A Short History of the 2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment

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                                                                               A SHORT HISTORY
                                                                                          OF
                                                                          THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT
                                                                              (REGULAR BATTALIONS)





The 2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment

The 2nd Battalion of The Manchester Regiment was known and numbered as the 96th Regiment during the half century that elapsed after it was first raised in 1824, but this Regiment is by no means the first regiment of the  British Army to bear this number.

The first regiment to bear the number 96 was raised in January, 1761, the Command being given Colonel the Hon. George Monson, who, as Second in Command to Colonel Eyre Coote of the 84th, had fought at Wandewash and helped to capture Pondicherry from the French.

The 96th was sent to India almost as soon as raised, served at Bombay and Madras and took part, under its Colonel, in the reduction of Madura.  When in 1763 the Seven Years' War came to an end the Army was reduced and several regiments were disbanded; among these was the 96th which was brought back to England for the purpose, leaving behind some 412 Non-Commissioned Officers and men, who with three Officers joined the East India Company's service.

Fifteen years went by before another Regiment, numbered 96, appeared in the Army List. At that time England had for some time past been endeavouring to subdue the rebellion in her American colonies; in 1777 France joined hands with the rebels; two years later Spain declared war against England; and in great haste 17 Infantry Battalions and two Cavalry Regiments were raised, and added to the establishment of our Army.

Thirteen of these Battalions, raised for general service, were numbered from 85 to 96, and among these was a new 96th known during its brief existence as "The British Musqueteers." Raised in July, 1779, it was stationed in Ireland and in the Channel Islands, being formally disbanded in 1783. The Colours of this Regiment were in the Regimental Museum in 1950.

A third 96th Regiment was raised in November, 1793, but it endured for no longer than its predecessors, serving first in Ireland and then for the last year of its existence in St. Domingo, and disappearing from the Army List in 1796.

When in 1803 the 32nd Regiment became Light Infantry its 2nd Battalion was taken from it and was numbered the 96th Regiment of Foot, and before the year was out had taken to itself a 2nd Battalion of its own. The 1st Battalion 96th Regiment served for a year in Ireland, was then sent to the West Indies, came home in 1816 and was stationed in Ireland until disbanded in December, 1818. The 2nd Battalion 96th served in England and in Jersey, and ceased to exist in 1815.

So far this very brief record of Regiments which have borne the number 96 has been concerned only with those which were thus distinguished on their creation; but something must now be said about a corps which was raised under a title only, was then later numbered 97th and was during only the closing years of its life known as the 96th Foot, bequeathing such Battle Honours as it had earned, to the last British Regiment to be designated. In the year 1798 our troops took Minorca, and found there over 1,000 Swiss prisoners of war whom the French had literally sold to the Spaniards at two dollars a head; out of these Swiss an Infantry Battalion was formed and was known at first as "The Minorca Regiment": the officers were partly English, partly foreigners.

This Regiment served in Egypt, under Sir Ralph Abercromby, in 1801 and greatly distinguished itself at the battle of Alexandria, one, Private Anthony Lutz, capturing single-handed a French standard. On the termination of the war in Egypt the Minorca Regiment was brought to England, and was now accorded the title of "The Queen's German Regiment" and in 1804 was given the number 97. The Regiment was among those which were sent to Portugal in the very early days of the Peninsular War, fought at Vimiera, and later in the war at Talavera, Busaco, and in the first siege of Badajoz, but by 1811 had become so reduced in numbers that it was sent home. The 97th served in England, the Channel Islands, in and Ireland, Canada, and when in 1816 the 95th Rifles were taken out of the line the 97th became the 96th. It was disbanded in December, 1818.

