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.


Ypres then, as it always did, represented the most dreaded of all sectors of the British front. It was the culminating point reached by all the troops whatever their previous wanderings in France. Hell Fire Corner, the Menin Road, and Kit and Kat were the common property of all British soldiers, and to confess ignorance of one of these places was to invite questioning and suspicious looks bearing on a man's service. Nearly every fighting soldier with any length of service in France has, at some time or other, passed the traffic man at the cross roads leading to Hell Fire Corner, and has wondered at the time if it would be his lot to come back in one of those easy running motors which stood for hospital, white beds and quietness. Ypres, in the war September days of 1917, was the home of the dead. Shells had a hollow dismal sound when they churned up the dust of buildings which toppled to their ruin in late '14, and had been ground to a powder by the incessant stream of iron. Always our big guns boomed forth from the shelter of shattered walls behind the ramparts, and the replies came droning over as if tired of the journey and seemed to say when they burst, "Why this never ceasing exchange when nothing remains to destroy?" Under the ramparts themselves were vast tunnels and dugouts, where men sloshed about in filthy slime, which oozed from the walls and floors, and watched with perfect indifference the passage to and from of large brown rats whose beady eyes questioned the rights of humans to sojourn there. These tunnels and dugouts were considered luxurious; they were inhabited only by the military aristocracy, by staff and headquarters units, because only there could the work of organisation and administration be done. The habitations of the actual fighting Tommies can be imagined by any who take a mental picture of the interior of the ramparts and work backwards. Night after night the artillery vied with the bombing planes in their crashes and silhouette figures of digging parties and ammunition carriers could be seen winding their weary way past the torn screens of Hell Fire Corner and over the twisted railway lines leading towards the front line. And a man ingenious enough to miss falling into a shell hole in that locality had a sixth sense. The dead of '14, '15, '16, and '17 were turned over daily, and smelled always, day and night. Somebody said that by day if a large green fly crossed the Menin Road the Germans would put a six inch barrage down, and there was more truth in that than at first meets the eye. The front line itself was a series of shell holes linked up, and battered mercilessly every day. Such was the Ypres of 1917 where the 10th went.

Colonel Lewis, a former brigade-major of the Manchesters, was now in command. He was a man with only one object in life - the killing of Boches - and he expected every other man in the battalion to be imbued with the same feeling, and to the same extent. "Kill a Boche," he was christened in the ranks, but he was a brave man, who had the respect of his soldiers. He was killed by a shell outside his own headquarters a few days after going into the line. Casualties here amongst all ranks were steady and unalterable, and when ration limbers came back in the dark hours they, too, often contained inanimate forms for burial, the soul of which perhaps understood what was in the distorted eyes of horses and mules lying by the roadside, often with their entrails exposed.

The battalion had about 16 days in this sector in and out of the line, and the work was chiefly preparing for the October offensive, which began a day or two after the brigade was relieved by the Australians. No relief was more welcome than that at Ypres. the battalion had been in many hotter places but it was the general atmosphere of "Wipers" which was so depressing, and the fact that the fighting was on exactly the same ground as it was in the early days of the war. Whilst the 126th Brigade were in line here they lost the services of their old brigadier, General Tuffnell, C.M.G., who had commanded the brigade since the evacuation of Gallipoli, and had been with the 42nd Division since August 1914. He was ordered to proceed to England, and his place was taken by Brigadier-General Johnson, who joined his brigade late one afternoon, and was wounded near the front line early next morning.

From Ypres the battalion had several days' march to get on the Nieuport front and it was here where they met, for the first time the 2/10th Manchesters and the rest of the 66th Division. The 1/10th arrived in La Panne with a good deal of the mud of Ypres still on them, and found the boys of the 2/10th spic and span with shining buttons and glossy boots. There were many meetings of friends and relatives, and for a couple of days both battalions had a really good time in La Panne. It was scarcely conceivable that a few miles up the coast was the front line, and that if he desired the Boche could drop his shells anywhere in the town. La Panne was the gayest of continental resorts. Shops and hotels were in full swing, and the promenade was crowded every day. At night aeroplanes passed over and bombed Dunkirk, but left La Panne alone, one reason perhaps being the tremendous number of spies there. Times at La Panne were too good and happy to last any length, and a move was soon made in the direction of the front line. A mile or two along the sands men came across houses in excellent condition with all the furniture, beds and household utensils in, the owners having left them to get out of reach of shellfire. Needless to say, these houses made excellent billets for the men who were lucky enough to get them but there was always the possibility that Jerry would get a direct hit on them, and were it not for this little drawback the men would have been quite homely there.

The 10th had now with them a new colonel as successor to Colonel Lewis. this was Lieut.-Colonel Peel, who had the honour of retaining command until February of this year. The front line in the coast section was not so "cushy" as the men had thought it would prove and at times it became exceedingly rough. There was not much chance of any surprise atack here from either side considering that No Man's Land was always flooded, and men going on patrol had to swim canals. The work was chiefly that of of improving the defences and contained all the usual routine of trench life. After about a month on this section the battalion moved by march route to the La Bassee front, and went into the line in front of Bethune. No particular incidents occurred here until the fatal Christmas-eve, when the Germans sent over a surprise dose of poison gas, which almost wiped out a company of the 10th. There was plenty of snow on the ground at the time and it was bitterly cold in the trenches. The 10th had commenced a tour of duty in the front line on that day, and had only been in an hour or two when the gas came. It was too much of a surprise and came too rapidly for the men to have any real chance and they were casualties before they realised what had happened. That night will stand out as one of the most glorious in the annals of the 10th Manchesters, for there was not a man there but was a hero. the advanced post were the first to succumb to the effects of the gas and there casualties became general, and when everything and everybody were upset the Germans came over the top and tried to reach our lines. Men suffering from gas leapt to the parapet and hurled bombs or fired their rifles, knowing full well that it was certain death to exert themselves in the least and that their only chance of life was to remain perfectly still until they were carried away. Men died that night on the paarapet almost in the act of firing but the Germans never reached our lines, and the attack was a failure, thanks to the self-sacrifice and bravery of those Oldham lads. It was that night which brought the battalion its first V.C., which was awarded to Private Mills who gave his life in keeping the Germans back.

The battalion was in and out of the line on this front and around Bethune and Gorre until February. It was in the front line for Christmas Day and the Christmas dinner and festivities had to be postponed until the 8th or 9th of January, when the men were in billets a mile or two out of Bethune. The Christmas arrangements were as good as could be expected under the circumstances and the men made themselves as happy and comfortable as possible. In February the battalion was moved back to Basnes, and the Division came into Corps Reserve, but was liable to be called upon to support the Portugese Division in case of necessity. This need arose when the battalion had been in Basnes a few days, and they were rushed up in a snow storm behind the Portugese, the Germans having made a strong attack on them. Fortunately it was not necessary to do any fighting, the Germans having been driven back and held and the battalion returned to a village called Lapugnoy, near Lillers, and remained there in training until the fatal 21st of March.


'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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