GEORGE DOUTHWAITE 1875 – 1916
3/10392 Private George Douthwaite, 12th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 7 October 1916, aged 41. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France1 and the Witton Park war memorials.
George Douthwaite was born 18752 at Etherley, the son of John and Jane Ann Douthwaite. In 1901, 25 years old George lived with his parents at Etherley Moor. His father John was employed as a draper (own account) and George worked as a “Coke ovens, small runner”. An adopted daughter, 15 years old Ethel Coates Stainthorpe lived with them and a relative 9 years old Martha Stott is recorded at the address.3 By 1911, 37 years old George and his wife of 5 years, Margaret (aged 40), lived at 6 High Queen Street, Witton Park with their 2 children:
George Stobbs, 45 years old, lodged with them. George Douthwaite, was recorded as being employed as a, “Sinker (Pit Shafts)”. 6
Private George Douthwaite’s service number was 3/10392. Perhaps the prefix 3 indicates that, at some time, he had served with the 3rd Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry. He joined the 12th (Service) Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry which had been formed at Newcastle in September 1914 as part of K3, Kitchener’s New Army. The battalion was under the orders of 68th Brigade, 23rd Division. The 68th Brigade’s original infantry battalions were:
- 10th (Service) Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers
- 11th (Service) Bn., Northumberland Fusiliers
- 12th (Service) Bn., Durham Light Infantry
Between 21 and 26 August 1915, the 23rd Division landed in Boulogne, France and thereafter served on the Western Front until late 1917 when it moved to Italy.
10 December 1915: Private G. Douthwaite entered France.8 At this time, 23 Division held trenches at Bois Grenier, a quiet sector.
25 February 1916: 12/DLI left the area for the mining district around Auchel and reached billets at Estree Cauchie on 2 March. The division took over the line around the colliery towns near Lens.
17 March: 12/DLI moved into support positions at Cite Calonne.
10 April: 12/DLI occupied the front line when a hoax attack was launched on German positions at Cite des Champs Grenelles, Cite de Rollencourt and Lievin. Casualties were light. German casualties were unknown. After which, the battalion moved to Matringhem for training then back to the trenches.
25 May: Posted to the Souchez sector.
24 June: 12/DLI entrained for the Somme area.9
Between 10 December 1915, when Private G. Douthwaite entered France and 3 July 1916, when 12/DLI occupied trenches south of Albert on the Somme, the battalion lost 1 Officer and 34 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds. 10
Private George Douthwaite 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 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 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 the 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
- Flers-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.
12/DLI in action
The Battle of Albert (1-13 July): The 23rd Division was involved at various times with 68 Brigade and 12/DLI effecting offensive operations. During the night of 6 July, 68th Brigade relieved 69th Brigade and 12/DLI then occupied Triangle Trench unopposed.13 On the 7th, the Division’s objective was Contalmaison and 68 Brigade’s objective was Bailiff Wood. 12/DLI was required to occupy a trench on higher ground for 11/NF to achieve its mission.14 On the 9th, 12/DLI entered Bailiff Wood but came under fire from British artillery and could not stay. At 8.15pm, 2 companies of 12/DLI succeeded in capturing Bailiff Wood and trenches either side.15 23 Division was relieved on the 11th.16 Further details are provided:
6 July: 12/DLI relieved 8/West Yorkshire Regiment in the line. Losses to German shrapnel were slight, 3 men killed, 1 officer and 10 men wounded. Next day, 11/Northumberland Fusiliers took over the position and 12/DLI supported an attack on the German line. B and D Companies advanced in the face of heavy rifle and machine gun fire, gaining a trench. C Company joined them in the afternoon. Trenches were knee deep in mud, it having rained heavily all day.
8 July: The battalion was withdrawn and returned to Becourt Wood but were called upon the next day to lead a fresh attack on Bailiff Wood and the trench beyond. The first attempt failed but the next attack, delivered with rifle and bombs, met with better fortune. Ground was won at a cost of 235 men killed, wounded or missing. On the afternoon of the 10th, the battalion was withdrawn to Albert.17 Later research records that between 6 and 12 July, 35 Other Ranks were killed in action or died of wounds.18
The Battle of Delville Wood (15 July – 3 September): On the 16th July, 12/DLI which had relieved 112 Brigade delivered an assault on a trench south of Pozieres after a bombardment but was stopped by machine gun fire.19 On the 26th, 23rd Division relieved the 1st Division and 68 Brigade continued the fight for the Switch Line but with little success. The 69th Brigade continued on the 29th.20
16 July: 12/DLI relieved 10/Loyal North Lancs. and the next day advanced upon enemy trenches which crossed the Pozieres to Contalmaison road. At one point the wire had not been cut by artillery fire, being 20 yards wide. Losses in the ranks amounted to 130 (killed, wounded or missing), 6 officers were killed and 4 officers were wounded.21 Later research records that 4 officers and 43 Other Ranks were killed.22 The other named officers were Lieut. T.S. Warren and Second Lieutenant R. Pearce-Brown. Presumably, these officers were attached from another battalion or regiment therefore were not included in the 12/DLI numbers. Operations during the rest of July largely involved the battalion being used for “carrying parties”, taking bombs and ammunition up to the front line and digging and wiring. Patrols and snipers were busy and shell fire never ceased. 12/DLI lost 68 men during this tour. They were withdrawn 7 August.23 Later research confirms that 16 Other Ranks were killed in action or died of wounds during the period 21 July to 7 August 1916.24
