GEORGE HEWITT 1895 – 1916
87456 Gunner George Hewitt, 23rd Trench Mortar Battery, Royal Field Artillery was killed in action 20 July 1916, aged 21. He is buried at Peake Wood Cemetery, Fricourt, France and commemorated on the Escomb War Memorial.
George Hewitt was born 1894, at Escomb, the son of Joseph and Mary Hewitt. There were 9 children:
- John bc.1891 at Newton Cap, Bishop Auckland
- Thomas bc.1894 at Newton Cap, Bishop Auckland
- George born 1895 at Escomb
- Robert Bradwell bc.1899 at Escomb
- James bc.1900 at Escomb
- Elsie bc.1903 at Escomb
- Mary Hannah bc.1903 at Escomb
- Henry bc.1905 at Escomb
- Caleb bc.1906 at Escomb
In 1901, the family lived at New Row, Escomb and 34 years old Joseph worked as a, “colliery banksman”. In 1911, the family lived at Escomb, Joseph was a colliery banksman, 21 years old John was a coal miner (hewer), 17 years old Thomas was coal miner (putter) and 15 years old George was a coal miner (driver). Later the family lived at Church Street, Escomb.
The service details of Gunner G. Hewitt have not been traced. He enlisted at Bishop Auckland and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC), service number 11112. Later, date unknown, he was transferred to the Royal Field Artillery (RFA), service number 87456 and posted to the 23rd Trench Mortar Battery  which was part of the 23rd Brigade, 8th Division. Units in the 23rd Infantry Brigade were:
- 2nd Bn., The Devonshire Regiment
- 2nd Bn., The West Yorkshire Regiment (2/WYR)
- 2nd Bn., The Middlesex Regiment
- 1/7th Bn., The Middlesex Regiment, March 1915 to February 1916
- 2nd Bn., The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) left February 1918
- 23rd Machine Gun Company formed 15 January 1916 left to move into 8th MG Battalion 20 January 1918
- 23rd Trench Mortar Battery formed January 1916
The 8th Division was formed in October 1914 and brought together regular army units which had been posted overseas. It went to France in November 1914 as a much needed reinforcement to the British Expeditionary Force and it was on the Western Front for the remainder of the war. Up until the death of Gunner G. Hewitt, 20 July 1916, the 8th Division took part in the following actions:
- The Battle of Neuve Chapelle: 10 – 13 March
- The Battle of Aubers: 9 May
- The Action at Bois Grenier which was a diversionary attack to coincide with the Battle of Loos: 25 September
- The Battle of Albert, the first phase of the Battle of the Somme: 1 – 13 July
Gunner G. Hewitt entered France 29 August 1915,  probably with the RAMC since the 23rd Trench Mortar Battery (23TMB) was not formed at this time. For the purposes of this narrative, it will be assumed that he joined 23 TMB upon its formation in January 1916 therefore the details of the actions on the Somme are relevant.
The RFA deployed medium calibre guns and howitzers close to the front line, using horse drawn transport. The trench mortar was a new form of artillery developed during the war to meet the conditions of the Western Front. By March 1916, most Divisions had 3 Medium Batteries, designated X, Y and Z. There was also a Heavy Battery, designated V. The Light Batteries took their numbers from the Brigade and were manned by infantry, for example the 23rd Brigade in the 8th Division, included the 23rd Trench Mortar Battery. The RFA provided manpower for the heavier equipment. The organisation was as follows: 
- The Heavy Trench Mortar Battery consisted of four 9.45-inch mortars, under the command of a Captain with 2 Lieutenants or Second Lieutenants, 3 Sergeants, 1 Fitter, 4 Corporals, 4 Bombardiers, 47 Gunners including 3 telephonists, 2 Orderlies, 1 Clerk, 1 Cook and 3 Batmen.
- The Medium Trench Mortar Battery consisted of four 2-inch mortars under the command of 2 Officers with 1 Sergeant, 4 Corporals or Bombardiers, 16 Privates and 2 Batmen.
- The Light Trench Mortar Battery consisted of 2 Sections, each of four 3-inch Stokes mortars under the command of a Captain with 3 Lieutenants or Second Lieutenants, 2 Sergeants, 8 Corporals or Lance Corporals, 32 Privates, 4 Batmen.
It is not known whether Gunner G. Hewitt served with a unit using the heavier equipment or whether he was with the Brigade. Since he was designated as a “Gunner” rather than a “Private”, it is possible that he was posted to the Heavy TMB. But, his designation also states 23rd Trench Mortar Battery, which infers that he was posted to a unit which used the lighter equipment.
