The Manchester Regiment

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The Manchester Regiment was a regiment of the British army. It was formed In 1881 with the amalgamation of the 63rd Regiment of Foot and the 96th Regiment of Foot. The former became the 1st Battalion and the latter became the 2nd Battalinn. In 1958 it was merged witth the King's regiment (Liverpool) and the merged regiment was later renamed the King's Regiment.

Contents

The Early Years

In 1881 the regiment was based in British India, its constituent units having been stationed there for many years. The following year the 1st Manchesters, on its way home to the UK, was involved in the brief Egyptian intervention for guarding duties. The 1st Manchesters reached Britain in 1883 and in 1897 headed to sunnier climes, being stationed in Gibraltar.

That same year the 2nd Manchesters had a very busy year, being deployed first to Malta for garrison duties in the island. It was a brief deployment however, for they were then dispatched to Egypt to take part in the same campaign as the 1st Bn. They spent just two months there, being used as guard troops in Alexandria. They were then deployed to Multan, India, though it is now part of Pakistan.

In 1891, the 2nd Bn took part in two expeditions in the tribal-dominated, and fairly lawless North-West Frontier. It would be a common duty for the British soldier in India for many years to come. In 1897 the battalion deployed to the Middle East, being based in Aden, in what is now Yemen. The following year the 2nd Manchesters were back in the UK, being stationed in their namesake city.

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The_Manchester_Regiment_by_Harry_Payne.jpg
The Manchester Regiment in the 1880s. Painting by Harry Payne (18581927)

The Boer War

In 1899 the 1st Manchesters landed in Durban, Natal Colony, just as the Boer War broke out. They were soon involved in action, taking part in an engagement in Ladysmith. The 1st Manchesters, along with the Imperial Light Horse which had been raised in Natal Colony the year war began and is still in service with the South African Army, now known as The Light Horse, covered Modderspruit, initially coming under fire from Boer artillery while disembarking from their armoured train, the cavalry then proceeded to attack and capture Elandslaagte railway station, however, it was soon deemed necessary to attack high ground west of the station to be sure of holding onto the position.

The 1st Manchesters, along with a number of other regiments, subsequently took part in the assault. The fighting was heavy, with the Boers pouring accurate fire into the advancing Manchesters, though not as heavy as the later battles, such as at Spion Kop. The regiment at one point halted its advance, due to the increasingly deadly fire from the Boer defenders, who had excellent cover in the rocky hills. The Manchesters soon became the main frontal-assault, having initially been tasked with a left-flank attack on the Boer hills, the enemy soon withdrew to their main position, situated behind barbed-wire, once the Manchesters closed-in further. Further fighting took place on the last hill reached by the British, and the Boers that defended it soon retreated. However, a few dozen Boers soon appeared, counter-attacking the Manchesters, as well as the Gordons. Heavy fighting ensued, however, the British prevailed after some brilliant leadership by a number of officers was displayed.

By 29th October, the Siege of Ladysmith began. The 1st Manchester took part in an engagement the following day, the Manchesters reached only half-way to their firsy objective, then being involved in other duties, such as coverering, from high-ground, Lieutenant-General John French's cavalry. The action was not going well, and the British forces were soon withdrawn back to the relative safety of Ladysmith.

On the 6th January 1900 during the Ladysmith Siege, the regiment was involved in an action on Wagon Hill, where the British camp, known as Caeser Camp, was situated very close to the front-line. Sixteen soldiers of the 1st Manchesters held a small sector of the Ladysmith perimeter which was under heavy Boer attack. The men defended the position for fifteen hours against determined attacks by a superior numbers of Boers. Only two survived, Privates Pitts and Scott, and for many hours during the engagement, were the last of the group, though still repulsed the Boer attacks. Both won the Victoria Cross for their astonishing bravery. It was the first two VCs of The Manchester Regiment. By the 28th February, Ladysmith had finally been relieved by forces under the command of General Redvers Buller.

