11th (Service) Battalion K1
The battalion was formed at Ashton-under-Lyne in August 1914 as part of K1
A brief history of the 11th battalion, courtesy of Dave O'Mara and the unpublished battalion history
ARMY ORDER 324. 1914.
1, AUGMENTATION OF THE ARMY. With reference to Army Order II of 6th August, 1914 (as amended by Army Order III of 7th August, 1914) introducing special terms of enlistment into the Regular Army, His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve of the addition to the Army of six divisions and Army Troops.
2, The composition and nomenclature of the new units and formations will be as shown in Appendix A. The establishment of each unit will follow War Establishments (Part I.) 1914.
3, The new battalions will be raised as additional battalions of the regiments of Infantry of the Line, and will be given numbers following consecutively on the existing battalions of their regiments. They will be further distinguished by the word “Service” after the number....
The 11th (SERVICE) BN., MANCHESTER REGIMENT, was brigaded with the
8th (SERVICE) BN. NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILIERS,
9th (SERVICE) BN. LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS,
8th (SERVICE) BN. DUKE OF WELLINGTON'S (WEST RIDING REGIMENT) [subsequently altered to 5th DORSETS]
These four battalions constituting the 34th INFANTRY BRIGADE.
On August 6th, when, together with the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers, it was embarked on lighters, and towed by destroyers to Suvla Bay, on the Gallipoli Peninsula. These destroyers contained the remainder of the 34th Brigade, i.e., 8th Northumberland Fusiliers and 5th Dorset.
On reaching a point about a mile from the shore the lighters were cast off, and, moving under their own impetus, grounded about 200 to 300 yards north of Lala Baba, a fortified post held by the Turks at the south of the bay. The landing was extremely difficult as one of the lighters, which contained the headquarters and one company, together with signallers, machine-guns, etc., and the same of the Lancashire Fusiliers, grounded in about six feet of water, and every man had to be got ashore by means of a rope held by two officers, one on the lighter and one in the water.
This was necessarily a long process, and the landing of material was almost impossible, only one machine-gun being brought through by Sergeant Pickles, the other gun and signalling gear having to be abandoned. Sergeant Pickles' exploit deserves to be recorded. This N.C.O. had originally belonged to the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment. He was a finely-built man and, a strong swimmer. In dropping overside the machine-gun escaped from his grasp. He immediately dived for the gun, and, having recovered it with considerable difficulty, he managed to struggle ashore. He then set to work to remove the sand, thoroughly cleaned it, and in a short time the gun was ready for use.
Major Sillery landed first in order to collect the men as they came ashore, and other officers were landed at intervals. The landing was carried out under heavy rifle fire from Lala Baba and shrapnel fire from further inland. The lighter containing the two other companies grounded in shallower water and so made an easier landing. When these companies were collected Major Bates attacked Lala Baba, in order to lessen the fire on the headquarters lighter, and by this means eased the situation considerably. While the attack was in progress the 32nd Brigade arrived upon the scene and, as Lala Baba was the objective allotted to them, Major Bates withdrew his men to the battalion rendezvous on the beach.
When the disembarkation had been completed the C.O. found the Battalion resting on the beach with bayonets fixed, and ready to move against the ridges to the north of the bay - Karakol Dagh and Kiretch Tepe Sirt. The first company to advance was under the direction of Captain Oliver, with the trenches at Ghazi Baba, and a signal-post on the sea at Biyuk Kemikli as its objective. Major Bates with “R” company moved against the trenches north and east of Ghazi Baba. A third company followed close upon them, and the C.O. with the fourth following in reserve. Having moved across the gaps where Salt Lake runs into the sea the battalion went forward along the beach, where there were many mines, but, fortunately none were exploded.
The trenches were reached without serious opposition, and were carried at the point of the bayonet, the Turks retiring on Karakol Dagh followed up by the battalion. The ground traversed was very rough and difficult, and several men, including the medical officer and stretcher-bearers, lost touch with their comrades, and were either killed or fell into the hands of the enemy.
When day broke on the 7th August the Battalion was astride the ridge, about half a mile inland, faced by the Turks in considerable numbers. About three hundred rifles were out of action for several hours owing to their having become clogged with sand and salt water. The British attack was begun, and was strenuously opposed by the enemy, but the battalion succeeded in taking the ridge for about three miles inland, and was then brought to a standstill owing to heavy opposition in front and to being enfiladed on both sides. There was no means of communicating with Brigade Headquarters, and no other unit was at hand, but about noon a message was sent by flag signal to a destroyer and shortly before darkness fell the battalion was reinforced by two battalions of the 10th Division, but even this support did not enable a further advance to be made, and, after dark, the force prepared "sangars" to enable them to hold on during the night.
About 2 a.m. on the following morning the battalion, which had suffered heavily from gun and rifle fire, heat, and lack of water, was relieved and sent back into reserve. All that day, Sunday, 8th August, the battalion remained in reserve.
On the morning of the 9th, however, it was moved up in reserve for the attack upon Anafarta Sagbir. The battalion remained in reserve during the whole of this day, and suffered few losses. A passage in General Sir Ian Hamilton's Despatch of 6th January, 1916, referring to these operations may here be quoted:
"To add to the difficulties of the 34th Brigade the lighters came under flanking rifle fire from the Turkish outposts at Lala Baba and Ghazi Baba. The enemy even, knowing every inch of the ground, crept down in the very dark night on to the beach itself, mingling with our troops and getting between our firing line and its supports.”
