1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters

August 1914:
The 1/Sherwoods were in Bombay, India when war broke out. They quickly returned to England, landing at Plymouth on 2 October, 1914. They immediately moved to Hursley Park and came under orders of the 24th Infantry Brigade of the 8th Division.

November 1914:
On the 5 November, 1914 they landed at Le Havre and from this point forward they fought on the Western Front in the 24th Infantry Brigade of the 8th Division.

January 1918:
CANAL BANK, YPRES
Order of Battle of the 8th Division week ending January 5, 1918:

Unit Officers O.R.s
23rd Infantry Brigade
2nd Devons 43 916
2nd West Yorks 34 656
2ns Scottish Rifles 34 887
2nd Middlesex 39 705
23rd Machine Gun Co 10 182
TOTAL 160 3,346
24th Infantry Brigade
1st Worcesters 33 763
2nd East Lancs 38 550
1st Sherwoods 32 633
2nd Northants 39 879
24th Machine Gun Co 9 180
TOTAL 151 3,005
25th Infantry Brigade
2nd Lincolns 26 724
2nd Royal Berks 37 587
1st Irish Rifles 36 679
2nd Rifle Brigade 32 644
25th Machine Gun Co 10 182
TOTAL 141 2,816
218th Bn MG Company 9 180
22nd Durham LI (Pioneers) 35 782
GRAND TOTAL 496 10,129

Drafts for the 1/Sherwoods arrived throughout the month totaling 9 Officers and 152 Other Ranks.

February 1918:

STEENVORDE, FRANCE.

Drafts for the 1/Sherwoods arrived throughout the month totaling 1 Officers and 108 Other Ranks.

March 1918:

In February 1918 the Division was re-organized to support 3 Battalions per Infantry Brigade and the Brigade Machine Gun Companies were consolidated into a separate Machine Gun Battalion made up of the three Brigade MG Companies plus the 218th Battalion Machine Gun Company.

Unit Officers O.R.s
23rd Infantry Brigade
2nd Devons 41 937
2nd West Yorks 35 930
2nd Middlesex 50 934
TOTAL 126 2,801
24th Infantry Brigade
1st Worcesters 42 847
1st Sherwoods 41 930
2nd Northants 34 985
TOTAL 117 2,762
25th Infantry Brigade
2nd East Lancs 43 889
2nd Royal Berks 59 840
2nd Rifle Brigade 36 818
TOTAL 138 2,547
22nd Durham LI (Pioneers) 49 906
8th Div MG Btn 45 868
GRAND TOTAL 475 9,884

During the first half of the month, drafts for the 1/Sherwoods arrived daily totaling 1 Officers and 62 Other Ranks.

First Battle of the Somme, 1918

From March 22 to April 4th the 1/Sherwoods took part in what was to become known as the First Battle of the Somme, 1918.  Early in the morning of March 21, 1918 the Germans attacked the allied lines during the opening of the Spring Offensive. As the Germans pushed forward the 8th Division was moved from Flanders to the Somme to do what it could to stem the tide. The 1/Sherwoods dug in on the West bank of the Somme and defended the bridge at St Christ on the evening of March 23rd. The next few days saw the 1/Sherwoods engaged in dogged resistance, ordered withdrawal and then counter-attack. By the end of the engagement the 8th Division had fulfilled its duties but had suffered significant casualties.

Unit Officers Other Ranks
K W M Total K W M Total
23rd Infantry HQ 0 0 1 1 3 3 1 7
2nd Devons 3 11 2 16 29 215 63 307
2nd West Yorks 6 12 2 20 30 182 377 589
2nd Middlesex 2 9 13 24 16 96 354 466
24th Infantry HQ 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0
1st Worcesters 2 16 1 19 24 180 200 404
1st Sherwoods 3 7 3 13 26 89 264 379
2nd Northants 5 9 4 18 27 122 159 308
25th Infantry HQ 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2nd East Lancs 2 19 2 23 35 223 211 469
2nd Royal Berks 3 21 4 28 30 169 102 301
2nd Rifle Brigade 6 11 3 20 32 105 300 437
22nd DLI (Pioneers) 4 12 7 23 29 149 291 469
8th Div MG Btn 4 8 4 16 22 120 178 320
Royal Artillery 2 11 0 13 10 62 25 97
Royal Engineers 1 5 6 12 8 49 74 131
RAMC 0 1 2 3 0 9 0 9
Totals 43 153 54 250 321 1,773 2,599 4,693

April 1918:

During the first 3 weeks of April the 1/Sherwoods were out of the front line, resting and re-organizing their companies due to the heavy losses suffered in March.  During the early part of the month a significant number of new drafts were received.

Date Officers O.R.s Total
April 4, 1918 0 439 439
April 5, 1918 0 2 2
April 9, 1918 0 141 141
April 11, 1918 3 0 3
Monthly Totals 3 582 585

More than 50% of the Battalion’s fighting strength was replaced by these men during a two week period. The logistics and organizational disruption of such a significant change in personnel in a front line infantry unit must have been overwhelming.

Drafts of April 4, 1918

At least 250 of the men who made up the Draft of April 4th came from the Manchester Regiments, an additional 100 from the Lancashire Fusiliers (who were subsequently assigned Service Numbers 108816 – 108914).

During the Brigade and Divisional re-organizations that took place in February and March 1918 the 2/10th Manchester Regiment was disbanded in France and the 2/9th Manchester Regiment was absorbed into the 1/9th Manchester Regiment and ceased to exist.  In April, the 1/9th Manchester Regiment and the 2/5th Manchester Regiment were reduced to a cadre. The surplus men from these regiments found themselves at the Infantry Base Depots in Etaples at the end of March 1918 and were re-assigned to other regiments as needs arose.

Approximately 40 men previously serving in a variety of Manchester Regiments joined the 1/Sherwoods from the Manchester Infantry Base Depot in Etaples. These men were given Service Numbers 108926 – 108965.

Approximately 35 men previously serving mainly in the 1/9th Manchester Regiment and 1/10th Manchester Regiments joined the 1/Sherwoods from the Manchester Infantry Base Depot in Etaples, many shipping out from the UK on March 31, 1918. These men were given Service Numbers 205420 – 205455. Included in these men was Arthur Slater.