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette (15-22 September) was followed by the Battle of Morval (25-28 September): The 23rd Division was in and out of the front line throughout September and October and 68 Brigade was involved on the 21st when it attacked the trench known as 26 Avenue, east of the Bapaume road, but was repelled by machine-gun fire.25
15 to 27 September: The next tour of the frontline area was again in the vicinity of Becourt Wood where 12/DLI took over Gourlay Trench, beyond Contalmaison Villa on the 18th. It was heavily shelled on the 21st and the next day, the battalion moved up to the frontline, Prue Trench through a barrage. The enemy were known to hold 26th Avenue but its strength was unknown. On the 23rd, shell fire inflicted casualties. On the 24th, orders were received to take the trench but the attack was met with deadly rifle and machine gun fire causing casualties – 1 Officer and 5 men killed, 28 wounded. The battalion was relieved but had to return to the line on account of heavy losses sustained by 10/Northumberland Fusiliers in another abortive attack. German artillery was active. Before dawn on the 27th, 12/DLI was relieved having sustained a further 35 casualties. After a day of rest, work commenced on digging assembly trenches near the village of Martinpuich.26 Later research records that between 15 and 30 September, 12/DLI lost 2 Officers and 26 Other Ranks, killed or died of wounds. 27
The next action saw 12/DLI take part in the Battle of Transloy Ridge (1 – 18 October) being part of the successful attack on a strongpoint known as, “the Tangle” which led to the capture of the village of le Sars.28
The Tangle 29
3 – 8 October: The 23rd Division moved forward to take over the line from the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, with 12/DLI relieving 10/NF near the village of le Sars on the evening of the 6th. A big attack was planned for the 7th. 12/DLI was tasked with seizing, “the Tangle”, a nest of machine-guns and the sunken road east of le Sars. At 1.45pm, A and C Companies led the way, escorted by a female tank (one armed with 2 machine guns, one each side rather than 2 cannons). The Tangle was overpowered but the sunken road was obstinately defended. The tank suffered a direct hit. Nearer le Sars, C Company under the command of 2/Lt. W. Lockett and 2 platoons of D Company under 2/Lt. A.T. Hunt entered the road followed by the rest of D Company commanded by 2/Lt. W.L. Hughes. The surviving Germans surrendered (70 in total). The position was put into a state of defence. B Company under 2/Lt. Harris came through and continued the advance until a chain of posts were established to protect the right flank. Casualties amounted to 2 officers and 31 men killed, 6 officers and 86 men wounded.30 2/Lt. W. Lockett was attached from 16/DLI and 2/Lt. R. Telfer was originally posted as missing, later confirmed killed in action. Private G. Kilburn and Lance Corporal G. Slasor were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for their part in the action. 12/DLI was relieved by a battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, 15th (Scottish) Division.31 Later research records that no officers were killed during this action and 56 Other Ranks were killed in action or died of wounds between 3 and 10 October, including Private G. Douthwaite.32
10392 Private G. Douthwaite was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.33
Private G. Douthwaite has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme along with 72,000 other officers and men.34
George Douthwaite’s pension and effects were found in favour of his widow, Margaret Elizabeth.36 George’s personal effects were determined by probate in 27 February 1920 and his widow, Margaret Elizabeth Douthwaite was awarded £22 18s 6d.37
George Douthwaite most likely was a pre-war soldier who re-joined the colours, serving with the 12th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry and saw action in Flanders and on the Somme. Having been with the battalion and seen numerous actions, Private G. Douthwaite was killed 7 October 1916, aged 41. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, along with 72,000 other officers and men. He left a wife and 2 children.
1 Commonwealth War Graves Commission
2 England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.251 Auckland 1875 Q1
3 1901 census
4 Pension Recipients card index
5 Pension Recipients card index
6 1911 census
7 Private G. Douthwaite’s service record has not been researched. Details are from a variety of sources, namely “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18” 1920 Capt. Wilfred Miles; “With Bayonets Fixed: The 12th & 13th Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry in the Great War”2013 John Sheen and “The Somme: The day by day account”1993 Chris McCarthy
8 Medal Roll card index
9 Miles p.29-31
10 Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War
11 Sheen p.182
13 McCarthy p.38
14 McCarthy p.40
15 McCarthy p.43
16 McCarthy p.45
17 Miles p.54-57
18 ODGW & SDGW
19 McCarthy p.51 & 52
20 McCarthy p.60 & 61
21 Miles p.61 & 62
22 ODGW & SDGW
23 Miles p.67
24 ODGW & SDGW
25 McCarthy p.115
26 Miles p.90 & 91
27 ODGW & SDGW
28 McCarthy p.132
29 Sheen p.183
30 Miles p.100 & 102
31 Sheen p.182 & 183
32 ODGW & SDGW
33 Medal Roll card index, Roll of Individuals entitled to 1914-15 Star dated 9 October 1919 and Roll of Individuals entitled to the Victory and British War medals dated 31 March 1920.
35 Photo courtesy of the Richardson collection
36 Pension Recipients card index & UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects Register Number 393162
37 England & Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858-1995