Edwin Slater

Edwin Slater was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire on April 13, 1892. In 1911 he was employed as an Iron Turner at Platt Brothers & Company in Oldham, as was his father.  At this time, Platt Brothers had established itself as the world’s largest textile machinery manufacturer.

He is shown below in “early 1915”,  (probably May 1915), taken from a group photo with his brother Arthur, of the 1/9th Battalion Manchester Regiment, and his sister Eleanor.

Edwin Slater 1915

There are no Army service or pension records for Edwin; we only have his Medal Index Card, his 1915 Star Roll and his British War Medal and Victory Medal Roll entry.

Edwin Slater Medal Index Card

His Medal Index Card (MIC) gives us his regimental number (22754) and tells us that he was in the 11th Battalion Royal Scots (Lothian) Regiment and that he was entitled to three medals: 1915 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal. It also tells us that his first date of entry of overseas deployment was August 11, 1915 to France. Finally, it indicates that he was demobilized on March 22, 1919 to the Class Z Reserve.

The Class Z Reserve was a Reserve contingent of the British Army consisting of discharged enlisted soldiers. The first Z Reserve was authorized by an Army Order of December 3, 1918 and was abolished on March 31, 1920 when the expected problems with violations of the Armistice did not materialize.

Edwin Slater 1915 Star Roll

His 1915 Star Roll matches the information on his Medal Index Card (which is not always the case). The Star Roll is a crucial document because it also records all the other men of the 11th Battalion Royal Scots with the same disembarkation date as Edwin. By researching those men, several of whom have surviving service records we can deduce many things with a very high degree of certainty.

Below is a B.103 form from one of the men Edwin deployed with (Pte. DAVID CRIGHTON, 21179).  It is identical to all of the surviving Service Records and it clearly shows their arrival in France and their assignments in the initial few weeks there.

11th Royal Scots B.103

Consequently, we know that Edwin Slater was part of a draft (the third draft) of at least 40 men who arrived at Boulogne on August 12, 1915. Almost all of these men attested and joined the Royal Scots in April/May 1915.  Many of them attested at various locations throughout the UK and then traveled to Glencorse Barracks in Scotland joining the Royal Scots one or two days later. They went through basic training and then shipped out to France on August 11, 1918 arriving in Boulogne the next day.  From there they were immediately assigned to the 5th Entrenching Battalion of the First Army. Entrenching battalions were temporary units and allocated at a Corps level. They were used as pools of men, from which drafts of replacements could be drawn by conventional infantry battalions.

Note: An analysis of the enlistment dates of the 10 men that joined the 11th Royal Scots with service numbers +/- 10 digits from his shows that he must have joined around May 10, 1915.

The following men were posted to the 11th Battalion Royal Scots, in the field, on September 18, 1915.

Rank No. Forename MI Surname Enlisted
Sgt 10168 THOMAS A PLIMER
Pte 13334 THOMAS CLOSE 01-Sep-14
Pte 16199 DAVID TAYLOR
A/Cpl 20773 JOHN McMILLAN
Pte 20899 ROBERT GUNN 12-Mar-15
Sgt 21053 JOHN NEILSON
L/Cpl 21054 ROBERT FERGUSON 07-Apr-15
Pte 21056 JOHN BELL
Pte 21116 SAMUEL WILLIS
Pte 21117 SAMUEL TAGGART
Pte 21118 ANDREW FUARY
Pte 21128 HUGH O’DONNELL 17-Apr-15
Pte 21134 WILLIAM MYLES 16-Apr-15
Pte 21158 HENRY HAMMOND
Pte 21159 ANDREW MILLER
Pte 21173 WILLIAM GRANT 22-Apr-15
Pte 21179 DAVID CRIGHTON 23-Apr-15
Cpl 22691 JOHN HAWKINS 29-Apr-15
Pte 22721 JOHN BARLAS 04-May-15
Pte 22726 THOMAS KIRK 22-Apr-15
Pte 22754 EDWIN SLATER
Pte 22764 WILLIAM BLACK 12-May-15
Pte 22776 JAMES FINNIGAN 14-May-15
Pte 22809 W GRAHAM
Cpl 22814 JOHN E BROOKS 19-May-15
Pte 22826 JOHN BRADY 17-May-15
Pte 22933 EDWARD PEARSON 27-May-15
Pte 23023 FRANK C E WILSON 31-May-15
Pte 23409 JAMES CARR 29-Jun-15
Sgt 23656 WILLIAM H PASCOE 13-Apr-15
Pte 23664 WILLIAM E SOUTH 14-Apr-15
Pte 23685 WILLIAM R WOOD 08-Apr-15
Sgt 23698 HENRY W DUNHAM
Pte 23708 WILLIAM J BRASSETT
Pte 23709 ALBERT G EVEREST 15-May-15
Pte 23710 ALBERT R GALE 13-Apr-15
Cpl 23711 ARTHUR JONES 12-May-15
Pte 23715 CRISTOPHER R PAUL 17-Apr-15
Pte 23716 SAMUEL ROSS
L/Cpl 23766 ROBERT McINTOSH

On this date, the 11th Royal Scots were at Cambrin (near Bethune) and engaged in training, having recently been relieved in the line.  They went back into the trenches on the 25th and were involved in a significant action between 25-28th in the opening phase of the Battle of Loos resulting in 381 Officers and Other Ranks killed, missing or wounded.

It is sobering to discover that of the 40 men listed in this draft, fully 17 would be Killed in Action and a further 8 would be discharged due to wounds or sickness and awarded the Silver War Badge. Two men won the Military Medal, one was Mentioned in Despatches and one man deserted.

Edwin Slater WWI Service Medal and Award Roll

Edwin Slater’s Service Medal and Award Roll entry also indicate that he at some point was transferred to the 16th Battalion Royal Scots Regiment.

The final piece of surviving information we have is the picture below (Edwin Slater is front row, right):

Edwin Slater with Four Comrades

There is some indistinct writing on the photo but careful examination  shows that it reads: “Loos 1915, Somme 1916, Ypres 1917, Arras 1917, Soissons 1918, Blicquy 1918, The Quarries 1918”.  Also, at the bottom it says “5 Tanks, December 12, 1918”. This photo is a so called “survivors photo” taken after the Armistice with men about to be demobilized and celebrating their comradeship, service and, more importantly, their survival.

Military Medal

Edwin is wearing a medal ribbon:

Edwin Slater Wearing Military Medal Ribbon

The ribbon is for the Military Medal (MM) and Edwin Slater’s Military Medal (MM) was announced in the London Gazette on the 19th November, 1917 (and in the Edinburgh Gazette on 21st November 1917).  The action for which it was awarded would have been some time prior to this publication date. The gazette, simply says “22754 Pte E. Slater, R. Scots (Ashton-under-Lyne)”.

Edwin Slater Edinburgh Gazette 1917

Additionally, we have a short article in his local newspaper, the Ashton Reporter, regarding his award but unfortunately it provides no additional details except that it was published on October 20, 1917 a month before the official listing in the London Gazette.

Ashton Reporter October 20, 1917

Edwin’s Military Medal award was promulgated in the London Gazette of November 19, 1917. His was one of 5 MMs awarded to men of the 13th Royal Scots so it would appear that at some point he was transferred, or attached, to the 13th Battalion even though there is no mention of this on his medal roll.

At this time, the 13th Royal Scots were part of the 45th Brigade of the 15th Scottish Division. Edwin’s Registered Paper (No RP/68/121/327) indicates an award for 3rd Ypres. His schedule number (No 111419) indicates it was one of five 15th Division Military Medals awarded to the 13th Royal Scots.

