CALVERT John Thomas 1890 – 1916

We have not traced this soldier’s service records but, based on available information, we believe that this is the best match and the correct servicemen. There is another Thomas Calvert, a Royal Inniskilling Fusilier, who lived at Witton Park but he survived the war.

19/1494 Private John Thomas Calvert, 19th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 18 July 1916, aged 25/26.  He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France[1] and the Witton Park memorials.

Family Details

John T. Calvert was born about 1890 [2] at Witton-le-Wear, the son of John and Isabella Calvert.  There were at least 6 children, all born at Witton-le-Wear:[3]

  • George Walton bc1881
  • Mary bc1883
  • Joseph Christopher bc1886
  • Isabella bc1888
  • John bc1890
  • Gertrude bc.1893

In 1891, the family lived at Witton-le-Wear and 39 years old John (senior) worked as a coal miner.[4]  In 1901, the family still lived at Witton-le-Wear but now 50 years old John was employed as a “Deputy Overman”, George and Joseph both worked as, “Fitter, steam engine”.  By 1911, the family lived at Victoria View, Witton-le-Wear and 60 years old John worked as a, coal miner (hewer), 29 years old Walton (George) worked as a coal miner (hewer), 25 years old Joseph Christopher as a banksman, and 21 years old John Calvert as a “saw miller”.  Daughters Isabella and Gertrude also lived there.[5]  At a later date, John and Isabella lived at Albion Street, Jarrow [6] and Isabella at East Street, Sunderland.[7]

Military Details [8]

The service details for John T. Calvert have not been traced.  John T. Calvert enlisted at Barnard Castle and he joined the 19th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry, receiving the service number 19/1494.[9]  The 19th (Service) Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was formed 13 January 1915, by the Durham Parliamentary Recruiting Committee as a “Bantam Battalion”. It moved to Cocken Hall, Durham in May 1915 for initial training then to Masham and finally to Purham Down.

The battalion came under the orders of the 106th Brigade, 35th Division.  Units in the 106th Brigade were:

  • 17th Bn., The Royal Scots
  • 17th Bn., The West Yorkshire Regiment
  • 19th Bn., The Durham Light Infantry
  • 18th Bn., The Highland Light Infantry
  • 106th Machine Gun Company joined April 1916
  • 106th Trench Mortar Battery joined April 1916

1 February 1916, 19/DLI landed at Le Havre, France and went into training.

11 March, north of Neuve Chapelle and attached to the 19th Division, 19/DLI went into the line for the first time.  On the 14th, the Germans blew a mine on their right and shelled the trenches with gas and high explosives.  There were 17 casualties including Private Mathew Kemp who died of wounds.[10]  They were relieved the next day and occupied support positions.   April was spent in the vicinity of Bois Genier and most of May at Richebourg-St. Vaast.  In June. 19/DLI took over trenches near Festhubert then Gonnehem.  This quiet introduction to the Western Front saw the battalion lose 16 other ranks killed in action or died of wounds.[11]  And then onto the Somme.

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

The Battle of the Somme was viewed as a breakthrough battle, as a means of getting through the formidable German trench lines 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 Serre to the north to Maricourt to the south 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.   

A week-long artillery bombardment of the German positions preceded the first day of the attack – 1 July.  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 but gained at enormous cost.  British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties, the 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.

19th Bn., The Durham Light Infantry

2 July 1916, a journey, southwards to the Somme, commenced by train from Chocques to Frevent.  15 July, 19/DLI reached the trenches behind Mauntauben.[13] Here, they came under immediate shell fire and 2 officers were wounded [14] and Private J. Gillon died of wounds.  Three days spent in the reserve trenches under heavy shelling cost 19/DLI several casualties including Private S. Millington and Sergeant R. Yule who died of wounds.[15]

The battalion was attached to the 9th Division which was engaged in the struggle for Longueval and Delville Wood.  19/DLI was not called upon until the evening of 18 July when the “Bantams” received orders to assist 26th Brigade in a fresh attack to take back a portion of the wood held by the Germans.  In the early evening, heavy shell fire was encountered on the way to Longueval.  The attack was cancelled since 19/DLI did not know the ground and under intense bombardment, in darkness, there was little chance of progress.  The Bantams remained at Longueval the next day providing escorts for prisoners.  19/DLI was relieved on the 20th.  Seven officers were casualties, 1 killed in action and 1 died of wounds later[16] and there were an unspecified number of casualties in the ranks including 9 killed. [17]

Later research records that between 1 and 22 July 1916, 19/DLI lost 45 other ranks killed in action or died of wounds including Private John T. Calvert and 20 other ranks on 18 July. 

Awards and Medals

Private John T. Calvert was awarded the Victory and British War medals.[18]

Medal Roll card index

Effects

John T. Calvert’s effects and pension were received by his mother Isabella. [19]

Commemoration[20]

19/1494 Private John Thomas Calvert, 19th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 18 July 1916, aged 25/26.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.  The Memorial bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the UK and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave.  Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.[21]

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme

Summary

John T. Calvert’s family lived in Witton-le-Wear for many years.  John’s father, also named John, was a miner whilst John junior at twenty-one, worked in a sawmill. John T. Calvert enlisted at Barnard Castle into the Durham “Bantams”, the 19th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry.  He was killed in action within 6 months of landing in France and within 3 days of finding himself in the Somme trenches.  He has no known grave and is one of 11 soldiers from Witton Park to be commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.


REFERENCES

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  Note: This may not be the correct man.  SDGW suggests that he was born in Sunderland.  CWGC record his age as 20.  CWGC records his parents as John and Isabella.  Whilst there seems to be no link between Witton-le-Wear, Jarrow and Sunderland, “our” John Calvert’s parents were John and Isabella which would confirm that we have found “the right man”.  The evidence suggests that he was 25/26 years old.  We have examined all other possibilities and this John Thomas Calvert remains “the best match”.

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10 p.2383 Note: There are several men with the same name including John T. Calvert born Helmington Row, Crook in 1891 and another born Sunderland but they both have parents with names that don’t match with CWGC records. 

[3] 1891 & 1911 census

[4] 1891 census

[5] 1911 census Note: Census details do not record him with a second name, no Thomas.

[6] CWGC

[7] Pension Claimant card index

[8] Various including http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/35th-division/ and https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/durham-light-infantry/

[9] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[10] “Durham Pals: 18th 19th & 22nd Battalions of The Durham Light Infantry in the Great War” 2007 John Sheen p.79 and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[11] SDGW

[12] Various sources including http://www.1914-1918.net; Peter Hart “The Somme” 2005; John Keegan “The First World War” 1998

[13] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry”1920 Capt. Wilfred Miles p.42 & 43

[14] Miles p.60

[15] Sheen p.106 & SDGW

[16] Miles p.59 & 60

[17] Sheen p.108

[18] Medal Roll car index and Roll dated 20 March 1920.

[19] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.322663& Pension Claimant card index

[20] CWGC

[21] CWGC