Arnold PRIME
Rank: 2nd Lieutenant
Number:
Unit: A Company, 2/7th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 21 March 1918
Age: 29
Cemetery: Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France

For many years (and possibly since its inception in the 1920s), the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had incorrectly recorded Arnold as serving with the Regiment's 2/8th Battalion. This unit was disbanded in February 1918 and there is no documentary indication that Arnold ever served with it. However, the official War Diary of the 2/7th includes Arnold amongst the list of officers posted as missing after the attack in March described below. On that basis the Commission has been asked to consider amending its records and, on 11 April 2007, it did so.

He was the elder son of Richard and Annie and had been born in the Chorlton area of Manchester on 29 January 1889. A few years later, in 1894, Reginald was born. Reginald had emigrated to Canada and, when War was declared, enlisted into the Canadian forces. He died on 20 September 1917 from wounds he'd received.

Arnold's early years were spent in Levenshulme, where he was educated at the Methodist Free Church School and, later, at the Municipal School of Commerce. This latter period fitted him well for gaining employment with the City Treasurer's Department of Manchester City Council (he is commemorated on the Council's entry in the Manchester City Battalion's Book of Honour). When War was declared, he was appointed as cashier and accountant for the local Sailors and Soldiers Families Committee.

Perhaps thinking that he was already doing good War work, he was not as keen to enlist as his brother and did not attest until 5 December 1915. His attestation papers still exist in his file at the National Archives and these show him to have been 5' 10" tall with brown eyes and hair and a sallow complexion. He gave his religious denomination as Congregationalist.

It would seem that he was considered to be doing valuable work as he was not called up until 10 January 1917, when he was assigned, for training, to the 28th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers at Romford. His medal entitlement records at the National Archives show that he served abroad with the Fusiliers as a private (service numbers 11819 and 764563). Bearing in mind his training period, which he undertook at Romford he can only have been overseas for a very short time as, on 5 May, he joined 20th Officer Cadet Battalion to train as an officer.

On 28 August 1917, he received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and joined his battalion in France in November. In the spring of 1918, a German attack had long been predicted and it was finally delivered in the early hours of 21 March. It came after an intense artillery bombardment and the strength of the infantry attack was overwhelming. Within hours, the British Army was undertaking a desperate fighting retreat along a wide front. It is not surprising, therefore, that there are sparse details of the day recorded in the Battalion's War Diary. It records, however, that the enemy shelling started at 4.10am.

At 5.25, the Manchesters received orders, at camp in Montigny, to go to their battle stations and "Marched out at 6.10am to Brosse Wood to hold position. Entered combat here."  It has not been possible to find any official details of the fighting but, by 6.30pm, the Battalion had been under severe attack for many hours. The remnants, which was mainly "B" Company", fell back to redoubts in the Jeancourt valley where they passed a quiet night. The remainder of the men, probably about 600, were dead, wounded or captured.

There was no news of Arnold and he was posted as being missing. The next month, one of his men from "A" Company, 53488, Lance Corporal Denton wrote from Pendlebury Auxiliary Hopsital to another officer, also in hospital, recounting the events of the day;-

"I dare say you know where we took up our position that morning, if I remember right you was hit near that road where we were taking cover. Well, soon after the gas had cleared enough to take off gas masks, then we moved forward towards the sunken road, while doing so we had further casualties. Cpl Matthews being severely wounded and several men killed but I was unable to recognise them (Cpl. Matthews I hear died next day). However we reached our position which was, when we got there, being shelled heavily but a good cover was obtained in the road; soon after our platoon No. 2 was ordered to take up another position which was, I should think, about 500 yards in front of the Company's position, together with a platoon of B and C Companies, we reached our trench which was near (deleted at time by censor) Wood, which was being shelled by our artillery, the situation becoming quieter about noon, but about one o'clock Fritz was sniping from the Wood, when we saw some of his machine gunners getting into position, but were soon victims of our rifle fire; he became more active as the afternoon wore on, his aircraft did us a little damage with machine guns and bombs. (I failed to say Lieut. Prime was in charge of our platoon). About four o'clock his artillery blew our trench in, in many places, but we still hung on; soon after he was sweeping our trench with machine gun fire from the rear and we discovered some people on our left hand had withdrawn and allowed him to get behind us. However, Lieut. Prime resolved to hang out to the last. It was about six o'clock when Fritz made a determined attack, attacking from back, front and rear, our lads however did well and hung a good many of them on the wire, which caused him to retire a little and take position in a trench about 25 yards from us, but thanks to boxes of Mills, we gave him a nasty time. Well, it was about a quarter to seven or a little later when masses of them came out of the wood and from out rear. We did our best to hold him up but Lieut. Prime seeing it was impossible to hang on any longer, gave the order to retire down the trench to the right. It was here that many of the platoon were taken prisoners. I was in the rear of the party and we were firing as we went down the trench when Lieut. Prime came by me and walked up the trench towards Fritz, who was at that time about 20 yards away and by what I saw, he was taken prisoner. Another party of Fritzs came upon us and a German NCO addressed us in English asking us to surrender, we did not like the idea so we used a little more .303 and were once more free, but our number was very small then and about 12 of us were taken prisoner and were taken to the wood. Although I did not see Lieut. Prime after he went up the trench, but I think it is very probable he was taken prisoner."

Afterwards Arnold was posted as missing, his parents hoped against hope that he had only been taken prisoner and it would seem that the recipient of the above letter, Lt Beasley, sent a copy to them. They forwarded it on to the War Office, in October, suggesting it was proof that Arnold must be a prisoner. However, enquiries had already been made via the neutral Dutch Embassy which had confirmed he was not a captive and the War Office replied stating it "was not possible to hold out any hope that Second Lieutenant Prime is still alive". The following month, an official presumption of his death was made.

It cannot be known exactly what happened to Arnold after he walked up that trench. Perhaps he was killed by shellfire. Perhaps, seeing his men still firing at them, the Germans took his attempt at surrender as a ruse and shot him. He was never seen or heard from again. His body was never recovered and identified.

As well as his commemorations on the Heaton Moor and Stockport War Memorials, Arnold is also remembered on a plaque in the City Treasurers' Department at Manchester Town Hall.

   
           
   
     
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