Remembering Henry and Thomas Ibison

When I was growing up, I was always aware of two members of the extended family that had been killed serving in the First World War, half-brothers, Henry and Thomas Ibison.

No detail was ever really known as to how, when or where they died, however the family’s understanding, as was passed down to me by my grandparents, was always that one of them had been “shot by a sniper”, apparently in the closing days of the war.

There was in fact no sniper, as with the subsequent advent of the internet, it transpired that both of the Ibison’s had been killed during 1916, fighting in the Battle of the Somme.

That fateful first day, which commenced at 07.30 a.m. on 1st July, has always held a particular fascination for me, in part due to the staggering losses that the British Army suffered, with 57,470 casualties, of which 19,240 men were killed.

What makes those losses even harder to comprehend is that so many of the men who fought and died on the Somme were volunteers from the New Army. They were ordinary men, from each and every corner of Great Britain and her Empire, united in their desire to do their bit for King and Country.

To find out that the Ibison’s were killed in action during the campaign, which would result in more than a million casualties by its close in mid-November, and rank as one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, was a sobering moment.

19433, Private Henry Ibison, 32, was killed in action just two days after the opening attack, on 3rd July, whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Volunteers (South Lancashire Regiment).

Exactly a week later, on 10th July, 13793 Private Thomas Ibison, 18, was killed, serving with the 11th Battalion, Border Regiment, otherwise known as ‘The Lonsdale Pals’.

Miraculously, the military records of both Henry and Thomas Ibison survived the Blitz of the Second World War, which saw countless other records destroyed. As such, they provide a rare and fascinating insight into their lives as soldiers.

With the question of when already answered, access to the respective Battalion war diaries has allowed me to piece together exactly how and where I believe the half-brothers to have died.

Below are their respective stories, as best I can tell them.

Thomas Ibison

Born in Ulverston, Cumbria, then part of Lancashire, to John and Annie Ibison, 16 year old Thomas was employed as a farm hand when Great Britain declared war on Germany in the summer of 1914.

Just two months later, on 13th October, he walked into a recruiting office in Kendal, then part of Westmorland, and duly enlisted with the 11th Border Regiment, Lonsdale Battalion, answering the British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener’s call to arms.

God Save The King, Join Your Country's Army!, Britons, WWI, First World War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener
Britons. Join Your Country’s Army! © IWM (Art.IWM PST 2734)

The Regiment had been raised just a month before by the enthusiastic Lord Lonsdale, (Hugh Cecil Lowther, 5th Earl of Lonsdale) and was one of many ‘Pals’ Battalions that were formed, where men were recruited from the same area or industry.

Having enlisted in Kendal, Thomas immediately joined C Company, which was made up of men from Westmorland. The other three Companies in the Lonsdale Bn. were recruited from across Cumberland, with A and B Coy. based at Blackhall racecourse in Carlisle, and D Coy. based at Workington.

Each Coy. consisted of four Platoons and in the case of C Coy., two of those came from Kendal, one from Windermere and one from North Westmorland, underlining the close knit nature of the original Pals Battalions.

It was this very concentration, however that would prove to have such devastating repercussions on the areas from which men were recruited, as both the war, and the casualty lists progressed.

Like thousands of other ‘Boy Soldiers’ that rushed to join the British Army in the early months of the war, Thomas would have had to knowingly lie about his age in order to enlist. Born in January, 1898, he instead claimed to be 19 years and 286 days old, which overstated his real age by more than two years.

Standing at a modest 5 ft. 5 in. tall and weighing 136 lbs, Thomas was deemed fit for service by the Medical Examiner who noted his “fresh complexion”, “grey eyes” and “light brown hair,” as part of the examination.

As a Private in the Lonsdale’s, Thomas would have received a daily rate of pay of1s, or 12 pence, almost certainly more than he would have been earning on the farm.

Initially based in Kendal, with the Battalion’s headquarters having already transferred from Penrith to Carlisle, plans for C Coy. to follow suit were made in December, 1914, and on January 5th, 1915 a special train was laid on for the journey.

Upon arrival in Carlisle, the men from Westmorland were transferred to Blackhall Camp, where they were housed in four recently built huts, each measuring 90 ft. x 20 ft.

The rest of the year was largely spent training in England, with the raw recruits learning how to become front line soldiers.