In April of that year, the 2nd Manchesters joined the 1st, when they too deployed to Natal Colony to take part in the Boer War. Both battalions of the Manchesters took part in the offensive that followed the relieving of the besieged towns of Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking. The 1st Manchesters took part in much fighting in the Transvaal, in the Boer South African Republic. The 2nd Manchesters meanwhile, conducted many operations designed to check the Boer commandos in the Orange Free State. Some were rather controversial, such as burning farms that were found to assist the Boer guerillas. Many men, in many regiments, were decidedly uneasy about performing such duties, but did, mostly, understand why they had to do it in such an, at that time, unconventional war. As in all wars, some men enjoyed performing such acts against the populace, though they were largely in the minority, the majority being professional soldiers, due largely to the many reforms that had been implemented in the 1870s and 1880s.

The war was over by the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging in May 1902. Further reforms occurred in the aftermath of the Boer War, which became known as the Haldane Reforms, after Richard Haldane, the Secretary of State for War, of the government of Prime Minister Asquith. The changes included the creation of an expeditionary force, which would prove so vital in WWI, and the Territorial Force, later the Territorial Army, which would prove equally important in the war that was only a few years from beginning.

First World War

The 2nd Manchesters returned to Britain in 1902, where they would remain until 1914 and the outbreak of World War I. The 1st Manchesters departed South Africa for Singapore in 1903. The following year the 1st moved to British India, where, in 1911, the famous Coronation Review at the Delhi Durbar, which included the 1st Manchesters, took place. The 1st Manchesters, upon the outbreak of war, were part of the 3rd (Lahore) Indian Division, while the 2nd Manchesters became part of the 5th Division.

Western Front

The 1st and 2nd Manchesters took part in the Battle of Mons in August, the first battle of the war, as well as the subsequent retreat which lasted into September. The 2nd Manchesters were involved in the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914, which was a largely French affair, the French suffering over 240,000 casualties. The 2nd Manchesters subsequently fought at the Battle of the Aisne. In late 1914, the 2nd Manchesters took part in the First Battle of Ypres, seeing some stiff fighting in the early engagements. By October, just as "First Ypres" was beginning, the division the 1st Manchesters were part of, had finally reached the Western Front from India.

On the 29th October, German forces, after heavy bombardments of trenches occupied by the 2nd Manchesters and the Devons, German forces assaulted the positions, managing at one point to seize one of the trench lines in the center of the 2nd Manchesters position. Two men that were defending that section of trench, Second-Lieutenant James Leach and Sergeant John Hogan, as well as ten volunteers, moved along the communication trench remaining hidden to the German soldiers occupying the trench. The British soldiers then surpised the Germans by launching a bayonet attack on them, and after much fighting, working from traverse to traverse, managed to regain the whole trench. The party killed eight, wounded two and captured sixteen. As in the Boer War, the regiment's first VCs came in twos, with Second-Lieutenant Leach and Sergeant Hogan being awarded the Victoria Cross.

In December, the 1st Manchesters daringly attacked the village of Givenchy during First Ypres, fighting bitter house-to-house fighting with the reteating German forces. They soon captured the village, managing to hold it through the night. Further fighting took place the following day, until the decision was made for the regiment to withdraw. However, the regiment was still involved in very heavy fighting, even as they attempted to withdraw. The regiment was finally relieved by The Cameron Highlanders.

In April 1915 the 1st Manchesters, along with the rest of the 8th (Jullundur) Indian Infantry Brigade, took part in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, suffering rather heavily in a concentrated attack on German positions beyond the village of Neuve Chapelle. The battalion, as well as the 2nd Manchesters, which took part in a number of attempts to capture Hill 60, also took part in the Second Battle of Ypres, which later in the month of April, fighting valiantly during the battle. It was during "Second Ypres", that the Manchesters gained their 3rd VC of the war, when Corporal Issy Smith of the 1st Bn, under his own authority, left his company to retrieve a wounded soldier, putting his own life in great danger in doing so. He succeeded in doing this, carrying the man over 245 yards back to relative safety. He repeated these actions later that day, helping to retrieve a number of wounded as well as attending to them despite the immense danger he faced in doing so. He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the Russian Order of St. George (4th Class) for rescuing a Russian soldier while stationed in Mesopotamia

