Died: 8 July 1916
Service number: 15/1093
Regiment / Service: West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own)
Family information: First child of George Priestley Balme and his wife Mary Elizabeth, nee Wright
The 15th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment was raised by the Mayor of Leeds, with the initial intake of men completed by the 8 September 1914. The battalion, known as the “Leeds Pals”, received their initial training at Colsterdale, near Masham, in the Yorkshire Dales. In September 1915, the 93rd Brigade moved to Salisbury Plain for further training with the rest of the 31st Division. On the 7 December 1915, the 31st Division sailed for Egypt. After disembarking at Port Said, on 22 December, they deployed to defensive positions along the Suez Canal. The 31st Division was to remain in Egypt, until the threat of a Turkish attack had diminished. However, on 1 March 1916, the Division sailed for France, arriving at Marseilles a week later and immediately travelling north to Abbeville.
On the 24 June, the 93rd Brigade, including the 15th West Yorkshires, moved to Gezaincourt for training. The 15th Battalion, West Yorkshires was to lead the 93rd Brigade into attack, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The Brigades objectives were to link up with the 94th Brigade and form a defensive line, north of Serre
The initial bombardment started on the 24 June and was to continue for five days, however, due to heavy rains, the attack was delayed for two days, until the 1 July. The bombardment continued in an attempt to destroy the enemy wire and front line defences.
On 30 June, just before marching to the trenches, the 15th West Yorkshires paraded for inspection in a courtyard at Bus-les-Artois. One of the battalion’s bombers was redistributing his bombs when two went off, killing him and wounding fourteen other men of “D” Company. Shortly afterwards, at 18.00 hrs, the 15th Battalion marched to their assembly positions. Throughout this march they were subjected to bombardment from enemy artillery. A short time before “zero hour”, at 07.30 hrs. on 1 July, “C” and “D” Companies of the 15th West Yorkshires, crawled out into “No Man’s Land”, ready to start the attack, when the British bombardment ceased. However, the German bombardment of the British front line trenches continued and many of the 15th West Yorkshires were killed, or wounded, by shrapnel. At 07.30hrs. when they rose to start the attack, they were immediately cut down by machine-gun fire, as were the waves of troops who followed from the trenches. The attack ground to a halt and the survivors were forced to seek shelter in the many shell holes, in “No Man’s Land”. Here they remained throughout the day, under continuous fire, until nightfall, when they were able to move back to their own lines. The wounded survivors were also brought in during the night, with many suffering serious wounds, being immediately repatriated back to England.
Although it is not clear when he received his wounds, Private John Edwin Balme was one of those repatriated to England. However, on the 8 July 1916 he died from his wounds in the Netley Military Hospital, near Southampton. He is buried in the cemetery attached to this hospital, along with 636 First World War casualties. The 15th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, incurred 528 casualties on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
John Edwin Balme was born in 1889, the first child of George Priestley Balme and his wife Mary Elizabeth, formerly Wright. The family home was at Leeds Road, Lofthouse, next door to the Post Office, which was owned by his grandfather. His father, George P. Balme, who was born in London, was clerk at a local colliery. At the time of the 1911 census, George Priestley Balme, now employed as a Coal Agent, his wife and their six children were living at Newton Lane End, Outwood. At this time, John Edwin Balme, aged 21 years, was a colliery clerk. With the advent of war, John Edwin Balme joined the West Yorkshire Regiment. However, due to the absence of his service record, it is not known when he joined the 15th Battalion.