Wallace R.W.


 3974 Private Robert William Wallace, 1/6 Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 1 October 1916. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.[1]  He was 22 years old and is commemorated on the Cockfield War Memorial, the memorial plaque in Cockfield Methodist Church and the Roll of Honour, Cockfield Council School.

Family Details:

Robert was born 27 September 1894 [2] at Esperley Lane to Robert and Margaret Wallace.  There were at least 5 children to their marriage:

  • Robert bc.1894 at Cockfield [3]
  • Ethel bc. 1896 at Cockfield
  • Lavinia bc.1899 at Cockfield
  • Jessica bc. 1900 at Cockfield
  • Ena bc. 1904 at Cockfield

Also living with them were:

  • Margaret E. Hogg bc.1880 at Tudhoe Colliery
  • Son-in-law: Henry Longstaff bc. 1887 at Woodland
  • Daughter-in-law: Florence Longstaff bc. 1899 at Cockfield
  • Daughter-in-law: Jane Longstaff bc. 1891 at Cockfield

In 1901, the family lived at Esperley Lane.  44 year old Robert (father) worked as a coal miner (hewer) as did 14 year old Henry Longstaff.[4]

Robert attended Cockfield Church of England School before attending Cockfield Council School between 14 January 1907 and 25 September 1908 when he left after achieving the qualification age of 14 years.[5]

By 1911, the family lived at North Front Street, Cockfield.  Henry now aged 24 lived with them but Margaret E. Hogg, Florence and Jane Longstaff were not recorded.  Robert, now 16 years old worked as a coal miner.[6]

 Military Details:

The service record for Private R.W. Wallace has not been researched.  It was reported that he enlisted in June 1915 [7] most likely joining his local Territorial Force, the 1/6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry.  He entered France 1 October 1915.  [8]  Private R.W. Wallace was given the regimental number 3974.[9]  The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division.[10]  In May 1915, the battalion came under the orders of the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division. The Division moved to France 16 April 1915 and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war.  Other battalions were:

  • 1/7th Battalion, D.L.I
  • 1/8th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/9th Battalion, D.L.I.
  • 1/5th Battalion, 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) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916

Up to the date of the death of Private R.W. Wallace, the Division took part in the following engagements on the Western Front:

  • The Second Battle of Ypres (from 24 April – 25 May 1915)
  • 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) [11]

 The following section will examine the possible circumstances surrounding his death – in the same action, Privates J.C. Lee and J. Holliday from Cockfield, Private J.A. Wardle from nearby Lands and Lance Corporal C. Lowther from Butterknowle were also killed.  Private F.M. Britton from Cockfield and Private O. Rushford from Wind Mill were awarded the Military Medal and his commanding officer Lieut.-Col. R. B. Bradford, the Victoria Cross.  The following accounts provide an overview and some details of events.

1 July – 18 November 1916: The Battle of the Somme – an overview [12]

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 title, “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
  • 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 Le Transloy

8th Phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916. [13]

 This action, part of the Battle of the Somme, commenced 1 October 1916.  The village of Eaucourt L’Abbaye was captured and the attack is famous for the action of Lieut.-Col. R. B. Bradford who was awarded the V.C.  The following extract describes operations:

“By dawn all preparations, including the alteration of watches to winter time, were completed for the attack, which had been ordered for the 1st October.

The preliminary bombardment commenced at 7.00am and continued till zero hour (3.15pm) when it changed to a barrage.  Unfortunately there were some casualties from shells falling short, the total casualties for the day being about 40, including the Commanding Officer wounded.  Lieut.-Col. R. B. Bradford, now commanding the 9th Battalion, asked for and was given permission to take command of the 2 Battalions and for his subsequent work that day was awarded the V. C.  He arrived at Battalion H.Q. at zero and at once went up to the front line.

The attack commenced at 3.15pm but partly on account of the failure of the 47th Division on the right and partly owing to the wire not being properly cut, the attackers were held up by machine gun fire and suffered heavy casualties.  After considerable fighting with bombs and rifles 3 Lewis gun teams of X Company, under 2nd Lieut. T. Little and 2nd Lieut. C.L. Tyerman and one team of W Company under 2nd Lieut. Barnett succeeded in getting a footing in the first objective.  During these operations Lieut.-Col. Bradford arrived on the scene and immediately took charge of the situation and under his direction and leadership the whole of the first objective was gained.  A Company of the 9th Battalion then came up and using the new position as a starting point advanced and took the final objective after dark.

About dusk a counter-attack was attempted by the enemy on the front right.  Advancing in extended order, about 20 of the enemy were challenged and they all cheered, shouting “Hooray”.  As they showed no further friendly signs they were fired on and driven off.  During the night a further counter attack developed from the valley on the right but this was also repulsed.

The following day, by organised bombing, the whole of the final objective was captured and held and communication trenches were dug back to North Durham Street.

The casualties during the 2 days had been very heavy and included amongst the officers, in addition to those already mentioned 2nd Lieut. Peacock killed and 2nd Lieut. Lean, Capt. Peberdy, Lieut. Cotching, 2nd Lieut. Barnett and 2nd Lieut. Appleby wounded.  Amongst the decorations gained were Military Medals awarded to Corporal Dixon and Privates Rushford and Atkinson, all signallers, and Private Turnbull of X Company.  Good work was also done by Sergeants Gowland and Winslow.

On the night of the 2nd October Lieut.-Col. Bradford handed over the command of the Battalion to Lieut. Ebsworth, and it was relieved by the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers the night after.” 

Private Robert William Wallace was killed in action 1 October 1916.

