Manchester Hill

21st March 1918

 

 

In October 1917, the Bolshevik revolution in Russia was to have an impact on the last year of the war in Europe . Freed of it’s commitments on the Eastern front, the German army was free to reinforce its Divisions on the Western Front. Pressure from the French on the British would see them extend their lines further south towards the Town of St Quentin and beyond.

 

The areas were to be defended by a zonal system of forward positions defended by a collection of lightly defended localities and incorporating heavily defended redoubts. This was to be protected by a continuous belt of barbed wire and covered by observation posts for Artillery Forward artillery observation officers.

 

The purpose of the defences was to break up and disorganise attacks before they reached a battle zone 1 mile in the rear. The battle zones were defended by a series of interlocking and strongly defended positions with counter attack troops available to reinforce where breakthroughs were imminent.

 

The 30th Division arrived in the area on the 23rd February 1918 and the Men of the 16th Battalion were given the task of defending a redoubt known as Manchester Hill (So named  after its capture by the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment in 1917) and were to have the advantage of preparing the position themselves.

 

The redoubt commanded a magnificent field of fire overlooking the Town of St Quentin . It was well protected by thick belts of barbed wire 30 yards deep in places and covered by Lewis and Vickers machine guns with interlocking arcs of fire and trench mortars. The redoubt was backed by Brown quarry on its reverse slope which afforded excellent cover and location for dugouts. The Battalion HQ had a special SOS red smoke which, on release, would bring down an artillery barrage to sweep the area between each redoubt and form a protective box around the redoubt. Telephone cables had been buried to a depth of 8 feet to Brigade HQ and the artillery fire was controlled from a concrete bunker that stood on the summit of the hill.

 

The men knew every position on the redoubt and their own part in the defence of it. If they were to be in any doubt about what was expected of them the Divisional Commander explained it thus;

 

 “It must be impressed upon all troops allotted to the defence of any position, whether in the outpost system or the main battle position, that so far as they are concerned there is only one degree of resistance, and that is to the last round and to the last Man.”

 

On the 18th March, Colonel Elstob gathered his Men together and fully explained to them the system of defence. It was known that a great attack was imminent and that they had been selected to bear the brunt of the first onslaught. He warned them to be ready for a bombardment lasting possibly several days, and said that they must stem the enemy advance. Pointing to a blackboard showing the dispositions he said,

 

 “This is Battalion Headquarters. Here we fight and here we die”

 

In the early evening, as the Battalion marched off towards the redoubt, the Platoon singing competition was judged by the Divisional Commander and when the band turned back (for they were not to go into action) the Commanding Officer said :

 

“Those are the only fellows that will come out alive”

 

Disposition of the Battalion at Manchester Hill.

 

Right Front- A Company Commanded by Captain Ashe supported by 2 Platoons of C Company under Captain Heywood.

 

Left Front- B Company Commanded by Captain Guest supported by 2 Platoons of C Company under Captain Pritchard.

 

The Redoubt-Battalion Headquarters with D Company (O.C Lieutenant Clark) under immediate command of Colonel Elstob.

 

Battalion Headquarters consisted mostly of cooks, signallers, batmen and police and all the extra Men that make up an Infantry Battalion. These were the men who ultimately would form the last line of defence in and around the Redoubt and if they were to look anywhere for inspiration it was to their Commanding Officer.  

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

It was hoped that the Battalion would have time to get accustomed to the ground before the attack began. The first night passed quietly and most of the next day was still. At dawn the next day, a gas attack was projected towards the German lines in St Quentin in anticipation of an attack, which caused many casualties.

 

Patrols were sent out on the night of the 20th/21st-but no signs of enemy activity were reported. At 6.30am on the morning of the 21st, a terrific artillery and gas bombardment opened up on the Battalion’s position. The long expected bombardment had begun, but still no enemy movement could be seen, and for good reason, a fog had descended on the valleys in front of the positions and was made worse by the bursting shells. This was disastrous for the Battalion as the wide open arcs of fire were now obscured, and worse, it gave cover for the advancing German infantry to manoeuvre under.

 

At 7.30am, the 2 front Companies reported that everything appeared normal on their fronts and that the enemy artillery was falling behind their positions. Colonel Elstob gave orders that Battalion HQ should move from its position in the Brown quarry to its battle position on the hill. He visited all the posts in the redoubt, encouraging the Men and telling them what to do. Shortly after 8.00am, the bombardment became more intense, and the telephone wires to the front Companies failed, though the buried cable to Brigade HQ still held.