The 1st Manchesters had a brief role in the Battle of Loos in late 1915 before they embarked for Mesopotamia with the rest of the Division in late December. On the 4th June 1916, a famous poet, who would become synonymous with WWI Wilfred Owen, was commissioned into the Manchesters, however he would not join the 2nd Manchesters in France until 1917. On the 1st July 1916, the many battalions of the Manchesters, took part in arguably the most famous, yet equally tragic battles of the British Army's history, the Somme. Many of the Bns of the regiment had a relatively successful day, though some did suffere terrible casualties in reaching their objectives. The battle had been costly, over 57,000 British soldiers were killed, wounded or missing.

Many battalions of the regiment continued to be involved in the Somme offensive, which lasted into November 1916. In late July, the 18th Bn of the Manchesters, a Kitchener battalion, along with the 16th and 17th Manchesters and other regiments, attacked an area known as Guillemont, suffering very heavy casualties during the engagement During the action, Company Sergeant-Major George Evans volunteered to take an important message, a duty that had resulted in the death of the five previous messengers. He ran over half a mile and, despite being wounded by enemy wounded, delieved the message, subsequently returning, from shell hole to shell hole, under persistent heavy enemy fire, to his company. He was awarded the VC.

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2nd_Manchesters_capturing_a_German_battery_at_Francilly_Selency,_Apriil_1917.jpg
C Company, 2nd Manchesters taking the battery at Francilly Selency. Painting by Richard Caton Woodville (1856-1927)

On the 2nd April, the 2nd Manchesters attacked Francilly-Selency, in which the battalion captured a number of German machine guns, with the position of Francilly-Selency also being taken. C Company of the battalion captured a battery of 77mm guns, after hand-to-hand fighting took place. Two paintings were made of this action by the military artist Richard Caton Woodville. Many Manchester battalions took part in the Arras Offensive which began later that month. The battalions took part in a number of battles of the offensive, seeing heavy, and costly, action.

On the 31 July 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres began. As in many of the major battles, a large proportion of the Manchester battalions were involved. During 'Third Ypres', Sergeant Coverdale of the 11th Manchesters, killed three snipers, rushed two machine gun positions, then reorganised his platoon to capture another positions, though after advancing some distance was forced back due to bombardment from the British artillery, suffering nine casualties in the advance. He later attacked with a smaller number of men, though when the Germans counter-attacked, he withdrew man-by-man, himself being the last to leave.

During the last major German offensive on 21st March 1918, the 16th Manchesters were position on Manchester Hill in the St. Quentin area when the offensive began that day. The Battle of Manchester Hill was to be a truly tragic day for the battalion. A large German force, many thousands strong, attacked the 16th Bn, being repulsed in parts, but completely overwhelming the 16th elsewhere, though most of the positions lost were recaptured in counter-attacks by the 16th Manchesters. The 16th bitterly held their positions, fighting hand-to-hand with the German attackers. Lieutenant-Colonel Elstob performed bravely, fighting with pistol and grenade, indeed at one point repulsing a German grenadier attack single-handedly, encouraging his troops to continue fighting, making a number of journeys, despite very heavy fire, to replenish the dwindling ammunition supplies of the Manchesters. At one point, he sent a message to Brigade that 'The Manchester Regiment will defend Manchester Hill to the last', to his men he had said 'Here we fight, and here we die'. They did so, the battalion was, for the most part, annihilated. Lieutenant-Colonel Elstob was killed in the battle, he won the posthumous VC. The Hill was later counter-attacked by the 17th Manchesters, though by the end of the day they too had lost so many men that they ceased to be an effective fighting force. Two other men won the VC in the last months of the war in 1918.

