Inspired by interviews and notes by a member of the 2nd City Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, this site portrays the particular group of volunteer soldiers, from enlistment to their service in the Battle of the Somme. In memory of the contributor of the journal, Private Allan Arthur Bell 8055 and the Pals that served with him. Copyright Bell Family. All rights reserved. Please see acknowledgments and feel free to comment in the Guest Book or individual Posts.
Private Allan Arthur Bell, 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment
In 1974 Arthur Bell wrote notes of his experience in the 17th Battalion, Manchester Regiment. Arthur was also subsequently interviewed by Martin Middlebrook on BBC Radio 4 where he recounted further experiences in the First World War It’s fitting to follow Arthur’s original introduction of his damaged helmet:-
“It had a leather frame inside, and was issued to all of us some weeks before the big advance on 1st July, 1916. A few days after the initial advance I took my helmet to the Company QMS for renewal as it had a hole in it made by a bullet, which had caused it to roll up like the petal of a flower. “Yer wanna be more careful” said newly promoted ex-Sergt. McM [McMenemy]. Anyhow, he gave me a new hat.
Visiting Stretford Cemetery to see the burials of two Manchester Regiment men who are awaiting adjudication for War Grave status. This is the 101st Anniversary of Joseph Dykes death.
Private 3608 Oliver Gelder Hinchlife was a veteran of the Mounted Infantry Company of 4th Volunteer Battalion when he enlisted in 3rd Manchesters in November 1914. He served in France with 2nd Battalion and was discharged on 29 June 1916.
Oliver Hinchliffe died from TB attributed to service on 12 October 1916. We anticipate a new CWGC headstone will be erected on his burial plot.
Private 24566 Joseph Dykes had previously served 16 years in the Queens Lancers when he enlisted as a Bandsman in 1st Manchesters Depot at Ashton on 10 May 1915. Solely serving at home, Bandsman Dykes was discharged on 20 January 1917.
Joseph Dykes died from Fibroid Pneumonia commencing in and aggravated by service. His daughter, May Dykes married Maurice Barry in 1932. Maurice died after serving in the Second World War and has a CWGC headstone in front of his father in laws plot.
For further details of the Forgotten Battalion of the Manchester Regiment see:-
An Auctioneer in Plymouth sold some medals in December 2020. The catalogue transposed the regimental number of T Brooks from 9071 to 9701. I identified the correct number and service of Private Thomas Brooks with 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment. This is the record of Private Brooks and his Pals.
Thomas Brooks enlisted in the 2nd City (Pals) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on 2 September. He had previously been employed by Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS) and it is anticipated Thomas worked in the Drapery Department at the Head Office at Balloon Street, Manchester.
In late August 1914, the Mayor of Manchester had invited clerks and warehousemen to enlist in a City Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. 1st City Battalion was formed on 31 August – 1 September and Thomas Brooks attested in 2nd City Battalion when it was formed on 2 September.
Within days, the first Brigade, comprising more than four thousand men, had been formed, including the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th City (or Pals) Battalions. The War Office took over control in the spring of 1915 and the City Battalions were redesignated as the 16th – 24th Service Battalions.
The City Battalions were known as Pals because the Mayor had committed that the volunteer soldiers would enlist, train and fight together. Hundreds of CWS men joined the Pals Battalions, encouraged by the business, which supported families and promised to make up Military pay to the same level as pre-war employment and reinstate staff in their jobs when they returned. The CWS commitments were universal to all men serving in the Military – not just Pals or men from Manchester. The business spent more than £538,000 supplementing employees’ wages during hostilities.
CWS support was more extensive than the wider commitment to other Pals Battalion recruits. Other men would have full pay for the first four weeks; re-engagement guaranteed; and half pay to wives during a soldier’s absence.
Groups of friends will have enlisted together from the different Sections or Departments at Balloon Street and other branches of the company. Thomas Brooks and two colleagues from CWS are anticipated to have enlisted together when they were posted to XI Platoon of C Company and received their regimental numbers 8069 Reginald Frank Brereton, 8071 Thomas Brooks and 8099 William Daniel Cann. Both Reginald Brereton and William Cann are confirmed as enlisting on 2 September 1914. Research indicates them men were employed in the Millinery, Drapery and Grocery Departments respectively.
Thirteen names of men on the XII Platoon Roll of 17th Battalion correspond with names on the CWS Roll, confirming that numerous CWS men served together in C Company.
17th Battalion undertook initial training in Heaton Park, Manchester. Food, clothing, tents and other resources were provided by voluntary contribution from the City’s businesses, Council and charity groups. This was effectively a private Army, held under the auspices of the Mayor and Town Hall
The City Battalions were taken over by the War Office, when the Brigade had moved to Belton Park, near Grantham in April 1915. They arrived at Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain for the final phase of home based training in September 1915 and subsequently embarked for France in November 1915.
17th Battalion was part of 90th Brigade in 30th Division. The Battalion disembarked on 7/8 November 1915. Reginald Brereton had been promoted to the rank of Corporal on 12 July 1915 and Thomas Brooks and William Cann remained privates. Corporal Brererton was trained as a Battalion Signaller.
