100 Missing men

Seeking One Hundred Missing Men at Montauban

Only one of the 17th Battalion’s battlefield casualties at Montauban is buried in their original resting place.   One hundred and twenty three men from the Battalion died on the battlefield in the first three days of the Somme offensive and just twenty three individuals have known graves.  This research uses established records to seek a picture for the missing 100 men from the 2nd Manchester Pals.

Featured Image – A British soldier killed in a trench between Montauban and Carnoy. July, 1916. © IWM (Q 65445)

Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval Memorial

The grandeur of the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing provides a suitable commemoration to the numerous men who were killed in the Battle of the Somme and have no known grave.  Research into these events still retains an underlying sadness that so many soldiers have no identified resting place.  There are numerous graves for soldiers whose remains were found when the battlefields were cleared and no identity could be found.  The occupants of these plots are suitably identified as being “Known unto God” with inscriptions “A Soldier of the Great War”.  Sometimes the remains included unknown-manchester-in-guillemont-roadfurther effects to identify a Regiment or Corps – such as the Manchester Regiment.  The relative extent of names on the panels of Thiepval shows the majority of soldiers’ remain interred in the rich ground of Picardy’s rolling fields, regrown woods and reinstated villages.

The first visit to the Somme battlefields is often the most memorable, with some significant places and sites introducing the essence of events that took place more than a century ago.  The manicured ranks of headstones in Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemeteries are a clear image retained in the mind’s eye for most tourists.  Many people do not immediately comprehend the varied nature of the cemeteries and this paper addresses a group of concentration cemeteries; where casualties in battlefield burial plots were relocated after the war.

As part of the research into on concentration cemeteries, original battlefield grave plots are addressed and then the work of the original burial parties.  The final stage addresses the individual casualties.  Some of the 17th Battalion men with no known grave are displayed below. © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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This research provides a review of one Battalion’s casualties as a case study, as part of 90th Infantry Brigade.  Men of 90th Brigade took part in the second phase in the assault on the village of Montauban, at the southern end of the British sector.  90th Brigade formed part of 30th Division, which had relative success on the First Day of the Battle[1].  These men have been selected because I have detailed knowledge of their movements and anecdotal information on events.  This depth of knowledge is more extensive than any other period, or location on the battlefields.

2 Lt Victor Godfrey 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers © IWM (HU 115135)

2 Lt Victor Godfrey 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers. Unknown Burial  © IWM (HU 115135)

The Brigade also advanced further than most other members of the British Army and then held their positions against German counter-attacks.  This level of success is somewhat exceptional on the First Day of The Somme; or indeed, later assaults.  As a result, there are quite extensive published records of events.   The Brigade comprised the Regular Army 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers (2nd RSF), alongside the 16th, 17th and 18th Battalions Manchester Regiment (MR).  These were the City or Pals Battalions from Manchester and the 1st July was the first time these men went over the top in battle.  They were also a citizen army from a large conurbation and this captured the imagination of generations of authors.  They also received very close reporting of their exploits in the local press, which built an extensive record of events and obituaries in newspapers, notably the Manchester Evening News.

It is hoped a review of these casualties may provide further assessment of the time, place or circumstances when these men were killed in the period from 1st to 3rd July 1916.

In the case of the 90th Infantry Brigade, 78% of Montauban casualties have no known grave.    For more information about the 17th Battalion men who were killed or wounded, see Casualties of the 1st July.

The initial Brigade casualty return for the Battalion was 67 Killed, 222 Wounded and 50 Missing.  Ultimately 127 men died, of which four men died of wounds following evacuation.  The missing men were unlikely to have been captured in the failed German counter-attacks and these 50 men are anticipated to have extended to the ‘killed’ list to 117, with the remainder being men who died of wounds.  This creates a speculative list of 127 men killed and 212 wounded at Montauban – more than one third of the Battalion strength, who went over the top from Cambridge Copse.

The progress of this research follows:-

Concentration Cemeteries & Battlefield Burials

Burials to the rear of assembly trenches

The Initial Advance

The Charge on Montauban

Casualties in Montauban

30th Division – 21st & 89th Brigade Casualties at Montauban

Summary and Conclusions

[1] 19th, 20th 21st & 22nd Battalions also had success at Glatz Redoubt, Fricourt and Mametz.