The 17th (Service) Battalion Manchester Regiment
2nd City Pals Battalion
Part Four: Arras and Ypres 1917
The Battalion left St
Amand at Noon on the 18th April 1917, arriving at the Hindenburg system
of trenches near Neuville-Vitasse at 4.00am on the 19th.
The following day the
17th relieved a Battalion of the London Regiment in the hurriedly dug trenches
in front of the Villages of Heninel, and facing Cherisy.
The continuance of the Arras offensive was due to start on the 23rd
and prior to this the Battalion suffered heavy casualties caused by heavy
At 4.45am on the 23rd,
the Battalion moved forward ready for the assault.
The men spent the
next few hours digging themselves in, but at 9.00am, the Enemy launched a
counter attack of great violence which was repulsed with great gallantry and
the position maintained. At 2.00pm a further attack was launched and the
Battalion suffered many casualties.
At Midnight, the
Battalion was relieved, having paid a heavy price. Out of 650 men who went into
the assault, 360 Men were killed, wounded of reported missing.
Sergeant Major, R.S.M Coates performed excellent work during the assault,
repeatedly bringing in wounded Men under shell fire, organising the defence of
the front line trench and finding cover, in a shell hole for the mortally
wounded Lieutenant Potts.
The remnants of the
Battalion marched back to the Hindenburg line near Neuville-Vitasse, remaining
there until the 27th when a move to Billets at Hericourt took place.
Whilst at Hericourt,
the Battalions Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Johnson injured in the
assault on Montauban on the 1st July returned and retook command of
the Battalion. The Battalion remained at Hericourt until the 3rd
May, receiving fresh drafts of men. The Battalion then moved to Cherienne where
reorganisation was commenced.
On the 20th
May the Battalion was on the move again-heading North towards Ypres.
By the 6th June, the Battalion was at St Lawrence camp near the Belgian Town of Poperinghe.
On the 9th
June the Battalion moved to the Forward area and the following day took over
the front line until the 14th when they fell back to Chateau Segard.
Here the Battalion supplied working parties to the 2nd Canadian
During the next seven
weeks the Battalion provided working parties around the salient area in
preparation for the forthcoming 3rd battle of Ypres.
The 30th Division’s objective on the 31st July was
Polygon wood. To reach this the four Pals Battalions of 90 Brigade the 16th,
17th, 18th and 19th Battalions would attack together. The 16th
and the 18th Battalions would initially assault their 1st
Objectives and the 17th and 19th Battalions would move
quickly through them and hopefully maintain the momentum.
On the Night of the 30th July the 17th Battalion made
its way to the assembly trenches behind Sanctuary wood. At 3.50am the advance
The morning was misty, which hid
their intentions from the German observers in Sanctuary wood and as the Men
moved forward behind a terrific barrage, no enemy barrage was put up. The assault
at this point was held up as the Men came close to their own barrage and were
forced to stop and take cover. The 18th Battalion’s objective of Stirling Castle was taken. The 16th
Battalion’s objective was carried and the 17th Battalion quickly
pushed through hoping to continue the momentum and push on towards Glencorse
wood. The attack began to falter as the Men crossed the Ypres-Menin road under
a hail of machine gun fire from the direction of Glencorse wood. The men
attempted to dig themselves in and from 5.00am onwards an intense German
barrage began to fall over the whole of the area.
Then the rain came.
The badly cratered battlefield and
shell holes began to fill with water and the position became increasingly
difficult as Men clung to the sides of shell holes and hastily constructed
trenches in an attempt not to drown. The assault quickly ran out of momentum.
The 17th battalion were finally relieved on the morning of the 1st
August and proceeded to Zillebeke where the roll was called. The Battalions
casualties in the action were: 2 Officers killed and 8 wounded or missing and
19 Other ranks killed and 146 wounded or missing. The Battalion marched to
Chateau Segard to reorganise.
After a series of moves during the month of August, the Battalion relieved
the 14th Australian Battalion, south of Messines on the 28th.
This tour lasted until the 3rd September when the Battalion marched
to Kia-Ora camp at Kemmel and provided working parties for the Royal Engineers.
On the 12th September, the Battalion relieved the 2nd
Royal Scots Fusiliers as support Battalion at Torreken farm and on the 22nd
moved in to the line, relieving the 2nd Bedford’s in the Hollebeke area. The
battalion were relieved on 1st October by the 2nd Bedford’s and went into
Divisional reserve at Vrolandhoek camp.
The Battalion had been temporarily attached to the 8th Corps,
but on the 18th October it was transferred to the Canadian corps and
moved by bus to Goldfish chateau near Ypres
for railway work. On the 31st, it rejoined the 8th Corps
and moved to camp near Kemmel.
After a series of moves over November, the Battalion took over the Brigade
sector South of Polderhoek. The Battalion were in the line astride the Menin
road when they assaulted Polderhoek chateau. In this assault B Company suffered
over 20 casualties and held the position until the night of 3rd
December when they were relieved by the 17th Kings Liverpool
Regiment and the Battalion returned to Chippawa camp near Reninghelst. On the
12th, the Battalion was back in the line and an Enemy attack on the
14th of the Polderhoek area regained 300 yards of the line held by
the 18th Manchester’s.
The 17th sent C and D Companies to reinforce the 18th
Battalion. The action took part daylight, without casualties.
The Battalion regained and occupied
a portion of the trench and a pill box evacuated by the 18th
From the 18th to the 24th December the Battalion were
at Chippawa camp. The Men took the opportunity to celebrate the Christmas
season as they were due back in the line across the Menin road on the 24th.
On the 21st the “Blue Birds” the Divisional concert party, gave
a concert and on the 23rd, Christmas dinner was served to the Men,
by the Officers in the huts at Chippawa camp.
On Christmas Eve, the Battalion moved back into the line until the 30th
when they moved into Brigade reserve at Tor Top tunnels. Later that day, the
Battalion moved to Chateau Sivan.
During the Battalions December tour
the casualties were: 2 Officers and 11 Men killed and 26 wounded.