GEORGE MEADS (1891-1916)
24492 Private George Meads, 15th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 16 September 1916 and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He was 25 years old and is commemorated on West Auckland War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, West Auckland Memorial Hall.
George Meads was born 1891 at Witton Park the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Meads. There were 9 children:
- Ernest bc.1890 at Witton Park
- George H. bc. 1891 at Witton Park
- Thomas bc. 1892 at Escomb
- Sarah bc. 1894 at Witton-le-Wear
- James bc.1895 at Witton-le-Wear
- Albert bc. 1898 at Witton-le-Wear
- Robert bc. 1899 at Witton-le-Wear
- Rhoda bc.1901 at Witton-le-Wear
- Frederick bs.1907 at Witton-le-Wear
In 1901, the family lived at Black Road, Witton Park where 41 year old Thomas was employed as a “coke drawer”.  In 1911, the family lived at Toft Hill and Thomas worked as a coke drawer, as did 21 year old Ernest. 20 year old George was a coal miner (putter) and 19 year old Thomas and 16 year old James both worked as coal miners (drivers).
George Meads enlisted at Barnard Castle into the Durham Light Infantry joining the 15th Battalion and being given the regimental number 24492. The service records have not been researched.
The 15th (Service) Battalion was formed at Newcastle in September 1914 as part of K3, Kitchener’s New Army. It came under the orders of the 64th Brigade, 21st Division. The 64th Brigade consisted of the following units:
- 1st Bn., the East Yorkshire Regiment joined November 1915
- 9th (Service) Bn., the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) joined October 1914
- 10th (Service) Bn., the KOYLI joined October 1914
- 14th (Service) Bn., the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) joined September 1914 left November 1915
- 15th (Service) Bn., the DLI joined September 1914 
- 64th Brigade Machine Gun Company formed March 1916 left February 1918 to the MG Battalion
- 64th Trench Mortar Battery formed June 1916
The Division crossed to France in September 1915. Private G. Meads entered France 9 September 1915.  He would have seen action at the Battle of Loos in September 1915 and on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, followed by the Battle of Bazentin, 14 – 17 July 1916. For the nest engagement, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 15 – 22 September 1916, the 64th Brigade came under the orders of the 41st Division.  There follows some detail of the Battle of the Somme,  the Battle of Flers-Courcelette and the role of 15/DLI:
The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916
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. The battle 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.
A week-long artillery bombardment of the German positions preceded the first day, 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
- 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 began 15 September 1916. The XV Corps were made up of the New Zealand Division, 14th 21st 41st and 55th Divisions 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 41st Division was to the left of the 14th Division and to the right of the New Zealand Division.
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. 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 attack on Flers was successful but the men of the 41st Division suffered severe losses in the course of the long day, 15 September.
15 DLI: in action 
The 64th Brigade was to be used for a fresh attack on the Gird system of trenches.
16 September: 2.00am the battalion headed for the start line but because of congested roads the place of deployment was not reached until 5.30am rather than dawn. 9/KOYLI was in the sunken road east of Flers which led back to Ginchy and 1/EYR occupied Flers Trench. 15/DLI formed up on the right of the attack in a position to the east of Flers village. At 8.45am, “C” and “D” Companies moved forward to get in closer touch with “A” and “B” Companies who were to lead the way. A shrapnel barrage came down ¾ mile ahead of the battalion.
“A storm of German high explosive burst behind them but shrapnel and machine-gun bullets smote them almost from the start.”
After covering about ½ mile the Lesboeufs road was reached and the line was re-organised. 15/DLI and 9/KOYLI to the left advanced again into a hail of shell, machine-gun and rifle fire. Survivors of the battalion came to a halt sheltering in shell holes some 70 yards from the German line. Some advanced posts were overrun and prisoners taken. The men could not indicate their positions using red flares because the equipment was too damp to ignite. Thus a British barrage came down on “friend and foe alike.” At dusk came a withdrawal. 15/DLI occupying Flea Trench and at dawn on the 17th September, the sunken part of Ginchy road.
17 September: 15/DLI moved back to a position south of the village and withdrawn to Pommiers Redoubt in the evening. The battalion was now about 200 strong.
Casualties were estimated to be:
- Officers: 5 killed, 1 died of wounds, 10 wounded and 3 missing and presumed killed
- Other ranks: 419 killed, wounded and missing.
- Total: 438
These casualties were the heaviest in the Brigade.
“And bore tragic witness to the determination which the Fifteenth had gone forward. In the words of the Brigadier, “Success was beyond the power of the very best troops. All did excellently.”
Later research records that 4 officers and 4 officers attached to the 15/DLI and 125 other ranks were killed in action or died of wounds between 15 and 17 September including Private G. Meads who was killed in action 16 September. 2 other local men were killed in action that day:
- 45641 Private F. Tazey, 15/DLI
- 32166 Private T.A. Alderson 10/DLI
Both of whom are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial  and the Etherley War Memorial.
Private G. Meads was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War and Victory medals.
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. But, 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 15 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 G. Meads has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, 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.
 Commonwealth War Graves Commission
 1901 & 1911 census
 1901 census
 1911 census
 Soldiers Died in the Great War
 Medal Roll card index
 “The Somme” P. Hart various pages
 “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914 – 1918: the Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” Captain W. Miles 1920 p.83 – 85
 Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War Note: The 15/DLI Officers were C.K.O. Graham, A.S. Morley, H. Royley and G.H. Wesselhoeft. The other 4 officers were E.B. George 4/DLI, G.A. Garland 21/DLI, A.R. Jacobs 4/DLI (died of wounds) and Capt. E.R. Welch RAMC.
 Medal Roll card index