A Private’s Story
Following in the footsteps of Private Peter Kennedy 24/27/1047
24/27 Northumberland Fusiliers (4 Tyneside Irish)
Born 1893 Cleator Moor, Cumbria – Died 29th August 1917, Hargicourt, France
A visit to find the grave of Private Peter Kennedy by Thomas Kennedy, Michael Kennedy, Karen Kennedy and tour leader Gerald Ellis of Entente Cordiale Battlefield Tours
Research by Karen Kennedy and Gerald Ellis
Most if not all students of History will know something of the Great War (World War 1 as it is now more often called). It was “The war to end all wars”. But many millions were lost. This account looks at the way the war affected one man and his comrades and the tragic outcome for many of them.
When War broke out in August 1914 Britain only had a relatively small professional army so needed to recruit a large number of extra soldiers. Much of this recruitment was done on a local basis which resulted in a large number of groups from closely knit communities.These groups were known as ‘Pals Battalions’ (ultimately 144 of them) and having enlisted together they trained together and subsequently fought (and sadly died) together.
Such a group was the Tyneside Irish – recruited for the Northumberland Fusiliers, initially from the area around Newcastle and the North East but spreading further afield to also include the North West. There was a sizeable Irish population in many Cumbrian Towns, attracted there during the 19th Century due to poverty in Ireland and work opportunities in Cumbria. One such town was Cleator Moor where Peter Kennedy enlisted in late December 1914/early January 1915.
The Cumbrians were all allocated to the 27th Battalion (4th Tyneside Irish) with the majority serving in B Company, including Peter. There was no accommodation for the 27th and most were sent back home. When the 24th Northumberland Fusiliers eventually departed for training in Alnwick, the 27th were called up and accommodated in Dunn’s Buildings in Newcastle. This could have been as late as the end of March 1915, 9 months after the war started. The whole Brigade was finally brought together at the beginning of May 1915 at Woolsington Hall (the site of Newcastle Airport today) and on 20th paraded on the Town Moor in Newcastle to be inspected by HM the King and Lord Kitchener. It is likely that during this month Peter passed his musketry course on the ranges at Whitley Bay. On August Bank Holiday the whole brigade went on a 7 hour recruiting march around Tyneside, starting and finishing at Woolsingham. On 27th August, the Tyneside Irish Brigade was taken over by the War Office. Two days later Peter’s Battalion departed Ponteland Station at 9.40am in the morning en route to Andover in Hampshire. Following the journey of almost 24 hours the Brigade marched via the village of Ludgershall in Wiltshire to the camp at Windmill Hill.
The routine at Windmill Hill was very similar to that at Woolsingham, musketry, bombing and route marching being the main activities. There were parades and night operations, including one where the whole Brigade advanced for miles over broken and hilly ground. By the end of September the weather had broken and the camp became flooded (a portent for the future perhaps?) and so the whole Brigade was moved to the western edge of Salisbury Plain. Peter and the rest of the 27th were billeted at No. 8 Camp Sutton Veny. Route marches became longer and longer as training intensified. Christmas and New Year came and went and then on 4th January 1916 the Tyneside Irish were mobilised for service in France.
The 27th left Warminster Station at 7.35am on the morning of 10th January, and travelling via Folkestone, arrived on French soil in Boulogne 11 hours later. Upon disembarkation the 27th rested up overnight in camps near the port. The following day Peter would have marched with his comrades to the railhead where they would have entrained bound for St Omer aboard cattle trucks! On arrival at St Omer the Tyneside Irish were billeted in and around the village of Quiestede. Training continued until 20th January when the whole Bridge was inspected by Sir Douglas Haig and General Joffre.
By the end of the first week of February 1916, the battalions were considered ready for the trenches with the 27th being attached to 70 Brigade for instruction and training. On 10th February 1916 the first men entered the line and the following day the 27th Tyneside Irish took its first casualty. The 27th stayed on the front line until relieved by the 24th battalion on 22nd February. This is how it was for the next few weeks, training, resting, moving up and moving back. There were a few minor skirmishes with the enemy during this period until 10th April when the Tyneside Irish were finally withdrawn from the line to begin preparations for the coming summer offensive.
