The second battalion of the Manchester Regiment was formed from the 96th Regiment by the general order 69 of July 1881.
During the Boer War the second battalion provided drafts for the 1st battalion and later was sent there to fight as a unit, the Boer war history section is work in progress at present
The Great War
Pte George Cooke, 23rd & 2nd Batt
On the 4th August the 2nd battalion were based in Ireland and at 5.25pm they received orders to mobilise for active service. As part of the 14th brigade, 5th Division they left Ireland on the 13th and arrived at La Havre on the 16th/17th. the battalion then entrained to La Cateau ( via Rouen and Amiens) On the 21st the brigade marche to St Vaast-LeBavai, 22nd to Hainin. The 5th division was given orders to proceed to the Mons-Conde canal and form a defensive line there near Wasmes, as the troops holding the canal feel back the battalion saw it's first action and held up the attack while other units withdrew, then retired to a position north of Warmes. Dours was reached on the 24th and soon the 2nd batt was in the front line again, initially holding the germans back with rifle and artillery fire. The division was in danger of being outflanked and orders to withdraw once again were received.
On the 25th, the battalion was holding a line from St Vaast to Houdain, while the division retired again, the brigade then retired it's self to Montay and then through La Cateau. There Gen Smith Dorien decided to stand his ground and fight. The Manchesters took up a central reserve position behind the Suffolks. About 10am the germans presse the attack all along the line ( and the suffolks) and the battalion was ordered to support them, the line held for some time until it was obvious they were being outflanked. Here the battalion lost approx 350 men.
The retreat continued through Maretz, St Quentin and Pontoise (28th) Carlepont (29th) and by the 30th they took up a line at Attichy-Bittry, north of the Aisne
September 3rd saw the battalion at Esbly were they crossed the Marne and reached Boulers in the evening. On the 4th the division marched through the night to reach Touran, only 15 miles from Paris. In the afternoon of that day the men heard the news that the retreat was over. The advance began on the 6th September and by the 9th Sept. they had reached the plateau near Limon and were engaged by the germans at Prisseloup. The battalion advanced through shellfire towards where the germans were entrenched but were held up by heavy fire from their flanks, in the morning the germans were found to have retired during the night. (the battle of the Marne)
On the 13th september, the brigade crossed the Aisne on rafts with the Manchesters leading and attacked St Marguerite, which was taken with little loss. The battle of the Aisne came to an end on the 28th.
12th October, the battalion marched off and that evening formed a line near the La Bassee Canal. On the 13th a general advance was ordered on Richbourg l'Avoue, the advance was slow as every yard of ground was fought for. The village became a ruin as it was fought over for the next two days but on the 16th, patrols reported the germans had withdrew, and the division was to advance again. By the 19th the battalion was at Les Trois Mansions and was attacked in force by the germans, on the 20th, there was heavy fighting all day, including two gallant bayonet charges by the men of A coy, at dusk the battalion withdrew to their support trenches.
By the end of October the battalion had almost reached it's limit, the men were exhausted from the battle at La Cateau, the retreat and the following battles of the Marne and the Aisne, and once again they were holding a long line with exhausted troops and being attacked day and night. On the 26th the battalion was relieved by 1st Battalion, recently arrived from India. On the 29th a german attack got into the Manchesters trenchs, Three attempts were made to re-take the trenchs, the third being succesful, for their valient efforts Lt Leach and Sgt Hogan were both awarded the Victoria Cross.
November saw the battalion on the move again, occupying various positions in the Ypres/Messines area
December saw the battalion in billets at Dranoutre and on the 5th the went back into the trenches at Wulverghem, the winter was cold and wet and the trenches were knee deep in mud, fighting activities were small but casualties occurred on a daily basis and several raids on the german lines were carried out. Christmas day found the battalion having a quite day in the trenches.
January saw the battalion back in billets at Dranoutre, being brought back up to strength with drafts from England. In the following months there was little activity but casualties continued to mount up as the battalion took it's turn in the line.
April the division moved to a sector on the Ypres front, taking a line east of the mound at St Eloi to te western end of Armagh wood, in preparation for the attack on Hill 60. The attack on Hill 60 continued for three weeks, but which came to be known as Second Ypres went on through May. The 14th brigade held a sector astride the Comines canal and by the end of July the sector was comparatively quiet ( for the Ypres salient) but this entailed men being killed and wounded, sometimes on an hourly basis. The Battalion was withdrawn on the 25th for R & R and was to proceed to the Somme area.
On August 1st the battalion moved and finally ended up at Maricourt on the 9th, where it took over trenches from the French army. The front was quiet, with little shelling or sniping.
In September, in connection with the attack at Loos, the division was to have attacked but this was cancelled when the Loos offensive failed.