In 1822, a condition or something like anarchy had  arisen in Spam, and to the British Government it seemed that the French were disposed to take advantage of this state of affairs and acquire an undue influence in that country, whither they had in fact sent a powerful army. It was considered desirable under these circumstances to increase the strength of our army and six new Infantry Battalions, numbered from 94 to 99, were ordered to be raised. The 96th Regiment actually came into existence in February,1824, at Manchester  the Commanding Officer being Lieut-Colonel John Herries, the facings being yellow, and the Regiment being very speedily made up to its establishment of 619 Non-Commissioned Officers and men by transfers from the Guards and Line, by volunteers from the 94th and 95th Regiments already raised, and by 124 English, Scotch and Irish recruits.

The new Regiment had barely reached its authorized establishment before it was ordered on Foreign Service, embarking in the summer of 1824 for Halifax, where it received its first set of Colours; it remained abroad until 1835, then returned home, and after four years only, spent chiefly in Ireland, the 96th sailed for New South Wales.

In 1844 there had been considerable trouble with certain of the Maori Chiefs in New Zealand and a serious outbreak had occurred in the Bay of Islands. A detachment of the 96th was sent from New South Wales, and was on several occasions engaged with the Warriors of a noted Chief named Heki, losing several men killed and having many wounded. As a result these operations the 96th was in 1870 granted honour "New Zealand" to place upon the Colours in company with those of "Egypt" and "Peninsula, inherited from the last Regiment which had borne number.

In 1849 the Regiment proceeded from Australasia to India, and while in that country served at Ghazipore, Cawnpore, Mian Mir and Dinapore and when it left India again for England, in 1855, some 300 of its finest and oldest soldiers remained behind, having transferred to other corps in the country. In the date of its departure from India the 96th was unlucky since it left only some two and a half years before the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny, while it reached England after the war in the Crimea had commenced, and was consequently debarred from taking part in either of these great campaigns.

The 96th was not very long at home, proceeding in the summer of 1856 to Gibraltar, but came to England again in rather less than a year, and was then quartered first in Manchester, then for some time in Ireland, embarking finally for Canada early in 1862. Very bad weather was met with and the Victoria, with the Headquarters of the Regiment aboard, put back again to port, and then resuming its voyage the engines broke down, the ship sprang a leak and the pumps quickly became choked. During four days and nights the situation was most critical, but the behaviour of all on board was admirable, and it was in a large measure owing to the good work of the soldiers who stuck manfully to the pumps, that the ship was at last brought into harbour at the Azores, and safely home again.

The "praiseworthy exertions" and "soldier-like spirit" displayed by Officers and men of the 96th formed the subject of letters from both the Admiralty and Horse Guards. The destination of the Regiment was now changed and after a year at home the 96th sailed for the Cape of Good Hope, served there until the end of 1865, and then went on to India. The first four years here were spent in the Bombay Presidency, the Regiment was then transferred to Bengal, and it was while serving at Dinapore in 1873 that the 63rd and 96th Regiments were associated for the first time, being together under a new scheme for the localization of the army, forming the 16th  Infantry Brigade, the depot of which was stationed at Ashton-under-Lyne in Lancashire.  

In November of this year the 96th left India for England, and during this tour of home service was again stationed for a time in Manchester. The Regiment left England again at the end of 1881, and was stationed at Malta when in 1882 a rebellion, instigated by Arabi Pasha, the War Minister, broke out in Alexandria, leading to the massacre of many Europeans and making necessary' intervention by the  British Government.  

An Expeditionary Force was sent from England to which troops from the Mediterranean Garrisons were added, and in August, the 2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment as the 96th was henceforth to be called, left Malta for Alexandria, where, during the two months the campaign lasted, it formed the Garrison and the personal guard of the Khedive. The services of the two Battalions of the Regiment in the war were recognized by permission to bear the honour "Egypt, 1882" on their Colours. From Egypt the 2nd Battalion went on to India, and while there was quartered at Multan, Rawalpindi, Amballa, Agra, and Sialkot, and it was while stationed at the last named place that in 1891 three companies of the Battalion took part in the second Miranzai Expedition of that year; the latter portion of the service of the Battalion abroad was passed at Meerut, Dinapore, and Aden.  