The Brigade spent the last few days of April and the beginning of May practising the forthcoming assault on the training area near Moulle. On 4th May the battalions entrained at St Omer and Wizernes for Amiens, arriving at St Gratien at 11pm where they billeted for the night. The following morning the battalions paraded and then started on their march towards the Somme front with the 27th coming to rest at Franvillers, south west of Albert. The 27th went into the line first on 10th May where they encountered sporadic shelling and took only light casualties. On 22nd May the whole Brigade moved back to Bresle and became the Divisional reserve, supplying working parties for the front line. The 27th were not involved in the daring trench raids on positions close to La Boiselle on 5th and 6th June and 25th, 26th June. On the 27th and 28th however, the battalions including Peter began to move forward in front of La Boiselle in preparation for the opening attack.
The Battle of the Somme to the end of 1916
After arriving in the assembly trenches on the evening before the attack, time was spent resting, checking equipment, making last minute confessions to the padre, writing Wills or last letters home. The Tyneside Irish were to be kept in reserve along the Tara-Usna line straddling the Albert-Bapaume Road. The Irish Brigade made up the third wave of the divisional attack supporting two battalions in front. The 103 Brigade was deployed with all four battalions in line abreast: from left to right with the 27th next to Becourt Wood immediately due south of La Boiselle. Their direction of attack was, ironically, north-east towards their objective, the heavily fortified village of Contalmaison. Facing them was the German 56th Reserve Infantry Brigade with Bavarian Reserve Regiments 110 and 111 in support.
On that day Peter would have been carrying his rifle with fixed bayonet, water bottles, a gas helmet, hand grenades and extra bandoliers of rifle ammunition. On his back would have been a haversack with a 16 inch yellow identity triangle. He would have either had a pick or shovel, ready for digging in if the need arose.
The battalion was to advance on a two-company front, each company in a column of platoons with 150 paces between each platoon. The plan of attack was badly flawed, because all the battalions would begin to advanced together, if anything went wrong there was little room for manoeuvre. Another tragic mistake was that all the commanding officers would advance alongside their men, leaving no one to take control and to reorganise later in the day.
The morning sun was breaking through the mist as the British barrage reached its crescendo. At 7:28 the mines at Y-Sap and Lochnagar, either side of the entrance of La Boiselle, were blown sending thousands of tons of earth into the air. Two minutes later the whistles sounded and the attack began. All accounts of the advance give the same impression of the men going forward in parade formation straight into a hail of bullets and shells from the German side. E G Crawford wrote, “It was glorious to see those men advance. They went on, never faltering, just like an ordinary parade!” Men were falling with the wounded and dying littering the battlefield.
As the advance of the 25th and 26th Battalions ceased, men of Peter’s battalion kept on going and some, reaching Round Wood on the second German line, began to dig in and consolidate. Fred Hood of C Company recorded he got as far as Mametz Wood, although he may have been confused about his location. Wilf Holmes from D Company recalled that “our dead were piled up” in front of a German machine gun position. Laying in a captured trench some men of C Company consolidated their positions only to be blown up by a German shell! By late afternoon it was obvious that the attack had been a disaster. Men from the 27th found themselves in amongst those from the 24th and confusion reigned. Neither La Boiselle nor Contalmaison had fallen, but this was not for lack of effort on the part of the Tyneside Irish.
Peter was one of the very lucky ones to survive the slaughter, as the casualties were tremendous. The minimum casualties from the 27th were 149 killed and 390 wounded. Overall the Tyneside Irish losses were 596 killed and 1575 wounded. Many of those who died that day were never identified and lie in unmarked graves: only 63 of those who died on 1st July 1916 are buried in marked graves. On the Thiepval Memorial the highest number of missing from any one regiment, 2931 is from the Northumberland Fusiliers, of these 514 are from the Tyneside Irish. On 1st July the 34th Division (NF) suffered 6380 casualties, 1000 more than any other division. Over the whole war this division suffered the worst casualties of any Pals division. Taken with the 590 missing from the Tyneside Scottish, the Tyneside Battalions make up almost 38% of the whole regimental missing. Their gallant efforts are commemorated on the Tyneside Seat outside La Boiselle.
On the 4th July the survivors of Peter’s Battalion were moved to Bouzincourt and spent the night there. The following day they were moved again to Hennencourt Wood. Both the Tyneside Brigades were withdrawn from the 34th Division and came under the command of the 37th Division. On the 7th the men were transported to Humbercamps where the following days were spent recovering from their ordeals, refitting and training. Within a few days, however necessity forced the dreaded working parties to begin again. Various inspections and medal ceremonies took place. Finally the battalions were amalgamated to go back into the line.
