Private Ernest G Manley
Royal Engineers

24th BattalionNorthumberland Fusiliers
(Tyneside Irish)
(103rd Brigade,
34th Division)

Died 10.04.1917  aged 32

      Ernest G. Manley was born in 1884 in Cruwys Morchard in the parish of Colyton, the only son of James Manley and his first wife Hannah Elizabeth Bright.  The following year Hannah died, and as a result Ernest knew neither his mother nor his paternal grandmother.  When Ernest was about 5 years old James married again, to Edith Lavinia Tucker, in 1889.  There were two half-brothers for Ernest, Wilfred James born about 1890 and Frederick Harold born about 1895, both born in Colyton.  Originally an agricultural labourer, James later was employed as a market gardener.  His second wife Edith had been a domestic servant to a meat-seller from Colyton and the 1881 census reports the two visiting Brixton on census night.  We can perhaps conjecture that with her wider experience Edith was able to help her husband arrange an apprenticeship for Ernest with Charles Mitchell of Hilliers, Winkleigh, to become a carpenter and joiner.  In the 1911 census, Ernest now aged 27 and a journeyman, was boarding in 11 Northfields Road, Okehampton, with Elizabeth Ford, a widow, and her family.

      On 24th March 1913, when Ernest was already 29, he married Louisa Jane Jenkins Saunders, the second child and eldest daughter of Edward Saunders, a photographer and most likely an early cycle builder, living opposite the ‘Seven Stars’.  After the marriage Ernest continued to visit Okehampton where his only child Winifred Anna was born on 26th July 1915.  Local information given by a surviving member of the Saunders family, Mrs. Bobby Farringdon, tells us that after Ernest was killed in 1917, Louisa took the child to live in Plymouth where some of her brothers had settled; she was apparently a great friend of one of their wives.

      Louisa’s elder brother, Thomas, remained in Winkleigh and took over his father’s cycle business in South Street, and his brother George became a motor engineer.  Besides owning extensive property in Castle Street and Barnstaple Street the Saunders family ran a char-a-banc service, further opening up this part of Devon.  Of the other brothers, Thomas Edward served in the newly formed Royal Air Force, George in the Army Service Corps, Frederick in the Navy as office staff before being transfered to the newly formed Royal Air Force.  Arthur served in the Royal Navy mostly at shore establishments at Devonport during the forst World War years while he was training as a Boy Cadet.  After the war years he went on to serve in the Navy up to and including the second World War.  Besides Louisa, there were also three more daughters, Mary, Caroline and Constance.

      With a wife and child to support it is very understandable that Ernest did not volunteer for service in the early part of the war, either as a Territorial or as a recruit for Kitchener’s New Army.  Sadly, our research is hampered not only by the loss of his military documents but also because his surviving medal roll record makes no mention of the date when Ernest first went overseas.  However, that fact that he was enlisted in the 24th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, originally formed on 14th November 1914 in Newcastle as a ‘Pals Battalion’ of Tyneside Irish, and as part of the New Army, indicates that Ernest probably did not register under the Derby scheme (which would have given him a choice of regiment) but waited instead for call-up as late as possible after the introduction of conscription.

      It must have been a very strange experience for Ernest, trying to understand the dialects of his comrades, particularly of those few who had so far survived from their original enlistment in 1914, or who had been drafted in from other areas of northern England.  Meanwhile, it is useful to understand how the battalion had fared since its original formation, in many ways a typical example of a New Army ‘Pals’ battalion’s history - put together in 1914 with all the enthusiasm and patriotism of those first few months, a long period of training and waiting for their rifles and equipment, over to France where the real training in trench warfare could begin, the first sight of ‘real’ Germans and the first few casualties, and then the supreme moment, July 1st 1916 and the total destruction of all that had been.  From that moment there was no further talk of ‘pals’, the battalion had to be rebuilt over and over again as the war ground on, containing first the ‘Derby men’ and then the army of conscripts.

      The battalion was destined to take part on the opening day of the Somme, July 1st 1916.

