Officers, N.C.O.s & Men of the 1st Battalion, Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial
Opened on 1st August 1932 by the Prince of Wales, the Thiepval Memorial was and remains the largest British war memorial in the world. The memorial contains the names of 73,357 British and South African men who have no known grave and who fell on the Somme between July 1916 and 20 March 1918.
Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916 in what has become known as The Battle of the Somme. This Battle was in fact 12 different phases and battles between 1st July and 18th November 1916.
Although other Battalions of the Cheshire Regiment were in action on The Somme from the start of the action on 1st July, there were no casualties recorded for the 1st Battalion (i.e. killed in action) until the 25th.
Between then and the official end of the Battle in November 4 Officers and 168 men were ‘killed in action‘ and a further 2 Officers and 35 men died of wounds (though maybe not from this Battle).
Of the 172, 1 Officer and 46 men were killed between 25th July and 1st August in action during the Battle for Delville Wood.
Another 81 men and 1 Officer were killed between the 1st and 7th September in the Battle for Guillemont and in particular an attack on Falfemont Farm.
The third group of casualties took place between the 18th and 26th September, 38 men killed. This was during the Battle for Morval. During this action Private Thomas Alfred JONES was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Read more about the three action involving the 1st Battalion during the First Battle of The Somme: [CLICK link below]
By 1916, however, and the Battle of the Somme, the original 1st Battalion of the BEF had been so decimated on so many occasions, that few were left to take part in the Battalion’s actions.
Of the 172 Casualties, many of which are recorded on the Thiepval memorial, there are only two from the Battalion’s ‘Old Contemptibles’.
Both the original 1st Battalion dead are named on Pier 3c (right) of the Memorial and their details are recorded below.
C L I C K on name to read more about each man.
Memorial: Panel 3c Killed in Action: 1 September 1915 Age: 28
Personal: According to his enlistment papers William was born in January 1887 (baptised 7th February at St Mary’s Church, Blackburn, Lancashire). He was the son of Thomas (Music Professor) and Annie Maria (née Bolus) Holden. He had one older sister, Ada, and two younger sisters, Maggie and Rhoda, and two older brothers, Francis and Thomas (Pt. 28116), who also served in the Great War, 3rd Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment.
The 1901 Census (RG 13/3904) shows the family living at 3 Cheltenham Street, Blackburn, the same address as 10 years earlier (1891 Census RG 12/3402), and probably where William was born. 16 years old William is employed as a “Butcher’s Asst.” In the March quarter 1903 his mother, Annie Maria, died, and 3 years later William enlisted. His father remained at the Cheltenham Street address and was living there in 1911 with his daughter, Rhoda (Census RG 14/25030).
At the time of his enlistment William was employed as a Butcher. He was 5′ 3¼” tall (1.61 m.), weighed 112 lbs. (8 stone 0 lbs) had a ‘fresh‘ complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. After his discharge in 1914 he went back to live at 3 Cheltenham Street, Blackburn.
William did not marry nor have any children. In July 1918 his total effects, valued at £21 17s 8d [£21.88 – equivalent to about £1100 today – 2020] was shared equally between his 4 siblings, Ada (Barnes), Maggie (Jevons), Rhoda and Thomas. In November 1919 his sister, Ada, was also in receipt of a War Gratuity of £5 10s [£5.50 – about £250 today]
Military Service: William enlisted into the 2nd Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, at Blackburn, Lancashire, on 12th September 1906 aged 19 yrs 8 mths. He had at the time served for 3 years with the 5th Battalion (No. 9412), The Manchester Regiment. His terms of service with the Cheshires were 7 + 5 (i.e. 7 years active service + 5 years reserve).
He was posted to Chester where he remained until 6th January 1908, then being posted to Secundabad, India, where he remained until 5th March 1914, when was transferred to the Army Reserve after 7yrs. 174 days on 10th March 1914. At that time his CO, Capt. P G Villiers-Stuart, stated he was: “Steady and sober, quiet and reliable, very willing and hard-working. Possesses 3rd Class Certificate of Education; was a 3rd Class shot. Formerly a Pork Butcher.”
William’s Medal Index Card shows that as a Reservist he was recalled to join the 1st Battalion at the outbreak of War and entered France on 16th August 1914. He fought on the left of the line at Audregnies under Captain A.J.L. Dyer and also survived the actions at La Bassée and Nonne Boschon (First Ypres).