 

At 8.30am, a runner from A Company reached Battalion HQ bringing information that the Company HQ was surrounded. Within a few minutes similar news came from B Company. Thick fog had made observation impossible and neutralised the machine gun defences which should have proved an impenetrable barrier up the valleys between the redoubts. A scream was heard as one of the sentries was bayoneted. The enemy were closing in.

 

At 9.00am, a forward post on the left front of the redoubt sent back word that they were engaged at close quarters with the enemy and the attack developed on the right front post and from then on a desperate struggle raged on.

Gradually, the fog lifted, and at 11.30am there was a glint of sunshine breaking through, and on all, sides masses of the enemy could be seen advancing in file. The breakthrough was complete on both sides of the redoubt. Special troops were tasked to deal with Manchester Hill.

 

Finding that the enemy had entered the redoubt by the trench leading from the Savy-St Quentin road, Colonel Elstob erected a bombing block between the attackers and the HQ dug-out. Although sniped at and bombed by the enemy, he replied by emptying his revolver on an enemy bombing party, accounting for all of them. He continued to hold the bombing post against several successive attempts using bombs and rifle fire. The enemy abandoned their attempts and made an attack over the top in large numbers. They were held back by rifle fire and only a few made it as far as the trench, into which they threw their bombs. Colonel Elstob was wounded for the first time, but after being dressed he returned to the defence, walking about regardless of the fire from every side, and encouraging the Men wherever he went.

“You are doing magnificently boys! Carry on-keep up a steady fire and they’ll think there’s a Battalion here.”

 

According to Sergeant Arrundale, the Battalion Signalling Sergeant: “In the afternoon the Colonel took up a rifle and twice crossed the Quarry, the entrance to which was already occupied by the enemy, to cheer up and encourage Lewis gunners. I saw him blown five yards by a shell which had dropped by his side. He was wounded three times but said to me “Arrundale, they can’t damn well kill me”.

 

In spite of His wounds he continued to fight with rifle, revolver and bomb and throughout kept up communications with Brigade.

 

By 2.00pm most of the Men on Manchester Hill were either dead or wounded and the final hand to hand fighting was taking place. On the western edge of the quarry Sergeant Archer Hoye, the Lewis Gun Sergeant and an original “Pal”, was killed at his post whilst changing the drum on his gun.  At 3.30pm, Colonel Elstob was spoken to on the phone by a Staff Officer and he said that very few were left and that the end was nearly come. His last words on the telephone were “Goodbye”.

One of the survivors of the battle told of the last words by Elstob to him.

Tell the Men not to lose heart. Fight On!”

He still held his ground, firing up a trench. A last assault was made by the enemy who called on Elstob to surrender. He replied “Neverand was shot dead. The Adjutant, Captain Sharples, was also killed whilst attempting to pull the Colonels Body into the trench.  By 4.00pm, it was all over and the battered remnants of the 16th Battalion, wounded and exhausted, surrendered.

 

Wilfrith Elstob embodied all that was noblest in the Regiment he loved so well. “If I die,” he wrote to a friend on the eve of the battle, “do not grieve for me, for it is with the sixteenth that I would gladly lay down my life.”

 

 

In a battle where all ranks behaved so splendidly it would be hard to single out names for special mention. However, the following were especially noticeable:-

 

Major R Gibbon MC, who went to France with the Battalion in 1915 and remained with it throughout and helped to hold off the enemy until severely wounded by a bomb.

 

Captain and Adjutant Sharples was prominent for his encouragement of the Men. Always on the fire step, firing with a quiet confidence, until he was killed.

 

The Battalion Medical Officer, Captain Walker. Who behaved fearlessly throughout, frequently leaving the aid post to dress casualties in the battle line. It was entirely due to him that the enemy did not blow up the aid post. Whilst the enemy were throwing bombs down the entrance, he dashed up the dug out steps, at great personal risk, and succeeded in convincing them that it was a Red Cross station.

 

Corporal Stenson, the medical Corporal, who showed great courage in dressing the wounded, though badly wounded himself.

 

RSM Potter and CSM Brown MC of D Company who maintained the ammunition supply, lead quickly organised bombing parties and encouraged the Men to fight for every inch of ground.

 

Sergeant Hoy, the Lewis gun Sergeant, accounted for hundreds of the enemy. With two young soldiers he fought a post on the Western edge of the quarry. He continued firing until overrun by the enemy, and whilst changing the drum on his Lewis gun, was killed with a revolver shot.

 

Of the 8 Officers and 160 Men who went into action on the redoubt, just two Officers and fifteen other ranks survived. Most of the men from the rifle Companies not killed were taken prisoner. Those that survived made their way back towards the battle zone. Most of these survivors were collected together by Major Roberts, an original Officer who had been attached to the Brigade School as Commandant. In all, two Officers and seventy Men were collected and the Battalion was reformed.