The 27th joined forces with the 24th and on 26th July began taking over the line in the Carency sector. They were relieved eighteen days later by the Royal Scots and sent back for further training and to await the arrival of fresh reinforcements. On the 21st August they provided a Guard of Honour at Chateau de Ranchicourt and the following day command returned to the 34th Division. The battalions commenced their journey to Armentieres to join the rest of the Division there but en route were ordered back to the Somme to support the 15th (Scottish) Division in continuing operations near Contalmaison. On the 27th August Peter’s Battalion arrived again in Albert and remained in reserve until the 1st September when they moved forwards towards Contalmaison. The following day the Germans launched a counterattack and the 27th came under intense shellfire. In the teeth of heavy rifle and grenade fire the 27th were ordered to launch their own counterattack until the enemy was forced to retire. They were eventually relieved early the following morning after taking heavy casualties. However, respite was short-lived and soon the 27th were protecting the flank of the Canadians south of Bapaume. They built a 200 yard communications trench under intense fire across No Man’s Land in order to help re-supply the, very grateful, Canadians.
Following this engagement the battalions were relieved and entrained on the 22nd September at Longpre for Merville. At 5am the following morning, after a long march, Peter and the rest of the Tyneside Irish arrived at Estaires. The 27th went straight into the front line taking over from the Gordon Highlanders and stayed there for four days until they, themselves, were sent back to reserve duties behind the front line. At the beginning of October the Brigade still held the L’Epinette sector with the enemy constantly shelling their positions. Following a successful raid by the 26th the 27th were ordered on a more perilous raid on 12th October sustaining heavy casualties but returning with vital intelligence of the enemy’s strength. The rest of the month and in to November continued in much the same way until Peter’s battalion were relieved on 3rd and moved into billets in Armentieres.
Six days later he was back on the front line but for the rest of the month the area was generally quiet with only sporadic German shelling. By the 30th the whole brigade was placed in Divisional Reserve at Erquinghem, but within two weeks, were back at the front relieving the Tyneside Scottish in the Rue Du Bois and La Chappelle D’Armentieres sector. On the 23rd of the month the whole Brigade once again went into Divisional Reserve for a well-earned rest over Christmas, some even managed to return to England for home leave but it is not sure if Peter was one of the lucky few. If he wasn’t then he would have been back at work on Boxing Day supplying working parties and by the end of the year supporting the other Tyneside Irish brigades at the front.
So ended 1916, a year that for Peter started at Sutton Veny with the Tyneside Irish longing for action in France, experiencing the slaughter on the Somme, and ending with him at the front near Armentieres with, no doubt, he and his comrades longing for home, after the bloodiest year of the war so far.
On 2nd January 1917 Peter and the rest of the 27th returned to the front line in the Bois Grenier sector and for the rest of the month the Battalions rotated to and from the front. There was little action and few casualties. On the 18th February, over a year after they had landed in France, the 34th Division was transferred from the Second Army to the Third Army. Leaving the training area behind, the battalions set off on the long march towards the front at Arras and the forthcoming offensives there. At the beginning of March, the Brigade was assembled in the area of Ecoivres, in a camp known as “X Hutments”, with forward detachments in Arras itself providing working parties for the front. Whilst in the rear on the 11th March the Battalion encountered severe German shelling and took heavy casualties. The Tyneside Irish were then withdrawn to new billets and training for the coming offensive began in earnest.
The plan for the attack on the Arras front had been drawn up many months before but had been delayed following the numbers of casualties taken on the Somme. The 34th Division were placed in the centre of the attack with their objective being Le Point Jour farm on High Ridge overlooking the entire battlefield. On 4th April the Irish left their billets and moved forward. Peter and the 27th were held in Divisional Reserve at the Roclincourt Line. The attack began at 5.30am on Easter Monday 9th April. Along with the 26th, the 27th left the Blue Line and began advancing towards the enemy held trenches under heavy and sustained machine-gun fire. The advance was repelled and those who could fell back to their own lines. At 5am the following morning the 27th were ordered to advance again in deteriorating weather. This time their objective was the Maison de la Cote, and following a flanking movement the position was taken and held with many Germans killed or captured. Linking up again with the 26th, Peter and the 27th finally took the Brown Line but were forced to repel a counterattack by the Germans trying to recover lost ground. The 27th sustained 3 confirmed killed, all officers, but 97 were wounded and 49 missing presumed dead. After consolidating their position and handing over to the 51st Division, the 103rd Brigade withdrew to the Black Line and once again became the Divisional Reserve. In the days that followed the 27th were engaged in carrying stores to the front line and on salvage work. Finally, on the 14th April the whole Brigade was relieved by the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division. After marching back to Arras, the battalions travelled by motor bus to an area just east of St.Pol, where the 27th were billeted in and around the village of Bailleul-Aux-Cornailles.
