Author Archives: 8055bell

Sgt 9224 Norman Donald Crichton MM. Escaped Prisoner of War

Prisoner of War (PoW) records for 17th Battalion have proven hard to find and limited in scope, particularly for other ranks.  Following a tip from a researcher at Manchester Police Museum we’ve found a detailed record and example of conditions and treatment of PoWs.

Norman Crichton became a Manchester City Policeman in February 1914.  He walked the beat at Levenshulme and also served part time with 6th (Territorial) Battalion Cheshire Regiment.  With a previous a service record in the Cheshire Regiment Special Reserve in 1910, we know that he had been 5’ 10 ½“ tall at the age of 17, indicating a man of some stature. 

At the peak of Lord Kitchener’s recruitment campaign, the City Police were required to stay at their duty and it was not until January 1915 that they were permitted to join the services. Many Manchester Policemen joined 17th Battalion, including Norman Crichton, who enlisted with his police colleagues on 25 January 1915.

Recognising his experience and discipline, Norman was swiftly promoted to the rank of Sergeant in VII Platoon of B Company.

Sgt Norman Crichton was photographed as part of VII Pln B Coy at Heaton Park in April 1915. Due to his age and stature he is probably the Sgt on the left of the image. City Battalions Book of Honour

Sgt Crichton disembarked with 17th Battalion on 8 November 1915 and served in the Somme trenches during the first half of 1916.  As part of the 30th Division assault on Montauban the Battalion successfully liberated the village of Montauban on 1st July 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme.

Just over a week later, the Battalion was called back into the action with an assault on Trones Wood on 9 July 1916.  The dawn advance was initially successful with most of the tear drop shaped wood being held by 90th Brigade by the end of the morning.  Continual bombardment from three points of the compass rendered holding the wood untenable and the Manchester Regiment and Royal Scots Fusiliers were forced to withdraw.  In the melee of artillery of shells in dense shattered timber many wounded were unable to re-join the British lines and isolated groups of 17th Battalion soldiers were left behind.  Many of these men were killed in the ensuing German counterattack and others were captured as PoWs.

When PoWs returned to the UK they were interviewed by the Army and notes were taken on the circumstances of their being taken prisoner and treatment in captivity.  Norman Crichton’s report is now available from the National Archives WO/161/100/221.  This source is credited for the subsequent images.

Norman Crichton confirms his Battalion and Regimental Number, with his mother’s address as Western Lea, Offerton, Stockport.  He confirmed that he had been wounded in the back and unconscious when the German’s found him.

Norman was taken to a dressing station behind the German lines and transferred to a Cambrai hospital where treatment was clearly limited and “…the doctor was inclined to be brutal.” 

As part of a group of “…slightly wounded…” PoWs Norman was transferred to Dulmen Camp on a two day journey in filthy cattle trucks with limited rations.  Spending four weeks at Dulmen, Norman was transferred to an NCOs Camp at Minden on 24 September 1916.

Norman spent five months in captivity at Minden.  NCOs  could evidently be required to work yet the men were imprisoned for refusing to volunteer for employment and forced into work after their release.  Conditions were insanitary and badly maintained. Some German guards also bullied the prisoners including hitting men with the butts of their rifles, leading to an incident were a PoW was court martialled and shot for fighting back at his aggressor. Some improvements were made after an American inspection and Red Cross parcels arrived with the men from family and friends.

Departing Minden in February 1917, Norman was transferred to the Grossenwedermoor section of Soltau Camp. Other Red Cross records show Norman on the Roll of Prisoners at Sprottau Camp.  This reference does not conform with his own report and may relate to the period when Norman was transferred. 

Norman spent eight months at the NCO’s Grossenwedermoor Camp, which also offered poor conditions. The PoWs slept in large barrack rooms with 80 men, on heather filled mattresses. Men who couldn’t work were sent to a punishment camp.  There were more than 400 NCOs and 80 Privates.  A party of emaciated PoWs at the camp in August 1917.  Privates could be required to work for the Germans and Norman’s group placed corporal stripes on a Private Joseph Thomas of the Manchester Regiment to prevent him working.