 

The defence of Manchester Hill had delayed and disrupted the German advance and as such, the men had achieved all that was hoped and expected of them.

 

On the 15th April 1918, a memorial service was held in Manchester Cathedral to pay tribute and honour the officers and Men killed on Manchester Hill. Canon Elstob, father of Colonel Elstob, and many wounded survivors were present in large numbers.

 

At the end of the war, Hubert Worthington, a childhood friend and brother Officer of Colonel Elstob went to France with the hope of finding his body, but despite extensive searches and a further search in May 1919, no identifiable remains could be found. It is likely that Colonel Elstob’s body was stripped of its rank and insignia and is buried in an unmarked grave. He, along with the majority of the men killed on the Hill are commemorated on the Pozieres memorial.

 

Later that year, Hubert Worthington was responsible for ensuring that Colonel Elstob received the recognition his bravery deserved, collecting statements from witnesses and survivors and submitting the successful case for the award of a Victoria Cross. On the 24th July 1919, Canon John Elstob, accompanied by Hubert Worthington went to Buckingham Palace where King George V presented him with the Victoria Cross awarded to his Son.

 

 

Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob VC, DSO, MC

 

 

 

VC Citation

 

"For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice during operations at Manchester Redoubt, near St. Quentin, on the 21st March, 1918. During the preliminary bombardment he encouraged his men in the posts in the Redoubt by frequent visits, and when repeated attacks developed controlled the defence at the points threatened, giving personal support with revolver, rifle and bombs. Single-handed he repulsed one bombing assault driving back the enemy and inflicting severe casualties. Later, when ammunition was required, he made several journeys under severe fire in order to replenish the supply. Throughout the day Lieutenant-Colonel Elstob, although twice wounded, showed the most fearless disregard of his own safety, and by his encouragement and noble example inspired his command to the fullest degree. The Manchester Redoubt was surrounded in the first wave of the enemy attack, but by means of the buried cable Lieutenant-Colonel Elstob was able to assure his Brigade Commander that "The Manchester Regiment will defend Manchester Hill to the last." Sometime after this post was overcome by vastly superior forces, and this very gallant officer was killed in the final assault, having maintained to the end the duty which he had impressed on his men - namely, "Here we fight, and here we die." He set throughout the highest example of valour, determination, endurance and fine soldierly bearing."

 

 

The Gallant Dead

Officers

Captain Edward Neville Ashe MC. Only Son of Mr and Mrs Edward Ashe, of “The Coppice” Hale, Cheshire . 8th (Ardwick) Battalion attached 16th Battalion. Officer Commanding A Company.

 

Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob VC, DSO, MC. Son of the Reverend Canon John and Frances Alice Elstob of, “Fanshawe”, Chelford, Cheshire. Commanding Officer, 16th Battalion.

 

Captain and Adjutant Norman Sharples. Son of William and Margaret Ann Sharples, of 7, Palatine Avenue, Withington, Manchester . Adjutant, 16th Battalion.

 

 

Non Commissioned Officers and other Ranks.

 

