Dennis Sutton, who's great-grandfather died at the Somme

Standing on the front line 100 years on

Dennis Sutton’s great-grandfather, Lance Sergeant Thomas Thompson, was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. 100 years later, Dennis travelled to Beaumont Hamel to remember his sacrifice.

I was around seven when I first heard the name Thomas Thompson, when I visited his widow, my great-grandma, and on the wall in her sitting room she had a picture of this soldier. As time went on and I’d sometimes speak about him to my mum and to my granddad, Thomas’s son, I learned a bit more – but only that he was dead, not how or where he’d died.

Lance Sergeant Thomas Thompson, who died at the Somme.

Lance Sergeant Thomas Thompson.

I went on to join the Sea Cadets and attended Remembrance parades, and always watched the Cenotaph event on the television, and Thomas would often come into my thoughts then. But a bigger picture of his life and death started when I got my hands on the scroll, issued by the MoD to all the bereaved families, registering his name. That’s when we started looking into our family history and found he had his name inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial.

“Finding out about them really brought home to us the extent to which whole families were decimated during the conflict.”

When I compared the regimental number on the scroll with the one on the memorial, I knew this was indeed my great-granddad, and understood that he was a soldier who didn’t have his own grave. I began to ask other family members what memorabilia they had, and started to collect photos and letters. That’s when we found out about his half-brothers and brothers-in-law, all of whom also served, and most of whom were killed.

Dennis Sutton holds the Army Death Scroll in front of the Herne Bay War Memorial.

Dennis Sutton holds the Army Death Scroll in front of the Herne Bay War Memorial.

John Thompson died aged 21 on HMS Furious; Matthew Gowland was even younger, just 20, when he was killed fighting for the Durham Light Infantry; and his other, much older brother-in-law, Alexander Reid, died aged 38 fighting with the East Yorkshire Regiment – seven days before the war ended. Finding out about them really brought home to us the extent to which whole families were decimated during the conflict.

One of Thomas’s detachment who survived the Somme visited my great-grandma and brought back his cap badge, his pocket book – which told us so much about his service at Gallipoli before he was posted to France – and a bayonet, which I remember being told to stop messing about with because of its sharp point!

Keeping the memory alive

The memory of Thomas lives on with us. I’ve tried to encourage all of my family to look not only at Thomas but at all the family members who served, and they’ve been across to Thiepval with me. I’ve studied regimental diaries to pinpoint the exact field where he died.

On the first of July, to commemorate the centenary, my brother and I returned to that field, to Beaumont Hamel, with our wives. And there, at 07.30, the time when his battalion set off, we stood on the front line, 100 years after to the day.

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