250523 Serjeant Thomas W. Simpson MM, 1/6th battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 27 March 1918 and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial, France.[1]  He was 27 years old and is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.

 Family Details

 Thomas William Simpson born 1891[2] at Toft Hill was the oldest son of Mary Jane Simpson who had 2 children (TWS and John Lowther [Luther] Simpson bc1891) outside of marriage.  Their father is unknown.  In 1891, Mary Jane lived with her mother Elizabeth at Evenwood with her 2 sons Thomas and John.[3]

In 1896, Mary Jane married Charles Welford[4].  They had 3 children, Elizabeth Ann, Mary Ethel and James.  In 1901, they lived at the Oaks, Evenwood with John Luther, 4 year old daughter Elizabeth Ann and 2 year old daughter Mary Ethel.  Thomas lived with his grandmother Elizabeth at Toft Hill.[5]  In 1911, Thomas Simpson lived with his mother Mary and step father Charles Welford and they lived at the Oaks, Evenwood.  Thomas aged 20 and 18 year old John Luther were both coal miners (putters). [6]

 Military Details

Thomas William Simpson enlisted at Bishop Auckland and joined the Durham Light Infantry, the 6th Battalion which was the local Territorial Force and given the regimental number 250523.  He was promoted to Serjeant.[7]

The 1/6th Battalion were formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 became the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division.[8]   The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war. Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Bn., DLI
  • 1/8th Bn., DLI
  • 1/9th Bn., DLI
  • 1/5th Bn., the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

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) Bn., the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916
  • 1/5th Bn., DLI joined February 1918
  • 6th (Service) Bn., the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers joined July 1918
  • 1st Bn., the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, joined July 1918
  • 4th Bn., the King’s Royal Rifle Corps joined July 1918

Following the German Spring Offensive it was reduced to cadre strength in July 1918 and transferred to Lines of Communication.

The Division took part in the following engagements:

  • The Second Battle of Ypres
  • The Battle of Flers-Courcelette (6th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • The Battle of Morval (7th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • The Battle of Le Transloy (8th  phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)      
  • The First Battle of the Scarpe (1st phase of the Arras Offensive, 9 – 14 April 1917))
  • The Second Battle of the Scarpe (2nd phase of the Arras Offensive, 23 & 24 April 1917))
  • The Second Battle of Passchendeale (8th phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, 26 October – 10 November 1917)

The following 3 battles are also known as the First Battles of the Somme, part of the German offensive in Picardy, France.

  • The Battle of St. Quentin (first phase, 21 – 23 March 1918)
  • The Actions at the Somme Crossing (first phase, 25 & 25 March 1918)
  • The Battle of Rosieres (first phase, 26 & 27 March 1918)[9]

The date when Serjeant T. W. Simpson enlisted, his military details and the War Diaries of the 1/6th Bn., DLI have not been researched.  It is likely that he entered France with the battalion and the 50th Division April 1915.  A photograph of Signaller T. W Simpson, 6/ DLI of Stones End appeared in a local newspaper in February 1916.

23 February 1918:  London Gazette, as Lance Serjeant he was awarded the Military Medal and the citation appeared in the London Gazette.  The details are unknown.  The Military Medal was instituted in 1916 and awarded to non-commissioned ranks of the Army, RFC and RND for acts of bravery against the enemy.  Some 115,600 MMs were awarded during the First World War with 5,796 bars, 180 second bars and 1 third bar.  After 1913, the Military Medal was replaced with the Military Cross which was opened to all ranks.        

 News of the Award [10]

 Teesdale Mercury: Local & Other Notes

“The M.M. has been awarded to Pte. A. Cook RAMC, Cockfield and to Sergt. T.W. Simpson of the Oaks, Evenwood.”                

 The German Spring Offensive

First Phase 21 March to 5 April 1918 [11]

Often called “the Kaiserschlacht” the offensive was Germany’s last big effort to win the war before the arrival of huge numbers of American troops.  The U.S.A declared war on Germany 6 April 1917 but it naturally took time to build up forces and train them for battle.  The Russians signed for peace with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in December 1917 so the Germans transferred their battle hardened troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front and prepared to attack the Allied forces.