“Fortunately the number of these enterprising foes was but few, and an end was soon put to their activity on the actual beaches by the sudden storming of Lala Baba from the south. This attack was carried out by the 9th West Yorkshire Regiment and the 6th Yorkshire Regiment, both of the 32nd Brigade, which had landed at ‘B’ beach and marched up along the coast.”
“The assault succeeded at once and without much loss, but both battalions deserve great credit for the way it was delivered in the inky darkness of the night. The 32nd Brigade was now pushed on to the support of the 34th Brigade, which was held up by another outpost of the enemy on Hill 10 (117 R. and S.), and it is feared that some of the losses incurred here were due to mis-directed fire. While this fighting was still in progress the 11th Battalion, Manchester Regiment of the 34th Brigade, was advancing northwards in very fine style, driving the enemy opposed to them back along the ridge of the Karakol Dagh towards the Kiretch Tepe Sirt.”
“Beyond doubt these Lancashire men earned much distinction, fighting with great pluck and grit against an enemy, not very numerous perhaps, but having an immense advantage in knowledge of the ground. As they got level with Hill 10 it grew light enough to see, and the enemy began to shell.”
“No one seems to have been present who could take hold of the two brigades, the 32nd and 34th, and launch them in a concerted and cohesive attack. Consequently there were confusion and hesitation, increased by gorse fires lit by hostile shell, but redeemed, I am proud to report, by the conspicuously fine, soldierly conduct of several individual battalions.”
"The whole of the Turks locally available were by now in the field, and they were encouraged to counter-attack by the signs of hesitation, but the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers and the 11th Manchester Regiment took them on with the bayonet, and fairly drove them back in disorder over the flaming Hill 10”
Some further light is thrown on the individual work of the officers and men of the 11th Manchester's in a letter from a Sergeant Major of the battalion which appeared in "The Ashton Herald" (11th September, 1915)
“Our division,” he says, “made a new landing. We came in the night, and as soon as we ran the lighters in shore they gave us hell, many men being killed and wounded in the boats. We stuck on a sand-bank, and the bullets rained upon us all round. The Colonel called 'Tallest men first' I slipped on board, and half-swam and half-waded ashore- a distance or about 200 yards - and was accompanied by the Adjutant and Major Sillery. I was the first man ashore with a rifle. We lay down on the beach, and then started to collect men together as they struggled ashore, and then formed them up.”
“After a while, and under heavy fire, we managed to get some formation, and fixed bayonets. We then moved off, while bullets still whizzed and shells boomed and burst around us. Slowly we advanced, wondering how long we could last. After about a mile we got to work, and then the boys proceeded to get their own back, clearing the trenches of Turks with the bayonet. Orders had been given that no shots were to be fired - it was to be all bayonet work...”
“Poor Major Bates was wounded in two places, but still fought on until he was killed. He worked like a horse. Colonel B. A. Wright was shot through the arm, but still held on for two days, when he was compelled to go into hospital. At last we were relieved, and retired, sadly depleted in numbers, with mouths swollen by thirst, and thoroughly exhausted and hungry, but unable to eat.”
“We got to the beach again, and then came the saddest business of all - the roll call.....The General praised and thanked us for the good work we had done. We thought we should got a rest, but our hopes were dashed to the ground, for, by daybreak, we were off again to help another brigade. For three days and nights we lived in absolute hell. We held on and the men were splendid.....”
“At last we were relieved, and went back to the reserve trenches, about 300 yards back. We are, at last, having a day's rest, in the trenches near the beach, but the Turks obliged with a few shells before we settled down, and knocked over six. We are like a lot of rabbits in holes, and the warships are shelling over our heads. But as soon as the sun goes down we are going to bathe in the sea - let the Turks do what they will!"
Writing to Lord Kitchener on the 28th April, 1915, General Sir Ian Hamilton had said: "the best buck up for the army will be the news that the lads from Manchester are on their way to help us.” Well, the Manchesters had arrived, and had received their baptism of fire.
A severe test it had been, for the operations of these few days had taken a heavy toll of the battalion. The names at the officers killed in action were Major Bates and Major Sillery; Captain Rymer; Lieutenant S. H. MARSLAND; 2nd Lieut. Evanson-Jones and 2nd Lieut. Innes; and Lieutenant Jeffrey Wimpris Parker RAMC (attached). Lt.-Colonel Wright was amongst the wounded, and there were from 200 to 250 casualties of other ranks.
On August 10th "P" and "R" Companies were pushed forward in the advance on Anafarta Ova, but the determined flank attack by the enemy impeded progress, and heavy fighting continued throughout the day. The Turkish snipers in the rear were particularly active. The morale at the men, however, was splendid considering the hardships they were called upon to endure. Amongst the wounded were Captain H. Ellershaw; Lieut. J. S. Lithiby, Lieut. A. L. Allen, and Lieut. H. S. Painter.
