Military Medal discovery – Private 41656 Ernest William Cutcliffe MM

Portrait image courtesy the Faversham Society. This shows Ernest Cutcliffe wearing his new uniform in 1916 and the West Kents cap badge.

Various published resources have been used to compile the lists of Awards for 17th Manchester.  It comes as a pleasant surprise to help identify a further Military Medal award for Ernest Cutcliffe.

Pte Cutcliffe’s MM Award certificate from 30th Divsion. (c) Faversham Society

The sequence of Private Cutcliffe’s service number, 41656, is consistent*1 with men who enlisted in the Derby / Group Scheme with the Queens Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) during December 1915.  Ernest was probably mobilised for duty in late spring 1916 and received the West Kent Regimental Number G/16236 – with G denoting General Service. He will have trained for five-six months with one of the West Kent Reserve Battalions. 3rd and 12th (Reserve) Battalions were based in Chatham and Aldershot respectively.

It is anticipated Ernest disembarked in France in October 1916 and he probably joined an Infantry Brigade Depot near a Channel Port.  The Battle of the Somme was in full force and men arriving from England were posted to Regiments with the most need.  Circumstances indicate he was part of a draft of 133 men that arrived with 17th Battalion in the Field at Ribemont on 23rd-27th October 1916.  The Battalion had suffered 245 casualties at Flers and the reinforcements were needed to replenish the ranks.

Ernest will have been present when 17th Battalion made an assault in the area of the Hindenberg Line, near Arras on 23 April 1917.  The Battalion was then withdrawn from the line and later moved up to the Ypres Salient.

Private Cutcliffe’s Military Medal award was published in the London Gazette of 29 August 1917, which generally records awards relating to events @ two months prior.  The Certificate signed by Major General Williams confirms he was serving with 17th Battalion in action near Hooge.  A review of the War Diary provides only one instance when the Battalion were in the Hooge are in the relevant time frame.

17th Manchesters had moved to the Forward Area east of Zillebeke on 9 June.  The War Diary records the principal action in this period:-

“On the night of 13/14 June at 1AM, a RAIDING PARTY consisting on 2nd LT [Stanislaus Alfred] Knowles and 53 OR [Other Ranks] entered enemy lines and took 2 prisoners – Our Casualties 3 OR slightly wounded.”

While no specific location is provided for the Trench Raid, the War Diary clearly identifies the Battalion were holding trenches in the Line opposite the German strong point at Hooge, on the Menin Road.  As there are no other records indicating the men were present in the area in this period, it seems most likely the Private Cutcliffe earned his award during the successful raid.

Citations are not published for Military Medals and the War Diary doesn’t mention Ernest’s award.  Other Military Medals were awarded for acts of bravery in the face of the enemy, leadership, selfless recovery of wounded comrades, or saving other lives through preventing further casualies.  It is interesting to note that the 2nd Lieutenant Knowles had only joined the Battalion from Base on 28 May 1917 – just two weeks prior.  It is anticipated a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer will have taken responsibility for the Raid and this man will have supported the recommendation for the award provided by the subaltern.

The next time 17th Battalion entered the Line was 31st July 1917, in the opening of the 3rd Battle of Ypres.  A possible explanation for Private Cutcliffe’s Military Medal being omitted from the War Diary was that he had not been present when the Award was made.  It is therefore anticipated that Ernest was probably wounded in the Trench Raid, or the assault from Sanctuary Wood at the end of July 1917. 

The Medal Roll indicates Ernest was subsequently posted to 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion at Cleethorpes – confirming he must have been posted Home, wounded or sick.  3rd Battalion then garrisoned the Humber Defences and acted as a training unit for some new recruits, but principally a posting for men recuperating after wounds, prior to them returning to active duty.

Ernest Cutcliife returned to the Western Front and transferred to 1/5th Battalion (Green Howards) Yorkshire Regiment, service number 35402.  In addressing other men who transferred to 5th Yorks*2 there is evidence a draft from 3rd Manchesters disembarked at Boulogne, posted to 9th Manchesters on 4 April.  After arrival at 30th Infantry Brigade Depot at Etaples the draft was posted to 1/5th Yorks on the next day.  The draft joined the Yorkshires in the field on 7 April 1918.

1/5th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment had previously been fighting against the German Spring Offensive south of Peronne.  By 9 April they had moved north to assist with the defence against the second part of German offensive at the River Lys.  By 11 April the Battalion was seeking to hold defences north of the village of Estaires.

50th Division History recounts “At 9.5am 5th Green Howards reported that the enemy pressure on the front was great.  Fighting hard, the Green Howards held on until practically surrounded.  Many were captured and wounded owing to impossibility of getting away.”

5th Yorks War Diary for 11/12April records 6 Other Ranks Dead, 73 men wounded and 159 captured.  Ernest Cutcliffe had been wounded in the arm and captured by the Germans.  Ernest’s arm was later amputated.

Prisoner of War notifacation. (C) Sara Trillo

Ernest wrote to his wife Ada on 27 April, explaining that he had been wounded and captured.  He endeavoured to put her mind at rest by saying he was “…going on alright and they are very kind to me here.”  In reality, Ernest must still have been suffering from his wounds and the German censors may not have permitted him to provide a more expansive reflection on his treatment.  The German Military provided notification of his Prisoner of War status on 9 May 1918.

Cutcliffe E W Letter 27.4.1918 (c) Sara Trillo

Ernest wrote to Ada for a second time on 15 May 1918 stating “I am still improving & on the way to recovery…I don’t want you to worry in the least”

Recovery was sadly was not the case, as Ernest Cutcliffe died in the Fortress Hospital, Cologne on 18 June 1918, aged 43.  He is buried at Cologne Southern Cemetery.

Cutcliffe E W, Cologne Southern Cemetery (c) Findagrave

Ada was notified of his death on 24 June 1918.  She lived at 22 Kingsworth Road, Faversham, Kent.  The couple had two daughters, Blanche Ada, aged 15 and Vera Alice, aged 7.  Ada received Ernest’s balance of pay, a War Gratuity and Widows Pension.  She will have also received Ernest’s Memorial Plaque, together with the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

Cutcliffe E W Death notifacation (c) Sara Trillo

Ernest was the son of Thomas Brown and Elizabeth Mary Ann Cutcliffe. He was born in Southwark on 11 August 1878 and had grown up in south London.  Ernest married Ada at Lambeth in 1902.  By 1911 the family had moved to Faversham, where Ernest was employed as a Billposter.

Thanks to Martin for introducing his Great Uncle and providing evidence on the Manchesters Forum, where Charlie offered significant help, particulalry Prisoner of War records. Also credit to Artist Sara Trillo for her interest in Ernest and documents she provided.  Thanks to the Faversham Society for keeping and cataloguing the records, so Sara could find them.

*1 Pte 41653 (Ernest 41656) Ebenezer James Cornell attested under the Derby Scheme in the West Kent’s in Dec 1915 – No 16261 (Ernest 16236). He was mobilised on 21/06/1916 and posted to their 3rd Bttn.  Ebenezer joined the BEF on 11/10/1916 and was transferred to 17th Bttn on 22/10/1916.  He was killed in 3rd Ypres on 31/07/1917.

*2 Privates 35414 Frederick Holdsworth and 35430 Edwin Slater were posted from 3rd to 9th Manchesters on arrival in France on 4/4/1918, prior to transfer to 1/5th Yorks on 5/4/1918 and joining the Battalion on 7/4/1918.  Both men were also captured on 11/4/1918 and held as Prisoners of War.

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