Arthur Slater

Arthur Slater was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire on May 10th, 1896.

Arthur Slater Aged 15

By age 14 he had left school and was employed as a piecer at the Atlas Cotton Mill.

Atlas Mill, Ashton-under-Lyne

The youngest children in textile factories were usually employed as scavengers and piecers.  Piecers had to lean over the spinning-machine to repair the broken threads during spinning.

By 1914 he had become a “Spinner”.  As a spinner he would have operated one or more spinning machines, often two machines facing each other, and he would have supervised or directly paid the scavengers and piecers working on his machines. Spinners were generally paid according to the amount of thread they produced and each machine had hundreds of spindles from end to end. Consequently, it took much effort to keep the machine running and the threads unbroken.

He attested on October 17, 1914 with a group of friends and joined the 2/9th Battalion Manchester Regiment which, at that time, was a “feeder” Battalion supplying much needed reinforcements for the 1st/9th.  The 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment was a “Pals” regiment from Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire.  His regimental number was 2672 and he was assigned to A Company. He joined for 4 years.

On November 13, 1914 the 2nd/9th Battalion Manchester Regiment moved from Ashton-under-Lyne to Southport where they remained for the next 6 months. On May 25, 1915 they moved again, this time to Haywards Heath in Sussex and then a month later, on June 26, they made a short move to Pease Pottage.  A week later those men who were being shipped out to Gallipoli moved to Devonport.

A. Staley, J. Horrocks & Arthur Slater in Easter 1915.

Seen above with Pte. Arthur Staley (2383) and Pte. James Horrocks (2608) of the 2/9th Manchesters at Southport, Easter 1915.

He  underwent basic training with the 2nd/9th until he left for Gallipoli on July 3, 1915 sailing from Devonport on H.M.T. IONIAN as part of a draft of 220 Other Ranks and 5 Officers sent to reinforce the 1st/9th who were already at Cape Helles.

HMT IONIAN

IONIAN
Built by Workman Clark & Co Ltd, Belfast in 1901 for the Allan Line of Liverpool. Her details were – 8,268 gross tons, length 470 ft x beam 57.5 ft, one funnel, four masts, twin screw and a speed of 14 knots. There was accommodation for 132-1st, 160-2nd and 800-3rd class passengers. Launched on 12-9-1901, she sailed on her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Halifax and St. John, New Brunswick on 21-11-1901. In 1909 she was converted to carry 325-2nd and 800-3rd class passengers. In August 1914 she went onto trooping duties on UK to Bombay via Suez. On 21-10-1917 she was sunk by a mine laid off Milford Haven by the German submarine UC.51 with the loss of 7 lives.

GALLIPOLI (1915)

Map of War Zone in Gallipoli 1915
By Rcbutcher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The 1/9th Manchesters were part of the 126th (East Lancashire) Infantry Brigade which was under the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. The transcribed war diary for the 1/9th Manchesters for their time in Gallipoli is here.

3rd Battle of Krithia

A few weeks before Arthur Slater arrived, in early June, the 42nd Division was involved in the 3rd Battle of Krithia.  The battle plan called for simultaneous attacks, supported by artillery, on three fronts; the 42nd Division being in the centre.

42nd Division before 3rd Battle of Krithia

The advance of the 42nd Division during the battle was successful whereas the two fronts on either side were not. Advancing approximately 1,000 yards the 42nd Division’s 127th Brigade took the Turkish trenches and quickly advanced beyond them. However, due to lack of support on the flanks during the Turkish counter-attack, the final position of the front line was only about 250 yards in front of their starting position by the end of the battle. This new front line now passed through a patch of vines that earned the area the name of “The Vineyard” and was to be the site of renewed heavy fighting for the 1/9th Manchesters, in August.

Arrival

Arthur sailed for the Dardanelles on July 3, 1915 from Devonport on the 8,268 ton Allan Line vessel H.M.T. IONIAN, arriving in Alexandria, Egypt around July 17th.  On July 23, 1915, almost three weeks after leaving the UK, he officially joined the 1/9th Battalion at Cape Helles, while they were at bivouac.  According to the 1/9th Manchesters’ war diary he was part of a draft of reinforcements that arrived that day consisting of 5 Officers and 222 Other Ranks.

Battle of Krithia Vineyard

Just two weeks later, on August 7th to 13th the 1/9th Manchesters fought in the battle of Krithia Vinyard where Lt. Forshaw, (commanding A Company) won the Victoria Cross and Corporal Samuel Bayley won the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Pte. Arthur Slater was in A Company and, by his own words, “spent time in the Vineyard trench”.

Lt Forshaw VC
[London Gazette, 9 September 1915]
During the period 7 / 9 August 1915 at Gallipoli, when holding the north-west corner of the “Vineyard” against heavy attacks by the Turks, Lieutenant Forshaw not only directed his men but personally threw bombs continuously for over 40 hours. When his detachment was relieved, he volunteered to continue directing the defence. Later, when the Turks captured a portion of the trench, he shot three of them and recaptured it. It was due to his fine example and magnificent courage that this very important position was held.

His Victoria Cross and other campaign medals are displayed at the Museum of the Manchester Regiment, at the Ashton-under-Lyne Town Hall.

