Ernest Oswald HOBDAY
Rank: Private
Number: 34251
Date of Death: 21 May 1918
Age: 23
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

As will be seen below, it is almost certain that Ernest was killed by the "friendly fire" of a British artillery barrage falling short.

His father, Henry Oswald Hobday, originated from Bromyard, Herefordshire. By the early 1890s, Henry had moved north to work in one of Manchester's cotton warehouses. There he met Maud Ogden and they married between July and September 1893. He was 29 and she was 24. A couple of years later, they were in Bromyard when Ernest was born, but they were back living in Manchester in 1901 when a national census was taken. They lived at 19 Green Lane, Heaton Norris, later moving next door to No. 21.

When Ernest first joined the army, he was assigned to the Royal Army Medical Corps (service number 11785), but was transferred to the Dorsets before going overseas.

By 1918, trench raids were a common feature of warfare for both sides. The small, localised attacks on a section of the enemy trench opposite, designed to unsettle and intimidate the troops, would also capture prisoners to interrogate later to gain intelligence. A raid might be confined to 50 or so troops or almost a full battalion. They would dash across No Man's Land following quickly behind an artillery barrage. The barrage would lift and the men would then jump into the enemy front line, killing everyone except a handful who would be taken prisoner. It meant that even in a quiet sector, the troops could never really relax.

In the case of the one planned by the Dorsets for 21 May, "B" and "D" companies would take part in the raid. If the Battalion was at full strength, this would be nearly 500 troops.

On 17 May, the Battalion was in reserve near Ransart (about 10 kilometres south west of the French town of Arras). "A" and "C" Companies had the opportunity to bathe whilst the men who were going to raid trained for it. The next day, Ernest and the other raiders had an opportunity to bathe before going back into the front line, during the hours of darkness. They spent the next two days in the front line opposite Hamlincourt.

At 3am on the morning of the 21st, the men carried out the raid successfully, capturing 4 prisoners. However, there were heavy casualties, almost all of them because the covering barrage fell short, landing on the men's starting point, rather than halfway across No Man's Land. There were 86 casualties, of whom 16 died, including Ernest. It is possible that Ernest suffered a direct hit from a shell and there was nothing left to bury. It is also possible that his body was buried by his mates but the location was lost over the final months of the War. In any event, he has no known burial place and his name is inscribed on the Memorial to the Missing at nearby Arras.

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