The German plan, Operation Michael was to punch through the British and French Armies at St. Quentin, cut through the Somme and then wheel north-west to cut the British lines of communication behind the Artois fronts to bottle up the BEF in the narrow neck of Flanders.  The British Army would be surrounded with no means of escape and would inevitable surrender.

The target of the first phase of the offensive was the British Army who the German High Command believed to be exhausted by the four major efforts of 1917, namely Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.

By mid February 1918, there were 177 German Divisions in France and Flanders out of their world wide total of 241.  Of these, 110 were in the front line of which 50 faced the short British front.  A further 67 were in reserve with 31 facing the BEF.  The British had 62 under strength divisions defending a recently extended front line.

At the same time as the German forces were growing, the British Army was depleted having faced a manpower crisis during the second half of 1917.  Lloyd George produced official figures to confirm that there were some 324,000 additional men on the Western Front (i.e. British and Dominion forces) giving a total of 1,850,967 on the 1st January 1918 as opposed to 1,526,182 on the 1st January 1917 but the effective fighting strength had fallen by as much as 7% in the year.

The 50th Division together with the 1st Cavalry, the 8th, the 16th, the 24th, the 39th and the 66th Divisions formed the XIX Corps of the Fifth Army

21 March 1918: The German Army enjoyed a numerical superiority of 56 Divisions against 16 British. Enemy superiority was overwhelming. The main weight of the attack was between Arras and a few miles south of St. Quentin.  The XIX Corps occupied the line to the east of Peronne and to the north of Vermand facing 9 German Divisions on an 8 mile front.  German superiority was approx. 4.5 to 1.   The German success was spectacular:

  • In 2 days the Fifth Army was driven back over 12 miles
  • 23 March:  Peronne fell
  • 24 March: Bapaume
  • 26 March:  Albert, capital of the old Somme battlefield, fell

The Third Army held firm near Arras but had to swing back its right hand forces to maintain contact with the retreating Fifth.

The casualty figures for the 21st March have been estimated as:

  • British – 38,500
  • German – 40,000

However, “only” 2/3rds of the German casualties were wounded so a substantial number would return to the fighting at a later date.  By contrast, 28,000 of the British would not return, 7,000 were dead and 21,000 had been taken prisoner.

27 March:  the Germans were able to cross the Somme at Chipilly which compelled Gough’s Fifth Army to retreat to a line running from Bouzencourt to Rosieres.  The British held the line throughout the day but to the south the French were driven out of Lassigny and Montdidier.

22 March – 27 March 1918: 6/DLI an account of their withdrawal [12]

 March 1918:  6/DLI was near Peronne in the Fifth Army Reserve where it:

“might have to deliver counter-attacks in the event of a German success.”

 21 March: The German attack began.  Entrained at Gouzeaucourt and detrained at Brie, marched in the direction of Tincourt, occupied partially dug trenches called “the Green Line.” These were behind the Brown Line trench system where the 66th Division had been overwhelmed in the morning.

22 March:  Morning: quiet.  Afternoon; shelling became heavier, large massed bodies of the enemy could be seen.  Orders received that the line was to be held at all costs.  Dusk: first serious casualties occurred.  9.00pm: orders to withdraw to a ridge near Cardigny

23 March:  07.00am: orders received that the Fifth Army was to withdraw to the west of the Somme.  6/DLI was to cover the retirement of the 5/DLI – enemy snipers and machine guns giving considerable trouble.  Y Company formed the rearguard to the Battalion.  The route went through the village of Le Mesnil – light shrapnel barrage and fighting as the village was in enemy hands.  Two officers were lost and about 20 men.  The night was quiet.

24 March:  Morning: orders received to withdraw to Foucaucourt.  8.00pm in position in reserve, in a line north east of Estres.

