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.


After the victory at Reincourt the battalion were relieved the same night, and each shattered platoon tramped down the Bapaume road with the shadows of familiar faces left behind and jerked head and eyes to the left as they passed the major-general standing with his staff by the roadside. The men were dumped in a field near La Barque in the early hours of the morning out of range of the shells and allowed to sleep. They stretched themselves on the grass and slept as tired children sleep, and the following morning a few officers and a few men could be seen with the padre in a short trench taking Holy Communion. Two days later they were again crossing the field of Reincourt after the now retreating Germans, and the men sat in the sunshine eating bread and meat on the very ground where it seemed hell was let loose a day or two before, and dotted here and there between the torn shell holes were the huddled motionless forms of the dead. After eating, men from each company went to find their dead and bury them. Lieut. Shaw said the few necessary words for his men, and friends in each case put put something on the mounds to show those coming after who lay there, and in one case the epitaph was the cover from the dead boy's parcel, a piece of rag carefully and ingeniously stitched as they always were, and with number and name in big round letters written by a mother for all the world to see it was for her boy.

The next fortnight was spent in training for another 'stunt', and the middle of September saw the battalion in the line at Havrincourt Wood, in the old haunts of '17, but under vastly changed circumstances. The Germans were further back and everybody knew the near future would see the fall of Cambrai. After a rough few days on this sector, during which time Lt.-Col. Peel and Capt. F. Hardman were badly gassed and had to be taken down the line, the battalion were withdrawn for a night preparatory to their going over the top in the now famous Welsh Ridge stunt. Orders for moving came on the afternoon of the 25th of September, and before the sun set the men were again filing through Havrincourt Wood and out into the trenches in front, where they sat waiting for the darker hours. About two in the morning they began their march into the front trenches, now a mile or two away for in an hour and a half they were to storm the Hindenburg Line, the German's boasted wall of impregnability. It was a cool, soft morning. German guns were fairly quiet except for bursts of gas shells which caused the men to swear and drag out gas masks. By 3 o'clock the battalion were lying in a sunken road some two hundred yards in front of the front line waiting for the signal to go. 'B' and 'C' Companies were to go first and stop in a sunken road out in the beyond, and 'A' and 'D' Companies were to follow them up, go right through them, and on to the next rise before Welsh Ridge. Everybody knew what he had to do, what he had to expect, and where it all might lead. Men lit cigarettes ten minutes before they went over and chatted about anything except the work in hand, and all the time screaming and hissing into the blackness in front went our shells, lighting up the ridge with forks of flame as the shrapnel burst, and somebody said, "I wouldn't like to be in the Hindenburg Line just now." The order came to go, and the men clambered out on top and into innumerable belts of wire and through them until they flopped into the first sunken road, not many yards behind their own barrage. The second wave of two companies came through them and into the network of trenches leading into the main Hindenburg Line, and by this time Lieut. Norris, commanding 'D' Company and Lieut. Wilson were both dead. It was in these trenches beyond the sunken road that Germans were encountered in force, but they were like children before the irresistible force of the Manchesters, and prisoners rolled in faster than they could be counted or herded. Thirty-feet dug-outs lay next door to one another in the trench, and in each of them were 20 to 30 Germans. One example will illustrate the whole night. A Tommy, flushed and excited with victory and transcendantly exultant, stood over a dug-out with his forefinger lovingly embracing the ring of the pin of a Mills' bomb, and shouted, "Come up, you square-headed devils, or I'll divide this amongst you," and big, dazed and frightened Germans clambered out with hands held high and begged for mercy. Tommy took all the souvenirs he could grab in the short time at his disposal and passed on, leaving the next fellow who came along to escort his prisoners down. And so on through the night, until when dawn broke the 10th were through the German front and support lines and were capturing his transport, and by noon the following day were on the much coveted Welsh ridge two miles beyond their objective, and had provided an undream't of kicking-off place for the New Zealand troops who were coming afterwards. Field guns, transport, horses, machine guns, a German doctor and his staff, all fell into the hands of the 10th, and much other war material. Congratulations poured in from the brigade and divisional and higher commanders, and a day or two afterwards the men were lightheartedly enjoying the pleasures of peaceful life in Havrincourt Wood, and waiting for moving orders. These came all too soon, and from Havrincourt they began to trek after the Germans, which lasted a fortnight. The Boche was now in full retreat hammered and battered by artillery and cavalry, and if he tried to make a stand anywhere he was literally blown out by artillery fire, and was wiped up by the advancing infantry.