The following day saw the battalion moved to support the 32nd Brigade, but it was subsequently sent to guard the flank in front of Little Anafarta. The enemy snipers were again very active, having good cover. With a view to easing the situation, the gorse in front of our trenches was set on fire, with good results, since it cleared the ground of snipers. Water was very scarce and the men suffered considerably from the want of it.
The 12th was spent in improving our position and trenches, and endeavouring to combat the activities of the enemy's snipers. Later the battalion, less "S" company, was relieved by the 159th Infantry Brigade, and went to reserve trenches in rear of Hetman Chair. “S” company remained on the flank until the following day
On the 13th the battalion relieved the Sherwood Foresters in fire trenches 92A, having the Indian Brigade on our right flank, and the 32nd Brigade on our left. During the night and the following day we were at work - improving the trenches. The weather was very hot, water scarce and bad, and the man suffered much from exhaustion. Lieutenant E. V. Bell was mortally wounded.
Save for sniping, the 15th was very quiet on our front, and on this day we were subsequently relieved by the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers, and the battalion returned to the reserve trenches. On the 16th the men enjoyed a well-deserved rest. Major R. Fitz Day, 5th Dorsets, took over command of the battalion, and the following officers were attached from the same regiments: Lieutenant Saunders and Second Lieutenants Grant. Captain V. M. Stevens was admitted to hospital, sick.
The 17th and 18th were spent in digging and improving reserve trenches. About this time the health of the battalion was poor. The water supply was scarce and bad. The men, too, had no rest or sleep at night, owing to the heavy rifle fire kept up by the enemy, for those not working, had to stand to arms.
On the 18th, two Platoons of "P" company went out 200 yards in front and dug themselves lightly in, for the purpose of enfilading the enemy on the right flank as the Northumberland Fusiliers advanced to attack a trench. The first trench was carried without much opposition, but before the position could be consolidated the enemy made a counter-attack from their main trench, 100 yards in rear, and the trench was recaptured. As the two platoons of "P" company opened fire they received a heavy return fire, and, having very little cover, were compelled to withdraw, in which they suffered badly. 2nd Lieut. J. H. Grant was wounded; five men were killed; and twenty-one wounded.
On the 21st a heavy bombardment was started, followed by machine-gun fire. The battalion moved in the advance under heavy artillery fire to trenches vacated on the previous evening by the 6th East Yorks. From here "S" company was sent to Kazla Chair with the object of getting in touch with the Indian troops, and this operation was accomplished with few casualties. Later, "P" and "S" companies went forward on the right flank 500 yards and dug trenches. This work was carried out successfully.The enemy's rifle fire was very heavy during the night, and the covering parties had a difficult task owing to the great number of men from various units who had got lost in the advance and were now returning in search of their units. It was not until the following day that relief was sent, and, the weather being very hot, and water unobtainable, the men suffered severely. Lieut. H. Campbell was amongst those killed in this operation.
The following day "R" company supported the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers in an attack on the enemy's trenches, and after a heavy engagement lasting several hours, though a partial success was gained, the trench was subsequently retaken by the Turks. The enemy snipers were very active, with heavy artillery fire and low shrapnel bursting on our front line. Thus, with the weather still very hot, and water scarce and bad, the battalion had a very trying time. The battalion was subsequently relieved by the 6th Dublin Fusiliers and withdrew to Lala Baba.
The 23rd and 24th days of the month were spent by the battalion in constructing shelter dug-outs on the cliff. On August 25th a composite battalion was formed with the 5th Dorsets, under the command of Major R. Fitz Day, with a strength of ten officers and six hundred and twenty other ranks. On that day the battalion left Lala Baba to occupy trenches Kazlar Chair - Susak Kuya.
On 21st September 1915, the battalion was held in reserve back on the beaches at Suvla. The battalion history records that, at this time, the health of the battalion was very poor and the water supply very bad. Their first time at the front came a week later, on 28th September, when the battalion moved into the firing line near Jephson's Post.
Here they stayed until 7th October and, apart from Turkish snipers, had a fairly quiet time. On October 10th, it seems that the Turks had received fresh supplies of ammunition and so heavy shell fire was experienced for several days. The battalion went back into the line again below Jephson's Post on the 18th October ,"P" and "Q" companies and "R" and "S" companies alternating between the firing line and reserve trenches at Oxford Street, near the Regimental HQ. The health of the battalion at this point is recorded as "improving".
On 19th October, a bombardment of "The Pimple" and "Bench Mark" took place in which the battalion snipers and machine-gunners took advantage of the gaps in the Turkish parapets made by the artillery to cause many casualties. The next three days brought intermittent shelling, but only one battalion casualty is recorded. The remainder of the stint in the front line remained relatively quiet, save for artillery and snipers.
The battalion then moved into reserve dug-outs at Holborn and Leather Lane (November 3rd) after 16 continuous days in the fire trenches. A fresh move ensued on the 7th November when they were moved to dugouts on the beach below the Karakol Gap ,then returned to Corps reserve on West Beach where the battalion was engaged in general fatigues on the beach. A violent thunderstorm broke over the peninsular on the 26th November which washed away dugouts and flooded trenches, not to mention soaking the men to the skin. The following days were also bitterly cold and wet and it was impossible to get dry.
