Manchester Hill – “Here we fight – and here we die”

Manchester Hill, near St Quentin is renowned for the bravery and valour displayed by 16th Battalion Manchester Regiment.  It formed a salient in the thinly held British line on 21st March 1918, when the Germans began their Spring Offensive. The strong point provided a commanding view to the German line in front of St Quentin and the flanks, overlooking Francilly-Seleny to the north and Dallon in the south.

The position had been taken by the 2nd Manchester in April 1917 and the Germans wanted to take back the prime high ground as a major step in their advance back through the Somme area.  The British strategy was undermined by thick fog, which enabled the German infantry to advance into the defences before the Manchesters could repel them under a storm of gas and artillery fire.  They were led by Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for the action.  A brief summary can be found here – Manchester CC

“Elstob led the heroic defence of Manchester Hill telling his men “Here we fight – and here we die”. The attack was preceded by a storm of artillery fire, both high explosive and gas. Despite most of his men being killed or injured, and he himself wounded three times, he maintained that ‘the Manchester Regiment will defend Manchester Hill to the last.’ 

Elstob inspired and led his men, fighting fiercely himself. He embodied all that was noblest in the Regiment he loved so well. On the eve of the battle, he wrote to a friend, “If I die, do not grieve for me, for it is with the sixteenth that I would gladly lay down my life.

The soldiers fought bravely to defend their hill position, but German reinforcements meant that they were fighting against overwhelming odds. Despite a heroic defence, the action was unsuccessful with many dead or wounded by 4pm that day.

Elstob was shot and killed. Of the 168 men who fought to defend the position, only 17 managed to return to the British Lines. In total 79 were killed and the rest were either wounded or taken into captivity as prisoners of war.”

Further Reading – Manchesters.org and Robert Bonner’s excellent biography.

This post is published on 21st March 2020, 102 years after the 16th Manchesters fought at Manchester Hill.