Stranded in Trones Wood

Humphries L B

2/Lt Leslie Brian Humphreys as OC VII Platoon at Heaton Park in April 1915

The 17th Battalion had successfully attacked and held Montauban on 1st July 1916.  After significant losses the under strength 2nd Manchester Pals were called back to action at Trones Wood.  The assault was initially successful, with most Germans being cleared from the wood.  In the face of a hurricane bombardment, communication became difficult in the dense vegetation and continuing losses meant that the depleted force withdrew at 3pm.  The order to retire did not reach some of the scattered groups of defenders from A and B Company and approximately forty men were killed or captured.  Some tried to escape back to Bernafay Wood and they were all killed, leaving only Sergeant Bingham to return from the northern part of the wood; and he was wounded.

This page provides a first-hand account of a group of B Company, who were left behind on the north west edge of the Wood.  Lieutenant Humphreys made repeated attempts to communicate with HQ, but no messages came back.  The Germans continued a violent bombardment of the Manchesters.  They then stopped the artillery fire (approx. 4.45pm) and their infantry closed in on the isolated pockets of defenders, who were unaware that the bulk of the wood was then in German hands.  The Germans infiltrated without the Manchesters having any knowledge and Lieutenant Humphreys clearly found that resistance would promptly lead to the death of his detachment.  He surrendered to the Germans and his group became prisoners of war.

Source: Lieutenant Leslie Brian HUMPHREYS. The Manchester Regiment. | The National Archives

STATEMENT regarding the circumstances which led to capture:-

Reference 32074/5 9/2/1919. Date of Capture 9th July 1916 at Trones Wood, near Guillemont. Wounded.  B Company, 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment. 90 Bgd, 30 Div. Repatriated to England 22nd January 1919. Address Merle Bank, Hale, Cheshire.

At 6.0 am on 9/7/16 the battalion attacked Trones Wood & captured the whole of it.  During the attack my company had become rather scattered & I spent some time trying to collect them.  At 10.0 am I reported at Batt HQ for orders & was told that B & D Coys would hold the NE edge of the wood, with A & C on the NW edge.  Having heard that the bulk of what remained of “B Coy” (which started 98 strong) were at that time at the NW edge, I proceeded there & found that the only men there were 20 men of A Coy & 20 men of B Coy, with a trench in of them still occupied by the enemy.  I therefore ordered my own men to remain where they were, at any rate till some reinforcement arrived & at once sent runners to Batt HQ to inform them of the position.   At 2.0pm, having received no communication from HQ, I despatched an officer & after waiting another hour without result, a second to HQ.  At that time I was with a party of about 10 men, separated from the rest by a wide, deep communication trench & about fifteen yards of undergrowth, making it practically impossible to keep in touch without going round by a circuit across country.  At 3.45 pm, the artillery fire which has all day been violent ceased, & shortly afterwards I heard enemy shouting close behind me in the wood, into which they appeared to have penetrated without opposition.  We at once stood to & discerned that in spite of the sentries keeping a good look out to both front & rear, the enemy had crept to within 10 yards under cover of the undergrowth & were keeping up a fusillade of rifle fire at the top of the trench followed by bombs dropped into the trench.  We returned his fire, but found it difficult to raise our heads above the parapet. They now pressed on our exposed flank, & it became evident that we could not hold on there, while at the same time the enemy were still holding a trench in rear making it impossible to get back.  I also did not know what was happening to the men on our right.  Under the circumstances I considered that the only course open was to surrender.  On arriving behind enemy lines, I was joined by about another 30 men of the battalion, who had been captured attempting to get back.  I have since heard that the rest of the battalion retired at about 2.0 pm, but apparently the runners sent up to me were killed on the way.

L B Humpreys Lt
17th Manchester Regt.”