Lance-Corporal SAMUEL BAYLEY, No1 Platoon, “A” Company
[London Gazette, 16 November, 1915]
For conspicuous bravery on the 7th and 9th August, 1915, at Cape Helles (Dardanelles). Corporal Bayley remained with Lieutenant Forshaw, V.C., holding a barricade for forty-one hours continuously. On the evening of the 8th August his party was relieved by another unit, but he volunteered to remain on. He displayed the greatest gallantry and endurance under the most trying circumstances in repelling many severe attacks, and when the barricade was at last broken through he was the foremost in the successful counter-attack led by Lieutenant Forshaw, which regained it, and finally retained it. On being ultimately relieved he was utterly exhausted by his arduous and gallant work of bomb-throwing.

On August 22nd a new draft of fresh reinforcements from England arrived. Among them was Pte. James Horrocks who Arthur had spent his Easter weekend at Southport with.

Wounded in Action (1915)

After the exertions of the Battle of Krithia Vineyard the 1/9th Manchesters spent time at GULLY BEACH bivouac returning to the trenches on August 25th. On their last day in the trenches before moving back to bivouac, on September 9th, Arthur Slater suffered a bullet wound to the face (passing through his left cheek and nose). Most likely he was shot by a sniper.

Since it is not recorded on Arthur Slater’s B103 form we do not know the exact chain of evacuation he followed from trench to Stationary Hospital.  We do know that it took two weeks from wound to admission at the No 5 Canadian Stationary Hospital in Cairo, (at the Cavalry Barracks at Abbassieh), which is much longer than the sailing time (including embarking and disembarking) of approximately 5 days.

The following excerpt from SURGERY ON THE GALLIPOLI PENINSULA, the British Medical Journal, September 25, 1915 by Capt. John Morley, RAMC provides some context. The full article is here.

From the clearing station the wounded are embarked on lighters at a landing stage that is perforce used also for the unloading of ammunition and supplies for the army. These lighters are towed by steam pinnaces to the hospital ship that lies a mile or two off the shore, and, without changing stretchers, are slung on to the ship by cranes. Except during and shortly after an action, the wounded are sent off to the hospital ship twice in the twenty-four hours. The hospital ships fill up in ” peace times,” as the weeks of siege warfare by artillery and sniping in the intervals between assault are called, in a week or ten days (after an action much more rapidly), and then leave for Egypt or Malta, taking three or four days respectively to reach the base. Minor cases are not taken to the hospital ships at all, but are either detained in the field ambulances or sent in small boats to be treated in stationary hospitals.

British Medical Positions at Helles

The chain of evacuation that he followed then was likely as follows:

Walking wounded made their way to an Advanced Dressing Station at EAST ANGLIA GULLY. The Main Dressing Stations were set up by the 1/3rd Field Ambulance at GULLY BEACH and the 1/1st Field Ambulance 200 yards north.

ADMS Orders Gallipoli Aug 1915

The Divisional Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) was No 11 CCS at Lancashire landing on “W” Beach. The CCS was there to receive the sick and wounded from the Main Dressing Stations, stabilize the patients and prioritize the men that needed to leave for hospital ships rather than the less serious cases for conveyance to Mudros.

The ADMS war diary for the 42nd Division notes that on September 9th and 10th no trawlers were dispatched to load men onto hospital ships because the weather was too rough. On September 11th ADMS HELLES issued orders that trawlers would only be dispatched in calm weather and that signals would be issued to indicate that trawlers had put to sea. A signal was received on September 12th that a trawler would be sent but by this time at least 4-days of sick and wounded had accumulated at 11th Casualty Clearing Station at Lancashire Landing on W Beach and it must have been overflowing.

We can only assume that Arthur Slater did not make the cut for embarking on the trawler that day. The next available trawler was on September 19th and this one he was transported on. He was then embarked from trawler to hospital ship and promptly sailed for Alexandria. After arriving by Hospital Transport at Alexandria he would have then traveled by Hospital Train to Cairo, taking about 4 hours.

With the surge in casualties in August there were more patients arriving than leaving the Hospitals in Mudros and Alexandria. However, Arthur Slater was somewhat fortunate to be wounded in September (rather than August) and that the No 5. Canadian Stationary Hospital had just arrived in Cairo in August.

Context from Despatches:

The following is taken directly from the selected despatches of Sir IAN HAMILTON, General, Commanding Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.

“The Royal Army Medical Service have had to face unusual and very trying conditions. There are no roads, and the wounded who are unable to walk must be carried from the firing line to the shore. They and their attendants may be shelled on their way to the beaches, at the beaches, on the jetties, and again, though I believe by inadvertence, on their way out in lighters to the hospital ships. Under shell fire it is not as easy as some of the critically disposed seem to imagine to keep all arrangements in apple-pie order. Here I can only express my own opinion that efficiency, method and even a certain quiet heroism have characterised the evacuations of the many thousands of our wounded.”

Casualties for Gallipoli Campaign 1915

Back in Action

A few weeks later, on 26th October, he rejoined the 1/9th Manchesters in the Dardanelles, sailing from Alexandria along with a batch of 11 freshly trained Officers from England (and another 109 Other Ranks returning from Hospital treatment in Egypt) but not before he managed to send a letter home which was excerpted in the local newspaper, the Ashton Reporter.

Ashton Reporter November 6, 1915

On their arrival at Gallipoli, the 1/9th Manchesters were in the trenches, being relieved 3 days later on October 29th.

