THE Thiepval Monument is a massive tower of stones and bricks. It cannot be described as beautiful, but even from a distance it impresses you with its dignity. As you move towards it, you realise its scale: 45 metres high, its enormity on a slight ridge really stands out in the flat, French landscape, even rising above the treetops.

But it is only when you get up close to it, when you are dwarfed beneath its towering central arch which is 24 metres high, that you realise that each of the giant tiers of legs which hold it up is inscribed with names.

Each name, in capitals, is about an inch high.

They are all over. You are surrounded by them. They stare down at you – the names of 72,200 British and South African men who were killed on the battlefields near the River Somme between July 1915 and March 1918.

These are not the names of every man who died – sprouting in the flat fields for miles around are cemeteries in which lie 50,000 bodies with their names engraved on the headstones above them.

The names on the monument are of the men whose bodies were never found. Men who were buried so deep in their trenches or tunnels that they could never be dug out. Men who fell on top of the mud and were pounded or churned into it until they ceased to exist. Men who one moment were alive and fighting but the next instant had vanished, vaporised by an enormous explosion so that there was nothing left of them to bury.

Seventy-two thousand names: the missing of the Somme.

The monument at Thiepval is a few kilometres from where the Durham Pals of the 18th Durham Light Infantry, who featured in yesterday’s Echo, went over the top at Serre on July 1, 1916. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who is probably best known in the North-East for his brilliant reshaping of Lindisfarne castle, and was built with 10m bricks and 100,000 cubic feet of stone between 1929 and 1932.

Once you’ve come to terms with the enormity of the monument, the next question is: who were all these men?

In 2003, a North-East couple, Pam and Ken Linge, decided to answer that question by creating The Database of the Missing. It is a collection of photographs and biographies of those whose names are on the memorial. The collection is stored on computers in the Thiepval visitor centre, and is growing day by day.

Pam and Ken now live in Haydon Bridge in Northumberland, and Ken is the son of Willington’s remarkable local historian, Olive – regular readers will remember we met Olive in Memories 279 when she told us the story of the stone outside Willington library on which Mary, Queen of Scots, once rested her royal derriere.

Pam and Ken have just published a book entitled Missing But Not Forgotten: Men of the Thiepval Memorial. It contains some of the biographies that they have so far uncovered. Each of those biographies is a snapshot of a life cut short in the most brutal way.

Here are just three of those snapshots:

2nd Lt Arthur Selwyn Morley, 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry

ARTHUR came from Houghton-le-Spring, and was quickly promoted up the ranks of the DLI. Once, while bathing in the River Somme, he became entangled in the weeds and had to be dragged back to the surface by a soldier from Bishop Auckland who dived in to his rescue. That soldier who saved his life was killed a week afterwards.

Arthur survived the first day of the Somme. He wrote home: “The charge over 1,200 yards of ground was the most magnificent sight I have seen, and I shall never forget nor cease to marvel that human beings are capable of such calm resolution.

“I am thankful I was able to keep a clear head to lead my brave men, who were simply splendid, and never turned a hair during the three days of action. The North Countrymen were too good for even the famous Prussians, who wined for mercy after shooting us down with hellish machine-gun fire to the moment we reached them.

“I was slightly wounded in the knee by a blow from an almost spent shrapnel, and several bullets ripped my tunic, but I am A1.

“My friend, Lt Martin, was treacherously shot through the neck by a wounded German, whom he passed but then turned and slew. The Huns deserved no mercy for treachery like that.

“We marched from the battlefield singing ‘keep the home fires burning’, and every man had a German spiked helmet or other trophy.”

Arthur was awarded the Military Cross on August 25, 1916, for his “conspicuous gallantry”, and he was killed on September 16, aged 26.

Lt Alfred Frederick Maynard, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

ALFRED grew up in North Bailey, Durham. He was the son of the Durham Probate Registrar and he attended Durham School, before going up to Cambridge University.

He played cricket for Durham County – one memorable match, he scored an 89 in “beautifully free fashion” and then took a brilliant one-handed catch on the boundary.

He played rugby for Harlequins, and in 1913-14, received an international call-up, playing as a forward for England against the home nations.

He was killed on the Somme in an attack on the fortress village of Beaumont Hamel, on November 13, 1916, aged 22.

Maj Bede Liddell Fenton, Dorsetshire Regiment

BEDE was the son of the vicar of Shotton Colliery in County Durham – in St Saviour’s Church, there is a stained glass window dedicated to him. He went to Oxford University and was headmaster of a school in Singapore when the war broke out.

He broke his teaching contract, returned home and enlisted.

He was killed on July 15, 1916, two days after sending his last letter home. It read: “I cannot remember when last I had my clothes, or even boots, off, or when I washed my hands or shaved, but it seems a long way back. Since 1 July, we have lost many officers and men.

“The village which we recently occupied has been mentioned often in the papers, and I see the Daily Mail talks about fighting from house to house and street to street. The only signs of the village, however, are parts of the east and west end walls of the church and a few heaps of bricks. Not a sign of a street or road, nothing but trenches and craters – some 20ft deep where our shells have fallen.

“It is impossible to describe the battlefield round here. As we advanced to the Hun position along a track with the bank on one side of it and the other exposed, we passed heaps of dead bodies of both our fellows and the Huns – artillery and machine-gun fire, and probably gas, had accounted for them. I saw a head with a hand just beside it – probably all that remained of some poor chap.”

Bede, 33, was killed near Ovillers while searching for a lieutenant who had been reported wounded. His body was found just 15 metres from the German trenches beside that of the lieutenant. The lieutenant’s body was recovered and given a proper burial, but Bede has no known resting place, so his name appears on the Thiepval Monument.

Missing But Not Forgotten: Men of the Thiepval Memorial by Pam and Ken Linge (Pen & Sword, £25)