Returning to England in December, 1898, the Battalion was stationed at Manchester, Lichfield, and Dublin, and then in January, 1900,

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was ordered to prepare for embarkation for Africa, where, three months previously war had broken out with the  Dutch Republics of the Transvaal, Orange Free State, and it was posted to 17th Brigade, 8th Division, Commanded by General Rundle.

Landing in April at Port Elizabeth the Battalion was pushed to Edenburg where the 8th Division was concentrating, and took part in operations for the defence of Wepener, those about Dewetsdorp and Biddulphsberg, and in those which culminated in the surrender of Commandant Prinsloo.

The Division had much hard marching and constant fighting, and the shortness of supplies caused it to be known as "The Hungry Eighth." During the remainder of the many weary months that the war endured, the Battalion was constantly employed with mobile columns, in guarding the many Blockhouse Lines in course of erection, and finally in the "drives" which gradually wore down the opposition of the enemy.

When the war ended the Battalion was holding the Harrismith--Van Reeneivs Pass Blockhouse Line. The "Honours" granted to the Regiment for the war in South Africa were "Defence of Ladysmith" and "South Africa, 1899-1902." The 2nd Battalion remained in South Africa until September, 1902, when it returned to England and was quartered at Aldershot, remaining there for two years; it was then sent to Guernsey and Alderney, and on again returning to England and was quartered at Portsmouth, and in Ireland, and was serving at the Curragh when in August, 1914, the Great War opened and the Battalion  was at once ordered to mobilize, forming part of the 14th Brigade, 5th Division, Commanded by Brigadier-General Rolt and Major-General Sir Charles Fergusson.

Leaving Ireland on the 14th August the Battalion landed at Havre two days later and was at once pushed up to the front, arriving in time to take part in the Battle of Mons, retreating with the rest of the Army, and making with the II Corps the historic stand at Le Cateau; the retreat ended, the Army turned upon the pursuing Germans, and the Battalion was engaged again on the Marne and on the Aisne;  and during the remainder of the year, when the war of the trenches had begun, served and fought on the Le Bassee and the Messines fronts, earning the highest possible praise from all the many different Commanders under whom it had served during the five months that the war had already lasted.

During the early part of 1915 the 2nd Battalion was not engaged in operations on any very large scale, but in April it was moved to the Ypres salient
where casualties at once began to mount up. It was engaged in the three weeks' fighting about Hill 60, included in the Second Battle of Ypres, and for three months without relief held the well-known landmark known as the "Bluff." At the end of July the Division moved to the Somme area, where the Battalion spent 87 days in the trenches, and then was transferred farther north to the neighbourhood of Maricourt, where the winter of 1915-16 was passed.

Early in 1916 the Brigade containing the 2nd  Battalion The Manchester Regiment was reorganized, two of the New Army Battalions being included in it, while the Brigade was now transferred from the 5th to the 32nd Division and was sent to the Authville sector on the River Ancre. Here it remained for the ensuing six months, playing a very gallant and a very important part in the Battle of the Somme, particularly at Thiepval. In November the Battalion again specially distinguished itself at the Battle of the Ancre at Beaumont Hamel.

The winter months of 1916-17 passed tolerably quietly, but in the spring of the latter year, in the operations known as "Breaking the Hindenburg Line," the Battalion again had some hard fighting with 32nd Division, and on 2nd April at Francilly-Selency, under Colonel Luxmore's Command, had the honour of capturing a battery of German guns, receiving a special signal from the Commander-in-Chief Sir Douglas Haig.

For some weeks in the latter part of the year the Battalion was withdrawn to the security, quiet and comfort of the Belgian sea-coast at La Panne, while later still it proceeded to and took over part of the Nieuport defences. Fighting, though constant and weary, was not intense,but the  German attack was held in July. Shortly after this thay were in the Nieuport dunes section with no fewer than thirteen battalions of the Regiment.

