Casualties in Montauban

Sgt. Mark Jackson MEN

Sgt. Mark Jackson MEN 17/7/1916. © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The first members 90th Brigade arrived in Montauban  at 10.20 and endeavoured to consolidate their designated defensive positions in preparation for the German counter-attacks, which took place at 9pm 1st July and 3am on 2nd July.  The German machine gunners and snipers opened up on the Brigade as soon as they arrived.  Arthur Bell (17th MR) reported the loss of a Platoon Sergeant as the Battalion moved through the ruined village.

“Looking around for Triangle Point, I was told that Sergt. M.J. [Mark Jackson] had just been sniped – hit in the head, I believe.”

The German artillery pulverised their lost positions, benefiting from accurate co-ordinates of their former strong points and trench lines.  There were numerous losses for the 16th and 17th Battalions Manchester Regiment, which held the line on the north and east sides of the village.  Men from the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers were brought up to the line to reinforce the Manchesters and they also suffered losses.

It is anticipated 37 year old Corporal 8685 Alexander Johnstone (17th MR) was killed after arrival in Montauban, enabling his Section to hear his final words “I am dying boys, good-bye and good luck”[1]

The Trench Maps conveniently cross the boundary of two sheets of 62C at the start line of Maricourt to 57C, at a line just south of the village.  This provides some projected demarcation on the places where the men are likely to have been killed.

When troops were brought up after the battle to bury the dead, it can be assumed they identified suitable locations that were relatively close to the place where the men had fallen.  This assumption is confirmed in numerous instances, but there can be no certainty that men were buried close to the place where they were killed or succumbed to wounds.  It has been seen that there is sometimes contradictory evidence.  The speculation of the location of burials can be extended by the likelihood that burial parties didn’t carry their comrades far up hill.  In this context, it would be expected that the casualties in Montauban succeeded in their final push into the village.

A German Cemetery was made in the town square of Montauban and it is not known whether this was used for all enemy burials, or just those men who were found in the village itself.  A second German Cemetery is noted in Railway Valley and no further details are currently known about this location.  Further research is needed on this aspect.  It is clear that there were numerous British burials in the same locality.

Montauban Defences.JPG

Grid 57C.S.27.c

There are a small number known graves for men now buried in Dantzig Alley who had original burials in Montauban.    The men were originally found in plots south of Montauban Alley.  Lance Corporal 8554 Ernest Falla (17th MR), a bank clerk from Newton Heath was reported as being shot through the temple during the advance.  Ernest had been trained as a range finder.  He was buried alongside Private 26464 Arthur Hallworth (17th MR), resident Greenfield and Lance Sergeant 12045 John McNulty DCM[2] (2nd RSF), who was killed on 2nd July.  Their burial  in or near Montauban Alley, was a position held by the 16th Battalion, quite a distance from the 17th Manchesters’ defensive positions or the line of their final assault.

It is possible Lance Sergeant McNulty may have been one of the men sent forward as 16th Battalion reinforcements and buried close to where he fell during the failed German counter-attack. The information on Ernest’s death may suggest he was killed in the final assault as the men Brigade advanced through Montauban.  The leading waves of the assault had intermingled, although it remains unexplained why Ernest was so far to the west.  It is known that Sergeant Mark Jackson was sniped as the 17th Battalion entered the apparently deserted village and these two men in Dantzig Alley may have suffered the same fate.  In such circumstances, the burial parties must have been moved the bodies to their initial burial position.  At least three other men were interred at this position, including two men killed on 1st September 1916.  The different circumstances and dates for these deaths suggest this was chosen as a convenient local plot chosen by the burial parties, possibly close to an Aid Post.  It is not anticipated the men were killed in this particular place.

Private 6689 Ernest Tattersall (16th MR)[3] from Levenshulme was recorded as killed in action, having served as Orderly to Captain Elstob (later VC).  He is one of at least eight men buried in Montauban before the men in the burial plot was relocated to Quarry Cemetery, situated in the valley to the north of Montauban.  The temporary cemetery had included a number of unknown graves and a group of casualties from August 1918, when the 18th Division returned to the Somme to liberate the area from the Germans for a second time.  The plot was on the immediate edge of the village near a trench towards the western side.

