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The bloodiest day - 1 July 1916

The terrible losses from the offensive at the Somme in 1916 have marked this out as one of the darkest chapters in the history of the British Isles.

The twelve battles of the Somme stretched between 1 July 1916 and 18 November 1916, but it is the effect of the disastrous opening 24 hours that had the greatest impact on the home front and seared itself onto the popular imagination.

It is no exaggeration to say that 1 July 1916 witnessed extraordinary bravery and suffering on a scale unheard of up to this point. On this day alone there were 57,470 casualties (killed, wounded or missing) and inevitably there were many accountants among this number.

It took just a fortnight for the first obituaries of ICAEW Chartered Accountants and Articled Clerks to appear in The Accountant. The edition of 15 July 1916 carried obituaries of Captain T. H. Leman (Sherwood Foresters), an articled clerk with Leman & Sons, and Second Lieutenant Geoffrey E. Layton Bennett, an A.C.A. with E. Layton Bennett & Co., who died on the first day. Many more obituaries would follow in the weeks that followed.

Thomas Henry Leman (1895-1916)

Thomas Henry Leman enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters and was serving with the 1/7th battalion at Foncquevillers at the northernmost point of the Somme battlefield. On 1st July 1917 the battalion was ordered to make an assault on Gommecourt, a diversionary effort to keep German forces from being drawn into the main battle.

Published accounts record that Captain Leman led his company over the top from a front line trench in no man’s land. The company made it through the wire and into the German front line trench. As the assault faltered an already wounded Captain Leman mounted a spirited defence of the trench with the small band of men that remained but was killed as the German infantry moved forward to retake their position.

A fortnight later 'The Accountant' reported his loss to their readers:

Our readers will learn with sincere regret that Captain T.H. Leman (Sherwood Foresters) has been officially reported "missing, believed to be killed," as on the 1st inst. Captain Leman, who was only 21 years of age, was the only son of Mr. T.C. Leman, F.C.A., of Nottingham. He was educated at Chigwell School, in Essex, where he had some experience in the Officers’ Training Corps, and upon leaving there was articled to his father’s firm. He took part in the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt last November, and on that occasion his Colonel wrote to his father: "I feel I should like to write and say how very pleased I am with your son. He is making a most excellent officer. I was astonished at his coolness and courage, and the way he led his men on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and also for the way he took over the command of his company after his captain had been wounded. It is to boys like yours that England owes so much at the present time. It has given me the greatest pleasure to send his name forward to be promoted to Captain.” In a more recent letter, Lieut.-Col. Breeweill describes Captain Leman as “one of the most capable and most promising officers in ‘The Robin Hoods,’ who by his kindly and courteous manner endeared himself to all." Our readers will, we are sure, join with us in expressing the hope that the official news may yet prove to be incorrect.

Thomas Henry Leman was buried at Foncquevillers Military Cemetery.

Geoffrey Ernest Layton Bennett (1888-1916)

According to eyewitness accounts Geoffrey Ernest Layton Bennett was killed at about 8am on 1 July 1916 whilst serving with the 2nd Yorkshire Regiment: 'He was struck by shrapnel as we were advancing. I saw him drop and when we went out to search 48 hours later we found him dead and buried him. We put his ID disk on his grave'.

A fortnight later 'The Accountant' reported his loss to their readers:

We regret to record the death of Second Lieutenant Geoffrey E. Layton Bennett, A.C.A., who was killed in action on 1st July 1916. He was the son of Mr E. Layton Bennett, F.C.A., of 31-32 Broad Street Avenue, E.C., and was born in Hampstead in 1888, and educated at Merchant Taylors’ School. He served his articles with his father and became an Associate of the Institute of Chartered Accountants on 1st February 1911. He was admitted a partner at 31st December 1914. Immediately after the declaration of war he enlisted in the London Rifle Brigade, with whom he served for more than a year, during which period he took part in the second battle of Ypres, and was promoted to sergeant. He obtained his commission as Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Yorkshire Regiment in November 1915 and fell in the "great advance." His commanding officer writes as follows: "May I write to say how deeply my battalion and myself regret the loss of your gallant son, and how deeply we sympathise with you. He was killed, in advancing to the German trenches, by shell fire on Saturday morning. He was much liked by us all and was a most useful officer, and I very deeply regret his loss."

Geoffrey was initially buried in Talus Boise British Cemetery but after the war, re-interred in Peronne Road Cemetery, Maricourt.

Find out more

To find out about the information we hold on articled clerks or chartered accountants who served during the First World War please see our guide at icaew.com/ww1 

The enquiry team at the ICAEW Library & Information Service can assist you with your research. You can contact the team by phone on +44 (0)20 7920 8620, by webchat or by email at library@icaew.com