In October the battalion went into billets at Suzanne, In November theywere back in the line carrying out raids on the german trenches, including the stealing of booby trapped german flags in front of their wire.
On the night of November 25-26th raids were organised along the brigade front with each company sending out men to bomb the german trenchs with varying success.
In December the 14th brigade left the 5th Division and became part of the 32nd Division and went into billets at Sailly.
January 6th the battalion moved to Henencourt and on the 10th to Authuille. They remained in this area for the next six months taking their turn in the line and in billets at Authuille, St Gratien, Contay Wood, and Avelay.
In March the pressure on the French force had become severe as the germans launched the Battale of Verdun, and it did, the pressure was on the British Army to launch an offensive that was to be the Battle of the Somme.
The bombardment of the german lines commenced in June and after some delays the attack started on 1st July 1916. The 2nd moved from Bazincourt to Aveluy Wood after two weeks of furnishing working parties. On the night of the 30th June they took up their places at the Black Horse shelters and Crucifux Corner. At zero hour the battalion was ordered up to Authuille Wood. The 14th brigade was to follow up the 97th who would advance across the open ground, here they faced german machine guns so well dug in that the artillery had not effected them. Some elements of the 97th and the 14th division made it to the enemy line, but no one was able to get very far. The objective was Mouquet (Monkey) Farm and beyond but after the germans had brought up their artillery, creating havoc in the front and rear, and the troops were running out of ammunition and expecting a counter attack at any minute, it was decided that withdrawal to a less exposed position was the only option. The 2nd battalion was holding the captured ground on the morning of the 2nd July and was counter attacked but held on all day until relieved that evening.
On the 10th, after the battalion was loaned out to the 36th Brigade, the battalion was back in the front line in a successful attack at Orvillers Post near 'Sausage' and 'Mash' valleys. The ground was won and consolidated and the battalion moved back to Bouzincourt. On the 14th they were back in line again at Ovillers. On the 19th the brigade marched to Haillicourt and Houchin where the battalion was 'lent' to other divisions as work parties.
August saw the battalion at Le Preol and Annequin and on the 5th they took over the line in the Cambrin Sector on the left of La Basse Canal. Here they stayed until October when orders were recieved to return to the Somme where the fighting had been continuous since July. From 26th October to 13th November, the 2nd occupied it's old quarters at Bazincourt, receiving a large draft of men from England. The battalion was in reserve for the battle of the Ancre but was not used in the early stages.
On the 18th November the 2nd battalion, still short of bombs, attacked from Lager Alley and on to Munich Trench and Trench 28. " The Manchesters gained their objective and were the only regiment to do so" the company that was covering their flank were ambushed from a dugout that hadn't been cleared, "The company got into Munich and 28th Trench but were unable to advance or withdraw, bombs were scarce, the germans were on both sides of them and advancing up a trench in front of them. when a dugout caught fire and the smoke was so dense that the men had to put on their gas masks. This party was all killed, wounded or taken prisoner." the place was found later with all their bodies grouped together. 'The second battalion was practically wiped out' Brigade Commander.
On the 23rd the remnants of the 2nd battalion went into billets at Mailly Maillet, later moving to te training area around Halloy. There the new divisional general mistakenly commented on the 156 remaining men of the battalion as a single company
The battalion left Halloy on the 6th January 1917 after receiving sizeable drafts from England, marching to Beauval, then by bus to Bertrancourt, where it remained until February 1917
25th February the batt took over trenches from the French near Fresnoy, occupying dug-outs at Bouchoir or billets at Beauvois
On the 1st April the battalion moved to Chateau Pomery, they were ordered to take Savy Wood (note the place is later referred to as Manchester quarry see 16th batt, 21 march 1918) the brigade moved at midnight and approached the wood from the west. The attack commenced at dawn and was successful with the batt taking it’s objective of Francilly-Selency and reaching the outskirts of San Quentin, the battalion also captured a battery of 77mm field guns. Pte Overton was recommended for the VC. 2 officers and 10 ORs KIA, 7 officers and 52 ORs wounded.14th April battalion was in support of a French attack on San Quentin and lost 30 men
On the 1st June the battalion moved to Bailleul, in reserve for battle of Messines, 13th June moved to Eecke area and moved on to Nieuport via Tergedem on the 15th. Batt remained there for some time ‘taking it’s share of trench duty and carrying out occasional raids’
In August, The battalion was taken out of the line and sent to La Panne for rest and training until the end of the month when it returned to Nieuport
September, The batt went into trenches in the Lombartzyde sector, incurring casualties on a regular basis
October saw the battalion back in the Nieuport area until the 6th, ( having been relieved by the 10th battalion) and wen t to Petite Synthe by way of Dunkirk and St Pol, remaining until the 26th when it went to the Arneke area.
November 12th to the 24th moved to Poperinghe for training at tunnelling camp, then on to the Yser canal.