Poor treatment by the guards continued including Lieutenant-Feldwebel Bohr, who was always looking for trouble, confiscated food and threw it away.  He also forced the PoWs to parade for seven hours, in freezing conditions without food. One man was hit with a rifle for failing to stand perfectly still.  Bohr also stopped Red Cross parcels for three weeks from March 1917 and tried to make the NCOs work.  Parcels eventually arrived with the tobacco removed and food products having rotted.

The men complained about Bohr with  a visiting German General who solely affirmed the status of Bohr’s discipline.  A visiting Dutch Minister was more sympathetic but no changes were made by the Germans.

Sergeant Crichton took responsibility for the Lazeret – isolating men due to disease – as he medical experience.  Conditions were dreadful with lice and flea ridden heather mattresses. A visiting German doctor inspected an outbreak of boils among the men but offered no intervention.

Further brutality was also noted from a guard / interpreter named Hast. A prisoner, Corporal Patrick Wright, described as insane, was struck by Haas. Cpl Wright then hit Hast and knocked two of his teeth out. Wright was imprisoned and later transferred to neutral Holland.  Norman Crichton was also imprisoned for punching Hast, after Norman had refused to bandage his foot using English stores.  Norman’s two month sentence was reduced to 31 days.

Sergeant Crichton was transferred to Heestenmoor Camp from 5 September 1917 to December 1917.  He described much improved conditions and discipline among the guards.  Some complaints were made and there was an incident when a feldwebel cut a PoW with his sword for refusing to work.

Transferred to the NCOs  Hulseberg camp near Soltau on 19 December 1917, conditions were also bad with poor hygiene and no chimney for the fires.  Norman Crichton to work in the lazeret with assistance from two French PoWs.  A helpful doctor also visited twice a week. Food parcels were delayed and a German Captain stole some of the contents.

There were also French, Russian, Serbian and Belgian prisoners at the camp and Norman recorded that many died due to weakness and TB.  Bodies were left in the barrack block for days before removal as an example of the brutality and terrible hygiene.

Working parties in heather factories and wood cutting were housed outside the main camp in smaller units with varied conditions. Norman described that one such camp had no barbed wire and some prisoners had been recaptured after their attempted escape.


Norman Crichton recorded some treacherous behaviour by some British NCOs.  Endeavouring to gain liberty from the reported grievances on other PoWs to the German captors, leading to punishment.  Norman was imprisoned in these circumstances due to the actions of a British Sergeant and Sergeant Major.  He did not provide names of the guilty parties but confirmed he would act as witness in any court martial and names of other witnesses including Corporal 1074 Arthur Freeth of 1st Battalion.

Norman Crichton escaped from Hulseberg on 6 March 1918 and was interviewed on 3 May 1918.  It is not recorded how he had made is escape and returned to England via Rotterdam by 28 March.  Norman was transferred to reserve on 21 September 1918 and lived at 52 Mill Lane, Reddish.  He received an army pension relating 40% disability due to Debility. 

Manchester Evening News 28 March 1918

Norman was awarded a Military Medal in 1920, presumably relating to his escape from captivity. He had married Frances Taylor in Stockport in 2nd quarter 1918.  It appears they had a son, Jack D Crichton who died in infancy during 1919.  Norman Colin Crichton and Dennis Crichton were born in 1924 and 1926 respectively.

Norman Donald Crichton died in Stockport in 1st quarter 1961, aged 67.

By 1918 Germany was desperately short of food and resources.  PoWs clearly suffered in this context and also due the to the maltreatment of German guards.  It seems private soldiers fared the worst. PoWs moved between numerous camps and then went to work outside the camps.  The conditions and hygiene in the camps was poor with overcrowding. 

I had never read about British soldiers gaining favour by ‘grassing’ up their comrades. I hope suitable justice was gained for Norman and others who suffered this.  It seems incredible that a Sergeant Major would be guilty of such behaviour.  It has not been found whether Norman rejoined the City Police but his evidence to any court or enquiry would undoubtedly have been deemed reliable.

The policeman who joined 17th Battalion in January 1915 were a significant late addition to the ranks, especially senior NCOs.  Many gained awards to gallantry and a large number were casualties.

Private 15167 Frank Percival 24th Bn Manchester Regiment

Frank Percival is my 2xGreat Uncle or Arthur Bell’s daughter in law, Margaret Bell (My Mum) Nee Percival’s Great Uncle. 