But perhaps the most interesting group was approximately 155 young men who were 18-19 years old and were raw recruits recently drafted into the Army through the Military Service Act. These men had no prior military experience.  Drafted into the Army Reserve, for the duration of the war, approximately 3 months before their 18th birthday and assigned to one of the training battalions (mainly the 71st  & 67th Training Reserve Battalions) with a reserve service number and based at Ripon (71st) or at the Altcar Training Camp in Hightown, Merseyside (67th). They were subsequently posted to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion Manchester Regiment on November 27, 1917, moved to Scarborough and assigned a “proper” 5 digit Manchester Regiment service number (59*** or 60***). They then proceeded to Folkestone on March 30, 1918 and embarked for Boulogne arriving March 31, 1918. Assigned to the Manchester Infantry Base Depot (MIBD) at Etaples, where on April 4, 1918 they were transferred  to the 1st Battalion Notts and Derby Regiment (1/Sherwoods), and assigned a new six digit service numbers in the range 108979 – 109155.

Drafts of April 9th

It appears that the vast majority (and possibly the entirety) of the draft of men who were taken on the strength of the Battalion on April 9, 1918 were another batch of raw recruits, with no prior military experience, mostly from the Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire areas.  Drafted into the Army Reserve, for the duration of the war, approximately 3 months before their 18th birthday and assigned into 7th Reserve Battalion Notts and Derby Regiment, based in Ripon where they underwent basic training. They embarked at Folkestone and Disembarked at Boulogne on 3 April, 1918. Assigned to No 4 Infantry Section, GHQ 3rd Echelon BEF and transferred to 1st Battalion Notts and Derby Regiment on 9 April, 1918. Assigned a new five digit service number in the range 95807 – 95970.

This means that in the space of less than a week the 1/Sherwoods added more than 300 raw recruits who were  18 (or in some cases just 19) years old; fully 1/3 of Battalion strength.

The Battalion was now made up of several different collections of men:

  1. Experienced men of the Notts and Derby Regiments, some of who had served with the 1/Sherwoods for the duration of the war.
  2. Raw recruits, 18-19 years old and fresh out of basic training, who were Notts and Derby men.
  3. Experienced men formerly of the Lancashire Fusiliers.
  4. Experienced men formerly of the Manchester Regiments.
  5. Raw recruits, 18-19 years old and fresh out of basic training, who were Manchester Regiment men.

Second Battle of VILLERS-BRETONNEUX

In April, the 1/Sherwoods took part in what was to become known as the Second Battle of VILLERS-BRETONNEUX. The Battalion moved on April 12th eventually going into the front line on April 19th, at VILLERS-BRETONNEUX. They were relieved on the evening of the 23rd and marched back to reserve billets in BLANGY TRONVILLE. At 3:45am on the 24th the Germans began a frontal assault, under cover of mist and smoke, and had successfully penetrated the Allied lines at VILLERS-BRETONNEUX by 9:30am. The 1/Sherwoods were immediately put under the temporary command of the 23rd Infantry Brigade and were ordered to launch a counter-offensive attack at 10am.  Fighting continued until the night of the 27th when the 1/Sherwoods were relieved but the counter-offensive was successful and VILLERS-BRETONNEUX was recaptured with the Germans driven from all their positions. However the toll on the Battalion was heavy and 234 men were officially listed as Killed, Wounded or Missing. The Battalion had been severely depleted once again.

Unit Officers Other Ranks Grand
K W M Tot K W M Tot Total
23rd Infantry HQ 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 1
2nd Devons 3 6 1 10 49 184 93 326 336
2nd West Yorks 1 5 10 16 18 162 226 406 422
2nd Middlesex 2 2 9 13 6 98 435 539 552
23rd LTM Bty 0 0 0 0 1 2 13 16 16
1st Worcesters 3 8 0 11 20 106 0 126 137
1st Sherwoods 3 4 0 7 36 176 15 227 234
2nd Northants 4 6 0 10 15 251 19 285 295
24th LTM Bty 0 1 0 1 0 4 0 4 5
2nd East Lancs 3 8 2 13 31 153 85 269 282
2nd Royal Berks 3 7 0 10 55 185 10 250 260
2nd Rifle Brigade 1 3 10 14 15 68 297 380 394
25th LTM Bty 0 0 0 0 1 7 5 13 13
22nd DLI (Pioneers) 2 4 0 6 59 186 8 253 259
8th Div MG Btn 1 0 5 6 12 78 91 181 187
Royal Artillery 1 11 0 12 7 85 0 92 104
Royal Engineers 1 1 0 2 1 39 0 40 42
RAMC 0 1 1 2 1 10 1 12 14

A total of 133 Officers and 3,420 Other Ranks killed, wounded or missing; 3,553 in all.

And of those casualties the following 13 young men, formerly of the 5th Reserve Manchester Regiment – posted to their first fighting unit only 3 weeks earlier – lost their lives during the actions at VILLERS-BRETONNEUX.

Rank Service Number Forename MI Surname Age DoD
Pte 109027 SAMUEL EGERTON 18 24-Apr
Pte 109062 FRANK POWELL 18 24-Apr
Pte 109076 ALEXANDER SMITH 18 24-Apr
Pte 109077 GEORGE C. SUMERFIELD 18 24-Apr
Pte 109098 THOMAS HOWARD 18 24-Apr
Pte 109112 JOHN DEWHURST 18 24-Apr
Pte 109156 GEORGE H. BENNETT 18 24-Apr
Pte 108985 WILLIAM L. E. LEWIS 18 25-Apr
Pte 108986 ROBERT MACARTHUR 25-Apr
Pte 108995 JOHN WRIGHT 18 25-Apr
Pte 109037 FRANK HICKLIN 19 25-Apr
Pte 109059 MORNINGTON PALEY 25-Apr
Pte 108982 DOUGLAS G. JACKSON 19 27-Apr

May 1918:

In the early hours of May 27, 1918 the Germans launched a ferocious artillery barrage with signaled the start of the 3rd Battle of the Aisne. By the time it was over 698 Officers and men of the 1/Sherwoods were officially listed as Killed, Wounded or Missing.

