CHRISTOPHER SIMPSON (1894-1917)
250297 Private Christopher Simpson, 1/6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 14 April 1917 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial and the St. Helen’s Colliery Memorial Cottages. He was 23 years old the son of Ralph and Catherine Simpson.
The panel on the St. Helen’s Colliery Memorial Cottages commemorates A. Simpson but given that no servicemen with that initial have been traced and Christopher Simpson was a resident of St. Helens and worked as a coal miner then he seems to be the correct soldier.
Christopher was born 1894 at St. Helens Auckland in 1894 the son of Ralph and Catherine Simpson. There were at least 5 children all born at St. Helen’s Auckland:
- Christopher born 1894
- Margaret Ellen bc.1896
- John William bc.1900
- Fred bc.1904
- Robert Rutherford bc.1910
In 1901, the family lived at Bridge Row, St. Helens where Ralph was employed as a colliery blacksmith. By 1911, the family were still living at Bridge Row and Ralph was described as “colliery pick sharper.” Christopher now 17 years old worked as a colliery labourer. Later, the family lived at 13 Stanley Terrace, St. Helen’s Auckland.
Christopher Simpson enlisted at Bishop Auckland and joined the local Territorial Force, the 1/6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) and was given the regimental number 2944. At a later date he was allocated reg.no.250297. The service record of Private C. Simpson has not been traced.
The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 were under the orders of the 151st Brigade 50th (Northumbrian) Division.
16 April 1915: the Division moved to France and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war. Other battalions were:
- 1/7th Battalion, DLI
- 1/8th Battalion, DLI
- 1/9th Battalion, DLI
The battalion suffered heavy casualties at the Second Battle of Ypres when the 50th Division took part in the Battle of St. Julien 24 April – 5 May, the Battle of Frezenberg 8-13 May and the Battle of Bellewaarde 24-25 May. 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.
The Brigade was joined by:
- 1/5th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment joined June 1915
- 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 
27 June 1915: 2944 Private C. Simpson entered France and it is probable that he saw action at the Battle of the Somme:
- 15 – 22 September: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, 6th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916
- 25 – 28 September: The Battle of Morval, 7th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916
- 1 – 18 October: The Battle of Le Transloy, 8th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916 
In 1917, the 50th Division was involved in the Arras Offensive:
- 9 – 14 April 1917: The First Battle of the Scarpe, 1st phase of the Arras Offensive 
The Arras Offensive 1917: an overview
The new French Commander in Chief, Robert Nivelle prepared his Master Plan for a new offensive against the German lines. Nivelle’s plan was as follows:
“He would attack at the shoulders of the great German salient on either side of the Somme. The French would take the southern Aisne sector, the Chemin des Dames, as their front of assault, while the British, by inter-Allied agreement would reopen an offensive on the northern shoulder of the Somme salient, at Arras and against Vimy Ridge.”
The objective of the British and Canadian Corps was to capture Vimy Ridge which would lead the way into the Douai Plain and (it was hoped) the un-entrenched German rear. Then a rapid advance by the cavalry would link up with the French forces which would have broken through at Chemin des Dames, 80 miles to the south.
The British Army launched a large scale attack at Arras. Although initially successful, it soon bogged down and became another costly affair. The battle was composed of the following phases:
- 9 -14 April 1917: The Battle of Vimy, The First Battle of the Scarpe
- 23 – 24 April 1917: The Second Battle of the Scarpe
- 3 -4 May 1917: The Third Battle of the Scarpe
- 11 April – 16 June 1917: The Battle of Bullecourt
The infantry was able to shelter in the great subterranean quarries at Arras and they were brought to the front line through tunnels dug by the Army’s tunnelling companies. Similar tunnels had been dug at Vimy Ridge for the Canadian troops. Such preparation did not arouse suspicion amongst the Germans and von Falkenhausen, commander of the Sixth Army kept his Reserves 15 miles behind the front.