Wilkinson MEN 11.7.1916

Wilkinson MEN 11.7.1916 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sergeant 8336 Frederick Arthur Wilkinson (17th MR) from Wilmslow was buried 100 yards to the east of Ernest Tattersall.  The Official Record recounts Sergeant Wilkinson had commanded a Lewis Gun position in the sunken lane leading south to the Quarry (now cemetery).  The entire crew were wiped out and there is no indication as to where the other men may have been buried, particularly when Sergeant Wilkinson’s grave was four hundred yards to the place where he was killed.   It would seem likely the area was a battlefield cemetery when the earlier casualties from Montauban Alley were buried.  The graves for the rest of the crew may have been lost in the continuing bombardment of the defences.  The Grave Registration Unit (GRU) Report for his initial burial described Frederick’s grave as NEAR MONTAUBAN.  It is not known if further detailed records had been retained.  The Headquarters of 16th Battalion was less than 100 yards from this burial plot, situated in the basement of the ruined Mairie.  There may have been a dressing station in the area where Frederick Wilkinson died.

Private Arthur Edward Bennett (A Company 17th MR) was another Lewis Gunner.  He was killed by a piece of shrapnel to the head.  Private Edward H. Riley was a member of the Machine Gun Section and killed on 2nd July.  Both men have no known grave.

In the south western approaches to the village was a communication trench used for the original burial plot of Liverpool born Private 8391 Alfred Barrett (17th MR).  This area was designated to the assault line of 16th Battalion and it is possible Alfred had an isolated burial from the final assault, or he may have been killed withdrawing to the rear, after wounding – he had been included on a wounded list.  The plot was near the 16th Battalion headquarters and there may have been a Dressing Station nearby. The area also included a number of graves for South African Infantrymen, who died in 12th – 14th July, which were later relocated to Quarry Cemetery.

Grid 57C.S.27.d

The largest group of 90th Brigade burials were situated in the centre of the village within, or near to, the town square, which also became the temporary German cemetery.  There is some evidence some of  these men died near the Dressing Station situated in a basement south of the cross roads, where the Manchester and Liverpool Pals Memorial stands today.  This post was specifically mentioned in the War Diary for the 17th Manchesters.  The Service Record of Lance Corporal 8195 John Frederick Arthur James (17th MR) shows he was wounded and died on 2nd July.  John was buried by the 11th Royal Scots near the southern end of the square on 7th July.  Lance Corporal 6844 Horace Brown (16th MR) from Denton was buried in the same position and killed in action on 1st July.  Their remains were also relocated to Quarry Cemetery in 1919.

Bray MC Concentration Record

Bray MC Concentration Record Courtesy CWGC

Bray Military Cemetery provides a resting place for a further group of Manchester Regiment casualties from Montauban’s town square. Private 26269 Joseph Peat (17th MR) from Miles Platting, was killed in action and was buried alongside a group of four unknown soldiers where two sets of shoulder titles were identified for 2nd City Battalion – the 17th Manchesters.  The names of these men will be inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial and recorded as 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment.  The five graves were relocated in the same row at Bray.

The village of Montauban had been ruined by the Allied bombardment as a prelude to the assault and the deluge continued from the German artillery after 90th Brigade took up their defensive positions.  Burial parties will have found it difficult to have found any open land that was not covered in rubble, so the open area of La Place was a sensible burial plot, particularly as the square was set back from observation on the front lines facing Caterpillar Valley, Longueval and Bernafay Wood, from north to east respectively.

Hobson MEN 11.8.1916

Hobson MEN 11.8.1916 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

On the northern side of the Grand Rue from the square another group of 17th Battalion men were buried. Private 26433 William Hobson from Frodsham, Cheshire was killed in action on 1st or 2nd July and there were two unknown soldiers of the Battalion buried alongside him.  This position was 100 yards behind the 17th Manchesters’ defensive position and it is likely these men were killed in the line defending the village and buried within days of their deaths.  Subsequent burials of eight later casualties suggest this area became a small cemetery.  All these graves were relocated to Dantzig Alley in 1919.

57C.S.27.a-b Montauban Alley & North of Montauban

Many of the men buried in Montauban were killed in the advanced positions of Montauban Alley, held by 16th MR.  The 17th Battalion suffered greater casualties in trench line following the northern boundary of Montauban, or the orchards to the east.

Sgt. James Turner MEN 17.7.16

Sgt. James Turner MEN 17.7.1916 © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sergeant 8903 James Turner was killed by shell fire when he was inspecting sentries.  James had trained in A Company which held the trench line following the northern boundary of Montauban.   He has no known grave.

