SIMPSON John 1897 – 1918

JOHN SIMPSON 1897 – 1918

74121 Private John Simpson, 12th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 27 October 1918, aged 21.  He is commemorated on the Giavera Memorial, northern Italy[1] and the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

John Simpson was born 1897 [2] at Bishop Auckland, the son of George William and Mary Elizabeth Simpson.  Mary died in 1898.[3] There were at least 2 children, both born at Bishop Auckland:

  • George William bc.1895
  • John born 1897

In 1901, widower George Simpson and children lived at Thompsons Cottages, Bishop Auckland where he worked as a coal miner (hewer).[4]  By 1911, the family plus Margaret Jane Gregg, the 27 years old housekeeper, lived at Farrs Cottages.  The father George, still worked as a coal miner (hewer), 16 years old son George and 14 years old John both worked as coal miners (pony drivers).[5]

In April 1918, John Simpson married Ada Brown at Bishop Auckland.[6] Army details confirmed the above relationships, that his mother was dead, his father was William who lived at South Church Lane, George W. was his brother add Ada was his wife (widow) who lived at Wesley Terrace, Escomb.[7]

Military Details

20 November 1915, aged 18 years 11 months John Simpson attested and went to the Army Reserve.[8] He was medically examined 3 April 1918 at Bishop Auckland.  He was 21 years old, stood 5’4½” tall, weighed 9 stones 2 lbs., hair was brown, complexion was medium, eyes, grey; his religion was Church of England and he worked as a miner.[9]  19 April 1918, he was mobilized and posted 20 April 1918 to the Durham Light Infantry, posted 28 August 1918 to the BEF Base and the 12th Battalion Durham Light Infantry.  He was allocated the service number 74121.[10]   Private John Simpson served at total of 3 years 342 days in the Army – 2 years 281 days at home and 61 days abroad, France and then to Italy.[11]

12/DLI came under the orders of the 68th Brigade, 23rd Division.[12]  The 68th Brigade comprised the following units:[13]

  • 10th (Service) Bn., the Northumberland Fusiliers
  • 11th (Service) Bn., the Northumberland Fusiliers
  • 12th (Service) Bn., DLI
  • 68th Machine Gun Company joined March 1916 moved into Divisional MG Battalion April 1918
  • 68th Trench Mortar Battery formed June 1916
DLI Cap Badge

The Italians entered the war on the Allied side in May 1915.  Commonwealth forces were at the Italian front between November 1917 and November 1918.  The village of Tezze was captured by the Austrians in their advance in the autumn of 1917 and remained in their hands until the Allied forces crossed the River Piave at the end of 1918.  In March 1918, 3 Divisions, the 7th, 48th and 23rd took over the Asiago sector in the mountains north of Vicenza then in October the 7th and 23rd Divisions were withdrawn to take over the northern portion of the XIth Italian Corps front from Salletual to Palazzon on the River Piave.  These Divisions took a prominent part in the Passage of the Piave (23 October – 4 November 1918) during the final Battle of Vittorio Veneto.[14] 

The Battle of Vittorio Veneto:  23 October – 4 November 1918: An overview

21 October 1918:  Commonwealth Forces comprising XIV Corps (7th and 23rd Divisions) took over the part of the River Piave from Salletuol to Pallazon serving as part of the Italian Tenth Army. 

23 October: at night, the main channel of the river was crossed using small boats and the northern half of the island of Grava di Papadopoli was occupied, the occupation being completed two nights later by a combined Commonwealth and Italian force. After the capture of the island, the bridging of the Piave proceeded rapidly, although the strength of the current meant that the two bridges built for the crossing were frequently broken and many men were drowned. The Allied attack east of the Piave began early in the morning 27 October. Despite stiff resistance and difficulties with bringing forward supporting troops across the river, the Austrians were forced back over the next few days until the Armistice came into effect on 4 November.  There can be no doubt that the Allied forces led by the British heavily defeated the Austrians at Vittorio Veneto and this caused anxiety within the German High Command which influenced their decision to sign the Armistice 11 November 1918.

12/DLI:  an account of action in October 1918 [15]

The War Diary includes the following details:

01.10.18 to 03.10.18: Battalion training

05.10.18: moved to Montecchio Maggiore

06.10.18: moved to Arzignano

14.10.18: entrained to Vicenza

15.10.18: detrained at Mestre, marched to billets at Mirano

21.10.18: marched from Mirano to Sambughe

22.10.18: marched from Sambughe to Treviso

23.10.18: marched from Treviso to Catena

24.10.18: moved up to Assembly Point A but returned to Catena.

27 October 1918:  

“At 6.45am, the advance on to the Green Dotted Line commenced. Very deep, swift water was found in the most northerly area of the Piave and whilst wading this, the Battalion suffered heavily from MG fire, the leading Company losing nearly 50% of its strength. Companies reorganised and pressed forward, to be held up by uncut wire close to the objective, which was strongly held. The wire was cut most gallantly by various parties, amongst whom Capt. Gibbens MC DCM, Sgt O’Hara and Pte Brown were conspicuous. The Battalion pressed on, and C Company captured the first objective. D Company pushed on, overcoming all obstacles and captured the Red Dotted Line (second objective). A Company with B Company (now very weak) pushed steadily on and together captured Blue Dotted Line (the road from C.PadovantoC. Benedetti). Here orders were received as the Italians on the left of the Brigade had failed to cross the Piave, no further advance would be made. The Battalion organised a reserve near C. Borazzuni. Battalion HQ atC. Borazzuni. Major E. Borrow DSO was taken from the Battalion to command the 11th Northumberland Fusiliers, vice Lt-Col St. Hill DSO killed.

