Crewe to Wimereux via Passchendaele 1897-1917

Private GE Charlesworth No 352487,  2/9 Manchester Regiment,

George Edwin Charlesworth was born on 8 October 1897 to Edwin and Mary Charlesworth (nee Walker) in Crewe Cheshire.

Edwin Charlesworth formed E Charlesworth and Son Joinery Manufacturers in 1908 following his work with Crewe Corporation. George Edwin helped in the business.

War breaks out in 1914 and on 11 Dec 1915 George enlists aged 18.

He enlists with 2/9 Manchester Regiment in Ashton Under Lyne.

His number is 352487 and is mobilised 11 May 1916. The 2/9 form part of the 198th Brigade of the 66th Division. The regiment is transferred to Colchester for training and George becomes a Lewis Gunner.

8 Oct 1916 is his 19th birthday

On 22 Feb 1917, the regiment is inspected by King George V, mobilised for war and lands in France and moves to Thiennes and subsequently back to the Flanders coast of Belgium around Nieuwpoort.

George serves in live operations on the Flanders Coast during summer 1917 and undertook further training in the period that involved bayonet fighting, rapid fire, grazing fire, marching on compass bearings, and attacking in waves.

On the 26 Sept 1917, the Regiment moves to Renescure, France to comply with regiment order number 44 dated 25 Sept 1917.

The move is by bus, each bus carries twenty-five men. Troops debus at La Crosse, Renescure where they are shown to their billets. This is a journey of approx. 30 miles

La Crosse today

1 Oct 1917, battalion marches to Eecke a distance of 12 miles, the journey via Ebblingham. Companies are to march at 100 yard intervals headed by Headquarters company.

4th Oct 1917, battalion marches to 12 miles Winnezeele , 100 yards between companies, headed by the band. Lewis Gun limbers follow their companies

6th Oct the battalion moves by bus to Vlamertinge Belgium, a distance of 12 miles, heavy rain falls all day,

7th October 1917, battalion remains in bivouacs, heavy rain falls preventing training, enemy shells fall in the vicinity killing one man.

Battle instructions are given to the regiment.

Barrage Map of the area

8th October, Georges 20th birthday, the battalion moves off at 8.30am, marching 6 miles in single file to the Frezenburg Ridge, they halt until dark, during the move the battalion is heavily shelled, 50 casualties are inflicted. Rain continues to falls heavily. It takes 11 hours to reach jumping-off lines.

Frezenburg Ridge today
Sign at the ridge

Unremitting heavy rain had created a quagmire, and, under the weight of battle equipment, many men sink into the mud as they try to reach their assembly position. In the dark, they make painfully slow progress along narrow tracks already torn up by pack animals, while shell storms burst around them.

Frequent halts were made to save the men blown off the slime-covered duckboards into the waterlogged waste, putting them hopelessly behind schedule. The order went out that they were not to stop for any reason, so they marched on, trying to ignore the screams of men drowning in mud. At 4.45 am all companies arrive at the jumping off positions

Meanwhile the 197 Infantry brigade is struggling to negotiate their way through the mud to their assembly positions, a journey of around 2.5 miles which takes 12 hours, they arrived late and exhausted.

The Battle of Poelcapelle, The Third Battles of the Ypres

9th Oct 1917at 5am, the creeping barrage starts and the battalion moves off at 5.24am behind the barrage to the first objective, the Red Line, Heine House.

The incessant rain which hampered preparations has turned the battlefield into a sea of mud

198th Brigade attacks to the left and 197th to the right across a 13,500-yard front

The creeping barrage is under strength because neither sufficient ammunition or heavy artillery pieces failed to suppress the German defenders or cut the thick belts of barbed wire. Also the thick mud hampers setting up the guns as they sink in.

Many of the artillery shells landing in the soft ground failed to impact hard enough to explode. Everything they did was pitilessly observed by the enemy from the Passchendaele Ridge

The Brigades have to cross the flooded Ravebeek valley making the ground impassable, and troops were halted by chest deep mud and became targets for German machine-guns

The attack rapidly descended into tragic chaos as German artillery and machine-gun fire pick off their attackers.

By early afternoon, German counter-attacks and lack of support on either flank had forced 197 Brigade to retire back past Vienna Cot.

The two brigades then retired to their first objective line, around 500 yards ahead of the start line, from where they are relieved by 3rd Australian Division. During the night of 10th-11th October, the 66th Division suffered around 3000 casualties in the attack.

The 2/9 Manchester’s were relieved by the Anzacs in the early morning of October 10 and then struggle back to the village of Vlamertinge.

George suffers a gunshot wound to the arm, and is transferred out to the station hospital in Wimereux via the casualty clearing station following the battle.

By the end of the Battle of Poelcapelle – the name given to this episode of Passchendaele exchanges the 2/9th Manchester’s’ casualties number eighteen officers and 322 men.

The poet Wilfred Owen wrote to his mother: “I have suffered seventh hell… the ground was an octopus of sucking clay… I allow myself to tell you all these things because I am never going back to this awful post. It is the worst the Manchester’s have ever held.”

Information taken for this post taken from the National Archive. 2/9 Manchester Regiment War Diary maintained by Captain W Browne Bagshaw. Passchendaele 1917 by Chris McNab and various other sources


One thought on “Crewe to Wimereux via Passchendaele 1897-1917

  1. Marvellous.
    Superb reasearch!!! Detailed and precise.
    Leaves a lump in the throat what these young men had to endure. Somehow puts “serving your country” on a different level.

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