SWINBANK Joseph 1895 – 1916


14569 Driver Joseph Swinbank, 14th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry died of wounds 7 October 1916, aged 22.  He is buried at Bishop Auckland (Escomb) Cemetery[1] and commemorated on the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

Joseph Swinbank was born 1895,[2] at West Auckland, the son of David and Elizabeth Swinbank.  There were at least 6 children:[3]

  • Joseph born 1895 born West Auckland
  • Polly bc.1898 born West Auckland
  • Thomas bc.1900 born St. Helen’s Auckland
  • Robert bc.1904 born Witton Park
  • Barbara Ann bc.1907 born Witton Park
  • John James bc.1909 born Witton Park

In 1901, the family lived at the Square, St. Helen’s Auckland where David worked as an agricultural labourer.[4] By 1911, the family lived at California, Witton Park where 39 years old David was employed as a farm labourer and 16 years old Joseph worked as a, “pony driver down the pit”.[5] The family lived at 47, 58 then 64 Low King Street, Witton Park.[6]

Military Details

7 September 1914, Joseph Swinbank aged 19 years 8 months,[7] attested at Bishop Auckland, joined the Durham Light Infantry and was allocated the service number 14569.[8]  He was medically examined that day and found to be fit for service.  He was a miner, stood 5’5½” tall, weighed 104 lbs.[9] His complexion was recorded as sallow, eyes were brown and hair was black.  His religion was given as Church of England.[10]  He was a single man.[11]

From the DLI Depot in Newcastle he was posted to the 14th battalion (14/DLI) and to training stations at Aylesbury 24 September 1914, then Halton Park 3 October 1914, to High Wycombe 27 November 1915 then back to Halton Park 19 April 1915.[12]  The 14th (Service) Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was formed in Newcastle in September 1914 as part of K3, Kitchener’s New Army and came under the orders of the 64th Brigade, 21st Division.

DLI Cap Badge

After 1 year and 4 days at home undergoing training, Private J. Swinbank left for France with his battalion.[13] It landed at Boulogne, France 11 September 1915.  After taking part in the Battle of Loos, September/October 1915, 14/DLI was transferred to the 18th Brigade, 6th Division.[14] In 1916, the 18th Brigade consisted of the following units:[15]

  • 1st Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment throughout the war
  • 2nd Bn., Durham Light Infantry throughout the war
  • 11th Bn., The Essex Regiment from 27 October 1915
  • 14th Bn., Durham Light Infantry from 28 November 1915
  • 18th Brigade Machine Gun Company formed in February 1916, left for 6th MG Battalion 1 March 1918
  • 18th Trench Mortar Battery, formed 16 April 1916

On 31 January 1916, Private J. Swinbank was awarded 14 days field punishment no.2.[16] This misdemeanour has not been researched.  While, Private J. Swinbank served with 14/DLI, the 6th Division saw action at the Battle of the Somme in the following phases:

  • 15 to 22 September, The Battle of Flers-Courcelette
  • 25 to 28 September, The Battle of Morval

The following will address the circumstances surrounding Private J. Swinbank’s wounds and subsequent death.

The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916 [17]

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.  This action 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 6th Division in action at the Battle of Flers-Corcelette and Morval

11 September 1916:  The 6th Division took over the front east of Guillemont.[18] 

15 September:  The 16th and 71st Brigades were involved on an attack on a strong point named, “The Quadrilateral”.[19]

18 September: 6 and 18 Brigade took the Quadrilateral – 14/DLI cleared the dugouts in the sunken road beyond.[20]

24 September: 16 Brigade repulsed a German counter attack.[21]

25 September: 16 and 18  Brigades including 2/DLI, captured Lesboeufs.[22]

The History of the 6th Division records: [23]

“The Division had taken part as a whole in 3 general attacks on the Somme (15th and 25th September and 12th October) and had also carried out subordinate operations on the 13th and 18th September and the 18th October.  It has suffered casualties amounting to 277 officers and 6,640 other ranks and had well earned a rest.”