The five MM awards, all from the 13/Battalion Royal Scots, were to:

16152 JAMES STEEL Schedule No 111417
20635 WILLIAM CARR Schedule No 111418
22754 EDWIN SLATER Schedule No 111419
37371 WILLIAM MULHOLLAND Schedule No 111420
15296 HENRY CHARLESON Schedule No 111422

The London Gazette of November 19, 1917 covers awards from July 27, 1917 to September 26, 1917. But we know that these awards were for gallantry on Wednesday August 22, 1917 in the 15th Division’s attack that day. The 15th Division’s 45th Brigade attacked Potsdam, Vampir and Borry Farms at 4:45am. Under the light of flares, the 13th Royal Scots’ and the 11th Argyll and Southern Highlanders’ attacking infantry was mostly wiped out by machine gun fire. Survivors fell back to establish a line from Railway Dump to Beck House. The 13th Royal Scots tried to get forward repeatedly throughout the day but were unsuccessful. Two German counter-attacks were beaten off with rifle fire and artillery. The 11th Argyll and Southern Highlanders were themselves awarded 4 Military Medals for the same action.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves …

11th Royal Scots

The 11th were attached to the 27th (Lowland) Infantry Brigade, of the 9th (Scottish) Division and moved to Bramshott in the Bordon area of Hampshire. In late April, 1915 whilst located at Bramshott, the Battalion received orders to move to the front and on the 11 May, 1915 the main body of men boarded the S.S. Invicta and crossed the English Channel landing at Boulogne, France later that same day.

The Battle of Loos (Sep 25 – Oct 15, 1915)

As already noted, the 11th Royal Scots, as part of the 9th Division of the First Army, fought in the front line during the opening phases of the Battle of Loos between September 25th to the 28th.  Edwin Slater had been in France for just a few weeks and had arrived there after just a few short months of basic training. All of these newly arrived men were ill equipped to be thrust into the front line of a major offensive. From this draft of 40 men, Pte. WILLIAM BLACK (22764) was killed in action on the last day of the battle; less than a month after joining the Battalion in France. By the time it was over, the 9th (Scottish) Division had lost a staggering 6,058 casualties including 190 Officers.

Wounded in Action

Ashton Reporter October 9, 1915

After approximately 4 months of treatment and rest in the UK, Edwin returned to the front lines in France on February 1, 1916.

Two more men from this draft of 40 lost their lives in November and December 1915.  Pte JOHN BARLAS (22721) was severely wounded in the face on November 11, 1915 and a week later was repatriated to the UK on the HM HS ANGLIA. Unfortunately, on November 17, 1915 the ANGLIA struck a mine and sank 1 mile off the coast of England, going down in just 15 minutes.  134 people drowned; Pte. BARLAS was one of them. Later, Private DAVID CRIGHTON (21179) was killed in action on December 12, 1915 while the 11th Royal Scots were once again in the front line.

The Battles of the Somme (Jul 1 – Nov 18, 1916)

The Somme was an Allied offensive that changed its nature due to the German attack against the French in the epic Battle of Verdun, which lasted from late February to November. Huge British losses were inflicted by the Germans on the first day followed by a series of fiercely-contested phases that became attritional in nature. September 15, 1916 saw the first-ever use of tanks in the phase known as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. The British army in France was now approaching its maximum strength in numbers but was still developing in terms of tactics, technology, and command and control.

The British Fourth Army faced three separate very formidable German defensive systems of trenches, dugouts, underground shelters and deep barbed wire defences.

At this time, the 11th Royal Scots were in the 27th Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division attached to the XIII Corps of the British Fourth Army.

Somme: Battle of Albert, (1 – 13 Jul, 1916)

In this opening phase, the French and British assault broke into and gradually moved beyond the first of the German defensive systems. For the British, the attack on 1 July proved to be the worst day in the nation’s military history in terms of casualties sustained.

The 11th Royal Scots were in the reserve line moving up at 8pm on the 2nd to relieve the front line troops which was achieved by 3am on the 3rd. They remained in the front line suffering casualties every day from intense enemy shelling. Trenches were consolidated and patrols sent out until July 8th when they moved to Bivouac in the rear to rest and refit.

Somme: Battle of Bazentin, (14 – 17 Jul, 1916)

The 11th Royal Scots were in the front line and attacked the German line in the early hours of July 14th. They quickly achieved their first objective, capturing 63 German prisoners in the process, but their success came with a high cost of casualties.  Three men from the draft of 40 lost their lives that day:

Rank No. Forename MI Surname Died
L/Cpl 21054 ROBERT FERGUSON 14-Jul-16
Pte 22826 JOHN BRADY 14-Jul-16
Pte 23685 WILLIAM R WOOD 14-Jul-16

More frontal attacks of the German lines were undertaken by the 11th Royal Scots on the following days, as the 9th Division attempted to secure all their objectives of the initial attack.  The Battalion was relieved from their front line duties at 8pm on the 17th July.

Wounded in Action

Pte. Edwin Slater (22754) Royal Scots was listed in the Daily Casualty List published in The Scotsman newspaper on August 24, 1916.

Daily Casualty List. The Scotsman August 24, 1916

Generally speaking, it would take approximately one month from a soldier being wounded for them to appear in the casualty list. This was in part to allow the next of kin to be officially notified before finding it in the newspaper.

An analysis of the other men appearing in this Casualty List from the 11th Royal Scots shows that they were all wounded on July 14, 1916; the first day the 11th were in the line at the Battle of the Somme.  As noted above, it could have been much worse.

It is almost certain that he was repatriated to a Hospital in the UK for some months before he returned to join the Battalion again.

Somme: High Wood

On the 18th October, the 11th were back in the Somme front lines again, involved in actions to secure the feature known as The Butte de Warlencourt. The attack was undertaken under extremely difficult conditions of heavy rain, mud and intense cold, leading to large numbers suffering from exposure and trench foot in addition to considerable losses in action.  Pte. JAMES FINNIGAN (22776) of the draft of 40 was wounded on the 20th, dying of those wounds on October 24, 1916.

Arras Daylight Reconnaissance (March 21, 1917)

By February 1917 the Allied Forces were planning and rehearsing the Arras Offensive which was scheduled to commence on April 9th.  In March, intelligence was received that the Germans were withdrawing from certain positions and so Sir Charles Fergusson, (VXII Corps Commander), resolved to test the enemy’s strength in front of Arras by means of a daylight raid. The 11th Battalion Royal Scots were selected. The “raid” was a frontal assault on the German trenches carried out by approximately 200 men and resulted in a loss of 7 Officers and almost 70 Other Ranks killed, missing or wounded. Nevertheless, they had fulfilled their mission by proving that the Germans had in fact held themselves in full strength in their line opposite XVII Corps. Reports from the raid estimated that perhaps as many as 100 Germans had been killed or taken prisoner.

The efforts of the 11th Royal Scots that day elicited a letter of praise from the Third Army Commanding Officer.

General's Letter March 21, 1917

Pte. WILLIAM SOUTH (23664) of the Draft of 40 also lost his life that day.

Now confident that the Germans had not withdrawn and were still at full strength, the Arras Offensive was put back into motion.

The Arras Offensive (9 Apr – 16 Jun, 1917)

The British were called upon to launch an attack in support of a larger French offensive: the battles of the Chemin des Dames and the hills of Champagne. The opening Battle of Vimy and the First Battle of the Scarpe were very encouraging, but once again the Offensive bogged down into an attritional slog.

The Battalion moved into the trenches on April 4th and endured heavy shelling from the enemy resulting in 4 men killed and 7 wounded. One of the men killed that day was Pte. HUGH O’DONNELL (21128) from the Draft of 40.

The 13th Battalion Royal Scots

Frustratingly, we do not know exactly when Edwin returned to action after his wounds but his award of the Military Medal confirms that when he did return to the front he joined, or was attached to, the 13th Royal Scots.

Pte. Edwin Slater, MM

August 22, 1917

The action of August 22, 1917, took place in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front as part of the Third Battle of Ypres. The attack on 22 August, although unsuccessful, advanced the British front line up to 600 yards in places, on a two-mile front but failed to reach the more distant objectives it had been set.

