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The Cheshire Regiment and their key role in Battle of the Somme

Local historian Don Rustage on one of the bloodiest battles in human history

Soldiers from the 5th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment pictured during the First World War after the Battle of the Somme(Image: Don Rustage)

The only men of the Cheshire Regiment to go over the top on the first day of the Somme (July 1, 1916) were the men of the 5th Battalion, local territorials known as the Earl of Chester’s.

They were recruited mainly from Cheshire, and came from as far away as Glossop. Their drill hall was in Volunteer Street, Chester .

They had been in France since February 1915 and served with a Regular Division but were allotted to the 1st London Division for the attack on the Somme.

British soldiers go "over the top" from a trench in France during the Battle of the Somme in 1916

The battle was to relieve pressure on the French at Verdun and was a joint Anglo-French affair. The attack was launched from where the British and French armies joined.

Their part in the division was as the Pioneer Battalion and their first task was to assist in the construction of a new Front Line which was dug over two nights at the end of May 1916.

This was in front of Gommecourt, a bulge in the line and the most northern extremity of the allied attack.

The grand plan was to assist in the operations of the Fourth Army by diverting against itself the fire of artillery and infantry, which might otherwise be directed against the left flank of the main attack, near Serre.

Soldiers from the 5th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment pictured during the First World War(Image: Peter Threlfall)

At 7.30am, the Battalion were split into parties attached to the Assault Troops. They had specific tasks and were in the third wave.

The attack started well but the luckless division to the North ran into difficulties resulting in the Londoners being left with all the German resources focused on them.

A curtain of fire, of barrage proportions, sealed No Man’s Land, and the Germans counter-attacked. All the objectives taken were lost with ferocious hand to hand fighting in the trenches.

A soldier from the 5th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment pictured during the First World War after the Battle of the Somme(Image: Peter Threlfall)

The Cheshire men left their Pioneer tasks and joined in. They were pushed back to the German front line resulting in many casualties, only being able to escape with the wounded under the cover of darkness.

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In the attack, all the Cheshire officers were killed or wounded and 197 of their men were killed, wounded or missing.

The division they were attached to lost 4,022 men. Some of their Battalions lost very heavily, as heavy as any on the Somme that day.

The Battle of the Somme continued until November 1916, and the 5th Cheshires were constantly used.

Soldiers from the 5th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment pictured during the First World War after the Battle of the Somme(Image: Don Rustage)

Don Rustage is currently writing a book on the role of the Cheshire Regiment’s 5th Battalion in the First World War. If anyone has any information they would like to share with him or has any details about any of the soldiers pictured they can contact him at donrustage@hotmail.com.

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