Pte 39652 Ernest Armitage,16 Beech St, Oldham
Pte 54657 Charles, Joseph Aspley, Whitney on Rye, Herts
L/Cpl 47541 Frederick, George baker, ,Highbury, London
Pte 50994 Frederick Bean, West St, Helpston, Peterborough
Pte 59178 Ernest, Victor Bell, 22 Portland Rd, Sydenham, Kent
Pte 11472 Thomas Benn,16 Bingley St, Bradford, Manchester
L/Cpl 7360 Robert Bennett,11 Knowles Sq Pendlebury
Pte 43101 Lawrence bunting,10 East View, Carcroft, Doncaster
Pte 54671 john, James Butler, Crewe Rd, Wheelock, Congleton
Pte 203236 Myles Carrigan, 90 Sherwood St, Collyhurst
Pte 43208 Samuel Cartwright,117 Old Rd, heat on Norris
Pte 29462 Henry Clough, 49 Lord St, Ashton
Pte 27100 Elijah Collinge,101 Hendham Vale, Manchester
Pte 41783 Harry George Collins, 24 Brownlow Rd, Willesden,
Pte 41857 William Crimmins,7 Fisherton St, Marylebone, London
Pte 36276 Timothy Curtin,10 Maple St, Oldham
Pte 6233 James, Thomas Dawson,16 Park Grove Rusholme
Pte 252611 Joseph Devon, 68 Edgeware Rd, Edge Hill, Liverpool
Pte 303305 Edward Donnelly,7 Spring Terrace, Crumpsall
Pte 54691 Harry Edwards, Brook Farm, Bunbury, Cheshire
Pte 23960 Daniel Farrell, Salford
Pte 11543 Tom Fitton(MM). 298 Bury New Rd, Whitefield
Pte 276724 Harold Frost, 28 Melbourne St, Ardwick
Pte 377029 Arthur Ivan Gilman,49 Low St, Diss, Norfolk
Pte 54706 Anthony Glover,101 Oswald St, Accrington
L/Cpl 27307 Oswald Green, 23 Richmond St, Wigan
Cpl 28248 John, Willie Hall,126 Chapel Rd, Oldham
L/Cpl 46701 John Hall Henderson, kelso, Roxburghshire
Pte 31211 James Hockney,52 Melbourne St, Gorton
Pte 46817 Alfred Holt Hopkinson,396 Manchester Rd, Oldham
Sgt 6630 Archer Hoye, 214 Radnor St Hulme
L/Cpl 35688 Ernest Jackson, Cheetham Hill, Manchester
Pte 49421 John Joseph Joyce,105 Reather St, Manchester
Pte 49601 Martin Kay,59 Barlow St, Bradford, Manchester
Pte 49174 Frederick Kemp,47 Nansen St, Seedley, Salford
L/Cpl 41040 Frederick Kimpton,21 Blue Boar Lane, Leicester
L/Cpl 43029 Henry James, Penrith, Carlisle
Pte 202960 James Leighton, Manchester
Pte 352937 Tom Lord, Bury
Pte 59213 Sidney, Bert Martin,157 Owen Rd, Wolverhampton
Pte 35643 Emmanuel Massey,51 Prince St, Ardwick
Pte 401042 John Mercer, 55 Oglet Lane, Liverpool
Pte 48590 Richard Mills,75 Shaw Rd, Oldham
Pte 377948 Frederick Moran, Salford
Pte 61113 Edward Murphy, Liverpool
Pte 352329 Charles O’Neill, Preston
L/Cpl 9235 Richard Owen, Harpurhey, Manchester
Cpl 33704 Jesse, Edwin Pemberton, 29 Vernon St, Gorton
Pte 37648 John Wesley Pickering, 52 Cranbrook St, Oldham
Sgt 1667 Joseph Quinliven, Burnley
Pte 401099 George Richardson, Ashton
Pte 40850 Charles Rick, 21 Long Row, Newark, Notts
Pte 43783 Thomas Rosewarren, 27 Station Rd, Patricroft
Pte 2354 Bernard John Rouse, Matlock Rd, Matlock, Derbyshire
Pte 39442 Leonard Royle,11 Gilmour Terrace, Clough Rd, Blackley
Pte 44112 Herman Schaefer, 212 Palmerston St, Beswick,

Pte 36287 Herbert Seddon, 54 Regent St, Salford
Pte 35696 Frederick Shepherd, Abingdon, Berkshire
L/Cpl 47540 James Archibald Smith, Middlesex
Pte 400966 William Smith, Liverpool
Pte 33847 Abraham Smullen, Belfast
L/Sgt 40861 Frank Snowdin(DCM) 87 Moorgate, Retford, Notts
Pte 202875 Bernard Southworth, 30 Hough Lane, Bolton
L/Sgt 43094 James Stalker, Rose Villa, Kirby Stephen, Penrith
Pte 302736 Samuel Steel, 3 Joel Place, Oldham
Pte 303307 Reginald Thomas, 46 Westbourne Grove, Harpurhey
Pte 29617 William Thompson (MM) 4 Nova Scotia St, Failsworth
Pte 49405 Frederick Tuffs, London
L/Cpl 43067 Ephraim Turner,10 Epplestone St, Stockport
Pte 251339 Henry Valentine, 29 Clifton St, Old Trafford
Pte 48397 Arthur Williams, Manchester
L/Cpl 9203 Robert Wilson, Northwich, Cheshire
Pte 17269 William Henry Withington, 46 Islington St, Altrincham
Pte 7167 Thomas Yarwood, Heaton Mersey, Stockport
Pte 203846 Thomas Yates,18 Mill Lane, Leigh

Pte 46650 John Ryder, Signaller, 38 Ossory St, Moss Side, Manchester . One of only 15 men who were unwounded. He and his small group of men were marched to the German lines. A German turned his machine gun on the group, killing Private Ryder.

 

 

 

 

Sources;

 

The 16th,17th,18th and 19th Battalions The Manchester Regiment. A Record 1914-1918

 

Manchester Pals. Michael Stedman.

 

The Signal Section of the 16th Manchesters. T E Pennington DCM.

 

Wilfrith Elstob VC,DSO,MC. “Here we fight, Here we die”.

Robert Bonner.