Private Allan Arthur Bell, 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment

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.

How came I to get a hole in the hat.”Steel Helmet


Rebuilding Montauban 1923

CWGC Archive has a plethora of documents and images.  The 1923 photopgraphs from the Giffard collection caught my eye. CWGC/9/2/3/1

The faces of the local people who had returned to their village are resonant.  The absence of the pre-war villages and ruins from 1916 are also thought provoking.

Journal on the Clegg Brothers from Oldham and their War Memorial Plaque.

Sergeant John & Lieutenant James Clegg of 6th & 10th Battalions Manchester Regiment died in Gallipoli in the fighting of 1915.  Their mother endowed a bed in Oldham Royal Infirmary and the plaque was installed near to it.  I received the plaque a few years ago and have now researched the men and the plaque.  Here is their story:-

The plaque will be delivered to the Manchester Regiment Museum when it reopens.

‘Honour the dead, remember the living’ – Peace Day and protest, 19th July 1919

The Post War mood and context of Manchester life in July 1919. Great article by Caroline Scott.

23rd Manchester

With the treaty negotiations at Versailles finally complete and peace signed at the end of June 1919, a national celebration – ‘Peace Day’ – was fixed for the 19th of July 1919. Plans were announced to light a chain of bonfires down the country (nodding back to the beacons that were lit to warn of the approach of the Spanish Armada on 19 July 1588) and a grand Victory Parade was being prepared for in London.

From the outset, though, there seems to have been some disquiet and confusion as to what ‘Peace Day’ was meant to represent – and whether it ought to be a jubilant celebration or a solemn commemoration. Its reporting in the Manchester papers reflects this ambiguity and the mixed enthusiasm for the project. ‘Anyone who goes outside his house and garden ought to be able to see by this time that the country as…

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Pte 9511 George William Rodger. Died of Wounds 2nd July 1916

This page follows Susan Davies’ post in the Guest Book introducing her Great Uncle George William Rodger.

George was born in Manchester in the second quarter of 1896. His parents were Robert and Elizabeth Emily Rodger.  Robert was a plumber at Manchester Corporation and the couple had eleven children, of which eight survived until 1911.  The 1911 census shows George was employed as an Apprentice Electrician and lived with his parents, five sisters, an elder brother and a niece at 11 Union Street, Hulme.

The 2nd City (later 17th) Battalion was formed on 2nd September 1914.  Four Companies were promptly formed, principally being clerks and warehouseman from the City.  It was known as the 2nd Pals Battalion.  By January 1915, a number of the volunteers had proven unfit, or too old, for service and it was decided that further recruitment was needed for overseas service.

The original men had formed four Companies A – D and the Battalion comprised approximately 1,000 men.  The new recruits formed E Company and were bolstered by some officers and Non Commissioned Officers from the established Companies.

George Rodger enlisted in the Battalion on 15th March 1915 and by April 1915; he had been posted to XVIII Platoon of E Company.  George claimed an age of 19 years and 2 months, when he was still 18.  He was 5’ 4 1/2” tall and weighed 114 lbs.  He had left employment as a turner with Parmiter, Hope & Sugden, electrical equipment manufacturers of Ellesmere Street, Hulme.

The exclusive nature of the middle class recruitment of white collar men had stopped for E Company.  Members of XVIII Platoon included a group of miners from Tyldesley and Albert Hurst, who had been to public school, but worked for a marine engineer.  Second in Command of E Company was Reginald Ford, who had been a school master at St Bees School and Commanding Officer of their Officer Training Corps.  The Platoon Commander was Alastair Gregory Cameron, who had attended a boarding school in Edinburgh and was employed in a shipping warehouse in Liverpool.

XVIII Pln Roll 17th Bttn

XVIII Pln Roll.  George was absent for the Platoon Photo

After initial training at Heaton Park, Manchester, the Battalion left for Belton Park, Lincolnshire in April 1915.  The main Battalion then moved to Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain in September 1915 and embarked for France on 8th November.

Most of E Company was merged into A – D Companies at the end of August 1915, with younger and less experienced men being held back to form part of the 25th (Reserve) Battalion.  As a relatively new member of the Battalion, George was transferred to 25th Battalion on 30th August.  They trained at Manchester, Altcar and Press Heath.  George was not an exemplary soldier, being confined to barracks on three occasions, totalling six days.  His offences were neglect of duty, creating a disturbance and insubordination.

By December 1915 George and a group of other members of 25th Battalion had been suitably trained and prepared for overseas service.  A draft of men embarked at Folkestone on 24th December 1915 and arrived at the 30th Infantry Brigade Depot on Christmas Day. The draft was initially posted to undertake fatigues with 2nd Entrenching Battalion, most likely near Ypres in Belgium.

