WELBURY John 1895 – 1916

JOHN WELBURY 1895 – 1916

20/1572 Private John Welbury, 20th Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish) was killed in action 1 July 1916, aged 20.  He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial[1] and the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

John Welbury was born 1895[2] at Commondale near Guisborough, North Yorkshire, the son of Samuel and Margaret Welbury.  There were at least 5 children:[3]

  • William bc.1888 at Guisborough, North Yorkshire
  • Joseph bc.1889 at Auckland, probably Witton Park
  • Samuel bc.1894 at Auckland, probably Witton Park
  • John born 1895 at Commondale near Guisborough, North Yorkshire
  • Robert bc. 1900 at Houghton-le-Spring, Co. Durham

In 1891, Samuel and Margaret Welbury lived at High Albion Street, Witton Park where 31 years old Samuel worked as a coal miner.  The family probably lived at Witton Park at least between 1889 and 1894.  By 1901, the family lived at Newbottle near Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham where 41 years old Samuel worked as a sanitary pipe setter.  John’s father Samuel died in 1902 [4] and his mother in 1907.[5]  It seems that the orphaned children returned to Witton Park, for instance in 1911, 11 years old Robert lived with his uncle and aunt, Thomas and Hannah Daniel at Garden Street, Witton Park.  By this time, John was now 15 years old, and he lived at Moorholm, Boosbeck in North Yorkshire where he worked as a farm labourer.

Military Details [6]

The service details of John Welbury have not been researched.  He enlisted at Bedlington, Northumberland and joined the 20th Battalion, the Northumberland Fusiliers, known as the 1st Tyneside Scottish and was allocated the service number 20/1572.[7]  The battalion was raised in Newcastle, reputedly from men of Scottish decent but at least 75% were pure “Geordies”.[8]  John Wellbury was born a Yorkshireman and raised in south west Durham. 

Training at Alnwick Castle took place from January 1915 and then it moved to Ripon in June 1915 then to Salisbury Plain in August 1915.  The battalion came under the orders of the 102nd Brigade, 34th Division.  The 102nd Brigade (Tyneside Scottish) comprised the following units:

  • 20th Bn., the Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish) 
  • 21st Bn., the Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Scottish) 
  • 22nd Bn., the Northumberland Fusiliers (3rd Tyneside Scottish) 
  • 23rd Bn., the Northumberland Fusiliers (4th Tyneside Scottish) 
  • 102nd Machine Gun Company joined 27 April 1916
  • 102nd Trench Mortar Battery joined 18 February 1916
Tyneside Scottish Cap Badge

The division proceeded to France in January 1916, concentrating at La Crosse near St. Omer and remained on the Western Front for the duration of the war.  The 34th Division was in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916.

1 July – 18 November 1916: The Battle of the Somme: an overview [9]

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 Serre to the north to Maricourt to the south 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.   

A week-long artillery bombardment of the German positions preceded the first day of the attack – 1 July.  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
  • 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 but gained at enormous cost.  British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties, the 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.

20th Bn., The Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish)[10]

The Brigades of the 34th Division attacked from positions west of the village of La Boiselle, east of Albert.  1 July 1916, at 7.28am, 2 mines were detonated under the German lines:

  • 40,600 pounds called Y sap situated to the north west of La Boiselle and
  • 60,000 pounds called Lochnagar mine south of the village. 

At 7.30am, the attack began.  At zero hour, the entire infantry of the 34th Division consisting of 101 Brigade, 102 Tyneside Scottish and 103 Tyneside Irish attacked in 4 columns, the front line leaving the British front line trench and the rear lines leaving from Tara and Usna Hills.  The pipers of the 4 Tyneside Scottish battalions played their men into action.[11]

2/TS and 3/TS of the 102 Brigade and 26/NF (3rd Tyneside Irish) from 103 Brigade tried to pass south of La Boiselle and north of Lochnagar.  They crossed 200 yards of no-man’s land, Schwaben Hohe, down the west side of Sausage Valley, Kaufmanngraben and Alte Jugerstrasse then machine gun fire from La Boiselle took heavy casualties.  Some men reached Quergraben III and some were reported in Bailiff Wood.  A counter attack forced them back to Kaufmanngraben.   After firing of Y sap, 1/TS, 4/TS from 102 Brigade and 25/NF (2nd Tyneside Irish) from 103 Brigade attacked down Mash Valley across some 800 yards of no-man’s land but they were cut down by machine gun fire from Ovillers, La Boiselle and trenches to the right of the attack.