Men of the 11th Border Battalion, Border Regiment (The Lonsdale Pals) Thomas Ibison is seated far left, second row. © thenewwiperstimes
Men of the 11th Border Battalion, Border Regiment (The Lonsdale Pals) Thomas Ibison is seated far left, second row. © thenewwiperstimes

In early May, the Battalion moved from Carlisle to Prees Heath in Shropshire, where they joined the 15th, 16th and 17th Highland Light Infantry (H.L.I.) Battalions.

Collectively, these four Battalions would form the 97th Brigade, part of the new 32nd Division, within the Fifth New Army.

In mid-June, the Lonsdale’s moved again, this time to Wensley, North Yorkshire, where they would remain for just two months, with many men involved with the hay harvest during this time.

Leaving the Dales behind, in mid-August the Battalion transferred to Codford, a small village to the south of Salisbury Plain, the largest military training area in Great Britain, which would prove to be their last stopping point before France.

From Codford, with a strength of 23 Officers and 896 Other Ranks, the bulk of the Battalion proceeded via two trains to Folkestone, where they finally crossed the English Channel with the rest of the 97th Brigade.

Arriving in France during the early hours of 23rd November, 1915, they disembarked at the port of Boulogne.

Two days later, the Lonsdale’s proceeded straight to the Somme department in northern France, taking a train to the Gare de Longpré-les-Corps-Saints. From here, they would then march to the front, halting at Gorenflos, Picquigny, Villers-Bocage, and Molliens-au-Bois, before finally arriving in Bouzincourt, a small village to the northeast of Albert, on 12th December.

The next six months were spent in and out of the British front line in what was referred to as the F1 subsector, the dangers of which were becoming all too apparent, with casualties reported on an almost daily basis, most as a result of German shelling and shrapnel, with artillery the biggest killer of the war.

In between Battalion training and Divisional exercises, which ramped through June, 1916, the Lonsdale’s were often tasked with what the Assistant Adjutant described as “tedious” jobs in a letter to Captain Smith of A Coy.

Alongside the repairing of trenches and the construction of dug-outs, the men took part in various field operations, and assisted both the Royal Engineers and the Pioneer Battalions with their work.

With plans for the “Big Push“ we’ll advanced, on June 23rd, the Lonsdale’s left their billets in Bouzincourt and marched to the front line at Authuille. A day later, at 05.30 a.m., the British artillery bombardment against the German positions commenced, marking the first phase of the battle.

The Battalion was relieved on the 26th and moved back to Crucifix Corner. Whilst out of the front line, the original plan for the infantry to attack on 29th June was delayed by 48 hours, owing to bad weather.

At 10.00 p.m. on the evening of 30th June, the Lonsdale’s finally moved up to their assembly trenches in Authuille Wood, situated behind the British front line, from where they would launch their assault the next day, in support of the 17th H.L.I.

Another Pals Battalion, the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Bn., as the 17th H.L.I. were also known, had been tasked with taking the Leipzig Redoubt, a German strongpoint, also termed the ‘Granatloch’, which formed part of the Leipzig Salient.

‘Zero Hour’ for the main British assault against the Germans was set for 07.30 a.m., yet the Lonsdale’s were not scheduled to attack until 08.00. By that time, the Scottish regiment, who had moved into No Man’s Land at 07.23, had managed to gain a toehold in the Granatloch, having rushed the German front line immediately after the British bombardment had lifted.

Sadly, the adjacent Battalions had failed to take their own objectives, and so from the moment that the Lonsdale’s left the cover of Authuille Wood, they were moving across open ground, under “very heavy machine gun fire”, on their flanks.

As a result, the men of Cumberland and Westmorland suffered “over 500 casualties”, many before even getting into No Man’s Land itself. The diary of the 17th H.L.I. was even more brutal in its assessment of the Lonsdale’s attack, noting that the 11th Bn. were “absolutely wiped out by enemy machine gun fire.”

The Battalion’s own war diary confirms that 10 Officers were killed in the attack on 1st July and another 15 wounded. Listed among the dead was the Londsdale’s talismanic Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Percy Wilfred Machell, who had been with the Regiment since its inception two years earlier.

Whether Thomas made it to his own front line, across No Man’s Land, or even as far as the Granatloch, as a handful of the Lonsdale’s managed to, will never be known, nor whether he was wounded in the process, yet he somehow managed to survive the slaughter of the first day.

Accurate casualty figures are hard to come by, however the website of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (C.W.G.C.) lists 182 men of the 11th Border Regiment as having died on 1st July, a particularly high casualty ratio.