The Manchester battalions travelled through France and arrived at the infamous Somme trenches in January 1916. 90th Brigade served in the front line near the village of Maricourt, with billets at Suzanne. They also spent time out of the line training and undertaking fatigues.
90th Brigade formed the second phase in the successful assault on the fortress village on Montauban in the opening day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. 17th Battalion liberated the village with 16th Battalion and 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers. They then held their positions against two German counter-attacks until they were withdrawn on 3 July.
21 year old Private 8099 William Cann was wounded at Montauban by a gunshot wound to the face and lower left jaw. William was evacuated to England on 2 July 1916 and treated at Toxteth Hospital in Liverpool. He later served as an Acting Corporal (45246) in the Royal Defence Corps. William was discharged due to his wounds on 10 January 1919 and received a disability pension for 50% disability. He lived at 158 Tipping Street, Ardwick.
The two remaining XI Platoon CWS colleagues returned to the advance on 9 July 1916. 17th Battalion was charged with taking the German positions in Trones Wood. The assault was successful, but the Battalion was forced to withdraw in the face of sustained bombardment from enemy artillery. Reginald Brereton was wounded by shrapnel in the hand in Trones Wood. He had just celebrated his 25th Birthday.
17th Battalion also took part in the assault on Guillemont on 30 July 1916. They advanced in support of 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers. While they advanced to the German front line, the Manchesters couldn’t make contact with the Scottish Battalion and they were forced to retired due a storm of artillery and machine gun fire.
The final action on the Somme took place on 12 October 1916 when the Battalion attacked German positions north of Flers. No gains were made and 17th Manchesters suffered significant losses – including the Author’s Grandfather who had shrapnel wounds in his foot.
Corporal Brereton had returned to duty and was wounded on a second occasion. Reginald Brereton was presumably evacuated and treated for his wounds in England. He married Mabel Bees at Cheetham in early 1917. Reginald was selected for training as an officer cadet and left France on 19 December 1916 prior to being discharged from the ranks on 25 January 1917. He received his commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment on 21 April. Reginald joined 18th Battalion in the field on 17 June 1917 and it is recorded that he served as Signals Officer.
2nd Lieutenant Brereton was gassed on 31 July 1917, during the opening day and 3rd Battle of Ypres. He was evacuated and declared fit for General Service on 29 April 1918. It is not clear whether Reginald returned to the Front. He retired on 23 January 1919, retaining the rank of Lieutenant. Reginald and Mabel’s first daughter was born on 6 July 1919. The family lived at 10 Carlton Street, Cheetham Hill and later moved to Didsbury.
Reginald Brereton and Thomas Brooks paths may have crossed at Ypres. Thomas appears to have remained with 17th Battalion which continued to serve on the Western Front. 17th Manchesters took part in assaults at Arras on 23 April 1917 and they were present with 18th Battalion at Ypres on 31 July 1917.
At some stage Private Brooks was transferred to 1/6th Battalion Manchester Regiment. The absence of a service record makes the dates or reasons for this posting speculative. Anecdotally it has been found that some of the men were posted to 1/6th Manchesters after 17th Battalion had been disbanded in July 1918 and Thomas Brooks may have been part of this draft. Men that remained posted to 17th Manchesters had been posted to 1st Battalion Border Regiment, indicating that Thomas Brooks was not serving with his original battalion on disbandment. In such case he may have been previously wounded in the German Spring Offensive of March 1918 or during action at the Spoil Bank, Ypres in April 1918.
1/6th Manchesters was a Territorial Battalion that had served at Gallipoli in 1915, Egypt in 1916 and the Western Front since March 1917. The Battalion had also faced heavy losses in the German Spring Offensive. Drafts of men provided replacements and 1/6th Battalion were present when the Advance to Victory began after the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918. After the Armistice the Battalion was reduced to cadre strength and arrived home in Manchester in April 1919.
Private Brooks was demobilised and transferred to Army Reserve on 12 April 1919. Thomas received a pension for 20% disability due to a gunshot wound to his right forearm. He was 25 years old.
Thomas Brooks Family Life
Thomas Brooks was born on 18 December 1893. His parents were Thomas and Thomasiana Brooks. Thomas senior was an Engine Driver for the London & North Western Railway. The family lived at 196 Worsley Road Winton in 1901 and remained at this address when Thomas junior left the army. In 1911 Thomas junior had been employed as a salesman at CWS. He had a sister, Gladys, and a younger brother, Alfred; who may have died in infancy.
After demobilisation Thomas Brooks married Ethel Fulton at Winton United Methodist Church on 5 July 1920. He was then employed as a drapery salesman, indicating that CWS may have upheld their commitment to re-employ returning soldiers. Thomas and Ethel had two sons, Geoffrey F, born 21 July 1922 and Dennis Thomas, born 1926. In 1939 the family lived at 9 Birch Road, Swinton and Thomas was employed as a drapery travelling salesman.