Frank Percival was the son of John and Sarah Ann Percival of Oldham.  He was christened at Hollinwood Parish Church on 19 April 1878. Frank had one sister and four brothers, including Margaret Bell’s grandfather, Harry.  Frank married Esther Lees at Hollinwood Chrich on 27 April 1898 and the couple had four children from 1899-1909.

Frank was employed as a fitter and resident at 33 Horsedge Street, Oldham when he enlisted in 24th (Oldham) Battalion Manchester Regiment on 15 March 1915. He was relatively tall at 5’ 9” and weighed 174 lbs.  24th Bn had been formed in Oldham on 24 October 1914.  Four Companies had been recruited and in January 1915 it had been decided to enlist a fifth Reserve Company.  Frank was posted to XVII Platoon of this E Company and undertook initial training at Lanfairfechan in Wales.  24th Bn later moved to Lark Hill with the other City Battalions and finally Lark Hill on Salisbury Plan on 12 September 1915.

Frank has been sentenced to 168 hours of Field Punishment No 2 at Lark Hill for using threatening language to an NCO, seemingly Lance Corporal W H Lees – who did not embark for France with the Bn.  The punishment was later revoked.

Frank landed at Boulogne with 24th Bn on 9 November 1915 as part of 91st Brigade.  The Battalion was transferred to 22nd Brigade of 7th Division in December 1915 and converted to 7th Division’s Pioneer Battalion on 22 May 1916.  During the early months of 1916 24th Bn served in the Somme sector of the Western Front.  Records indicate Frank was posted to D Company in April 1915.

Frank was taken ill in June 1916.  He was admitted to 22 Field Ambulance suffering Pyrexia of Unknown Origin (medical term usually applied to Trench Fever) on 30 June 1916.  Transferred to 34 Casualty Clearing Station on 2 July and No 2 Stationery Hospital on 2 July Frank was evacuated home on board Hospital Ship Panama and posted to Depot on 4 July 1916.

Following recovery Frank was granted furlough at home for nine days commencing 5 September 1916.  He was subsequently posted to 3rd Bn at Cleethorpes on 15 September until he was transferred to Class W Reserve on 14 December 1916. Frank was then employed on war work at Ruston, Proctor & Co at Sheaf Iron Works, Lincoln.

Frank was discharged unfit on 8 February 1919. He received the Trio of Service Medals.

Commemorating three East Finchley soldiers from a single family

(Apologies for being off-topic)

East Finchley born and bred, Henry and Edward Smith were both local casualties of the Great War, along with Henry’s widow’s brother, Ernest Waters.  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) commemorates Edward Smith on the Loos Memorial and adopted Ernest Waters’ burial at Chesham in 2018.  Henry Smith’s burial is now awaiting War Grave status.  All three men are omitted from the East Finchley, Holy Trinity Roll of Honour, despite Henry actually being interred in the Churchyard.

Henry Thomas Smith was born on 25 August 1890 as the first child of Henry and Susannah Smith.  Henry Snr. was a builder’s labourer and the family lived at 18 Arelon Road, Finchley.  The couple had three further children, Charles (1891), Edward (1897) and Susannah (1899).  Henry and Edward were baptised at Holy Trinity on 7 August 1892 and 2 May 1897 respectively.

Henry Sr. died in 1900, aged 31 and was buried in Holy Trinity Churchyard on 10 April 1900.  The family had then been living at 12 Prospect Place, East Finchley.   Susannah’s mother is noted as Head of the Household in the 1901 Census at the same address. 

Susannah remarried Benjamin Hume at East Finchley Congregational Church on 29 January 1905, with the Register showing their Prospect Place address.  The couple had four children and had moved to 29 Elmfield Road, East Finchley by 1911.  Henry lived with his mother and was then employed as a wood sawyer for a printers joinery.  Edward lived with Susannah’s sister and husband at 4 Chapel Street, East Finchley and was employed as an errand boy for a firm of cleaners and dyers.

Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914.  Recognising the need for further men to support the war effort, the Minister for War, Lord Kitchener, made a call to Arms. Hundreds of thousands of recruits came forward and Kitchener’s Army was formed in the following months.