The German defences were bombarded by 2,879 guns, one for every 9 yards of the front, which delivered 2,687,000 shells – shorter in duration but double the weight of that delivered before the Battle of the Somme the previous July.
9 April: The first day of the battle was a triumph for the Allied forces. In a few hours the German front had been penetrated to a depth of between 1 and 3 miles, 9,000 prisoners were taken, few casualties suffered and a way forward was (apparently) cleared. The success of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge was sensational! But the usual inflexibility in the plan prevented further progress – a pause of 2 hours after objectives had been gained, the day was shortening and the impetus ran out allowing the Germans to bring up their reserves 10 and 11 April.
The April weather was atrocious – rain, sleet, snow, relentlessly low temperatures and the shelling had turned the chalky surface into gluey mud. The attacking troops were exhausted, a halt was called to allow casualties to be replaced and the troops to recover – losses totalled nearly 20,000 (1/3rd of casualties suffered at the first day of the Somme).
23 April: hostilities recommenced, the Germans had reorganised and were reinforced so could counter-attack and as a result, a month of attrition set in bringing a further 130,000 casualties for no additional gain of ground.
On the southern front, whist the Germans were caught by surprise on the Vimy-Arras sector, they were not on the French sector, Chemin-des-Dames. Security failures had alerted the Germans to the proposed attack so their forces were prepared. After 5 days of intensive fighting when the French suffered 130,000 casualties including 29,000 killed, the offensive was effectively abandoned. There had been a penetration of 4 miles over the 16 mile front but German defences remained intact. There had been no breakthrough.
The aftermath of the Nivelle’s offensive had major repercussions on the French army. The offensive was judged to be a failure. 29 April 1917, Nivelle was replaced by Petain. In addition, the failure punctured the French fighting spirit and precipitated what historians called “the mutinies of 1917.”
The 50th Division 
The 50th Division formed part of the VII Corps of the British Third Army and was responsible for the capture of Wancourt Ridge.
4 April: Orders were received for the Division to move eastwards and on the 6th and 7th April. The 149th and 151st Brigades moved to the Rollecourt area and the 150th went to Houvin-Houvigneul then all combined 7 April in the Avesnes area.
10 April: A further move to Habarcq-Wanquetin area took place when the 149th occupied the Wanwuetin-Hauteville area, the 150th was at Habarcq and the 151st was at Agnez, Gouves and Montenescour. The 7/D.L.I. (Pioneers) moved into Arras.
11 April: The Division relieved the 14th Division. The 149th Brigade was the first into the line and occupied trenches to the south of Tilloy and straddled Telegraph Hill. The 151st moved up to Ronville Caves and the 150th remained at Habarcq. Within this new sector was the recently captured ridge to the immediate east of Wancourt and Heninel. The 56th Division was to the right and the 3rd Division was to the left.
14 April: Orders were received for an advance. The 50th and 56th Divisions were to attack, the 56th to capture Cherisy and the 50th Division was to protect the 56th left flank facing north along the high ground south of the 80 Contour with their left in Wancourt Tower. The 2 leading companies were to advance hugging the left flank of the 169th Brigade (56th Division) then when the 169th came to a standstill, the 2 leading companies of the 6/DLI were to halt also and refuse their left flank, the 3rd and 4th companies were then to prolong the refused flank. The 6/DLI had the Wancourt Tower to their left. As the attack commenced, a German barrage came over the lines but it appeared that the 6/DLI passed through it successfully. The 6/DLI and 8/DLI were intermixed and hostile machine gun fire made movement impossible.
The 151st Brigade HQ Diary records:
“A small party of the 6th Durhams had reached trenches south of the Tower, the 6/D.L.I. as a whole were extended along a sunken road running roughly from west to east, southwest of the Tower…the difficulties of the operation fell with special force on the 6/D.L.I. and the Machine Gun Section attached as they led the advance and had to deploy in the dark. The dash and spirit with which they advanced does them great credit. All 4 guns of the Machine Gun Section were I regret to say, put out of action…The 6/D.L.I. had had hard luck. They reached their objective but had to fall back again owing to the failure of the 56th Division to take Cherisy. There is little more to be said of the attack other than again the 50th Division had carried out its orders to the letter and only evacuated the line gained owing to the inability of other troops to reach the line allotted to them.”
