Oldham Historical Research Group

'What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.'
from 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' by Wilfred Owen

1914 - 1918

'Oldham Terriers - Their Part in the War'

by Sergeant Maurice Bradbury, M.M.
Oldham Territorials, 1/10 Battalion, Manchester Regiment

Transcriptions of the series of articles published in the 'Oldham Standard' in Spring 1919.


The first three weeks of March were the calm before the storm. The 126th Brigade were in billets around Lillers, the 10th Manchesters being quartered in the village of Lapugnay, some three or four miles from Lillers, behind the La Bassee front. The weather was gloriously spring-like, warm and soft, and very sunny. The men were comfortably billetted and after their daily spell of training were at liberty to ramble the countryside or indulge in sport. There was no sign of war, not even the distant rumble of a gun. The French people toiled on the farms or in the mines, shops were open, and everybody seemed frankly optimistic in the sun-bathed cobbled streets or in the woods where leaf buds were appearing in a setting of pale green. The French people were kind and chummy, and Tommy and a girl worked side by side in the farmyard with a mutual understanding of the coming of spring. Occasionally the birds were disturbed by the rattle of a Lewis gun, but even they seemed to know it was only practice, distasteful perhaps, but necessary.

But actually amongst the thinking men and those in the know, there was an undercurrent of very serious thought. The sun was good, but there was the coming shadow behind it of the mightiest German offensive in the history of the war. The intelligence channels, the secret means by which the enemy's intentions could be guessed at, showed that the blow was impending, but exactly where the full weight of it would fall could not be said. La Bassee, Ypres, Arras, it might be any one of them. That it would come was certain, and that all Germany's hopes were staked on it, was just as sure. the 42nd Division were in G.H.Q. reserve and therefore liable to be called upon to proceed to any part at a few hours notice.

The call, when it came, was sudden and unexpected to the rank and file. On the sunny morning of the 21st March the usually quiet life of the villages was disturbed. There was hustle everywhere. A line of motot buses stretched away to a vanishing point on the straight main road which led to everywhere, and battalion after battalion of the 42nd marched to a starting point and wondered at their destination, whilst groups of natives chattered excitedly about a rumoured German crash on the Amiens-Arras front, and bid goodbye, and wished good luck to the departing Tommies. Soldier and civilian knew then that the crucial test of the war had come, that it was the Germans or Allies for it, that whoever came out of the vortex triumphant had unquestionably won. Telegrams told them that the first advance was on a forty to sixty mile front,that we were being pushed back, as was inevitable, but that we were fighting as never before.

"Penny all the way," was scrawled on the buses which shouted "The Strand," and "Piccadilly," as loudly as ever an inanimate body could shout and when men had dumped their rifles and "clobber" and crushed themselves into some semblance of comfort they laughed like children with the jerking and bumping of the buses and ingeniously ducked their heads to miss the overhanging branches of trees. They shouted jocularly to the civilians by the roadside and wonderd one to another what front was going to be theirs. When they rumbled into the narrow twisted streets of St. Pol and saw holes in buildings they knew they were approaching the danger zone. They smiled at the cheers of the French men and women, and then they were out in the country beyond, where white tipped arrows nailed to the trees at intervals guided the drivers ever towards the front line. By six or seven in the evening they were bumping along rutted roads and through villages where only the foundations were left and in a district as familiar to them as any front in France, their desolated rest area of August 1917. The ceaseless roar of guns could now be heard and somewhere beyond the woods the Germans were coming with relentless weight of numbers to force their advance. The buses tipped their now quiet loads into fields by the side of dense woods and when darkness came men sought a few hours rest on carpets of moss with equipment by them and rifles ready. In a cave-like hole under a tree five men of some Yorkshire Regiment were huddled together for warmth and the writer asked them where their battalion was. "We are what's left of them," was the reply, "and when you get up there you'll find it just the same.He'll come again tonight and tomorrow. He's got the numbers and all you can do is just to kill them and keep killing."

