A LARK RISING
by DAVID LOYNES
Private THOMAS CLEGG 15300
Killed In Action - 1st July 1916 (aged 27)
Private LAWRENCE GEORGE HOWARD 24078
Killed In Action - 1st July 1916 (aged 19)
Both the above named
were Pontefract men. It is not coincidental that Privates Clegg
and Howard both died on the same day. The 1st July
2007 marked the 91st anniversary of the horrendous
first day of the ill conceived, naively planned, and
incompetently executed campaign known as The Battle of the
“He’s a cheery old card said Harry to Jack
As they marched up to Arras with rifle and pack
But he did for them both with his plan of attack.”
The above verse is taken from
Rudyard Kipling’s World War One poem, ‘The General’. The obvious
irony in the poem was probably prompted by Kipling’s grief at
losing his only son, John, in the war. John was killed in the
1915 debacle known as the Battle of Loos.
According to official
records from early morning on the 1st July 1916 when
the men rose from the trenches, the weather was extremely hot.
The sky was blue and cloudless. It appears from testimony given
by the lucky survivors of the battle that the sole sound punctuating
the deafening silence after the seven day barrage preceding the
assault had lifted, was the plaintive mate-seeking cries of the
skylarks hovering about 50 metres above the opposing trenches in
no-mans land. On the 1st July 1916 this unremarkable
bird would literally have had a birds-eye-view of the carnage
which was about to unravel below.
At exactly 7.30am
bayonets were fixed and the officers blew their whistles. All
along the 16-mile front, the men were given a tot of rum. 100,000
men rose slowly from the trenches burdened with a rifle and pack
weighing approximately 4˝ stones. They had been instructed to
walk and not run. On one section of the line they even kicked
footballs along in front of them. They had been instructed there was
no necessity for them to run; all the Germans would have been
killed by the barrage. With light hearts, assured by their
superiors that they would be facing a walk-over, they started
their slow walk towards the Germans – and their destiny. The
intelligence was flawed however. The bombardment had failed; the
wire had not been cut. The Germans were not dead. What followed
in the next hour was a scene of appalling horror. The German
machine guns raked the lines of lowly advancing men –
killing them at will.
By nightfall, when the
roll call was taken, 20,000 men lay dead in no-mans-land, a
further 37,000 were either wounded or missing. In terms of
casualties, the first day of the Somme holds the dubious and
shameful record of being the worst day in British military
‘Harry’ and ‘Jack’ or
Thomas and Lawrence, were like the rest of those killed on the
opening day of the conflict – someone’s husband, brother of
father. Both were victims of the political and military myth
that the way to win the war was to launch “the big push” and end
the stalemate of trench warfare by out-killing the Germans. At
the time of the offensive the Allied troops outnumbered the
Germans by a ratio of 5:1. Coincidentally the ultimate casualty
ratio when the battle was finally closed down in November 1916
was in favour of the Germans at an almost exactly inverse
I do not know whether
they were friends, or even knew each other, but from research I
have conducted, Thomas and Lawrence both served in the York and
Lancaster Regiment. Both men were Pontefract statistics of the
slow walk into the 'rat at at tat' of stuttering leaden oblivion.
At the time of his death
Thomas Clegg lived at Prince of Wales Terrace. Although he was
the son of Samuel and Emma Clegg, at the time of his death he
lived at number 7 with his sister Mrs W. Gent. He was 27 when he
was killed. His body was never found; he has, therefore, no
known grave. His name is remembered and commemorated on Pier 14
of the Thiepval Memorial.
The Thiepval Memorial
was unveiled on the 31st July 1932 by the Prince of
Wales. It is the largest British War Memorial in the world.
Perhaps it had to be. It contains the names of 73,357 British
and South African men who have no known grave and were killed on
the Somme between the 1st July 1916 and the 20th March 1918.
At the time of his death
Lawrence Howard was living with his parents George and Lucy
Howard at 9 St George Terrace, Pontefract. He was the elder of
two brothers. As with Private Clegg, he too was killed on the first day.
Private Howard does have a marked grave and he is buried in Blighty Valley
War Cemetery, 2˝ miles north east of Albert. The cemetery
contains 1,027 burials of whom only 491 are identified. The vast
majority of the casualties in this cemetery were killed on that
opening first day.
At the time of their
deaths both men’s homes in Pontefract were situated within three
quarters of a mile of each other. St George’s Terrace was a row
of terrace houses sited opposite what was once the Queens Hotel.
It was part of Tanshelf. Prince of Wales Terrace was again a row
of terraced houses bisecting Skinner Lane and the main
Pontefract-Castleford road. Having regard to the close proximity
of their homes and the fact that they both served in the same
regiment, one is drawn to the almost inevitable conclusion that
both men would have known each other. I would like to think so.
When home on leave, did they share a pint of their mutual
experiences in the back bar of the ‘Queens’ or take a walk in
the park with girls that they would never live to marry? Did
either of them have any conception that on the 1st
July 1916 their destinies would collide and that at 7.30am on
that morning they would both rise from the trenches and bravely
take that slow walk into those verdant fields canopied only by
the hovering skylark?
Hopefully this article
will in some small way provide Thomas Clegg and Lawrence Howard with a
footnote to a footnote in history. Regrettably in 2007 we appear
to live in a consumer and finance led society fuelled by an
almost obsessive prurient interest in the cult of the celebrity.
In terms of today’s values Privates Clegg and Howard would not figure high in any
celebrity rating chart but they were men among men prepared to
pay the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live in freedom.
Whether that sacrifice was justified is another question.
glory and the pity of it all.
Also by David Loynes
The Dead Man's Penny