In November the Battalion moved to the Passchendaele area in the spring of 1918 (Houthuist Forest) and summer of the last year of the Great War, was to share in hard fighting.

In February the 2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment was transferred from the 14th to the 96th Brigade, consequent on the reduction in the number of Battalions in each Infantry Brigade from 4 to 3, and at the end of March was moved to a new army area at Ayctte, the 32nd  Division here relieving the 31st which had been heavily engaged and was greatly exhausted and reduced in strength, from this time until the end of August, the Battalion was constantly engaged and was always distinguished β€œIts work,” declared its Brigadier, 'is beyond all praise"; and in the early days of October, in the crossing of the Sambre and Oise Canal, and in all the fighting that resulted and continued up to the end of the first week in November, the Battalion had its full share and suffered many casualties.

For the 2nd Battalion the war ended on the 6th November when it was taken out of action, and on the 11th  all ranks learnt that an armistice had been declared, and that the Great War was over.

Strangely enough the Battalion started and ended the war at Le Cateau, 'We have been accustomed." wrote Field-Marshal Lord Haig, "to be proud of the great and noble traditions handed down to us by the soldiers of bygone days. The men who form the armies of the Empire today have created new traditions which are a challenge to the highest records of the past, and will be an inspiration to the generations who come after us."

After the armistice the Battalion moved to Belgium, and later was transferred to Bonn in Germany where it formed part of the Army of Occupation. The honours granted to the Regiment for the part Played by the 2nd Battalion were: "Mons," "Ypres, 1915,17,18,  and Somme, 1916, '18," & " Hindenburg Line.”

Under an Army Order of 5th July, 1924, these Honours are borne on the King's Colour. During the early part of 1919, demobilization of the  Army was being rapidly carried out, and in April of this year the cadre of the Battalion arrived at Bordon in Martinique Barracks.

In October, as the 1st Battalion were then stationed in Aldershot in Salamanca Barracks, the opportunity was taken for a meeting of the two Battalions, and both Battalions marched to Farnham Park, Surrey where a combined ceremonial parade was held.

The period April - November, 1919, was chiefly spent in gradually re-forming the Battalion for foreign service In November, however, the Irish situation became menacing and the Battalion was moved to Tipperary where it performed various duties as patrols, escorts and guards. No incident of moment took place, but the duties were heavy and little or no training for the newly constituted Battalion could take place.

In February, 1920, the Battalion was placed under orders for Mesopotamia and sailed from Tilbury on H.M.T. Macedonia with the 18th Royal Irish and details. Having trans-shipped at Bombay for Basra and after a journey up the River Tigris, passing Kut-el-Amara, they reached Baghdad in April.

The Battalion formed part of 55th Brigade and until July was chiefly employed in Garrison duties at Tekrit. In July a revolt of the Arabs broke out, and the Battalion was then sent to the Euphrates front, arriving at Hillah on the 21st and joining the 17th Division.

On 23rd July, through an error, the Battalion (less one company and machine guns) was sent out with an incomplete column from Hillah. At night the column was heavily attacked by fanatical tribesmen and, in spite of the fact that the perimeter had been broken, was ordered to withdraw on Hillah and the Battalion involved in heavy fighting in which many were killed, including Captain H. G. Harrison (Adjutant), G. M. Glover, M.C., the R.Q.M.S., and Captain G. S. Henderson, D.S.O., M.C. For his great gallantry Captain Henderson was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.   A party of British and some Indian troops were taken prisoner by the Arabs, but were all recovered later and well in October. For the condition of this party, the credit goes to the senior man who controlled and looked after them, C.S.M. C. Mutters, M.C., D.C.M., M.M.

From July to November the Battalion was employed on various Operations, the most notable being the defence of Hillah, the capture of Hindiyeh Barrage, and the relief of Kifl and Kufa. Conditions during these operations were bad owing to the excessive heat, flies, and the scarcity of water.