98 of those men killed have no known grave and are, as such remembered only on the Thiepval Memorial.

For an 18 year old from a small town in Lancashire, the devastation must have been difficult to take in, with hundreds of his close comrades lying dead and dying.

It is perhaps unsurprising that it was another ‘Pal’, Private A. V. Pearson, serving with the 15th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, (The Leeds Pals), that best captured the feelings of thousands of New Army volunteers on that fateful morning.

“We were two years in the making and ten minutes in the destroying.”

On 2nd July, the Battalion assisted in holding the front line, whilst carrying up grenades from the ammunition dump at Authuille. A day later, the battle weary men were finally withdrawn and returned to dugouts at Crucifix Corner.

The remnants of the Battalion were then attached to the 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (K.O.Y.L.I.), who had transferred to the 97th Brigade in December, 1915, and marched to Contay Wood, behind the British lines.

Over the next three days, Thomas and the other survivors had to endure the demoralising task of sorting out the personal effects of their dead comrades. The men were reorganised into just two Companies, leaving the 11th Border Regiment with a reduced strength of 11 Officers and 480 Other Ranks.

If the German machine guns had not already destroyed the Pals Battalions on 1st July, reorganisations such as that of the Lonsdale’s in the days after the attack would finish the job.

Never again would the Regiment have the same local makeup, eventually being rebuilt with men from far beyond both Cumberland and Westmorland in the months after.

On 9th July, the survivors of the first day once again took over part of the F1 subsector, with one Company holding the front line and one held back in reserve.

Tragically, a day later on Monday, 10th July, 1916, Private Thomas Ibison was reported as being ‘Killed in Action’, his military career having lasted just one year and 271 days, with his time on the Western Front , a mere 230 days.

13793, Private Thomas Ibison, Border Regiment, The Lonsdale Pals, 11th Border Regiment
13793, Private T. Ibison, Border Regiment. © thenewwiperstimes

Unsurprisingly, the Battalion war diary makes no reference to Thomas’ death, yet in a letter sent to his parents, John and Annie, of Newland Trough Cottage, Ulverston, a comrade wrote that he had been struck by a shell, whilst leaving the trenches for the last time, and instantly killed.

Whether that was indeed the true version of events will never be known, but having survived the carnage of 1st July, Thomas’ subsequent death so soon after is particularly hard to comprehend.

Thomas’ personal effects were returned to the family in October, 1916, and show that like millions of other soldiers at the time, he had been a heavy smoker, with his bag holding a matchbox, cigarette case, cigarette lighter and pipe, alongside the equally familiar letters, cards and photos.

As an ‘Old Boy’ of Ulverston Catholic School, Thomas’ war record notes his religion to be that of “Catholic”. Elsewhere among his possessions were a prayer book, rosary and crucifix, underlining the importance that he attached to his faith.

After the war, his father received the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal, all on Thomas’ behalf, along with a war gratuity of £14 18s 8d.

13793, Private T. Ibison, Border Regiment, is buried in Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery Extension, close to where he was killed. The cemetery was designed for the C.W.G.C. by the renowned architect, Sir Reginald Blomfield, and like all those in the Somme region, is maintained in immaculate condition.

Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery Extension © Jeremy Gordon-Smith 11th Border Regiment, Lonsdale Battalion Pals Ibison Thomas
Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery Extension © Jeremy Gordon-Smith

Thomas is one of 483 identified casualties fortunate enough to have a known grave, with a further 108 burials unidentified. At some point in the future, I hope to make my own visit to the Somme and pay my respects.

Henry Ibison

Henry Ibison enlisted with the 6th Battalion, The King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, in Fleetwood, Lancashire on 20th August, 1914, making him one of the earliest recruits of Kitchener’s New Army.

Born in January, 1884, to John and Ellen Ibison, Henry would have already celebrated his 30th birthday by the time that war was declared, yet for reasons unknown his enlistment form gives his age to be 27.

Standing at just 5 ft. 2 in., Henry was a small man and stood below the British Army’s minimum height requirement, which in 1914 was still 5 ft. 3 in. As such, he could have easily been rejected as unfit for active service.

Before the War, Henry had been employed as a Labourer, so should have been used to manual work, yet despite that, he also weighed just 123 lbs, or less than nine stone. Similarly, with a chest measurement of 35 inches when fully expanded, Henry was within half an inch of the regulations, with his attestation form showing that he had previously been rejected as unfit for military service, based on his chest size.

