My great-granny’s first husband Maurice Grant died 100 years ago last Friday. I didn’t know anything about him until I started family tree research a few years back though I vaguely knew my granny had half-siblings and her mum had been married before. As soon as I saw Maurice’s date of death as 1st July 1916, I was taken straight back 20 years to Year 9 history lessons – some dates you don’t forget – the Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest day in British military history with over 19,000 deaths.
Born in Ireland in 1885, at some point he moved to north east England, married my great-granny in 1913 and joined the Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Irish battalion) when the war broke out. This volunteer battalion (along with the Tyneside Scottish) formed the Army’s 34th Division. The division’s first major battle was the attempt to capture La Boisselle on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It was a disaster. Weeks of bombardment of German defences by the British hadn’t damaged the German deep-mined dug-outs as assumed and a German listening post overheard a British telephone conversation the day before, which gave away the attack. Thousands of men were cut down by German machine guns almost as soon as they went ‘over the top’ of their trenches.
Maurice’s body wasn’t recovered but he is remembered on a memorial in Thiepval, France. He left behind a 2 year old son and 1 year old daughter (who knows whether he ever met his daughter).
There was a BBC article yesterday, Battle of the Somme: How Britain learned the truth, which mentions Tynemouth where Maurice and his family lived:
In the days following the start of the “big push” on the Western Front, the people of Tynemouth, near Newcastle, had collectively held their breath. With dread, they watched the post-boy, who delivered the official death notices, appear in the streets around Milburn Place.
Onlookers felt a mixture of sympathy and relief as the boy walked to one of the first houses.
But then he crossed to another house. Then another. In the days that followed, he returned to criss-cross the area. Door after door, family after family. Eighty-five men from the town died on the first day of the battle alone. Across Britain, the scene was repeated as the legacy of the Somme took shape.
I can’t imagine what it was like for my great-granny to receive that letter. Fortunately for her (and for me, or I wouldn’t be here writing this), she married my great-grandad 4 years later.
Thinking of Maurice and the others (1 million+ deaths on both sides) who lost their lives in the 5 month battle.