On 17 August, the fresh and rested 15th (Scottish) Division relieved the 16th (Irish) Division in the XIX Corps area. In the 15th Division area, supported by patrols from the 47th (1/2nd London) Division south of the Ypres–Roulers railway, the 45th Brigade on the right was to attack behind four tanks, a creeping barrage and overhead fire from 32 machine-guns but the tanks ditched short of the front line on the Frezenberg–Zonnebeke road. As soon as the infantry advance began, German artillery-fire fell along a line from Frezenberg to Square Farm, followed by machine-gun fire on the attacking troops and on the support and reserve troops even before they left their trenches. The 13th Battalion, Royal Scots and the 11th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were supported by the 6th Battalion, Cameron Highlanders. As soon as the advance began, German small-arms fire became so dense that runners could not go back or reinforcements move forward. Recognition flares were seen later at Potsdam, Borry Farm and Vampir Farm but nothing else was known of the progress of the infantry. Survivors retreated to join the 6th Camerons along the track running north-west from the Railway Dump to Beck House.

Machine-gun fire from the German fortified posts had devastated the infantry of the 15th (Scottish) Division as they struggled through the mud. A report from the 8th Seaforth described how the creeping barrage had failed to damage many pillboxes; the German defences had been underestimated and were insufficiently bombarded by the heavy artillery. The swiftness of the Germans in inflicting casualties left the survivors incapable of capturing strong points, even where the garrisons seemed willing to surrender.

The Official History of the Great War records that the 15th (Scottish) Division suffered 2,071 casualties; 1,052 casualties in the 44th Brigade and 1,019 in the 45th Brigade.

The following account, from the perspective of the 13th Royal Scots, is excerpted from The Royal Scots 1914-1919, by Major John Ewing, M.C. :

Owing to the bad weather, operations of any magnitude had to be postponed, but whenever there were any signs of improvement, attacks were launched. On August 16 our position was strengthened when we secured a hold on Langermark but after this operation rain set in again. The 13th Royal Scots, after their ordeal of July 31, 1917, were given a rest until August 20th when they took over the front line near Frezenberg, with their right flank on the Ypres-Roulers Railway. “D” and “B” were the two front companies with “C” in support and “A” in reserve. An attack, in which the 15th and 61st Divisions were to co-operate was arranged for 4:45am on August 22nd. The 13th Royal Scots, who went into action with Major Mitchell in command, formed the right Battalion of the Division, and their objective was a line extending from South of the railway to Bremen Redoubt, a fortified pill-box, exclusive. In view of the number of formidable pill-boxes to be encountered, special parties furnished by the Royal Scots Fusiliers and “A” and “C” companies of the Royal Scots were detailed to “mop up” particular points.

Most of the hostile shelling fortunately dropped behind the line of the assembled troops, but the attack, though carried out with the utmost gallantry, made little progress. Numerous Boche aeroplanes audaciously buzzed over our lines and inflicted several casualties on our men, who were met, moreover, by a terrific machine gun fire, particularly from the large pill-box known as Potsdam. The Royal Scots formed a line in front of Vampir and Potsdam and beat off several counter-attacks, but were unable to make any impression on the enemy’s defences. Ultimately, Major Mitchell established a new line from the railway, slightly in front of our original position, which the Royal Scots, in spite of a galling shell fire, including “shorts” from our own artillery, maintained without serious difficulty. Heavy losses were inflicted on the Boches by our rifle and Lewis Gun fire, on one occasion a party of sixty of the enemy being almost annihilated. Their exertions however, told heavily on the men, and they were very exhausted when on the night of the 22nd they were relieved and marched to a camp near Ypres.

The number of 13/Royal Scots casualties was again alarmingly high, (276 killed, wounded and missing including two officers killed), and as a result of the two actions in the salient practically a new Battalion had to be formed.

1918

We do not know what happened to Edwin between his winning the Military Medal in August 1917 to the end of the war but if we are to believe his Medal Roll at some point he transferred to the 16th Battalion Royal Scots from where he was demobilized. However, that does not seem to add up. The 16th Royal Scots were reduced to a cadre strength and attached to the 39th Division in May 1918 after suffering heavy casualties. They were finally disbanded in France on August 14, 1918 but we know that Edwin was not demobilized until early 1919.

Edwin Slater with Four Comrades

As noted earlier, the writing on the above photo says “Loos 1915, Somme 1916, Ypres 1917, Arras 1917, Soissons 1918, Blicquy 1918, The Quarries 1918”.

Loos 1915, Somme 1916, Ypres 1917 and Arras 1917 all fit well with the battles fought by the 11th Royal Scots. Whereas, Soissons 1918 [23 July – 2 August 1918], The Quarries 1918 [12-16 Sept 1918] and Blicquy 1918 [Nov 11, 1918] fit well with the 13th Royal Scots.

It’s my belief that Edwin’s Medal Roll is wrong and instead of the 16th it should actually say 13th – but this is pure conjecture on my part.

Class Z Reserve
Pte. Edwin Slater was demobilized to Class Z reserve on March 22, 1919.

The Class Z Reserve was authorised by an Army Order of December 3, 1918. There were fears that Germany would not accept the terms of any peace treaty, and therefore the British Government decided it would be wise to be able to quickly recall trained men in the eventuality of a resumption of hostilities. Soldiers who were being demobilised, particularly those who had agreed to serve “for the duration of the War”, were at first posted to Class Z. They returned to civilian life but with an obligation to return to military service if called upon. The Z Reserve was abolished on March 31, 1920.

Royal Visit to Ashton-under-Lyne May 20, 1938

Edwin was presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they visited Ashton on May 20, 1938 at the very end of their 4 day tour of Lancashire.

Edwin Slater with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth
Ashton May 20, 1938

Not only was he presented to the King and Queen, he also had the honour of accompanying them when they briefly met with some of the disabled ex-servicemen of Ashton, as can be seen in the photo below.

Royal Visit to Ashton May 20, 1938
With Disabled Ex-Servicemen

LAST POST

Edwin Slater died in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire on November 23, 1945. He was 53 years old.

References

The History of the 9th (Scottish) Division, 1914 – 1919
Major John Ewing, MC

The Royal Scots, 1914-1919, Vol I 1914 – May 1919
Major John Ewing, MC

The Royal Scots, 1914-1919, Vol II May 1917 – May 1919 and Appendices
Major John Ewing, MC

Alfred Edward Downing

Alfred Edward Downing (“Eddie”) was born in Warrington, Lancashire on September 17, 1888. He attended Wycliff School Warrington & Commercial Institute and eventually became a “wire drawer” at Witecross Wire Co, Ltd., Warrington, the local wire works.

Albert Edward Downing

He attested on August 11, 1914 in Warrington and joined the 7th Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Regiment (KRRR) as a Rifleman (Private).  He was 25 years old. They were sent to Winchester for training and within 2 months he had been promoted to Lance Corporal. 5 months later he was promoted to full Corporal and a month later promoted again to Lance Sergeant. He was promoted to full Sergeant on May 11, 1915 one week before the Battalion shipped out to France.

FRANCE 1915

The Battalion shipped to France, arriving in Boulogne on May 19, 1915.

On July 30 1915 the Battalion fought in the Actions of Hooge being the first British division to be attacked with liquid flamethrowers.

On September 25, 1915 they were in action again in the the Second Attack on Bellewaarde, at Ypres.

Wounded in Action (1916)

Wounded in action on May 3, 1916 with a Gunshot wound to the right forearm. He was evacuated from France and admitted to 2nd Western General Hospital, in Manchester, on May 7, 1916. He remained there for approximately 2 months (67 days) being discharged on July 8, 1916. While he was there he also had 5 Dental Extractions (ouch!). On leaving hospital he remained in the UK.

5th Kings Royal Rifle Regiment

On October 4, 1916 Sgt. Downing was transferred to the 5th Kings Royal Rifle Regiment.

Commissioned

On May 5, 1917 he was awarded a commission and sent to the No 18 Officer Cadet Battalion, at Prior Park, Bath.

1457806 WO 339 87212 00020

9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

3 1/2 months later, on August 28, 1917, he was discharged to the Special Reserve Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (LNLR) on a temporary commission as a  2nd Lieutenant.

