Days of hope be­fore hor­rors of trenches

Glossop Advertiser - - News - Paul Brit­ton

SMILING with pride and puff­ing on roll-up cig­a­rettes, these brave heroes know noth­ing of the hor­rors await­ing them.

They are the men who stepped up to an­swer the coun­try’s call to arms as vol­un­teer re­cruits. Sadly, many of the men pic­tured were never to re­turn home to their fam­i­lies from the Western Front.

A fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of rare pho­to­graphs do­nated to a lo­cal stud­ies and archive cen­tre show how life was for First World War sol­diers in wait­ing.

The im­ages are be­lieved to have been taken at a train­ing camp in South­port, Lan­cashire, in early 1915.

Wrapped up against the chill of the win­ter cold, the sol­diers of the 2/6th Bat­tal­ion of the Manch­ester Reg­i­ment, a ter­ri­to­rial bat­tal­ion formed in Manch­ester, are cap­tured prac­tis­ing digging trenches, pos­ing with spades, p eat­ing g sand­wiches and per­form­ing mock ma­noeu­vres ahead of de­ploy­ment to France, their proud grins be­ly­ing the ter­ri­ble slaugh­ter they were to face on the mud­lashed bat­tle­fields.

Ex­perts said the pho­to­graphs, gifted to Tameside Lo­cal Stud­ies and Ar­chives by a pri­vate donor, rep­re­sented an ‘un­doc­u­mented yet cru­cial’ time in the bat­tal­ion’s train­ing.

Af­ter the train­ing in South­port, the bat­tal­ion mo­bilised to France from Colch­ester in 1916 and fought in the last 18 months of the war.

It’s thought the ma­jor­ity of the men pic­tured were white-col­lar work­ers who left be­hind well-paid jobs in Manch­ester’s fi­nan­cial dis­tricts to fight for their coun­try.

Liam Hart, lo­cal stud­ies and ar­chives as­sis­tant at Tameside Lo­cal Stud­ies and Ar­chives, where the col­lec­tion is be­ing held, said: “The pho­to­graphs are an in­valu­able re­source to any­one wish­ing to un­der­stand more about not only y the 6th Bat­tal­ion, the Manch­ester Reg­i­ment, but also about how sol­diers from the First World War were trained.

“We are deeply hon­oured to be en­trusted with pro­tect­ing the legacy of these men and will en­sure that their his­tory will be pre­served for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

“While there are names which can be found on the back of some of the pho­to­graphs, not much is known about who the men were and what their fate was.

“What we do know is that in Fe­bru­ary 1917, the bat­tal­ion was de­ployed to France and Bel­gium and would have been in­volved in the Third Bat­tle of Ypres in Oc­to­ber 1917.

“It is very early days for them in the pic­tures. They would have heard news from the Front but this would have been their first ex­pe­ri­ence of the forces.

“These guys would have been very green, very fresh and very op­ti­mistic.”

From 1914, reg­u­lar sol­diers left the coun­try’s shores to serve in Egypt, Gal­lipoli and France, prompt­ing a call for Bri­tain’s part-time sol­diers to travel over­seas for the war ef­fort.

There was a huge re­sponse. But those who stayed be­hind made up the foun­da­tions of the 2/6th Bat­tal­ion, which was tasked with the de­fence of our shores at home and to train new re­cruits for ac­tive ser­vice. It’s likely that the men shown were largely from Manch­ester and Stock­port.

Mr Hart said: “By the time these pho­to­graphs were taken, the bat­tal­ion was al­most at a full fight­ing strength of 1,000 men and would be­gin train­ing for its even­tual over­seas de­ploy­ment in Fe­bru­ary 1917.

“Cer­tain clues in the im­ages help us nar­row down the date.

“For ex­am­ple, the ser­vice caps are not the trench caps which were is­sued in 1916.

“Fur­ther clues point to late win­ter, as the trees are bare and the ground looks re­cently thawed from a par­tic­u­larly cold win­ter.

“Fi­nally, some of the men ap­pear in their dress uni­form, which is red, and some men do not ap­pear to have a uni­form at all.

“This is all again due to short­ages ex­pe­ri­enced in this time as equip­ment and uni­forms were all given as a pri­or­ity to bat­tal­ions which were over­seas al­ready.”

Sadly, the bat­tal­ion is said to have suf­fered heavy losses.

Records show it was so re­duced in num­bers from April 1918 that it was dis­banded in France in the July.

The im­ages, re­vealed as Manch­ester pre­pares to mark 100 years since the end of the First World War this Novem­ber, will be kept and pre­served at the cen­tre to hon­our their mem­o­ries.

For full de­tails visit tameside. gov. uk/ lo­cal stud­ies.

●● Men of the 6th bat­tal­ion, the Manch­ester Reg­i­ment, train­ing in South­port in early 1915

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