For reasons that remain unknown, in the spring of 1915, Henry transferred to the 6th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, which had been raised in Warrington, now part of Cheshire, officially joining them on 29th May.

Two weeks later, on 13th June, 1915, the Regiment embarked at the port of Avonmouth, near Bristol and set sail for the Dardanelles, where they would take part in the Gallipoli campaign, which had started four months earlier with the naval bombardment of Ottoman positions along the peninsula.

After an uneventful journey, aboard ‘H.M.T. Ausonia’, a former Steam Ship of the Cunard Line, on 2nd July the Battalion arrived at Lemenos, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, where they proceeded straight to the village of Mudros.

At 07.00 p.m. on the evening of the 6th, the Lancashire men left Lemenos for Cape Helles, at the foot of the Gallipoli Peninsula, where they arrived at 02.00 a.m. the next morning. The Battalion disembarked on W Beach, which had been secured at great cost by the Lancashire Fusiliers on 25th April, and marched to Gully Ravine, where they bivouacked, before moving up to the advanced trenches a day later.

The next few weeks were spent rotating in and out of the front line trenches, yet whilst heavy fighting was taking place around them, the Regiment were not yet involved themselves and at the end of July returned to Mudros.

On 4th August, however they landed back on the Peninsula, this time at Anzac Cove, from where they marched to Victoria Gully.

Five days later, the 6th South Lancashire Regiment finally went ‘Over the Top’ in what would be the last major Allied action of the ill fated Dardanelles campaign, the Battle of Sari Bair, or the ‘August Offensive,’ as it also became known.

At 05.15 a.m., in support of the 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Royal Gurkha Rifles Battalion, the Battalion launched an assault against the Turkish positions at ‘Hill Q’, situated along the ridge of the Sari Bair Range in the centre of the Peninsula.

The initial advance by the 6th South Lancs’ met with relative success, as the attacking Companies managed to get in to the Turkish trenches, suffering few casualties in the process.

Sadly, in an all too familiar fashion, the broader assault had failed to achieve its objectives, leaving the Lancashire men exposed to enfilade fire from the flanks, and at 04.45 a.m. the next day, the Turks launched a decisive counterattack, which forced the Battalion to retire, this time with heavy casualties.

Whilst Henry had survived the action seemingly unscathed, on 15th August he was listed as ‘Wounded in Action’, suffering gunshot wounds to both his leg and jaw.

Whilst it is unknown as to exactly how he sustained his injuries, the Battalion war diary notes that enemy machine gun fire on an Allied Communication Trench had inflicted “some casualties” that day, of which Henry may have been one.

Evacuated back to Mudros, the seriousness of Henry’s injuries resulted in him being invalided home to England, where he was admitted to the Colchester Military Hospital in Essex on 5th September, 1915.

His respite from the horrors of war was to prove brief, however as on 11th November, with the 6th South Lancashire Regiment having been rolled up into the 6th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, Henry was instead posted to the 3rd Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, having been deemed fit for garrison duty at home or abroad.

On 3rd January, 1916, Henry embarked at Southampton, only this time he was on his way to the Western Front. Arriving in the French port of Le Havre, the next day he proceeded to No. 3 Infantry Base Depot at nearby Rouen.

From Rouen, Henry would travel to the British front line, joining the 9th Entrenching Battalion. Such Battalions existed as a means of providing reinforcements to the front and so, on 28th January Henry was one of 28 Other Ranks that joined the 2nd South Lancashire Regiment, a Regular Army Battalion, that had transferred to the 75th Brigade.

At 09.00 a.m. the next day, Henry would have marched to billets in the vicinity of Strazeele, where the Regiment remained at rest. Once again, the next few months were spent training, with the Battalion moving in and out of the front line trenches throughout.

Henry appears to have had a serious problem of indiscipline whilst serving with 2nd South Lancs. On 21st March, 1916, he was awarded 14 days ‘Field Punishment Number One’ for being absent from his billet from Roll Call at 08.30 a.m. until 10.00 p.m. the same day, at which point he returned “drunk”.

Awarded more than 60,000 times during the First World War, ‘No. 1’ , as it was widely referred to, would have seen Henry tied, most likely to a gun wheel or post for up to two hours a day, for three days in four until the punishment was spent. He would have also been subject to hard labour and the loss of his Army pay during the period.

Where Henry had been whilst absent will have to remain a mystery, however neither the seriousness of his offence or the punishment handed to him should be underestimated.