On 29th November gale force winds and a howling blizzard forced many of the battalion to take shelter at the A.S.C. dump. Hard frost followed and there was much suffering by the soldiers. Many men were hospitalised by frostbite and hypothermia and several were discovered to be missing after the storms.
On 2nd December they returned to dugouts at West Beach and the weather was much improved by the 5th December. The rest of the stay at Gallipoli was taken up in fatigues and witnessing the bombardments on the Turkish trenches by the Allied Naval guns (which were usually answered by Turkish artillery). The 15th December saw the embarkation from Suvla Point on board HMT Carron which sailed from Suvla to Mudros the following morning. The dreaded Gallipoli peninsular was being left behind forever. HMT Carron sailed from Suvla with 27 officers and 689 other ranks. However, they had left behind 172 who still, to this day, remain forever part of the peninsular.
Service in Egypt
After a stay under canvas at Mudros, the 11th Manchesters left on HMT Ermine on the 21st December for Imbros, which was reached on the morning of 22nd December 1915. Here the battalion training ensued and the general health improved readily. On Christmas Day, an enemy aircraft dropped bombs but caused no damage. The 11th remained at Imbros until January 27th 1916 when it returned to Mudros, then trans-shipped on HMT Corsican to Alexandria, which was reached on the 30th January.
Training ensued after arrival at Sidi-Bashr camp, and from February 20th, when they arrived at El Ferdan.
On April 23rd 1916, the Turks attacked Katia and the battalion was put on standby to move. However, by the 29th April, the situation had become normal and the battalion was "stood down".
Training continued, in what was, by now, extreme heat which caused many soldiers to suffer from heat related illnesses.
On June 12th, the battalion moved to Kantara, holding the outpost line until the end of the month. Orders to move arrived, and the battalion left Kantara on 30th June. They sailed on the 2nd and 3rd July on the transports Toronto and Transylvania, arriving at Malta on the 6th July and Marseilles on the 8th. On the 9th, the battalion disembarked, staying at Fournier Camp (about 2 miles from the harbour). Here they remained, until July 11th, awaiting orders to entrain for the front.
On July 11th, the battalion left Marseilles, bound (after various route marches and stops) for the trenches at Wailly in the Arras sector. July 20th 1916 saw them have their first taste of life on the Western Front when they relieved the 7th Liverpool's in the front line. During this first day at the front, the battalion suffered four casualties in "S" Company due to rifle grenades. However, British artillery was called in and they duly silenced the menace. For several days, both sides were active with sniping and grenades and patrols were sent out at night to examine the enemy saps and/or strengthen the barbed wire defences. This first tour ended on 29th July when the battalion was sent to billets in Bretencourt, engaging in fatigues and Lewis Gun training.
On 8th August, the 11th Manchesters returned to the frontline, but two weeks of bad weather and basic non-activity (apart from the odd shell and the daily rifle-grenade duel) followed. On the 21st August, the battalion was relieved, a relief which was observed by a German aircraft. Fortunately, the ensuing German bombardment caused no casualties and the relief passed off without further incident. After a night's stay at Beaumetz, the battalion moved to Grand Roullecourt until the 30th August, where it was engaged in musketry and bayonet training.
On 3rd September, they headed off for Puchevillers, via Frevent and Acheux, arriving on the 4th September. The usual training continued here until the afternoon of 8th September, when the battalion moved, once again, to Bouzincourt where it was held in reserve until 9.40am on the morning of 17th September 1916. From here, they moved to the chalk pit, south east of Pozieres in the heart of the Somme battlefield.
Orders were received to support the 5th Dorsets in the area of Mouquet Farm on 18th September. However, due to bad weather, this move to the frontline was cancelled until the following day. Heavy shelling on the morning of 20th September caused 8 casualties within the battalion. A similar scenario, the following evening caused a further 15. Two patrols were sent out this same evening, one to Mouquet Farm, which observed a relief, and the other to High Trench, but observed no signs of the Germans. The following evening, the 22nd September, at 6.30pm, the front and support lines were heavily shelled. German troops were observed leaving their trenches at 7pm, when the British Artillery opened up on them. It was thought that this broke up a German attack as no offensive movement developed, though a strong attack was made on the battalion's left, which was repulsed. Intermittent shelling continued throughout the night, with front line HQ's receiving much attention. The battalion suffered 48 casualties this night, until they were relieved. At 6.30am on the 23rd September, they arrived behind the lines and bivouacked at Aveluy.
At this time, a large scale offensive operation was pending, in which the 11th Manchesters were to have their share...
At 11am on September 26th, the battalion moved from their reserve positions at Crucifix Corner, Aveluy to Ovillers. From here, bombing parties were despatched to Mouquet Farm to relieve similar parties from the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers. At 2.35pm, one platoon, under 2/Lt. Ormond proceeded to the same place with orders to clear up the situation as the enemy were still holding out. At 3.28pm, the remainder of the battalion moved forwards to positions around Mouquet Farm, with the Bn HQ being located in Ovillers Cemetery. At 5.50pm "R" Company advanced to occupy High Trench, with "P" Company in support. "Q" Company moved to occupy Fleet Street. There was a further advance at 7.45pm, with "S" Company reaching its objective at 12.30am on the 27th September. However, there was no sign of the supporting units and the Germans still occupied the Zollern Redoubt.