The list of Officers present that day is as follows:

Rank Forename Middle Middle Surname Fate
Lt. Col. JOHN D MITCHELL
Lt. Col. ROBERT FRANK MOORE KiA
Maj. JOHN EDWARDS
Capt. ERIC BOSWORTH GREENSMITH PoW
Capt. CLARENCE HARRISON PoW
Capt. JOHN FERGUSON MENZIES PoW
Capt. REGINALD GUY PEARSE
Capt. WILLIAM WESTON
Lt. GEORGE DUNCAN McINTYRE ABBOTTS WiA
Lt. LEONARD LESLIE DAWSON KiA
Lt. JOHN GORHAM FIELD
Lt. CECIL WILLIE LAWS KiA
Lt. ALEXANDER STRAW MiA
Lt. GUY LUNTLEY TUTIN
Lt. JOHN EDWARD MILLS WALKER PoW
2/Lt.  CHRISTOPHER AMBLER WiA
2/Lt. WILLIAM EDWARD BROWN PoW
2/Lt. CHARLES ERNEST CUMBERLAND WiA
2/Lt. WILLIAM JOHN RUSSELL ELLIOTT WiA
2/Lt. HARRY GREAVES
2/Lt. WILLIAM LESLIE GREEN WiA
2/Lt. GEORGE AUGUSTUS HANCOCK
2/Lt. ARTHUR FRANCIS HEATH WiA
2/Lt. FREDERICK RICHARD HINDERLICH WiA
2/Lt. THOMAS ERNEST INMAN PoW
2/Lt. ALFRED OLIVER JACKSON
2/Lt. FREDERICK GEORGE KYLE WiA
2/Lt. ALFRED MILLWARD WiA
2/Lt. ARTHUR NEILD PoW
2/Lt. WILLIAM NOBLE WiA
2/Lt. FITZ DONALD SEVERN PoW
2/Lt. DENNIS MOULTON START PoW
2/Lt. GEORGE WALTER WEBB PoW

The following table lists the 67 young men formerly of the 5th Reserve Manchester regiment who were either killed or captured on May 27, 1918.

Rank  Service No.  Forename  Middle  Surname Age Fate
Pte 108974 James Beesley PoW
Pte 108979 Thomas John Pellow Howes 19 KiA
Cpl 108980 Harry Humphreys PoW
Pte 108987 John Noone PoW
Pte 108989 Ronald John Siddle PoW
Pte 108993 Archibald Campbell Tyre 18 KiA
Pte 109004 Ignatius Harring PoW
Pte 109006 Francis Edward Nutter 18 KiA
Pte 109007 William Ashton 19 KiA
Pte 109008 Stanley Harold Atherton 19 KiA
Pte 109011 Joseph William Barratt 19 KiA
Pte 109012 George William Bishton PoW
Pte 109015 Henry Burns KiA
Pte 109020 Harold Brown 19 KiA
Pte 109023 Allen Diver 19 KiA
Pte 109025 Albert Edward Dodgson PoW
Pte 109028 William Evans 18 KiA
Pte 109029 George William Ernest PoW
Pte 109034 Peter Henry Halliwell PoW
Pte 109035 Joseph Hansbury PoW
Pte 109036 Samuel Hacking PoW
Pte 109038 John Grafton Hoskins PoW
Pte 109039 Henry Hopkins PoW
Pte 109041 Horace Jones PoW
Pte 109042 Sydney Jones PoW
Pte 109046 Alfred Lee 19 KiA
Pte 109050 John Mayor PoW
Pte 109051 Francis McQuade PoW
Pte 109052 Ernest McAuley PoW
Pte 109053 Alfred Hubert Madeley PoW
Pte 109054 John Mills 19 PoW
Pte 109056 James Nelson 19 KiA
Pte 109057 John Norris PoW
Pte 109061 Norman Pilkington PoW
Pte 109063 William Coventry Reid 19 PoW*
Pte 109066 William Baden Powell Richards 19 PoW
Pte 109073 John Steele 19 KiA
Pte 109075 James Henry Shepherd PoW
Pte 109083 Claude Llewellyn John Wroe PoW
Pte 109084 Harry Williamson KiA
L/Cpl 109085 Arthur Wilson PoW
Pte 109089 John Cleave Riley 19 KiA
Pte 109097 Thomas Henry Cashen PoW
Pte 109102 Herbert Austin 19 KiA
Pte 109103 Alexander Allan 19 PoW
Pte 109105 George Wain Baird 19 KiA
Pte 109108 Charles Baker 19 KiA
Pte 109111 Edward Newton Clarkson 19 PoW
Pte 109113 John Oxford 18 KiA
Pte 109114 Herbert Owen Parry 18 KiA
Pte 109115 William Pickard PoW
Pte 109116 Joseph Powell 19 KiA
Pte 109117 Joseph Riley 19 PoW
Pte 109118 Francis Joseph Rogers 19 KiA
Pte 109121 Alfred Shackley PoW
Pte 109122 James Sanderson PoW
Pte 109124 Fred Syer 19 KiA
Pte 109125 George William Taylor PoW
Pte 109126 George Walters PoW
Pte 109130 Thomas H Fenney PoW
Pte 109133 Albert Harris 19 PoW
Pte 109134 William J. Hawkins 19 KiA
Pte 109136 Alfred Haw PoW
Pte 109137 Herman Isherwood PoW
Pte 109139 George Edward King 19 KiA
Pte 109147 Albert Woolley 18 KiA
L/Cpl 109148 Albert Worrall PoW
Pte 109155 Joseph Lockley 19 KiA

*William Coventry Reid was captured on May 27, 1918 and died of wounds on May 29,1918.

The following table lists the 15 young men formerly of the 7th Reserve Sherwood Foresters who were either Killed or Captured on May 27, 1918.

Rank Co Service No Forename Middle  Surname Age Fate
Pte 95807 Clarence Stephen Cox 18 KiA
Pte B 95877 Jacob Attwood 18 PoW
Pte 95887 James Reginald Batchelor 18 KiA
Pte 95897 John Charles Hubbard PoW
Pte 95899 William Ernest Hames 18 KiA
Pte A 95901 Bertie Johnson PoW
Pte D 95913 Reginald Sharpe PoW
L/Cpl 95924 Cris Burrows Cotton 18 KiA
Pte 95925 Rowland Cheshire 18 KiA
Pte D 95932 David Frederick Fisher 18 PoW
Pte 95941 Charles Henry Hughes 18 PoW*
Pte D 95955 Linford D Russell PoW
Pte A 95962 Francis Harold Benjamin Sturgess 18 PoW
Pte D 95967 Leonard Walker PoW
Pte 95970 Gilbert Walter Watson 18 KiA

* Charles Henry Hughes was captured on May 27, 1918 and subsequently died of wounds received on May 29, 1918.