December They moved up to the front in reserve for the 97th brigade on the 1st , they were not needed at first , but were marched to Belle Vue on the 3rd holding a series of shell holes that comprised the front line. Remaining until the 9th ( 9 killed 40 wounded) they remained in this area until the end of the year with another 5 men KIA and 9 wounded
Battalion withdrawn to Listergaux for training, enjoying a belated Christmas day on the 11th January at Auldruicq with dinner and a concert. 23rd January moved to Dirty Bucket camp, 30th moved to Emile Camp in Bosinghe
February Following the army reorganisation, the batt was transferred to the 96th brigade, ( return of 70 men from the 173rd tunnelling company). Ribbons for the 1914 star presented. The batt regularly was moved to the front line and suffered casualties. 11th feb withdrawn to brigade reserve at Abri Wood, received 123 men from the 23rd battalion (disbanded in the re-organisation). 15th moved to Houthulst Forest sector, shelled badly causing many casualties. 27th raided the enemy lines at Owl wood with 110 men, seven prisoners taken and 2 machine guns at the cost of 2 KIA and 11 wounded
March 5th at Bergerie Camp presented with divisional cup for most captures (!) and MM ribbons were presented to Sgts Metcalfe and McElroy, Ptes Lyreet, Wood, Roebuck and Jones. NB on the 21st March the expected German spring offensive (the Kaiserlacht) was launched and did cut through the Somme area retaking the ground and causing massive damage to the British army. 27th moved to Whitehall camp, Elverdinghe. 29th moved to Ayette held by the Germans
April Ayette attacked and carried. batt was in the front line until the 25th 14 KIA, 87 wounded, 16 gassed, 1 missing.25th withdrawn to Barly
May 12th batt moved to Blairville , 8 KIA and 30 wounded
June Considerable activity in the front line, casualties continued amongst working parties, raids and counter raids
July Batt went into divisional reserve but on 6th Was moved to La Brazegue for rest and training. 13th moved to Proven area….no casualties in July
August Inspection by the King on the 6th and then moved on to Broves. 9th moved up the action to near Beaucourt , supported the LFs and attacked Parvillers and Damery Woods, gained three miles and stayed there until the 11th. 18th moved to Harbonniere, brought upto strength by draft of 300 men, relieve an Australian battalion in the front line. 19th repulsed a German attack after heavy hand to hand fighting, 17 KIA, 27 wounded and 27 missing. 21st divisional raids on the German lines took 36 German officers and 1,195 ORs, the German retreat was now in full flow. The batt was heavily engaged around Vermandovilles, Abincourt and Cizancourt
Quote from the brigade order of the 27th
“The work of the 2nd Battalion Manchester Regiment today is beyond praise. I am proud to have such a battalion in my brigade, and I thank all ranks for their splendid behaviour today. May good fortune attend them tomorrow”
However..16 men KIA, 43 wounded, 2 missing
30th moved to Berny for R & R
September 6th moved to La Neuville. 28th moved to Vendrelles, crossing the San Quentin canal on the 29th. 30th moved to Magny-La-Fosse incurring 20 casualties
October 1st The batt attacked the enemy system (Hindenberg line) with “complete success” at 4pm with 4 tanks, broke through the beaurevoir-fonsomme line after hand to hand fighting, capturing 210 prisoners. There were then subjected to repeated counter attacks during the night but the 2nd Manchester’s successfully maintained their position with the assistance of a company of the 15th Lancs Fusiliers (another local pals battalion)
The following message was sent to all companies on the 2nd
“The GOC desires me to thank you on his behalf, all ranks for their extremely gallant conduct yesterday and especially last night, .he will tell tem when they come out what extreme importance was attached to their behaviour, and if today’s operations are successful, their conduct will have led to one of the greatest successes of the war, maybe They are the only men in the division who did their task and held it………”
3rd withdrawn to Lehancourt with nearly a hundred casuaties. 5th moved to Handcourt, later to Bohain. 30th moved to Oise Canal for the attack there, patrolling no mans land prior to the battle
November 4th The battalion attacked on the left flank of the brigade meeting intense shell and machine gun fire across the canal north of Ors. Lt Kirke paddled across the canal on a raft and engaged the enemy with a lewis gun, ( he did not survive but was awarded a posthumous VC) but a bridge was erected and 2 of his platoons crossed but were held by enemy fire and the bridge destroyed. The remaining troops were sent to another crossing which had been secured by the 1st Dorsetshires. They attacked the Germans at La Motte farm and achieved their objectives. The attack continued unabated.
The war came to an end on the 11th November but the part the 2nd battalion played came to an end on the 6th, it went into billets at Sambreton where it learnt about the armistice
Chris Harrison (08/11/2006, 17/2/2007)
Source. The Manchester Regiment 1883-1922 H C Wylly