At 8.30am, "R" Company was ordered to take the Zollern Redoubt. By 11.22am, Zollern Trench had been occupied and consolidated. Stuff Redoubt was, however, still in German hands and orders were received (at 12.49pm) to attack it at 2.30pm and take it "at all costs". This order was, however, cancelled, but the attack was to proceed against the Stuff Redoubt and Hessian Trench with the battalion in support.
The attack took place with the Zollern Redoubt, Zollern Trench and the communication trench leading to the redoubt being heavily shelled and subject to persistent machine gun fire. The 6th West Yorks suffered greatly during this time. However, the 9th West Yorks and the 6th Yorks got a footing in Stuff Redoubt and Hessian Trench. German machine guns in a communication trench in front of Hessian caused a great many casualties and the attacking battalions found themselves short of ammunition and bombs (causing them to yield a little ground). "S" Company, however, rushed forwards with supplies and two Lewis Guns and the battalion remained in possession of the southern part of the redoubt and Hessian Trench to the west.
A bombing attack was organised shortly after 9pm in order to "bomb" their way down several trenches to try and get in contact with the Canadians on the right. The "bombing party" (under 2/Lt. Kay), along with a Lewis Gun team, managed to reach a point between "trench 78 and 99" before they were held up with the enemy approximately thirty yards away. At 6.45am on the 28th September, 2/Lt. Kay asked for reinforcements which were duly sent. However, due to heavy machine gun fire, no advance could be made, but they did succeed in gaining communication with the Canadians.
An attack was ordered for 4pm, to be made by the West Riding Regiment with as strong a contingent as possible from the 11th Manchesters. This attack was cancelled due to a report that the Germans were amassing for an attack of their own. This German assault didn't materialise.
On September 29th, "P","R" and "S" Companies were withdrawn from the fighting and sent to Kay Dump. However, "Q" Company remained behind after reports were received of the German attack at Stuff Redoubt, being sent (at 7.40pm) to reinforce the garrison at Stuff Redoubt. The other companies were sent up to reserve at Mouquet Farm carrying supplies to the front.
The 30th September saw fierce fighting continuing for the redoubt (Q Coy being in the redoubt itself and P Coy supplying them with ammunition). At 4pm an attack was organised to capture the remainder of Hessian Trench and the southern part of Stuff Redoubt which was still in German hands. This attack was to be carried out by 32nd Brigade with the battalion in support. This attack was a complete success and heralded the relief of "P","R" and "S" Companies at 4.30pm by the 2nd South Lancashires and of "Q" Company at midnight by the 10th Cheshires. Upon this relief, the battalion returned to shelter at Aveluy.
The operations of 26th to the 30th September 1916 had cost the battalion 309 casualties and, at some point over these five days, Fred Latham performed an act of bravery sufficient to warrant his award of the Military Medal.
At 10am on 1st October, a further move was made to a camp provided for 32nd Brigade. Here, hot dinners were provided and, at 3.15pm, the battalion left in lorries for Varennes Junction whence it proceeded by train to Candas. 11.30am on 2nd October saw the battalion leave Candas and march to Prouville, arriving at 2.10pm. The weather was very wet and everyone was drenched to the skin. On October 3rd, the battalion marched to Fransu and went into billets.
Behind the lines, the Battle of the Ancre and the German retreat
The battalion stayed at Fransu for over a month. This time was taken up by re-fitting, receiving new drafts of replacement troops and training in various capacities. Entertainment of the soldiers wasn't overlooked either, with the formation of a drum, fife and bugle band which was a great success. There were also concerts, cinemas, football matches, etc.
A number of visits and inspections also ensued, such as the visit of the G.O.C., 34th Brigade on October 6th. There were also various award ceremonies, with medals and ribbons being awarded to a number of officers and men for distinguished service.
However, all things must end, and the battalion left Fransu on November 16th, marching to Acheux, which was reached on 20th. On 21st, they left again to a position just south of St. Pierre Divion, where they were accomodated in a very large (but crowded) German dug-out. The next day was spent clearing shells, bombs, clothing, equipment, gas cylinders, etc. in order to make more room, before heading off to take over the line between St. Pierre Divion and Grandcourt on the 23rd. An officer and two soldiers were killed and eight wounded during this move.
When the lines were reached, the trenches were found to be new but in very bad condition. "P" and "Q" Companies were in the front line, "S" Company in support and "R" Company in reserve. The next few days were taken up in attempting to improve the trenches, which were collapsing in some places, under almost constant shelling and sniper fire and in very wet weather conditions. There were many casualties during the next few days until they were relieved on the 30th November, whence they returned to the large dug-out and were employed in digging support trenches until they moved into billets at Forceville on December 9th.
A short stay in the line north of the Ancre, extending and consolidating a series of positions, was endured between 17th and 21st December, before they were relieved and put into reserve. On Christmas Day, the battalion returned to its old billets in Forceville where they stayed until January 2nd, 1917, when they returned to the reserve positions behind the frontline, improving communications trenches, work for which they received a commendation in a special "Brigade Order of the Day" of January 5th.
