre to the north, visible from the Memorial and here lies other souls who lost their lives in actions about that time.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales 1837-1915 Birth Index Vol.10a p.256 Auckland 1897 Q2

[3] England & Wales 1837-1915 Marriage Index Vol.10a Auckland 1897 Q1

[4] 1901 & 1911 census

[5] 1901 census

[6] England & Wales 1837-1915 Death Index Vol. 10a Auckland 1906 Q1

[7] 1911 census

[8] Soldiers Died in the Great War



[11] & 1916.htm

[12] “The Somme” P. Hart various pages

[13] “The Fighting Bradfords” H. Moses p8


[15] Moses

[16] Moses

[17] Hart

[18] Hart

[19] 6/DLI War Diary (Vol. 20 renumbered Vol.17)

[20] Medal Roll card index

[21] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[22] CWGC

[23] CWGC


BRUNSKILL F. Headstone


St. Andrew's Church Cross from the the Butte de Warlencourt

St. Andrew’s Church:

Cross from the the Butte de Warlencourt

Butte de Warlencourt Memorial Warlencourt British Cemetery in the background

Butte de Warlencourt
Warlencourt British Cemetery in the background

One thought on “BRUNSKILL F.

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

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