Less than a month later, on 15th April, Henry was awarded 10 days ‘Field Punishment Number Two’, with the reasons given as “1. Approaching an Officer in an improper manner” and “2. Making an improper reply to an N.C.O.”

‘No. 2’ punishment would have once again seen Henry’s hands and feet tied together but not to a fixed object, which was deemed to be a more bearable form of punishment vs. the more serious ‘No. 1’.

Whilst unrelated to either of these offences or perhaps even his character, Henry already had a criminal record, having been convicted of “Begging” in Scarborough, North Riding in 1910, for which he was sent to H. M. P. Wakefield.

Whilst the 2nd South Lancashire Regiment were spared the slaughter of the first day on the Somme, on Monday, 3rd July, the 75th Brigade were tasked with once again attacking enemy trenches just south of Thiepval, the very section of the front that Thomas and the Lonsdale’s had failed to hold on to just two days earlier.

Made up of Battalions from the north west of England, the 75th Brigade consisted of the 8th Border Regiment, 11th Cheshire Regiment and the 2nd South Lancashire Regiment.

For the attack on the Thiepval Spur, Henry’s Battalion were positioned on the left, with the Border Regiment in the centre and the Cheshire’s on the right.

Having been in position since 01.30 a.m., at 06.15 a.m., the three attacking companies of the South Lancs, A, C and D, left the British front line on a front of some 250 yards and crossed the 600 yards of No Man’s Land in succession.

By 07.00 a.m., facing only “slight opposition”, D company had actually managed to enter the first line of German trenches “in good style”, but were subsequently halted by machine gun fire.

By 08.40 a.m. the attack was deemed to have “broken down”, however and in a report, written 50 minutes later, the commanding officer noted that D company appeared to have been “exterminated”, with almost all the men of the first wave missing.

Of A and C companies, only two Officers, four Non-Commissioned Officers and 55 men could be initially accounted for, and whilst held in reserve, B Company were forced to endure “heavy shelling” of the British front line, suffering further casualties.

Total casualties among the Other Ranks numbered 300 that morning, with the website of the C.W.G.C. showing 97 men of the 2nd Battalion to have died on 3rd July, or a similarly high ratio to the losses suffered by the Lonsdale’s on the first day.

As with the 1st July, the broader attack had been another costly failure, with the Cheshire’s coming under “a withering fire from machine guns” and their war diary noting that “line after line of the troops were mown down” with the ground in front of the German trenches “absolutely impassable”.

Whilst the 8th Border Regiment in the Centre managed to break in to the enemy’s front line, they were similarly unable to hold on to their gains and retired with four Officers dead, 10 wounded, and 430 casualties among the Other Ranks.

It is unclear as to exactly which company Henry was part of, yet he was initially reported as ‘Missing in Action’. The family were given hope that he had become a prisoner of war, which suggests that he may have been among those men to have entered the German trenches that morning.

It was not until September, 1916 that Thiepval, originally an objective of the first day, was finally taken by British and Canadian soldiers.

Sadly, Henry’s body was found and identified by soldiers of the 18th Division, and on 26th October, he was finally confirmed as having been ‘Killed in Action’ on 3rd July, with his body then buried.

Henry was not the only Ulverstonian to fall with the 2nd South Lancashire Regiment that morning. Lieutenant Eric Graham Fletcher, son of John and Mary Nicholson, of 15, Church Walk was also killed in the costly attack.

Henry’s personal effects were returned to the family in 1917 and make for sorry reading. Beyond a medical ticket and recruits pass, and the usual photographs, cards and letters, the only item recovered from his body was a wallet that was labelled as having been “damaged”.

Although impossible to say with any certainty, the lack of personal effects and the damaged wallet would suggest that Henry’s possessions had most likely been looted by German soldiers, which lends further weight to the idea that he was among the men that somehow made it into the enemy trenches on 3rd July.

Whilst particularly unpleasant and hard for any family to ever accept, the looting of the dead was just one of the many grim realities of the First World War and took place on all sides.

As with Thomas, in 1921, John Ibison received the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal on behalf of his son.

Although his body was buried, Henry Ibison is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial (Pier and Face 7 A and 7 B), which lists the names of more than 72,000 men who died on the Somme and have no known grave.

Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who was also responsible for the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, the iconic Thiepval Memorial remains an immensely powerful symbol of the supreme sacrifice made by so many young men.

“Their name liveth for evermore.”

September, 2019

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