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Sam Balmforth

Sam BalmforthPrivate Sam Balmforth, 118358, Labour Corps, 198 Company

Sam Balmforth was born at Normanton in 1887, the son of Middlestown born, William Balmforth and Mary Elizabeth (nee Bentley) who had married in late 1874 in the Wakefield registration district.

In 1891, Sam Balmforth was living with his parents at Stithy Street, Ossett. At that time, his father William was a miner, and Samuel was the sixth born of seven children, ranging in age from 2 to 16 years. Samuel was the only boy. The other children were Ethel (b. 1875, Middlestown), Lydia (b. 1877, Horbury), Leah (b. 1875, Wombwell), Sophia (b. 1881, Stanley), Kate E. (b. 1884, Stanley) and Jessy (b. 1889, Normanton). The family were mobile, perhaps as patriarch William Balmforth looked for work?

By 1901, the Balmforth family has moved to Dewsbury Road, Ossett and William is still working as a miner. The Balmforths have six children living with them, including 6 year-old May, born in 1895. Samuel remains the only boy and he is aged 14 and now working as a spice maker.

In 1911, Samuel is aged 24 and married to 30 year-old Ada Beetham, whom he married in 1908. They are living at Spring End, Horbury and Samuel is a hewer in a coal mine. They have no children at the time of the census, but their daughter, Gladys M. Balmforth was born in late 1911. Also in 1911, Samuel’s father William, is living in Featherstone as a boarder, where he is working as a miner. Three of Sam’s sisters: Lydia (Cooper) and two of her unmarried sisters, Kate and Jessie Balmforth are living in Ossett at Lydia’s home at the "Back of no.3 Co-op, Streetside, Ossett."

Sam Balmforth was originally with the 26th (Service) Battalion (3rd Tyneside Irish) of the Northumberland Fusiliers, which was formed at Newcastle in November 1914, by the Lord Mayor and City. His service number was 57, suggesting that he was one of the very first to enlist. In June 1915, the battalion came under orders of 103rd Brigade, 34th Division and landed in France in January 1916. They were disbanded on the 3rd February 1918 in France and it is likely that Private Balmforth, at that time, transferred to the 198, Company, Labour Corps, with a new service number of 118358, but was still attached to the 25th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers.

The 24th, 25th, 26th and 27th Battalion were all Pals battalions in the 103rd (Tyneside Irish) Brigade 34th Division. One the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, the advance of the Tyneside Irish Brigade, which started nearly one mile from the German front line and in full view of the defenders' machine guns, effectively wiped out the unit before it reached its own friendly forward trench line. Advancing at the same time as the main attack, the brigade started from the reserve trenches on the Tara-Usna Line. The four battalions, marching in extended line (from left to right; the 2nd, 3rd, 1st and 4th), advanced down into Avoca Valley and then up the other side to the British front-line trench. From there they had to cross no man's land, pass through the German front-line and advance to their objectives. However, the main attack was an almost complete failure and the Tyneside Irish were utterly exposed to the machine guns of the German defences. During that division's disastrous attack the Irish lost nearly 600 dead and just over 1,500 wounded. It seems that Private Sam Balmforth survived this slaughter, but was to lose his life in the German Spring offensive of 1918.

After the Somme the four Pals battalions were involved in the battle of Arras of 1917, and made a brief move to the Flanders front. In 1918 a manpower crisis hit the British army. The original four battalions had already been reduced to three, and now were reduced to a single battalion, a poignant reminder of the heavy losses suffered by the brigade over the last two years. This single battalion (25th Battalion) then found itself in the way of the great German offensive of 1918, and was forced into a series of retreats as part of the 102nd (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade in 34 Division. They missed the victorious advance of 1918, spending the last months of the war training new American units.

In the crises of March and April 1918 on the Western Front, Labour Corps units were used as emergency infantry. The Corps always suffered from its treatment as something of a second class organisation: for example, the men who died are commemorated under their original regiment, with Labour Corps being secondary. Researching men of the Corps is made extra difficult by this, as is the fact that few records remain of the daily activities and locations of Corps units.

Sam Balmforth died on the 23rd March 1918. The "Ossett Observer" 1 had a short obituary:

"Street Side Soldier Killed - A man well-known in the Ossett Street-side district, of a labour company attached to the Northumberland Fusiliers, and whose father Mr. William Balmforth lives at 18, Stithy-street, Ossett, is reported to have lost his life in recent fighting. A few years ago the deceased went to work at Sacriston Colliery, near Durham, and he joined the army at the outbreak of the war. In a letter conveying news of his death, on April 28th, it is stated that although the deceased was not actually in the line at the time, he died a true soldiers death."

His service record has not survived, however, he was awarded the British and Victory Medals posthumously and the medals were sent to his widow Ada on the 25th November 1920.

Private Balmforth is buried at grave reference XIII. A. 11. at the Grevillers British Cemetery 2, Pas de Calais, France. Grevillers is a village in the Department of the Pas de Calais, 3 kilometres west of Bapaume.

The village of Grevillers was occupied by Commonwealth troops on 14 March 1917 and in April and May, the 3rd, 29th and 3rd Australian Casualty Clearing Stations were posted nearby. They began the cemetery and continued to use it until March 1918, when Grevillers was lost to the German during their great advance. On the following 24 August, the New Zealand Division recaptured Grevillers and in September, the 34th, 49th and 56th Casualty Clearing Stations came to the village and used the cemetery again. After the Armistice, 200 graves were brought in from the battlefields to the south of the village, 40 from an adjoining cemetery made during the German occupation.

There are now 2,106 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated in Grevillers British Cemetery. 189 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 18 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of two casualties, buried in Avesnes-les-Bapaume German Cemetery, whose graves could not be found. The cemetery also contains the graves of seven Second World War airmen, and 18 French war graves.


1. "Ossett Observer", 4th May 1918

2. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site