Gallipoli, Mesopotamia and Palestine

Many battalions of the regiment formed part of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division, which, in May 1915, landed at Cape Helles, the first landings to establish the beacheads at Gallipoli having taken place in April. Many of the Manchester battalions took part in the Third Battle of Krithia on the 4th June. The 127th (Manchester) Brigade reached their first objective, as well as managing to advance a further 1000 yards, capturing 217 Turkish soldiers in the process. In all, it was a rather successfully attack by the 42nd Division. Just a few hours later, however, the brigade was forced to withdraw on account of a Turkish counter-attack that threatened their flanks. Further fighting took place at the positions the British had withdrawn to and were soon repusled after many days fighting.

Many of the battalions also fought at the Battle of Krithia Vineyard on the 6th August. Many of the Manchester battalions suffered heavily during the battle, an engagement which would last to the 13th. Lieutenant Forshaw of the 1/9th Battalion won the VC during the battle. The evacuation of Cape Helles lasted from December 1915 to January 1916. The Manchester battalions suffered many casualties during the Dardnalles Campaign. At the Helles Memorial, 1,215 names of the Manchesters fill the memorial alone.

In the Mesopotamian Campaign, the 1st Manchesters took part in the Battle of Dujaila in March 1916, which was intended to relieve the British forces in Kut-al-Amara, which was being besieged by Ottoman forces. In the latter battle, the 1st Manchesters suffered rather heavily, though they carried on professionally, reaching the trenches of the Dujaila Redoubt with the 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force), however in an Ottoman counter-attack, they were forced back out of the trenches, withdrawing to their starting lines. During that withdrawal, Private Stringer held his ground single-handedly, using grenades on the Turkish soldiers, in doing this, he secured the flank of the battalion, winning the VC for his actions. The battle was a defeat for the British and Indian forces, who suffered 4,000 casualties. After the five battles, all defeats, that had taken place to relieve Kut, the town surrendered to the Ottoman forces on the 29th April 1916. The 1st Manchesters would take part in further actions in Mesopotamia, but in April 1918 the regiment moved to Egypt.

The battalion was then moved to Palestine, still part of the 3rd (Lahore) Division, to take part in the campaign there against the Ottomans. They took part in the last major offensive there, Megiddo. The infantry assaulted on the 19th September, the 1st Manchesters being involved in much action. Within three hours the Turkish lines, held by the Turkish Eighth Army, had been broken. Open warfare was the order of the day, in complete contradiction to what had, and was, occurring in other theatres. During the Megiddo offensive, the cavalry advanced over 70 miles in just thirty-six hours, performing what was an early form of blitzkrieg. It was a total defeat for the Turkish Forces and the rapidly declining Ottoman Empire. The 1st Manchesters took part in further engagements in September and would remain in Palestine until 1919.

Inter War

In 1919, the 1st Manchesters returned to the UK, seeing service in Ireland from 1920. In 1922 they garrisoned the Channel Islands, before deploying to Germany the following year to join the Army of Occupation. They retuned to the UK in 1927, and in 1933 departed for sunnier climates in the West Indies. By the outbreak of war in 1939, they were stationed in Singapore.

For the 2nd Manchesters, they were too be involved in further actions in 1920, being deployed to Iraq. During an action near Hillah, Captain Henderson reorganised his company who were wavering in the face of a large force of tribesmen, then led the company in three attacks against the tribesmen, being severely wounded in the second attack, though carrying on for the third and final counter-attack. He carried on fighting until he finally succumbed to the loss of blood and fell to the ground. However, the Captain carried on encouraging his men, with the assistance of one of his men who helped him stand up, the Captain told his men "I'm done now, don't let them beat you". He was shot again, which ended his life. He won the posthumous VC for his brave actions.

The battalion departed for India in 1922, where they would remain until 1932. Upon the outbreak of war, they were stationed in the UK.

