Lance Corporal Frank Couley 20/95 20th (1st Tyneside Scottish) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers “C” Company was killed on July 1st 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme, 35 years of age.
He was the son of John and Mary Ann Couley (nee Gill) who had at least five children:
- Mary Couley (b. 1872)
- Margaret Ann Couley (b. 1873)
- William Couley (b. 1876)
- Frank Couley (b. 1881)
- Joseph Couley (b. 1891)
He married Catherine Sarah Batey Oliver in 1902 and they had at least four children:
- William Couley (b. 1902)
- Frank Couley (b. 1903)
- Sarah Brumwell Couley (b. 1908)
- Henrietta A. Couley (b. 1912)
He was employed as a labourer and in 1911 was working in an Electrical Engineers factory.
Frank enlisted in the 20th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish) when it was formed in October 1914 and was most probably accommodated and fed in Tilley’s Restaurant, New Market Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne along with about 500 other men from the Battalion. On the 29th January 1915 they left Newcastle for a two day march to a newly built camp at Alnwick with an overnight stay in Morpeth, where they would remain until July 1915.
The Tyneside Scottish Brigade consisted of the four Tyneside Scottish service battalions: 1st (20TH NF), 2nd (22nd NF), 3rd (23rd NF) and 4th (24th NF) which, in April 1915, was renumbered 102 Brigade part of the 34th Division under the command of Major General Ingouville-Williams.
On the 1st August the 102nd Tyneside Scottish Brigade started a move to Salisbury Plain and eventually ten trains were used to move the men south. Initially accommodated in tents at Windmill Hill, constant flooding and bad weather forced them to move to Sandhill Camp, a hutted camp near Warminster.
After a period of continual rumours about the Brigade’s impending departure to Egypt, word came through that the destination was France. On Sunday 9th January 1916 the 1st Tyneside Scottish Battalion entrained at Warminster and travelled via Southampton to Le Havre. After the Channel crossing the men were marched to rest camps before moving to Blendeques where they were allotted the nearby village of Wardrecues for billets and training. Training consisted of gas lectures, machine gun and bomb courses and with training progressing it was felt it was time for the men to go into the firing line. The battalion moved forward to the Steenbecque area for instruction in trench warfare. Frank’s “C” Company was allocated to the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment in the Fleurbaix sector where they received their first casualties, Frank’s first experience of enemy artillery.
With their instruction completed, the Battalion took over the line and the pattern for the next few weeks were tours of duty in the trenches followed by rest periods in billets away from the front where musketry, bayonet exercise and bomb throwing were practised.
In May the Battalion began to move south to the Somme front and the beginning of June found the 1st Tyneside Scottish Battalion undergoing Divisional training in preparation for the upcoming offensive along with tours in the trenches, raiding parties and working parties.
On the night of 23/24 June the Brigade was moved into the front line trenches to the left of La Boiselle, which would be their home for the next week.
Major General Ingouville-Williams had developed a simple and straightforward plan of attack for the Somme offensive with the 34th Division advancing in four columns, each three Battalions deep. The 101 Brigade on the right of La Boiselle and 102 (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade on the left with 103 (Tyneside Irish) Brigade with their four Battalions in line abreast in reserve along the Tara – Usna line. The plan was very badly flawed because all the Battalions would begin to advance together, leaving no room for manoeuvre should anything go wrong and did not take account of the German machine gunners or their artillery.
As the morning sun warmed the ground on the 1st July and broke through the mist, rays of sunshine lit the battlefield the British barrage reached a crescendo. At 07:28 the mines were fired and for some minutes soil, stones and debris rained down, the ground shook and trembled and at 07:30, “zero hour” the whistles blew and the Brigade rose from the trenches. Frank was to cross nearly eight hundred yards of no man’s land following the contour of “Mash” Valley. Immediately he went over the parapet the 1st Tyneside Scottish came under sustained fire from German machine guns in Ovillers and La Boisselle. Some lucky men managed to fight their way to the German second line but had to retire owing to heavy machine gun fire and being so few.
We don’t know where Frank fell or if he even made it beyond no man’s land to the German Trenches, but his body was recovered and is now in Ovillers Military Cemetery. None of the objectives of the advance were achieved but not for lack of effort or sacrifice on the part of the Tyneside Scottish and the other battalions around them.
Tragically, Franks older brother William, Private William Couley No 25/45 was in the 25th (2nd Tyneside Irish) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, which followed immediately behind his brother’s Battalion, the 1st Tyneside Scottish. He had to cover more than one thousand yards of exposed countryside in ceremonial formation before even reaching the British front line. His body was never recovered and is commemorated on Face 11B of the Thiepval Memorial.
He is also commemorated on the St Lawrence Crucifix which can be seen on the North East War Memorial Project website B59.09 , the Book of Remembrance also on their website B59.11 both now at St Silas Church, Byker.
Newcastle Journal 11th August 1916:
L/cpl Frank Conley, 17, Glanton St., Newcastle and his brother Pte. W. Conley are missing. (the names have been misspelled in the newspaper)