The Division suffered 7,430 casualties between 5 August and 23 October 1916 during its tour of the Somme. [24]

14th Bn., DLI in action at Flers-Courcelette  [25]

The British battlefront extended from the region of Leuze Wood, east of Guillemont to the vicinity of Martinpuich. 

12 September: 6am, general bombardment of the German lines began.  14/DLI moved up from Sand Pit Valley to the Citadel, south of Fricourt.  Later in the day, the 18th Brigade rushed into the Quadrilateral from the flanks and 2/DLI entered a trench called Low Road, bombed it down for 100 yards and held on.  At night 14/DLI were sent forward from Guillemont to consolidate a position where the railway crossed the Ginchy-Leuze Wood road.  The trenches were full of dead and wounded Norfolks and Suffolks.

13 September: dawn patrols sent out to locate troops on the flanks.  Further fighting to the north where the Guards attacked Lesboeufs.  14/DLI began work on an assembly trench in front of their position for another attempt upon the Quadrilateral.

14 September: early morning, heavy enemy barrage, counter attack expected, did not happen, resumed work on the trench.

15 September: work on another assembly trench 70 yards further forward.  24 men were wounded before the actual attack started.

18 September: intense bombardment of the German positions by the British artillery.  Rain began to fall

18 September: 5.50am, 14/DLI climbed out of the wet trenches and plodded forward following the creeping barrage.  On the right and the centre, the line made good progress but on the left, “German machine-gunners maintained a galling fire”.  Rifle grenades were used and the machine guns were soon in British hands.  The Straight and the Quadrilateral were taken, the advance pressed on.  North of the railway, 14/DLI bombed out dug-outs and reached the forward slope in view of Morval.  The battalion dug in.  The expected enemy infantry counter attack did not materialise but German gunners opened fire on the new positions.  At night, the whole brigade was relieved and 14/DLI reached billets at Meaulte, the following day.  4 officers and 31 men killed, 4 officers and 161 men wounded and 32 men missing.  106 unwounded Germans had been captured and 6 machine guns.

21 September: a draft of 80 men had been received before 14/DLI moved forward again relieving the 1st Guards Brigade in front of Lesboeufs.  The night was spent in reserve between Trones Wood and Bernafay Wood.

23 September: evening, 14/DLI moved forward and relieved 2/DLI and 11/Essex, taking over the whole of the brigade front just south of Ginchy-Lesboeufs road.  The Germans occupied Cow Trench on the left beyond the road. 

The War Diary reports that the battalion was at Guillemont, position T.8.d. on 23 September and that the relief was completed by 1.55am: [26]

“The battalion was distributed:

“A” Coy, Left Support Coy

“B” Coy Left Front Coy

“C” Coy Right Support Coy

“D” Coy Right Front Coy.  (Note: Private J. Swinbank was in “D” Company.)

16th Infantry Brigade on the right, Germans on the left.  Consistent shelling of front and support lines during the night.   Patrol of 4 men sent out from D Coy to gain information of front.”

It was on this day that Private J. Swinbank was wounded – gunshot wounds (GSW) to the head, arm, legs, foot left.  He was treated at 34 Casualty Clearance Station then transferred to the 14 Corps Main Dressing Station. [27]

24 September: dawn, the German infantry advanced under intense bombardment.  They did not reach the trenches of the 14/DLI.  British gunfire prevented further enemy attacks but many shells fell short into the trenches of the Durhams.  At night, the battalion was relieved by the 2/DLI.  Losses 1 officer killed and 10 men wounded.

25 September:  the 2/DLI & 14/DLI participated in the attack along the whole allied front from the river Somme to Martinpuich.  The 1/West Yorkshire Regiment was successful in “making good” the village of Lesboeufs but 14/DLI were not called upon and sat in reserve positions all day under a heavy German bombardment – 1 officer and 2 men killed, 2 officers and 32 men wounded.

26 – 29 September:  [28]

“On the evening of the 26th the Durhams relieved the Yorkshiremen on the ground that had been won.  All 4 companies were put in the front line which ran just east of the ruins of Lesboeufs and here the battalion remained until the early morning of September 29th when the 2nd Sherwood Foresters of the 71st Brigade took over the position.  During this period German shell fire never ceased and losses amounted to 13 killed and 2nd Lieut. R.E. Bryant and 29 wounded.  On the 28th an enemy aeroplane flew over the trenches and was driven off by Lewis Gun and rifle fire.”

