15th Aug 1916

The 15th August was the worst day of the Somme Campaign, and indeed of 1916 for Lancaster. 12 men were killed that day. On the grim standards of the war this was not exceptional, there had already been four other days when this number or more men had been killed. Three of these had been during the Second Battle of Ypres in April and May of 1915, the fourth the 25th September 1915 during the Battle of Loos. In 1917 two more days had more than 12 deaths.

Unlike the first day of the Somme, all of the casualties on 15th August were from a single battalion, the 1st/5th Bn. King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, a battalion that recruited heavily from Lancaster (its headquarters were on Phoenix St behind where Parliament Street Retail Park is today). This was the same battalion whose losses had had such a major impact on the town during the Second Battle of Ypres.

The conventional story of the Somme Campaign is of men being mown down during futile frontal attacks. This is not what happened to the 1st/5th that day. The battalion had been tasked with digging a trench between 30-100 yards from enemy lines near Guillemont from which an attack could be launched by other units. It was a moonlit night and the battalion came under heavy rifle fire. They succeeded in digging a trench that was 150-180 yards long but one officer and 16 other ranks were killed and 34 other ranks wounded. 12 of these dead were Lancastrians:

Jonathon Acton: Aged 27, his parents lived at 52 Dale Street (see also Frederick Monks below).

Frederick Bird: Aged 40 or 41, he lived on Rosebery Ave, Bowerham with his wife Eliza and two children. Eliza died shortly afterwards.

John Bleasdale: Lived at 1 Rose St with his landlady Mrs. Ralph.

Robert Corless: Aged 29, his addresses are given as 10 Aldcliffe Rd and 57 Trafalgar Rd. His parents lived at 29 Connaught Rd, Bowerham.

Joseph Crook: Aged 38, he lived at 36 Clarendon Rd, Skerton. He had had a brother, James, killed in 1915 and another who was a prisoner of war from 1914.

Robert Higginson: Married, he lived at 19 Westbourne Rd and worked at Lancaster Castle Station. He was a Second Lieutenant, the one officer killed in the action. It appears he was attempting to help Joseph Towers (below) when he went missing. His diary is in the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum in Lancaster.

Walter Lupton: Aged 26, he was already a widower with a four-year old daughter who lived with his wife’s parents, Mr & Mrs Rawcliffe on Broadway, Skerton.

Frederick Monks: Dale Street’s second casualty that day (see Jonathon Acton, above), he lived at number 9. He had been a friend of the Cathcart brothers who had lived at number 97 Dale St until they were both killed within a fortnight at the Second Battle of Ypres.

George Sandall: Aged 23, he lived at 2 Back Marton St (which is now under the Police Station) and had previously been wounded in April 1915. His older brother Christopher had been wounded and invalided home, while his mother had already lost a brother and a son-in-law.

Thomas Stanley: Aged 34 and single, he lived at 34 Edward St, one of Lancaster’s streets with the highest number of casualties in the War.

Joseph Towers: Aged 31, he had a wife and three children who lived at 9 Percy Road, Greaves. He had previously been wounded on 29th April 1915 during 2nd Ypres.

George Yates: Aged 27 and married, he lived at 47 Green St, Bulk. He was a stretcher bearer, Captain Harriss’s account of the 15th August notes that “The stretcher bearers deserved great credit for that night’s work”[1]



[1] A. Hodgkinson, The King’s Own 1/5th Battalion, TF in the European War, 1914-1918, 2nd Edition (Lancaster: King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum, 2005) p. 39. This book is available from the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum shop.