January 6th saw them in the front line again, which was marked by a considerable amount of shelling. They were relieved on the 10th January by the 5th Dorsets who were ordered to attack, with the Manchesters in support, a line of hostile posts 350 yds to the British front on the 11th. The objectives were gained, but lost almost immediately during a German counter-attack. Two platoons of "P" Company now occupied the front line trench. About mid-day, further orders to attack were received, but these were subsequently cancelled. Many casualties ensued nonetheless, due to an increasingly heavy bombardment of the front line. The same day, the battalion was relieved (again!) and returned to Forceville.
The rest period in Forceville was only brief as, on 16th January, the Manchesters found themselves supporting an attack by the 32nd Brigade, moving into the trenches ("P" and "Q" Companies to Mesnil, and "S" Company to Englebelmer) at 1pm. The following day, "P" and "Q" retired to reserve dugouts, while "S" transferred to Mesnil. The projected attack was a complete success and it was found that the Germans had evacuated many positions. On the night of 19th January, the battalion was relieved by Hawke Battalion of the R.N.D. and proceeded to Lancashire Dump, from where they were taken, by bus, to Raincheval which was reached on the 20th.
Two days later, after struggling on frosty roads (in which it was decided to let the transports make their own ways at whatever speed they could manage) they arrived at Fransu. This time, the battalion's stay here (because of the intense cold, with much snow) mainly consisted of intensive drill of various types with interludes of Football, running and other physical activities.
Though they left Fransu on 23rd February, the battalion remained behind the lines and "off duty" as such until the 24th April ... (Bonneville (23rd Feb.), Terramesnil (25th Feb.), Varennes and Mailly Wood , where they were employed in laying railways(1st March - 24th March), training at Beauquesne (24th March - 11th April), Acheux (11th April - 20th April), Grevillers , where they were engaged in completing the defences of Bapaume (20th April - 24th April)).
On April 24th, they proceeded to Fremicourt, where rations were doled out prior to their advance to the front (Morchies - Beaumetz line) to relieve the 9th Bn. A.I.F.. The relief was event-free and work on the defences commenced at midnight and continued until 4am. Not much could be done, however as materials were in short supply. From the 25th of April, there was sporadic shelling and aircraft activity. This continued for several days. On 30th April, the battalion relieved the 6th Border Regiment from their front duties, again without incident. 1st May was bright and fine with very little trench activity from either side. There was, however, much entertainment watching the aircraft of both sides fighting their own separate war.
The 3rd of May heralded a violent artillery duel and fruitless patrols were sent out at night. There wasn't much movement from either side for a few days, but on 11th May, the village of Morchies was persistently bombarded by the German "heavies".
On the 13th May, the battalion was relieved by 1st/8th Warwicks and another move ensued. Further north this time...
Into Belgium...Ypres and the Battle of the Ridges
After "overnighting" at Fremicourt in a raging thunderstorm, the battalion marched to Montauban (14th May) thence on to Buire (16th May). After travelling all night of the 18th May, Bailleul was reached on the 19th. From here, a move was made to a camp a mile north of of Meteren where they were visited by General Plumer, commander of the Second Army, who inspected the officers (an inspection of the rank and file was abandoned due to excessively wet weather).
On 20th May, two platoons ("Q" and "R") went to La Clytte to work under IX Caps Signals, whilst on the 23rd, the remainder of the battalion marched to Locre for work under the 16th and 36th Divisional Signals. The battalion was to remain in this area until June 10th, mainly employed in the burying of communications cables for the Second Army's forthcoming operations against the Wytschaete - Messines Ridge.
(A short reference to the Battle of Messines... The general attack took place on June 7th 1917 when some 9 miles of commanding country were carried and held - from Ploegsteert in the south to Hill 60 and Mount Sorrel in the north. General Herbert Plumer was in charge of the operations..... From many months prior to the attack, 22 mines containing several thousands of tons of high explosives were driven into the ridge. These were exploded under the German trenches (not all 22 went off - one was lost, one was destroyed prior to the date and another exploded during a thunderstorm in 1955!!!), signalling the "whirlwind" of an artillery bombardment before the infantry assault at 3.20am. All objectives were taken.)
On 7th June 1917 (day one of the Messines Battle), the battalion was to follow up the advance. At 7am (3 hours 40 minutes after the attack of the first waves), the battalion moved off in companies to the place of assembly, which was to be Boardman Trench, a few hundred yards behind what was that morning's front line. Assembly was complete by 8.45am and the battalion moved out, at 9am, to carry out the work of burying cable from the old British front line for a distance of about 1000 yards behind the old German front line. This work was carried out under constant shell fire until about 3pm when they returned to camp.
However.... during the operations of this day, the battalion had lost 6 killed and 11 wounded.
August 16th, 1917 - This attack was on the line of the Steenbeek. At midnight, on the 15th, the battalion marched from the canal bank to the line. 2nd Lieut. Dunkley and scouts had proceeded at dusk to lay tapes for the platoons to form up on. The jumping-off place for the attack was the west bank of the Steenbeek. On the way up the battalion picked up two guides, belonging to King Edward's Horse, who, unfortunately, led it to the wrong spot. Eventually the correct position was reached about an hour before the time fixed for the attack. So far there had only been two casualties, despite a heavy German barrage.