George was posted back to 17th Battalion in France on 20th February 1916 and joined D Company.The Battalion had arrived at the southern end of the British sector in January and manned the infamous trenches near Maricourt and Vaux, near to the river Somme.

The British and French Army launched a huge offensive near the Somme on 1st July 1916.  17th Battalion was part of 30th Division and advanced from their familiar trenches near Maricourt to the fortress village of Montauban.  The Division included four Battalions of the Manchester Regiment.

The Battalion succeeded in their assault on Montauban and held their new positions against two German counter-attacks and significant bombardment from the German artillery.  They were withdrawn after dawn on 3rd July.

Records show George died of wounds at Montauban on either 1st or 2nd July 1916.  He has no known grave and George is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

160701 Montauban DefencesThe record as Died of Wounds indicates George had been recorded as receiving some treatment, probably at a Regimental Aid Post.  Soldiers Effects record his death on 2nd July and it is likely that George died at the Aid Post near the Montauban cross-roads (Pals Memorial), or down in the valley near Talus Bois.

Pals Memorial MontaubanAs George had received treatment it is most likely he was buried by his comrades near the Aid Post.  Many graves were lost in the continuing and repeated fighting and there is strong speculation that wooden grave markers were used as fire wood by the German Infantry that swept back through the area in the 1918 Spring Offensive.  As such, one may hypothesise that George may remain buried in the village, or the quiet valley to the south.

Family and friends published many obituaries in the Manchester Evening News and further entries were made on the 1917 Anniversary of George’s death.  Reference is made to his friend Pte 8198 Arthur Johnson.  Arthur had worked for William Delaney Limited before enlisting on 2nd September 1914.  He was a few months older than George and Arthur lived at 5 Union Street, Hulme; a few doors from George.




The obituaries also mention George’s sweetheart Dena.  Dena hasn’t been identified.

Numerous Manchester Pals are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.  Many remain buried in the village of Montauban and surrounding fields.  George William Rodger is not forgotten.

All Press Reports courtesy British Library. Crown Copyright.

These supplementary photos may show George.




Pte 8207 Harold Knowlson. Died of Wounds 3rd July 1916. Enlisted aged 16.

Harold Knowlson enlisted in the 2nd City Battalion and received the Regimental Number 8207, in the sequence allocated to men joining the Colours on 2nd September 1914.  He had left is job at Simpson & Godlee Limited, Salford and lived with his parents Annie and Charles at 235 Ashton New Road, Beswick.  Harold had been born in Ancoats on 8th July 1898.  He was 16 years and two months old, despite the minimum age being 18 for Home service.

17th Bttn B COy VIII Pln Pic

VIII Platoon Photo at Heaton Park in April 1915, including 17 year old Harold Knowlson

Following the Battalion training in England, Harold disembarked with 17th Manchesters at Boulogne on 8th November 1915.  Harold had trained in Heaton Park with VIII Platoon

Captain J G Madden DSO June 1918 © IWM (HU 117797)

Captain J G Madden DSO June 1918 © IWM (HU 117797)

of B Company under the Command of Lieutenant John Greville Madden*1.  Private 8829 Eugene Chevalier Royle was another member of VIII Platoon and former employee of Simpson & Godlee Limited.  23 year old Eugene probably joined the Battalion on 3rd September.  He served to the end of hostilities until he was transferred to Reserve on 8th March 1919.  He received a Pension resulting from a gunshot wound to his Perineum.

Harold and Eugene served in the trenches and took part in the assault on Montauban on 1st July 1916.  Harold was severely wounded in the battle and died of his wounds on 3rd July.  He was buried in Peronne Road Cemetery, Maricourt.  This was behind the initial line of assault and close to Regimental Aid Posts, including one based at the former Brewery Buildings. The position of his burial close to the front would indicate Harold had been wounded on 2nd July, as he would have been evacuated further to the rear if his wounds had been earlier. Harold was still 18 years old when he died, five days short of his 19th Birthday and the minimum age for overseas service.

One of Harold’s elder brothers, William had also arrived in France on 8th November 1915.  William had enlisted as Private 20301 in 22nd Battalion.  He trained with V Platoon of B Company, prior to volunteering for 30th Division Cyclists Company.  This unit subsequently became XIIIth Corps Cyclists Battalion of the Army Cyclists Corps and William received the Regimental Number 9720.  William survived hostilities and was transferred to Reserve on 10th February 1919.

The boys’ father, Charles, died in Manchester on 24th November 1916.