The full Divisional Casualty numbers are simply staggering:

Unit Officers Other Ranks Grand
K W M Total K/W/M Total Total
23rd Infantry HQ 0 1 0 1 0 0 1
2nd Devons 1 4 24 29 552 552 581
2nd West Yorks 1 6 15 22 555 555 577
2nd Middlesex 1 3 22 26 578 578 604
23rd LTM Bty 0 0 0 0 27 27 27
24th Infantry HQ 0 0 1 1 0 0 1
1st Worcesters 3 11 15 29 589 589 618
1st Sherwoods 1 12 10 23 675 675 698
2nd Northants 1 5 18 24 629 620 644
24th LTM Bty 0 0 3 3 46 46 49
25th Infantry HQ 0 0 2 2 0 0 2
2nd East Lancs 0 10 15 25 560 560 585
2nd Royal Berks 2 2 20 24 683 683 707
2nd Rifle Brigade 2 9 17 28 744 744 772
25th LTM Bty 0 0 1 1 22 22 23
22nd Durham LI (Pioneers) 1 14 4 19 494 494 513
8th Bn MG Company 2 4 18 24 382 382 406
Royal Artillery 1 3 36 40 370 370 410
Royal Engineers 3 7 6 16 323 323 339
RAMC 0 1 20 21 248 248 269
Div Train ASC 0 3 0 3 25 25 28
Mobile Vet Sect 0 1 0 1 3 3 4
A.C.D. 0 0 4 4 0 0 4
Totals 19 96 251 366 7,505 7,496 7,862

The extent of the casualties is also evident from the weekly report of Divisional Fighting Strength reported at the end of the first full week of June as compared to that of January or March.

June 8th
Unit Officers O.R.s
23rd Infantry Brigade
2nd Devons 14 315
2nd West Yorks 13 221
2nd Middlesex 8 257
TOTAL 35 793
24th Infantry Brigade
1st Worcesters 9 243
1st Sherwoods 15 252
2nd Northants 9 274
TOTAL 33 769
25th Infantry Brigade
2nd East Lancs 13 301
2nd Royal Berks 18 277
2nd Rifle Brigade 14 270
TOTAL 45 848
22nd Durham LI (Pioneers) 19 460
8th Div MG Btn 24 501
GRAND TOTAL 156 3,371

Nurse Louisa Constance Colt-Williams

Louisa Constance Colt-Williams was an English Nurse who volunteered with the French Red Cross and on May 27, 1918 was assigned to the Allied 50th Division Field Ambulance at Beaurieux. She was captured with the Field Ambulance around 9:30am on May 27, 1918.

She maintained a list of treated patients and wrote several letters to the families of those patients after she was released from captivity.  She wrote a letter to the parents of Capt. RJP Hewetson and she also wrote a letter to the wife of Private George Cooper.  During the time that the War Office was investigating the disappearance of, (and working towards a presumption of death for), 2nd Lt. A. E. Downing she was referenced in official memos.

Colt Williams Medal Index Card

She was awarded the Croix de Guerre (avec palmes), the Victory Medal & British War Medal and was mentioned in despatches in the service of the Army Medical Corps September 9, 1918.  Her Medal Index Card is referenced at the National Archives as WO 372/23/45146.

Awarded the Victory Medal & British War Medal

Louisa Constance Colt-Williams died on September 13, 1920 at a nursing home in London. She was buried at Nannerch, near Mold, Flintshire. She was 31 years old.

Col. Alexander Milne-Thompson

Colonel Alexander Milne-Thompson, Royal Army Medical Corps, was the 50th Division Assistant Director Medical Services in May 1918. He was the Commanding Officer of the Divisional Field Ambulance located at Beaurieux. This was the Field Ambulance that Pvt George Cooper was taken to as a Prisoner of War and the Field Ambulance that Louisa Constance Colt-Williams worked as a French Red Cross Nurse.

The following information is from his service record (WO 374/47984). Crown Copyright.

Col. Alexander Milne-Thompson Capture Statement from his Service Record

Colonel Alexander MILNE-THOMSON. Royal Army Medical Corps.
WO 374/47984
Col, RAMC, ADMS, 50 Div Staff
Captured 27.5.18 at Beaurieux

Capture Statement dated 5.12.18
Alexander Milne-Thompson, Col, 27.5.18 at BEAURIEUX, near CHEMIN DES DAMES, not wounded.
ADMS, 50 Div,
Repatriated: 2.11.18
Arrived England: 2.11.18

STATEMENT:
“I was at Advanced HQ, BEAURIEUX, on May 27th with the GOC, AAQMG and GSOG. We occupied separate dugouts connected by telephone and about 40 yards apart. The attack began by an intense bombardment at 1am which continued until I was captured about 9:30am. At 7am the AAQMG visited my dugout to know how the evacuation of wounded was going on and about 7:30am the GOC rang me up on the telephone about the same subject. This was the last communication I had from them. I received no warning of the critical condition of affairs in front nor did they give me any warning to retire. I had an ambulance car at my disposal and could easily have got away if I had been warned. At about 8:30am I sent my DADMS (Handfield-Jones) to find out how the ambulance was progressing with the evacuation, he returned shortly afterwards and said he believed the Germans were in the village. I went with him to find out and on the way along the road a German patrol of 10 men and an officer arrested us.”

A Milne-Thompson,
late Col ADMS, 50th Div.

Below is the war diary entry for May 27, 1918 from the 50th Division Adjutant and Quarter-Master General (1915 Apr – 1918 Dec). WO 95/2813/1. which shows Col. Milne-Thompson as “missing”.

50th Division War Diary May 31, 1918

WO 161, Rep MO60:
Captured 27.5.18 at Beaurieux when his Field Ambulance/hospital was captured. Kept at work in the Field Lazaret No 261 at Beaurieux from 27.5.18 to 13.6.18. 13.6.18 to St Giles until 8.7.18. St Giles was a large French Hospital of 4,000 beds. The German head was Dr Nieter. 8.7.18 from St Giles they walked to Fismes and then on to Beaurieux to a PoW camp there (12 miles altogether). 9.7.18 left Beaurieux, put in cattle trucks arriving at Laon at midnight. 4:30 am left Laon by train in cattle trucks arrived Hirson at 6:30 am where they were put in a fort. 20.7.18 left Hirson 9am arrived Charleroi at 12 noon, then on by train arrived Sedan at 6:30am, depart Sedan 7am arrive Saarbrucken 7:30am. Depart Saarbrucken 12 and passed through Hamburg and Karlsruhe arrived Rastatt 9pm. Next morning to camp at Rastatt for 4 or 5 days and then on to Stralsund arrived 31.7.18.

Notes:
AAQMG   – Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General
GOC          – General Officer Commanding
GSOG       – General Staff Officer GHQ
ADMS      – Assistant Director Medical Services
DADMS   – Deputy Assistant Director Medical Services
RAMC      – Royal Army Medical Corps

Capt RJP Hewetson

Captain Richard John Philip Hewetson was wounded and taken prisoner on May 27, 1918.  The following day he was taken to the 50th Divisional Field Ambulance at Beaurieux, which was also captured by the Germans, previously under the command of Colonel Alexander Milne-Thompson.

