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Amazing family history find - last letter home from the Somme


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While listening to a CBC radio program (The Vinyl Cafe) on Remembrance Day this morning, I recalled that 40 years ago my grandmother had told me that she could not tolerate the "Last Post" as her younger brother George was killed in WWI. I decided to hit Google and see what I could find out - all I had to go on was his name - George Ingham.

Within minutes I had his info from the CWGC site. http://www.cwgc.org/...?casualty=74558

Apparently her brother George died of wounds received on the Somme, probably in the Battle of Bazentin Ridge on July 14, 1916. As I have a nineteen year old son, it floors me that George died at that same age.

I did a little more research, looking for some family tree history so I typed his parents' names into Google and found:

http://burnleygallan...am/inghamgl.htm

This page has a photo of George's grave and a scan of his last letter home to a friend. I have corresponded with the owner of the letter and she has generaously agreed to to send me a better scan. The letter was sent to George's friend and co-worker at a Rochdale mill - Alfred Plater. The lady who posted the letter is a descendent of Alfred.

Amazing serendipity on the net. This could well have been George's last letter home, unknown to his family for almost 100 years and now reunited with us,

Amazing

Colin

Edited by ColinRF
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Chris - Doesn't appear to be for sale unfortunately but I am thrilled to have a scan. I will mention the site to her. The owner sent me a better scan that I can read - here's is a transcription:

July 8, 1916

Dear Alf

Excuse me being so long in writing to you. I am in the pink and best of spirits. Charles told me you had been inquiring about me so I thought I should write when I had the chance. Things have been pretty hot here lately. We went over the top last week and I shall never forget it. I lost a good many of my chums and it was heartbreaking to see some of the wounded men. There were many German helmets to be got but they would be in the way. We have quite suffficent to carry. The German bayonets are awful things one edge is like a razor and the other like a double saw. The sight of them makes you ratty. Well Alf I hope you don't have to come up. How many more have listed at Thorntons. I have nothing more to write about so I will close wishing you the best of luck.

George L. Ingham

Edited by ColinRF
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ColinRF - know this is a bit late, but have you seen the actual cine photage of the Lancashire Fusiliers during the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. Very moving with men moving up and casualties being brought down the trenches away from the Battle Line. See below.

Edited by Graham Stewart
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Colin - as you say, an amazing find after so many years - and, so personal. Reading his letter , the item that stood out for me was his mention of the German saw-back bayonets. I hadn't realised that the Germans were still using these. The British let it be known - early in the War - that they would kill any one found with one. This led to most of them having the sawback filed off. Please let us know if you find any other info. ? Mervyn

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Thanks Mervyn - that caught me too. Written in a very "by the way" fashion while covering a horrific topic. I can't get over the maturity of the letter and George's age - 19.

Graham - thanks for pointing out the video - I found a facinating analysis of this video at

The forensic lip reader was extraordinary.

Colin

Edited by ColinRF
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  • 2 weeks later...

The owner - Jackie Waters of Memory Keepers - is a supremely generous person. She has now sent me the letter to keep in my family, saying that her Great Uncle Alf would have wanted it returned to George's family.

The rear of the letter says George served in A Company 3 Platoon 19th (Service) Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers.

I found their war diary for July 1, 1916 on Great War Forum. The letter belies the hell George went through on the first day of the Somme. He says hes in the pink and in the best of spirits - after taking part in a fiasco on the July 1 attack on the Liepzig Redoubt at Thiepval. Of the 4 officers in A COmpany, 3 were killed and the CO wounded. The war diary notes that 40 men charged a German trench with the CO but only 4 got within 10 yeards of it. A company was almost anihilated. Yet George writes as if his experiences of the prior week were a little hot but no big deal. I am proud to have George as an ancestor.

Here is the war diary:

Casualties and strength

19th Lanc F

Strength

Officers 34 Other Ranks 925

Casualties

Killed

Officers 4 Other Ranks 7

WOunded

Officers 8 Other Ranks 234

Missing

Officers 0 Other Ranks 29

Total

Officers 12 Other Ranks 270

War Diary

19th Lancashire Fusiliers

Report on operation carried out by 19th Lancashire Fusiliers from 1st to 4th July 1916

At 9.30 p.m. on the evening of 30th June 1916 the battalion left billets at Senlis and proceeded to Blackhorse Bridge Shelters, arriving there between 1.0 and 2.0 a.m. on the 1st July. We were assembled as part of the Right Column consisting of:

1st Dorset Regt

14th Brigade TM Battery (Less 2 sections) 4 Stokes Guns

19th Lancashire Fusiliers

½ section 206th Field Company, RE

Under the command of Lt Col J M A Graham, DSO, 19th Lancashire Fusiliers

At 7.10 a.m. the order to advance was given and the column moved off in the above order. The advance was carried out in columns of platoons in fours, with 100 yards interval between platoons.

The line of advance was along the river bed of the Ancre, left and across the Aveluy-Authuille Road at point W.11.b.7.6, thence to point W.6.c.55.06 on southern edge of Authuille Wood, along path …. Dumbarton Track and then to point X.1.c.38.75 on ?????? of Wood (pages torn).

