A young 2nd Lieutenant from Bolton was killed on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, as he bravely led his men ‘over the top’.
Alexander (Alec) Clegg, aged 24, of Cobden Street, Halliwell, was one of 21 officers of the 15th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers who died in the hail of machine gun and rifle fire as the Battalion followed orders to advance at a walk up a hill. 459 out of 650 men of other ranks also perished.
Alec Clegg was born in 1892, the youngest of six sons of millwright Samuel and his wife Ellen, who kept a baker’s shop on Bridgeman Street, Bolton. Alec attended Sunninghill County School in Daubhill and then Bolton Municipal Secondary School before gaining a BSc and a teaching certificate from Manchester University in 1914.
He was working as a science master at Cork Grammar School when war broke out, but left to join the Lancashire Fusiliers where he became a Platoon Commander in A Company, 15th (1st Salford Pals) Battalion.
Very much aware of what he faced in the forthcoming advance at the Somme, Alec wrote the following letter to his parents on the 17th of June, praising the courage of his fellow soldiers:
My Dearest Parents,
I may now tell you news which I dare not mention in a letter of a few days ago. For several days our artillery has been bombarding the German lines in preparation for a big attack to be carried out by the infantry. Our battalion will be in the leading line and I am proud to say that I shall have the honour of leading about thirty of the grandest Lancashire men. Any one of them is willing to pay the greatest sacrifice a man can pay – he is willing to lay down his life for his fellow men. Only too well do I know that you would not lose me, but even my love for you both will never cause me to ask any one of them to go into danger for my sake, and if God will help me I shall never ask one of them to do any duty which I dare not carry out myself. Most of them have a wife and family. Many are a little older than I. For myself, I am a single man, so it is on you that the grief will fall if it is disposed that I, too, give up my life. It will indeed be a cruel blow in your old age, but I know that you will both realise that had I not offered my meagre service to my country I should have been a craven – and that name will never be applied to a member of the family if the example of my father and mother bears its true fruit.
You have had a hard life and are proud of your children. We are all proud of you, and when at last you are called upon you will know that no parents ever sacrificed themselves so wholeheartedly for their children. I hope and trust that that time is far off, and that God will grant you peace and comfort in your old age.
If I die it will be with one regret, that I have not been able to repay you (not that you want repayment – Heaven knows) for your infinite love and kindness: but you will be repaid; I am confident of that.
It is cruel to think that my dear mother must bear this heavy burden, but she is brave, and she will know that the parting will not be for long – for the longest life is only brief.
Your ever loving son,
That poignant letter is now in the possession of Alec’s nephew Robert Holden, a former Bolton police sergeant and Alec Clegg’s name is recorded on the war memorial at Thiepval, as well as a memorial at Sunninghill School.
Two of Alec’s brothers, Samuel and Albert, also served in France during the war and both survived.
Lois Dean, July 2016
Bolton Journal, 14th July 1916, page 8.
Bolton Journal, 16th February 1917, page 6
Ancestry website (www.ancestrylibrary.com); ‘UK, Soldiers died in the Great War 1914-19’.