Officer Cadet A.E. Downing

And, as was customary, his temporary commission was published in the London Gazette along with all the other men receiving commissions and officers changing rank.

Supplement to the London Gazette 23-9-1917

FRANCE (1917)

2nd Lt. A. E. Downing joined the 9th LNLR in France on August 29, 1917.

2nd Lt A.E. Downing

German Spring Offensive

On March 21, 1918 the German Spring Offensive (Kaiserschlacht) started with Operation Michael. This was the last attempt by the German Armies to break though the allies Western Front, before the arrival of masses of fresh American troops would have made the war unwinnable for them.

Map of the Western Front. July 15, 1918.

On April 9, 1918 Operation Georgette: the Battle of Lys kicked off. The British had been drawn away to the south to protect Amiens. The Germans switched their attack to the area South of Ypres threatening the key railway supply line at Hazebrouck, eventually the channel ports of Calais, Dunkirk would be threatened, raising the British fear of being choked to death.

On 11th April, 1918 Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (Commander of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front) issued the following Special Order of the Day which summarizes the critical situation of the Allied forces then on the Western Front:

“Three weeks ago today the enemy began his terrific attacks against us on a fifty-mile front. His objects are to separate us from the French, to take the Channel Ports, and destroy the British Army.

In spite of throwing already one hundred and six divisions into the battle, and enduring the most reckless sacrifice of human life, he has, as yet, made little progress towards his goals. We owe this to the determined fighting and self-sacrifice of our troops.

Many amongst us now are tired. To those I would say that victory will belong to the side which holds out the longest.

The French Army is moving rapidly, and in great force to our support.

There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end.

The safety of our homes, and the freedom of mankind depend alike upon the conduct of each one of us at this critical moment.”

At this time, the 9th Loyal North Lancashires were part of the 74th Infantry Brigade, 25th Division, British IX Corps.  The 74th Inf. Brigade under the command of Brigadier-General H. M. Craigie Halkett, comprised the 11th Lancashire Fusiliers, 3rd Worcesters and the 9th Loyal North Lancashires.

April 12, 1918

“Early on the morning of the 12th April, 1918 the enemy attacked heavily all along the front, as well as to the right and left of the divisional sector, and a retirement became necessary after continuous hard fighting. By the night of the 13th the 74th Brigade, retiring in touch with the 101st and 88th Brigades on right and left respectively, was established on the high ground east of Bailleul. The Germans again followed up and the outpost line of the Bailleul-Armentieres road was driven in: late in the afternoon of the 13th, parties of the enemy succeeded in reaching the high ground, but they were immediately counter-attacked by some of the Battalion led by 2nd Lieutenant A. E. Downing, together with a few men of other corps, and many Germans were killed the rest put to flight and several machine-guns were captured.”

© Loyal North Lancashire Regiment 1914-1919, Colonel H. C. Wylly. ISBN-13: 978-1847347978.

May 27, 1918

On May 27, 1918 the third major German Offensive against the French on the Aisne (“Blucher-Yorck”) began, overwhelming Hamilton-Gordon’s IX British Corps which had been sent there to rest and refit after being involved in “Michael” and “Georgette”.

The battalion war diary shows that the 9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment were in Divisional reserve arriving at Vandeuil in the early hours of May 24. The Commanding Officer inspected the Battalion the next day and the following day (Sunday) they had a church parade.  At 7:15pm Sunday evening they received orders to prepare to move at once and by 11pm they were marching to Muscourt, (12.5 km NW) having to wear Box Respirators during the later part of the journey owing to gas shelling by the Germans which started at 1am. They arrived at camp at Muscourt at 4am.

[At this point, 2nd Lt. Downing was approximately 6 km west of the 1/Sherwoods where Pte. Arthur Slater was supposed to be.]

At 9am one Platoon per Company were ordered to proceed to a line along the Aisne Canal bank, N.E. of Maizy, to form a nucleus of defense (2 km NW of Muscourt).  By noon, the remainder of the Battalion were ordered to immediately reinforce the defensive line already taken up.  The total going into action was 12 Officers and 496 other ranks.

The following is taken from Military Operations France And Belgium 1918 Vol-III, Brigadier-General Sir James E. Edmonds.

Earlier in the day, about 9.30 A.M., Germans (of the 28th Division) had reached the Aisne north of Maizy, but were there held up by artillery fire on the river bridge; later some of them managed to cross by an undefended bridge lower down in the French area. The canal bridge was, however, defended by part of the 9/Loyal North Lancashire, which had just arrived on the scene, and it was not until about 11.30 a.m., after the German artillery had been brought into action on the hill above Beaurieux, to the north, that resistance was overcome. The L.N. Lancashire, with the 74th Light Trench Mortar Battery, 105th Field Company R.E. and a section of machine guns, then swung back and formed a left defensive flank through Muscourt and westward, and the 50th Division Lewis Gun School, coming up with 24 guns to reinforce, extended this flank as far as the hill east of Revillon, on the boundary of the British sector.

In the centre and right of Jackson’s sector, the enemy (6th Guard Division) having been checked between Maizy and Concevreux by the destruction of the canal bridges and the good defence of the 11 /Lancashire Fusiliers and 3/ Worcestershire, had begun to work round by the west. As a result, the defenders were driven from Revillon hill, and then, about 1 p.m., from the Muscourt position, when the left flank of the 74th Brigade fell back a mile to the line Meurival — Beauregard Farm. There, in spite of the appearance of German reinforcements, a further stand was made until between 4 and 5 p.m., when the 9/L.N. Lancashire and the troops with it fell back to the long ridge which lies 1 1/4 miles south of Meurival and runs north-eastward towards Roucy.

Beauregard Farm

There is much more about the 3rd Battle of the Aisne, here.

We do not know the full details of exactly what happened to him but we do have the following letter that was sent to the Downings by Pte. Kent:

Letter from Pte Henry Kent, 29453.

The letter reads:

He was my Platoon officer (D. XIV) but on 27th May he went up in command of the Company just outside a place called MUSCOURT, between there and ROMAIN.

I saw him on that day, lying on the ground, wounded in the chest. I passed right by him. A corporal whose name I do not know, was with him and asked him if he could do anything for him but he said “No” and to carry on. I do not suppose he would live; he seemed too bad. Time, probably between 5 & 6 pm. The Germans were driving us back very fast and came over the ground. I never heard more of him.

Pte. H. Kent, 29453, now in camp in France.

PRESUMPTION OF DEATH

2nd Lt. A.E. Downing was reported Wounded and Missing on May 27, 1918. Nothing more was heard of him and his body was never found or identified. Eventually, the War Office needed to remove him from the Weekly Casualty Lists and classify him as officially dead. The following letters and documents chart the course of that task.

IRC Letter with Pvt Kent's Statement

Private George Cooper was interviewed by the International Red Cross and provided the above statement which read:

“Lt Downing was wounded the same day as myself May 27th. We were at Massay on the Aisne. We were taken prisoner and were treated at our CCS which was in German hands. From the CCS we were sent to Germany but I did not see him again.”

“Pte Warrel, [463055, who ended up at] Geissen Camp, Germany was in the next bed to Lt. Downing [at the CCS].  Col Wilkin A.D.M.S. for the 50th Division operated on our men, having been a prisoner himself.”

One of the problems with this statement is that the Assistant Deputy Medical Services (ADMS) for the 50th Division was actually Colonel  Alexander Milne-Thompson, RAMC. The War Office also had a “list of admissions and evacuations” for the Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) at Beaurieux which they had obtained from a “English Nurse” working there called Louisa Constance Colt-Williams (and the “CCS” was actually a Field Ambulance not a CCS).

Beaurieux is North of Maizy and North of the Aisne. On the morning of May 27, 1918 the Field Ambulance (FA) at Beaurieux was overrun by the Germans early in the day (around 9:30am) capturing Col. Milne-Thompson, Nurse Colt-Williams and all of the staff and patients there. The Field Ambulance continued to operate and fresh casualties were brought in throughout the day.

