The search for graves of men killed in 1916 was always expected to be inconclusive and amorphous. No specific burial places have been found for the hundred men who died at Montauban and have no known resting place. Nevertheless, some evidence, conjecture and assumptions offer assistance in building a picture of events. This leads to clearer speculation to where these men may be.
Private 8180 Alfred Drake Hooley may be buried in Plot 9, O 7 of Dantzig Alley. The grave is marked as an Unknown Soldier of the Manchester Regiment and we know that this was recorded as Heely was a member of the 17th Battalion, originally buried next Brick Point. I will post a photograph of the headstone when I next visit Mametz. The contradictory data of a different regimental number and name render this hypothesis unworthy of an approach to CWGC for a correction.
CWGC concentration records for Bray Military Cemetery identify four unknown casualties of the Manchester Regiment buried next to 17th Battalion’s Joseph Peat. These graves were relocated from the Town Square in Montauban and two sets of shoulder titles for the 2nd City Battalion indicate at least two of the other burials were members of Joseph’s Battalion. Their names are inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial, with Alfred Hooley and the remainder of names of men with no known grave.
CWGC Concentration records for known original battlefield burials have been analysed and plotted on plans.
Four men were buried behind the lines and probably received some medical treatment before they died. The 89th Brigade had comparatively few losses in the assault and many of these men were buried behind the lines, or evacuated to the rear. This pattern suggests their stretcher bearers and Aid Posts had adequate capacity to deal with wounded men and take them back towards Maricourt for attention. The 90th & 21st Brigade medical resources must have been overrun, but some men will have received attention behind the jumping off trenches.
Three men were buried near the British Front line and may have been killed in the initial advance, or on their return from Montauban.
A large group of 90th Brigade graves near Brick Point included seven members of 17th Battalion. It is known that some of these men were killed in the initial advance and assumed that others were carried downhill from the approaches to Montauban.
The grave for one member of the Battalion of the Battalion was found at Glatz Redoubt. Richard Starkie may have fallen in the early stages of the assault, or while waiting for the final assault on the village. Otherwise Richard may have died while returning from the Village.
The remains of Charles Mitton were found to the south east of Montauban in Chimney Trench. Charles was probably killed defending the eastern side of the village during the German bombardment. It is interesting to note that Charles Mitton and Richard Starkie’s graves were both discovered in 1928, long after the Concentration Parties had completed their work. Both locations were obvious positions where British soldiers may have been buried; and these examples give an indication that the post-war battlefield clearance may not have been entirely thorough, especially surrounding Montauban. With this concept in mind, we can assume that many other burials remain in the fields to the north and east of the village.
Seven members of the Battalion had known graves within the village of Montauban. Numerous records show that losses in the village were extensive in the period that 90th Brigade held the defences and the absence of so many graves is significant. Some men may not have had any form of burial, but many others will have had graves close to the place where they fell. These burials were lost if they weren’t blown up by the continuing German artillery fire.
Body Density Maps identify the extent of registered burials that had been made between 1916 and 1918. The absence of 98 know graves north of Montauban and the omission on CWGC records for many of 153 graves in the Village confirms the extent that graves have not been found after hostilities. It appears the Concentration Parties may not have even looked for the burials in the area of the Montauban Alley and trenches to north and east of the village. Imperial War Graves Commission acknowledged that the search by the concentration parties’ “Search could usefully be continued” in Montauban and other areas, when they stood down in 1921. This appears an understatement.
The records for the burial of the three Company Commanders, shows that the Officers may have received more formal burials than Other Ranks.
“You put in about 10 or 15, whatever the grave will hold, throw about two feet of earth on them and stick a wooden cross on the top which is marked by the Officers.” (Albert Andrews 19th Bttn probably recounting burials at Vernon Street – below)
There is evidence that many men were placed in the nearest trench, or left where they fell in a trench.
These were then back-filled and rudimentary grave markers were left for the Grave Registration Units. It appears that many of these markers were lost in subsequent action, with the burials then becoming unidentified.