They went back into the trenches on November 12th. The conditions were difficult with heavy rains, strong winds with little cover and no drainage in the trenches.  They were relieved on the 29th and went to bivouac at GULLY RAVINE. Since it was now Winter and the weather had turned, everyone was put to work constructing Winter Quarters.

On December 10th the 1/9th Manchesters went back up to the trenches. The Turks heavily shelled MULE TRENCH and inflicted several casualties during the move.

On December 19th a planned action against the Turks was executed in the early afternoon. The plan was to explode a large mine at the North East corner of FUSILIER BLUFF, quickly followed by 5 smaller mines; the intent being to create a small crater. A party of 42 men plus an Officer would then go over the top intending to take cover in the crater, bomb the Turks in their trenches and take it. However, the mine failed to create a crater. Lacking the authority to make a field decision the men had no choice but to go over the top into an area with no cover. Needless to say, the Turks shot them mercilessly from the safety of their trenches and the battalion suffered 3 killed, 1 missing and 11 wounded. Fortunately for Arthur Slater, this poorly planned but bravely executed action was inflicted on the men of B Company, (not A Company).

To further underline the futility of the actions of December 19th, just ten days later, on December 29th, the Gallipoli Campaign was over for the 1/9th Manchesters and they “evacuated the peninsular” embarking on the HM Transport Arcadian for Alexandria.  HM Transport Arcadian, Sir Ian Hamilton’s old ship, once the most luxurious of steam yachts but destined to be sunk by torpedo on April 15, 1917.

HMT ARCADIAN

One final indignity awaited them as they were preparing to leave. On December 27th as they were were packing up their equipment and making ready to take their departure from the Dardanelles, a Turkish shell, fired with deadly accuracy, caused a number of casualties.

Ashton Reporter February 5, 1916

A ‘Jack Johnson’ was the British nickname used to describe the impact of a heavy, black German 15-cm artillery shell. Jack Johnson (1878-1946) was the name of the popular U.S. (born in Texas) world heavyweight boxing champion who held the title from 1908-15 – and whose punch was legendary. Johnson’s nickname was ‘The Big Smoke’.

There are a couple of obvious inaccuracies with the article, the letter was from Arthur Slater (not Edwin) and the shell hit on December 27th not December 31st).  Six men of the 1/9th were killed in action that day but it is consistently reported through letters from other men that 4 deaths occurred from this single Turkish shell.

Rank No. Forename Middle Surname
Pte 2310 HEZEKIAH HARRISON*
Pte 1805 JOHN FREDERICK JENKINSON*
Pte 3418 RALPH SCHOFIELD*
Pte 3312 HAROLD GREEN
L/Cpl. 2601 GEORGE HEROD
Pte 2365 GEORGE HENRY WALKER

*Killed by the Shell, as reported through letters published in the Ashton Reporter newspaper.

Arthur Slater later wrote briefly about his experiences in Gallipoli and his notes are provided here.

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I was one of a draft of reinforcements sent to Gallipoli in June 1915. I recall our arrival at Lemnos and our transfer there from troopship to lighters, our journey thence under cover of darkness, packed as we were, shoulder to shoulder, and as we eased into the shore, seeing the hull of SS River Clyde in the light of Very Lights and exploding gunfire, what an awesome welcome.

Overshadowing it all was the fort of Sedd-el-Bahr. Our orders were to proceed on to the beach as quickly as possible and there to line up and be ready to move off with the Battalion Guides who awaited us, all this was done to the accompaniment of shell fire from what we later learned was christened “Asiatic Annie”.

Came the dawn and one could get an idea of one’s surroundings. A collection of primitive dugouts which afforded neither shelter from shellfire or the sun, a short time amongst the older hands soon enabled the conditions to be seen in the right perspective, but we newcomers were at a disadvantage in the blistering heat. Firstly we were not acclimated to it furthermore we had come clad in thick khaki serge  suits not at all suitable for the tropical climate.

Life in the trenches at first was tolerable, one soon learned not to be too daring in exposing oneself to the Turk, who by all accounts were good marksmen. Days of activity by either forces punctuated our spells in the line, but neither side ever appeared to gain, the push and thrust was ever present with exchanges of gunfire and raids.

Then came the 6th August, we had been being prepared for a bit of a showdown and an advance on the village of Krithia was staged. This was my first real battle, previously they had been short brushes with the enemy, but this was the real thing; charges, bayonet fighting, and bombing only yards separating us at times. Here I spent some time in the “Vineyard” trench where Lt Forshaw won a V.C., Sergeant Bayley won the DCM. This engagement was all in concert with the Suvla Bay landing.

One had now been on the peninsula sufficiently long enough to be inured to much of the discomfort that was such everywhere evident in the campaign. We were ill fitted to stand up to the blistering heat, which by now had many added troubles, chiefly the plague of flies that increased and multiplied in conditions that were often indescribable; decaying carcasses of men and mules, primitive sanitary conditions, these coupled with fact that most of the men were troubled with some form of dysentery, shortage of water, lack of variety of food all added to the general lassitude and hopelessness that one felt. In the trenches one had no time to think on these things, but when out in reserve or resting, one had more time to feel sorry for oneself. The flies were always bad even on our food when biting it, the bully beef poured out like oil, and the eternal plumb and apple. Then we had our body lice, the blazing sun and always the danger of shellfire.

