First World War: Memories of the Somme

Stan and May Tempest on their wedding day (s)
Stan and May Tempest on their wedding day (s)

The Harrogate Advertiser series is marking 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War.

Lizzie Callinan learns about the horrors two Ripon brothers endured, from memories handed down to Ripon man Pete Colman.



A total of 19,240 British soldiers died on July 1, 1916 - the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

It was the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army, and the entire offensive cost the army 420,000 casualties.

The impact of this was felt throughout the country, but in particular the north of England, where a number of Pals batallions had been produced.

Ripon man Pete Colman contacted us to share the memories of his grandfather Stanley Cooper-Tempest.

Stan joined the West Yorkshire Regiment at the start of the war, and was sent to France, where he fought at the Somme.

He suffered a shoulder injury due to an exploding shell, and, lying on a stretcher en route to his recovery at hospital in Gosport, an officer told him: “That’s the war over for you, Temp.”

He recalled seeing a friend from Ripon with part of his leg blown off - he was lucky to survive, and was seen in Ripon after the war.

But another who he recognised from Ripon was dead in the trench.

When Stan returned to the city on leave he called to see the mother of the soldier he had recognised to tell her about his death, but she would not believe him.

Stan, like many of the soldiers who were lucky to return home, did not relive the true horrors of war when he returned home.

Upon arriving back at his house, Stan was ordered by his wife May to head straight to the garden shed and change out of his clothes, the reason being that they were covered in fleas and lice.

When his mother heard he had signed up she was so upset she took a taxi to York, and tried to buy him out of the Army. But it was too late. She was told “you can’t buy him out”.

While in France Stan passed his brother Gordon while they were marching down the same road.

He only found out after the event by one of his own group saying “Hey Temp, just seen your lad down the road”.

Gordon Tempest signed up for the war outside Ripon Town Hall. When giving his age he was told: “You are underage son, never mind. Take a walk around the market place - when you come back round you will be old enough.”

Gordon was soon on his way to the Western Front, first France then Belgium where he became a prisoner of war.

He spent three years being ill-treated and nearly starved to death.

When the camp was liberated the gates were just left open, with the prisoners being told to make their own way back to England.

Thankfully for Gordon, who was by that point painfully thin and sick, a Belgian couple who were teachers felt sorry for him and took him in with their family.

After some time they got him back to some sort of good health before he made his way back home.

However, Gordon died aged 54 with his brother Stan being 77. Pete was given Stan as his middle name.

Pete’s uncle Horace Colman once lived in the cottage in Borrage Lane where the poet Wilfred Owen lived and wrote from March to June 1918 while recovering from shell shock.

He was later to return to the front line in France, where he was killed just before the end of the war.

Pete said: “I would like to share one story I was told some years ago by an old chap I met in Bishop Monkton.

“He told me that while he was sat in a trench in France, he noticed a sign saying ‘Don’t touch the rats’.

“Later that moonlit night he was to find out why it was there. He said first it was the noise that woke him up, then looking along the top of the trench, the sight of thousands of rats running towards him.

“They passed within feet of him along the top of the trench, “looking for more dead bodies”. He said if the rats had been diverted into the trench they would have been eaten alive.

“No matter what’s written about the First World War it will never come close to the true horror of how it really was.

“I’m so lucky to still have my mother Olga Clara Cooper-Colman aged 94, with a fantastic memory, and with her sister, Roma Hair.”

Both helped Pete compile the information.