18th (Service) Battalion (3rd City) the Manchester Regiment
Part 1: Formation and early days
On the 19th August 1914 Lord Derby had promoted the enlistment of an active service Battalion in Liverpool and on the 29th August an announcement in the local press appealing for men
“Such as clerks and others engaged in commercial business who wish to serve their country and would be willing to enlist in a Battalion of Lord Kitchener’s new army if they felt assured that they would be able to serve with their friends and not to be put in a Battalion with unknown men as their companions”
The appeal proved enormously successful and on Monday 31st August the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Sir Daniel McCabe made a similar appeal in the Manchester Guardian.
As soon as the first editions appeared men clamoured to enlist and besieged the artillery barracks on Hyde road.
On the 1st September the Lord Mayor swore in some 800 men and by the end of the day the first of the “ Pals battalions, the 16th was complete.
The 2nd and 3rd September saw the completion of the enlistment for the 17th Battalion and between Saturday 5th and Monday 7th recruiting for the 18th Battalion was completed.
Lieutenant Colonel Walter Fraser was given command of the battalion and it was he who chose and appointed the first officers.
As the first 2 new battalions of the Manchester Regiment marched off to Heaton Park the 18th Battalion headed in the other direction.
Initial training commenced at the “White city”, a sports and racing stadium in the Old Trafford area of the City. Until the accommodation had been built daily parades took place in the city hall with route marches to and from Alexandra Park.
Training of a sort began consisting mostly of Drill, Physical fitness and lectures with night training once a week.
The routine continued up to Christmas 1914 when most of the men were given leave for what for some would be their last Christmas with their families.
At the beginning of February the 18th Battalion moved to Heaton Park and joined the other 3 pal’s battalion’s.
Training intensified in the vast open spaces of the park but the absence of proper uniforms (the men were still dressed in blue uniforms earning themselves the nickname of tram guards) and weapons produced what the Commanding officer called a ‘staleness’ in the men and he designated Wednesday afternoons as a holiday as well as Saturday afternoons promptly earning them the nickname of ‘the shopkeepers’ from the other Battalions!.
Sports were quickly organised and the extra training meant that the Battalion carried off most of the prizes in the Brigade steeplechase earning them their third nickname ‘the scarlet runners’.
April 24th 1915
The battalion left Heaton park early in the morning and marched to London Road station in the centre of Manchester. Here they entrained for Grantham in Lincolnshire and marched the 3 miles to Belton park and joined the rest of the 30th Division.
Training at Belton Park took on a whole new intensity as the battalion learned to work at Brigade and Division level.
Long marches in the hot sunshine to Willoughby Park for trench digging and manoeuvres at Harlaxton Park hardened the men physically and mentally in preparation for their anticipated role in France.
As the long summer drew to a close the men prepared for their final move to Salisbury plain.
7th September 1915
The Battalion arrived at Larkhill Camp on Salisbury plain and the preparation for their imminent deployment overseas began in earnest.
They were issued with all manner of extra kit and finally received their full complement of Lee Enfield rifles and 4 machine guns which enabled the men to fire their musketry courses.
Fully kitted out and with their new weaponry, the men were now ready for their deployment,
8th November 1915
On a hot late autumn day the Battalion shouldered arms and marched to Amesbury station on the first leg of their journey to active service. They arrived at Folkestone and boarded the troop ship for the none too smooth crossing to France. On arrival at Boulogne the battalion marched up the hill for a damp and gloomy night in the tents at the rest camp at Ostrahove. The following morning the men marched back to Boulogne and waited until 2 am the following morning before boarding a train for Pont Remy. The rain worsened as the men marched the 11 miles to Coulonvillers.
The men settled into their billets and for the next 7 days were occupied with route marches, bayonet fighting, gas drills and general training. The men left Coulonvillers on the 17th and marched to Cardonette spending a night at Vignacourt en route.
Training continued at a pace and it was on this day that the Battalion suffered its first casualties.
During bombing practice a Sergeant from A company threw a hales No1 grenade which struck the top of the parapet and burst amongst the occupants of the trench. As a result Sgt Perkins and Pte Bagnall were hit and Lieutenant Arthur Evans Townsend, the battalion bombing officer was so seriously wounded that he died the next day.
This sad accident occurring so soon after the Battalion arriving in France cast a feeling of gloom over the men.
(For an account about Second Lieutenant Townsend see Second Lieutenant Arthur Evans Townsend)
Lieutenant Townsend is buried in St Pierre Cemetery, Amiens.
The Battalion moved to Canaples where the training continued and work parties were employed on wood cutting.