Henry Smith enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery on 31 August 1914, allocated the Regimental number ‘41’.  He was 5’ 6” tall and his trade is noted as Printer. Transferred to 92nd Brigade as a Driver on 1 October, Henry was posted to 280th Brigade on 10 October and promoted to Bombardier on 5 November.  Using his woodworking skills, Henry qualified as a skilled Wheeler on 24 April 1915.  He was appointed as Wheeler with 90th Brigade and disembarked in France on 20 July 1916.  Henry transferred back to 92nd Brigade on 30 August 1916.

Henry was wounded in the Battle of the Somme, at Morval, on 9 November 1916.  He was evacuated home on 16 November.  Henry was discharged from 5th (Reserve) Brigade, RFA at Charlton on 23 May 1917.  He received a pension for gunshot wounds (GSW) to his leg, shoulder and eyes.  A pension review on 26 September 1917 had found total incapacity. 

Despite his critical health condition, Henry married Ethel Elizabeth Waters at Holy Trinity Church on 31 March 1918.  The couple had been neighbours on Elmfield Road suggesting Ethel may have been Henry’s pre-war sweetheart.  The couple both worked as aircraft fitters at the time of their marriage.

Ethel’s brother, Sapper Ernest Waters served just five weeks with 126 Field Company, Royal Engineers.  He died from a heart condition at his billet in Chesham, on 24 February 1915, aged 24.  His burial at Chesham was only adopted for commemoration by CWGC in July 2018.  Despite his upbringing in the Parish, Ernest Waters is also omitted from the Holy Trinity Roll of Honour. His Widow, Maud Ellen Waters and son, Ernest, lived at Plumstead after Ernest’s death.

Henry Smith died at Middlesex Hospital on 15 July 1918, aged 28.  Cause of death was noted as GSW thigh, arteriovenous aneurism and cardiac failure.  He was buried at Holy Trinity Churchyard on 22 July.  Henry’s service record notes his religion as Congregationalist, consistent with the location of his mother’s second marriage.  This could explain why Henry – and Edward – are omitted from the Holy Trinity, Church of England’s, Roll of Honour.

Information on Edward Smith is very much limited in comparison with his elder brother, principally because Edward’s service record did not survive the fire at the archive during the London Blitz.   Henry’s records were not burned and provide a more complete picture.

Edward’s Effects War Gratuity of £6 was based on Edward’s length of military service, giving a indication that Edward had enlisted in August 1914. Some records provide the prefix GS/ to his number ‘3121’.  This confirms had enlisted for General Service, consistent with Henry joining the Army as one of Kitchener’s volunteers.

Medal records for Edward show he was posted to France with the 3rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers on 6 March 1915.  3rd Battalion was a Regular Army Unit that had landed in France in January 1915.  Edward must therefore have been part of a draft of reinforcements from England.  His service with 3rd Battalion was limited to nine days, as he returned to England on 16 March 1915.  This may have been due to wounds or illness, or possibly because the authorities found he was under the minimum age for military service.  Edward was a Teenage Tommy – just 17 years old – when the minimum age was 18 years for enlistment and 19 years for overseas service.

Edward returned to France on 8 December 1915, this time posted to 8th Battalion.  This was the first of Kitchener’s New Army Battalions.  8th Battalion had formed at Hounslow with 9th Battalion on 21 August 1914 and it most likely Edward had undertaken initial training at Hounslow, prior to his short posting to 3rd Bn.  Both 8th and 9th Bns. had landed in France in May 1915, so Edward was once again a reinforcement and notably still under overseas military age at 18 years.

Edward Smith was killed in action on 2 March 1916, aged 18 years. He was part of a Brigade assault near Loos. The advance failed and 8th Royal Fusiliers lost numerous officers and 250 other ranks, as killed, wounded or missing.

Edward’s burial was not identified after the Armistice and he is commemorated by CWGC with an inscription on the Loos Memorial.  There are 37 other members of 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers commemorated on the memorial that died on 2 March 1916 and four further names for the next day.  Just two casualties of the Battalion have known graves for this period, both of whom died on 3 March.

Private 8394 Harold Bretnall

In common with Arthur Bell, Harold Bretnall was a Bomber who trained with III Platoon of A Company.  Records overlap in other respects and this post on Harold’s service provides further insight into the experiences of my grandfather.  Harold was wounded on a number of occasions and ended his military service with the East Lancashire Regiment.