A notable area of progress with this research has been the identification of burials at Vernon Street Cemetery, which followed a trench known as Squeak Forward Position, from the east of Talus Bois to the British front line. The graves of 110 men seem to have been marked in lists on Board crosses. Half of the graves were lost to enemy artillery fire, yet the Boards allowed the records of these burials to be maintained. As such, we see fifty names of men on individual headstone memorials at Dantzig Alley, where the burial location of the men is known, yet their remains could not be found after the War. It may be assumed that the trench that formed this mass grave had been fully excavated by the concentration parties, illustrating the extent of damage to burial plots that must have taken place for individuals to have been unidentifiable. Alternatively, this may not have been a very thorough search and burials may remain in the area today.
The terrible impact of scything machine gun fire or pulverising bombardment should not be forgotten. Many men could not be identified when they were first buried.
“ Some were without legs, some were legs without bodies, arms without bodies. A terrible sight…It made me wonder what it was all about.” (Acting Corporal Ruper Weeber 13th Rifle Brigade)
When combined with a period of three years interred in the ground and possible impact of further bombardment, it is no surprise that concentration parties could not identify some human remains.
The other large burial ground for 90th Brigade was in the hollow a the base of the hillside up to Montauban. Twenty nine members of the Brigade were buried near the German front line strong point of Breslau Point, Valley Trench and Brick Point, including seven members of 17th Battalion. If there had been similar attrition from artillery to grave plots as Vernon Street, it is possible there were many other graves in this area and some men from the Battalion remain there today.
There were no known 17th Battalion burials at Vernon Street, yet the profile of graves provides a useful illustration to the work of the 21st Brigade burial parties. In particular the evidence of the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment (2nd Yorks) grave locations clearly shows Vernon Street covered the clearance of the front line and No Man’s Land; with the Valley Trench area being used for the few casualties who had succeeded in passing the German line.
The 2nd Yorks had advanced in the centre of the advance, whereas the 17th Manchesters assaulted on the right. There is no evidence of any equivalent burial plot on the right, between Machine Gun Wood and Glatz Redoubt. The casualties were not so great on this side of the line, yet a number of men were killed. It is anticipated these men were buried in the German or British trenches, which were then back filled and the markers were lost.
There is a working hypothesis that enemy artillery on burial plots in the Village will have had the greatest impact, leading to a theory that more than half of registered burials were lost. This is supported by the clear shortfall in graves, compared with anticipated casualties in Montauban itself. There remains a challenge to the theory that the enemy action probably has less impact on the loss of graves, compared with the apparent absence of the Concentration Parties’ work on the outskirts of the village.
A group of 17th Battalion graves have been found where men were probably killed in the first few days of the Somme offensive. One man may be Private Hooley, but the others solely remain ‘Known unto God’.
The research has identified burial grounds in Railway Valley and Montauban Town Square, along with a wide spread of isolated graves between the villages of Maricourt and Montauban.
The extent of casualties in the initial advance, final assault and defence of the Village is not clear. Equally the number of original graves in these locations is unknown. Burial parties will not have been able to identify some casualties. We then combine the impact of continuing artillery fire on the battlefield and the incomplete work of the concentration parties who failed to identify numerous graves after the war.
The Thiepval Memorial remains a fitting tribute to the one hundred missing resting places for the Battalion. Ultimately, I believe many original graves remain in the rolling Picardy hills and human remains were lost with the ravages of the initial assault. Four main areas are thought to be the focus of commemoration for these men:-
- Glatz Redoubt, on the low hill and bend in the road from Maricourt, overlooking Railway Valley.
- Lost graves 200 yards north of Talus Bois, near the former German strong point.
- The former trench line north of Montauban, overlooking Quarry Cemetery
- Former orchards to the east and south east of Montauban, looking towards Bernafay Wood.
The Montauban positions are the place where the greatest concentration of lost burials are thought to remain.
Lest we forget.
 Two other graves for Unknown Soldiers of the Manchester Regiment were close by.
 Two 4th July casualties of the 12th Royal Scots was relocated from Glatz Redoubt in 1931 and other burials were found in the 1950s.
 See Captain Vaudrey.