The 17th (Service) Battalion Manchester Regiment

2nd City Pals Battalion

 

Part Three The Flers Attack 1916 and later

 

On the 2nd August 1916 the Battalion marched to Grovetown Camp and entrained for Longpre. From there they moved to Airaines, Berquette and finally reached Bethune on the 11th and remained there until the 3rd September.

 

The Battalion was in Brigade reserve until the 8th when they relieved the 16th Manchesters in the right Festubert sector, remaining there until the 14th when it moved into the Festubert village line.

On the 16th the Battalion was relieved by the 12th York’s and Lancs. By the 21st the Battalion were at Montonvillers where they remained until the 4th October.

 

By the 6th the Battalion were at Fricourt Camp. Preparations were underway for an attack on a system of trenches in front of the village of Flers and on the 10th, at 6.15am the Battalion relieved the 26th Royal Fusiliers and the 12th Kings Royal Rifles north of Flers at midnight. The next night the Battalion took over the line from the 2nd Bedfordshire’s on the left of the Brigade front.

 

The attack on Flers and the Villages of Le Barque and Ligny Thilloy was intended to open up the way for an attack on the strategically important town of Bapaume. The town was a railhead for the Germans who brought in reinforcements, ammunition and equipment and defended the outskirts with fresh drafts of German marines, relatively unaffected by the previous months battles.

 

Zero hour had been set for 2.05pm. On the morning of the 12th October, the 17th took over the front line from the 16th Manchesters. B and D Companies occupied the left sector, A and C the centre. Two Companies of the Royal Scots Fusiliers held the right sector. The 18th Battalion supported their comrades in the 17th Battalion. At 1.55pm an artillery barrage opened on the German lines and the men were amazed to see the defenders run from their trenches and lay in the open some fifty yards in advance of their positions. As the men left the trenches an enemy bombardment fell between the 1st and 2nd lines. The enemy dashed back to their positions and a machine gun barrage was put down on the advancing 17th’s men. One NCO taking part in the attack said:

“So heavy was the machine gun barrage that I can only describe the sound of the bullets striking our parapet to the rattle of a side drum”.

 As the men went over the parapet they were struck down by the barrage, not many got further than 20 yards. Each wave was swallowed up in turn as it went over. Only a few wounded managed to get back to the trenches before dark.

 

The 18th Battalion fared no better, getting caught in the artillery barrage very few reached the 17th’s position.

 

During the action all the Officer’s of the Battalion, with the exception of Major Whitehead and a couple of Subalterns became casualties. Company Sergeant Majors took command of the companies, CSM Ham, RSM Coates, CSM Bingham and CSM Jacques taking A, B, C and D respectively.

 

The Fourth wave was stopped before it went over the top by CSM Ham who had gone over with the 3rd wave and returned to the front line. The 2 platoons together with a few machine guns and the Lewis guns of the 18th Battalion stood to in anticipation of a German counter attack. The battered garrison remained in the line until late in the evening when it was relieved by the 16th Manchesters.

 

B and D companies on the left flank fared little better. Although reaching their objectives they were forced to withdraw owing to the number of casualties. The Royal Scots Fusiliers got no further forward, and also withdrew at dusk.

 

The attack, although gallantly carried out, had been a disaster. Very little ground was gained and the Battalions losses amounted to 12 Officers and 213 other ranks Killed, Wounded or Missing.

 

The Flers attack casualties

 

On the 13th the Battalion was in support and on the 15th they were relieved by the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers. The next day the Battalion moved to Pommern Redoubt, where it remained in bivouac until the 22nd, when they marched to Ribemont. Major Whitehead was appointed Temporary Lieutenant Colonel and a fresh draft of 142 men were received.

 

On the 26th, the Battalion entrained at Mericourt for Doullens and marched the following day to billets at Le Souich. On the 29th the Battalion marched to huts at Bavincourt and were in Divisional reserve at Bailleulval until the 6th November. The Battalion relieved the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers in the right sub-sector at Bellacourt and after 6 Days went into Brigade reserve. On the 18th they again relieved the 2nd Royal Scots in the line. From the 24th to the 30th the Battalion were again in Divisional reserve at Bailleulval when they again took over the line at Bellacourt.

 

Late 1916 Casualties

 

The Bellacourt sector was an extremely quiet sector and reliefs were able to be undertaken in broad daylight. No Mans land consisted of shallow depressions densely packed with barbed wire and the nearest German post was the head of a sap known as the Talus. Just after Christmas it was the intention of the battalion to raid the sap head for identification purposes. Lieutenant Woodward and Second Lieutenant Miles were in charge of the raiding party, but owing to a last minute hitch the attempt was never made. The intention was to blow a gap in the barbed wire using a “Bangalore torpedo”-a steel tube-35ft long and packed with T.N.T. The torpedo was duly carried over the top by a party of 25 men under the command of Second Lieutenant Longworth and C.S.M Jacques, but the scheme did not progress far enough for use to be made of it, greatly annoying the men !.

 

The men were in and out of the line here until the 6th January 1917 when the Battalion marched to Bavincourt and on the following day to Corps reserve at Sus St Leger. Here the battalion continued with various forms of training until the 4th February when it moved to billets at Pommern. The men were involved in all sorts of preparatory work on the construction of a railway in preparation for the battle of Arras. On the 20th March, the Battalion relieved the 2nd Bedford’s in the line in front of Agny and South of Mercatel.

 

For some time the Germans had been gradually falling back from the Somme to Arras and when the Battalion took over the line from the 2nd Bedford’s a new mode of warfare had to be learned. Each night, the men would move forward attempting to keep in touch with the enemy. During one of these patrols the battalion lost 2 Officers, Second Lieutenant’s Rallison and Hobbs and 4 Men when they encountered the enemy in a ruined mill and were thrown of guard when they were challenged in English.

 

The 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers relieved the Battalion on the 23rd March and the men moved back to Madeleine redoubt, an old German strong point where they were shelled heavily, sustaining many casualties. The men provided working parties, digging communication trenches during the night to connect to the front line trenches.

 

 From March 27th to April 3rd the Battalion were billeted in the tunnels at Blairville, still providing working parties under command of the Royal Engineers. It was later in Brigade reserve south of Mercatel.

 

On the 13th April, the Battalion marched to billets at St Amand but 5 days later was back in the Mercatel area.

 

 

Part Four, Arras and Ypres

 

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