Harold Bretnall was born in Bradford, Manchester on 21 September 1894 (6 months after Arthur Bell).  His parents were Francis and Agnes Bretnall, who christened their sixth son at Christ Church, Bradford on 10 October 1894.  Harold was the youngest of eleven children. The family lived at 361 Mill Street and Francis was employed as an iron moulder.  Francis died in 1907, aged 59 and Agnes remained living at Mill Street, with Harold, his brother, Harry and sister, Annie, in 1911.  Harold was then aged 15 and employed as an office boy at a shipping agents.

The 2nd City Battalion of the Manchester Regiment was formed on 2 September 1914 and Harold attested on the next day, aged 19 years and 11 months.  5’ 5½“ in height, Harold weighed 135 lbs and had a fresh complexion and brown hair.

Harold trained at Heaton Park with III Platoon and completed preparations at Belton Park and Lark Hill and disembarked with the majority of the Battalion on 8 November 1915.

Travelling through France 17th Battalion experienced their first tour of front line duty in early December 1915.  Harold was posted the Trench Mortar School on 15 December and returned to the Battalion on 30 December.  Harold also trained as a Grenadier and will have been part of the III Platoon Bombing Section with Arthur Bell.

17th Battalion served in the Maricourt trenches during the first six months of 1916. Advancing from this line on 1July 1916 as part of 90th Brigade, the Battalion was instrumental in the liberation of the fortress village of Montauban in the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Harold’s Service Record notes that he was posted Missing on 1-2 July at Montauban.  Presumably this relates to his absence from a roll call at Happy Valley, after the Battalion had withdrawn at 3am on 3rd July. 

There were inevitably stragglers and wounded men who will have missed the roll call.  It is also a distinct possibility that Harold was one of the few survivors of the Bombing Section detachment held up in an isolated shell hole near Triangle Point.  Arthur Bell recounted that this group did not make it back to the British line until dawn on 3rd July and arrived at the tented camp later in the day.  The group had probably missed the initial roll call and may have been posted missing as a result.

Whatever explanation may apply, Harold hadn’t been missing.  17th Battalion took part in the attack on Trones Wood on 9July 1916 and withdrew from the Front; receiving numerous reinforcements and undertaking training and fatigues. 

On 16 July 1916 Harold received an accidental bullet wound to the left arm and he was admitted to 98th Field Ambulance.  It is not evident when Harold returned to duty, although he wasn’t evidentally treated in a Casualty Clearing Station or Hospital.  Harold may have returned to the Battalion after a few days, possibly in time for the costly assault on Guillemont on 30 July.

Heavy casualties in their opening three engagement required a sustained period for reestablishment of the Battalion as a fighting force.  Following the loss of numerous NCOs, many men were promoted and Harold was appointed unpaid Lance Corporal on 8 August 1916. 17th Battalion was based in Bethune and continued training for future duty and fatigues.  A detachment was undertaking Rifle Grenade training on 18 August, when a premature discharge killed three men and wounded the officer, Lieutenant Holt, and four Other Ranks. 

Harold was accidentally wounded in the right arm on 18 August 1916 and admitted to 96th Field Ambulance.  Subsequently moved to a Casualty Clearing Station on 26 August, Harold was diagnosed with cystitis.  He was then transferred to 32nd Stationery Hospital at Wimereux on 29 August.  The sustained hardship of front line duty and twice being wounded had taken its toll. Harold was diagnosed with Nephritis (Trench Fever) and evacuated to England on 6 September. Harold had been promoted to the rank of Corporal, with the antecedent date for pay purposes as 2 July 1916 – the day when he had been posted missing and prior to his appointment as Lance Corporal.

On 18 January 1917 Harold was posted to 3rd Battalion and transferred to 69th Training Reserve Battalion ‘TR/3/25736’.  Posted back to 3rd Battalion of 8 March, Harold returned to France on 13 June 1917.  Harold was initially posted 30th Infantry Brigade at Etaples, before returning to duty with 17th Battalion on 29 June.  Recognising his relative experience as a veteran of the Somme, Harold was appointed acting Sergeant on 10 July 1917.  Harold was wounded on the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres, on 31 July 1917.