The 126th Brigade were warned that night to hold themselves in readiness for a counter charge with the bayonet if the Boche attacked and advanced; front line troops were scattered and worn out and could not fight for ever against overwhelming odds. The next morning and throughout the day the line held, but towards night it was seriously threatened to the right of Arras, in the Gomiecourt sector, and the 12th Brigade were ordered there. Shortly before midnight the 10th Manchesters lay in a cutting south-east of Gomiecourt, and listened to and saw the demons of hell let loose. The ridge in front of Gomiecourt was alight with night lights, and shrapnel and the field artillery were barking without cessation. The Germans were coming again; nobody knew where exactly of with what success. About midnight a battery of artillery crossed the field at a gallop. "Where the h--- are you going?" somebody shouted. "Just to the hedge there, my son." was the reply, and a minute afterwards the horses were out and the guns were banging from their new position. As the battle progressed it became evident that the troops in the front could not hold the hordes coming on, and the 126th Brigade moved up, the 10th Manchesters taking the Ervillers sector. The dawn brought with it the opening of one of the hardest and glorious battles this battalion or any other fought, and earned them the distinctive honour of being one of the eight battalions in the British Army in France mentioned for good work by by the Commander-in-Chief (Sir Douglas Haig). The Germans made eight successive attacks in one day and were repulsed with terrible losses each time. Many troops had given way and were scattered in disorganised groups, but the 10th held firm as a rock, and officers and N.C.O.s rallied the scattered troops and put them into something like a line. So many deeds of individual valour and heroism were performed that it would be unfair to single men out. It was an infantryman's battle. The Artillery were either on the move or out of action, and the sending up of the S.O.S. brought no response from them. If ever the existence of the Lewis gun was justified it was in that battle, where these guns raked the advancing Germans with a deadly accuracy and piled up their dead and wounded in heaps. The Germans strove hard to turn the flanks here, but were unsuccessful, although their troops were advancing well over to the left of the Manchesters. When the Boche found his infantry mass attacks unavailing he poured artillery fire into Gomiecourt and surrounding places and forced headquarters units to evacuate and take up position some four hundred yards to the south of the village in a deep railway cutting. Communications were almost hopeless except by runner getting through to the front line troops. The artillery could get no knowledge of the position of the infantry, and consequently were shelling Gomiecourt as much as the Germans were, and the A.S.C. and artillery further behind the line became [??] through malicious rumours of an unchecked German advance and galloped back towards Pas. Everything was chaos and upset behind the line, and yet the boys in the front were fighting cheerfully and successfully and when Col. Peel, commanding the 10th got through to his Brigade Headquarters, his first message was: "Got the blighters, and can hold them as long as you want." Owing, however, to the Germans having pushed back the Corps on the left, thus exposing the flank of the Manchesters, the Army Commander ordered a retirement of several kilometres to be made in "three bounds," and there is many a man of the 10th living today who will remember those "three bounds" for a long time to come. The Germans came after them so quickly after the retirement began, as to be almost on top of them at each place before they could start again, and the men were forced to stand and fight and beat them before they could retire again according to orders. Some members of the battalion were in the railway cutting south of Gomiecourt when Germans entered it further up and these, of course, had to make a bolt for it to avod capture. The same thing applied at Ablainzeville. Before the men had been there long "Jerry" was coming down the slopes leading to the village and his artillery was throwing overhead shrapnel and isolated machine guns pushed well forward were making the roads untenable. When the 10th Manchesters had reached a line to the left of Bucquoy with the Guards Division on their left they had reached their goal and they turned and dug in, with the consequence that in spite of repeated German attacks they held on to their line and handed it over fortified and linked up a few days afterwards, they themselves being moved back into a trench at Essauts in support. And it was here where they had one of the worst days of the battle as far as casualties were concerned. Up to then beautiful weather had favoured the operations, but after their arrival at Essauts the rain poured down and in an hour or two the old 1917 trenches were up to the knees in water and clayey mud and troops were so wet and tired and worn out as to scarcely be able to stand. Major-General Solly-Flood came round the line every day here and did his best to cheer up the men. He told them frankly that he was doing his utmost to get them relieved, that he was proud, more than proud, of the work they had done. A day or two afterwards the relief came but just when it should have been taking place the German put an awful barrage on Essauts and from four in the morning until after nine, all roads to the front line were cut off as if a knife had been drawn through them. The trenches at Essauts were just a slice of hell. High explosives and gas shells fell alternately. There were no deep dugouts for the men to shelter in, they could only stick it and trust to luck. Wounded could not be got away and could only groan and wriggle in a foot of mud, helpless to seek what little cover was to be got from the incessant and merciless rain of shells. It was a trench of slime and blood carpeted with bodies, some still and others writhing, and the air reeked of powder and cordite, and explosions came with a persistent savagery which crushed all hope. And when the barrage lifted and shells only droned at intervals those stunned men were ready to fight and work with spirits already reviving. The 10th had over 70 casualties in those few hours from explosives and gas.