      The battalion was in the 3rd wave of the brigade attack, their objective Contalmaison.  Pinned down in the German front-line trench for 33 hours, the battalion conducted several bombing raids to no avail in an attempt to move forward, until relieved back into their original front line at Becourt wood.  980 men had gone into action on July 1st, 650 were killed or wounded including Lt.-Colonel Howard and 4 Officers killed, 14 wounded.  The survivors of what was now a ruined battalion of 2 Officers, 10 NCOs and 120 ORs (most of whom would have consisted of the ‘battle surplus’ kept behind to form a nucleus in case of complete wipe-out) finally reached Humber Camp on 8th July only to be used at once and on following nights for carrying parties up to the line.  Staying until 14th July (the date of Rawlinson’s renewed night offensive) the remnants were visited by their Divisional Commander who apparently limited his praise of the 24th Battalion to expressing his satisfaction at their smart turn–out.

      The statistics are horrifying. A total of 57,470 casualties were suffered by the British army on that first day, killed, wounded or missing.  Of all the divisions the 34th suffered the worst losses, 6,380 killed, wounded or missing, and two of their brigades, the Tyneside Irish and the Tyneside Scottish had each suffered more casualties than any other brigade in the battle.  Their assault on La Boiselle, guarding the main road from Albert to Bapaume, had resulted in the capture of a mere 20 acres of ground, and so shattered were the two Tyneside brigades that they were immediately detached from the division and sent to a quiet sector on Vimy Ridge.

      Ernest Manley was obviously one of the hundreds of men now needed to re-build the battalion.  This was a long process, and indeed on 26th July the 24th and 27th Battalions were merged, contributing two very small companies each.  Gradually moving further back down the line, they stopped for a few days at Monchy-Breton to assist in the building of a light railway, but by 19th July they reached Estree-Cauchie where a special parade was held to award one 2nd/Lieutenant the Military Cross.  Here the first drafts of reinforcements arrived from the depots of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the West Yorkshire Regiments.  The war diary reports that these men were total recruits, many having been in the army for no more than 10 weeks.  In spite of this, however, and obviously in no fit state of service, the newly created 24th/27th Battalion (now simply known as the 24th) was pushed into the line in reserve trenches at Bajolle-Carency, furnishing carrying parties for a tunnelling company.  On 28th July a further draft of 102 men from the Duke of Wellington’s Light Infantry were received, to receive basic training while other men carried on with fatigues for the tunnelling company.  On 7th August a German mine was exploded under the adjacent battalion, and a foothold gained in the front trench, but the Tynesiders succeeded in bombing them out the nest day.  One Corporal threw 6 boxes of bombs single handed, another Private four boxes.  The Corporal was awarded the Military Cross.  Relieved by 12th Royal Scots on 14th August, the battalion moved into billets at Gouy Servins and remained in Divisional rest until 21st August.

      Rejoining the 34th Division on 22nd August, the battalion moved by train to Neuf Berquin, back again to in the Arras area, near Vimy Ridge, the sector famous for the tunnelling on both sides, activity which culminated in the Battle of Arras, April 9th 1917.  However, four days later they were on the move again, this time to temporarily leave their 34th Division and move back to the Somme battlefield attached to 15th Division, and by 30th August to find themselves in the support trenches at the now captured Contalmaison, the very objective of the battalion’s attack on July 1st.  Here they took turn and turn about with their sister battalion, the 25th Northumberland Fusiliers in a very nasty area indeed of the continuing Somme battlefield.

      Ernest Manley’s records of service did not survive the London blitz and so apart from his medal record we have no means of knowing the date on which he joined the battalion.  The battalion war diary contains, unfortunately, the minimum of detail and it is extremely rare for new drafts to be mentioned.