However, as the only thread of information received by the War Office regarding 2nd Lt. Downing they resolved to seek clarification.

Administrative Memo

So the War Office sent Col. Milne-Thompson, RAMC the following letter asking for any information he may have about 2nd Lt. Downing, prefixing their request with their assumption that the officer in question was most probably Capt. R.J.P. Hewetson of the 9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

Letter to Col. Milne-Thompson

And Col. Milne-Thompson duly replied, repeating the theory put forward by the War Office.

Letter from Col. Milne-Thompson

At the same time, the War Office also sent a rather curt letter to Pte. Cooper asking him for clarification of his statement.

Curt Letter to Pvt Cooper asking for more Information

And Pte. Cooper duly replied:

Response from Pvt Cooper

In this letter he states:

“With reference to letter enclosed I gave you what particulars I could concerning LT Downing. I told you that a Officer of the LNL was at this Hospital but I cannot say what became of him as we all got shifted, but I am sending you a card as my wife got sent to her from the English nurse that was taken prisoner also from the Hospital that the Major and Colonel was encharged of, hoping you can get to know some particulars through this card.”

On March 11, 1919 without any additional information or evidence that 2nd Lt. Downing was a Prisoner of War, the War Office moved to declare a presumption of death.

Letter to Widow

But before they did so they sent his widow one last letter to ask if she had received any word of her husband.

Reporting of Name Mixup

And so, on May 28, 1919, one year and a day after he was killed in action somewhere near Meurival, the War Office officially declared him dead.

Official Presumption of Death

LAST POST

A.E. Downing was 29 years old when he was killed in action. He is commemorated at the Soissons Memorial located in the town of Soissons, in the Aisne département of France.

Soissons Memorial

The memorial lists 3,887 names of British soldiers with no known grave who were killed in the area from May to August 1918. It also contains this inscription (in French and English):

“When the French Armies held and drove back the enemy from the Aisne and the Marne between May and July 1918 the 8th, 15th, 19th, 21st, 25th, 34th, 50th, 51st and 62nd divisions of the British Armies served in the line with them and shared the common sacrifice. Here are recorded the names of 3,987 officers and men of those divisions to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.”

He is also listed on the WW1 Memorial in Warrington:

Warrington Memorial, Bridge Foot Island

SHORT SERVICE RECORD

11 Aug, 1914 – 18 May, 1915      Home
19 May, 1915 – 16 May, 1916     BEF, France
7 May, 1916 – 28 Aug, 1917       Home
29 Aug, 1917 – 27 May, 1918     BEF, France

DETAILED SERVICE RECORD:
11 Aug, 1914       Enlisted, Warrington
13 Aug, 1914      Attested Rfn, to 7th KRRC Winchester
21 Aug, 1914      Posted as Rfn (Rfn = Rifleman)
05 Sep, 1914     Appointed w/ pay (L/Corp)
2 Feb, 1915         Promoted Corp
15 Mar, 1915       Appointed w/ pay (L/Sgt)
11 May, 1915       Promoted Sgt, BEF France
07 May, 1916     Posted D (Evacuated to 2nd Western General Hospital, Manchester)
04 Oct, 1916       Posted 5th KRRC
11 Aug, 1916       Granted C Class I P.P. Sgt
05 May, 1917     Posted to No 18 OCB (Prior Park, Bath)
28 Aug, 1917      Discharged to Special Reserve Battalion, LNLR

27 May, 1918       Killed in Action, Aisne.

Arthur Slater

Arthur Slater was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire on May 10th, 1896.

Arthur Slater Aged 15

By age 14 he had left school and was ekmployed as a piecer at the Atlas Cotton Mill.

Atlas Mill, Ashton-under-Lyne

The youngest children in textile factories were usually employed as scavengers and piecers.  Piecers had to lean over the spinning-machine to repair the broken threads during spinning.

By 1914 he had become a “Spinner”.  As a spinner he would have operated one or more spinning machines, often two machines facing each other, and he would have supervised or directly paid the scavengers and piecers working on his machines. Spinners were generally paid according to the amount of thread they produced and each machine had hundreds of spindles from end to end. Consequently, it took much effort to keep the machine running and the threads unbroken.

Arthur Slater Working as a Spinner at Atlas Mill

He attested on October 17, 1914 with a group of friends and joined the 2/9th Battalion Manchester Regiment which, at that time, was a “feeder” Battalion supplying much needed reinforcements for the 1st/9th.  The 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment was a “Pals” regiment from Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire.  His regimental number was 2672 and he was assigned to A Company. He joined for 4 years.

On November 13, 1914 the 2/9th Battalion Manchester Regiment moved from Ashton-under-Lyne to Southport where they remained in billets for the next 6 months. On May 25, 1915 they moved again, this time to Haywards Heath in Sussex and then a month later, on June 26, they made a short move to Pease Pottage.  This was the first time that they had been “under canvas”. A week later those men who were being shipped out to Gallipoli moved to Devonport.

A. Staley, J. Horrocks & Arthur Slater in Easter 1915.

Seen above (right, standing) with Pte. Arthur Staley (2383) and Pte. James Horrocks (2608) of the 2/9th Manchesters at Southport, Easter 1915.

He  underwent basic training with the 2/9th until he left for Gallipoli on July 3, 1915 sailing from Devonport on H.M.T. IONIAN as part of a draft of 220 Other Ranks and 5 Officers sent to reinforce the 1/9th who were already at Cape Helles.

HMT IONIAN

IONIAN
Built by Workman Clark & Co Ltd, Belfast in 1901 for the Allan Line of Liverpool. Her details were – 8,268 gross tons, length 470 ft x beam 57.5 ft, one funnel, four masts, twin screw and a speed of 14 knots. There was accommodation for 132-1st, 160-2nd and 800-3rd class passengers. Launched on 12-9-1901, she sailed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Halifax and St. John, New Brunswick on 21-11-1901. In 1909 she was converted to carry 325-2nd and 800-3rd class passengers. In August 1914 she went onto trooping duties on UK to Bombay via Suez. On 21-10-1917 she was sunk by a mine laid off Milford Haven by the German submarine UC.51 with the loss of 7 lives.

GALLIPOLI (1915)

Map of War Zone in Gallipoli 1915
By Rcbutcher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The 1/9th Manchesters were part of the 126th (East Lancashire) Infantry Brigade which was under the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. The transcribed war diary for the 1/9th Manchesters for their time in Gallipoli is here.

3rd Battle of Krithia

A few weeks before Arthur Slater arrived, in early June, the 42nd Division was involved in the 3rd Battle of Krithia.  The battle plan called for simultaneous attacks, supported by artillery, on three sub-sectors; the 42nd Division being in the centre.

42nd Division before 3rd Battle of Krithia

The advance of the 42nd Division during the battle was initially very successful, more so than those of the 29th Division on their left and the Royal Naval Division on their right. Advancing approximately 1,000 yards the 42nd Division’s 127th Brigade took the Turkish trenches and quickly advanced beyond them. However, due to lack of support on the flanks during the Turkish counter-attack, the final position of the front line was only around 200 – 250 yards in front of their starting position by the end of the battle. This new front line now passed through the Southern edge of a small patch of vines that earned the area the name of “The Vineyard” and was to be the site of renewed heavy fighting for the 1/9th Manchesters, in August.

Arrival

Arthur sailed for the Dardanelles on July 3, 1915 from Devonport on the 8,268 ton Allan Line vessel H.M.T. IONIAN, arriving in Alexandria, Egypt around July 17th.  On July 23, 1915, almost three weeks after leaving the UK, he officially joined the 1/9th Battalion at Cape Helles, while they were at bivouac.  According to the 1/9th Manchesters’ war diary he was part of a draft of reinforcements that arrived that day consisting of 5 Officers and 222 Other Ranks.

Battle of Krithia Vineyard

Just two weeks later, on August 7th to 13th the 1/9th Manchesters fought in the battle of Krithia Vinyard where Lt. Forshaw, (commanding A Company) won the Victoria Cross and Corporal Samuel Bayley won the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Pte. Arthur Slater was in A Company and, by his own words, “spent time in the Vineyard trench”.