The Battalion left Mesopotamia for India in December, after having been thanked on parade by the Commander-in-Chief for its good work during the operations. Kamptee (where the 1st Battalion had been in 1910) was reached in January, 1921, after three weeks at Deolali. A detachment was kept at Fort Sitabuldi, Nagpur, and on two occasions the Battalion was called out for duties in aid of the civil power. In January,1922, on the occasion of the visit of H.R.H. The Prince of Wales to Central Province, the Battalion furnished a Guard of Honour, and personal Guard to His Royal Highness.

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In January, 1923, the Battalion moved to Jubbulpore, Central Province, and occupied barracks on the Ridge. Here, in March, 1924, was celebrated the Centenary of the 96th Regiment. A special Church Parade was held and the Colours were trooped.

In 1925 the Battalion moved to Burma and was stationed in Rangoon with a detachment of one company in Port Blair, Andaman Isles. (The 1st Battalion had been in Burma in 1829.)

The Battalion remained here until January, 1928, when it relieved the Cameron Highlanders at Maymyo, in Upper Burma, with one company at Mandalay. Training, though interesting, was difficult owing to the terrain and paucity of troops in Upper Burma. In the autumn of 1929, having completed a very  pleasant tour in a pleasant land, the Battalion moved via Rangoon and Madras (S.S. Tairea), to Secunderabad, been stationed in Gough barracks, Trimulgherry.

Training and sport were more intense in Secunderabad than in Burma and this was as well, for in June, 1931 the Battalion was recalled to Burma where rebellion was rife.   

Moving as part of the 12th (Secunderabad) Infantry Brigade, Headquarters were established in Mandalay. Companies were detached independently at Shwebo, Meiktiila Yenane-yating (Oilfield), Toungoo, Thayetmyo, and the Prorne Mimbo areas.

The Battalion took a large part in Operations which resulted in the capture of "Saya San,” the rebel leader, Lieutenant T. B. L. Churchill was awarded the M.C., and Sergeant Middleton the M.M.

Before returning to Secunderabad in February, 1932, at the end of the rebellion, the civil and military police of Mandalay District presented the Battalion with a very handsome "Chinthe ((lion-like creature))," the work of the most eminent Burmese silversmith.

The Battalion remained at Secunderabad until October, 1932, when it moved to the Sudan, with Headquarters at Khartoum (North), and Companies at Gebeit,  Atbara, and Cyprus.

In December, 1933, It embarked at Port Sudan for the United Kingdom, and was  stationed at Strensall, near York, where training was carried out in the Ripon and Catterick areas.

For some years the Regiment had aimed at a much closer relationship with the City of Manchester. The City, as a token of friendship and pride in their Regiment, decided that both Regular Battalions should carry Silver Drums.Two sets were presented, and in July the Lord Mayor, on behalf of the City Presented to H.M. King George V, the Colonel-in-Chief, the set for the Battalion. His Majesty accepted these beautiful Drums and handed them over to the Battalion, by whom a Guard of Honour formed.

In 1936 the Regiment was selected for conversion to a fully Mechanized Machine Gun Regiment. Training became intense and by 1937, the conversion of the Battalion was completed.

In 1938 the Battalion moved to Aldershot, and was stationed in Tournai Barracks, Marlborough Lines.

On the outbreak of War the Battalion was still at Aldershot, and moved with I Corps as part of the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F.) to France, reaching Cherbourg on 23rd September.

The Battalion was Divisional Machine Gun Battalion in the 2nd Division (4th, 5th and 6th Brigades), which occupied a position on the Franco-Belgian Frontier, between  Orchies and St. Amand.  The whole winter, which was exceptionally cold, was spent in improving the Field Fortifications and Communications on this Front.

"D" Company was detached to the Saar Front in December where the French and German Armies were in contact, and carried out a number of patrols.
It rejoined the Battalion on 15th January.