The work on rebuilding the Brigade began again taking on fresh reinforcements. They only had seven days before they were back on the move again by train to Maroeuil, where they arrived on the evening of the 21st April. The following day they were moving back towards the Arras front taking up positions on the Arras-Lens railway embankment. On the morning of the 27th April an assault on the German defensive village of Roeux commenced with Peter and the 27th held in reserve. They were soon called upon to occupy a trench to the north of the village as the Germans counterattacked all the next day. Once again casualties were high but the battle was rated a qualified success. On the 29th April the Tyneside Irish started to hand over the line and began to withdraw to the Oppy Line. In St Nicholas the job of rebuilding the Brigade began once again.
The Fateful Battle
All through May 1917, the Tyneside Irish were located on the training area at Bonneville. Training was intense but Peter and his comrades were given two half days off on the 23rd and 26th May. The following day they were on the move yet again by route march towards Candas, Doullens and Moncourt where they rested for the night. The journey continued the following day via Arras and St. Nicholas, across the Scarpe to St. Nicholas Camp on the far bank. The next day the 27th Tynesiders were placed in reserve as other battalions moved to the front line in a sector known as the Gavrelle Line. As the battalions rotated every man had a spell out in No Man’s Land digging new trenches. On the 22nd June the battalions were once again heading towards St. Nicholas Camp in the rear as the whole 34th Division went into reserve. They were moved to new quarters in the Maizieres area near St. Pol where training was the order of the day. It was here that the Tyneside Irish commemorated the first anniversary of the Battle of the Somme and remembered their fallen comrades. On the 5th July the Brigade moved by train to Peronne and began clearing rubble in the town. Over the next month the 27th rotated with the other battalions until the 6th August when they went to carry out a raid on a copse in No Man’s Land known as Little Bill.
There was now a severe shortage of reinforcements and not enough men to bring the four battalions up to full strength. The decision was made to reduce the number of battalions to three and this was done by amalgamating the 24th with the 27th on the 9th August to form the 24th/27th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. Some surplus men were drafted into the 26th Battalion too. The 24/27th Battalion were given the task of taking the high ground to the south of Railway Trench in the Hargicourt Sector. On the evening of the 26th August the weather changed and rain begain falling making movement difficult and life miserable for the troops with men waist deep in mud. As a result the progress of the 24/27th Battalion to the jumping off point was slow and indeed by zero hour the battalion had still not arrived at the start line. When they did finally arrive the 24/27th made an unsuccessful attempt to advance on Railway Trench. About thirty men did manage to enter Farm Trench but being unsupported began to consolidate their position. The following morning they were relieved and made their way back to the rest of the battalion who had been withdrawn back into Brigade reserve.
Peter died on 29th August 1917 in the Hargicourt area but his death remains a mystery. His Medal Roll index card simply and poignantly states “K in A” – killed in action. It is possible that he died the victim of a sniper, but it seems more likely that he died of his injuries sustained in the attack on Railway Trench, as by the 29th his Battalion had already returned to the rear leaving Peter behind, probably at a field hospital alongside where he now lies. We will never know the full details as, sadly, the Northumberland Fusiliers War Diary makes no mention of 29th August 1917 at all. It is as if that day did not exist. That same day, however, General Haig reported that, “We captured enemy positions on a front over one mile, east of Hargicourt” Indeed the action at Hargicourt even made “The New York Times”. Peter is buried in Plot B22 of the Hargicourt Communal Cemetery Extension. He was just 24 years old.
The 24/27th went on to fight in the Ypres salient around Poelcapelle later that year but its days were numbered. In early January 1918 the War Cabinet decided that the BEF needed drastic reorganisation as fresh manpower became increasingly rare. It was decided that the 24/27th along with the 26th Tyneside Irish would be disbanded and this sad news reached the battalions on the 31st January. Work began the following day with the remainder of Peter’s Company being transferred to the 19th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. On the 26th February 1918, just over three years after they were raised and just over two years since they landed in France, the 24/27th Battalion (Tyneside Irish) Northumberland Fusiliers ceased to exist. Father George McBreaty said of them “The 24/27th went off in tears! They are being scattered to the four winds! Poor lads!” The 19th Battalion’s historian described them in these words, “The draft from the 24/27th Battalion (Tyneside Irish), they were real men and proved themselves time and time again in the strenuous and anxious days to come.” A fitting tribute indeed to Peter and his brothers-in-arms!