*1 Lieutenant J G Madden had been promoted to the Rank of Captain by 1st July 1916.  He was Officer in Command of C Company was received the Military Cross for his role in the assault. His citation published on 25/08/1916 reads “For conspicuous gallantry in action. When the leading waves of attack were wavering after losing most of their officers, he pushed forward, rallied the men and led them into the village. Later he organised and led a party which repelled a counter attack.”
Another member of VIII Platoon was my great Uncle Pte 8923 Herbert Vernon.

17th Bttn B Coy VIII Pln


Manchesters commemorated on Pozieres Memorial

This Post commemorates the men of the Manchester Regiment, killed in the German Spring Offensive, that commenced 101 years ago today.

Pozieres is a village 6 kilometres north-east of the town of Albert. The Memorial encloses Pozieres British Cemetery which is a little south-west of Pozieres on the main road, D929, from Albert to Bapaume. On the road frontage is an open arcade terminated by small buildings and broken in the middle by the entrance and gates. Along the sides and the back, stone tablets are fixed in the stone rubble walls bearing the names of the dead grouped under their Regiments.

The memorial relates to the period of German Spring Offensive, or “Kaiserschlacht”, in March and April 1918 when the British Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers, and the months that followed before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918.

The memorial stands on a ridge that can be seen from many vantage points  in the heart of the Somme battlefields of 1916.  This location seemed a little incongruous to me, as most Manchester Regiment commemorations are men killed near St Quentin – almost 30 miles to the south east.   In the centenary year I then learned more about the German successes of Operation Michael, sweeping through the Somme area in May 1918, driving through the retreating 5th Army towards Amiens.  The area was then returned to Allied hands in the Advance to Victory.

Pozierers British Cemetery

Pozierers British Cemetery

The Memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces who have no known grave and who died on the Somme from 21 March to 7 August 1918. The memorial encloses POZIERES BRITISH CEMETERY where 2,758 Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated. There is also 1 German soldier buried there. The cemetery and memorial were designed by W.H. Cowlishaw, with sculpture by Laurence A. Turner. The memorial was unveiled by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien on 4 August 1930.


497 casualties of the Manchester Regiment are inscribed on the panels of the Memorial.  This includes 48 members of the 17th Battalion.  Two Lance Corporals, 8046 Sidney Ackerley MM and 8058 Thomas Barrow, are included in the roll.  Their service numbers denote that these men had been some of the first to enlist when the 2nd City Battalion was formed on 2nd September 1914. They also disembarked in Boulogne together with the main part of the Battalion on 8th November 1915.   Most of the 17th Battalion inscriptions were men killed in the defences near Etreillers on 22nd March 1918.

81 casualties of 16th Battalion are recorded at Pozieres including Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob VC DSO MC.  The former Merchiston Castle teacher and Commanding Officer of the 16th Manchesters was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his spirited defence of Manchester Hill.  This is Wilfrith’s citation:-

For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice during operations at Manchester Redoubt, near St. Quentin, on the 21 March 1918.

During the preliminary bombardment he encouraged his men in the posts in the Redoubt by frequent visits, and when repeated attacks developed controlled the defence at the points threatened, giving personal support with revolver, rifle and bombs. Single-handed he repulsed one bombing assault driving back the enemy and inflicting severe casualties.

Later, when ammunition was required, he made several journeys under severe fire in order to replenish the supply.

Throughout the day Lieutenant-Colonel Elstob, although twice wounded, showed the most fearless disregard of his own safety, and by his encouragement and noble example inspired his command to the fullest degree.

The Manchester Redoubt was surrounded in the first wave of the enemy attack, but by means of the buried cable Lieutenant-Colonel Elstob was able to assure his Brigade Commander that “The Manchester Regiment will defend Manchester Hill to the last.”

Sometime after this post was overcome by vastly superior forces, and this very gallant officer was killed in the final assault, having maintained to the end the duty which he had impressed on his men – namely, “Here we fight, and here we die.”

He set throughout the highest example of valour, determination, endurance and fine soldierly bearing.

264 members of the 2nd Line Territorial Battalions and 77 casualties serving with 1/9th Battalion are commemorated.  These men were predominately on 21st March 1918 on the first day of the German onslaught near Havrincourt.


The Memorial is formed by inscriptions of names on the the rear and flank walls of the Cemetery. The Manchester Regiment panel are on the right side of the rear wall.


CWGC Cemetery Details


March 21, 2019

101 years ago today, Sgt Bert Brown was killed near Manchester Hill, attached to 90th Trench Mortar Battery.  Stuart Brown has provided this Guest Post with a strong narrative on Bert and some wonderful photos.  Sharing these resources produces some real gems for the wider project.  Small aspects of clarifcation include more understaning of an MC Citation and larger gems are photos of mostly otherwise unknown members of the Battalion.

Source: My Uncle Bert – Sgt 8060 Herbert Brown | 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment on the Somme