Lest We Forget: November 1917 Passchendaele - At last!

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The name Passchendaele is perhaps unique in British folk memory. On 6th November, Currie's 2nd Canadian division from the prairies cleared the eastern fringe of the ridge and took, after bitter hand to hand fighting, the ruin that was once Passchendaele village. Casualties at that time for British, Anzacs and Canadians made grim reading. The meticulous Currie housed in a 2 room shack (not a chateau) had as always studied the ground carefully and estimated a loss of 16,000 overall. Aiming for steady gains of just a few hundred metres a day, under continuous rain and shellfire, his troops moved remorselessly forward. They won a few kilometres in this mud-soaked horror - 15,600 were killed and wounded or lost overall. Third Ypres ended, after futile enemy counterattacks, on 10th November by which time we had lost 270,000 casualties. The Germans nearly as many. Since 31 July we had taken 5 miles of ground to make the bump of the Salient just slightly larger.

Beyond Passchendaele Europe had changed dramatically during the 16 or so weeks of Third Ypres. - On the day after the village finally fell, Lenin's Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd. Once Kerensky was deposed they began peace negotiations with the Central Powers. In Italy the pretty scenic town of Caporetto was now in German hands. To Haig's dismay he was ordered to send Plumer, perhaps the soundest of his generals, to bolster the defences of the Italians for the next 4 months. At Cambrai on the 20th, 374 tanks led almost a quarter of a million British and Canadians to break through a 6 mile weakly held part of the Hindenburg Line. More ground was won here in 6 hours than around Ypres in 6 months. Bells rang throughout the UK to herald "a victory". Hesitancy and lack of preparation for the future advance cost nearly all the land gained however and another 45,000 were added to casualty lists.

Our community lost 5 young men in this horrendous month. On the 6th in Egypt, Private Stanley Thirwall died aged 24. The son of Frederick and Agnes of "The Hough" Macclesfield Road, he was, before the war, apprenticed to a local chemist. Originally joining the Cheshires, he was transferred to the 1st/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers (70647) and is buried at Beersheba War Cemetery. He is remembered on the civic memorial, in St Bart's and on the family grave there. His brother Albert had been killed in May 1916 at Loos.

Private John William Worthington (49291) of the 15th Cheshires (a bantam regiment for men under 5'3") died of wounds aged 20 on the 13th. He is buried at Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension and commemorated in his home village of Styal on its memorial and in its Methodist Church. Before hostilities began he had been an errand boy.

Ribecourt British Cemetery contains the grave of Private Harry Bailey of the 1st battalion King's Shropshire Light Infantry (27034). He died on the 20th, aged 31, Wilmslow war memorial and that of St Bart's mark his passing. Born in Stockport, his family lived in the Carter's Arms and, like his siblings, he worked in a local cotton mill.

On the 23rd, Private William Bowers of the 13th battalion Cheshires (243739), was killed in action aged 36. He was at Cambrai, where he is interred in the town's military cemetery. He had been a postman living in Alma Lane with his wife and 2 children. The civic memorial and parish church record his passing.

Our final fatality this month was 2nd Lieutenant Percy Brookes of the 6th Cheshires. He was the husband of "E.M." of "Sunnyside" Hall Road and had worked for an auctioneer before the war. St Chad's and Alderley Edge memorial mark his passing. Hooge Cemetery contains his grave.

By the 10th of the month, once the 26th Winnipeg regiment had taken Passchendaele, the battle ground to a halt. Our community was left to count the cost. Wilmslow and its environs had lost 30 young men of whom 20 had fought with local county regiments (Cheshires, Manchesters and Lancashires). Of the dead 10 were never found; 3 are buried locally and 17 are in Flanders.

Hostilities between Russian and German forces ceased as peace discussions began in the Polish town of Brest Litovsk. This harsh, punitive treaty would allow the Germans to transfer 45 divisions to the Western Front. What was 1918 to bring for the beleaguered, outnumbered Allies? Would the Americans arrive "en masse" in time in the New Year?

Jon Armstrong and Alan Cooper
Wilmslow Historical Society
with a contribution from Michael Scaife

Tags:
First World War
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Comments

Here's what readers have had to say so far. Why not add your thoughts below.

Dave Cash
Sunday 12th November 2017 at 1:24 pm
In preparation for the recently announced 1918 Commemoration events, is it known whether any of the deceased soldiers were bell-ringers in their respective Parishes pre War?
Apparently, over 14,000 bell-ringers were killed during WW1.

Let us not forget the many civilians who died from 'Spanish Flu' by 1921, (thanks to returning soldiers).
Jon Armstrong
Sunday 12th November 2017 at 4:50 pm
The Central Council of Church Bell Ringers Rolls of Honour for those who died in the Great War are online here:
https://cccbr.org.uk/rolls-of-honour/

There are 1361 in their list of Great War casualties, which is obviously only 1/10th of the 14,000 you quote... I have no idea which is correct.

As far as I can see, there were none from Wilmslow.
Jackie Pass
Sunday 12th November 2017 at 5:26 pm
This article is so moving. One local family lost both of their sons, - heartbreaking.
Alan Brough
Monday 13th November 2017 at 9:43 am
Alan Cooper, Jon Armstrong & Michael Scaife,

Many thanks for this timely and very interesting insight into the horrors of Passchendaele and the sacrifices of our townsfolk.

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