29 September: evening, 14/DLI arrived at billets in Meaulte and the focus of the Somme offensive moved to the north and the Battle of Thiepval.

Later research records that between 12 and 30 September 1916, 14/DLI lost 5 officers and 109 Other Ranks, 18 September being the bloodiest day with the loss of 4 officers and 69 other ranks.  It is noted that this source records no deaths for 23 September, the day that Private J. Swinbank was wounded.  However, 1 officers and 6 men were killed in action and 1 died of wounds on the 24th.[29]

The casualty form for Private J. Swinbank provides the following details:[30]

  • 23 September 1916: Wounded – GSW: head, arm, legs, foot left, treated at 34 CCS (Casualty Clearance Station) then to 14 CMDS (Corps Main Dressing Station)
  • 26 September 1916: 6 BRCH Etaples (British Red Cross Hospital)
  • 28 September 1916: 8 BRCH
  • 3 October 1916: to England aboard the Hospital Ship “Cambria”.

7 October 1916: Wharncliffe War Hospital, Sheffield, at 5.15am, Private J. Swinbank, “D” Coy, 14/DLI died.  The cause of the death was, “tetanus following gunshot wound, left foot with fracture administration.”[31]  Private J. Swinbank served a total of 2 years 31 days in the Army, 1 year 17 days in France.[32]

HM Hospital Ship “Cambria”
Wharncliffe War Hospital, Sheffield

Awards and Medals

Driver Joseph Swinbank was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.


Driver Joseph Swinbank is buried at grave reference “C” E.563, Bishop Auckland (Escomb) Cemetery.

Driver J. Swinbank’s headstone


Joseph Swinbank’s effects[33] and also his pension,[34] were received by his mother Elizabeth


Joseph was born in West Auckland, the son of David and Elizabeth. In 1901 the family lived at “the Square”, St. Helen’s Auckland then at California and various properties in Low King Street, Witton Park.   Joseph worked as a coal miner.  He enlisted at Bishop Auckland, 7 September 1914, joining the 14th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry and entered France 11 September 1915.  He saw action at the Battle of Loos, September/October 1915 and also the Battle of the Somme in September 1916.  He was wounded, 23 September 1916, receiving gunshot wounds to head, legs and arm.  Private J. Swinbank was returned home to Wharncliffe War Hospital, Sheffield but failed to respond to treatment and died 7 October 1916.  The cause of death was given as “tetanus from the gunshot wounds.”


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.190 Auckland 1896 Q1 – date of registration so he could have been born in 1895.  This would make him 21 when he died but his headstone gives his age as 22.  Maybe he was born earlier?

[3] 1901 & 1911 census

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Army Form Next of Kin (item 10) & Dependant’s Pension card index

[7] “Apparent Age”

[8] Army Form B.2065

[9] Army Form B.178

[10] Description on Enlistment

[11] Army Form W.5080

[12] Table IV – Service Table

[13] Military History Sheet

[14] https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/durham-light-infantry/

[15] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/6th-division/

[16] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service

[17] Various sources – “The Somme” P. Hart,  www.cwgc/somme, “The Somme: the day by day account” C. McCarthy

[18] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” 1920 Capt. W. Miles p.74

[19] “The Somme Day by Day Account” 1993 Chris McCarthy p.100

[20] McCarthy p.111

[21] McCarthy p.115

[22] McCarthy p.117

[23] “A Short History of the Sixth Division” edited by Major General T.O. Marden

[24] Marden Appendix 1

[25] Miles p.74 – 78.

[26] Army Form C.2118 The War Diary for 14/DLI

[27] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service

[28] Miles p.77 & 78

[29] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[30] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service

[31] Post Office Telegraphs Sheffield to Officer in charge Records dated 7 October 1916

[32] Military History Sheet

[33] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.421195

[34] Dependant’s Pension card index