However, on 24th December 1914 William was tried by Field General Court Martial for: “Whilst on active service leaving his post without orders from a superior officer.” He was sentenced to 24 days Field Punishment No. 1, to expire 24th January 1915. He also forfeited those days in calculation of future pension entitlement. The War Diary states that the Battalion were “in billets at BAILLEUL. Went for a route march” on the 31st which may be why the offence was not treated more seriously.
At the end of his punishment period he was treated at 12 General Hospital (Rouen) for two venereal diseases and again on 21st February 1915 for ringworm.
He was reported “Missing on or since 1st September 1915 (no other information obtainable)” and this date of death was “..accepted for official purposes on or since 1.9.15“. It is likely, therefore, that William was killed during the action to take Guillemont.
Fighting for the village of Guillemont had been going on for some time and a fresh attack was mounted between 3rd and 6th September. The attack started at 9.00 a.m. on 3rd September 1916 and immediately faltered as there had been insufficient artillery support and the Cheshires were ordered forward to reinforce 13th Brigade.
From their reserve position to the front line, they had to cross sloping ground in full view of the enemy and under heavy shell fire. On arrival at the front line, it was found that the trench was crowded with men from the attacking Battalions who had been forced to pull back. Gradually 13th Brigade was able to be withdrawn and the Cheshires took over the line, still under attack from artillery fire. Guillemont had been captured by the main force, but Falfemont Farm remained in enemy hands.
At noon on the 4th, orders were issued for another attack on the Farm. This was scheduled for 3.00 p.m. The attack would be undertaken by the Norfolks on the right, the Bedfords on the left and William’s “A” and “C” Companies of the Cheshires in the centre. The final attack upon the farm went in at 12 noon on the 4th, and after much grim fighting, the 1st Battalion, with their comrades of Norfolk and Bedford were successful.
Memorial: Panel 3c Killed in Action: 27 July 1916 Age: 26 Awards: Distinguished Conduct Medal; Mentioned in Despatches
Personal: Frank was born at Walksmith’s Road, Morton, Lincolnshire, in July 1889, the son of William Joseph (Road Labourer) and Sarah Elizabeth (née Pinder) Thompson.
He had two older brothers, Joe and Edward, three elder sisters, Annie, Maud and Birdie, and two younger sisters, Louisa and Kate. In 1901 (Census RG 13/3113) the family were living in Beaufort Street, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, moving to 23 Tennyson Street by 1911 (Census RG 14/20145)
At the time of his enlistment he was employed as a ‘Blacksmith’s Labourer.’ He was 5′ 7″ tall (1.70 m.), weighed 129 lbs. (9 stone 3 lbs) had a ‘dark‘ complexion, brown eyes and medium brown hair. His stated religion was Church of England.
After the War his medals, etc., were sent to “Mrs L. Thompson, 42 Fortingale Street, Belfast“. This would be his wife Laura (née Sleator) whom he married on 15th December 1913 at St James’ Church, Belfast. They had one son, Frank Joseph, born 25th August 1914 and who, therefore, Frank possibly never saw.
With effect from 26th February 1917 Laura received a pension of 15/- (75p – worth about £45 today – 2020) per week for herself and her child. Franks total effects amounting to £20 (about £1130 today) were returned in September and October 1917, ⅓ to his widow, Laura, and ⅔ in trust for his son, Frank.
Military Service: Frank enlisted into the 1st Battalion at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire on 7th January 1908, aged 18 years 5 months, on a 7 + 5 term of service (i.e. 7 years active service plus 5 years reserve).
He was posted to the 1st Battalion at Bordon on 9th March 1908 before moving to Belfast on 24th September 1909. It took until 26th October 1912 for Frank to make Lance Corporal, but reverted back to Private in March the following year for disciplinary reasons (see below).
Just before his promotion he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion and on 19th October 1912 he was posted to the S. S. Rewa, a British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd. ship travelling from Calcutta to London.
The reason for this is unclear, unless it was to train as a radio operator, which he was doing when awarded his DCM in 1915.
On the 12th October he was vaccinated for typhoid, which might have been linked to this posting. He clearly did not stay with the ship long as he was back with the 1st Battalion in Londonderry by March 1913.
On 1st March 1909 he was charged with “drunkenness” and twice, in August 1911 and February 1912 he had “been in bed at 6.00 a.m.” and received 2 and 3 day CB punishments! However, there then followed a number of misdemeanours, recorded in his service papers. At Ballykimber Camp on Frank received 96 hours detention for drunkenness and assaulting a civilian.
At Londonderry, 16th February 1913 he overstayed a special pass for nearly 4 days and was reprimanded and the following month was disrespectful on parade and lost his L/Cpl. stripe. Later that month he was again late for parade and received 3 days CB. From 12th – 19th July 1913, by now at Enniskillen, he went absent and received 8 days detention. A further 7 days followed for disobeying an order and using bad language to an NCO, 28th June 1914.
