Muckers on the Wire
Warrington Soldiers in World War 1
A brilliant and well received talk by Nigel Wilkinson was given on November 8th, 2018 to our Group on the first few months of the 1914 -1918 war.
The illustrations were from Nigel Wilkinson's book, "Muckers on the wire" and illustrated the lives, hopes, disappointment and horrible realities of these first few months of the war experienced by soldiers from Warrington.
They were part from the existingTerritorial Army (originally raised and intended only to fight within the UK) and the subsequent recruitment of soldiers from the local Warrington and surrounding area factories and industries.
Nigel Wilkinson from a Warrington Guardian photo report when the book was published.
Part of the cover of Nigel Wilkinson's book.
The illustrations given during the talk were superbly researched to illustrate his talk.
The South Lancashire Regiment.
Extract from records.
The 1st Battalion spent the war on garrison duty in Quetta, Baluchistan, on the North-West Frontier. The 2nd Battalion landed at Le Havre as part of the 7th Brigade in the 3rd Division in August 1914 and spent the entire war on the Western Front. The 3rd (Reserve) Battalion was a depot and training battalion stationed in Lancashire throughout the war.
The 1/4th Battalion landed at Le Havre as part of the 7th Brigade in the 3rd Division in February 1915 for service on the Western Front. The 1/5th Battalion landed at Le Havre as part of the 12th Brigade in the 4th Division in February 1915 also for service on the Western Front.
Finish of extract.
The Territorial force included the 'Warrington Soldiers" were raised as Territorial Soldiers who obtained an experience different from their factory life, and the obligation of the two weeks camp was seen as a 'paid holiday' by many Territorial Soldiers. It was a considerable attraction at the time before the First World war, when paid holidays were not normal. Often the TA group would be personnel from a specific factory with the owner funding the group from personal wealth, and perhaps being a nominated head of the unit. The men having to pay for their own equipment and training ammunition for their rifles.
They were volunteers obliged to attend a drill hall on their off-work-day (Saturdays) for about twenty days per year and also attend a two week camp each year. (This time obligation was still the same in the 1950s.) The camp as a paid holiday in a distant area was a big attraction to young men in pre-1914 industrial towns and the owners of factories and works ‘competed’ to provide a ‘show force’ for status funded partly by their own funds.
It was originally seen as a last defence in the country against an invasion to supplement the home stationed regular army; where most regiments had battalions that rotated between home and foreign service on a 3 year tour basis, so always there was less than 50% of the regular army in the UK.
It differed little from the “Fyrd” of Saxon times:
A Fyrd was a type of early Anglo-Saxon army that was mobilised from freemen to defend their shire, or from selected representatives to join a royal expedition. Service in the Fyrd was usually of short duration and participants were expected to provide their own arms and provisions.
The Territorial Army was funded and equipped much like a Saxon era local Fyrd, namely it was raised locally for part time service with soldiers intended to provide and pay for part of their own kit, such as boots, and training ammunition (so not much actual shooting practice or musket drill was done).
Typical camp 1913 some in uniform some in work clothes 5th Border Regiment
The government of the day was trying to get a reserve force for little cost. Little had changed since Saxon times.
Then came the declaration of war in 1914, and the local Warrington ‘Saturday Warriors’ who were then on their annual camp were summoned for active duty.
Political changes to obligations.
As the force could not be legally sent abroad, and the government needed them in Belgium & France as Germany’s plan to sweep to Paris in a short time had only been stopped just short of Paris.
At which point the German commanders picked their line of defence/offence and retreated to the higher ground where they had superiority of ‘field of fire’ down on any opponent. A set of battles (the race to the sea) eventually set an almost fixed line, from the Swiss border to the sea on the coast of Belgium, with the Germans on the high ground.
“We agree to serve abroad” [or so reported!]
A meeting was held in The Parr Hall of the local TA soldiers to try to obtain a concession from them to volunteer for foreign service. It was reported as successful in the papers [1 below] but our speaker has unearthed from diaries of the commanding officer [2 below] that he did not think the change would happen. A lot of persuasion including agreement to pay some compensation and hold jobs open for their return from the war was agreed.
1. The papers: “the 4th battalion agreed almost to a man to offer themselves for foreign service.”
2. The diary: ‘The Battalion did not unanimously agree, in fact on the first meeting only about 45% held up their hands’..... could anyone have expected them all to go in those early days?’