Campaigning at this time began to assume a new attraction. Troops were coming in contact with liberated French people and the reception given to Tommy was what could be expected from man or woman who had lived a slave under the Boche p** for over four years. And Tommy understood well when he saw the sky reddened every night by burning villages and heard the dull explosions of mines. The Boche was going back but he was leaving his red and black trail. At first only old men and old women and little children fell to our troops, but gradually the Boche found he could not get civilians back with him and batches of[sic] Ypres, on the fields at Havrincourt, Nieu - thousands were found by the advancing British and later, villages untouched. All roads leading to the line held two streams, an endless line of civilian men, women and children with their earthly belongings on their shoulders, tramping to what had been their homes in some village behind, and the never ceasing motor lorries and troops going towards the line. Soldiers helped civilians wherever and whenever they could and the French men and women broke their crusts in half. They and they only understood Tommy really, for they had all in common, misery for misery and hope for hope, they with him had been homeless, and helpless sufferers at the hands of a race of sw*** and they, like him, will always remember. The way of the battalion in these days lay lay through broken and dismantled villages, where newly liberated civilians sought what had once been home, and over the sweeping valleys and ridges of the Somme, where crumpled forms of friend and enemy dotted the green slopes and reminded one of the moving battle area in front. Then from Bouvois in the muddy October days the battalion moved into the line south-east of Salesmes for the great battle known to the men as the 'railway cutting stunt'. The Germans were frantically endeavouring to stay our advance in this sector, and the Guards on the left were experiencing some hard and bitter fighting in trying to advance. Realising the strategical importance of the position on the right of Solesmes which would open up the way to Mons and North Belgium the Boche put his best troops in the line here. The 10th Battalion were paraded and told the position had to be taken, and in the early hours of the morning they had crossed the river and were fighting hand to hand with Prussia's best. The struggle was bitter and bloody, but the 10th won through, and sent the remnants of Germany's crack regiments back towards the distant Rhine and inflicted terrible casualties, and other troops swept over and carried on the work. Another well earned battle honour could be put on the battalion shield.

From there the troops were taken back to Bouvois for a short few weeks, but the beginning of November saw them once again in the vanguard of the attack, standing knee-deep in water and mud in the great Forest de Mormal waiting for the word to go. The rain dripped drearily and persistently through the decaying leaves, and shells crashed hour after hour through the branches, and the armistice was only a few days distant but the men who died there did not know that, although they suspected. Lieut. Shaw was killed there, and Lieuts. Cook and Cooper had gone. From the Forest de Mormal the battalion pressed on until they reached the outskirts of the village of Haumont on the eve of 11th November, and here they had a reception which, as old men, they who are living will sometimes tell their children. The village was full of Germans and French, men and women and children: Shells were smashing into houses and machine guns were rattling in the streets. The inhabitants knew from the Germans the English were coming and they rushed to the banks of the River Sambre to give all the assistance they could to get the advancing Allies across. Women dragged mattresses and doors and beds to the river side and flung them in the river to replace the destroyed bridges and extended welcoming hands to the Tommies. Girls rushed from the houses with cakes and flowers and wine, and threw their arms round the necks of the soldiers sublimely ignoring the presence of still fighting Germans and the rip rip of machine gun bullets. The enemy were driven from street to street on to the outskirts of the village and when evening came some of the 10th had their advanced post in a house at the extreme end of the village, where they kept vigil in turns and were cooked for and cheered by the women of the house. Men bleeding from bullet and shrapnel wounds were succoured by the women and motor ambulances hummed their way ceaselessly out of the village and into the peaceful zones behind. Then came the curt message from General Headquarters telling everybody that hostilities would cease at 11 am on the 11th of November, that outposts must be maintained, and that there must be no fraternising with the enemy, and men just turned one to another and said, "That's done it; it's all over now." And just a few miles to the front, over the forts of Maubeuige, was Mons, where it all started for the British in the far-away dark days of 1914. Dead were collected and buried and wounded sent back, and in three days soldiers were cleaning buttons and boots, and had scrapedthe mud of the Forest de Mormal from their clothes and not a house in the village but was open to the soldiers.They shared with those peasant people all the thankfulness of peace; they exchanged reminiscences of their mutual sufferings since the days of August, 1914, when khaki clad figures in forage caps had passed with their backs to Mons and had represented the last link those civilians had with their beloved France. They told the soldiers a thousand and one incidents of their four and a half years'captivity; of the brutal arrogance of the Prussians, their cruel and callous treatment of our prisoners, and ever and always they made Tommy drink coffee with them and share their cakes. Life was very good in those days, for everybody understood the great privilege of being alive and felt the thrill of having assisted in the accomplishment of the greatest task the world ever knew.

After six weeks at Haumont. six weeks of sport, health, and hospitality, the battalion began their four days' trek into Belgium and were nightly the guests of the liberated people, until their arrival in Gilly, near Charleroi where the best houses in the place were given up to the soldiers and where men realised definitely that all fighting was over and that a return to England and home comforts was only a matter of time. The strictness of discipline was relaxed somewhat and officers, N.C.Os. and menbegan to speak more as man to man than as officer to subordinate. Concerts and dances were got up and the soldiers and the people were the best of friends. It was during those months at Gilly that the rough edge of the war was worn away and men with hell behind them began to see a future where blood and violence should have no place. The 1914 and 1915 soldiers gradually faded from the ranks in Gilly and went their last weary journey to the coast, and this time as they stood on the deck and watched the shores of France as they seem to recede into the haze of the Channel, they knew it was for the last time as a soldier, and they were reverently thankful, and also a little sad, for a man always leaves a little of his heart where he has suffered greatly.

Those of the battalion left on the sun bathed slopes of Cape Helles, in the mud of port, Reincourt, Welsh Ridge, Salesmes, and a score of other places, perhaps could say with Brookes :

"If I should die think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam.
A body of England's, breathing English air.
Washed by the rivers, blest by the suns of home."


'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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