Private 8352 Robert Woolford PHOTO was a Drummer in the Battalion Bugle Band and trained with Private 8918 Arthur Johnson in IVX Platoon.   Their Sergeant reported they were killed by German shelling with a party of eight men in a small

Woolford MEN 15.7.1916

Richard Woolford © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

trench.  It is anticipated this position was located to the east of Montauban.  Two other unidentified men were killed and two other were wounded.  The Sergeant was probably 8662 Stanley Atkinson Hughes, who was unhurt by the shell, but discharged unfit in December 1917.  Robert, Arthur and the two other casualties from D Company, have no known grave, but probably lie in the fields to the east of the village.

A detachment of A Company from 17th Battalion held an advanced position in Montauban Alley overlooking Caterpillar Valley.  The War Diary reported that only three of these men returned to village after the German counter-attack at dawn on 2nd July 1916.  There is evidence the detachment had been reinforced by members of 16th MR and 2nd RSF, which also suffered losses, including Lance Corporal 6943 Frederick Charles Wiggins (16th MR).

Wiggins 16th Manchester Evening News - Wednesday 23 August 1916 Wiggans one of 5 brothers who served

Wiggins M.E.N. 23.8.16. © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The Directorate of Grave Registration and Enquiries produced maps identifying the number of registered burials in each sub-grid square; excluding identified cemeteries and unregistered graves.  These were named Individual Burial Location Maps, or commonly known as Body Density Maps.[4]  Ninety eight graves had been registered in sub-square 27.b, with five graves shown in 27.a.  CWGC records for the known concentration cemeteries show numerous men having burials in 27.a; considerably more than five graves outside the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery.  In contrast very few of, almost one hundred, burials in 27.b, have known burials in current CWGC cemeteries.[5]

It is strange that maps produced in 1918/19 showed so many graves that have not been identified.  Many 90th Brigade men were killed in this area during the German bombardment and counter-attacks on the evening of 1st and morning of 2nd July 1916.  It is conceivable that these casualties formed a significant proportion of the ninety eight burials, close to Montauban Alley, Triangle Point and the northern defences to the village.  Research will continue to seek these lost burials in unknown concentration cemeteries.[6]  Otherwise we reconcile that all the graves were lost to enemy action, or markings had been lost when the concentration parties carried out their work after hostilities.

62C.A.3.b

Private 15845 John Gordon (2nd RSF), was buried in Valley Trench, just south of the village.  His Battalion headquarters occupied a trench nearby and it is likely he received treatment at an Aid Post before he died.

Lance Corporal 8763 Charles Mitton of D Company (17th MR) from Hulme, was buried in Chimney Trench and identified by his ring marked M.C.,  when he was concentrated to Serre Road in 1928.  This was south east of Montauban, close to Nord Alley and facing Bernafay Wood. 2nd Lieutenant Callan Macardle (D Company) described the scene as the men tried to find cover from the German bombardment in their newly held defences.

“We instructed our men to dig holes for themselves under the parapet of Nord Alley, which was about 8 feet wide, but first they had to make fire steps. The trench became littered with dead and wounded.”

It is anticipated Charles was killed by artillery fire.  His remains were relocated to A.I.F. Flers in 1925.  It is a little surprising that no other graves for the Brigade were found in the immediate area.  War Diary records show Chimney Trench was used as a communication trench and subject to severe German bombardments in the coming days and weeks.   It can be anticipated any marked graves were lost in this later conflict and no other bodies were recognisable by the time Charles was identified from his ring, marked ‘CM’, nine years later.

Montauban Defence 57c.S.28

Lieutenant Gerald Sproat had been one of the few 17th Battalion Officers to enter Montauban unscathed.  The Official Record recounted Gerald commanding a party of 10 Platoon digging a trench on the east side of the village, facing Bernafay Wood. The German observers saw the working party and Gerald was killed in the subsequent bombardment.  In the event Gerald was actually buried, his grave was subsequently lost and he is commemorated at Thiepval.  Close by was Sergeant Bill Butterworth (17th MR).  He was also killed in the German counter-barrage and is commemorated at Thiepval.

[1] MEN 15/7/1916. Husband of Esther Alice Johnstone, of 21. Chatsworth St., Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester.  Commemorated Thiepval

[2] DCM for gallantry in action in May 1915 at Festubert LG 5/8./1915.

[3] Possibly Wilfrith Elstob’s servant

[4] http://www.iwm.org.uk/learning/resources/remembrance-in-the-first-world-war
[5] For example one grave for an Unknown Northumberland Fusilier was relocated to London Cemetery at High Wood.  This grave had not been Registered.

[6] Reviews have been made of Concentration Records for Dantzig Alley, London Cemetery, Delville Wood, Bray M.C., Bernafay Wood and Quarry Cemeteries.