      The first half of September 1916 would have been a very rough time for any new arrivals, in the trenches in front of Contalmaison.  On the first of the month, for example, while being relieved by the 25th Battalion, gas was added to the horrors of shell fire which buried several groups moving away up the communication trenches, while a German raiding party made good use of the havoc this was causing as the trenches were blown in.  After two days in Scots Redoubt the continuous German shelling killed 14 ORs, wounded 2 officers, with a further 5 ORs missing.  Even when a longer rest of seven days was granted in billets in Albert, working parties were required in the front line every night to dig new trenches.  Then, in reserve at Becourt Wood the battalion was used for carrying parties to bring fresh ammunition up to Martinpuich for the next phase of the offensive.  On September 17th a move to the Armentiers sector gave no respite for while in reserve at the end of the month up to 4 officers and 100 men were detailed each night for working parties in the line.

      The regular pattern of front line, support and reserve continued in the line at Epinette, always without let-up from the shelling, but now the battalion saw for the first time the new Stokes mortars arriving in answer to the German ‘minnies’, the minenwerfer.  No doubt the infantry saw this as a mixed blessing: retaliatory fire usually following at once and the quantity of ammunition that had to be carried forward being greatly increased.  ‘Every available man was used’ reported the war diary, and while in ‘rest’ at Armentiers from 17th to 20th October, 40 men were detailed to assist the engineers while every other man was in the carrying parties.  Here, two groups of raiding parties luckily suffered no casualties, because the German wire was so thick and impenetrable that progress was completely impossible.

      We read that from September 29th to 3rd November, while in support in the Epinette sector, ‘a draft of 2 WOs and 18 NCOs arrived, together with 2 officers and 70 ORs from a battalion on our left’.  They also received a draft of New Zealand cyclists, a somewhat bizarre and desperate situation.  By now the dreadful winter of 1916-17 had begun to set in, and inadequate trenches, continually blown in, caused collapse and on 3rd November the diary reported that the men were standing in up to 18 inches of water.  All November the story is one of billets in Armentiers, working parties assisting the engineers, massive German shelling, atrocious conditions generally and raiding parties that found the German front line trenches empty.  Opposite their lines the British discovered that the German defensive strategy had changed to one of ‘elastic defence’ which called for the front lines to be held in minimum strength with counterattack divisions kept close at hand in the rear to seal off any breaches.  This tactic was soon to be demonstrated in the next great battle.

      The 23rd December brought a respite, with 5 days rest over Christmas at Fort Rompu with no fatigues.  This was followed by a short time in a very quiet part of the line and three weeks in Divisional rest at Tartinghem for renewed training - where, no doubt, further large drafts were received.  This period could well have been the time when Ernest was transferred from the Royal Engineers to the 24th Battalion, Tyneside Irish. On 18th February the 34th Division was transferred from the 2nd to the 3rd Army and joined XV11 Corps at Bethonsart.  Out of the line training began in earnest for the next great offensive, the attack on Vimy Ridge, while in the line itself shelling was responsible for yet more casualties, for example on March 8th 6 ORs killed and 12 wounded.  Out of the line the story was as usual of working parties in preparation for the coming offensive, the battle of Arras.

      The campaign opened with the preliminary attack by the British and Dominion First, Third and Fifth armies at Vimy Ridge and Arras.  Together with the simultaneous Canadian assault on Vimy Ridge, the battle of Arras which lasted in its first phase from 9th to 12th April 1917 was simply a diversionary attack that was in support of General Nivelle’s Offensive on the Chemin de Dames (known as the Third Battle of Champagne).  Following the planned rapid French advance there was to be a linkup between the two armies.  In fact, from the start, the plan, which had been in development since December 1916, was plagued by delays and information leaks.  By the time it went into action in April 1917, the plans were well known to the German army, who took appropriate defensive measures.  The offensive achieved very little in the way of territorial gain, nowhere near the 48-hour breakthrough envisaged.  The Canadian Corps successfully took Vimy Ridge, so that the British divisions in the centre were able to make significant gains, but the new German tactic of ‘elastic defence’ prevented a break-through.  Haig has been much criticised for prolonging the British offensive, but he did so in order to support the delayed French offensive that was to begin on 16th April.  The battle was only finally closed down on 16th May after the second British major offensive that began on 23rd Aril.  On the positive side, experimental tactics made the battle a landmark - the creeping barrage, technically advanced counter-battery fire by the artillery, the use of graze fuses to cut wire and an increasing use of massed machine guns to fire over the heads of the advancing infantry all demonstrated that future assaults could be successful.  The problem was still how to capitalise on these initial successes and achieve the break-through.