Red letter days were when we had some mail, especially a parcel, rare occasions, and another was if we could manage to get a swim in the sea, it was dangerous, but no man would forego such a pleasure. Another delight to me was to watch the glorious sunsets over the Aegean Sea.

Humour was not missing amongst us, sometimes of a macabre twist, such as the case where on the parapet of the Mule trench on the left of Gully Ravine a hand and arm was sticking out, some wag placed a hard tack biscuit in the hand.

September and October came and brought cooler and more bearable weather. When not in the line we were now busy filling sand bags and building into more solid dug-outs which would be needed when Wintery conditions came. Rains now had made a quagmire of much of the land and the conditions were most depressing. Conditions later became harder, rations some days were insufficient, one biscuit per day per man, on occasions, trench duties more often, duties 1 hour on firing, then one hour seated but awake, then 1 hours sleep, man power was at a low ebb, the Turks had to be lulled whilst the evacuation started.

Just before Christmas a huge bonfire was lit at Lancashire landing and the impression was given that we were all evacuating, over came the Turks, when they got out into the open we who were in the line opened fire causing great casualties and panic, so much so that several days later we were able to leave the peninsula and sail to Imbros on the 29th December 1915.

Looking back on those days, one thinks of pals who are laid there. Who ever hears of Cape Helles, Krithia, Pink Farm, Achi Baba (the wee hill) as the 52nd Lowland Division called it, not to mention Anzac Lone Pine, Chunuk Bair and Suvla, like the old soldiers they have faded away.

The War Diary for the 1/9th Manchesters covering their time in Gallipoli is transcribed here.

EGYPT (1916)

Turkish forces of the Ottoman Empire, integrated with German units and officers, threatened the security of the Suez Canal through which vital supplies of men and materials had to pass. With the release of the units from the Gallipoli Campaign it was decided to establish defense in depth of the Suez Canal by pushing positions out from the east bank of the canal and into the Sinai Desert.

The Turkish forces had three possible routes across the Sinai to threaten the security of the Canal: the northern, the central and the southern. In March 1916 it was decided to destroy any water sources on the central route, thereby denying the Turks this route of advance. As any force pushing the Turks back East towards Palestine would require materials and water, a railway and water pipeline was constructed and by mid-May had reached Romani.

On August 3, 1916 the Turks made a final attempt to attack the Canal by trying to break through at Romani but were defeated in a battle lasting two days. From this point onward the Allied forces were on the offensive, pushing the Turks back East across the Sinai peninsular. Construction of the pipeline and railway pushed on at a rate of 15 miles a month in an effort to reach El Arish. On 17th October it was confirmed that the Turks had withdrawn from El Arish. On 9th January 1917, the remaining Ottoman forces were pushed out of Sinai at the Battle of Rafa.

Protecting the Suez Canal

The 1/9th Manchesters disembarked from the HMT Arcadian on January 18, 1916 in Alexandria, arriving via a short stop at Mudros on the island of Lemnos.

March was spent on outpost duty in the desert at Kabrit where work was carried out preparing defensive positions. The Battalion returned to Suez in early March where they were once again placed on guard duty of the Suez Canal. Training and route marches were the order of the day. The Battalion stayed on or around the Suez Canal through July 1916.

The Desert Column

In early August the Battle of Romani saw the defeat of the Turkish forces and a subsequent Allied push Eastwards along the railway line to El Arish. The 1/9th Manchesters followed this eastward path over the next few months reaching as far east as Mazar.

Map of Bir el Abd

Shown below are the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment Scouts Section at Bir El Abd (Oct 1916) consisting of: Cpl. May, Pte. T. Littleford, Pte. G. Wilton, Pte. A. Sumner, Pte. F. Beard, Pte. R. Fish, Pte. A. Horton, Pte. P. Bradley, Pte. A. Barrett, Pte. S. Caine and Pte. A. Slater.

Regimental Scouts Bir el Abd October 1916

November 1916

Things must have been quite unsanitary in the desert column because on November 9, 1916 he was admitted to 1/3rd East Lancs Field Ambulance at Kantara, Egypt suffering from Scabies. He was treated, disinfected and rejoined his unit 9 days later.  During the month of November, 500 men from the Battalion were sent to MAZAR for disinfection.

December 1916

On December 20th all available allied troops were mustered (30.000 in all) at El Maadan, where they prepared for a rapid attack upon the Turkish positions at El Arish, but in the early hours of the 21st, before any order had been given to attack, the Turks fled.

The defence of the Suez Canal was finally declared secure by February 1917 and on March 2, 1917 the 1/9th Manchesters embarked on the H.M.T. Arcadian at Alexandria, sailing for France on the 4th with a Royal Naval escort.

The transcribed war diary for the 1/9th Manchester Regiment during their time in Egypt is here.

FRANCE (1917)

The 1/9th Manchesters disembarked from the H.M.T. Arcadian on March 11, 1917 in Marseilles after a brush with two German submarines which their Royal Naval escort dealt with. The Arcadian would not be so lucky just over a month later.

