While the 17th Battalion was based at Bethune, various specialist training took place. Arthur Bell recounted the dangers associated with his role of a bomber.
“At a lesson some time later, conducted by an officer of our own [Lieutenant Alan Holt], a similar accident occurred with rifle grenades, lives were lost (three I think), and the lieutenant himself was injured in the foot.”
Privates Robert Shaw 8857 and Joseph Wilcox 8930 died on 18th August 1916. Alan Armstrong 9168 died the next day.
Joseph Wilcox of I Platoon was the son of James and Hannah Wilcox, of 241, Manchester Rd., Walkden, Manchester. Joseph had enlisted in September 1914 and arrived in France after 1915. He was 22 when he died and is buried next to Robert Shaw in Bethune Town Military Cemetery.
Robert Edward Shaw ‘8857’ had been employed as a Warehouseman at Marlborough Mill, Failsworth, prior to enlistment on 3 Sept 1914, resident at 95 Turf Lane, Hollinwood. He trained with II Pln and went to France on 08/11/1915. The son of the late Elizabeth Shaw and George Henry Shaw c/o Castle Market, Leek, Staffs.
Adam Armstrong was 29 when he died. He had worked for James Wrigley Ltd and was the son of Emily Armstrong, of 18, Yates Terrace, Calrows, Elton, Bury. Enlisting in January 1915 and training in XV Pln, Pte Armtrong disembarked with the Bn on 08/11/1915. Adam is buried in Chocques Military Cemetary. Chocques was at one time the headquarters of I Corps and from January 1915 to April 1918, No.1 Casualty Clearing Station was posted there. The Manchester newspapers confirmed Adam’s treatment there.
Private Harold Bretnall of III Platoon had been promoted to Lance Corporal on 8th August 1916. His service record shows he was accidentally wounded on 18th August. Harold had been trained at the Trench Mortar School in December 1915, which makes it likely he was part of fatal accident during rifle grenade training. After initial treatment in the field, Lance Corporal Brentall was transferred to Wimereux Hospital later in August and then returned to Home Depot in Manchester in September 1916.
Private Harry Hudson of D Company was another man presumed injured in the accident. Harry was a former pupil of Arthur’s school Manchester Warehouseman and Clerks Orphans’ School
Lt Alan Holt recovered and was awarded a Military Cross for his actions at Heninel in April 1917.