In the beginning of April the remnants of the battalion - a dirty, unkempt, immortal band - turned the corner at Pigeon Wood and tramped dreamily in the direction of Pas Wood. They shuffled past six and twelve-inch guns which shook the tin-roofed shelters by the roadside, but they disturbed not those men in the least. Every yard took them further away, and their eyes were fixed on the distant ridge, beyond which villages lay, with men, women and children in them. Men who have been long in the war have had certain great awakening moments which stand out above all others. They are more than thrills, and don't allow of definition. These men of the 10th added one more to their precious store when they marched into Pas. Each company officer dismissed his company, more like a platoon than a company in strength, and said all any man could say, "Men, I am proud of you." Rifles and "fighting kit" were dumped in the barns and unwashed and unshaven men in steel helmets, their clothes caked with dried mud, walked into estaminets and asked for champagne, or beer, or vin blanc, or anything that was going and drank it, whatever it was, from empty cigarette and milk tins and talked quietly one to another of the happenings of the past week or two. The Corps Commander came up and spoke his thanks and pride, and in a few days, the mud had gone, steel helmets were replaced by caps, faces were shaved, and they were the spic and span Tommies out of the line. Their thinned ranks were made up from a draft which had arrived in time to watch their new-found comrades march into Pas.

After about a week in Pas, spent in training and cleaning up generally the battalion again went into the line near Bucquoy for a short spell and then returned to Pas for six weeks rest and hard training in preparation for the coming allied offensive.


'Oldham Men's Fights on Many Battlefields'
'Mobilisation and the Journey to Egypt'

Part 1

Final Days in Egypt
Guarding the Canal
Reception prepared for "Johnny Turk"
Off for ill-fated Gallipoli

Part 2

Journey to Gallipoli
First Sounds of Battle
Queen 'Lizzie' in Action
A Vision of Hell

Part 3

March to Gallipoli Trenches
The First Man Killed
Impressions of Real Warfare

Part 4

Gallipoli's Decisive Battle
The 4th of June
Oldham Men's Fiercest Combat
How Heroes Fell

Part 5

Return to Cape Helles
Christmas Day in a 'Bluff'
Departure from Ill-fated Peninsula

Part 6

The Battle of Romani
German Prisoners' Sullen Glare
Third Christmas of the War
The order to go to France

Part 7

Approach to the Trenches
Impressions of Ruined Peronne
In the Line at Epehy

Part 8

Horrors of Ypres in 1917
From the sands to La Bassee
Gas Attack Almost Wipes Out a Company
A Stand of Almost Unsurpassed Bravery

Part 9

Greatest Battle of All Times
Holding Up German Offensive
Bravery V. Unprecedented Violence
A Slice of Hell

Part 10

The Grand Slam
Weeks of Continuous Fighting
Oldham Lads Face Hail of Bullets
A Glimpse of Unsurpassed Heroism

Part 11

Last Stages of the Struggle
Fight with Germany's Best Troops
Glorious Charge for Welsh Ridge

Part 12

Transcriptions by Sheila Goodyear :

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