HMT ARCADIAN

In March 1917, service numbers were re-issued throughout the Territorial Force of the British Army. This change of numbering of infantrymen was promulgated in Army Council Instruction (ACI) 2414 of 1916, published on 23 December 1916. Prior to this, each man was issued a service number defined by the Battalion with which he was serving. This had worked reasonably well during peacetime but caused great confusion with the dramatic expansion of the armed forces during the early war years. In the old system, when a man transferred from one Battalion to another within the same Regiment or Corps he required re-numbering. Over time, as more and more men were transferred, this led to great confusion. To address this issue, the men were issued with new six digit numbers, each Battalion being issued with a unique allotment of numbers within a Corps. Under this scheme the 9th Manchesters were allocated numbers 350001 to 375000. The longest serving member of the unit was issued 350001 and so on. Arthur Slater was allocated the new service number of 351001.

March 1917

On March 26, 1917 he was admitted to 2nd East Lancs Field Ambulance at Abbeville, France suffering again from Scabies. He was treated, disinfected and subsequently released for duty (with the 30th Infantry Base Depot at Etaples) 13 days later.

An Infantry Base Depot (IBD) was a large holding camp. Situated within easy distance of one the Channel ports, it received men on arrival from England and kept them in training while they awaiting posting to a unit at the front. At the start of the war each infantry division had its own IBD, which was established as it crossed to France but by 1917 each IBD supported several Divisions and the 30 IBD at Etaples was a very large camp with several hospitals. They were not particularly pleasant places and in September 1917 there was a mutiny at the IBD at Etaples.

Etaples Annotated Map from 1919

Arthur spent about six weeks at the Infantry Base Depot and then rejoined the 1/9th Manchesters on May 21st. Fortunately for him, this absence meant that he missed the travails of the Battle of Arras (9th April to 16th May) which saw the 1/9th Manchesters record their first serious numbers of casualties in France.

UK on Leave

Five days after rejoining his unit, on May 26, 1917, he was granted 10 days leave in the UK rejoining his battalion on June 14, 1917. They must have been very pleased to see him as he had now been away for two full years.

Wounded in Action (1917)

Just over a week after returning from leave, on June 23, 1917, Arthur was severely wounded when he was shot in the right thigh at Havrincourt Wood.

1/9th Manchesters Map Havrincourt Wood June 1917

The Battalion had just moved back into the trenches of Havrincourt Wood on the evening of the 21st, relieving the 1/4th East Lancashire Regiment. The Battalion War Diary says very little; only that the men of A Company were engaged in digging a communication trench at night. He was one of 23 “Other Ranks” 1/9th Manchesters wounded that month.

1/9 Manchesters War Diary Casualty List. June 1917.

He was evacuated to No 21 Casualty Clearing Station which was at that time had recently arrived at Ytres, a small village just a few miles from Havrincourt.  He spent four days and nights at 21 CCS and was evacuated from there along with 4 Officers and 89 Other Ranks on Ambulance Train No 5.  On the morning of June 27 they began loading patients onto the train at 11:10am and completed at 1:20pm. Ambulance Train No 5 then left Ytres at 2:05pm arriving at Rouen at exactly midnight. At Rouen he was admitted to No 5 General Hospital.

Eleven days after arriving at Rouen, on July 9th, Arthur Slater was one of a convoy of 90 lying  patients who left No 5 General Hospital on Ambulance Train No 7, being discharged from the hospital at 8:15am. Ambulance Train No 7 had arrived at Sotteville in Rouen at 10:45pm the previous evening and they commenced loading patients at 8:55am the following morning. The train left Rouen at 10:55am arriving at Le Havre at 3:05pm (journey 265 for Ambulance Train No 7).

HM Ambulance Transport Kalyan left Netley (near Southampton) on July 8th under escort and made a calm and uneventful passage to Le Havre, arriving at 4:30am on July 9th.  By 5:30pm they had embarked 775 patients (90 of which had come from Ambulance Train No 7) and sailed for Southampton. The Kalyan arrived at Berth 21, Southampton, on the morning of July 10th and began disembarking patients at 10am. The war diary reports that progress was slow that day, additional lift capacity being required.

Hospital Transport KALYAN

Late in the day on July 10th he was admitted to 1st Western General Hospital at Mill Rd, Liverpool.  It was here that he first met Margaret Karran who was to become his wife after the war.

Maggie Karran, August 1917

Currently known as Aintree University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, during the war years the hospital was renamed 1st Western General. Injured soldiers were transported via train to the Fazakerley Station. 1st Western General Hospital was approximately 4 miles from where Maggie was born and raised.

On August 17, 1917 he was discharged from 1st Western General and transferred to Llandyrnog Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital, Denbigh where he spent the next 42 days convalescing. The admission sheet states: “Galvanism. Gait improved markedly. Suffering from shell shock.”  It seems likely that the shell shock was primarily a result of being buried alive at Gallipoli.

Llandyrnog Red Cross Hospital

Upon being discharged from Hospital he was granted 10 days furlough from 28th Sept – 8th Oct, 1917 by the C.O. 1st Western General Hospital, Fazakerley. He was deemed fit for duty at a Command Depot. Command Depots were military convalescent camps for soldiers too fit  to stay in a convalescent hospital (like Llandrynog) but not yet fit enough to return to front line duty.

On October 9th he joined the Command Depot at Heaton Park which was a Command Depot for the Western Command with accommodation for 100 Officers and 5,000 men. Men stationed to Command Depots engaged in physical exercise and activities designed to accelerate their path to full fitness. Discipline was “relaxed” but Arthur still found himself officially cautioned for being absent without permission from 10pm on the night of October 20th to 9:45am the following morning. Under the circumstances who could deny him a night on the lash.

