Clayton and the Somme (I)

Below are details of men connected with Clayton who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.


Private Benjamin Balme

16/736, "C" Coy. 16th Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment

(Prince of Wales's Own) who died on 01 July 1916

on the Somme Age 21

Many tragic deaths occurred on the Somme, but the plight of Ben and his fellow comrades is one that probably dwarfs all others. The service number gives a hint as to Ben's fate, as does the date on which he died, but it is only when we begin to look in greater depth at the casualty listings as a whole that we begin to see the bigger picture.


In late 1914, Lord Kitchener needed to raise a 100,000 strong armyof volunteers to bolster the troops at the front and it was proposed by a leading politician of the time, Lord Derby, that battalions of men (a battalion being approximately 1,000 men) could be raised from specific towns or cities around the country. Thus, Pals Battalions were formed throughout the length and breadth of the land. Although their inception had noble beginnings they ended up in catastrophe, the wake of which would be felt for generations to come. Bradford formed two battalions itself, with a full complement of well over 2,000 men from in or around the city. It was to the first battalion of these that Benjamin belonged; the 16th Battalion (Prince of Wales Own) West Yorkshire Regiment, more commonly known as the 1st Bradford Pals.


Ben left his job as a wool sorter at Messrs. B. Parkinson and Co., wool merchants to join up, and was soon being put through the rigorous military training schedule set by the British army. He was sent to Egypt with the pals for several months before returning to Europe to France, where he arrived in January 1916. The battalion spent the preceding six months building up to Field Marshall Douglas Haig's 'big push' which was supposed to end the war. For the last week of June 1916 British heavy artillery pummeled the German lines around the 100 mile stretch of front near to the Somme River in preparation for this attack, but when it finally came at 7.30am on Saturday 1st July 1916 events worked out very differently.


The Pals battalions who made up the vast bulk of the army around this sector left their trenches and began to walk slowly towards the enemy as instructed, their standing orders being to occupy the now empty German trench system after the week long bombardment. Unfortunately, this was not to be. The German trenches contained deep dugouts that had remained intact and were filled with German soldiers. When the bombardment stopped at just before 7.20am, a several minute long pause was left before the troops advanced, which conveniently gave the German forces just enough time to come up into the balmy sunlight and set up their machine guns on the trench parapets. Up and down the Somme, front men left their trenches as ordered and plunged headlong into a murderous fire of machine gun rounds. Many men never made it over the top as they were struck by bullets that punched them back into their own trench as soon as they reached open ground. Those that did leave the trench were cut down long before they even reached the German wire.


It was on this day, the first of the long awaited Somme Offensive, that Ben fell and C Company of the 1st Bradford Pals went over the top in the second wave of attack at around 7.45am. A veteran of Ben's battalion would later recount that by the end of that day only around 50 men could answer their roll call, the other 700 or so lying dead or wounded in the front line trenches or in no-man's land. Clayton alone lost at least ten men who were serving in the Bradford Pals, nearly a tenth of all its casualties, and this was a similar situation in many of the other parishes and communities around the city.


Benjamin Balme was the son of George Frederick and Annie Balme who resided at 22, Town End, and George Balme was informed as to Ben's fate within a month of his death (Annie Balme had died a couple of years previously). Ben was a keen footballer and played regularly for Clayton Association Football Club; his father was also a well respected businessman who was well known for his work with the local Co-operative Society so his death would have been felt across the community.


Serjeant Henry Bernard Greenwood

18/9, "B" Coy. 18th Bn., West Yorkshire Regiment 

(Prince of Wales's Own) who died on 30 June 1916

on the Somme Age25