Harold was evacuated and rejoined the Depot at Prescot on 25 September 1917, prior to his transfer to 3rd Battalion at Cleethorpes on 17 October. Harold absented himself from duty for one day in November 1917.  The Court Martial found him guilty and sentence Harold to being reduced to the rank of Private.

Disembarking in France for a third time, Harold was posted to 2nd Battalion and arrived at Boulogne on 3 January 1918.  He served at 30th Infantry Brigade Depot at Etaples before joining 2nd Battalion in the field on 17 January.  Wounded in the right thumb on 30 March 1918, Harold was treated in the Field Ambulance and 2nd General Hospital at Rouen.

Harold joined 71st Infantry Brigade Depot, Etaple on 17 April 1918, evidently posted to 9th Battalion. On 22 April 1918 he was taken ill and treated for influenza at 24th General Hospital.

Following recovery Harold was transferred to 2nd Battalion East Lancashire Regiment (East Lancs) on 18 June 1918 and allotted the number ‘31792’.  Suffering the effects of Gas Shells he was admitted to 33rd Casualty Clearing Station on 20 August.  Evacuated to 54 General Hospital in Boulogne on 22 August, Harold was then treated at 12th Canadian General Hospital on 19 September.  Returning to England, Harold was posted to the East Lancs Depot on 5 October.  Granted ten days Leave from 21November, Harold was deducted ten days pay for returning late for his duty on 11 December.

Harold was demobilised from the 2nd Battalion East Lancs at Manchester on 22 March 1919.   He was classified A1 Medical Grade and returned to his mother’s home at 361 Mill Street, Bradford.

Harold married Lena Harrop at St Clement’s Church, Longsight on 29 November 1924.  Harold was then employed as a labourer and the couple lived at 190 Morton Street, Longsight.  By 1939 Harold was the Licensee of the Oxnoble Inn 71 Liverpool Road, Manchester.  He remained at the Inn in March 1943, when an obituary thanks Harry and Lena foe a floral tribute. Harold died in Manchester in the first quarter 1958, aged 63. Lena passed away in 1962, aged 66.  No children have been identified for the couple.

“New” commemorations at Thiepval

On this day 30/07/1916 90/Brigade assaulted Guillemont. Most of 2/Royal Scots Fusils & 18/Manchesters were killed, wounded or missing & 16/ 17/Manchesters also suffered heavy losses.  Recent work has identified 64 men attached to the Brigade who lost their lives. Many were not previously identified as such. Attached from 13 different Regiment, it’s good to see their final military service accurately acknowledged. Nine commemorations are being added to Thiepval from the Menin Gate and one from Loos. #notforgotten

Harry Fisher is one example of a man attached from 9/Royal Sussex to 17/Manchesters- See CWGC revised Roll

Pte Harry Fisher’s entry in the De Ruvigny Roll. No attachment was identified even though he was serving with 17th Manchesters when he died. Harry’s commemoration has now been moved from the Menin Gate to Thiepval Memorial

Non-Commemorations at Stretford Cemetery

Visiting Stretford Cemetery to see the burials of two Manchester Regiment men who are awaiting adjudication for War Grave status. This is the 101st Anniversary of Joseph Dykes death.

Private 3608 Oliver Gelder Hinchlife was a veteran of the Mounted Infantry Company of 4th Volunteer Battalion when he enlisted in 3rd Manchesters in November 1914.  He served in France with 2nd Battalion and was discharged on 29 June 1916.

Oliver Hinchliffe died from TB attributed to service on 12 October 1916.  We anticipate a new CWGC headstone will be erected on his burial plot.

Private 24566 Joseph Dykes had previously served 16 years in the Queens Lancers when he enlisted as a Bandsman in 1st Manchesters Depot at Ashton on 10 May 1915.  Solely serving at home, Bandsman Dykes was discharged on 20 January 1917.

Joseph Dykes died from Fibroid Pneumonia commencing in and aggravated by service.  His daughter, May Dykes married Maurice Barry in 1932.  Maurice died after serving in the Second World War and has a CWGC headstone in front of his father in laws plot.

For further details of the Forgotten Battalion of the Manchester Regiment see:-