100 Years Ago Today: When Prescot Went to War

By on Friday, February 13, 2015

cenotaph_prescot_war_memorialStephen Nulty of the Prescot Roll of Honour website writes:

And So to War

At 8:30 a.m. on the 13th February 1915, the 1/5th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment left England aboard the s.s. “King Edward”, bound for Havre, France.

The Battalion was a Territorial unit, formed in 1908, and recruited heavily from St Helens, Prescot and Warrington. In Prescot, “B” and “F” Companies had been based at the Drill Hall in Aspinall Street under Colour Sergeant Henry Cleaver.

Serving with the Territorial forces was extremely popular with men of the time, with weekend drills and annual camp appealing to men who spent most of their time down the local coal mines or working at the Wire Works.

In fact, they had just started their annual camp in August 1914 when war was declared and the Battalion was immediately embodied and sent to Edinburgh, where they were based at the castle. They started war training and then in October moved to Tunbridge Wells to complete their preparations for war.

Men who served with the Territorial Forces were initially intended to undertake Home Service only, but when asked to sign up for overseas service with the Battalion, almost all men agreed, committing themselves to fighting against Germany.

I have not been able to positively confirm how many Prescot men sailed for France on 13th February 1915, with the battalion numbering just under 1,000 officers and men. However, in the Parish Magazine of March 1915, the Revd. Mitchell listed the following men of his Bible Class who were serving with them:

H Allen, H Ashley, J Baines, H Baines, W Berry, T Bishop, T Case, F Chesworth, S Chew, W Chew, W Edwards, E Evans, J Evans, W C Finney, S Gardner, A Harrison, J Hatton, A Heaps, J Heaps, F Hogan, J Houghton, W H Hornby, P Hornby, W Lawrenson, T Lloyd, J Lord, T Mitchell, A Naylor, W Naylor, E Oakes, F Parkin, J Platt, J Platt, J Preston, J Range, W Rainford, W Robinson, P Robinson, J Rigby, H Roscoe, A Roscoe, T Smith, C Shaw, E Skelton, A Taylor, W Taylor, J Taylor, R Valentine, W Webster, W Welsby, J Williams, A Whitaker, O S Whitaker

There were, of course, many other Prescot men serving with the Battalion, not just those from the Bible Class. Later that year, on 26th August 1915, Mr Richardson, Headmaster of the Grammar School, reported the following old boys of the school who were serving with the 1/5th Battalion:

R N Cook, T R Gleave, F Halsall, R Hall, W Jowett, W Lauder, E Range, H Roscoe, T Tushingham, P Whitaker, A H Whitaker, O S Whitaker, H Whitaker

On their arrival in France, they travelled via Hazebrouck and Le Bizet, where they went into billets on 15th February and on 19th February they went into trenches for the first time under the instruction of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

On 21st February, they suffered their first casualties when Privates 2262 William Ernest MATHER and 2006 John Francs WALKER were both killed in action.

Throughout the war, just over 750 men died while serving with the Battalion. Their worst month was May 1915 when they were based close to Ypres and suffered 98 men killed, many in the first gas attacks of the war. In 1916, they moved to the Somme sector and whilst they weren’t involved in the opening battle, they were in the middle of the fighting in August of that year, losing a further 48 men that month, many in the fighting around Trones Wood.

They were back in the vicinity of Ypres in 1917, suffering heavily in the opening fighting of the Third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. An attack led by Prescot’s Harry Whitaker on 20th September led to the capture of the strategic points Hill37 and Gallipoli Copse, but at a cost of 24 men killed.

Then on 30th November 1917, as part of the Battle of Cambrai, the Battalion was attacked by a large German force, which surrounded large parts of the Battalion, including the headquarters. This resulted in over 50 men being killed and large numbers reported missing, including Capt. Whitaker, who was taken prisoner along with over 100 other men.

Throughout 1918, the Battalion was refitted and retrained and remained involved in the fighting for most of the summer and autumn.

When the Armistice was declared on 11th November 1918, they were out of the line in Moulbaix in northern France.

In 1919, disembodiment of the territorial army began in earnest and men of the Battalion started the journey home in February of that year, running through until July.

Men who had served with the Battalion continued to die from wounds and illness after the Armistice, including Capt Harry Whitaker, who passed away in Prescot on 15th January 1920.

The following list shows 46 men from, or associated with, Prescot who died while serving with the 1/5th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment:

Private 1230 Thomas Smith 10/03/1915
Private 1722 John Ackers 03/05/1915
Lance Corporal 1855 Richard Greenall 03/05/1915
Private 1910 William Robinson 03/05/1915
Rifleman 1902 Alfred James Sherwood 08/05/1915
Private 1587 Harold Baines 09/05/1915
Private 1954 Thomas Henry Bishop 09/05/1915
Acting Sergeant 381 Thomas Lloyd 09/05/1915
Private 1416 Henry Allen 10/05/1915
Private 1429 Joseph Coop 20/05/1915
Private 2696 James Cowell 24/05/1915
Sergeant 1621 James Gordon 25/05/1915
Rifleman 2787 James Pickavance 25/05/1915
Sergeant 626 John Platt 26/05/1915
Corporal 2842 John Yates 31/05/1915
Private 3369 Thomas Edgar Rufford Cundill 07/07/1915
Private 3305 Matthew Heyes 23/10/1915
Rifleman 3535 Fred Finney 16/07/1916
Private 2706 William Critchley 02/08/1916
Private 2141 Richard Walter James 02/08/1916
Private 4100 John Birchall 09/08/1916
Rifleman 240971 Thomas Burrows 09/08/1916
Private 3940 Walter Beesley 10/08/1916
Private 4905 John Yates 03/09/1916
Corporal 1898 William Edwards 07/09/1916
Rfn 3555 Harry Johnson 07/09/1916
Serjeant 1419 John Robert Valentine 07/09/1916
Private 4449 Edward Waine 07/09/1916
Second Lieutenant Harry Byron 08/09/1916
Lieutenant Charles Henry Rowed 09/09/1916
Captain Thomas Reginald Gleave 11/10/1916
Second Lieutenant John Stead 15/11/1916
Private 241862 George Lawrenson 12/01/1917
Private 240723 Joseph Conlin 13/03/1917
Private 240878 Joseph Donnelly 29/07/1917
Corporal 240241 Fred Chesworth 31/07/1917
Private 242310 Richard Renshall 31/07/1917
Sergeant 241313 Henry Green 21/09/1917
Private 242350 John King 30/11/1917
Corporal 140 Wm Vidler 16/12/1917
Private 241135 Alfred Fleming 30/12/1917
Private 242179 Henry Foster 12/04/1918
Private 242355 James Stevenson 14/04/1918
Private 241882 Frank Tolson 24/04/1918
Lance Sergeant 484 Thomas H Briscoe 24/03/1919
Captain Harry Garrett Whitaker 15/01/1920

All of the above men are commemorated on the Prescot Roll of Honour.

2 Comments

  1. Stephen Nulty

    Friday, February 13, 2015 at 9:31 am

    Thanks for sharing the article with your readers. If anybody wishes to know more about the Battalion or the men who served with it, then either visit my website or contact me through the site. I have many more names of Prescot men who served with the 1/5th and who I have not as yet researched.

  2. Pingback: 100 Years Ago Today: When Prescot Went to War « Prescotian Newsblogger

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