Despite these infringements, on 29th September 1913 Captain Dugmore assessed Frank as “Regimental Signaller: Very Intelligent and Hard working. Has been a Lance Corporal and been employed as Garrison Policeman and Officer’s Servant.”
His Medal Index Card shows that as a regular soldier Frank moved with the Battalion at the outbreak of War and entered France with the rest of the Battalion on 16th August 1914. He fought on the left of the line at Audregnies under Captain J.L. Shore and also survived the actions at La Bassée and Nonne Boschon (First Ypres).
On 4th March 1915 he received a bullet wound to the right thigh (Army List 07161) and was sent to convalesce at No 5 Infantry Base Hospital, Rouen, on 23rd March, returning to the Battalion on the 29th.
For his actions that day he was awarded the D.C.M. in the field on 12th June 1915 and Gazetted, London Gazette 23rd June 1915, p. 6136 for action which Crookenden (p. 330) describes as: : “Near Ypres, on 4th March 1915, he was wounded in the trenches, but refused to be taken away as he knew his Battalion was short of radio operators. He remained there 24 hours on duty till his company was relieved, and then was taken to hospital.”
The War Diary shows that on 4th March the Battalion marched to take up position in the trenches (Square 33 I) between Ypres and St. Eloi, taking over from the Northumberland Fusiliers.
Strangely, perhaps, on 2nd February 1916 he received 7 days Field Punishment No. 1, though no further details are given. Frank was back in action during the Battle of the Somme and particularly the Battle of Delville Wood, where he was killed in action on 27th July 1916.
The War Diary makes grim reading: “5.10 a.m. Heavy bombardment of enemy’s [sic] has continued. At 7.10 a.m. the attack on Longueval was commenced by 1st Norfolk Regt. They and the 1st Bedford Regt. cleared the village but the Germans still held out in the Northern outskirts.
At 8.38 a.m. we continued to attack on the German strong point. The first party led by 2.Lt. Prout was closely followed by twp other parties led by 2/Lt. Duckworth and 2/Lt. Barthelmy. The parties were met by cross machine gun fire from two guns. 2/Lt. Prout’s party were nearly all killed or wounded and he was either killed or wounded, his body has not been found.
The other parties also suffered heavily and 2/Lt. Duckworth was wounded and is missing. Lt Richardson was also sent in support but owing to machine gun fire was forced to retire. Lt. Col. Clarke was slightly wounded but remained on duty. Later on, however, he was again wounded in the face and had to go down to Hospital. Capt. Dresser took over command. 2/Lt. Easterbrook was also wounded.”
The following day, 28th July, before being relieved by the 12th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, search parties failed to retrieve the bodies of 2/Lt. Prout or 2/Lt. Duckworth. [N.B. 2/Lt William Thomas Prout and 2/Lt Bernard Duckworth are both commemorated on The Thiepval Memorial.]
Like the two Officers, Frank’s body was not recovered or was buried and subsequently lost during the Battle. He too is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme. In all he had served 8 years 203 days with the Regiment. The 1st Battalion had 24 Officers and Other Ranks killed in action on the 27th, all but 4 are commemorated on the Memorial.
Crookenden, p. 77 says: “In this period, the 5th Division was attacking the German line between Delville Wood and High Wood in order to capture Longueval.
Attacks were made on the 20th and 23rd July. On the 27th the main attack was made by the Norfolk and Bedfordshire Regiments. This attack was carried out in the form of a series of methodical advances from point to point, under cover of artillery barrages. It was preceded by a two-hour bombardment.
While the main attack was going on, the 1st Battalion carried out a separate operation on a German strong point about the existence of which some doubt reigned. We were really attacking a map reference. The attack was made in three parties, under 2nd/Lieuts. Prout, Duckworth and Barthelemy. There was some misunderstanding about the timing of the covering barrages, in spite of which Prout’s and Duckworth’s parties made gallant attempts to reach their objectives. They were met by cross fire from machine guns at High Wood and Longueval which our artillery had not reached. Nearly all the men were killed, and both officers. None were ever seen again. A party sent in support was forced to retire. Colonel M. F. Clarke was wounded. Although the Battalion objective was not reached, an advanced post, protecting the left flank, was established.
Heavy fighting continued all day, and, by evening, all communications were broken by the intensity of the hostile fire.” [Source: “History Of The Cheshire Regiment In The Great War” – Col. Arthur Crookenden (ASIN: B074V8DM97)]