After a 10 mile march to Puchevillers the Battalion went into the trenches-A+C company to Engelbelmer C+D to Mesnil for instructions in trench warfare.
The Battalion moved back to Canaples where it spent Christmas in billets. Every effort was made to make it seem a little like the festive season by the provision of Christmas fare and the abstinence from all but the most necessary of work.
6th January 1916
Its training now completed, the battalion was deemed ready to take its place in the line. It formed up and marched eastwards towards the front line trenches in the Somme marshes sector around the village of Vaux.
A Company were sent to Dragon’s wood, B Company were in Vaux village, C Company were in Vaux wood and D Company were in Battle dug outs. Each company was ordered to send a platoon to the trenches at Moulin de Farigny under the command of Captain Godlee.
The battalion suffered its first battle casualty when 11005 Pte Bernard Browne of D Company was shot through the head by a sniper.
Pte Browne is buried in Peronne Road Cemetery, Maricourt.
The Battalion endured heavy shelling today (presumably to celebrate the Kaisers birthday) and in the evening the Germans attacked Fargny mill and attempted to cut the wire in front of the trenches but were driven back by bombs and rapid rifle fire. Very few of the enemy reached the lines and of those that did several were killed and one was taken prisoner-the first by the Battalion. For his part in these actions Sgt Hill of D Company was awarded the Military Medal.
The Battalion received a draft of 25 NCOs and men from the 25th Battalion the Manchester Regiment.
Knowles point was attacked by a German patrol which was repulsed with bombs and rifle fire.
Knowles point was attacked again by the enemy estimated at 60 strong. The Battalion scouts warned of their presence and it was met by grenade and rifle fire. 2nd Lieutenant Nelson, in command of the men sent for reinforcements and these were brought up by Lieutenant Kelly and 2nd Lieutenant Salmon. A Lewis gun was set up and the enemy were seen off leaving 2 men dead on the wire.
B Company’s loses in this action were: 3 killed and 9 wounded.
For their part in the actions Lt Knowles and 2Lt Powell were awarded the Military Cross and Corporal Brookes the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Lt Powell, B Company was accidentally wounded by the discharge of a revolver.
2nd Lt Nelson was killed at Duck post by the accidental discharge of a rifle. 2nd Lt Joseph Lawrie Nelson is buried in Suzanne Cemetery Extension.
The battalion was relieved by 8th East Surreys and marched to the Bois de Tailles near Etinehem where it stayed until the 29th.
The casualties for two months spent in the trenches were:
130 men killed, missing or wounded and the commanding Officer Lt Col Walter Fraser, who had been in command of the Battalion since is first day had been forced to return home due to an old sickness accentuated by the active part he took in the above operations.
Major William Smith of the 20th Kings Liverpool regiment assumed command.
The Battalion were relieved by the 20th Kings Liverpool’s and proceeded to Billets in Freshencourt. Here it stayed until 10th April mainly engaged on constructing a new railway line to link up the principal villages held by the British.
The Battalion marched to Picquigny where it remained for the next month carrying out platoon and company training.
The Battalion moved to Bray and was in reserve to the 54th Brigade.
The Battalion took over the trenches from the 16th Manchester’s in front of Maricourt
(For an account of the actions from this period see the article about Lts. Twist and Salmon)
The Battalion was relieved by the 16th Manchester’s and returned to billets in Suzanne where it supplied working parties to the Royal Engineers.
15th May, A Safe Place to Shelter, the report on the 11 men killed on the eleven killed on 15th May 1916, read it
The Battalion was again in the trenches. It was a mostly quiet time and it returned to the billets at Suzanne.
The battalion was in Billon wood and then to billets at Etinehem in reserve to the 30th Division.
The Battalion (less D Company) moved to Saisseval where it was fully occupied with special training for the coming battle of the Somme.
The Battalion returned to Etinehem where D Company rejoined.
D company during this time had been given the task of moving up the tons of ammunition and stores that would be needed for the forthcoming battle. This they completed within the prescribed time and without and casualties.
23 men were wounded by the explosion of a bomb-many were destined not to take part in the big day and this incident may have saved their lives! read the report on the incident here "Look Out!"
The 1st July was rapidly approaching and it was evident to the men that every effort was being made to make the attack a success.
A tremendous artillery bombardment had been pounding the German lines and the valleys between Bray and Maricourt bristled with batteries of artillery and men.
During the late afternoon and early evening of the 30th June the Battalion moved up to their assembly trenches south of Cambridge Copse.
The artillery bombardment intensified on the German positions and as dawn broke on a misty morning the village of Montauban could be seen some 3000yds distant.