      The battle of Arras opened with the barrage at 0530 hours on 9th April, as the front line of German trenches disappeared in a torrent of high explosive and gas.  Driving sleet and snow blinded the German defence making accurate shooting impossible.  Many of the wounded drowned in the flooded trenches and shell holes, while others, still un-hit, lost their boots in the mud which rapidly became a quagmire.  XV11 Corps attacked north of Arras, immediately to the south of the Canadians on Vimy Ridge.  On the left was the 51st Highland Division.  To their immediate right stood the 34th Division, with the Tyneside Irish as the left hand battalion.  It was a position of the greatest importance.  The Highlanders were to prise open Third Army’s route of advance north of the river Scarpe, but this the 51st failed to do because instead of attacking with all three brigades in line abreast, they attacked with only two, keeping the third in reserve.  The Tyneside Irish were therefore forced to swing to their left to cover the gap that was opening because the 51st had been held up, obliged to fling back a flank guard instead of advancing full strength to the crest overlooking Bailleul.  As a result the battalion suffered severe casualties for far less gains than had been hoped.  Fortunately the Tyneside Irish were indeed able to put right by sheer fighting ability what the Highlanders’ General had spoilt by his mistake, and indeed the way was almost clear to the crest, but the price paid in casualties by dealing with the scattered machine-gun posts that barred the way and should have been dealt with by the Highlanders was high.  As usual, the war-diary gives us no record of the battalion’s losses.

      An extract from Haig’s despatch dated 25th December 1917 describing the battle of Arras makes a brief mention of these events:

North of the Scarpe, North-country and Scottish Territorial troops (34th and 5Ist Divisions), attacking east of Roclincourt, were met by heavy machine gun fire. Their advance was delayed, but not checked.

      The war-diary of the 24th Battalion is, as usual, very sparse with no details related, and so we must make what we can of the following account in the diary:

1.4.17 – 3.4.17 Billets in Arras. Enemy shelled town. 1 Officer and 4 ORs killed and 10 wounded on a working party in line April 1st.

4/5. 4.17 Held the line in the Roclincourt sector.

6/7.4.17 Billets in Arras

8.4.17 5.00 pm Left Arras for trenches preparatory to assault. Coy.Q.M.S. killed by shell in town.

9.4.17 5.30 am Assault on enemy positions was launched. 4 Officers killed, 9 wounded.

9.4.17 - 14.4.17 Held different portions of the Blue Line till relieved in the afternoon of 14th by the 63rd (Naval) Division.

14.4.17 11.0 pm Embussed for Abbaye – Aux – Cornailles.
There is no mention of casualties to the ORs during the six days the battalion was in action.

      It is not even certain that Manley took part in the battle itself, because he might well have been one of those wounded in the days before, working in the line at night for example on April 1st.  What is certain is that he was taken to the 42nd Casualty Clearing Station at Aubigny where he died on 10th April.  From the war-diary of the CCS we learn that sickness (S) was as serious a problem as battle casualties (W), though sickness would also include gas casualties

      The 42nd CCS was reinforced in anticipation of the battle with an extra medical officer, 2 more surgical teams (one of them Australian), the 12th stationary hospital, 1 specialist surgeon and one extra sister.

      The figures for the ORs during April 1917 are as follows:

   Operated        Admitted              Transferred      To Hospital           Died

      The huge numbers of gas and sickness casualties before the opening of the Arras offensive reflect the extent of the gas shelling endured, while of course the 8th and 10th April reflect the opening days of the battle.  Ernest Manley was one of 30 ORs to die on 10th and the figures prove he died of wounds rather than of gas or sickness.  Most casualties were being passed down the line as soon as possible to the base hospitals, while an average of some 30 or so per day who could be saved with immediate surgery were undergoing operations.  Those too far gone for treatment would die in as much comfort as possible.