The 34th Division suffered 6,380 casualties.  Of its 3 brigades, 2 – the Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish, had each suffered more casualties than any other brigade in the battle.  They had lost 1 of their 2 brigade commanders, 7 out of 8 battalion commanders and each battalion had averaged 600 casualties.  For this loss, the 2 brigades had captured a portion of German held ground 20 aces in extent.[12]  1/TS suffered 584 casualties, 27 officers and 557 men.[13]  Of these, later research records that 15 officers and 308 men were killed in action, 1 July 1916, one of whom was 20/1572 Private J. Welbury.[14]

Awards and Medals

Private John Welbury was awarded the Victory and British War medals.[15]

Medal Roll Card Index


John Welbury’s brother Robert received his effects.[16]


20/1572 Private John Welbury, 20th (1st Tyneside Scottish) Northumberland Fusiliers was killed in action 1 July 1916, aged 20.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.  The Memorial bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the UK and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave.  Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.[17]

The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme
The 34th Division Memorial, La Boselle, Somme, France.

The Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish Memorial

A fine stone seat, commemorating the attack of the Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish, is situated on the main road at La Boiselle at the position of the German front line trench.[18]  It reads:

“Greater Love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.

In front of this monument on the 1st July 1916 the “Tyneside Scottish” and “Tyneside Irish” Brigades attacked the enemy.  For many hours the fortunes of arms fluctuated but ere the night had fallen.  The two Tyneside Brigades with the aid of other units of the 34th Division attained their objectives.

Think not that the struggle and the sacrifice were in vain.”


John’s parents Samuel and Margaret pre-deceased him but in 1891 they were living in High Albion Street, Witton Park. John was born four years later at Commondale, North Yorkshire and was later found in Dubmire when he was one of five children. The Welbury brothers lost their parents, in 1902 (Samuel) and 1907 (Margaret) and the children were then separated. In 1911, John was working as a farm labourer at Moorsholm near Boosbeck and his younger brother Robert, was living with his Aunt Hannah and Uncle George Daniels at 33 Garden Street, Witton Park.

John Welbury enlisted at Bedlington and arrived on French soil in January 1916. He was one of the many soldiers who were presumed dead on the first day of the Battle of the Somme when his brigade, The Tyneside Scottish, set out at 7:30 a.m. to move forward towards the village of La Boiselle. The brigade suffered the highest number of casualties that day – nearly six hundred – and eventually any survivors were beaten back from whence they came.  The worst day ever for the British Army.


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.9d p.495 Guisborough, North Yorkshire 1895 Q4

[3] 1891, 1901 & 1911 census

[4] England, Selected Deaths and Burials, 1538-1991 film no.1885562

[5] England & Wales Death Index 1837-1915 Vo.9d p.3 York June 1907

[6] Various sources including http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/34th-division/

https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/northumberland-fusiliers/, https://www.wartimememoriesproject.com/greatwar/allied/battalion.php?pid=6793

[7] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[8] “The First Day on the Somme” 1971 Martin Middlebrookp.15

[9] Various sources including http://www.1914-1918.net; Peter Hart “The Somme” 2005; John Keegan “The First World War” 1998

[10] https://www.wartimememoriesproject.com/greatwar/allied/battalion.php?pid=6793 and “The Somme Day by The Day Account” 1993 Chris McCarthy p.22 – 25

[11] Middlebrook p.141

[12] Middlebrook p.306

[13] Middlebrook p.379 Note: Wartime Memories website records 590 casualties, 26 officers and 564 men

[14] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War

[15] Medal Roll card index

[16] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.453671

[17] CWGC

[18] Middlebrook p.388