Lt Forshaw VC
[London Gazette, 9 September 1915]
During the period 7 / 9 August 1915 at Gallipoli, when holding the north-west corner of the “Vineyard” against heavy attacks by the Turks, Lieutenant Forshaw not only directed his men but personally threw bombs continuously for over 40 hours. When his detachment was relieved, he volunteered to continue directing the defence. Later, when the Turks captured a portion of the trench, he shot three of them and recaptured it. It was due to his fine example and magnificent courage that this very important position was held.

His Victoria Cross and other campaign medals are held by the Museum of the Manchester Regiment, at the Ashton-under-Lyne Town Hall.

Lance-Corporal SAMUEL BAYLEY, No1 Platoon, “A” Company
[London Gazette, 16 November, 1915]
For conspicuous bravery on the 7th and 9th August, 1915, at Cape Helles (Dardanelles). Corporal Bayley remained with Lieutenant Forshaw, V.C., holding a barricade for forty-one hours continuously. On the evening of the 8th August his party was relieved by another unit, but he volunteered to remain on. He displayed the greatest gallantry and endurance under the most trying circumstances in repelling many severe attacks, and when the barricade was at last broken through he was the foremost in the successful counter-attack led by Lieutenant Forshaw, which regained it, and finally retained it. On being ultimately relieved he was utterly exhausted by his arduous and gallant work of bomb-throwing.

On August 22nd a new draft of fresh reinforcements from England arrived. Among them was Pte. James Horrocks who Arthur had spent his Easter weekend at Southport with.

Wounded in Action (1915)

After the exertions of the Battle of Krithia Vineyard the 1/9th Manchesters spent time at GULLY BEACH bivouac returning to the trenches on August 25th. On their last day in the trenches before moving back to bivouac, on September 9th, Arthur Slater suffered a bullet wound to the face (passing through his left cheek and nose). Most likely he was shot by a sniper.

Since it is not recorded on Arthur Slater’s B.103 form we do not know the exact chain of evacuation he followed from trench to Stationary Hospital.  We do know that it took two weeks from wound to admission at the No 5 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Cairo, (at the Cavalry Barracks at Abbassieh), which is much longer than the sailing time (including embarking and disembarking) of approximately 5 days.

The following excerpt from SURGERY ON THE GALLIPOLI PENINSULA, the British Medical Journal, September 25, 1915 by Capt. John Morley, RAMC provides some context. The full article is here.

From the clearing station the wounded are embarked on lighters at a landing stage that is perforce used also for the unloading of ammunition and supplies for the army. These lighters are towed by steam pinnaces to the hospital ship that lies a mile or two off the shore, and, without changing stretchers, are slung on to the ship by cranes. Except during and shortly after an action, the wounded are sent off to the hospital ship twice in the twenty-four hours. The hospital ships fill up in “peace times”, as the weeks of siege warfare by artillery and sniping in the intervals between assault are called, in a week or ten days (after an action much more rapidly), and then leave for Egypt or Malta, taking three or four days respectively to reach the base. Minor cases are not taken to the hospital ships at all, but are either detained in the field ambulances or sent in small boats to be treated in stationary hospitals.

British Medical Positions at Helles

The chain of evacuation that he followed then was likely as follows:

Walking wounded made their way to an Advanced Dressing Station at EAST ANGLIA GULLY. The Main Dressing Stations were set up by the 1/3rd Field Ambulance at GULLY BEACH and the 1/1st Field Ambulance 200 yards north.

ADMS Orders Gallipoli Aug 1915

The Divisional Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) was No 11 CCS at Lancashire landing on “W” Beach. The CCS was there to receive the sick and wounded from the Main Dressing Stations, and stabilize the patients and prioritize the men that needed to leave for hospital ships from the less serious cases who would be conveyanced to Mudros.

The ADMS war diary for the 42nd Division notes that on September 9th and 10th no trawlers were dispatched to load men onto hospital ships because the weather was too rough. On September 11th ADMS HELLES issued orders that trawlers would only be dispatched in calm weather and that signals would be issued to indicate that trawlers had put to sea. A signal was received on September 12th that a trawler would be sent but by this time at least 4-days of sick and wounded had accumulated at 11th Casualty Clearing Station at Lancashire Landing on W Beach and it must have been overflowing.

We can only assume that Arthur Slater did not make the cut for embarking on the trawler that day since his wound was non-life threatening. The next available trawler was on September 19th and this is the one he was transported on. He was then embarked from trawler to hospital ship and promptly sailed for Alexandria. After arriving by Hospital Transport at Alexandria he would have then traveled by Hospital Train to Cairo, taking about 4 hours.

With the surge in casualties in August there were more patients arriving than leaving the Hospitals in Mudros and Alexandria. However, Arthur Slater was somewhat fortunate to be wounded in September (rather than August) and that the No 5. Canadian Stationary Hospital had just arrived in Cairo in August providing extra capacity.

Context from Despatches:

The following is taken directly from the selected despatches of Sir IAN HAMILTON, General, Commanding Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.

“The Royal Army Medical Service have had to face unusual and very trying conditions. There are no roads, and the wounded who are unable to walk must be carried from the firing line to the shore. They and their attendants may be shelled on their way to the beaches, at the beaches, on the jetties, and again, though I believe by inadvertence, on their way out in lighters to the hospital ships. Under shell fire it is not as easy as some of the critically disposed seem to imagine to keep all arrangements in apple-pie order. Here I can only express my own opinion that efficiency, method and even a certain quiet heroism have characterised the evacuations of the many thousands of our wounded.”

Casualties for Gallipoli Campaign 1915

Back in Action

A few weeks later, on 26th October, he rejoined the 1/9th Manchesters in the Dardanelles, sailing from Alexandria along with a batch of 11 freshly trained Officers from England (and another 109 Other Ranks returning from Hospital treatment in Egypt) but not before he managed to send a letter home which was excerpted in the local newspaper, the Ashton Reporter.

Ashton Reporter November 6, 1915

On his arrival at Gallipoli, the 1/9th Manchesters were in the trenches, being relieved 3 days later on October 29th.

They went back into the trenches on November 12th. The conditions were difficult with heavy rains, strong winds with little cover and no drainage in the trenches.  They were relieved on the 29th and went to bivouac at GULLY RAVINE. Since it was now Winter and the weather had turned, everyone was put to work constructing Winter Quarters.

On December 10th the 1/9th Manchesters again went back up to the trenches. The Turks heavily shelled MULE TRENCH and inflicted several casualties during the move.

On December 19th a planned action against the Turks was executed in the early afternoon. The plan was to explode a large mine at the North East corner of FUSILIER BLUFF, quickly followed by 5 smaller mines; the intent being to create a small crater. A party of 42 men plus an Officer would then go over the top intending to take cover in the crater, bomb the Turks in their trenches and take it. However, the mine failed to create a crater. Lacking the authority to make a field decision the men had no choice but to go over the top into an area with no cover. Needless to say, the Turks shot them mercilessly from the safety of their trenches and the battalion suffered 3 killed, 1 missing and 11 wounded. Fortunately for Arthur Slater, this poorly planned but bravely executed action was inflicted on the men of B Company, (not A Company).

To further underline the futility of the actions of December 19th, just ten days later, on December 29th, the Gallipoli Campaign was over for the 1/9th Manchesters and they “evacuated the peninsular” embarking on the HM Transport Arcadian for Alexandria (via Mudros).  HM Transport Arcadian, Sir Ian Hamilton’s old ship, once the most luxurious of steam yachts but destined to be sunk by torpedo on April 15, 1917.

HMT ARCADIAN

One final indignity awaited them as they were preparing to leave. On December 27th as they were were packing up their equipment and making ready to take their departure from the Dardanelles, a Turkish shell, fired with deadly accuracy, caused a number of casualties.

