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.
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.