World War One witnessed a surge of patriotism around the country as thousands of men enlisted to do their service in the armed forces. In 1914, as a result of Lord Derby’s recruitment drive, men from the offices and businesses of Liverpool established the first of what was to be called the ‘Pals’ Battalions. In just over a week, three battalions had been raised and, soon, a fourth would follow – the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Service Battalions of the King’s Liverpool Regiment.
Hubert Stanley Denson, affectionately known as ‘Stan,’ the sixth child of George Denson and his wife, Clara (nee Ainsworth), was born in Liverpool on 25th May 1894 and baptized at St. Clement’s Church, Toxteth Park, a month later. Educated at Sefton Park Council School, he decided against continuing the family trade (his father was a tailor who owned a business in Renshaw Street, Liverpool), instead becoming a clerk at Calthrop Bros, oil cake manufacturers.
On the outbreak of war, Hubert’s brother, Edgar Ainsworth Denson, was already serving with the 10th (Scottish) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, having enlisted in 1912. His service, however, was carried out on home soil, where he reached the rank of Lance Corporal. Hubert tried several times to join one of the battalions of ‘Pals’ but was rejected each time on account of his height. Finally, he was accepted on 14th May 1915, joining the 18th battalion. He went out to France in March 1916, never to return.
The Battle of the Somme started on 1st July 1916, and it became known as the bloodiest day in the history of the British army. Separated by only a few hundred yards, the British and German troops were preparing for artillery bombardment in their trenches. Despite their confidence, the British soldiers could not penetrate the German defences and were soon being killed in their thousands by machine gun and artillery fire. In all, there were 57,470 British casualties on the first day of fighting in The Somme, with 19,240 deaths.
It was on the first day of the campaign that Hubert lost his life. Private S R Steele, a member of the 18th battalion, wrote:
So I went along the trench, and I got up on top, and the first thing that I saw was all the dead, fellows just lying there, higgledy-piggledy all over the place, some two, three and four high, – one mass of dead men as far as you could see, right and left!
Not including those who later died of their injuries, on that first day of fighting, 7 officers and 164 men from the 18th battalion lost their lives as a result of enemy fire. This battle went on to symbolise the horrors of the First World War.
On Hubert’s death, one of the battalion’s officers wrote to his mother Clara Denson (nee Ainsworth) stating that he was killed on reaching the objective and was buried with his captain near to where he fell. She later received the money that was owed to her son from the army – £1 16s 10d in November 1916 and a further £4 in September 1919.
Hubert Stanley Denson was buried at Vernon Street Cemetery, in the valley between Carnoy and Maricourt in France. His name is recorded on the family grave at Toxteth Park Cemetery and also on the memorial at St. Barnabas Church, Liverpool and the Thiepval Memorial.
A year after his death, the following notices appeared in the Liverpool Echo:
For further information about the Liverpool Pals, Graham Maddocks’ book, ‘Liverpool Pals’ is an invaluable resource. Credit for the St. Barnabas memorial photo goes to Paul Young and can be viewed at http://www.ww1cemeteries.com/other_cemeteries_ext/st_barnabas_wm_liv.htm