' Stockport Soldiers who died 1914 - 1918 - Battle Report
The “Old Contemptibles” in the trenches
Date: 5 – 20 November 1914
Regiment: 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment

The "Old Contemptibles" were the original members of the British Expeditionary Force and saw service before 22 November 1914. The term derives from the German Kaiser's Order of the Day on 19 August when he commanded his troops to "walk all over General French's contemptible little army". They were all regular soldiers or ex-regulars who had been recalled from the reserve when War was declared.

Later in the War, it was usual for troops to spend only two or three days in the front line trench, They would then spend a similar period in the support trenches, a little way to the rear, then a further period away from the immediate combat zone. But, in the early months of the War, the small British Army was hard pressed and much longer periods were spent in the firing line. The Cheshires went into the front line on 5 November and stayed there until the 20th.

The Regimental History records "Although the actual fighting was not as severe as later on, this tour of the trenches was as unpleasant as any of the first two years. It was the beginning of trench warfare, without any of the amenities which were afterwards introduced. There were no sandbags, no communication trenches, no shelters of any kind, no cooking, though Sproule managed to get tea to the trenches every day. The rum ration, two or three times a week, was the only solace the men had. It was most uncomfortable." During the tour, 66 men would be killed and a further 99 wounded. There would only be one day when someone was not killed.

During 5 November, the Battalion took over front line positions near the "6 kilometre stone" south of Ypres (now Ieper), Belgium, along the Menin Road. The next day, the Cheshires were subjected to heavy enemy artillery fire. On the 7th, the Battalion War Diary records "Very heavy shelling in morning, enemy's infantry attacked at 2.30pm. "C" Company went to re-enforce Regiment on our left. Enemy repulsed. 25 captured."  The day had seen 2 officers and 4 other ranks killed, 22 wounded and 8 missing. One of those missing was John Thompson. His body was never found and identified.

The History continues "At 5.30 on the 10th, the most terrific fire that the British had yet experienced broke out. The First Battalion diary records the bare fact and goes on to say that "the enemy appeared to be massing in a wood south of our position, but our shells scattered them and they were easily repulsed by our rifle fire, with heavy casualties to them. Other troops had more severe fighting and the breakthrough of the Prussian Guard was only checked by the gallantry of three weak Scots Battalions called 1st (Guards) Brigade and the King's Regiment and the Duke of Wellington Regiment.

By 14 November, the Germans were pressing the British position heavily. The Cheshires had been shelled every day and they were now ordered to withdraw their line approximately 150 yards. This withdrawal started at midday and was completed by 4pm. The Diary notes "The enemy were pressing on all the time and consequently our casualties were rather heavy. Two German patrols of 15 and 7 men were shot down just outside our trenches". John Burkill and Joseph McGarry were amongst the 11 fatal casualties.

On the 16th, George Allman was killed. The Diary records only that "Our guns kept up a heavy shellfire. Some sniping". The next day, there was "exceptionally heavy shellfire followed by an infantry attack which however was easily repulsed", but Walter Lally died.

On the 19th, it started to snow. The Battle of Ypres was coming to an end and there was only "a little shellfire and sniping". At 8pm, the Battalion started to be relieved by the Worcestershire Regiment and they went into reserve dugouts. Joseph Owen had been killed. Luke Hopwood was probably wounded during the relief, or shortly after occupation of the dugouts. He died on 24 November from wounds received.

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