      An analysis of the Aubigny 42nd CCS cemetery records shows the following Tyneside Irish deaths immediately after the 8th / 9th April 1917:
Date Rank Name Age Origin Detail
April 9thPte.George Hirst38HuddersfieldEx. 26th Battn.
April 10thL./Cpl.H. Wilson  Ex. 26th Battn.
April 10thPte.Henry Marshall24Southsea 
April 10thPte.Ernest Manley33Winkleigh 
April 10thPte.J. Mills   
April 11thPte.Mathew Cockburn23 ‘D’ Company
April 11thPte.A. Harston  Ex. 26th Battn.
April 11th2nd/Lt.H. Walton23Alnwick 
April 11thPte.Albert Cook20Leeds 
April 12thSgt.J. Anderson   
April 13thPte.J. Hood18Newcastle-on-Tyne 
April 15thPte.G. Tate   
April 17thPte.J. Wright25HullEx. 9th Battn.
April 18thPte.S. Green   
April 18thPte.Joseph Crozier24Blyth 

      We cannot of course know how many of those transferred down the line, treated on the spot at the field hospital or were operated on belonged to the Tyneside Irish.  On April 14th the battalion moved back into reserve, then into rest before moving again into the Arras area on 22nd.  On 24th they went into the line once again.  Further deaths recorded at the 42nd CCS after 18th April are 1 on 24th and 2 on 30th.  We can therefore be sure that the numbers of death from wounds in the battle period 9th – 14th April totalled 1 Officer and 14 ORs, possibly 17 if we count the last 3 who might have died in the hospital.  Although no casualty numbers are recorded in the Battalion war-diary, we can perhaps infer from other battle averages that those ORs killed, wounded, missing or died of wounds would have totalled in excess of 100.

      We can also see from this tiny sample how the distinctive character of a Tyneside ‘Pals’ battalion was being diluted by the arrival of conscripts, and how the battalion was being reinforced with drafts from other battalions of the Tyneside Irish.  The 9th Battalion was originally a K2 New Army battalion (that is, part of the second 100,000).  It formed part of the 52nd Brigade of the 17th (Northern) Division, and after Arras was transferred to the 103rd Brigade of 34th Division.  The 26th (Service) Battalion became the 3rd Battalion of the Tyneside Irish, and like its sister battalions went to France in January 1916.  The 29th Battalion was originally a reserve training battalion for the Tyneside Scottish, later becoming a reserve for both the Scottish and Irish battalions.

      The Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension lies in the village of Aubigny-en-Artois, approximately 15 kilometres north of Arras on the road to St. Pol.  Before March, 1916, Aubigny was in the area of the French Tenth Army, and 327 French soldiers were buried in the Extension to the West of what is now Plot IV.  From March 1916 to the Armistice, Aubigny was held by Commonwealth troops and burials were made in the Extension until September 1918.  The 42nd Casualty Clearing Station buried in it during the whole period, the 30th in 1916 and 1917, the 24th and 1st Canadian in 1917 (during the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps) and the 57th in 1918.  The Extension now contains 2,771 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and seven from the Second World War.  There are also 227 French burials made prior to March 1916, and 64 German war graves.  The Extension was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.

29 March 2010

The Report of Ernest Manley's Memorial Service
Western Times, 11 May 1917

Private Ernest George Manley, killed in action in France. A native of Colyton he removed to Winkleigh about 18 years ago and served his apprenticeship with Mr. C. Mitchell, builder. He joined the staff of Messrs. Blatchford and Dawe, builders, Okehampton about six years since, joined the Royal Engineers early in 1916 and was subsequently transferred to the Northumberland Fusiliers. In 1913 he married the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. E. J. Saunders, photographers of Winkleigh. A Memorial Service was held in the Parish Church, conducted by the Rev. T. A. Edmonds. A muffled peal of bells followed the service.

The early photograph on the Memorial Cross Home Page shows Ernest wearing the cap badge of the Royal Engineers.


Click on an image for a larger picture

Medal Record

Aubigny-en-Artois Cemetery

Manley Tribute

Manley’s gravestone

Manley Family Tree