HEWITT Isaac William 1897 – 1916


3723, Corporal Isaac William Hewitt, 1/6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 15 September 1916, aged 19.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, France[1] and Escomb War Memorial.

Family Details

Isaac William Hewitt was born 1897 [2] at Escomb, the son of John and Alice Hewitt.  There were 7 children, all born at Escomb other than the oldest Dorothy:[3]

  • Dorothy bc.1893 at Bishop Auckland
  • Esther bc.1894
  • Mary bc.1896
  • Isaac William born 1897
  • Ethel bc.1899
  • Christopher bc.1900
  • Annie bc.1903

In 1901, the family lived at Escomb village where 31 years old John worked as a coal miner (hewer).[4]  By 1911, the family lived at Escomb Bank.  John was still a coal miner (hewer).[5] Later, the family lived at Wesley Terrace, Escomb.[6]

Military Details

The service records of Corporal Isaac W. Hewitt have not been traced.  He was a member of the Territorial Force, the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry, (DLI), service number 3723.  It was the intention that the Territorial Force would be required only for service at home and protection of the country against invasion.  At the outbreak of war, the DLI Territorials were at annual camp and were mobilized.  In August 1914, he would have been “embodied” into the 1/6th Battalion, DLI and at some time later, he would have signed the agreement to serve overseas.  The military situation in France and Belgium was serious and the losses of the Regular Army, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) were heavy and causing concern.  This necessitated the mobilization of the Territorial Force and troops from the Empire and Dominions, particularly India, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

DLI Cap Badge

The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division.[7]  In May 1915, the battalion came under the orders of the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division. Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Battalion, D.L.I
  • 1/8th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/9th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war. 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

British soldiers were not permitted to serve abroad until they reached the age of 18.  Isaac Hewitt was still only 17 when 1/6 DLI was posed overseas.  He did not join them until sometime after 31 December 1915.[8]      

Between 16 April 1915 and the 15 September 1916, the date of Corporal Isaac W. Hewitt’s death, the 50th Division took part in the following engagements on the Western Front:

  • The Second Battle of Ypres, from 24 April – 25 May 1915
  • The Battle of Flers – Courcelette, 15 – 22 September 1916

1 July – 18 November 1916: The Battle of the Somme – an overview [9]

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 Polizieres 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 title, “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 Battle of Flers – Courcelette

The battle was a major Allied thrust with the French Army, Canadian Corps, the British Fourth Army involving 10 British Divisions and the Reserve Army attacking in what was believed to be the last chance of winning the war in 1916. [10]  In the 3-day preliminary bombardment, some 828,000 shells were fired.  It was decided that tanks would be deployed in small groups to attack German strong points and 18 tanks were to spearhead the XV Corps attack on the village of Flers.  The assault was launched 15 September 1916.[11]  The following narrative will only deal with the 50th (Northumbrian) Division and in particular 1/6 DLI.

The 50th Division had the 15th Division to its left and 47th to its right.  They were located to the south and south east of the village of Martinpuich.  150th Brigade was to the left and 149th Brigade to the right.[12]  149 Brigade went forward at 0620 with 1/4th and 1/7th Bns. Northumberland Fusiliers with 1/5 and 1/6 NF in support.  By 0700, Hook Trench had been taken.  By 1000, 1/7 NF had reached Bow Trench and fighting centred on High Wood to the right.  Fighting continued into the evening.

At 2140, 1/6 and 1/9 DLI (151 Brigade) were ordered to attack Prue Trench but machine gun fire forced them back and to dig in behind 1/7 NF.[13]  The 2 battalions went forward in 4 waves, “W” Company (Captain J. Cook) on the left of the first wave, “X” Company (Captain W.E. Badcock) was on the right.  “Z” Company, to the left and “Y” Company on the right followed in support.  Second Lieutenant Arnett, commanding “Y” Company was killed early in the action.  The advance continued down the slope towards Prue Trench and the Starfish Line under heavy machine gun and rifle fire.  Second Lieutenant B.J. Harvey and Captain Badcock were wounded.  The enemy fire was heavy and accurate and the attack came to a halt, the men taking cover in shell holes and ditches.  The few men that did reach the trenches were soon casualties as he Germans counter attacked and drove them out.

At about 0330, 16 September, Lieutenant-Colonel Jeffries took “Z” Company forward to reinforce the front line and attempted to reunite the scattered men of the battalion.

17 September, an assault on the German strongpoint known as the Crescent was carried out by 2 bombing parties which failed, another was attempted which also failed.

18 September, another attempt to take the Starfish Line was met with heavy enemy fire and the assault was repulsed.  6/DLI was relieved by 8/DLI and moved into the brigade reserve.[14]

Casualties reported were 3 Officers and 40 Other Ranks killed, 6 officers and 20 ORs wounded.[15]  Later research records the between 15 and 19 September 1916, 1/6 DLI lost 3 Officers and 51 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds.[16] Corporal Isaac W. Hewitt was killed in action on the 15th and 2738 Private Robert H. Elliott from Witton Park was killed in action the following day.

Awards and Medals

Corporal Isaac W. Hewitt was awarded the Victory and British War medals.[17]

Medal Roll card index

Pension and Effects

Corporal Isaac W. Hewitt’s mother Alice received his effects[18] and  his pension.[19]

Commemorations The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme: 

Serjeant Robert J. Gibbon has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial which 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.  [20]



3723, Corporal Isaac William Hewitt, 1/6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 15 September 1916, aged 19.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, France.  Isaac was born in 1897 at Escomb.  A territorial, he entered France sometime in 1916, being promoted to Corporal, he lost his life on the first day of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.  He was a single man.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.193 Auckland 1897 Q3

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1891 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Dependant’s Pension card index

[7] http://www.1914-1918.net/dli.htm

[8] Medal Roll index card

[9] Various sources including http://www.1914-1918.net, Peter Hart “The Somme”, Keegan “The First World War”

[10] “The Somme” 2005 Peter Hart p.377

[11] Hart p.370

[12] “The Somme Day by Day Account” 1993 Chris McCarthy map on pages 107 & 107.

[13] McCarthy p.105

[14] “The Faithful Sixth: A History of the 6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry” 1995 Harry Moses p.70 & 71

[15] 6/DLI War Diary September 1916 National Archive reference WO-95-2840-2

[16] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[17] Medal Roll card index and Roll dated 26 March 1920

[18] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.410275

[19] Dependant’s Pension card index

[20] Commonwealth War Graves Commission