JOHN C. GRAVES 1883 – 1916

32120 Private John Charles Graves, 10thBattalion, Durham Light Infantry was killed in action, 16 September 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France.[1]  He was 33 years old and is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial.

Family Details

 John Charles Graves was born 1883 at Yafforth, North Yorkshire[2] the son of George and Mary Graves.  There were 2 sons:

  • John Charles born 1883 at Yafforth
  • William Robert born 1888 at Northallerton[3]

In 1991, the family lived at Lands Farm, Cockfield and later at Low Butterknowle Farm.[4]  John was a farm labourer.

Military Details

John Charles Graves attested 11 December 1915 aged 32 years and 6 months and joined the Durham Light Infantry being given the regimental number 32120.[5]  He was placed on the Army Reserve, originally to the 4/DLI and mobilized 2 May 1916.[6]  He underwent a medical examination 2 May 1916.  He stood 5’4” tall, weighed 136lbs. and evidently was considered fit for military service.[7]  Private J.C. Graves entered France 26 August 1916 and was posted to 10/DLI 4 September 1916.[8]

The 4th (Reserve) Battalion was stationed in Britain throughout the war.  The 10th (Service) Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was formed in August 1914 as part of K1, Kitchener’s New Army and came under the orders of 43rd Brigade 14th (Light) Division and entered France 21 May 1915.[9]  The 43rd Brigade comprised the following units:[10]

  • 6th Bn., the Somerset Light Infantry
  • 6th Bn., the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry
  • 6th Bn., the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI)
  • 10th Bn., the Durham Light Infantry (DLI)
  • 43rd MGC formed February 1916
  • 43rd TMB joined April 1916

The Division served on the Western Front throughout the war.

The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916 [11]

 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.

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette – an overview

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette was commenced 15 September 1916.  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. 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.  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.

16 September:  at midnight the battalion went forward to the front line facing Gueudecourt and attacked the Gird Lines at 9.25 am the leading waves were soon checked by strong machine gun fire.  Renewed attacks followed at 6.55 pm before withdrawing to Bulls Road.

17 September:  10/DLI was relieved and billeted at Pommiers Redoubt.

On the Division’s front, the creeping barrage was weak and inaccurate.  On the right 6/Somerset Light Infantry 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.

An account of the 10/DLI [12]

 15 September:  afternoon, 10/DLI 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.  Heavy British bombardment.  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 10/DLI handed over positions before dawn.  A very weak battalion reached Pommiers Redoubt during the morning.  Losses in killed, wounded and missing amounted to 381.

Later research records that 10/DLI lost 3 Officers and 136 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds 16 September 1916 [13] including 32120 Private John Charles Graves.  He was initially reported as missing then killed in action.  He has no known grave.

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.

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 on the 15th 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 J.C. Graves served a total of 281 days as follows: [14]


  • Home: 11.12.1915 to 25.8.1916………………………258 days
  • France; 26.8.1916 to 16.9.1916…………………………23 days
  • Total………………………………………………………………..281 days

 Private J.C. Graves was awarded the British War and Victory medals.


 Private J.C. Graves is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.  It 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.  [15]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1937-1915 Northallerton 1883 Q2

[3] 1911 census

[4] List of Electors Lands Polling District Spring 1919

[5] Army Form B.2512

[6] Army Form B.121

[7] Army Form B.178 Medical History

[8] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service



[11] Various sources – “The Somme” P. Hart,  www.cwgc/somme, “The Somme: the day by day account” C. McCarthy

[12] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: the Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry.” 1920 Capt. W. Miles

[13] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[14] Military History Sheet

[15] CWGC





GRAVES J.C. Inscription