When the end of the First World War came on 11 November , it was welcome release for all the soldiers fighting in France, Belgium and beyond, including the men of the Manchester Regiment, who had been hit hard by the four years of fighting. Of the 42 battalions — known as the Manchesters - that had started the conflict, many had been disbanded or amalgamated elsewhere by late , mainly due to the increasing number of casualties. The regiment's most devastating moment had come a few short months earlier, during the last major German offensive of the war, in March The soldiers fought bravely to defend their hill position, but were overwhelmed, and despite the 17th battalion joining the almost annihilated battalion late in the day, by the end of the battle, both sets of men had suffered a massive number of casualties.
When the ceasefire finally came in November , most of the remaining battalions were scattered around France.
The 2nd were near 'Manchester Hill' in the ruined city of Saint-Quentin. Being at the heart of the war zone, the place had been systematically looted and devastated — a staggering 80 percent of its buildings, including the impressive Basilica, were damaged. They were not the only battalion to end the war at the front line — the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Battalions were further north, along what was known as the Hindenburg Line a vast system of German defences in northeastern France , at Hautmont, when the news of peace came through.
Common thought places the conflict almost exclusively around northeastern France and, in particular, the Somme, but the war spread its grim reach much wider. The 1st battalion finished the war in Palestine, fighting Ottoman troops. The Ottoman Empire had sided with Germany, Bulgaria and Austria-Hungary against the Allied Forces and so, just as in the muddy trenches of northern Europe, British troops fought in sun-scorched places like Palestine and Mesopotamia now mostly Iraq.
Celebrated as the Armistice was, the final cessation of hostilities brought mixed emotions for the men of the Manchesters, as the war had taken a heavy toll on the regiment.
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It was in the news in , when a parliamentary by-election was fought there. It was a thriving community with two railway stations and a tram line running to Stockport.
Isaac had married Jane Roughton at the local parish church in They would have seven children together and, as was common in those days, all the children would have Roughton as a middle name. When the future soldier, Thomas Roughton Worthington, was born in , he was their fourth child and second son.
6th Battalion the Manchester Regiment in the Great War, John Hartley
Tom grew up to be a keen sportsman and played hockey for the local Cheadle Club and, also, at the nearby Bramhall Club. He worked as an accountant for a company in Manchester. Locally, his best friend and neighbour was another of the village's middle class young men - Alexander Milne, a solicitor's managing clerk, who also worked in Manchester. It is, perhaps, not fanciful to think of them travelling together to and from work by train.
Also in his spare time, Tom was a long-standing member of the 6th Territorial Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. His service number indicates he was, almost certainly, a member of one of the Volunteer Battalions which became the Territorials in He would have given up a night or two each week, or a Saturday afternoon, to train at one of the Regiment's drill halls - probably the Battalion Headquarters on Stretford Road on the outskirts of the city centre.
Locally, their uncomplimentary nickname was, indeed, the "Saturday Afternoon Soldiers". Tom was reported to have been a "crack shot" with the rifle and had won many prizes.
6TH BATTALION THE MANCHESTER REGIMENT IN THE GREAT WAR “Not a Rotter in the Lot”
They also trained at an annual camp in the summer, which was often a highlight for men unused to travelling far from home. In , there would also have been much to celebrate in the Worthington household, when Tom's sister Agnes got married to a local man, Walter Bennison. Their daughter Kathleen was born sometime between and The Bennison's are a later part of this story. The role of the Territorials in times of national emergency was one of home defence.
The men were not obliged to serve overseas. However, as recorded in the History of the 42nd Division, "Few members of the Territorial Force had realized that their calling -up papers had been ready from the day they joined; that month by month the addresses on envelopes were checked and altered when necessary; that enough ammunition was stored at the various headquarters to enable every man to march out with the full complement of a fighting soldier; and that field dressings were available for issue.
In early August , many of the Division's units were in their annual camp and they were recalled to their home bases on 3 August. The next day, war was declared. The Division was mobilised and the envelopes were sent out. Men were quartered in nearby drill halls and schools. Private Alexander Milne is thought to have been amongst them, although his service number indicates he had not been a Territorial for very long.