In the early hours of 10th May, the German Army invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, and the B.E.F., in accordance with pre-arranged plans, moved forward to the Dyle river in Belgium.

The Battalion moved at 7 p.m., and reached its sector between Louvain and Wavre the next day.  6th Brigade, with "A" and "C" Companies attached, was on the left, 4th Brigade was on the right at Wavre with "D" Company, and 5th Brigade was in reserve with "B" Company attached.

The Germans made a testing attack on the 14th May, and a full-scale attack on the 15th, but were everywhere held on the 2nd Division's front, after bitter fighting that lasted all day. All recollection of this struggle on the Dyle was soon dimmed and was afterwards almost obliterated by a succession of campaigns in which great nations were overthrown, subjugated and subsequently set free; but every British soldier should remember that in this first clash between the Germans and the Western Allies, the British Expeditionary Force and all its components held their ground, and that on all other parts of the front the Germans were victorious.

To the right of the British position the French were out-fought and driven back while the French 2nd and 9th Armies were routed on the Meuse, near Sedan, German armoured forces swept through north-eastern France towards the Channel ports, and the BEF had to withdraw to avoid being cut off. 

The Battalion carried out a series of withdrawals, each company with the Infantry Brigade to which it was attached occupying in succession the river lines of the Lasne, the Dendre, the Scheldt and the La Bassee Canal.

Heavy fighting occurred on these rivers and since the companies provided the Machine-Gun fire under cover of which the Infantry Brigades withdrew, each disengagement was difficult and closely contested. 

The enemy bombing and machine-gunning of the congested roads and the increasing fatigue of the officers and men added to the difficulties of the retreat. The final stand of the 2nd Division occurred on the Northern Banks of the Canal De La Lys, where in the early morning of 27th May each Brigade was finally surrounded and overwhelmed.

Captain J. M. T. F. Churchill, Commanding "D" Company, managed to put the village of Epinette in a state of defence and repelled a reconnaissance by four
German tanks as late as the morning of 28th May, but orders had been received for withdrawal to Dunkirk.

After severe bombing on the beaches, the survivors of the Battalion were evacuated to England.

Its losses in the Campaign amounting to 223 Officers  and  men Killed, Wounded and Missing.   

The Battalion was re-formed at Lincoln and spent the next two years in England until it embarked in four transports which reached Bombay in June, 1942.

After intensive training in jungle warfare the Battalion still part of 2nd Division, was ordered to Dimapur, in Assam, in April, 1944, and at once took part in the bitter fighting which resulted in the relief of Kohima on 20th April, and the junction with the British and Indian Forces at Imphal on 22nd June. In November the Battalion commenced the advance towards Mandalay.

After four months' hard fighting, in which the Companies were, as usual attached to and fought with their respective Infantry Brigades ''B" Company entered Ava on the outskirts of Mandalay.

During a month in the volcanic hills to the west of Mandalay and Meiktila, platoons from "D" and "A" Companies assisted the Royal Scots in one of the most skilfully planned and executed ambushes of the campaign.

The Battalion was then flown with 2nd Division to Calcutta where it prepared for the final assault on Rangoon. It was in Calcutta that news of the surrender of Japan was received.

In December, 1945, the Battalion moved to Kharakvasla near Poona. In May, 1946, the Battalion moved to Arkonam but moved again in August to Madras, where Headquarters and half the Battalion were stationed in the Fort. In January, 1947, orders were received to reorganize as an Infantry Battalion. Considerable reinforcements were being sent, and as there was little room for expansion in Madras the Battalion moved to Jalahalli, outside Bangalore. Here large drafts of Officers and men were received from the King's (Liverpool) Regiment, Border Regiment, and North Staffordshire Regiment.

In September, 1947, the Battalion moved to Kalayan, outside Bombay, to prepare for embarkation as the British Army was leaving India. In October they sailed for England in S.S. Franconia and on arrival at Liverpool were stationed at Formby.

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