The photo below is from his time at Heaton Park. He is on the front row, 2nd from the left, below.  Note the two wounded stripes and good conduct chevron (marking two-years Service without censure) on his left sleeve.

Cowleys Rebels Heaton Park October 1917

He stayed at Heaton Park Command Depot until November 30, 1917 when he was transferred to the 8th (Reserve) Battalion Manchester Regiment at Filey in Yorkshire.

3/8th Manchesters

The 3/8th, 3/9th and 3/10th Battalions of the Manchester Regiment were formed at home bases (Ardwick, Ashton under Lyne & Oldham) in March 1915. They moved in early 1916 to Witley, Surrey and on April 8, 1916  became the 8th, 9th and 10th Reserve Battalions. On September 1, 1916 the 9th and 10th Reserve Battalions were absorbed into the 3/8th (Reserve) Battalion, moving to Southport in October 1916 and then going on to Ripon in January 1917. They moved to Filey, in June 1917 at first in tents and then later in more permanent living quarters that they constructed.

The 3/8th Manchesters maintained a presence at Filey from June 1917 until the end of the war and their primary purpose was to train reserve troops prior to their deployment on the Western Front.  As such, it was a logical progression for recuperating men in their transition from hospital, to Command Depot, to re-deployment.  Arthur remained at Filey with the 3/8th until March 1918 when he shipped out with a number of others back to France.

FRANCE (1918)

Arthur arrived back in France on March 31, 1918.

In early 1918 the structure and composition of Army Brigades was undergoing significant change. Specifically, there was a reduction from 4 to 3 infantry battalions and the removal of Machine Gun Companies within Battalions and separate Machine Gun Battalions were formed within the Divisional structure. During this time, some Infantry Battalions that had been depleted were effectively disbanded; many of the remaining men being moved to strengthen other Battalions.

Map of the Western Front. July 15, 1918.

Within four days of his arrival he had been transferred to the 1st Battalion, Notts & Derby Regiment (aka 1/Sherwood Foresters) as the 1/9th Manchesters had been reduced to a training cadre due to the loss of so many men. He was assigned to A Company and his new regimental number with the 1/Sherwoods was 205455. The 1/Sherwoods had been severely depleted of men at the First Battle of the Somme 1918 in late March where 379 Officers and men were killed, wounded or reported missing.

Along with him, a number of other men from the 1/9th Manchesters also returned to France on March 31, 1918 and were transferred to the 1st Sherwoods on April 4, 1918.  This group of men all appear to have been shipped back to the UK in 1917 due to wounds or sickness, recuperated and were now deemed fit enough for front line service once again.

Pte. Edward Spragg (205456) born in Dukinfield, he originally joined the 1/9th Manchesters (Service Numbers 1755 and 350392) on Valentine’s Day 1914. He served with them for their entire period of overseas service, shipping out to Egypt in September 1914 and subsequently landing in Gallipoli in May 1915. Wounded in Gallipoli he recovered and served with the 1/9th through their deployment back to Egypt guarding the Suez Canal and then landed with them in France in March 1917. In December 1917 he was wounded in the right knee by shrapnel and repatriated to the UK. Joining the 1/Sherwoods on April 4, 1918 Pte. Spragg was taken Prisoner by the Germans on May 27, 1918.

Pte. Samuel Bennett (205420) originally joined the 1/9th Manchesters (Service Number 3132) on November 18, 1914. He shipped out to Gallipoli with the draft of reinforcements who arrived August 22, 1915. He served through their deployment back to Egypt guarding the Suez Canal and then landed with them in France in March 1917.  In April 1917 he was repatriated to the UK due to an infected right leg. Joining the 1/Sherwoods on April 4, 1918 Pte. Bennett was taken Prisoner by the Germans on May 27, 1918.

Pte. George Davies (204425) originally joined the 1/9th Manchesters (Service Number 2394) on October 1, 1914.  He shipped out to Gallipoli with the draft of reinforcements who arrived August 22, 1915. He served through their deployment back to Egypt guarding the Suez Canal and then landed with them in France in March 1917. In July 1917 he was granted 10 days leave in the UK and at the end of it was admitted to Hospital for infected sores from Scabies and impetigo. It must have been severe because he was not discharged from Hospital until February 1918. Joining the 1/Sherwoods on April 4, 1918 Pte. Davies was listed as “Missing” on May 27, 1918.  He rejoined the Battalion 3 weeks later but was subsequently killed in action on September 29, 1918.

Pte. Arthur Redfern (205542) originally joined the 1/9th Manchesters (Service Number 2699) on October 19, 1914.  He shipped out to Gallipoli with the same draft of reinforcements as Arthur Slater who arrived July 23, 1915. He served through their deployment back to Egypt guarding the Suez Canal and then landed with them in France in March 1917.  It is not clear why he was back in the UK but like the others he shipped back to France on March 31, 1918 and joined the 1/Sherwoods on April 4, 1918. On May 20, he was wounded in the arm, while the Battalion was in the front line trenches of the Aisne, and shipped back to the UK. His arm was later amputated and he was discharged from military service with a 70 percent disability.