Capt. RJP Hewetson 9th Loyal north Lancashire Regiment

It was at the Field Ambulance at Beaurieux where Pte. Cooper mistook Capt. Hewetson for 2nd Lt. A.E. Downing.

Times obituary, 21st Feb 1919:

“Captain Richard John Philip Hewetson, 3rd The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, was the only son of The Rev and Mrs W Hewetson of Salhouse-w Wroxham Vicarage, Norwich.  He was educated at The Knoll, Woburn Sands, and Dulwich Preparatory Schools, afterwards at Repton and Oriel College, Oxford.  While at school he won several cups for running and gained his football colours in 1911.  He was head of his house for two years and a school prefect.  He belonged to the Repton OTC and gained Certificate A in 1911. He played in the freshers match at Oxford in 1912.

He volunteered for service in August 1914, the day after his 21st birthday, and was offered his commission and gazetted from that month. He went to France first in June 1915, and served with the 1st Battalion. He became bombing officer for the battalion and went over the top on September 25 at the Battle of Loos.  He was hit early on in the day and lay out for nine hours. The result was that he lost the use of his fingers for some months.  During this time at home he acted as assistant adjutant of the 3rd Battalion at Felixstowe for six months, and went again to France in March 1917.  This time he joined the 9th Battalion and was adjutant until the Battle of Messines, when he acted as liaison officer between a Canadian brigade and his own.  After this he became adjutant and quartermaster for the 2nd Corps Advanced Reinforcement Camp, and later took part in the engagements around Ypres, Westhock &c.

He came home in October and was advised to accept home service, as his heart was overstrained.  He requested, however, to be passed for general service again, and although unfit, he was sent once more to France in April, 1918.

He joined the 9th Battalion, but was given command of a brigade instructional platoon because of his “splendid work the year before in heartening up men” His division, the 25th, was sent with other tired divisions to rest on the Aisne.  They were overwhelmed on May 27 by 5 times as many Germans.  He was ordered to fill a gap which had occurred on the left flank three miles long.  This was over 5 miles away.  They had not gone more than half an hour when they met with the enemy in large forces.  They put up a splendid fight which lasted nearly one hour, by which time they were practically surrounded.

Captain Hewetson was taken prisoner with his leg smashed, but was not picked up until the next day, by which time gas gangrene had set in.  His leg was amputated by an English doctor also a prisoner.  But, owing to lack of food, Captain Hewetson died five weeks later in a cellar converted into a field ambulance and was buried in Beaurieux Cemetery.  He was 24 years of age.

His Colonel wrote:- It will be a help to you in bearing the blow to be assured of the very real esteem and affection with which your sons memory will be cherished by all in the regiment who served with him  He leaves a record of steady accomplishing of good work, and his calm and reliable nature made him a most valuable officer.  All my memories of him are pleasant ones.”

Also present at the Field Ambulance was Louisa Constance Colt-Williams, an English Nurse with the French Red Cross. She was also captured by the Germans and when she was released she wrote the letter below to the parents of Captain Hewetson.

14th October 1918

Dear Mr. Hewetson,

                I have only just come back from Germany where I have been a prisoner for 4 and 1/2 months, and am writing immediately to give you what news I can of your Son Capt. Hewetson who was brought to our Ambulance as a prisoner, seriously wounded in the leg, we had to amputate immediately and he was doing well, then we were all sent to another ambulance about 3 weeks afterwards and had to leave all our wounded in charge of the German Doctors and fortunately English Orderlies.  

About 3 weeks after that I saw one of the orderlies who told  me that your son had never done so well after the English Surgeon and I, who was the only English Nurse there, had left and forgive me for having to tell you such painful news, but it appears he died of Septic Pneumonia about the end of June or the beginning of July.   The orderly told me that the German Doctors did everything possible for him but he had gas-gangrene and it was evidently too much for him.   He is buried at Beaurieux where he died.   It is a little village where my ambulance was, between the Aisne and the Graonnelle Plateau.    I was working there with the French when the attack came and we were all taken as an Ambulance and your son was brought in on May 28th.   The village has now been retaken by the French, as I know the spot so well I can tell you exactly where it is, and after the War is over you will be able to come and see it I hope.   

It may comfort you to know that he was operated on by an English Surgeon, Major Handfield-Jones, who was taken at Beaurieux the same day as I was and with whom I worked for 6 weeks, he was therefore in our care for three weeks but it appears that he lost all heart after we left.   Had I only been there when he died I could have saved some of his things for you, as it is I can only offer you my heartfelt sympathy in your great sorrow.   You must have suffered so from anxiety when you knew he was missing.    I who have been a prisoner myself know what my own people suffered.   As far as I could see the Germans treated the enemy wounded like their own, every man who died was buried by the Chaplaine (German) just as if he had died in our own lines and crosses were put over all their graves.    They were perfectly correct in their conduct to us.  

There were only three Nurses, two French girls and myself, and we never had any bother or insult.   They certainly respect the Red Cross if nothing else.   We were kept at the Front for two months and in Germany for 2 ½ months, we could never understand that, as they ought to have sent us back at once, but we were well treated all through.  

I must close now, if there is anything else you wish to know and which I can tell you, will you write to me at this address, you will forgive me for having written you such painful news, but I knew I could give you details that no one else could.

 

Captain R.J.P. Hewetson is buried at Vendresse British Cemetery, in Vendresse-Beaulne, in PLOT IV. F. 3.

Pte. George Cooper

After the events of May 27, 1918 2nd, Lt. A. E. Downing was listed as Wounded and Missing.  His body was never recovered or identified.

Private George Cooper, (32569), C Company, 9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, was wounded and captured on the same day.  He was interviewed by the International Red Cross which resulted in them sending the following letter to the War Office.

IRC Letter with Pvt Kent's Statement

His statement to the Red Cross was:

“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.”

War Diary 9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment May 1918

Ref Map SOISSONS 22

COULOGNES
9 May                   Battalion left at 3am, march route to WAYENBERG, to entrain. Transport proceeded in advance. Battalion arrived at 7:30am. Battalion entrained in record time, viz Transport Complete – 1 1/2hsr. Train left at 11:15am

10 May                Battalion on railway journey. Made halts at NOYELLES and PONTOISE. Arrived at FERE en-TARDENOIS at 7:00am. Arrived In camp at 10pm.

11 May                Battalion cleaning up, etc. Inspection by Maj-Genl. Bainbridge KCB at 6pm who complemented 25th Division on good work done and conveyed same from Corps Commander and C in C.