The slides showing newspaper report and the actual officer’s recording of events had a big impact with our listeners.
The result was the battalion went to war. Entraining at Bank Quay Station, Warrington aftet an early start a long wait for a train.
Entraining, the long wait for a train. Lancashire -infantry-museum_photo_waiting_to_entrain_index.jpeg.
A Lancashire Infantry Museum photo. Regiment waits for transport [they went to Scotland!]
They were allocated to defend Rosyth on the Firth of Forth, as enemy submarines were expected in the Firth.
Within weeks, they had altered duties and entrained for France and Flanders where they became part of the soldiers around Ypres.
The Ypres Salient was the main head of rail for supplies from UK and channel ports to the front line.
Ypres November 1914 (Imperial War Museum photo)
November 1915 Ypres Market Square shows the destruction by German Artilery from their higher ground bases.
Ypres by 2015. The town destroyed by enemy shelling from their higher positions.
Allied Soldiers from Warrington were in static lines in shallow wet trenches.
Instructions for a shallow trench with higher built up protection above soil level.
An 'idealised' reconstruction at Ypres exhibitions. Reconstruction of shallow trench with sandbag top Ypres 003
“Fancy” Reconstruction in Ypres tourist area of how it should have been, but the upper walls were often full of dead bodies used as ‘bricks’.
The reality of trenches in the wet soil around Ypres.
(Trenches should not be deep as water level was just below the surface in Ypres).
Over the top to attack. (Image from Somme battle).
Going over the top the Warrington soldiers were in full line of fire from the upper positions of the German trenches, so attach was to walk into a hail of bullets and other weapons.
South Lancs infantry Museum Photo .
In the field lay the dead, at least for a day as recovery could only be done in darkness, and in some cases for many months before the dead could be recovered for burial.
Strange An odd point, opposite the Warrington soldiers later in war a specific German was stationed.
24th October 2014. From website: http://ww1blog.osborneink.com/?p=2381
A named foe was known to be opposite the Warrington trenches.
Above: the church at Zonnebeck sometime in 1915-1917. Yesterday, (23rd October 2014) a private in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment named Adolf Hitler de-trained at the occupied French city of Lille, where Crown Prince Rupprecht commands the German 6th Army. Today he is marching towards the Ypres salient.
This became relevant during negotiations for peace before the Second War with Hitler, when he asked where a UK person from Warrington in the UK delegartion was stationed during the Great War.
Sometimes the link is in little things.
A later image of the church.
The speaker's talk.
The talk covered the early part of the engagements of Warrington soldiers, 2014-2015, and the summary of events is given on another’s presentation quoted below.
CLHG: From presentation of another person on Ypres 2014-2018 a summary.
Race to the sea: German vs. Allied Forces as they all try to secure N. France’s ports
Germany uses the German Fourth Army, aka Kinder Corps (kinder = children) - majority of soldiers = young, inexperienced volunteers between ages 17-19
Sub-battles (Langemarck, Gheluvelt, Nonnebosschen) = heavy losses for Germans, less for British/Allies
Encountered well-trained British Expeditionary Force
Allied (France, UK, Belgium) victory
Everyone wanted Hill 60
Strategic geographical position—overlooked Ypres / all the roads around it
British take initially take Hill 60
Taken by Germans during First Battle of Ypres
Both sides accuse the other of using gas attacks
Finally retaken by Allies in 1918
The British took advantage of the winter season for warfare.
Massive German offensive attack
There were two new forms of warfare:
Chlorine Gas: Signalled the beginning
Flamethrowers: “Liquid Fire”
British/Canadians held the line against Germans,
despite gas attacks
Essentially a stalemate
Main players: French/British Empire, Belgium vs. German Empire
From local industry to 'Muckers' the Joseph Crossfield works memorial. A pals memorial.
The Warrington town memorial.
And still nightly they play a bugle call at:
The Menin Gate at Ypres / Ieper, Flanders, Belgium
Please, visit the website below, read details, and listen to the ceremony.
The 30,000th ceremony is available through a browser on Google’s YouTube video at:
Ceremony of the 30,000th. Last Post in Ypres ( 9 july 2015 )
Images are from Imperial War Museum or other public domains. All copyrights acknowleded where known
The speaker’s images are in his book, and not in this article. They are well worth the effort to obtain and read.
The group thanks Nigel Wilkinson for his most impressive talk and enlightenment of our members and visitors.