Graham Maddocks introduction in his book on Montauban (Leo Cooper) sums up the challenge faced by people providing a commentary on the battles of the Somme, particularly balance of a small but significant success on the First Day, compared with the atrocious events along the front.
“…even after the passage of more than eighty years , this is still not a well known or accepted fact. Despite obvious and catastrophic set-backs, the men of these two divisions [18th & 30th] accomplished near miracles over difficult and varying terrain and even though it is odious to compare their success with the total failure elsewhere, it is that very failure that has fueled the public’s perception of the Somme battle ever since.”
This site must not be seen as impacting on the honour or memory men that fell on either side of the front line. It does seek to follow the journal of one man’s involvement in the furthest advance by the British Fourth Army on one of the most disastrous days in British history. He was fortunate to survive this encounter, but remarkably more lucky to survive subsequent assaults, where no objectives were held.
In some respects the subsequent failures of the 17th Manchesters redresses the balance of highlighting their success on the First Day. Ultimately, the story should be told and it is the tale of the men that is important; as much as the military consequences of events.
The focus on III Platoon provides a spotlight on one group of men in a relatively ‘standard’ Service Battalion. Arthur Bell highlighted his respect for Ralph ‘Jockey’ Miller and CQMS Joseph McMenemy. Equally a number of men received awards for valour. These aspects are reported in the context of the personalities involved. We leave it to the reader to assess relative heroics for themselves.
The focus of the site is limited to the Allied offensive near the Somme in 1916. To complete the context to the 17th Battalion record, subsequent major action are found at:-
Arras, Hindenburg Line – Heninel 23rd April 1917 / 3rd Battle of Ypres – 31st July 1917 / Polderhoek Ypres – December 1917 / March 1918 The German Spring Offensive – St Quentin & Spoil Bank, Ypres – April 1918
There is no doubt the surviving men of the Service Battalions held close bonds from their shared experiences on the Somme. Lt. Nash’s Diary noted former C Company OC, Captain Madden, as being posted to the 3rd Depot Battalion in Cleethorpes during 1917. “He and I spent a lot of time together”. “He [Sotham], and Slack and Madden and I held a Montauban celebration dinner on 1st July. We had a great and glorious do.”
Nash powerfully summed up some life long intimacies of the surviving troops thoughts and values. “I have lived a life of rare adventure…Gambling with death…I have learnt something of true values, in a land where life is no longer the most prized possession…In my struggle for existence in years to come…I have to strengthen me the memory of sterner fights…my colleagues who have stayed at home have become rich…I tell you that broken in health, I am richer than they. When I meet a chap hobbling along on crutches I need not look the other way.”
The Imperial War Museum and Commonwealth War Graves Commission were formed to remember events in the War and numerous Memorials are constructed in France, Britain and the Commonwealth.
A second dilemma concerns the wish to report the background to surviving men from the Battalion, while respecting those lost in hostilities. Arthur Bell went on to live a full and happy life. He married Alice Brown, the daughter of Mark Brown and Lydia Mason Atherton. They had a large family and lived in Stretford; moving to Handforth when Arthur anticipated the Luftwaffe in WW2 and finally Gatley (below).
Having worked as a clerk in a sports outfitters, cable manufacturers and Accountants, Arthur spent the majority of his career working int he Treasurer’s Department of Manchester City Council. Arthur joined the Income Section in 1921 and transferred to the Rates Section where he remained until his retirement in 1959.
During the Second World War, Manchester suffered major air raids from the Luftwaffe, especially during December 1940. Arthur continued his duties with the Council in the day time and acted as Fire Watcher during the night. Following these duties he suffered chest problems for the rest of his life resulting from smoke inhalation on the roof of the Town Hall.