25 March:  Morning: enemy advancing quickly.  W and Z Companies filled gaps in the line.  Enemy did not take advantage of the situation.  7.00pm withdrew to old trenches at Pressoire – quiet night with only a few casualties from shell fire.

26 March:  9.00am enemy renewed the attack, battalion passed through the ruins of Lihons and the withdrawal continued almost to Rosieres – heavily shelled.

27 March:

 “At 9.30am  owing to the withdrawal of a Labour Coy on the right, the Battalion fell back but 3 Coys (W, X & Z) counter attacked & restored the line.  Capt. H. Walton MC commanding Z Coy killed.  Details of Battn who had been left out of action were sent from WARFUSEE under Lt. TYERMAN to counter attack at HARBONNIERES.”

28 March:  a further withdrawal was ordered and the battalion moved back to the Caix line.  31 March:  the War Diary concludes:

“During the fighting from 21st-31st March the Battalion suffered the following casualties.  Killed: Officers 6 OR 35.  Wounded: Officers 5 OR 189. Missing: Officers 2 OR 87. Wounded & Missing: Officers nil OR 3.

Since Serjeant T. W. Simpson has no known grave, it is assumed that he was one of the 87 Other Ranks reported as “Missing”.  Serjeant T. W. Simpson MM was killed in action 27 March 1918. [13]

Later research records that between 21 and 31 March 1918, 1/6 DLI lost 4 Officers and 64 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds including 2 Officers and 6 Other Ranks 27 March 1918.

At Caix, the remnants of the Battalion was re-organised and occupied the Caix line before withdrawing to Moreuil then to Saleux then eventually onto Rue and Vron.  French troops were moving up the line to check the German advance.

In early April, the Battalion was sent to Beuvry near Bethune about 4 miles behind one of the quietest area of the British front.  Here a draft of about 400 men arrived and they were being prepared to relieve the 55th Division at La Bassee.  However this did not happen and they were sent to Estaires instead.  This was to be the location for the Second German Offensive.

The account concludes:

“It may be mentioned that the total casualties in the Battalion during the months of March, April and May had been 60 officers and 1,200 other ranks.”

Early in June 1918, the remnants of the 50th Division was broken up.

Serjeant T.W. Simpson was awarded the Military Medal,[14] the British War and Victory medals.


 Serjeant Thomas W. Simpson is commemorated at Panel 68 to 72, Pozieres Memorial.  Pozieres is located some 6km north east of Albert, Somme, France.  The Pozieres Memorial relates to a period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields and the months before the Advance to Victory which began 8 August 1918.  The memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the UK and 300 South African Forces who have no known graves and who died on the Somme between 21 March and 7 August 1918.  The Regiments represented with the most casualties are: [15]

  • The Rifle Brigade with over 600 names
  • The Durham Light Infantry with approx. 600 names
  • The Machine Gun Corps with over 500 names
  • The Manchester Regiment with approx. 500 names
  • The Royal Horse and Field Artillery with over 400 names.

Serjeant T.W. Simpson MM is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales 1837-1915 Birth Index Vol.10a p.249 Auckland 1891 Q1

[3] 1901 census

[4] England & Wales 1837-1915 Marriage Index Vol.10a p.320 Auckland 1986 Q3

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] Soldiers Died in the Great War



[10] Teesdale Mercury 19 December 1917

[11]Various sources including & & & & Brown “1918-Year of Victory” & – A Short History of the Great War eBook A.F.Pollard.

[12] “The Story of the 6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry – France April 1915-November 1918” edited by Capt. R.B .Ainsworth MC July 1919,

[13] CWGC

[14] London Gazette 23 February 1918 & Medal Roll

[15] CWGC





SIMPSON TW London Gazette

London Gazette





SIMPSON TW Inscription Pozieres Memorial

Pozieres Memorial


Reg. Robinson & Tot. Simpson

Reg. Robinson
& Tot. Simpson

Roy Walker, T.W. Simpson & another

Roy Walker, T.W. Simpson & another