Our son is named after my father who in turn is named after his father’s elder brother. My great uncle was a serjeant in the Highland Light Infantry (that’s how they spelled sergeant in his regiment) during the First World War . He was one of the many who were killed. He is buried  in the Mesnil Communal Cemetery Extension near Albert in France

It looks very smart. My great uncle is in grave 111.C/21


Thomas Woodhouse served in the 16th Battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. It was a pals battalion formed up from local Boys Brigade battalions. I know that my father’s family were keen on the Boys Brigade so I am presuming that was why he joined that battalion. His service number corresponds with that of men who joined up in 1915.

He was born in Morecambe in Lancashire. I don’t know when. Further research is needed. I know his parents names, I know where he lived when they moved to Glasgow and I know that his father was employed as Foreman Insulated Cable Layer with the GPO.

I know what actions his battalion were involved in. I know where, when and probably how he died.  Official documents have him dying on the 1st Of July 1918, a date when his regiment were not in the line. That has caused me much confusion and wasted research. His gravestone tells a different story. It declares that he died on the 1st of July 1916. This makes his death much more explainable.  This was the first day of what was to be the 141 days of the infamous Battle of The Somme.

The 16th Battalion were tasked with taking a trench known as the Wunderwerk south of  the French village of Thiepval and then on to the Moquet Quarry a further 2.3km from their start point.

On the 30th of June the battalion’s CO Colonel Laidlaw received orders stating that “the Germans are all dead” and they were to “tread closely on the heels of our barrage.”

Thomas probably didn’t make it to the first objective. The famous and massive bombardment fired 1,500,000 shells in the lead up to the battle and 200,000 shells on the the first of July. All o that effort failed to do much damage to german trenches or more disastrously, the wire in front of them.

16th Battalion HLI suffered 20 officers and 534 other ranks killed, missing or wounded in action as they crossed no-mans land at approximately 07:30 towards the Wunderwerk. Caught in the open as they came up against the undamaged barbed wire they were easy prey to the very much not dead German machine gunners.

The Scottish soldiers managed to capture a small part of the trench system but were forced to give it up and retreat later in the day.

My great uncle was just one of 19,240 British Empire soldiers killed on the 1st of July 1916. The battle of the Somme would go on to claim 420,000 and 200,000 French casualties, and at least 450,000 Germans killed and wounded. The outcome was described as indecisive…


The First World War ended over a hundred years ago. There is nobody still alive who fought in it. It is now history, as detached from us as the Crimean War. It is normally fascinating to look back at such events but I have to admit it is upsetting when it involves family. The horror of millions of dead can be brought home by the death of one man. I have had to wipe moist eyes a few times while writing.

I mentioned earlier that there was a discrepancy between dates on official documents and his gravestone. I found this out because my daughter recently went on a school trip to the First World War battlefields. As part of the trip pupils were asked if they had any family were involved and she told of her great, great uncle. As his cemetery was near their route a plan was made to visit. I’m pretty sure my daughter is the first person in our family to visit his grave. (pauses to wipe a few more tears…). It was when she arrived that we found out about the difference in dates.

I am old enough to have met people who fought in that war. I have a connection. My maternal grandfather served in the Royal Artillery. He died when I was young but I have very dim memories of a gentle and kind elderly man. I cannot imagine such a person being in a war but I have photographs to prove it. I share them with my children and tell them of the awfulness of what he and millions of others went through and how lucky we are and how we must learn from history.

Photographs are an aid to memory. They can tell a story but I hope they also arouse curiosity. I hope my children look at pictures of their ancestors and want to know more.

Keeping old family images is important. They are a link with a past that is becoming more and more distant.  I had to explain WW1 to my children in the same way as I did Guy Fawkes Night. It is ancient history to them. Hopefully my daughter’s trip to Flanders and her family’s connection to it will have brought that history a little closer and maybe bring it  a little more into focus. Hopefully we will not only remember but also learn from it…

    A postcard sent home by my maternal grandfather. He is in the middle. Being a Glasgow boy military logic decided he was to be posted to a Welsh artillery regiment…