Remembering a South Shields Tommy who died for King and country

Private Thomas Coutts, who died in 1916.
Private Thomas Coutts, who died in 1916.

There have been a lot of memorable anniversaries this year, including the 100th anniversaries of the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Jutland.

Of course, it was important that we, as a nation, both young and old, marked each occasion with due respect and remembrance.

Cramped and crowded conditions in the trenches.

Cramped and crowded conditions in the trenches.

But as well as the anniversaries of such dramatic and deadly battles, there are others which will not make the headlines, yet are just as important – and incredibly personal.

Here in Shields, one former soldier will be remembering the death of his uncle, who died in the First World War, when he was just 18 years old.

Thomas Coutts lost his life fighting for King and country 100 years ago next Wednesday.

Today, his nephew Oswin Coutts is keen to mark the occasion, and make sure his memory is not forgotten.

The Gazette has previously reported how Oswin and his son Christopher made the pilgrimage to Thomas’s grave in Adanac Cemetery at Miraumont, where he and more than 3,000 other troops are buried or commemorated.

Thomas joined up and went to France as part of the 7th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) in the spring of 1916, as part of the 151st Brigade, 50th Division, which was converted to a Pioneer Battalion later that year.

By the late summer of 1916, the Battle of the Somme, which began on July 1, was entering a new phase.

The British attacked the German third line of defences, and although they achieved their objective, they lost even more men to the enemy.

Private Coutts, who was brought up in Eastbourne Grove, behind Ocean Road in South Shields, and whose two other brothers fought in the conflict, lost his life on September 28.

Now Mr Coutts, who himself served with the DLI, is determined that his uncle is remembered, despite the passing years.

“During the Second World War we lived on the Lawe Top,” explains Mr Coutts.

“It was about 1944, when the air raids were fizzling out. I was about nine years old when I was looking through drawers and came across some dogtags, a medal and so forth.

“I asked my dad who they belonged to and he said ‘it was your uncle Tommy, who was killed in the First World War’. He said he was blown up.

“My mam and dad always kept these things to themselves, but in later years, especially when I was doing my National Service with the DLI, I thought more people should be aware of him and what he did.

“I don’t want him to be forgotten.”

Thanks to Mr Coutts and his son Christopher – a retired policeman who lives in Wales – Tommy’s memory will, indeed, endure.

He and the many other men who laid down their lives in war for our freedom should never be forgotten.

And having seen how the commemorations, held earlier this year, touched the nation – especially the younger generation – it seems certain that their memories will live on.