12 May                Church parades in camp. Inspection of men by CO.

13 May                Battalion in training as per orders. Battalion provided working party under French Camp Commandant.

14 May                Battalion training. Military Medal awarded to 7 men of the Battalion. Lieut. AE Bulling appointed assistant adjutant.

Major (Lt Col) EL Nares, MC proceeded to join 66th Division.

Lt. Col. AM Tringham DSO took over command of the Battalion.

15 May                Battalion training

16 May                Route march with halt for Tactical Scheme, Lewis Gun Detachment formed. Military Medal awarded to 4 Other Ranks.

17 May                Range allotted to Battalion. Transport inspected by BPC.

18 May                Route march.

19 May                Church parade. CO’s inspection

20 May                Range allotted to Battalion.

21 May                Tactical Schemes on Training Area. Major OS Derby-Griffiths, MC takes over command of the Battalion. Lt Col. AM Tringham DSO to 75th Brigade.

22 May                Entrenching scheme carried out on Training Area.

23 May                Range allotted. Moved to VANDEUIL in the evening

VANDEUIL

24 May                Arrived at VANDEUIL, early hours of morning.

25 May                CO’s inspection of Battalion

26 May                Church Parades. Orders for move.

7:15pm Received orders to prepare to move at once.

11pm     Marched to MUSCOURT. During latter part of journey Box Respirators were worn owing to gas shelling by enemy.

MUSCOURT

27 May                Arrived at camp at MUSCOURT at about 4am.

9am       1 Platoon per Coy ordered to proceed to a line along Canal bank, NE of MAIZY, to form a nucleus of defence for that place.

12noon Remainder of Battalion ordered to reinforce at once line already taken up.

Total going into action 12 Officers, 496 other ranks.

Capt. WF Loudon MC – Wounded. Lieut. A Sumner – Wounded.

Capt. PR Shields MC – Wounded and missing. 2nd Lieut. AE Downing – Wounded and missing.

Major OS Darby-Griffiths MC – Killed.  2dn Lieut. JBM Lightbody – Wounded.

Capt. RJP Hewetson – MIssing.

Major Lloyd 105th RE assumed command of Battalion.

 

War Diary Total Casualties During the Month:

Killed     Wounded           Wounded & Missing       Missing

2             6                            1                                           1                            Officers

6             123                       4                                           232                       Other Ranks

War Diary 1/Sherwood Foresters May 1918

Battalion War Diary (May 11th – 27th):

May 11th PC VERDUN (2203 – 29845):      Btn HQ moved from ROUCY at 9pm to relieve 4th Btn 221st Reg Inf France as Support Battalion JUVINCOURT Section. Relief complete by 2am on 12th inst.  1st Wors  Regt in Front Line, 2nd Northants Regt in Reserve at BOUVANCOURT.  A & D Coys. Attached to 25th Inf Bde near BERRY AU BAC.

May 12th              Raining almost all day. Quiet. Capt. W WESTON came up at night to take charge of letters A & D Coy.

May 13th              Quiet. During the evening there was heavy shelling on our right, South of the River AISNE.

May 14th              Very Quiet. C Coy with 2 Platoons moved from CP TULIPE to CP ROSE changing w/ 2 platoons of 1/Worcesters Regt. [Front Line]

May 15th              Quiet. Very hot sun. Enemy shelled BOIS DES BOCHES during the evening.

May 16th              Quiet. Officers of the 2nd Northamptonshire Regt reconnoitered the line previous to taking over. Maj EDWARDS reported to Battalion.

May 17th GC HENRY (2215-2997):  The Battn moved up to relieve the 1st Worcestershire Regt in the Front Line being relieved in Support by 2nd Northamptonshire Regt. Relief not complete till 3:45am on 18th.  C Coy on Right, D in Centre, B on Left with A in Support. 25th Bde on our right (2nd E Lancs Regt), 23rd Bde on left (2nd Devons).

May 18th              Quiet day. Very hot.

May 19th              Divisional Commander visits the lines in the morning.

May 20th              Very quiet. Heat continued.

May 21st              Very quiet. Patrols have been out from each front Coy all night, every night in this sector.

May 22nd             Quiet. Officers of 2nd Northants Regt reconnoitered the line – which they are to take over from us. Enemy artillery rather active during night.

May 23rd              Weather thundery. Some rain in afternoon. Order received for relief on 24th

May 24th              Much cooler & dull.  Battalion relieved in Front Line by 2nd Northants.  Arrived VENTELAY early morning May 25th

May 25th              VENTELAY.  Regiment reached reserve billets in the early morning. Remainder of day spent in cleaning up

May 26th              Sunday Services. In the afternoon received warning of likely enemy attack. 9:20pm Btn moved up to ROUCY.

ROUCY May 27th, 1am: Enemy barrage opened, VENTELAY neighbourhood & transport lines gassed. About 4:30am Battalion ordered forward to AISNE line.  Retiring fight to MONTAGNE de GUYENCOURT.  Casualties heavy & details ordered, under 2nd Lt Greaves, to move up to VENTELAY about 9:30pm. Transport moved to wood S. of MONTIGNY [SUR VESLE] & about later 11:30pm to VANDEUIL.

CO’s Narrative:

At 4:30am [on May 27th] the battalion was ordered forward to the AISNE line and from this time until June the battalion suffered some of the most severest casualties, fighting a rearguard action against troops which overwhelmingly outnumbered them at all points and forced the line back to MONTAGNE de GUYENCOURT, heights near JONCHERY and high ground N. of TRESLON.

Lt. Col. JOHN D. MITCHELL, CMG, DSO

 

Narrative May 27th, 1918
The Sherwood Forresters left Roucy at 6:15am and marched towards La Pecherie Bridge via the Concevreux-Cormicy Rd and the Bois de Gernicourt.

Platoon marched at 200 distance.

There was very little hostile shelling until the road just into the Bois de Gernicourt but here the enemy were heavily shelling the road running through the wood towards the canal. The Battalion suffered a considerable number of casualties, one platoon being wiped out by two 5-9s* which fell on the road in the middle of them, a certain number of gun limbers** were knocked out on this road.

On reaching the North edge of the wood a man of the 24th Infantry Brigade was met who told us that the enemy were just coming down to the river. The commanding officer and the leading platoon pushed forward out of the wood and started to make their way to the canal. At the same time, the enemy put down a barrage along the line of the canal 300ft South of it consisting of HE and gas shells which caused a thick haze all along the canal.