 The 6/DLI War Diary for October 1916 (Vol. 19) is brief on detail:

“Somme 1916 Oct.1 At 1am summer time altered back to normal by putting clock back 1 hour, this is to 12 midnight. 2Lieut Yaldwyn (Sniping Officer) attached to Y Company for duty.  Commanding Officer saw all Company Commanders at 3am to talk over details of the attack.  Completed jumping off trenches about dawn and occupied them in battle order by 6am.  60 men (draft and details) brought up from the Transport Lines to act as Carrying Party for the battalion.  Artillery bombardment of German trenches from 7am to 3.15pm. 2Lieut. Yaldwyn wounded about noon.  The Commanding Officer Major Wilkinson wounded about 1.30pm.  Lt. Colonel Bradford of the 9th Durham L.I. took over command of the Battalion for the period of the operations.

3.15pm Assault delivered. 1st objective gained ?on the left later on the right also. 2nd Lieuts ? Cotching, Barnett & Appleby wounded.

Considerable amount of hostile Machine Gun fire from the right during the attack.  German trenches not much damaged by Artillery fire.  Block established on the right as troops on the right had not obtained their objective.  1 Company of the Durham L.I. sent up to re-inforce.  About midnight 2nd objective was gained by combined assault.

2  German bombing attack on our 2nd line right repulsed in the early morning.  Fairly quiet day but wet.  During the night of the 2/3rd 6 Durham L.I. and 9 Durham L.I. relieved by 7 Northumberland Fusiliers.

3  Relief completed about 4-30am.  Lt. Colonel Bradford ceased to be in command and Lieut. Ebworth assumed command of the battalion.  Battalion moved to Starfish Line.  At 1pm Battalion moved off bt platoons at 150 paces interval to BECOURT wood where it took up quarters it had previously occupied there

4  Wet morning – spent in packing up.  Battalion moved at 11-45am by platoons to HENENCOURT WOOD, arriving about 4pm, having had dinners en route.  Good camp.  All battalion in tents.”  [14]

There is no summary of casualties for the month of October.

There were a total of 65 deaths for the period 1 – 3 October 1916:

  • 1 October – 48 other ranks (ORs) killed in action, 1 OR died of wounds
  • 2 October – 8 ORs killed in action, 5 ORs died of wounds
  • 3 October – 1 OR died of wounds

In total 63 ORs died. [15]

There were 2 officers killed in action:

  • 1 October – 2/Lt William Little
  • 2 October – 2/Lt David Ronald Peacock [16]


 The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme:

Private R.W. Wallace has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial which bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the UK and South African forces who died in the Somme sector and who have no known grave.  Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916, the duration of what we now call the Battle of the Somme.  The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 31 July 1932.  [17]

Press Account

The following report appeared in a local newspaper (probably the Northern Echo).

“Cockfield Man Falls

 Mr. and Mrs. Robt. Wallace, Front St., Cockfield have received an official intimation from the War Office that their son, Robert W., was killed in action on 1 Oct., in France.  Deceased enlisted I June 1915 and was drafted to France in September the same year.  Robert, who was 22 years of age, was a member of the Sons of Temperance and was of a kind and genial disposition.  He is the first member of the “Brotherhood of Cockfield” Society to fall in action.  Much sympathy is felt for Mr. and Mrs. Wallave in their bereavement.  A memorial service will be held on Sunday evening at the Primitive Methodist Church to be conducted by the Rev. J.M. Craddock.”  

An Obituary

“In loving memory of Pte. Robert William Wallace, dearly-beloved son of Robert and Margaret Wallace, Front Street, Cockfield who was killed in action October 1st 1916, aged 22 years.  Deeply mourned and ever to be remembered by his father, mother, brothers, sisters and relatives.

We think we see his smiling face,

As he bade his last good-bye,

And left his home for ever,

In a foreign land to die.

But, we have one consolation,

He nobly did his best:

Somewhere in France our deep son sleeps,

A hero laid to rest.”

A Poem

 At a later date, Kathleen Plews, the daughter of Lavinia Plews nee Wallace, who was the sister of Robert penned this poem.

In Memory of Robert Wallace

More than 90 Springs have danced over my grave,

And in profusion poppies gave,

But still un-answered the question why,

Had I and so many have to die?

More than ninety Springs and Summers too,

Have warmed this earth where men we slew

Then Autumn leaves upon me lie,

And still no one can say just why,

Cold winds, then snow, layer upon layer,

One for each Winter of each year,

Yet still no one has seen my grave,

The ones for whom my life I gave,

But on the village cross I see,

My name there for eternity.

                                                               Kathleen Plews


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] Cockfield Council School Admissions Register

[3] There are 2 RWW recorded, Q3.1894.Teesdale Vol.10a p.260 and Q1.1895 Auckland Vol.10a p.244 His birth certificate has not been researched

[4] 1901 census

[5] Cockfield Council School Admissions Register

[6] 1911 census

[7] Press report

[8] Medal Roll card index

[9] Medal Roll card index

[10] http://www.1914-1918.net/dli.htm

[11] http://www.1914-1918.net/50div.htm

[12] Various sources including http://www.1914-1918.net, Peter Hart “The Somme” Keegan “The First World War”

[13] Capt. Ainsworth “The 6th Battalion DLI in the Great War & H. Moses “The Faithfull Sixth”

[14] National Archives catalogue reference WO/95/2840

[15] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[16] Officers Died in the Great War

[17] Commonwealth War Graves Commission


WALLACE R.W.  photo


Cockfield Methodist Church Memorial Plaque

Cockfield Methodist Church Memorial Plaque

One thought on “Wallace R.W.

  1. Pingback: COCKFIELD | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

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