Additionally, two men originally from the 3/9th Manchesters, James Bowker (205419) and Harry Carter (205423), who first deployed with the 1/9th in Egypt in January and February of 1916 respectively, also joined the 1/Sherwoods that day. For some reason both of these men were shipped back to the UK within the month.

BACK IN ACTION

On April 19, 1918 the 1/Sherwoods went into the front line after moving to VILLERS-BRETONNEUX with the 8th Division.  Here they were involved in the Second Battle of VILLERS-BRETONNEUX, which took another great toll on them, losing another 234 Officers and men who were either killed, wounded or reported missing. On April 27th they were relieved from the fighting and two weeks later, on May 10th (Arthur’s 22nd birthday), they had moved to the Aisne region and were preparing to go into the front lines once again the following day.

PRISONER OF WAR (1918)

Arthur was taken prisoner by the Germans in the early hours of May 27th, 1918 at Bois de la Miette (between Berry au Bac and Pontavert in the Aisne region of France) during the 3rd Battle of the Aisne.

Bois de la Miette 22 Apr 1918

The International Red Cross records show that he was taken prisoner “unwounded” but based on where he was and when he was captured he was incredibly lucky not to have been killed.

The 1/Sherwoods were decimated that day with 700 men of all ranks killed, wounded or missing by the end of the battle.  Also captured with Arthur Slater that day at “Miety Wood” (Bois de la Miette) were Pte. Percy Wheldon (307460) and Pte. Christopher George Zabel (108909) of the 1/Sherwoods.  They were not supposed to be so far forward; the 1/Sherwoods having moved from the front line to the reserve billets at Ventelay on the night of the 24th, arriving at Ventelay in the early morning of the 25th, (per the 1/Sherwoods war diary).

8th Division Positions @ 1am May 27, 1918

The map above shows the 8th Division troop positions at 1 am on the 27th May, 1918. The 1/Sherwoods being part of the 24th Brigade. Ventelay is bottom left, the Aisne river (and canal) run through the middle and the German positions run from right to left along the top. The map is from the War Diary 8th Division, Headquarters Branches and Services: General Staff. Crown Copyright.

Below is the same map with annotations of the rapid German progress through the front line and reserve positions that morning. The rough timeline of events shown are taken from various Battalion and 8th Division HQ war diaries. The German Aisne Offensive began at 1:00 am, all possible targets had a ten minute bombardment of gas followed with heavy shelling of gas and explosives for an hour on artillery positions. The shelling lasted several hours and was very effective, the centre of the line was broken, Germans poured across the Chemin des Dames down to the River Aisne, first crossing it around 9 am. These initial storm troops bypassed any strong pockets of resistance and moved on, secondary troops coming behind them en-masse and mopping up. Heavily outnumbered, pummeled by hours of the heaviest and most effective artillery barrage of the war so far, the survivors of the gas and high explosive shells stood no chance and they were quickly overrun.

8th Division Positions Early Morning 27 May, 1918.

One of the best accounts of what happened to the 8th Division that day is Sydney Rogerson’s account, an excerpt of which is provided here.  And there is a lot more about the 3rd Battle of the Aisne here.

Giessen Camp

By 26 June, 1918 Arthur had arrived at Giessen camp from the front. Below is a view of Giessen POW Camp, taken from the Hospital window.

Giessen PoW Camp
Image provided by and Copyright of GWF User stiletto_33853.

There is, unfortunately, no record of how he was captured and how he got from the  Bois de la Miette to Giessen PoW camp but we are very fortunate that Sergeant Thomas William Chisholm of the 1/5th Northumberland Fusiliers kept a personal diary that graphically records his experiences from capture on the morning of May 27, 1918 to his arrival at Giessen Camp.  His diary entries covering this period are excerpted here.

Giessen PoW Camp
Image provided by and Copyright of GWF User stiletto_33853.
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IRC Attestation Letter
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Ashton Reporter August 10, 1918

Neuhammer Camp

By September 15, 1918 Arthur had been moved to Neuhammer but he was able to write a short postcard and send it home.

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September 15, 1918
KR GEF No 2002, Stammlager, Neuhammer

My Dear Mother & Father,

Just a few lines to let you know how I am going on. I am very pleased to say I am in the best of health & spirits, & we are going on fine. We got our first parcels last Sunday. One parcel for two men. It had in it biscuits, rice, oats, tea and one tin of milk, tobacco, cigarettes & soup, and it was very good, & we are expecting more every day & also one of the boys has had a letter, & of course we are looking forward for one.
I want to see how you are all getting on at home, if you wish to send me anything you will be able to see what you can send by seeing the Red Cross Committee, but don’t go to a lot of expense.

Love to all at home & Maggie.
From your ever loving son
Arthur

Neuhammer was a Mannschaftslager (“Enlisted Men’s Camp” for private soldiers and NCOs) clearing camp for Upper Silesia. 100,000 men were registered there, but were mostly in work camps under its administration. In World War I, Neuhammer was the site of a large prisoner-of-war camp for Russian soldiers which explains the Cyrillic printing on the postcard.

S.A.G. Lipine

By December 1918 he had been moved again, now to a work camp.  S.A.G. Is the abbreviation for Schlesische Aktiengesellschaft, a mining company in Lipine (now Lipiny, a town in what was Upper Silesia). The building, which was owned by the SAG, may be what was known as the „alte Lazarett“ (old hospital) and was used to accommodate PoWs. Apart from the mine, there were Zinc, Acid and Iron Works in the town which were also owned by SAG.