Thomas Brooks was awarded the Special Constabulary Long Service Medal during the reign of King George VI, 1936-52. The medal may be awarded to Special Constables who were recommended by the Chief Officer of Police of the department in which they serve so long as they have served for at least nine years, and willingly and competently discharged their duty as a Special Constable. Years of service during service during World War II from 3 September 1939 to 31 December 1945 were counted as triple.
The date of Thomas Brooks’ death has not been identified. Ethel passed away on 16 March 1970, aged 74. She lived at 8 Ruskin Avenue, Thornton Cleveleys, Lancs. It appears her son, Geoffrey, had died in 1941, aged 19. Dennis married twice and had three children. He died in Surrey in July 2016.
Sixteen men have been identified as serving in C Company of 17th Manchesters from Co-operative Wholesale Society. Thomas Brooks and his comrades in XI Platoon all survived hostilities. Six CWS men who trained in XII did not return.
The rejection of these Women Patrols was reported in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 18 December 1914. The editor angrily described the proposals as nonsensical and unpleasant, supporting the decision of the Manchester Watch Committee
Women Patrols 1 Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 18 December 1914
If “…these inquisitive and … prying women had been granted authorisation… it would be and an insult to the men of the Manchester battalions…with unpleasant results to the women who…appoint themselves as judges of character of men and women…and apparently intended to accost –and by so doing insult-which they chose to be about with immoral intentions.”
The proposed women patrols were described.
“We say nothing about the qualifications which these objectionable prudes plume themselves…thought reading abilities, and so on…”.
“Who are they to constitute themselves the judges of characters-by instinct we suppose? The young men who…do not require nurses or guardians and can protect themselves.”
“The probably have sweethearts , some may have wives. The old maids who want to be placement should not let their envy lead them to extremes. Tommy would not love “them” much if they insulted his sweetheart, and insult it would have been had these duennas addressed a couple without an introduction”
The Prude Prowlers clearly hit back – to no avail.
Women Patrols 3 Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 21 December 1914
Women Patrols 4 Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 21 December 1914
More than a century later, the prospect of women overseeing the men at Heaton Park seems obnoxious. These men were not angels, but they had come from white collar jobs, answering the call to duty, so there seems no justifacation for civilians to interfere with their moral, lifestyle, or relationship with sweethearts. 19 months later, the men were fighting in the Battle of the Somme. If individual morals needed policing, it was not the men who went over the top. Well done Mr Editor.
Welcome to a special Xmas edition of my Guest Feature where I’m gladly joined by Battlefield Guide, Author & Santa lookalike, Steve Smith, who’s here to dispel the myths & tell the real truths about the Christmas Truce of 1914. Anyone for a game of Footie?
I’ve been a battlefield guide since 2004, having left the RAF in 2003, where I served for 18 years as an RAF Police NCO at various bases in the UK and abroad and completed tours in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and in Macedonia on a NATO Peace Keeping mission. At present I assist students in attaining diplomas at various levels of education.
I’ve had an interest in military history since the age of 13 when I was introduced to my Great Grandfather Private G/5203 Frank Smith who served in the 7th and 8th Buffs in the Great War, was…
In a quiet reflective visit my dog and a daughter, we visited the Middlesex Regiment War Memorial this morning. I was thinking of numerous casualties from the Manchesters, but also six Privates from the Middlesex Regiment, who are not yet recognised as serving alongside 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment.
PW/4808 Ernest Green. NOK not known PW/4872 Harry Percy Brighton*. Son of James and Eleanor Brighton, of Bungay, Suffolk. PW/1996 John Fairlie. Husband of Annie Fairlie of Muswell Hill, Middlesex PW/1272 Joseph Shone. Son of Thomas Shone, of 8, Black Bank, Newcastle, Staffs. PW/3555 Albert Frederick Witten. Son of Albert and Kate Witten; husband of Maud B. Witten, of 2, Cranbury Rd., Fulham, London. PW/5210 Henry G Clark*. NOK not known
Four men (and two others unconfirmed*) from 18th (Public Works) Battalion Middlesex Regiment were attached to 17th Manchesters in mid-July 1916. The group were all casualties at Guillemont on 30 July 1916. With no known graves they all these men are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission roll identifies the casualties as 18th Middlesex Regiment, with no reference to their actual service on the Somme. It seems integral to the commemoration of men to have their Military exploits recognised with an accurate context. As such, there are current applications to have the records updated to identify the attachments to the 17th Manchesters.
As shown on the plaque, the memorial was moved from the Mill Hill Barracks site in 2012. We went to have a look there.
We also had a chat about a 17th Bttn London Regiment DCM Award
And also passed the imposing memorial for Mill Hill School – we missed the Mill Hill village memorial….
This is a quote from Pte 8055 A A Bell of 2nd City (17th) Battalion. He may have been referring to a speech during inspection of the City Battalions by Brig. Gen. Caunter, at Heaton Park on 22 October 1914. The men had recently received their new Tramguards uniforms and the image shows many officers still wore civilian clothes.
Brig Gen Caunter & City Bttn officers watch the marxh past Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 23 October 1914
Brig Gen Caunter inspection Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 23 October 1914
Brig Gen Caunter inspects 1st City Bttn Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 23 October 1914