A commanding officer who fell while leading his men on 1 July 1916


Lieutenant colonel William Lyle was one of the most senior British officers killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – 1 July 1916.

He was commanding the 23rd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (4th Tyneside Scottish) which suffered 686 casualties that day.

Part of the 34th Division, Lyle’s battalion had the objective of La Boisselle village and had to cross around 500 yards of open ground that was covered by largely intact German machine gun positions.

Advancing at a walk towards largely uncut wire the Tynesiders were mown down. Lyle presumably set off at their head and rapidly became one of the casualties.

The other three battalions of the Tyneside Scottish were also involved in the same attack and each lost more than 500 men killed, wounded and missing.

A large Celtic-style cross in Hampstead cemetery, London, commemorates Lt-col Lyle’s mother Jane, his father and himself. Their family was one half of Tate & Lyle sugar.

Lt-col Lyle is also commemorated by a memorial window in St Mary’s Church, Tipperary, where his father-in-law, the Reverend Robert Popham Bell, was the vicar.

Lyle’s brother-in-law, Captain Robert Bell, is also commemorated via a window in the church. He is listed as being from Tipperary and a captain in 3rd Battalion, the Royal Irish Regiment.

A former pupil of the Abbey School, Tipperary, Captain Bell was killed near Mametz on 5 July 1916, aged 32, and his name appears on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.

A third window in St Mary’s church commemorates his father, the Reverend Robert Popham Bell, who died on 21 December 1916.

Lt-col Lyle himself is buried at the Bapaume Post military cemetery along with numerous members of his battalion.

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