Wednesday, 6 May 2015

John Macfarlan Charlton, 21st Northumberland Fusiliers

I've recently been sent these details on the death of Captain John Macfarlane Charlton.  They come from Dennis Tyerman, whose father, a private in the same battalion, was wounded in front of La Boiselle on the same day.

Dennis wrote:
After volunteering in 1914 Captain Charlton trained with his battalion, the 21st Bn, Northumberland Fusiliers (Tyneside Scottish Brigade) throughout 1915. In 1916 the Brigade embarked for France and experienced life in the trenches on the Western Front in the early months of 1916.   
On 1 July 1916 the Northumberland Fusiliers were in the front line with orders to attack the German strong point of La Boiselle.  
At exactly 7.30 am Captain Charlton and the other Company commanders led their men into No Man's Land towards the German lines. 
As the British troops reached the point of no return, machine gun crews of the Bavarian Infantry Regiment subjected them to withering fire. Despite heavy casualties some troops reached the German second line but attempts to gain a foothold in La Boiselle failed.  
Captain Charlton and Captain Herries with six men were isolated in a crater and unable to advance because of heavy fire. They eventually obtained a machine gun and advanced. Herries reported how Charlton was killed. 
"For a while we did great execution but the gun jammed at a critical moment. Charlton was shot down while attempting to charge a German strong point and the initiative passed to the enemy."  
The 20th and 23rd Battalions, Northumberland Fusiliers had practically ceased to exist and only the remnants of the 21st and 22nd Battalions, some 200 men and seven officers, remained holding the line. After suffering great hardships, at midnight on 3rd July, thes men made their way back to the British lines.  
The total number of casualties sustained by the four battalions of Northumberland Fusiliers was 2,438 killed, missing or wounded. The 21st Battalion alone recorded 11 officers killed, 10 wounded, other ranks killed 161, wounded 478. The survivors from the whole Brigade barely comprised one battalion and the Brigade was pulled from the line.  
By condensing the first day of the Battle of the Somme to those few lines I have done a great disservice to those men who participated. It must have been a horrendous experience.