The War Diary of the 23 TMB has not been traced but its movements will have followed those of the 23 Brigade Infantry Battalions. As an example, the War Diary of the 2nd Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment (WYR) has been researched. It provides the following details:
- 19 June, Henencourt Wood: Second Lieutenant G. Swailes was attached to the 23TMB
- 22 June, 2/WYR marched into billets at Millencourt
- 23/24 June, into the trenches and, in preparation for the forthcoming offensive, the first day of the artillery bombardment commenced.
- 25 June, back to billets at Millencourt
- 27 June, into the trenches again. The date of the attack was delayed. There was slight retaliation to the British bombardment.
- 1 July, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme and the War Diary reports comprehensively.
The following is a resume.
The 23rd Brigade attacked up Mash Valley towards Pozieres, leading with 2nd Middlesex and 2nd Devonshires. They suffered very heavy casualties from machine-gun fire from Ovillers and La Boiselle but a few, 70 in all, managed to get into the German trench but were driven out by counter attacks. The 2/WYR were in support and suffered similar casualties and only a small number joined the Middlesex and Devons.
Another source provides details for the 2/Middlesex casualties – the battalion lost 540 men, 23 Officers and 517 Other Ranks. This figure, probably represented the total number of casualties including those wounded and missing. 2/WYR War Diary reported that the battalion suffered 506 casualties, 16 Officers and 490 Other Ranks. Later research records that between 1 and 3 July 1916, 2/Middlesex lost a total of 269 men, 8 Officers and 261 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds. 2/WYR casualties were lower, 117 men, 6 Officers and 111 Other Ranks. 
2/WYR War Diary reported:
“Out of 21 Officers and 702 Other Ranks who went into action, 5 Officers and 212 men came out…After careful investigation, the casualties of the Battalion between RYECROFT STREET and our front trench, are estimated at about 250; 75% being due to machine-gun fire; 200 of these were in “C” and “D” Companies, the last companies to go over. “B” Company which supported the Middlesex and penetrated the enemy trenches lost 146 out of the 169 who went into action.”
- 2 July, 2/WYR was withdrawn to Millencourt then onto La Chaussee, Hangestur and to Meisnil by the 7th. Second Lieutenant G. Swailes re-joined the battalion on the 10th. After some training, 2/WYR was back in the trenches on the 15th.
- 17 July, the German artillery retaliated against British shelling. This developed into a heavy bombardment the following day and a steady bombardment on the 19th when 1 man was killed at Arthur’s Keep.
- 20 July, a mine was exploded but, “otherwise nothing worthy of note.” The 21st was a quiet day and 2/WYR was relieved on the 22nd by 2/Devonshire.
Gunner G. Hewitt was killed in action 20 July 1916 when the 2/WYR War Diary infers that all was relatively quiet. Whilst the above account is not a detailed narrative of the 23 TMB, it provides an indication of the circumstances surrounding the death of Gunner G. Hewitt. It is highly likely that he was killed as a result of enemy shelling which took place over the period in what can be described as the usual violence of warfare.
Awards and Medals
Gunner G. Hewitt was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.
Effects and Pension
Gunner G. Hewitt’s father Joseph received his effects and his mother Mary was awarded his pension.
Gunner George Hewitt is buried at grave reference A5, Peake Wood Cemetery, Fricourt, France. His headstone bears the epitaph:
Death Divides but Memory Clings
GEORGE HEWITT 1895 – 1916
87456 Gunner George Hewitt, 23rd Trench Mortar Battery, Royal Field Artillery was killed in action 20 July 1916, aged 21. He is buried at Peake Wood Cemetery, Fricourt, France. George was born 1895 at Escomb and worked as a coal miner. He entered France in August 1915, saw action on the disastrous first day of the Battle of the Somme and was killed in action 20 days later.
 Commonwealth War Graves Commission
 England & Wales Birth Index 1837 – 1915 Vol.10a p.194 Auckland 1895 Q3
 1901 & 1911 census
 1901 census
 1911 census
 Soldiers Died in the Great War (SDGW)
 Medal Roll card index
 http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-royal-artillery-in-the-first-world-war/Royal Field Artillery
 The British Trench Mortar Batteries in the First World War – The Long, Long Trail (longlongtrail.co.uk)
 2/WYR War Diary June & July 1916 National Archive reference WO-95-1714-1-4
 “The Somme Day by Day Account” 1993 Chris McCarthy p.25
 “The First Day on the Somme” 1971 Martin Middlebrook p.379
 Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War
 Medal Roll card index and Rolls dated 11 December 1919 & 25 March 1920
 UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No. 347637
 Dependant’s Pension card index