At 4.43 a.m. - zero hour - the British artillery opened the attack. The battalion proceeded to cross the Steenbeek by the prepared footbridges. In this movement, however, it was swept with heavy artillery fire by the enemy, and suffered a large number of casualties - eight officers out of the sixteen taken into action being either killed or wounded. At 6.12 a.m. the battalion, having carried out its orders, was lying out waiting for the 8th Northumberland Fusiliers to capture a position known as the Green Line.
Battalion HQ's had now crossed the Steenbeek and was established at Mn. Bulgare. At 6.30 a.m. signal communication has been established with the Northumberland Fusiliers. Ten minutes later the battalion advanced to catch the barrage. The 8th Northumberland Fusiliers, however, through whom the battalion was to leap frog, had not reached its objective, and the 48th Division on the right had failed to make any progress. Meanwhile the battalion came under a heavy machine-gun fire, especially from a strong enemy post at Maison du Hibou. The battalion, too, was detailed to capture an enemy post on its right front, west of the Langemarck-Winnipeg road - Here some prisoners fell to the battalion.
The 48th Division, however, still failed to make any progress, and Captain Bleakley, with two platoons, was ordered to form a defensive flank. "P" Company, under Lieut. Falconer, which was the leading company to the right, coming under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, bore away to the north in order to get round, and advanced as far as a series of concrete works, where they secured fifty prisoners. But, owing to the weakness of the line and the isolation of the party, this position could not be maintained.
Meanwhile "Q" and "S" Companies, on the left, had lost all their officers and had fallen into confusion in the fighting for some huts to the east of the Langemarck road. Eventually a line was established forming a defensive flank running approximately N. and S. from the huts, crossing the Langemarck road at the cemetery, joining Captain Bleakley's line - now added to in numbers by two weak companies of 8th Northumberland Fusiliers - whose right post joined up with the 48th Division at their original post on the Steenbeek. The enemy attempted a counter-attack On Bleakley's section of the line, but this was beaten off by rifle and machine-gun fire.
Over seventy prisoners and a machine-gun were taken by the Battalion during the day's operations. But its own losses had not been slight. The officers killed were: Lieutenants N. L. Darby and W. Hamill. 2nd Lieutenants W. Holt, and C. Lowther. The wounded included Captain J. M. Meade. Lieut. P. Robinson and 2nd Lieuts P. E. Cook and J. Unsworth. 2nd Lieut. S. T. Blane was missing (afterwards reported killed). Of other ranks there were fifty-two killed, one hundred and seventy wounded, and twenty missing.
October 4th, 1917 - On this day the battalion took part in an attack near Poelcappelle. During the advance 29-year old Sergeant 4926 Harry Coverdale of the 11th MANCHESTERS received the highest and most prestigious British award for gallantry in the face of the enemy, the Victoria Cross. His citation read: For most conspicuous bravery in attack on enemy strong points. He showed the utmost gallantry in approaching his objective, and when close to it, disposed of an enemy officer and two men who were sniping our flank, killing the officer and taking the two men prisoners. He then rushed two machine-guns, killing or wounding the teams. He subsequently reorganised his platoon in order to capture another position, but after getting within a hundred yards of it he was held up by our own barrage, and was obliged to return, having sustained nine casualties. Later, this gallant non-commissioned officer again went out with five men to capture this position, and when he had gone some distance he saw a considerable number of the enemy advancing. He thereupon withdrew his detachment man by man, he himself being the last to retire, when he was able to report that the enemy were forming for a counter-attack. By his gallant leadership and utter disregard of danger throughout the attack he set a splendid example of fearlessness to his men, and inspired all with a spirit of emulation which undoubtedly contributed largely to the success of the operations.
May 1918 and the raid on the Hilda Trench
Many thanks to Pete Thomas for his work on this piece of the 11th's history
On the first of May, the battalion were training in Hersin, but suffered two wounded as a result of a German gas attack. On the night 2nd/3rd May the 34th Infantry Brigade relieved the 33rd Brigade in the Hulluch Sector. The battalion relieved the 9th Sherwood Foresters in support, with S and Q companies located at Lone Locality and P and R companies at Northers Huts, Mazingarbe. The battalion’s HQ was set up at Howsons Post.
The battalion remained in support for 4 days and then moved to the line west of Hersin to relieve the 5th Dorsets in the left sub-sector of the 34th Brigade’s front. S Company were on the front line at Hay Locality, while P and Q Companies moved up to the reserve lines and R Company stayed in reserve. The next six days were quiet, although on the 9th, two were wounded and one man was reported as wounded and missing whilst on patrol.
R Company took over the front line on 10th May and S Company moved into reserve. On the 11th, eight men were wounded.
P Company were relieved by a company of 8th Northumberland Fusiliers on the 12th and moved to Mazingarbe to practice for a raid planned for the 18th May. The next day the Germans attacked the front line Company with trench mortars. The rest of the battalion were relieved by the 8th Northumberland Fusiliers on the 14th. S Company moved to billets in Mazingarbe, while R and Q Companies moved to Tenth Avenue and Lone Trench respectively to take over the dispositions held by Northumberland Fusiliers.
On 17th May, P Company moved up from Mazingarbe to relieve Q Company at Lone Locality in readiness for the daylight raid on the German’s third line (Hilda Trench) on the next day. The purpose of the raid was primarily to obtain a prisoner for identification and also to inflict loss on the enemy and to damage his dug-outs and trenches.