On arrival at western edge of Authuille Wood information was received that the 1st Dorset Regt was experiencing heavy casualties emerging from the wood. The 19th Lancashire Fusiliers continued to advance until the whole battalion was in column of route along Dumbarton Track immediately in rear of 1st Dorset Regt.

Owing to the severe casualties on leaving the wood the OC Right Column brought up 2 trench mortars to point X.1.c.35.75 and also established two Lewis guns and under cover of these guns the advance was continued. The open space in front of point X.1.c.35.75 was crossed by squads in rushes of 30 to 40 yards, the men taking cover in shell craters.

A, B and half of C Companies thus crossed the open space between point X.1.c.35.75 and our front line trench, heavy enfilade fire being experienced the whole way across causing many casualties.

At this juncture a message was received from Lt Huxley, commanding A Company, stating that the first line trench was so crowded with the remnants of all preceding regiments that it was inadvisable to send any more men across until the congestion was relieved. This having been communicated to HQ 14th Infantry Brigade the advance was discontinued by the remaining half of C Company and D Company and orders were given that these companies were to move round by Rock Street to Chequerbent Street and affect an exit from the head of the latter street; but owing to the excessive crowding in all these front line trenches it was found impossible to make any progress and orders were received from Brigade HQ to ‘stand fast’.

In the meanwhile A, B and part of C Company had continued their advance from the front line trenches in waves of 30 or 40 men. The leading wave, led by Lt Huxley, got within 10 yards of the German trench but out of forty men only four remained and they could get no further.

Capt Hibbert led the next wave and succeeded in getting into the German trench. He was followed by Lt Musker and 2nd Lt George with all the men that could be collected. These were the only three officers left with the two and a half companies that had advanced, the remaining officers having been killed or wounded.

The names of these officers killed or wounded in the advance were:

2nd Lt H W Huxley, wounded at duty

2nd Lt E C E Chambers, killed

2nd Lt A N Dussee, killed

2nd Lt E D Ashton, killed

Lt J Hewitt, wounded

2nd Lt L N Middleton, wounded

Lt R C Masterman, killed

2nd Lt J Shiels, wounded

Capt Hibbert then took command of all available men belonging to the battalion and proceeded to hold the NW angle of the Lemberg Salient, the 1st Dorsets being on his right.

Throughout the day this line of German trenches was held in spite of continuous bombing attacks by the enemy from large mine crater on the left flank. The supply of bombs carried over was soon exhausted and Capt Hibbert soon found it necessary to make use of all the German bombs in the trench – some 700-800 being used.

Seven or eight Germans were found hiding in the dugouts and these were sent down in the course of the afternoon to Blackhorse Bridge by means of making use of the Russian sap opposite Sanda Street.

At 9.30 p.m. on the evening of 1st July orders were received for the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers to return to Authuille, being relieved by the Manchester Regt. All wounded men belonging to the regiment were brought down but the withdrawal had to be conducted very slowly owing to the heavy hostile artillery fire on this section of our front line. The remainder of the battalion returned down Dumbarton Track on to the Aveluy to Authuille Road. Authuille village was reached at 1 a.m. on the morning of the 2nd July and the battalion proceeded to man the defences.

Throughout the operations the battalion behaved with the greatest steadiness and the advance was carried out without hesitation on the part of the men in spite of the intense artillery and machine gun enfilade fire.

The greatest difficulty was experienced in trying to advance from our own front line trench on the morning of the 1st July. This was due to the fact that when the trench was reached it was found to be blocked by men of the preceding units of the attack and, consequently, it was found to be almost impossible to keep any direct hold on the men as they were immediately swallowed up in the melee found in the first line trench but in spite of this the men moved forward and across the trench without hesitation.

During these operations the battalion experienced 268 casualties, that’s to say 50% of its fighting strength, having 20 officers and 577 other ranks when going into action.

Attached is a list of officers who went into action on the morning of 1st July:

Lt Col J M A Graham DSO

Maj. J Ambrose Smith

Lt & Adjt A R Moxey

Lt G B Smith

A Company

2nd Lt H W Huxley

2nd Lt E C E Chambers

2nd Lt A N Dussee

2nd Lt E D Ashton

B Company

Capt G Hibbert

Lt J Hewitt

2nd Lt R L George

2nd Lt L N Middleton

C Company

Capt W G Haywood

Lt H Musker

Lt R C Masterman

2nd Lt G H Dykes

D Company

2nd Lt W R Nightingale

2nd Lt I Jones

2nd Lt H B Cartwright

2nd Lt J Shiels

One Lewis gun was carried over into the German lines but of the others the carriers were either killed or wounded.

Of the bomb carriers very few got across the fire swept zone with their buckets. This was due to the fact that the men could not advance quick enough with the loads they had to carry and they, probably being more conspicuous, were singled out.

The smoke barrage thrown out on the right flank on the morning of the 1st July considerably aided our advance and that, together with the machine and Lewis gun fire from point X.1.c.35.75 certainly helped in reducing our casualties.

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  • 4 months later...

I posted this on GWF and amazingly the gentleman who purchased George's death penny iin 2009 made contact.

See http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=172405 for a link to a clearer version of the letter I posted on a LF site, an interesting discussion of German saw bayonets and the likelihood of possessors being executed out of hand, and photos of George's death penny/plaque.

Colin

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  • 5 months later...

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