The Battalion this day captured 3 guns, 2 heavy Trench Mortars, 2 Tank Guns, several hundred prisoners and many machine guns. Our casualties were 2/Lts Hodgson and Fisher, killed; Capt Gibbens MC DCM, 2/Lts Smith and Wade wounded. RSM Burton DCM was killed after the capture of the first objective by a ricochet bullet. 27 other ranks killed, 111 wounded and 11 missing. The night was quiet.”

74121 Private John Simpson, 12th Bn. Durham Light Infantry was killed in action on this day.  He “fell in the crossing of the Piave from Lido Island towards Tezze, 27th October 1918”.[16]

28 October: at 12.30 the advance was resumed to the Borgo Pin – C. Gaiot.  Considerable opposition from the enemy’s rear guard was met with and overcome.  Many prisoners captured. Casualties 3 Other Ranks killed 20 wounded.

29 October: midnight – the crossing over the Monticano River, NE of Mareno was seized and the advance resumed with the objective being the Conegliano Cervaro road. 

At dark, about 18.00 hours, Battalion HQ with B Company seized the large strong house at K 34.50 52.25 (Vazzola 1/25000) about 200 yards short of the objective and determined to hold this point, and by holding it retain command of the ground won. Largely through the gallantry of L/Cpl Nelson, touch was regained with C and D Companies, and they were moved forward into position.

By 3.30am, the whole Battalion was in position close in rear of their objective with posts on the objective. So roughly had the Austrians been handled that under cover of darkness he abandoned his very strong position, leaving a battery of 5.9 inch guns in our hands. Many acts of gallantry were performed this day which will go unrecorded. A fine display of determination to succeed was given by every officer and soldier, and to this alone can success be attributed. Many prisoners were taken. Casualties this day: 7 ORs killed, 19 wounded, 2 missing. Lt W.M. Blenkinsop wounded.”

30 October:  The 70th Brigade passed through our front and the 68th Brigade followed in Divisional Reserve…The Battalion went into billets at Orsago at 20.00 hours.  Casualties this day: 2 Other Ranks, 3 Other Ranks wounded one missing.

31 October: marched to Sacile where we went into billets, the enemy opposition having been overcome:

“During the battle 27th-29th, the total loss of the Battalion was: 2 officers killed, 4 wounded. 39 ORs killed, 153 wounded, 14 missing. During the same period the Battalion captured 1020 prisoners, 18 horses, 7 GS limbers, 4 gun limbers, 46 machine guns,2 anti-tank guns, 2 Anti-Aircraft guns, 4 6-inch howitzers, 4 5.9 inch guns and 2 heavy Trench Mortars, vast quantities of ammunition of all calibres.”

Later research records that 12/DLI lost 3 Officers and 57 Other Ranks were killed in action or died of wounds during this action:[17] 

  • 27 October: 2 Officers (Major H. West died of wounds, 2/Lt. J. Hodgson killed in action) and 38 Other Ranks killed in action including Private John Simpson.
  • 28 October: 4 Other Ranks killed in action, 2 Other Ranks died of wounds
  • 29 October:  9 Other Ranks killed in action
  • 30 October: 1 Other Ranks killed in action, 2 Other Ranks died of wounds
  • 2 November: 1 Officer (Lt. N.B. Hall) died of wounds, 1 Other Rank died of wounds

Awards and Medals

Private John Simpson was awarded the Victory and British War medals.[18]

Medal Roll Card Index

Commemoration [19]

74121 Private John Simpson, 12th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry has no known grave and is commemorated at Panel No.4, the Giavera Memorial.  Four men from the Durham Light Infantry, Serjeant T. Hay MM, Privates J. Simpson, T. Speirs and G. Usher are commemorated here.  The memorial commemorates more than 150 members of the Commonwealth forces who died in Italy in 1917 and 1918 and whose places of burial are unknown.  The Giavera British Cemetery contains 417 Commonwealth burials of the First World War.

Effects and Pension

Private John Simpson’s widow Ada received his effects [20]and pension.[21]


John Simpson was born 1897 at Bishop Auckland, lived at Thompson’s Cottages and Farr’s Cottages and worked as a coal miner.  In 1918, he married Ada Brown.  John Simpson attested in November 1915, was mobilized in April 1918 and posted in August 1918 to the 12th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry to serve on the Italian front.  Private John Simpson was killed in action after serving 61 days abroad, 27 October 1918 in action during the Battle of Vittorio-Veneto and fell in the crossing of the Piave from Lido Island towards Tezze.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Giavera Memorial together with 150 other members of the Commonwealth forces.  He left a widow, Ada.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.200 Auckland 1897 Q1

[3] England & Wales Death Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.101 Auckland 1898 Q1

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916-2005 Vol.10a p.430 Auckland 1918 Q2 and Army Form B.2512 Information supplied by recruit, particulars of marriage

[7] Army Form W.5080 & Pension card index

[8] Army Form B.2512

[9] Army Form B.178

[10] Statement of the Services

[11] Military History Sheet



[14] CWGC

[15] (copyright Chris Baker) – extract from 12/DLI War Diary which is held in the Public Record Office, document WO95/4236

[16] CWGC

[17] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[18] Medal Roll card index and Roll dated 4 June 1920

[19] CWGC

[20] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.851786

[21] Pension card index