For another few days, the men remained around their Battalion headquarters but, on 20 August, the Manchesters moved to Hollingworth Lake, near Rochdale. The move to camp was described in the Rochdale Observer The 6th Battalion came through in a very soldierly fashion. Officers riding and one or two mounted men were in a van, a cycling contingent followed and afterwards, four abreast marched the "Terriers".
A machine gun or two and quite a number of horse drawn vehicles laden with stores brought up the rear….. There was no ban on pipe or cigarette. Here and there water bottles were raised to dusty ready lips. It must have been no joke this full kit march, with rifle, ammunition, other service requisites and the greatcoat strapped behind the shoulders - a total weight exceeding 60lbs.
Over the following days, the men spent most of their time undertaking route marches and other drills. Rumours quickly circulated that they would not be at Rochdale for long. In the way of all rumours, it continued to develop and, by early September, the men were convinced that they would be going to Egypt.
And so it was. On 9th September, the whole Division entrained for Southampton. Over 40 trains were needed to move the men, horses, guns and supplies. The next day, a convoy of vessels left harbour. They were the first Territorial Division to go overseas. The official history of the Division notes that there was rough weather for the first three days of the voyage. It was the Lahore Division bound for Marseilles. The men disembarked at Alexandria on 25 September and Tom and his comrades remained in the city as part of its garrison.
Over the following weeks the men were put through a strenuous programme of training, including long route marches through the desert. But there were opportunities for sport and competitions were soon being held in cricket, football, rugby, lacrosse and, to Tom's great pleasure, hockey.
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Writing home, Tom recounted that the Battalion had marched to Aboukir and back, a distance of 20 miles. We saw one or two real mud huts". In another letter, Tom said that the sergeants had served a Christmas dinner to the men. There are several rooms where we can read and write and enjoy ourselves and even make friends with the people here, so we are not cut off from the world as you might think.
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Indeed, we are just beginning to enjoy ourselves and will be sorry to leave here. On Tuesday, a Bedouin funeral passed us. The women followed the coffin, shrieking and making a horrible noise and were waving their black robes and looking as weird as could be. Yesterday, we went to the Catacombs which have only been unearthed a few years. There are some very fine Egyptian and Roman carvings in good preservation and the bones still lie in the places hewn out for them.
The Manchesters were sent to Cairo to shore up the defences of the city. The attack came on 3 February but was repulsed by Indian Army units and Tom did not have to go into action. February was a significant month of this story. It's believed that, early in his service, Tom's friend, Alexander Milne, had been selected to become an officer and, during the month, he received his commission as a Second Lieutenant. Alexander would not join the Battalion until 25 April.
Also during February, another young man received a commission into the 22nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was the seventh of the "Pals" Battalions which had been formed in the autumn of but which wouldn't go into action until the November Although he and Tom may never have met, he has an important part to play later in this account.
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For the next few weeks, life for the soldiers continued much as had been in the previous ones. Rumours continued to fly round the camp that they would soon be called on to go into action. They hoped to go back to Belgium or France - where the "real war" was. But, on 28 April, orders were received by the Divisional Commander that the Division must be prepared to move to the Dardanelles at short notice.
The Divisional History recounts "The news soon spread; it was no rumour this time, but the real thing, and on April 30 excitement was at fever heat. At last the Territorials were to be given the opportunity to which all ranks had looked forward so eagerly and toward which recent training had been directed. Little time was given for preparation, but no more was needed, as the Division was ready to take the field. On 3 May, the Manchesters boarded the Derflinger. This was a captured German vessel which had only arrived in Alexandria a few hours before carrying over casualties from the fighting.
It will have been a sobering experience for Tom and his comrades as stretchers, bloody bandages and clothing still littered the decks. They landed at Cape Helles on 6 May, at "V" and "W" beaches, assembling with the other battalions of the Manchester Brigade th Brigade on the cliffs between the two landing beaches, at a point known as Shrapnel Valley.
Each man carried rounds of ammunition, 2 days supplies of food, together with picks or shovels. No baggage, blankets or other stores were carried with them. The Battalion comprised 32 officers and men. From this date, the Battalion maintained a War Diary. This was written up, usually daily, and briefly detailed the events. The original is held at the National Archives.
It is written on flimsy pages from a notebook. The writing is now faded and difficult to read, but it is possible to make out that on 9 May, the Battalion suffered its first casualty.
The men were in reserve trenches but under attack from shellfire.