SCALES John 1886 – 1916

JOHN SCALES 1886 – 1916

Deal/3487/S Private John Scales, Royal Naval Division, Medical Unit was killed in action 14 November 1916, aged 30.  He is buried at Hamel Military Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, Somme, France[1] and commemorated on the Escomb War Memorial.

Family Details

John Scale was born 1 October 1886 at Escomb, the son of Charles and Mary Ann Scales.[2] There were 8 children:[3]

  • Joseph bc.1875 at Bishop Auckland
  • William bc.1877 at Bishop Auckland
  • Hannah bc.1879 at Bishop Auckland
  • Charles bc.1881 at Bishop Auckland
  • John born 1886 at Escomb
  • Susanna bc.1893 at Escomb
  • Phyllis bc.1898 at Escomb
  • Robert bc.1891 at Escomb

In 1891, the family lived at Lane Ends, Escomb.  38 years old Charles, a Norfolk man, was employed as a farmer, his sons 16 years old Joseph and 14 years old were coal miners.[4]  Charles died in 1900 [5] and his wife Mary Ann in 1901.[6] By the 1901 census, Hannah aged 22, was recorded as “head” of the family living at Three Lane Ends.  Also living there were 5 of her siblings – 20 years old Charles employed as a flag quarryman, 14 years old John employed as an apprentice cartwright and the 3 youngest children – 8 years old Susanna, 3 years old Phyllis and 6 months old Robert.  Their older brother 26 years old Joseph, his wife Mary and their 9 months old son Charles were near neighbours, living at Three Lane Ends.  Joseph was employed as a flag quarryman. By 1911, John Scales, now 24 years old lived with his 34 years old brother William, his wife Mary Elizabeth and their 5 children at Bridge Row, Escomb.  William worked as a flag quarryman for the Auckland Rural District Council and John worked as a coal miner (hewer).[7]

23 March 1916, John Scales married Edna M. Dixon.[8] They lived at Hawthorne Lodge, Escomb.[9]

Military Details [10]

12 February 1915, John Scales joined the Royal Marines, Medical Unit, Royal Naval Division.  He was 28 years and 4 months old, worked as a miner and was a Methodist.  He stood 5’10½” tall, had a fresh complexion, brown eyes, dark brown hair and a large scar under his left ear.[11] 

Briefly, his service record was as follows:

  • 12 February 1915:  John Scales enlisted at York and joined the 1st (Royal Navy) Field Ambulance.
  • 1 March 1915 to 26 February 1916.  Private J. Scales was with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, the Gallipoli offensive.
  • 6 June 1916 to 3 July 1916: joined 2nd (RN) Field Ambulance BEF detached to Base Depot, Etaples, France.
  • 3 November 1916 to 14 November 1916: posted to 3rd (RN) Field Ambulance.

The 3rd (RN) Field Ambulance was part of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division (RND).  Originally, it had been formed from naval reservists by Winston Churchill when he was First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914.  Basically, the men were ratings for whom there were no positions on RN vessels or stations.  Many of the original reservist “sea-dogs” who formed the RND had long since departed due to the severe casualties of the Gallipoli campaign.[12] 3487 Private J. Scales had been at Gallipoli and, as a survivor, was now on the Western Front to take part in the last phase of the Battle of the Somme, the Battle of the Ancre.  The following notes are included in the 3rd (RN) Field Ambulance War Diary.[13]  

  • Late October 1916, the unit was “in the field” at a position on the right of the Englebelmer to Martinsart road (reference: Q31.67.7) and preparing for an attack, planned for the 29th but there was a postponement of 48 hours.[14]
  • 1 November, there was a change in personnel with a RAMC Officer, 4 N.C.O.’s and 23 other ranks relieved at Mesnil camp.
  • 3 November, reinforcements of 4 other ranks from the Base Depot.  Private J. Scales was in this draft.
  • 4 November, At the Advanced Dressing Station (A.D.S.) Mesnil, S/4121 Private J. Ellis was killed and 4 other ranks were suffering from shell shock whilst on duty in the region of Bearers Post, Knightsbridge.
  • 9 November, the unit was reinforced by 2 other ranks, from the Base Depot.

There follows, some notes on the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of the Ancre in order to set the context surrounding the death of Private J. Scales.

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.   

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 the Ancre

Following the disappointing attacks of early November 1916, particularly the futile assault on the Butte of Warlencourt when the DLI suffered terrible casualties, the main thrust of the Somme Offensive turned to the west around the river Ancre.  The plan was for:

  • II Corps to drive forward from the Schwaben Redoubt towards St. Pierre Divion. 
  • V Corps which included the RND together with the 2nd, 3rd and 51st Divisions, was to attack along the front from Serre to Beaucourt. 

