B Company’s 2nd Lieutenant Callan-Macardle’s diary entry summed up the loss of his 17th Battalion
Officer colleagues at Montauban.
“All this world was ever dead to Vaudrey and Kenworthy, Clesham, Sproat, Ford and the other ranks we did not know how many. Vaudrey used to enjoy early morning parades. Clesham loved to hunt back in Africa
when the veldt was shimmering with the birth of a day.”
The Commanding Officer of 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Johnson had been wounded in the attack on Montauban on 1st July 1916.
Many of his fellow officers were less fortunate.
A Company OC, Captain Ford was wounded near the German front line and died of wounds the next day. Former Master of St. Bees, Cumberland, Reginald James Ford was 28 when he died. His father, F J Ford, lived at 30 Warwick Street, Oxford. He is buried at Dantzig Alley Cemetery near Mametz.
With thanks to Dr Tony Reeve of St Bees, we have the following entry in the St Bees School Roll of Honour:-
“Capt. R. J. Ford who was killed in action near Montauban on July 1, 1919, was captain of a gallant Manchester Regiment for which he helped to win undying fame by the fresh vigour and splendid originality it set up as an example to the formations of the British Army. His work began in the choir school of Queen’s College, Oxford, then as the College itself, and then he came as a master to St Bees. Here his development came rapidly, and when, one by one, masters were called off from varied duties to fulfil the privilege of this generation, it was Ford who took up their work in the Science School, in the charge of the Foundation, and of the O.T.C., until his own call came and he too went as cheerfully as to any privileged office.”
Apart from the A Company Officers’ deaths, Captain Stanley Kenworthy had died in the assault. As a former pupil of St Bees, it is poignant Stanley’s last resting place is also Dantzig Alley, with former St Bees Master, Captain Ford. Stanley was 32 when he died and left behind his mother Dinah T Kenworthy and father John Dalziel Kenworthy, of Seacroft, St. Bees, Cumberland.
Captain Norman Vaudrey is the third 17th Battalion Officer at Dantzig Alley. Norman was the son of Sir William and Lady Vaudrey, of 33, Mount Avenue, Ealing, London. He was Born in Eccles and 33 when he was killed at Glatz Redoubt during the assault on Montauban. Norman Vaudrey is also commemorated in Buxton see Buxton War Memorial. The Army List shows Norman was posted to the Battalion on 28th September 1914.
This includes a letter from Major Whitehead:-
Briefly, the 16th and 17th Battalions were in the firing line, and having passed over the German trenches were advancing on a village about 600 yard in rear when the first Company (‘A’ Company) was momentarily held up. Captain Vaudrey, commanding the second Company, went forward to ascertain the cause of the halt in advance when he was hit in the stomach by a bullet from a German machine gun, and died in 30 seconds in the arms of a Sergeant who was himself killed later.
Dantzig Alley British Cemetery now contains 2,053 burials and commemorations of the First World War. 518 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 17 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of 71 casualties buried in other cemeteries, whose graves were destroyed by shell fire. (Courtesy CWGC). Geoff of http://www.hut-six.co.uk/cgi-bin/search1421.php has assessed that Dantzig Alley has more graves for 1st July casualties than any other cemetery.
Two 17th Battalion subalterns were killed in the assault; one of which was probably acting OC of Arthur Bell’s III Platoon. Gerald Sproat and Thomas Henry Clesham have no known grave. It is possible that some other men from the Platoon are amongst the ‘Unknown Soldier’ graves at Dantzig Alley, but none have identified resting places. The remainder of are commemorated at the Thiepval Memorial.
Twenty two year old Lieutenant Sproat had been attached to 17th Battalion from the 11th Manchesters, with whom he had served in Gallipoli. The Army List shows he was posted to 11th Battalion on 29th September 1914. Kenneth Callan-MacCardle’s diary reported that he was blown up in the attack. Gerald was the son of a solicitor, Thomas Sproat and Mary Caroline, of 1, Rock Park, Rock Ferry, Cheshire. He had attended Winchester School and Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating in 1912. Gerald’s younger brother James survived the Montauban assault as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 17th Kings Liverpool Regiment. James was killed by artillery fire at Trones Wood on 11th July. He was an alumni of Rugby school attending at the same time as Alan Holt.
The Thiepval Memorial database suggests evidence that 2nd Lieutenant Clesham “…fell when just as led his men over the parapet and was killed instantly.” This correlates with Thomas being OC of III Platoon in the Montauban assault as described by Arthur Bell. “The first casualty I remember was our Platoon officer, we were in artillery formation and he was leading – but I do not think he could have been sniped, unless by some very clever German trickery. Anyhow, he just go it in the head with one leg off the ground, and must have died that instant.”
The database also says “He was a splendid type of officer and beloved by his comrades. Reported buried in the vicinity of Maricourt” This information would be consistent with a letter to may have been written to Thomas’ family after his death.
He had previously served in South Africa with the Natal Light Horse at the outbreak of hostilities. His mother Isabella (nee Mckeown) and father, Reverend Timothy Clesham had lived in County Mayo, Ireland. Rev Clesham has died in 1894. 34 year old Thomas left his Estate to his mother Isabella. The passenger list for Thomas Clesham’s passage on the Balmoral Castle from Southampton to Cape Town in 1912 identifies him as a dentist. An earlier voyage from Southampton to Cape Town has also been identified in 1907. A return journey on the Balmoral Castle on 2nd June 1915 indicates Thomas was an engineer from Transvaal. The Thiepval Database indicates he Graduated at Trinity College, Dublin and worked in the mining fields of S Africa. Thomas is included on Portora Great War Memorial in Enniskillen, Portora Royal School, Fermanagh. He is also included on the memorial of the Chemical, Metallurgical and Mining Society of South Africa Great War Memorial. Thomas had joined the Society in April 1911, employed by Simmer East Limited, as a sampler.
For profiles of the NCOs and men that died at Montauban, see Anniversary 1st July 1916 III Platoon Men.
For the details of the 1st July 1916 action, see The Big Push – Montauban.