Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Another story from Tony Goulding .......... Chorlton-cum-Hardy and the Somme July 1916

The Thiepval Memorial to the Somme Fallen
The 1st. July, 1916 is widely known as the first day of The Battle of the Somme, the bloodiest day in history of the British Army, when approaching 60,000 were recorded as killed or wounded. Less appreciated, perhaps, is that the fight for the same objectives ground on for the rest of the month of July and beyond, indeed not until the foul weather and the onset of winter in November was their respite in the carnage. (1)

The still embryonic community of Chorlton-cum-Hardy like everywhere else suffered greatly from the loss of many of its young men.

While researching these men a ”story within a story” was revealed. Many of these casualties came from the large number who had volunteered into the so-called “Pals” battalions formed in the previous year.

Whilst, most of these battalions were made up of recruits from the same geographical area some were drawn from the same trade or profession.

School Sign 1973
A significant number of the recruits from the suburbs of South Manchester came from middle-class homes, and had attended the local Public/Grammar schools- William Hulme’s, Manchester Grammar, and St. Bede’s College.

The 20th Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, raised in the Manchester area, was one of the “Public School Battalions” and included many of the sons of the middle-class homes in Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

Just before the dawn of what promised to be a fine, sunny summers day, 20th July 1916 at 3-25 a.m. this unit was ordered to take part in the attack on the strongly defended German position of High Wood Nr. Longueval on the Somme.

Aerial view of William Hulmes G. S. 1920
The resultant losses suffered by this battalion in the ensuing battle were terrific.

Of an initial strength of around 1100 men at least 140 were reported as killed in action that fateful day, with a similar number injured and perhaps a hundred recorded as missing.

The official War Diary kept at the time lists by name 16 officers and puts the number of other ranks at 375 casualties. In addition there had been 30 or so casualties on the battalion’s march to the front line the previous day.

Map of German defensive lines around High Wood, July 1916
These stark figures would be further supplemented by more recorded deaths, either “in action” or “of wounds” during the days immediately following. In consequence by the end of July 1916 the 20th Royal Fusiliers had suffered the loss of over half of the men on its roll-call at the start of the month.
At least five of these soldiers had a Chorlton-cum-Hardy connection no doubt bringing a general cloud of sadness to the area which was mirrored across the other suburban communities of the greater Manchester area and Lancashire as a whole.

A battalion of Royal Fusiliers going up into action, probably later in the war
Pte. Alan Joures Knudsen:
Born in 1894, in Withington to a Danish father, Justin Anton a shipping agent and his South Shields born wife Jennie (née. Joures), Alan was raised in Lytham-St Annes.

His father’s business was conducted in Manchester and sometime after the 1911 census the family home was “Thornlea” on Edge Lane, Chorlton-cum-Hardy. Prior to hostilities Alan was developing a career with the textile merchants – Hiltermann Brothers of 56, Whitworth Street, Manchester.

Sgt. Alexander Ross:
Alexander was born, to Henry and Martha in 1893, in Northampton where his father was a “Sergeant Major of volunteers”. In 1911 he was living with two of his aunties at 15, Birch Hall Lane, Longsight, at which time he is recorded as being a student. (2)

A record of Alexander’s death gives his place of residence as being Chorlton-cum-Hardy but I haven’t yet been able to ascertain the precise address.

Caterpillar Cemetery
Pte: Leslie Wilton Ball:
At the time of the 1911 census Leslie Wilton Ball lived at 51, Claude Road with his parents Wilton William and Helena Maud (née. Kent); he being their only child. His father was a salesman for a calico printer and his mother was the daughter of a prominent Manchester jeweller, Thomas Kent.

Leslie’s mother and father were married in St. Clements’s, Chorlton-cum-Hardy on 15th September, 1892 and he was baptised, in the same church, on 17th June, 1895. He’d been born on 22nd May at 12, Cranbourne Road.

Trones Wood   8-14 July 1916
Erne Shorrocks:
Ernest was born, on 12th March, 1875, in Rhodes, Nr. Middleton, Lancashire, but spent his childhood in South Manchester initially in Moss Side but later at 47, Keppel Road.

He was the third of the four children of James Henry, a cashier in a Manchester warehouse, and Lucy Ann (née. Hood) was a pupil at William Hulme’s Grammar School and went on to study at the University of Manchester (3) at which he gained  an M.Sc. (first class honours) in Chemistry in 1900.
Ernest then had a successful career in education filling a series of teaching positions at a number of prestigious schools whilst also doing a further years study at London University.

He began at his old school; William Hulme’s and in 1914 was at Taunton Grammar School from where he enlisted in the September of that year. Whilst in Somerset he appeared in that county’s cricket XI

His family continued to live in the Chorlton-cum-Hardy area at 17, St. Clements’s Road.

Delville Wood 14-19 July 1916
Pte. Frank Hardman:
This soldier was born in Gorton, in 1895, where he lived for a time on Church Lane with his parents Isaac, a clerk to a cotton yarn agent, and his wife Margaret (née Hardy). The family had moved by 1911 to 9, Keppel Road with young Frank being recorded as a commercial clerk.

Another soldier of 20th Royal Fusiliers, who died that day, although only loosely connected to South Manchester, is perhaps worth a mention in passing.

Pte. Nissim Lisbona:
Nissim is one of just four names on a memorial in the Synagogue of The Manchester Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews on Queenstown Road, West Didsbury.

He was a qualified barrister and an ex-student of both Manchester Grammar School and Manchester University. He obtained a second class honours M.A. in English in 1906.

He was born and lived in the Cheetham /Cheetham Hill area of North Manchester in 1882. His parents were Moses, a cotton goods shipping agent born in Syria, and his wife, Mazal, also from Syria.

Total devastation of the area this was the main street of Longueval
Nissim is another soldier buried in Caterpillar Valley cemetery

Finally, in passing, there is a matter for some thought. There were five so called “University/Public School Battalions”, four forming part of Royal Fusiliers and one belonging to the Middlesex Regiment.

Initially they were officially encouraged, perhaps with the aim of showing to the country as a whole that the upper and middle classes were ready to share in the general sacrifice.

However, by the spring of 1916, due to the huge losses already suffered, there was a general shortage of officers in the wider army. Consequently the existence of these five units of  “officer material” became something of an embarrassment and their rank and file members were encouraged (not to say pressured) into applying to become officers for dispersal around the rest of the army In April 1916, three of the Royal Fusiliers Public School Battalions were disbanded leaving just the 20th operational.

This unit would then largely have comprised of those men who had resisted, against the wishes of the War Office, the call to train as officers; the remnant of the 20th battalion being augmented by men of a similar feeling from the other three battalions.

 It was maybe only a “fortune of war” and unfortunate, though convenient for the authorities that the 20th Battalion suffered such heavy casualties shortly afterwards.

©Tony Goulding 2016-06-21

Pictures; the Thiepval Memorial to the Somme Fallen, C.W.G.,School Sign 1973 D. Scholes, M38580,
Aerial view of William Hulmes G. S. 1920,Imperial Aerial photographic Co.,M67839, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, Map of German defensive lines around High Wood, July 1916 by “The Times”, A battalion of Royal Fusiliers going up into action, probably later in the war, taken by Tom Aitken http:/ (12) n 390, Caterpillar Valley cemetery, CWGC site, fighting in adjacent areas of the Somme Battlefield, Trones Wood, 8-14 July 1916, Delville Wood 14-19 July 1916, Total devastation of the area this was the main street of Longueval (Daily Mail Official War Photograph


1) November 18th is usually cited as being the final day of the battle.
2) There are strong indicators that this was at Manchester Central High School which includes an “Alexander Ross” on its memorial roll. Also one of his aunties, on the 1911 census, was a “superintendant of a municipal school of domestic economy”
3) Ernest was able to do this with the aid of a scholarships awarded him by Lancashire County Council,  a science award he won in 1892 was worth £60-00 p a year for 3 years and one of just eight such awards that year.

1 comment:

  1. I read a prenious(now disappeared?) comment on this post which offered an interesting alternative view regarding the history of the 20th battalion. It seems that the dearth of officers being promoted from this unit was a matter of some concern so much so that a question was asked on this issie in the House of Commons in March,1916 It seems that the low level of promotions may have been due to intransigence on the part of the units' commanding officer Lt Col Charles Hugh Bennett