The 17th (Service) Battalion Manchester Regiment

2nd City Pals Battalion

 Part one: Recruiting and Initial Training


Many thanks to Kingo for writing these articles for us


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. The Evening Chronicle of the 2nd September carried the following appeal ;

And by the following day, 3rd September the 17th Battalion was complete. The official date of the raising was given as 28th August and Lieutenant Colonel H.A Johnson, late in command of the 14th Battalion was gazetted to the command on 1st September.

Arrangements were made for the Battalion to move to Heaton Park-a large public park on the outskirts of the city and Major Sington, Royal Engineers marched the men of A Company 16th Manchesters to assist in the preparation of the tented accommodation.

Whilst the work proceeded at Heaton Park the men of the 17th received their first instruction in drill at the Manchester Artillery Drill Hall on Hyde Road in the Ardwick area of the City and Captain Walkley, by now the Chief recruiting officer divided them into Companies and Platoons.

By the 19th September, the accommodation at Heaton park was ready and the 17th moved into tents near the hall but with the approach of winter they moved into huts near the St Margaret’s  entrance to the park.

On the 24th November the 17th along with the 16th battalion were reviewed by the Lord Mayor of Manchester and on the 1st December by General Sir Henry Mackinnon General Officer Commanding Western Command.

Company training began around Christmas time and continued throughout January and the beginning of February but was much interfered with by the bad weather, but, on the whole the men made excellent progress in what was rapidly turning into a quagmire

 With the arrival of the 18th Battalion from their temporary accommodation at the White City in Old Trafford in the middle of February the 90th Infantry Brigade was now complete and Battalion training was now commenced.

The health of the men, with the exception of an epidemic of sore throats had been very good and regular route marches over cobble sets and tramlines hardened their feet. Regular digging with entrenching tools and picks and shovels rapidly improved their physique.

On the 21st March 1915 the 17th Battalion, along with the rest of the two Manchester Brigades and other locally raised units marched past Lord Kitchener, in Albert Square.

On the 24th April 1915 it was time for the Battalion to leave the Familiar surroundings of Heaton Park and move to Belton Park in Grantham, Lincolnshire and form the 30th Division under Major General W. Fry.

The training stepped up several paces at Grantham and Musketry courses were fired along with entrenching and brigade training and on the 10th August 1915 the Battalion was formally taken over by the Military authorities.

On the 7th September 1915, the Division moved to Lark Hill on Salisbury Plain to complete its training. Brigade training was carried out and musketry courses completed. On the 4th November 1915, the Division was inspected by the Earl of Derby and by General Sir A.H Paget, G.O.C of Salisbury training centre.

9098 Company Sergeant Major Arthur Haymes.

15 Months of hard training complete and fully equipped the men of the 17th  were now ready to deploy to France and on the 8th November 1915 the Battalion, less 3 Officers and 109 men with the regimental transport who had crossed via Southampton to Le Havre the previous day, left Amesbury station for Folkestone for overseas service.


Early days in France

On the 8th November 1915 the 17th Battalion embarked on the troopships at Folkestone and endured a rather choppy crossing to France, arriving in Boulogne in the late afternoon. The first night was spent in the rest camp at Boulogne and the following morning they boarded trains for Pont Remy. From there the men marched in Pouring rain to Domqueur where they billeted for the night.

The Battalion remained at Domqueur until the 17th where training intensified and Officers and Men went on various courses to the nearby Brigade training camps.

On the 17th the Battalion left Domqueur and marched 10 miles to Vignacourt where they billeted for the night.
The following day they left Vignacourt and marched 6 miles to the village of Bertangles which they shared with 180 Officers and Men of the Royal Flying Corp.

For the next 10 days the Men trained at Platoon, Company and Battalion level before leaving on the 28th for the 10 mile march over frozen roads for the village of Montrelet.

The Battalion stayed here training until the 7th December when a march of 17 miles brought them to the village of Couin. For the next 7 days the men were given practical tuition in trench warfare by the 143 Brigade training team under the most realistic of conditions as the camp was knee deep in mud.
On the 8th the Battalion marched by Company’s-A+B to Fonquevillers and C+D to Chateau La Haie with the Transport going to Bayencourt.

A +B Companies had a spell in the line at Fonquevillers in a sector held by a Battalion of the Warwickshire Regiment and were relieved on the 11th by C+D Companies. Battalion Headquarters were billeted at Chateau de la Haie which, although only 1 mile from the front line trenches was untouched by shellfire.

First Casualties

On the 13th December the 17th Battalion was to suffer its first Battle casualty when Second Lieutenant Robert Loudon Johnston, Officer Commanding the transport section was killed by an anti aircraft shell at Bayencourt.

Second Lieutenant Johnson was the Son of Robert and Julia Johnston of Kersal and was 24 years old when he was killed. Prior to the War, he had worked at Fred Taylor & Sons, a cotton manufacturers and merchants of Bloom Street in Manchester. Second Lieutenant Johnston had worked with Arthur Taylor who was instrumental in the raising of the Pals Battalions in 1914 and who subsequently became Staff Captain to the 90th Infantry Brigade Headquarters. Second Lieutenant Johnston is buried in Fonquevillers Military Cemetery.

On the 14th December the Battalion were withdrawn from the Trenches and marched to Couin where they spent the night under canvass. The following day they marched to Montrelet where they remained over Christmas and the New Year. The Battalion had passed its first few months in France relatively unscathed and faced the New Year with a mixture of confidence and trepidation.