PoW Camp at SAG Lipine

REPATRIATION

Arthur arrived back in the UK on January 6, 1919, at Dover. After three days of processing, on January 9th, he was given a two pounds advance, a facsimile letter from the King, a two month Prisoner of War furlough pass with Railway Warrant, and finally started making his way back home to Ashton-under-Lyne. The map below shows the locations he had spent in captivity and their relationship to where he was taken prisoner.

 

His letter from the King welcoming him back from captivity is below.

Arthur Slater Kings Letter

A month later, on the 12th February, 1919 he had the unpleasant task of identifying the body of his sister Eleanor (previously listed as his next of kin in some of his Army records) who had drowned herself in a canal in Ashton-under-Lyne.

On March 17, 1919 he was medically examined, at Manchester, for the application of a disability pension and the doctor noted that he had pain when walking any distance due to his gunshot wound from France and that he suffered from digestive problems due to the poor food he was given when he was a PoW. The doctor assessed that both were due to his war service but that he had less than twenty percent disability, which seems a little harsh after everything he had just done for his country.

A few days later, on March 21, 1919 he was granted 28 days furlough from No 1 Dispersal Unit, Heaton Park, and not required to wear uniform for the duration.  Before the furlough was up, he was discharged from the Army (disembodied, since he was a Territorial) on April 17, 1919 after serving for 4 1/2 years.

He received a small disability pension, and received ongoing treatment, for “Bronchilosis” starting from the day after his discharge until May 30, 1921, the month after he married Margaret Annie Karran.

SHORT SERVICE RECORD
Home:   Oct 17, 1914 – June 30, 1915
MEF:      July 1, 1915 – March 2, 1917
BEF:      March 3, 1917 – July 9, 1917
Home:  July 10, 1917 – March 29, 1918
BEF:      March 30, 1918 – May 26, 1918
PoW:     May 27, 1918 – Jan 8, 1919
Home:  Jan 9, 1919 – April 17, 1919

DETAILED SERVICE RECORD
July 5, 1915      Taken on strength of Battalion. Dadanelles.
July 23, 1915    Joined Battalion Nominal Roll. Dardanelles.
Sept 9, 1915     Wounded. Dardanelles.
Sept 24, 1915  Admitted to No 5 Canadian Stationary Hospital. BW Face. Cairo.
Oct 26, 1915    Rejoined Battalion. Dardanelles.
Dec 29, 1915   Evacuated Peninsula. HMT ARCADIAN.
Jan 18, 1916     Disembarked at Alexandria.
Nov 10, 1916    Sick. Sent to Hospital. Kantara.
Nov 9, 1916      Admitted to 1/3rd East Lancs Field Ambulance. Scabies. Kantara.
Nov 19, 1916.   Rejoined unit. Kantara.

Mar 2, 1917      Embarked HMT ARCADIAN. Alexandria.
Mar 11, 1917    Disembarked HMT ARCADIAN. Marseilles.
Mar 26, 1917  Admitted Sick to 1/2nd East Lancs Field Ambulance. Scabies. In the Field.
Mar 26, 1917    Admitted to No 2 Stationary Hospital. Abbeville.
April 8, 1917     Joined 30 IBD. ETAPLES.
May 21, 1917    Rejoined Unit. In the Field.
May 26, 1917   Granted 10 days leave to UK.
June 14, 1917   Rejoined Battalion. In the Field.
June 23, 1917  To Hospital. Wounded. In the Field.
June 23, 1917   Admitted to 21 CCS with GSW R. Thigh. In the Field.
June 27, 1917   To 5 Ambulance Train. In the Fied
June 28, 1917   Admitted to No 5 General Hospital. GW IX(i). R Sev. Rouen.
July 9, 1917       Transferred from Rouen to Southampton. AT KALYAN.
July 10, 1917     Admitted to Mill Road Infirmary, Liverpool. GW R Thigh.
Aug 17, 1917     Admitted to Llandyrnog Red Cross Aux Hospital, Denbigh. “Galvanism. Gait improved markedly. Suffering from shell shock.”
Sept 28, 1917   Discharged from Hospital.

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OFFICIAL WAR RECORDS

Arthur Slater’s Medal Index Card and Medal Roll documents are shown below.

Arthur Slater Medal Index Card

His Medal Index Card shows that he served in the Manchester Regiment and the Notts & Derby Regiment, that he was entitled to the Victory, British and 15 Star medals, and that he first deployed to the Balkan Theatre of Operations at Gallipoli (2b). There is no date of entry or listing of his Manchester Regiment renumbering of March 1917.

Arthur Slater Medal Roll

His Medal Roll indicates eligibility for the Victory Medal and British War Medals. Notice also that Pte. Edward Spragg (1755) also transferred from the 1/9th Manchesters to the 1/Sherwoods at the same time he did, Pte. Spragg being assigned the next sequential regimental number.  Pte. Spragg was also taken Prisoner by the Germans on May 27, 1918.

Arthur Slater’s full Army discharge papers are here.

LAST POST

Arthur Slater died in Dukinfield, Cheshire on January 6, 1968. He was 71 years old.

Copyright Notice.  Maps and Casualty Reports from Battalion War Diaries are Crown Copyright.