There is no mention of the 3 counter attacks in any official diaries. There is a lack of detail but the 50th may be proud that “The Capture of Wancourt and Ridge” was sufficiently important to be included under heading of “Tactical Incidents” of Battle by the Battles Nomenclature Committee. The First Battle of the Scarpe 1917 officially ended 14 April. During the night of the 14/15 the 151st Brigade was relieved by the 149th Brigade and moved back to support. The 150th was still in reserve. The Diary of the Divisional HQ records that casualties were estimated at 16 officers and 213 other ranks killed, wounded and missing.
6/DLI: in action
The following account describes the action in more detail: 
“At 1 am on the 14th April the men moved to the assembly position in the dry bed of the Cojeul River with the 8th Battalion in support and the 5th Border Regiment in reserve, the 9th Battalion being already in a line just south of Guemappe. The original orders had now been considerably altered and zero hour arrived before fresh orders had been circulated to the companies. The result was that at 4.30am after moving in file from the assembly position to a bank some 200 yards in front, the Battalion advanced under a barrage in 4 waves of companies W being front Z in rear, with no orders except a rough indication of the direction.
As they advanced they were met by very heavy machine gun fire from the front and from Guemappe in their left rear. W and X companies reached the ridge 500 yards from the starting point and passing down the other side were not seen again during the day. Y and Z companies also reached the ridge but could get no further. Later they were joined by the 8th Battalion which was also held up.
The fighting then died down but apart from one brief message from X company no trace could be found of the 2 front companies and the casualties in the remaining 2 were very heavy. To add to the confusion, the 56th Division on the right had lost direction and men of the London Regiment were everywhere mixed with those of the 50th Division.
At dusk orders were received that the line on the ridge would be taken over by the London Rifle Brigade. A soon as the light permitted search was made for W and X companies. Eventually the remnants consisting of 4 officers and about 20 men were discovered. Having reached a small system of trenches they had organised their defence and successfully beaten off determined attempts to surround them. About 80 men were finally assembled after the relief and more joined the Battalion during the next few days but the casualties amounted to over 200 or more than 50% of the total fighting strength. The officers killed were Capt. Brock, Lieut. Richardson and 2/Lieuts. Greene, Payne and Newton whilst many were wounded Capts. R.S. Johnson and H. Walton, commanding W and X companies were subsequently awarded the Military Cross and Corporal Betts the D.C.M. and Croix de Guerre.
After burying as many bodies as could be recovered the remnants of the Battalion moved back to dug-outs in the Hindenburg Line on Telegraph Hill which were reached after a roundabout march at dawn.”
Private C. Simpson was killed in action 14 April 1917. He has no known grave. Another local man, 250393 Private W. Greavison from Etherley was killed on the same day. Both have no known graves and are commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
Later research records: 
- 14 April 1917: 4 Officers killed in action – Capt. A.L. Brock, 2/Lt. H. Greener, 2/Lt. J.W. Payne and Lt. W.H. Richardson and 51 Other Ranks
- 15 -21 April 1917 – a further 5 Other Ranks died of wounds
Private C. Simpson was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War and Victory medals.
The Arras Memorial which stands in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras. It commemorates 35,000 servicemen from Britain, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between spring 1916 and August 1918 who have no known grave. It was unveiled in 1932.
 Commonwealth War Graves Commission
 1901 & 1911 census
 1901 census
 1911 census
 Soldiers Died in the Great War
 Medal Roll card index
 “The Fiftieth Division 1914-1918” E. Wyrall p206-213
 “The Story of the 6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry” Capt. R.B. Ainsworth (1919) NOTE: “The Faithfull Sixth: a history of the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry” H. Moses (1995) p.82-85 describes the battle.
 Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War
 Medal Roll
Pingback: ST.HELEN’S | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham