Firstly my apologies for not producing an edition of UTL in July and August but this early September edition will carry various material from the last few months.
I was as shocked, as we all were, at the sudden passing of our popular “Stand To!” editor, and much respected historian, Jon Cooksey who suddenly passed away on 14th June. I had worked with Jon for thirteen years to produce 39 editions of “ST!”, including six centenary specials that were received with great appreciation by our members.
Jon’s organisation was second to none and he had a clear understanding of our schedule needs to ensure members always got their mags on time. He was a true professional. I have sent our sincere condolences to Jon’s family and friends.
In the pipeline the WFA have commissioned a special, high quality, publication to relate the story of the Unknown Warrior. This to circulate independently at the beginning of November in time for the 10/11 November commemoration. This month we have arranged a speaker, Carole Evans, to give a talk ‘The Bravest Street in England’ relating to WW1 soldiers who lived in a street in Altrincham. This will be at 8pm on the 11 September following our usual second Friday schedule. Colleague and member Trevor Adams will host this talk via Zoom (and will do a talk himself on 9 October).
A link to join the talk will be provided by email shortly before the date. Many branches are now organising Zoom talks and having done it myself I assure you the process is quite easy.
There are also talks available via the WFA YouTube channel and weekly webinars. Investigation of the WFA website will lead you to a wide selection of articles as well as films available through your membership, plus the ever-growing list of podcasts now available.
You can also get your history fix by attending the WFA online Zoom lectures and at the BMMHS: https://www.bmmhs.org/ bmmhs-virtual-talks-2020/. You can also tap into Norfolk Branch lectures: https:// w w w. y o u t u b e . c o m / c h a n n e l / UCBsj9MPDJLLSIlR-LI2Uq9g?. It would help them hugely if you subscribe to their channel too, which you can do on the page. It’s absolutely free, but having a lot of subscribers does give some additional benefits and means that you will get notified whenever a new video is uploaded. I have had no news from our venue as to when it will again be available. Our host Captain Lesley will advise me as and when. I will investigate alternatives in the immediate area. I’m very aware of the disappointment the lockdown has brought in halting our Branch meetings. We will continue with our interest in the Great War and I’m sure we will be back to normal eventually.
I have just cleared to the printer the next edition of Bulletin and you should receive by 9th September. Best wishes.
New National Chairman
It has been announced that a new Chairman has been appointed to lead the Association. Tony Bolton who has been a member of the WFA for over thirty years, attended the York Branch until 1997. He is Chairman of the Chesterfield Branch and after completing his MA at Birmingham in 2014 is currently Compliance Trustee on the Executive Committee. He has taken on the role of Chairman to build on the work of his predecessor Colin Wagstaff.
Colin, who has loyally and diligently served as Chairman for the past five years has decided to step down as Chairman on health grounds but has agreed to continue to serve on the Executive Committee to support the new Chairman and the continued development of the WFA. Colin will bring his expertise in several areas, including commemoration events, to a new role on the Executive Committee.
Entirely unrelated to the change of Chairman, Steve Oram, Honorary Secretary for nineteen years has announced his intention to retire at the end of October.
The Chairman has expressed his thanks to both Steve and Colin for their significant contribution to the association over the years and to all the Executive Committee for their good wishes and support on his appointment.
Speaking to the Bulletin the new Chairman said,
‘The WFA is no different from other voluntary organisations, It relies upon the enormous amount of time and energy that is given freely by members and Trustees, without which the WFA would simply cease to exist and the charity’s aim of remembering all those who served, in whatever capacity, during the Great War would be lost.’
Local men – graves in Italy
Near the Manchester Cenotaph is a tablet to “Our Italian Comrades – 1915-1918”. Was there an Italian community in Manchester at that time, or does the tablet recall the service of local men in Italy? The 21, 22, and 24 Manchesters and 1 Cheshires were amongst infantry refitting in the Ypres area in late October 1917 when warned to make ready for an urgent move to Italy. The unprecedented Italian collapse at Caporetto had endangered the railway through France and Italy to Taranto for Salonika and the East, obliging France and Britain to send assistance.
So rather than the horrors of Third Ypres two British army corps [some 10% of Haig’s force!] enjoyed a leisurely rail journey to the bright sunshine of the Mediterranean coast, and welcoming crowds in Northern Italy. Through the bitterly cold winter months they guarded the Montello front on the Piave river, where the heaviest loss resulted from German artillery firing off ammunition before returning to France. When working parties of 1 Cheshires were caught in a bombardment on 10 March, Barnet Dalinsky of Broughton Street Cheetham and Thomas Fuge of Wallasey were killed, and M. Ryan of Liverpool died of wounds next day. In Spring 1918 the three British divisions then remaining in Italy moved to the Asiago mountain front, and made frequent raids on enemy trenches. Reg Watts of Didsbury was killed when 20 Manchesters raided a strongpoint at Stella on 18 April.
On 15 June the Austro-Hungarians launched an attack on our narrow front.
They had occupied the ground in 1916 and their targeted preliminary bombardment caused heavy losses. One gun of D Battery of 103 Brigade RFA was destroyed and the others put out of action, with Archibald Breen of Kirkdale Liverpool and Fred Royle of Higher Brinksway Stockport among those killed.
The 21 Manchesters were called forward from Corps reserve and caught by shellfire, losing several B Company men including Alfred Jones of Cedar Street Hulme and Robert Wolstenholme, who left a wife at Chapel Lane Blackley. Another victim with local connections was Arthur Beahan, 2/Lieutenant of 11 Northumberland Fusiliers, of Lower Broughton, Salford. He had been awarded the Italian Silver Medal for Military Valour for leading a raid by C Company on 1 June.
he enemy achieved some early break-ins and Herbert Wagstaff was evidently taken prisoner and died in enemy hands. His home was in Openshaw. He is remembered by a “Kipling Memorial” in Boscon, one of five war cemeteries in the area. These were among the first to be laid out in their final form by CWGC. Having repelled this attack we carried out attrition by trench raiding. The largest such raid, on 8/9 August, co-ordinated action by twenty-two companies. Two companies of 20 Manchester entered the village of Canove, losing four men including Harry Howard, a Serjeant with the Military Medal whose home was in Ashton Road, Denton.
Deep reconnaissance flights met determined opposition – Bristol Fighter C993 of Z Flight was shot down on 28 June on one of eleven sorties flown that day over the Austrians retreating from the Piave river front. The observer Desmond Thomas was from Fairfield Liverpool. James Buckley, who died of accidental injuries in early August, served with 30 Labour Company, King’s [Liverpool], transferred to 223 Divisional Employment Company of the Labour Corps. He was 41 and lived with wife Mary in Deane Church Lane Bolton. In the final action of the war in Italy 22 Manchesters were exposed to heavy enfilade fire when crossing the Piave river from Papadopoli Island, losing more than twenty men, among them Edgar Thompson of Turner Street Waterhead, and Herbert Broadbent, both of Oldham.
Command of the air was won by Sopwith Camels, one flown by Sydney Carline, an Official War Artist who managed to sketch the scene whilst overflying the retreating enemy. Before the war Carline had taught art at Fleetwood, at Rossall School.
Pursuit through freezing rain made heavy demands on exhausted men.
Father Henry McGinity, a Jesuit priest from Waterloo Lancashire attached to 23 Field Ambulance and much admired by his fellow chaplain and historian of 7th Division E. C. Crosse, died of disease on 8 November. Harold Henderson, who had enlisted when 4 Seaforth Highlanders made a recruiting march in Manchester on 10 September 1914, fought in France and was commissioned into the Manchester Regiment, serving with the Pioneer battalion, the Oldham Pals, 24 Manchesters. He too succumbed to disease, on 13 November.
Footnote: Dale is booked to visit us next July 2021
Byng of Vimy
Julian Byng has faded from popular awareness since his death in 1935, yet he deserves to be remembered as a member of the team of capable generals who won the war in 1918. Related to the Admiral Byng who was shot early in the Seven Year’s War ‘pour encourager les autres’ as Voltaire famously put it, he was a cavalryman by profession who saw service in India, the Sudan and South Africa before being appointed GOC Egypt in 1912.
In 1914 he was GOC 3rd Cavalry Division, and was a Corps Commander at Gallipoli in 1912 (a campaign which he always regarded as a risky and futile diversion). In 1916 he was appointed GOC of the Canadian Corps on the western front and it was under his command that the Canadians achieved the most dramatic victory to that date on the Western Front when they took Vimy Ridge in April 1917.
Always concerned to minimise casualties Byng had a shrewd appreciation of the growing importance of effective artillery, the need to develop more sophisticated infantry training and tackle, and the potential of effective cooperation with the Royal Flying Corps. In 1917 he was appointed GOC 3rd Army, winning sensational early success at Cambrai in November 1917. However, difficulties in sustaining the momentum of early success meant that the initial impact of tanks at Cambrai was not fully exploited. In March 1918, Byng thwarted a significant German attack at Arras and arguably this success in frustrating the German ‘Mass’ Offensive was the turning point in the defeat of Ludendorff’s Spring Offensive. In the ‘Hundred Days’ Byng made 3rd Army an effective fighting force. Always proud of the achievements in the Canadian Corps Byng later served as Governor-General of Canada from 1920 and after his return from Canada he was a respected and effective Chief Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police from 1928 to 1931.
His final years saw a decline in health but he deserves to be remembered as a thoroughly professional soldier, a compassionate and successful commander, and a representative of the best traditions in the all professional British Army.
Footnote: Sadly, we have to miss John this year but we have agreed he will be back in 2021.
Cheshire Soldiers’ stories
During my research of the unfortunate men whose names adorn the many War Memorials in Cheshire I have continued to be surprised by some of the heroic and tragic stories that come to light whilst examining what is left of their Service records.
Two such stories are that of Private William Collier and Private Joseph Maher, both of the 2/5th Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Volunteer, South Lancashire Regiment and secondly that of Private Maurice Nesbitt, 23rd Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
William Collier b.1893 in Rainow, Cheshire and educated at the local Wesleyan School in the village and a keen churchgoer. By 1911 his family were living on Hurdsfield Road, Macclesfield where he was conscripted in October 1916. After being fully trained and made ready for active service, William was drafted to France on Saturday 17 February 1917. After a period in the field he was posted to the Army Service Corps, Base Supply Depot at Rouen, France.
It is here that the story of William Collier takes a sad turn. It was during a spell of fatigues with a fellow South Lancashire Regiment member, Private, Joseph Maher. On Monday, 14 January 1918, they were employed in the Rum stores bottling/corking rum, then packing in cases.
There was inadequate, if any, supervision. The opportunity to have the odd ‘snifter’ must have been too good for men back from front line action. The result being that the odd snifter soon became a regular snifter, as they had got the taste. When finally, an NCO came to check on how they were doing, he found the two men out cold on the storeroom floor. Both were rushed to the General Hospital at Rouen, but sadly the rum was too strong and both were pronounced dead on the 15 January 1918, due to “acute alcoholism”.
At the following Enquiry; Major EAH Graves stated “these men were employed on 14.1.18 on BSD fatigue; they apparently obtained rum which they drank to excess, thus causing their deaths”. He confirmed they were in performance of their military duty, adding “they were to blame”. He was unable to say whether any other person was to blame. GOC Brigade, agreed that they were in the performance of military duty and to blame. Also, that disciplinary action is being taken against CSM Eagles and Sergeant Pollard. 31/1/18. Brigadier General, LF Phillips. Brig. General, Phillips; Then issued this statement:
I consider that the evidence given before this Court of Enquiry displays a lamentable lack of care and supervision on the part of the Supply Department. The following steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence of the irregularities brought to light. 1. Strict orders have been given that the practice of allowing men to drink rum and issuing it to the working parties is to cease forthwith. 2. Disciplinary action is being taken in the case of CSM Eagles and Sergeant Pollard for neglect of duty on the day in question. 3. The Officers concerned have been censured for allowing the practice of promiscuous drinking by working parties to creep in. 4. The decanting areas have been fenced in and will be wired to prevent the possibility of rum being handled out to men in the other part of the hanger. 5. Orders have been given that no casual labour is to be employed in the decanting area. 6. The O. C., No. 2 Base Supply Depot has been directed to draw up Standing Orders for the supervision of this work. 7. Reliefs have been arranged for the N.C.O.’s so that they will not be kept too long at the work of supervision. Rouen. 29/1/18. Brigadier General, Base Commandant.
The next disturbing piece of military paperwork on the service file of Joseph Maher and William Collier is a request for guidance from: C/Memorial Plaques/238. Officer i/c Records No 1. Belle Vue, Shrewsbury. In connection with the distribution of the Memorial Plaque and Scroll, it is requested that a decision may be obtained from War Office as to whether the Memorial should be awarded in the following cases; 242130, Pt, J Maher, 2/5th South Lancashire Regiment and 242690, Pt, WH Collier. 2/5th, South Lancashire Regiment. This request is then followed with all of the previous details, finishing with, “they apparently obtained rum, which they drank to excess, setting up acute alcoholic poisoning from which they died. It was stated that it would be easy for a man to obtain rum and drink it without being seen by the officer in charge”.
This paperwork clearly states that the issue of Plaque and Scroll is NOT approved. A sad reflection of the Army Authorities to deny the families of both men their Memorial Plaque and Scroll, both of whom had done their duty at the front line. Reason stated as “Self-Inflicted”.
Both Private William Collier and Private Joseph Maher are buried at the Bois Guillaume Communal Cemetery Extension, Rouen, Seine Maritime, France.
The second sad tale is that of, 316778, Private Maurice Nesbitt, 23rd Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Maurice was born in Leeds, Yorkshire in 1898 son of John and Elizabeth Nesbitt.
On the 1 February 1917, Maurice enlisted at Macclesfield into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
He was 18 years of age. The 23rd Battalion were stationed at Happisburgh, Norfolk but after serving only 67 days, Maurice’s body was discovered in a pool of blood on the billet floor. A report in his Service files reads: To: O/C. 23rd Battalion R.W.F.
Reference the death of No 316778 Pt, M. Nesbitt, having been informed that he had cut his throat; I visited his billet and found the deceased dead from loss of blood caused by a self-inflicted wound of the throat, severing the muscle and right carotid artery. I found a bloodstained razor on the floor. I had seen this man 10 days before and found him morose and taciturn.
Maurice was buried at All Saints Church, Mundesley, Norfolk.
The confusing sequel to both of these stories is that of the allocation of Memorial Plaques and Scrolls.
Whereas Joseph Maher and William Collier’s families were denied the Memorial Plaque on the grounds of their deaths being self-inflicted. Elizabeth Nesbitt received both the Plaque and Scroll. A form date 10/11/1920 asking for her to acknowledge receipt of the Memorial Plaque and Scroll is amongst his surviving service papers. The condition of the form has deteriorated but however you can make out enough detail to see that the Plaque and Scroll arrived.
How was it that the War Office could be so pompous in not allowing the issue of Memorial Plaques and Scrolls to Privates, Maher and Collier on the grounds that their deaths were declared as self-inflicted? Whilst on the other hand, the mother of Private Nesbitt received both tokens to commemorate his short but tragic army service. A life he so dramatically ended in such a brutal fashion.
Grierson MC, DSO
2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Grierson DSO, MC, pictured here closest to the camera
For more on the campaign, see Norman Glasden’s book ‘Across the Piave’.
Citation 2nd April 1919
Distinguished Service Order
2/Lt/ Kenneth MacIver Grierson, MC (T/Captain).
He was in command of one of the leading companies in the attack on the 27th October 1918.
He led his men across the Piave in a magnificent manner.
When the enemy bank had been reached, he crawled forward and helped to cut a gap in the
wire to within 15 yards of the enemy; all this time he was under observation and fire from the
embankment, which was still held by the enemy.
The splendid example he set to his men contributed in a large extent to the successful capture of
the first objective.
Later, in the taking of all objectives, he showed himself to be a fine leader both in skill and
All the houses and strong points were tackled under his direction in a systematic and dashing way.