Ashton Reporter February 5, 1916

A ‘Jack Johnson’ was the British nickname used to describe the impact of a heavy, black German 15-cm artillery shell. Jack Johnson (1878-1946) was the name of the popular U.S. (born in Texas) world heavyweight boxing champion who held the title from 1908-15 – and whose punch was legendary. Johnson’s nickname was ‘The Big Smoke’.

There are a couple of obvious inaccuracies with the article, the letter was from Arthur Slater (not Edwin) and the shell hit on December 27th not December 31st).  Six men of the 1/9th were killed in action that day but it is consistently reported through letters from other men that 4 deaths occurred from this single Turkish shell.

Rank No. Forename Middle Surname
Pte 2310 HEZEKIAH HARRISON*
Pte 1805 JOHN FREDERICK JENKINSON*
Pte 3418 RALPH SCHOFIELD*
Pte 3312 HAROLD GREEN
L/Cpl. 2601 GEORGE HEROD
Pte 2365 GEORGE HENRY WALKER

*Killed by the Shell, as reported through letters published in the Ashton Reporter newspaper.

Arthur Slater later wrote briefly about his experiences in Gallipoli and his notes are provided here.

Gallipoli-Diary-Page-1
Page 1
« of 6 »

I was one of a draft of reinforcements sent to Gallipoli in June 1915. I recall our arrival at Lemnos and our transfer there from troopship to lighters, our journey thence under cover of darkness, packed as we were, shoulder to shoulder, and as we eased into the shore, seeing the hull of SS River Clyde in the light of Very Lights and exploding gunfire, what an awesome welcome.

Overshadowing it all was the fort of Sedd-el-Bahr. Our orders were to proceed on to the beach as quickly as possible and there to line up and be ready to move off with the Battalion Guides who awaited us, all this was done to the accompaniment of shell fire from what we later learned was christened “Asiatic Annie”.

Came the dawn and one could get an idea of one’s surroundings. A collection of primitive dugouts which afforded neither shelter from shellfire or the sun, a short time amongst the older hands soon enabled the conditions to be seen in the right perspective, but we newcomers were at a disadvantage in the blistering heat. Firstly we were not acclimated to it furthermore we had come clad in thick khaki serge  suits not at all suitable for the tropical climate.

Life in the trenches at first was tolerable, one soon learned not to be too daring in exposing oneself to the Turk, who by all accounts were good marksmen. Days of activity by either forces punctuated our spells in the line, but neither side ever appeared to gain, the push and thrust was ever present with exchanges of gunfire and raids.

Then came the 6th August, we had been being prepared for a bit of a showdown and an advance on the village of Krithia was staged. This was my first real battle, previously they had been short brushes with the enemy, but this was the real thing; charges, bayonet fighting, and bombing only yards separating us at times. Here I spent some time in the “Vineyard” trench where Lt Forshaw won a V.C., Sergeant Bayley won the DCM. This engagement was all in concert with the Suvla Bay landing.

One had now been on the peninsula sufficiently long enough to be inured to much of the discomfort that was such everywhere evident in the campaign. We were ill fitted to stand up to the blistering heat, which by now had many added troubles, chiefly the plague of flies that increased and multiplied in conditions that were often indescribable; decaying carcasses of men and mules, primitive sanitary conditions, these coupled with fact that most of the men were troubled with some form of dysentery, shortage of water, lack of variety of food all added to the general lassitude and hopelessness that one felt. In the trenches one had no time to think on these things, but when out in reserve or resting, one had more time to feel sorry for oneself. The flies were always bad even on our food when biting it, the bully beef poured out like oil, and the eternal plumb and apple. Then we had our body lice, the blazing sun and always the danger of shellfire.

Red letter days were when we had some mail, especially a parcel, rare occasions, and another was if we could manage to get a swim in the sea, it was dangerous, but no man would forego such a pleasure. Another delight to me was to watch the glorious sunsets over the Aegean Sea.

Humour was not missing amongst us, sometimes of a macabre twist, such as the case where on the parapet of the Mule trench on the left of Gully Ravine a hand and arm was sticking out, some wag placed a hard tack biscuit in the hand.

September and October came and brought cooler and more bearable weather. When not in the line we were now busy filling sand bags and building into more solid dug-outs which would be needed when Wintery conditions came. Rains now had made a quagmire of much of the land and the conditions were most depressing. Conditions later became harder, rations some days were insufficient, one biscuit per day per man, on occasions, trench duties more often, duties 1 hour on firing, then one hour seated but awake, then 1 hours sleep, man power was at a low ebb, the Turks had to be lulled whilst the evacuation started.

Just before Christmas a huge bonfire was lit at Lancashire landing and the impression was given that we were all evacuating, over came the Turks, when they got out into the open we who were in the line opened fire causing great casualties and panic, so much so that several days later we were able to leave the peninsula and sail to Imbros on the 29th December 1915.

Looking back on those days, one thinks of pals who are laid there. Who ever hears of Cape Helles, Krithia, Pink Farm, Achi Baba (the wee hill) as the 52nd Lowland Division called it, not to mention Anzac Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair and Suvla, like the old soldiers they have faded away.

The War Diary for the 1/9th Manchesters covering their time in Gallipoli is transcribed here.

EGYPT (1916)

Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire, integrated with German units and officers, threatened the security of the Suez Canal through which vital supplies of men and materials had to pass. With the release of the units from the Gallipoli Campaign it was decided to establish defense in depth of the Suez Canal by pushing positions out from the east bank of the canal and into the Sinai Desert.

The Turkish forces had three possible routes across the Sinai to threaten the security of the Canal: the northern, the central and the southern. In March 1916 it was decided to destroy any water sources on the central route, thereby denying the Turks this route of advance. As any force pushing the Turks back East towards Palestine would require materials and water, a railway and water pipeline was constructed and by mid-May had reached Romani.

On August 3, 1916 the Turks made a final attempt to attack the Canal by trying to break through at Romani but were defeated in a battle lasting two days. From this point onward the Allied forces were on the offensive, pushing the Turks back East across the Sinai peninsular. Construction of the pipeline and railway pushed on at a rate of 15 miles a month in an effort to reach El Arish. On 17th October it was confirmed that the Turks had withdrawn from El Arish. On 9th January 1917, the remaining Ottoman forces were pushed out of Sinai at the Battle of Rafa.

 

Protecting the Suez Canal

The 1/9th Manchesters disembarked from the HMT Arcadian on January 18, 1916 in Alexandria, arriving via a short stop at Mudros on the island of Lemnos.

March was spent on outpost duty in the desert at Kabrit where work was carried out preparing defensive positions. The Battalion returned to Suez in early March where they were once again placed on guard duty of the Suez Canal. Training and route marches were the order of the day. The Battalion stayed on or around the Suez Canal through July 1916.

The Desert Column

In early August the Battle of Romani saw the defeat of the Turkish forces and a subsequent Allied push Eastwards along the railway line to El Arish. The 1/9th Manchesters followed this eastward path over the next few months reaching as far east as Mazar.

Map of Bir el Abd

Shown below are the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment Scouts Section at Bir El Abd (Oct 1916) consisting of: Cpl. May, Pte. T. Littleford, Pte. G. Wilton, Pte. A. Sumner, Pte. F. Beard, Pte. R. Fish, Pte. A. Horton, Pte. P. Bradley, Pte. A. Barrett, Pte. S. Caine and Pte. A. Slater.

Regimental Scouts Bir el Abd October 1916

November 1916

Things must have been quite unsanitary in the desert column because on November 9, 1916 he was admitted to 1/3rd East Lancs Field Ambulance at Kantara, Egypt suffering from Scabies. He was treated, disinfected and rejoined his unit 9 days later.  During the month of November, 500 men from the Battalion were sent to MAZAR for disinfection.

December 1916

On December 20th all available allied troops were mustered (30,000 in all) at El Maadan, where they prepared for a rapid attack upon the Turkish positions at El Arish, but in the early hours of the 21st, before any order had been given to attack, the Turks fled.

