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World War One
The Seventh Manchesters
July 1916 to March 1919
Captain S. J. WILSON, M.C.
WITH A PREFACE BY
The Hon. ANTHONY M. HENLEY, C.M.G., D.S.O.
(Brigadier-General (retired), late Commanding 127th Infantry Brigade)
AND AN INTRODUCTION BY
GERALD B. HURST, T.D., K.C., M.P.
(Lieut.-Col. Commanding the 7th Bn. Manchester Regiment)
AT THE UNIVERSITY PRESS
LONGMANS, GREEN & CO.
LONDON, NEW YORK, BOMBAY, ETC.
List of Illustrations.
List of Sketch Maps.
I first met the 7th Manchesters early in May, 1917, when they were gaining new experiences of warfare on the Western front, not far from Epehy in the north of France. They, with the rest of the 127th Infantry Brigade, and in fact the whole of the 42nd Division had already had a long war experience in Gallipoli and Egypt, but they had only recently been transferred to France. I was taking up the command of an Infantry Brigade for the first time. I did not know then what a lucky man I was, but it did not take me long to find out, and we worked together without a break from that time until the armistice.
The writer of this book passes over with considerable sang froid a certain operation which took place on a June night in 1917. If the 7th Manchesters, and not only the 7th, but the 5th, 6th and 8th as well will allow me to say so, I did not enjoy the same complete confidence as to the result before and during the night in question. The operation consisted of digging a complete new front line trench, a mile long, on the whole Brigade Sector, five hundred yards in advance of the existing front line, and half way across No Man's Land. June nights are short and it needed practically the whole brigade to get the job done in time. We had to find not only the diggers,[Pg viii] but the covering troops and strong parties for carrying and wiring. Now four battalions digging on a bare hillside within point blank range of the enemy's rifles and machine guns are not well placed to meet attack or even to avoid fire if they are caught. So everything possible had to be done to avoid raising any suspicion of what was on foot in the minds of the watchful Germans. The troops had to work at high pressure and in absolute silence. The R.E. who were to lay the tapes were the first to go forward after the covering troops; then came the wire carriers, and, as soon as the R.E. had had time to get the tapes into position, out went the diggers, who, after reaching the line, had to be spaced out at working distances along the whole front. We who stayed behind spent some anxious hours. However complete the arrangements and however perfectly executed there was yet a chance that some enterprising and inquisitive German patrol might find out what was happening in time to give one of their local commanders an opportunity of hindering our work. We had to make such arrangements as would give the appearance that we were doing nothing unusual, that we were in fact excruciatingly normal. There must be neither more noise nor less than on an ordinary night, and so the artillery and machine guns must fire their accustomed bursts into the likely places in the German lines.
It was a great success. By dawn there was a trench, continuous at least in appearance along the whole front, at intervals there were rifle and Lewis gun posts in it; and if there were places where it was preferable to pass along in the attitude of the serpent after his expulsion[Pg ix] from the Garden of Eden and ever since, there was nothing to show the Germans which they were. There was wire in front, and the troops got back without more casualties than averaged as a result of the ordinary nightly strafes.
Though we took on many tougher jobs later I was never again anxious as to the result.
Our great days were:—
Stopping the Germans East of BUCQUOY—
In every one of these the 7th Manchesters were called upon to play a part. Whether their original role in the plan of battle had been to lead the attack or to act in support they were always in the picture before the end of the fight. I am not going to pick out this or that as their finest performances. The reader can choose for himself when he has finished the book. It is enough for me to say that, whatever task was given them, they[Pg x] took on cheerfully and carried through magnificently. Not only that, but they were anxious to go beyond what was demanded of them, as is well shown by the fighting at La Signy Farm which they attacked and captured on their own initiative.
I can only wish them individually the same success in peace as they won as a battalion in war. I think they will have it. For it takes first-class men to make a first-class fighting unit. Perhaps many of them will join again under the old colours. I hope so, and I congratulate in advance any commander whose good luck it may be to lead them.
A. M. Henley, Brig. Gen. (retired)
A great piece of history worth preserving.
Lest we forget
Their sacrifice must always be remembered.
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