Tom, Mike and Karen went to France on 11th April 2011 with Gerald Ellis of Entente Cordiale Battlefield Tours, to follow in the footsteps of Tom’s Uncle Peter Kennedy. We learned so much about Peter’s time in France, following his journey and trying to imagine what it might have been like on the Somme. We walked out of Becourt Wood, line abreast, at 7.30 am on a beautifully clear, sunny morning, over the fields towards Lochnagar, just as Peter and his comrades had done all those years ago. We ended our journey paying our respects to Peter in Hargicourt Cemetery Extension. It was hard to believe that we were his first visitors in 95 years! We felt an enormous sense of sorrow that he had not had the chance to live a long life, but were immensely proud of his sacrifice and humbled that we could finally stand by his grave, talk to him, and pray for him.
THE NEXT GENERATION
On 31st October 2013 Mike visited Peter’s grave again. This time he was accompanied by his two sons, Rob and James, thus handing the torch of remembrance on to a new generation. Mike said a few lines of verse as we all laid our crosses above Peter’s final resting place. Ged was with them as guide.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, BIBLIOGRAPHY AND REFERENCES
John Sheen “Tyneside Irish”
AN OFFICER’S STORY
CAPTAIN FREDERICK ALEXANDER CHARLES LIEBERT
Born Bruges Belgium, 9th March 1882 – Died Zillebeke Belgium, 17th November 1914
Frederick Liebert was the son of John Frederick and Lena Henrietta Liebert. His mother’s maiden name was Preet de Bay which implies that she was Belgian.
After an early schooling in Bruges he finished his education at Beaumont College, Berkshire and then joined the regular army on a short term commission as a 2nd/Lt in the 3rd Dragoon Guards.
He married his wife, Frances, on 21st July 1905 in Pinhoe, Devon, where she lived and then they moved to The Elms, Charlton Musgrove in Somerset. At The Elms he had four servants, a cook, a housemaid, a parlour maid and a groom. Official papers showed him to be a man “of private means”. He became secretary to the Wincanton Racecourse and, being devoted to hunting, was assistant secretary to the Blackmore Vale Hunt. He was also a keen golfer and cricketer and local freemason.
Upon completion of regular service in the Dragoon Guards, Frederick Liebert joined the North Somerset Yeomanry (Territorial Force) also with the rank of 2nd/Lt on 20th December 1905. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, he volunteered for foreign service and was promoted to Captain on 5th August. The North Somerset Yeomanry was a regiment very local to Wincanton.
The previous day the Regiment had been mobilized at Bath and trained at Winchester before leaving for France on 26th October. They entrained near St. Omer on 11th November en-route to Ypres where they joined the 6th Cavalry Brigade of the 3rd Cavalry Division under General Byng, arriving on the morning of 13th November. That day the North Somerset Yeomanry were not required for action and so were sent back to billets in a farmhouse near Hooge for the night. The farmhouse was subjected to very heavy German artillery fire and at 03.30 on the morning of 14th the regiment saddled up and marched along the railway to Halte en route to new billets at Vlamertinghe on the Ypres-Poperinghe road, to the west of Ypres town. On the morning of 15th November the regiment left their horses in Vlamertinghe and marched, dismounted, to Zillebeke along the Ypres-Comines railway. This cavalry regiment then entered the line of trenches as infantry to the south east of the village. During the night of 15th and 16th the North Somerset Yeomanry encountered intermittent shelling, sniping and a small attack that was easily repulsed. This continued all through 16th November. At 09.00 on 17th heavy German shelling targetted the trenches and at noon a determined attack was made upon their positions. The action in which Capt. Liebert lost his life was the first fought by the North Somerset Yeomanry. B Squadron, led by Captain Liebert, held the first series of trenches and were subjected to intense shell fire. The Germans got to within 15 yards of the British line but were repelled with heavy losses.
An account by one of his troopers, 18 year old Trooper Fudge, tells how Captain Liebert was turning around to direct up reinforcements when shrapnel from a shell struck him in the head. One other officer and three troopers were killed by the same shell blast. All, including Captain Liebert, were buried on 18th November 1914.
His grave can be found in the main Ypres Town Cemetery, row E2 Plot 21.
The North Somerset Yeomanry at the graveside of Captain Liebert and others from the regiment, November 2013.
Tony Goddard, Chairman of the Royal British Legion in Somerset.
Major David Manners, RAO, 39th (Skinners) Signal Regiment.
NSY War Diaries.