On 18th, P Company, commanded by Captain H. Falconer, M.C. and consisting of 4 Officers and 135 other ranks, moved under cover of darkness via Reserve Line and Essex Trench to the old British disused front line and lay quiet, waiting for zero hour (7.30am). The men of the raiding party were equipped with rifles and bayonets, cotton bandoliers and box respirators and were all issued with raiding discs. No other means of identification were carried. Lieutenant Carlisle and 6 men of R Company patrolled the front to protect and cover up the forming up of the raiding party.
Before zero hour, a 75mm battery fired gas shells onto the German trenches. The Germans retaliated by shelling No. 1 post of Hay Locality which was 250 yards north of the jumping off trench. A few trench mortars also fell near the assembly trench.
The artillery barrage opened at 7.30am on the German second and third lines. In addition a smoke barrage was put down while field guns and machine guns put down a camouflage barrage on the “Lozenge”.
The raiding company advanced in good order from the assembly trench in two waves. The first wave consisting of one platoon extended in line with the other platoons following 10 yards behind in sectional “worms”. The German front line was found to be filled with coils of wire and closed up to the barrage.
Fig 1. Aerial photograph taken before the raid. The arrow shows the direction of the attack.
Three minutes into the raid, the barrage lifted off the second line then remained on the third line for a further four minutes. The barrage then lifted to the fourth line to form a protective barrage. An aeroplane from No. 2 RAF Squadron supported the raid, flying low over and firing into Hulluch Trench.
The party experienced some difficulty getting into the second line due to a newly erected bale of wire which stretched across the southern front. The right flanks closed into the left which temporarily caused some bunching but the men soon shook out again. The second wave consisting of one platoon found three Germans in the second line. One of them was taken prisoner and sent back to the British lines. The second wave held this trench to cover the retirement of the first. Lewis Guns were placed on both flanks to provide protective cover.
The ground between the enemy’s second and third lines was badly broken up, but no serious obstacle was encountered. The third line was strongly held. In several cases, the enemy were caught coming out of their dug-outs. These refused to surrender and there was fierce fighting with bayonets.
Sergeant Charles Roberts was killed in the third line. In the words of Sergeant Norris Dale in a letter to Charles’ parents “Charlie was in charge of the section to which I belonged. We got through his first and second lines without difficulty, but in the third line we met some little opposition. Charlie was one of the first to reach there, and during the short fight which ensued, I am sorry to say, Charlie was shot through the heart by a German officer. We were on the spot to render assistance, but he must have died instantly, and, I can assure you he suffered no pain whatever. He died fighting bravely for God and freedom. The German officer who killed him was immediately pinned to the ground with the bayonet along with the whole of his crew, besides blowing up all their dug-outs, so we trust you will find some little consolation in the fact that his death was fully avenged.”
In some cases the Germans refused to come out from their dug-outs so these were destroyed. In addition a party of Germans attempting to escape to their right rear was caught by rifle fire, while the Lewis gun on the right flank of the second wave caused considerable casualties to a party of Germans which attempted a counter-attack.
The raiding company, having finished their work, withdrew through Hay Locality posts and passed into the tunnels, moving carefully in waves through the enemy’s light barrage.
The German casualties in killed alone must have been considerable. The raid left at least 20 Germans dead, including the officer in Hilda Trench. Many other ranks were killed in the dug-outs, and quite a few were caught by rifle fire and the artillery barrage while trying to get away. No papers were found on the German casualties but all shoulder straps were of the 219th RSR.
P Company’s casualties were mostly through machine gun fire. The War Diary records that two other ranks were killed, two missing and two missing believed killed. 21 men were wounded in the raid, including Captain H Falconer MC who was wounded in the arm by machine gun fire. One of the missing, Lance Corporal Britton, succeeded in returning, after being out 3 days and 3 nights in a shell-hole.
The following night the battalion was relieved from its present dispositions by the 6th Yorkshire Regiment, moving to Divisional reserve and Southern Huts in Mazingarbe. Between the 19th and 25th of May the battalion remained in reserve.
On the 25th Major General Davies CB DSO presented medals for the raid on the 18th. Second Lieutenant Meredith Williams was awarded the Military Cross; Company Sergeant Major Peter Barrow the Distinguished Courage Medal and Sergeant Richard Crompton, Lance Corporal Noel Trivett and Private James Asavory received the Military Medal.
The battalion moved back up the line on 26th, relieving the 9th Sherwood Foresters in the right of the Brigade sector. The rest of the month was quiet although on 28th the British attacked with gas and the Germans retaliated heavily with trench mortars and artillery.
Records produced after the war show that eight men from the 11th Battalion were killed on 18th May 1918 (which differs from the War Diary). These were Sergeant Charles Roberts (Service No. 13668) Joseph Coles (41240), Private Alfred Norbury (501126), Private Ernest Holm Peters (352648), Private Arthur Arnold Standage (401166), Private Robert Hardwick Street (41155), Private Ernest Stuart (377832) and Private Thomas Henry Sweeney (13986). These are all commemorated on the Loos Memorial.
On the 11th November 1918, as part of the 34th Brigade, 11th Division the battalion was in France, at the Le Camp Perdu, N.E. of Bavai.