The platoon was checked by a thick wall of wire and by the shelling and only five men reached the canal with the CO. The enemy, in large number, were advancing towards the river from the direction of Butte aux Vents and reached the edge of the canal on the North side of the river as we reached the canal and offered machine gun fire on our troops as they came down the ridge between the canal and the Bois de Gernicourt.

The enemy appeared to be very thick on the ground and were advancing in groups of about 25 men each with intervals and distances of about 100ft. As they reached the edge of the canal they lined up and moved to either flank looking for crossings.

A sapper was found near the bridge over the river and he demolished the bridge a few moments after we arrived (at about 7am).

A post was then formed on the South bank of the canal covering the demolished bridge over the river and the undamaged bridge over the canal and the CO then went back to take up a position on the ridge just behind (between the canal and the Bois de Gernicourt).

Intermittent rifle and MG fire went on but the enemy made no attempt to cross the canal.

About an hour later, (8am), an officer and 12 men arrived, sent by the OC Sherwoods to strengthen the canal post and I moved off in the direction of Gernicourt. There was no garrison in Ouvrage Ouest, or in the trench between there to send, and Gernicourt (supposed to be manned by a French MG company).

Small parties of our men (25th Infantry Brigade) could be seen along the North bank of the canal immediately North of Gernicourt.

I made my way back to the Bois de Gernicourt and on the way a Machine Gun opened fire from the high ground just S.E. of Pontavert Bridge, South of the Canal.

The enemy must have crossed near Pontavert and by occupying the high ground enfiladed*** the position just taken up by the Sherwoods. I gather that the Sherwoods then fell back to the West edge of the Bois de Gernicourt and held on here till 12 noon. The machine guns of the 8th Btn which came up behind the Sherwoods went into position on this line.

On reaching PC Division I found the place unoccupied and when we got to the West edge of the wood we saw a party of about 20 Germans at the SW corner of the Bois de Gernicourt moving towards the Concevreux-Cormicy Rd. We hurried back to warn a French Machine Gun detachment in the SW corner of the wood but just before we reached them they ran out into the open, were fired on by the party of Germans, and surrendered.

We moved back through the wood to the Concevreux-Cormicy Rd and found a large number of stragglers moving from the wood towards Bouffignereux. A post was formed on the Bouffignereux road 200ft from the Concevreux-Cormicy Rd and fire was opened on the small party of Germans. About 1/2hr later the party retired towards the high ground near Pontavert bridge, probably forced to do this by the Sherwoods who formed a defensive flank facing West at the NW corner of the Bois de Gernicourt.

Two aid posts were doing a lot of work at the South end of the Bois de Gernicourt (one 1/C of the MO Sherwood Foresters) and motor ambulances were leaving from these two posts all the time I was there.

Gunners who we met in the wood stated that all the guns North of the river had been lost and a large number destroyed by enemy shell fire.

As I came back through Roucy parties of the enemy could be seen moving from Pontavert, in the direction of Concevreux across our left flank, and parties of our own troops, 25th Division and 8th Division Lewis gun School**** were moving onto the Boufignereux – Roucy Line.

At about 4 pm I visited Bouffignereux and our line then came along the North edge of the village, thence westwards along the North edge of the wood which lies just South of the railway from Bouffignereux to Roucy. The enemy were advancing in small parties all along the front and were being held up by Lewis guns and rifle fire about 400 ft in front of our line. Large bodies of the enemy could be seen collecting in the woods along the South bank of the canal.

From reports it appears that the Sherwoods in the Bois de Gernicourt and the garrison of Gernicourt defences held out till 12 noon and then fell back onto Hill 180.

Major George Rowland Patrick Roupell, VC, CB

Glossary & Notes:
HE = High Explosive [Shell]
MG = Machine Gun
TM = Trench Mortar

*The 15 cm schwere Feldhaubitze 13 (15 cm sFH 13), was a heavy field howitzer used by Germany in World War I. The British referred to these guns and their shells as “Five Point Nines” or “Five-Nines” as the internal diameter of the barrel was 5.9 inches (150 mm).

**A limber is a two-wheeled cart designed to support the trail of an artillery piece, or the stock of a field carriage such as a caisson or traveling forge, allowing it to be towed. The trail is the hinder end of the stock of a gun-carriage, which rests or slides on the ground when the carriage is unlimbered.

*** Enfiladed: Gunfire directed from a flanking position along the length of an enemy battle line.

****There was a Divisional Lewis Gun School going on prior to the attack.

© Crown Copyright

Pte Henry Kent

Pte. Henry Kent (29453), 9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment sent the letter below to the family of 2nd Lt. A.E. Downing reporting what he saw on the 27th May, 1918.

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.

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 Whitecross 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.

2/Lt. "Eddie" Downing with his Sisters and Brother. Summer 1917.

This photograph, taken in Warrington with his sisters and brother was to be the last time they would see him alive.

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. 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

DEATH GRATUITY AND WIDOW’S PENSION

How does a country put a monetary value on the life of a fallen soldier? A young man who volunteered to fight for his country one week after the outbreak of war,  wounded in the field, promoted through the ranks on merit to a temporary commission, mentioned for bravery in the official regimental history and subsequently killed in action after serving at home and abroad for almost 4 years. The Ministry of Pensions, referring to Royal Warrants and Army Orders, had an answer.

Second Lieutenant Downing was receiving 10 shillings and 6 pence pay per day Army pay which was paid into his account at Messrs. Cox & Co., of Charring Cross, Army Agents and Bankers.  Additionally, he received a daily allowance for lodging, fuel, lighting, field ration and groom, and also a separate mess allowance. All of which was credited to his bank account at Messrs. Cox & Co. Any cash required in the field was drawn locally and recorded as a debt against the officer’s account, similarly with any unpaid mess bills.

Upon his official declaration of death on May 27, 1918 a detailed reckoning of the death gratuity owed, minus the excess credits already issued, began by the Ministry of Pensions. His service reckoned from August 28, 1917 when he left officer training and consequently his first year of service would have ended on August 27, 1918, 92 days after his death.

An officer’s death gratuity, payable to his widow, was defined under article 497 of the Royal Warrant for Pay, 1914. This entitled his dependents to 124 days of field pay for his partial year of service. Had he served for more than one year his dependents would have been entitled to an additional 62 days of pay for each subsequent year and partial year served. For 2/Lt. Downing, this 124 days of field pay resulted in a gratuity amount of £65 and 2 shillings. Additionally, Army Order 85 of November 2, 1919 granted him a minimum £8 death gratuity for service in the ranks prior to his commission plus a gratuity of 25 months of service, (counted from first deployment overseas until discharged to commission), at 10 shillings per month, equal to £12 and 10 shillings. This provided a total of £20 and 10 shillings gratuity for his service in the ranks making a total combined death gratuity of £85 and 12 shillings.