A War Office letter of 7th May 1919 provides confirmation that Leslie Humphreys had fulfilled his duty  “…his statement regarding the circumstances of his capture…the Council considers that no blame attached to him…”

Leslie had written to his parents on 20th July 1916[1] providing a little more detail on events:-

IWM HU 115490 Malcolm Grigg

HU 115490 Malcolm Grigg

“…We got to the starting place and managed to get about a hundred yards without being spotted; as soon as they saw us their artillery got going, also a machine gun.  We went on…without losing very heavily.  There was a little hand to hand fighting, and then we cleared the wood…I got detached from the Company [B] with a few other men and was unable to find the rest…All this time being very heavily shelled.  I eventually found 30 of the Coy. Dug in at the edge of the wood…We had with us in addition, about twenty of “A” Coy.  After about four hours…we heard firing from the wood behind us…Just then a bomb came and landed on Grigg [Lieutenant Malcolm Howard Grigg]…The enemy was quite close all around so we had no choice…We were taken behind their line.”

2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Henry Callan Macardle from A Company was killed in the early afternoon near the same position.  Other men who had occupied the trench prior to

2nd-lt-kenneth-callan-macardle-iwm-hu35936

2nd-lt-kenneth-callan-macardle-iwm-hu35936

capture include Private 8941 Arthur Watts from  A Company, who confirmed seeing Lieutenant Macardle.  Fifty two members of the 17th Battalion appear to have been captured. See POW Database

Red Cross records show Leslie was initially held in Gütersloh Camp, from 26th July 1916.  He was later transferred to Krefeld, in April 1917, Ströhen in June 1917, Bad Colberg in February 1918 and Holland in October 1918.

Leslie was repatriated on 22nd January 1919 and went to the dispersal camp in Ripon.  He was granted leave from 23rd January to 22nd March, ordered to return to 3rd Battalion in Cleethorpes thereafter.   His Protection Certificate dated 8th March 1919 issued by Officers’ Dispersal Unit London and effective 10th March 1919.  Single and Medical Category G.S. with Rank as Lieutenant.

Potts G F

2/Lt G F Potts

Leslie Brian Humphreys was born in Bowden, Cheshire on 20th February 1894, to parents Humphrey and Janet Anne Humphreys.  His father was a Grocer and Tea Merchant and the family had two servants in 1901. Leslie had been baptised at St John the Baptist Church, Altrincham on 21st March 1894. He went to Ley’s School, in Cambridge (1909-1911) where the 1911 Census shows he was a 17 year old pupil alongside fellow 17th Battalion Officer Geoffrey Fildes Potts, who was killed in Arras in 1917.  The Headmaster of Leys School certified that Leslie had a good moral character and good standard of education. Both Leys School men attended Manchester University.

The Temporary Commission Form 5th October 1914 shows Leslie was British born, unmarried and pure European descent.  Resident at Ashfield, Hale, Nr Altrincham, Cheshire.  Leslie stated he could not ride.  He had received 18 months training with the Leys School [2]Officer Training Corps and four weeks emergency training in Manchester University OTC and two weeks camp with the corps.  Leslie had previously applied for a Territorial Commission (Infantry).  At the age of twenty, Leslie’s father counter-signed the form for him.

Leslie was commissioned at Heaton Park, as 2nd Lieutenant, on 3rd October 1914. He was 5’2½” and aged twenty.  Leslie was in Command of VII Platoon of B Company in April 1915.  The PoW report indicates Leslie was Officer in Command of B Company on 9th July.

Leslie went on to live a full life.  In 1929 he worked for Barclays Bank, Hale and travelled to France.  He also travelled to the United States.  Leslie died in Stockport  on 24th October 1974.  Probate records show he lived in his parents house at Merle Bank, 106 Bank Hall Lane, Hale and had significant assets of £147,427.

 

 

[1] IWM Catalogue P210 Macardle KC

 

[2] A Boarding school for Methodist boys in Cambridge.  Lieutenant G F Potts of 17th Battalion also attended the school and went to University of Manchester.  See Ley’s School War Memorial & Geoffrey Fildes Potts

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