The 1st January 1916 found the Battalion still in Montrelet training and with strength of 29 Officers and 988 other ranks. They remained there until the 9th when they marched to the village of Suzanne. Whilst there, the village was heavily shelled and on the 11th the First of the “Other Ranks” was killed and 5 men were wounded.

8638 Private John Pownall Holt, D Company 13 Platoon had been killed. He was the son of Benjamin and Frances Holt of 34 College Road, Whalley Range aged 27. Before the War he was a Clerk with the Manchester Ship Canal Company. His Mother was informed that he had been killed by a High Explosive shell
Private John Pownall Holt is buried like so many of the Pals Battalions early casualties in Suzanne Communal cemetery Extension. The Battalion war diary also states that 6 Mules were also killed by the same explosion.

On the 12th January the Battalion relieved the 16th Manchester’s in the trenches to the west of Maricourt wood. The Maricourt defences were the 2nd line of defence for the village. In the centre of the system was a series of strong points with dugouts, machine gun emplacements commanding special points, bombing islands and bomb and water stores. The trenches were in a particularly bad state and thigh high gumboots were the order of the day for the men. On the first day the Battalion suffered its second Officer casualty when Second Lieutenant William Russell Tonge was killed by a sniper. A stretcher party was sent to attempt to remove his body but the state of the trenches prevented this and he was buried in the trench.

Second Lieutenant William Russell Tonge was the Son of Henry Dacre and Alma Tonge aged 21. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

On the 16th the Battalion were relieved by the 20th Kings Liverpool Regiment and spent the next few days providing working parties in the Maricourt defences.

On the 20th Captain Edmund Fearenside, a Company was appointed Town Mayor of Suzanne and the Battalion Relieved the 16th Manchester’s in the Maricourt trenches. The Battalion remained in the trenches until relieved by the 16th Battalion on the 24th-moving into billets in Suzanne.

On the 28th 1 Company (B) and 2 Platoons of C Company were led by Captain Williams were ordered to reinforce the 17th Kings Liverpool Regiment in the Maricourt defences. The party moved up to the defences under heavy shellfire. Two men were killed and 6 wounded in the movement. At the same time, Captain Kenworthy and 2 Platoons of D Company was ordered to reinforce the 18th Battalion in Vaux woods. This was achieved under a heavy barrage of lachrymatory shells, in gas helmets and through trenches waist deep in mud.

On the 29th, Captain Kenworthy and a party of men were sent into Vaux wood to replace C Company of the 18th Manchesters who had been despatched to Fargny Mill. The village of Suzanne was heavily shelled with HE and gas shells all day and the Headquarters mess was struck by a shell.

The Month of February passed uneventfully with spells in and out of the line but not without a tragic accident

A Tragic Accident

On March 18th the Battalion was relieved by the 7th Buffs and moved to Grovetown camp near the village of Bray. On the 28th the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel H A Johnston was admitted sick to Hospital and Major Whitehead assumed command. The next day, the Battalion moved to Morlancourt and provided working parties for 89 Brigade for the rest of the Month.


On the 10th April Lt Colonel Johnston returned to duty from Hospital and assumed command. And on the 12th the Battalion moved to Cardonette and stayed there training under platoon, company, battalion and brigade training until the 29th. They also took the opportunity to hold a Battalion sports day.
On the 29th the Battalion moved to Corbie, the 30th to Bray and bivouacked overnight.


The 1st May saw the Battalion back in Vaux village and Royal dragon’s wood where they remained until the 1st June.


The Battalion were relieved on the 1st June by the 1st battalion 37th French Infantry Regiment and marched to Bois Celestins where they were billeted in huts and provided working parties for the 30th Division. On the 8th-the Battalion moved to Bray and stayed there until the 11th-again providing working parties.

The Battalion relieved the 19th Manchesters in the Maricourt defences until the 18th when they were relieved by the 17th Kings Liverpool Regiment. The Men then marched to the railhead at Heilly and entrained for Ailly-sur-Somme and then marched to Briquemesnil.

From the 18th to the 25th the Battalion were engaged in Brigade training for the forthcoming great battle. A facsimile of the trench system that the 17th Battalion were tasked with assaulting on the 1st July had been laid out in great detail close to the village and the Men practiced their role repeatedly.

On the 26th, the Battalion marched to Ailly-sur-Somme and entrained for Mericourt and then to Etinehem where final preparations for the battle were made.

The “Big Day” was originally set for the 29th June and prior to this a terrific bombardment of the German defences had been underway for several days. However, inclement weather meant the date was put back to 1st July. The Battalion busied itself in all manner of organisation and issuing of kit and, finally at 10pm on the night of 30th June the Men moved to the Assembly trenches to the South of Cambridge copse near the village of Maricourt.

As the Battalion waited in the assembly trenches the bombardment of the German defences in front of the village of Montauban intensified. The character of the Battalion had not changed much since its arrival in France. In the first 7 Months they had suffered 2 Officers and 30 Men killed.

The early casualties

Confident in their own ability and that of their comrades the men passed an uncomfortable night in the trenches as they awaited their date with destiny. Zero hour had been set for 7.00am and as the hour approached the bombardment reached a crescendo. As the hour approached the men awaited the blast of the Officers whistle that would set them on their way to the objective some 3000 yards distant.


The First day of the Battle of the Somme




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