From this amount, all credits paid by the Army for times after his death had to be subtracted. 92 days pay in the amount of £48 and 6 shillings, lodging and other field allowances of £10, 15 shillings and 8d, and a mess allowance of £1 and 10 shillings were all deducted, making a total deduction of £60, 11 shillings and 8d.

Consequently, the net payment made to his widow on April 10, 1920 was £25 and 4d. Additionally, a war pension of £100 per year would have been paid to her commencing May 28, 1918 and terminating on her re-marriage on June 18, 1921.

LAST POST

2/Lt. Alfred Edward 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 employed 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 at the Armoury in Ashton 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.

For the first month of his service he slept at home but was required to report to the barracks each day for a full day of drills, route marching and instruction. 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.

V Beach, Gallipoli
V Beach in 1916. In the distance is the fort of Sedd-el-Bahr. The far ship is the port side of the SS RIver Clyde. In the foreground, the French Navy battleship Massena and and the French passenger ship Saghalien run ashore to form a breakwater on November 9, 1915.

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.

British Soldiers making bombs from Jam Tins
British soldiers making bombs from empty jam tins, filled with old nails, bits of shell and barbed wire, and other scraps of metal, and an explosive charge. A fuse was fitted through the top of the tin, which had’ to be lighted by a match. These bombs were first issued in very small quantities about an hour before the third Battle of Krithia, 4th June 1915. Copyright: © IWM.

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.

42nd Division Camp at Gully Beach
Camp of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division at Gully Beach, Cape Helles. Copyright: © IWM.
Entrance to Gully Ravine at Gully Beach
Entrance to Gully Ravine at Gully Beach, September 1915. 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. Copyright: © IWM (Q 13400).

On their last full 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). It’s not clear whether he was deliberately shot by a sniper or simply hit by a stray bullet or piece of shrapnel.

Since it is not recorded on Arthur Slater’s B.103 form we do not know the exact chain of evacuation he followed from firing 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 Abbassia), 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 coming down Gully Ravine
Walking wounded coming down Gully Ravine to Gully Beach, after passing through the Advanced Dressing Station. Copyright: © IWM.

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.

ADS at Ghurkha Bluff
An advanced dressing station in the shelter of a rocky cliff at Ghurkha Bluff ‘Y’ Ravine manned by 42nd Division. Just over the brow of the hill on the right of the flag can be seen the bursting of a shell from an ‘Asiatic Annie’. A hospital ship can also be seen. Copyright: © IWM.

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.

ADMS Orders Gallipoli Aug 1915

The ADMS war diary for the 42nd Division notes that on September 10th and 11th no trawlers were dispatched to load men onto hospital ships because the weather was too rough. On September 12th 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 13th 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 was overflowing with sick and wounded.

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 and by this time, many other sick and wounded had accumulated for evacuation. The next available trawler was on September 19th and this is likely 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.

No 5 Stationary Hospital
No. 5 Stationary Hospital (Queen’s), Canadian, Abbassia Barracks, Cairo, Egypt

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 much needed 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.

Mud in Gully Ravine
An ambulance wagon of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division in Gully Ravine, showing the mud after the storm of November 1915. Copyright: © IWM. (Q 13642).

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
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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 seriously wounded when he was hit in the right thigh by shrapnel at Havrincourt Wood, near Trescault.

Shrapnel
This is the actual piece of shrapnel removed from Arthur Slater's thigh in 1917.
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He was one of 23 “Other Ranks” of the 1/9th Manchesters recorded as wounded that month.

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

The Battalion had just moved from billets at Ytres back into the reserve line on the evening of the 21st, relieving the 1/4th East Lancashire Regiment. The Battalion War Diary says very little; only that the majority of the men were engaged in digging firing trenches, (Bazooza Avenue and Frith Alley), and a communication trench.

 

The men were engaged in trench digging between 9:30pm and 3:00am to take advantage of the dark. Progress was slow and almost all the Battalion were put to work in order to accomplish as much as possible in the short time available each night.

We don’t know exactly where, or precisely when, Arthur was wounded but the chain of evacuation from the trench would start with him being stretchered or carried to the Regimental Aid Post located at the southern edge of Trescault. From there he would have traveled down the Trescault to Metz road to the Divisional Advanced Dressing Station which was located just north of Metz. It must have been a painful and uncomfortable journey.

From Metz, he would have been quickly evacuated to No 21 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) by ambulance wagon. 21 CCS was located at Ytres, a small village about 10km southwest of where he was shot, where the Battalion had been billeted earlier that month.  The CCS camp was actually located at the  Ytres – Etricourt railway siding, South of the town of Ytres, and there it joined 48 CCS which had arrived a few days earlier. 21 CCS was relatively comfortable but quite rudimentary, consisting of 4 huts with the rest under canvas.

Ytres Etricourt Train Station

21 CCS had only arrived at Ytres on June 1st and had spent the following 3 weeks unloading and setting up camp. In fact they did not start admitting patients until June 23rd, the day that Arthur was wounded. By this time, the camp was in its final stages of preparation but had not yet been fully wired for electricity.

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.  The first ambulance train to take patients from the two Casualty Clearing Stations. On the morning of June 27 they began loading patients from 21 CCS and 48 CCS onto the train at 11:10am and completed their task at 1:20pm. Ambulance Train No 5 then left Ytres at 2:05pm arriving at Rouen at exactly midnight.

21 CCS & Railways Map

The above map definitively positions 21 CCS at the Ytres – Etricourt railway siding and shows its location in relation to the broad gauge railway lines used by the Ambulance Trains. The siding was also an ammunition railhead and located close to Corps Royal Engineer stores and water points for men and horses. Casualty Clearing Stations were often located close to railways, for obvious reasons, and inevitably resulted in cemeteries being formed close by. The Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery is located a few hundred yards west of where the 21 and 48 CCSs were situated.

[This railway map overlay was originally posted on the “Railway Accident at Ruyalcourt Station (Somme) 16 November 1917” blog post, on the excellent Railway Work, Life & Death project website. Thanks to Sandra Gittins for originally finding it and Mike Esbester for helping me get a copy. The map is from the war diary: Fourth Army, Headquarters Branches and Services. Adjutant and Quarter-Master General (WO-95-443-1).]

At Rouen he was admitted to No 5 General Hospital where he spent the next eleven days recovering. By July 9th Arthur was stable enough to be included as 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.

Map of the Western Front. July 15, 1918.