The defence of the Suez Canal was finally declared secure by February 1917 and on March 2, 1917 the 1/9th Manchesters embarked on the H.M.T. Arcadian at Alexandria, sailing for France on the 4th with a Royal Naval escort.

The transcribed war diary for the 1/9th Manchester Regiment during their time in Egypt is here.

FRANCE (1917)

The 1/9th Manchesters disembarked from the H.M.T. Arcadian on March 11, 1917 in Marseilles after a brush with two German submarines which their Royal Naval escort capably dealt with. The Arcadian would not be so lucky just over a month later.

HMT ARCADIAN

In February/March 1917, service numbers were re-issued throughout the Territorial Force of the British Army. This change of numbering of infantrymen was promulgated in Army Council Instruction (ACI) 2414 of 1916, published on 23 December 1916. Prior to this, each man was issued a service number defined by the Battalion with which he was serving. This had worked reasonably well during peacetime but caused great confusion with the dramatic expansion of the armed forces during the early war years. In the old system, when a man transferred from one Battalion to another within the same Regiment or Corps he required re-numbering. Over time, as more and more men were transferred, this led to great confusion. To address this issue, the men were issued with new six digit numbers, each Battalion being issued with a unique allotment of numbers within a Corps. Under this scheme the 9th Manchesters were allocated numbers 350001 to 364999. The longest serving member of the unit was issued 350001 and so on. Arthur Slater was allocated the new service number of 351001.

March 1917

On March 26, 1917 he was admitted to 2nd East Lancs Field Ambulance at Abbeville, France suffering again from Scabies. He was treated, disinfected and subsequently released for duty (with the 30th Infantry Base Depot at Etaples) 13 days later.

An Infantry Base Depot (IBD) was a large holding camp. Situated within easy distance of one the Channel ports, it received men on arrival from England and kept them in training while they awaiting posting to a unit at the front. At the start of the war each infantry division had its own IBD, which was established as it crossed to France but by 1917 each IBD supported several Divisions and the 30 IBD at Etaples was a very large camp with several hospitals. They were not particularly pleasant places and in September 1917 there was a mutiny at the IBD at Etaples.

Etaples Annotated Map from 1919

Arthur spent about six weeks at the Infantry Base Depot and then rejoined the 1/9th Manchesters on May 21st. Fortunately for him, this absence meant that he missed the travails of the Battle of Arras (9th April to 16th May) which saw the 1/9th Manchesters record their first serious numbers of casualties in France.

UK on Leave

Five days after rejoining his unit, on May 26, 1917, he was granted 10 days leave in the UK rejoining his battalion on June 14, 1917. His family must have been very pleased to see him as he had now been fighting overseas for two full years.

Wounded in Action (1917)

Just over a week after returning from leave, on June 23, 1917, Arthur was severely wounded when he was shot in the right thigh at Havrincourt Wood.

1/9th Manchesters Map Havrincourt Wood June 1917

The Battalion had just moved back into the trenches of Havrincourt Wood on the evening of the 21st, relieving the 1/4th East Lancashire Regiment. The Battalion War Diary says very little; only that the men of A Company were engaged in digging a communication trench at night. He was one of 23 “Other Ranks” 1/9th Manchesters wounded that month.

1/9 Manchesters War Diary Casualty List. June 1917.

He was evacuated to No 21 Casualty Clearing Station which was at that time had recently arrived at Ytres, a small village just a few miles from Havrincourt.  He spent four days and nights at 21 CCS and was evacuated from there along with 4 Officers and 89 Other Ranks on Ambulance Train No 5.  On the morning of June 27 they began loading patients onto the train at 11:10am and completed at 1:20pm. Ambulance Train No 5 then left Ytres at 2:05pm arriving at Rouen at exactly midnight. At Rouen he was admitted to No 5 General Hospital.

Eleven days after arriving at Rouen, on July 9th, Arthur Slater was one of a convoy of 90 lying  patients who left No 5 General Hospital on Ambulance Train No 7, being discharged from the hospital at 8:15am. Ambulance Train No 7 had arrived at Sotteville in Rouen at 10:45pm the previous evening and they commenced loading patients at 8:55am the following morning. The train left Rouen at 10:55am arriving at Le Havre at 3:05pm (journey 265 for Ambulance Train No 7).

HM Ambulance Transport Kalyan left Netley (near Southampton) on July 8th under escort and made a calm and uneventful passage to Le Havre, arriving at 4:30am on July 9th.  By 5:30pm they had embarked 775 patients (90 of which had come from Ambulance Train No 7) and sailed for Southampton. The Kalyan arrived at Berth 21, Southampton, on the morning of July 10th and began disembarking patients at 10am. The war diary reports that progress was slow that day, additional lift capacity being required.

Hospital Transport KALYAN

Late in the day on July 10th he was admitted to 1st Western General Hospital at Mill Rd, Liverpool.  It was here that he first met Margaret Karran who was to become his wife after the war.

Maggie Karran, August 1917

Currently known as Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, during the war years the hospital was renamed 1st Western General. Injured soldiers were transported via train to the Fazakerley Station. 1st Western General Hospital was approximately 4 miles from where Maggie was born and raised.

On August 17, 1917 he was discharged from 1st Western General and transferred to Llandyrnog Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital, Denbigh where he spent the next 42 days convalescing. The admission sheet states: “Galvanism. Gait improved markedly. Suffering from shell shock.”  It seems likely that the shell shock was primarily a consequence of being buried alive at Gallipoli.

Llandyrnog Red Cross Hospital

Upon being discharged from Hospital he was granted 10 days furlough from 28th Sept – 8th Oct, 1917 by the C.O. 1st Western General Hospital, Fazakerley. He was deemed fit for duty at a Command Depot. Command Depots were military convalescent camps for soldiers sufficiently recovered to be discharged from convalescent hospital (like Llandrynog) but not yet fit enough to return to front line duty.

On October 9th he joined the Command Depot at Heaton Park,  a Command Depot for the Western Command, with accommodation for 100 Officers and 5,000 men. Men stationed to Command Depots engaged in physical exercise and activities designed to accelerate their path to full fitness. Discipline was “relaxed” but Arthur still found himself officially cautioned for being absent without permission from 10pm on the night of October 20th to 9:45am the following morning. Under the circumstances who could really deny him and his mates a night on the lash.

The photo below is from his time at Heaton Park. He is on the front row, 2nd from the left, below.  Note the two wounded stripes and good conduct chevron (marking two-years Service without censure) on his left sleeve.

Cowleys Rebels Heaton Park October 1917

He stayed at Heaton Park Command Depot until November 30, 1917 when he was transferred to the 8th (Reserve) Battalion Manchester Regiment at Filey in Yorkshire.

3/8th Manchesters

The 3/8th, 3/9th and 3/10th Battalions of the Manchester Regiment were formed at home bases (Ardwick, Ashton under Lyne & Oldham) in March 1915. They moved in early 1916 to Witley, Surrey and on April 8, 1916  became the 8th, 9th and 10th Reserve Battalions. On September 1, 1916 the 9th and 10th Reserve Battalions were absorbed into the 3/8th (Reserve) Battalion, moving to Southport in October 1916 and then going on to Ripon in January 1917. They moved to Filey, in June 1917 at first in tents and then later in more permanent living quarters that they constructed.

The 3/8th Manchesters maintained a presence at Filey from June 1917 until the end of the war and their primary purpose was to train reserve troops prior to their re-deployment on the Western Front.  As such, it was a logical progression for recuperating men in their transition from hospital, to Command Depot, to re-deployment.  Arthur remained at Filey with the 3/8th until March 1918 when he shipped out with a number of others back to France.

FRANCE (1918)

Arthur arrived back in France on March 31, 1918.

In early 1918 the structure and composition of Army Brigades was undergoing significant change. Specifically, there was a reduction from 4 to 3 infantry battalions and the removal of Machine Gun Companies within Battalions and separate Machine Gun Battalions were formed within the Divisional structure. During this time, some Infantry Battalions that had been depleted were effectively disbanded; many of the remaining men being moved to strengthen other Battalions.