Second World War

North-West Europe

Upon the beginning of the Battle of France in May 1940, the 2nd, 5th and 9th Manchesters had stationed on the continent. The battalions saw action against the Germans, who despite being inferior in equipment compared to the Germans defended stoutly against the German attackers. Later that month, the BEF made a number of withdrawals, the Manchesters being involved in much bitter fighting along the way, until finally, that same month, the order was given for all units to withdraw to Dunkirk, the scene of what would be the most daring evacuation of troops in the history of warfare. Of the surviving men of the 2nd Manchesters who had fought in the brief Battle of France, over 300 men were evacuated and under 200 remained in France, fighting until captured or killed. The other battalions of the regiment were evacuated also, suffering light casualties compared to many other battalions. The evacuation ended on the 3rd June.

The following day Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave the immortal "We shall fight on the beaches" speech in defiance of the seemingly impossible situation that the UK, Empire and Commonwealth faced.

In 1944 the 1st Manchesters were deployed to France on the 27th June, eleven days after the invasion had begun. The battalion was involved in a number of engagements in the area around Caen, which was captured by British and Canadian forces on the 9th July. The battalion was involved in the advance across Northern France, reaching Antwerp in Belgium in early September. The 1st Manchesters, along with the rest of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, moved to Turnhout, before crossing over the border with the Netherlands later that month. They, along with the 7th Manchesters, were involved heavily in the Netherlands. The 1st Manchesters by March 1945, after fighting in the advance into Germany, finally crossed the Rhine with the 53rd Division in late March. They, as well as the 7th Manchesters, fought in a number of fierce battles upon their advance. The 1st Manchesters ended their war in Hamburg when that city finally surrendered on the 3rd May. The 7th Manchesters ended their war in Bremen, when that city was captured on the 26th April.

In Italy, back in 1944, The 8th and 9th Manchesters took part in the Italian Campaign. The former battalion was part of the Indian 10th Infantry Division, with the latter being part of the Indian 4th Infantry Division. The 9th Manchesters saw much action during the Battle for the Gothic Line, seeing action at Montegridolfo and other engagements. After service in Greece and a return to Italy for the last weeks of the campaign there, they ended their war in Graz, Austria.

Far East

The 1st Manchesters, who had been stationed in Singapore from 1938, saw some actions during the Japanese invasion of the island. The Japanese attacked by land, a completely unexpected way of invasion by the most high-ranking officers, but when it came the Commonwealth troops fought back, though sadly, in the end, it was in vain. After very bitter fighting, on the 15th February, Lieutenant-General Percival signed the surrender of Singapore and all Commonwealth forces on the island. The original 1st Manchesters (the battalion would later be restored by the redesignation of another battalion) would spend the rest of the war as POWs. They would suffer terribly in the camps, losing many hundreds of men.

In 1942, the 2nd Manchesters deployed to the sub-continent, being stationed first in India, then in 1944, to Burma. The battalion was involved in the Battle of Kohima in very fierce fighting with the Japanese. They were involved in many subsequent actions, fighting in Burma until April 1945, when they returned to India.

Post-War

The 1st Manchesters joined the newly created British Army of the Rhine upon the end of WWII until they returned to the UK in 1947. The 2nd Manchesters also returned to the UK that year, from the sub-continent. The following year that battalion amalgamated with the 1st Manchesters, reducing the regiment to one regular battalion due to reductions in the army.

That year, the regiment returned to Germany where they would remain until deployed to Malaya in 1951 during the Emergency there. It was a tour that would be instantly recognisable to men that had fought in Burma in WWII, indeed there were many Burma veterans that fought in Malaya during the troubles there. The 1st Manchesters main duty was to patrol the claustrophobic jungles in search of the Communist guerillas, as well as searching villages and laying ambushes. Their constant companions in the jungles were the, sometimes deadly, variety of species, including the leech. During their three year stay, the regiment lost over a dozen men in action.

They spent just a brief time in the UK upon their return in 1954, for that same year the regiment was despatched to Germany, which would be the regiment's last operational duty. In 1958, the regiment amalgamated with the King's Regiment (Liverpool) to form the King's Regiment (Manchester and Liverpool), which became the King's Regiment in 1968.

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