The attack was set for 13 November 05.45.[15] The following is a brief account as the battle affected  the RND.[16]

RND was on the right of the Corps next to the river.  189 Brigade had Hood and Hawke Battalions in front and Drake and Nelson in rear.  In support were 1st Honourable Artillery Company (1/HAC) and 7th Royal Fusiliers of 190 Brigade.  On the left was 188 Brigade with Howe Battalion and 1st Royal Marines (1RM) in front, Anson Battalion and 2nd Royal Marines (2RM) were in the second line.  The 4th Bedfords and 10th Royal Dublin Fusiliers (190 Brigade) were in support.  Hood and Drake Battalions were met with heavy machine gun fire but nevertheless took Beaucourt Station and Station Road, capturing some 400 prisoners and by 06.45, the right secured its first objective.  Hawke and Nelson Battalions also suffered from heavy machine gun fire as did 188 Brigade.  By 06.30, it was clear that objectives had not been secured and bombing attacks were organised against strong points.  By nightfall, the situation was that 188 Brigade had linked up with 51st Division on their left and other units were moving up to strengthen positions ready for renewing the attack the following day.

14 November, 06.20, the attack on Beaucourt Trench from Station Road continued and by 10.30 Beaucourt had been captured and 500 prisoners taken.  Offensive operations continued and the final attack went in on 18 November.  By this time, having done his duty and attended to the wounded, Private Scales was dead. 

The following notes are included in the War Diary.[17] 

13 November:  Action commenced.

14 November, the diary reports:

“at 2.29pm Congestion at COOKERS [18]due to lack of medical personnel.  Surgeon A.E. Gow (RN) suggested more medical assistance, if possible.  3 Medical Officers and 10 Nursing Orderlies.  Captain J.D. Forrester (RAMC) killed.  S/4092 Pte. T. Johnston killed, S/3487 Pte. J. Scales killed and 3 Other Ranks wounded.”

15 November, 1/3 Highland Field Ambulance was recalled.  2 Officers and Tent Division of 49th Field Ambulance, 37th Division was sent to relieve 63rd RN Division at Mesnil at 10pm.  6 Other Ranks were wounded.


Private J. Scales is buried at grave reference II.D.11, Hamel Military Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, Somme, France.  Captain J.D. Forrester and Private T. Johnston are also laid to rest in the cemetery.[19]

Awards and Medals

Private J. Scales was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.

Effects and Pension

Private J. Scales’ widow Edna May Scales received his pension[20] and effects determined by probate.[21]

Dependant’s Pension card index

Private Mark TURNER CGM, 2nd Royal Marine Battalion, Royal Naval Division

Another local serviceman to be killed in action during this offensive was 22 years old PO/343 (S) Private Mark Turner CGM, 2nd Royal Marine Battalion, Royal Naval Division. [22] He was a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign, being awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal for the following act:

“On the 31 October 1915 at Cape Helles, he picked up and threw a live bomb out of our barricade, thereby avoiding a serious accident.”

The CGM was presented by IV Corps Commander 22 September 1916.[23] The medal was the second level bravery award for ratings of the Royal Navy, ranking below the Victoria Cross.[24] Born at Burnt Houses near Cockfield in 1894,[25] Mark Turner enlisted 10 November 1914 into the Royal Marine Light Infantry, Portsmouth Division. [26] 9 January 1915, he embarked for the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force seeing action at Gallipoli.  12 May 1916, he returned to France to serve with the BEF.  Private M. Turner was killed in action 13 November 1916, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.[27]


JOHN SCALES 1886 – 1916

3487 Private John Scales, Royal Naval Division, Medical Unit was killed in action 14 November 1916, aged 30.  He is buried at Hamel Military Cemetery, Beaumont-Hamel, Somme, France.  John was born in 1886 at Escomb, living and working as a coal miner, locally.  He married Edna in March 1916.  John Scales enlisted in February 1915 and was posted to Gallipoli, Turkey.  He was then posted to Etaples, France before joining his new unit on the Somme in November 1916.  He survived about 11 days before being killed in action.  He left a widow, Edna.


[1] Commonwealth War Graces Commission

[2] England, Selected Births and Christenings 1538-1975 Film No. 1894228

[3] 1891 & 1901 census

[4] 1891 census

[5] England & Wales 1837-1915 Death Index Vol.10a p.138 Auckland 1900 Q1

[6] England & Wales 1837-1915 Death Index Vol.10a p.146 Auckland 1901 Q1

[7] 1911 census

[8] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.10a p.432 Auckland 1916 Q1

[9] UK Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll 1914-1919


[11] Statement of the Services National Archives reference ADM 159/209/3487

[12] “The Somme” 2005 Peter Hart p.503

[13] 3rd (RN) Field Ambulance War Diary National Archive reference WO-95-3106-3

[14] The attack was postponed until 13 November 1916

[15] Hart p.500

[16] “The Somme – The Day by Day Account” 1993 Chris McCarthy p.148-156

[17] 3rd (RN) Field Ambulance War Diary National Archive reference WO-95-3106-3

[18] COOKERS was the name given to an Advanced Dressing Station

[19] CWGC

[20] Dependant’s Pension card index

[21] England & Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858-1995 Durham Probate Registry dated 14 April 1917

[22] Note: To date, the RMLI, 2nd Bn., RM has not been traced.

[23] Royal Naval Division Casualties of the Great War 1914-1924


[25] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.253 Teesdale 1894 Q3 (DOB 17 July 1894)

[26] UK Royal Marines Register of Service Index 1842-1925

[27] CWGC Note: Private M. Turner CGM is also commemorated on the plaques in St. Luke’s Church and the Memorial Hall, Ushaw Moor and the memorial plaque in St. Cuthbert’s Church, Satley.[27]