Plans are underway to commemorate the part played by soldiers from the Manchester Regiment in a little-known battle that proved to be a forerunner to the last 100 days of the First World War.
The Battle of Manchester Hill took place on March 21 1918 in an area of high ground just outside Saint-Quentin in northern France.
The hill had become known as Manchester Hill after being captured by the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment the previous year. The Regiment continued to hold and defend their position there until March 1918 when the hill was attacked by the German army.
Despite a heroic defence by the 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment their action was unsuccessful with most of the battalion dead or wounded by 4 pm that day.
Out of 8 officers and 160 men who went into action on the hill, just two officers and 15 other ranks returned to British lines. Of the remainder, 79 men were killed and the rest either wounded and subsequently taken into captivity, or taken directly as Prisoners of War. Among those who lost their lives was 29 year old Lieutenant Colonel Elstob, who led his troops selflessly into battle with the words ‘Here we fight. Here we die.’
One hundred years on the actions of the valiant soldiers of the Manchester Regiment are to be remembered both here in Manchester and also in France – at the hill that still bears the name, Manchester Hill.
Commemorative events include a wreath-laying at the Cenotaph and a special service at Manchester Cathedral on April 15th – one hundred years to the day since a similar service was held there in 1918 to remember those who had just lost their lives in the battle.
To further mark the centenary Manchester Central Library will host an exhibition opening on April 16th about Manchester Hill, featuring historic regimental photographs alongside pieces of creative writing from school pupils.
One hundred pupils from Greater Manchester schools will also be taking part in a battle-field tour, culminating at Manchester Hill on 21 March – exactly 100 years to the day since the battle – for a service of commemoration alongside local villagers and dignitaries.
Councillor Tommy Judge, lead member for the armed forces, Manchester City Council, said: “Manchester Hill was a significant event in the final months of the war in which many local young men gave their lives for their country. One hundred years on it’s important we remember this, and that we commemorate their courage and the sacrifice they made.”
The commemoration events are being organised in partnership with Manchester Cathedral and the present Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment – which traces its roots back to the Manchester Regiment.
Brigadier Peter Rafferty MBE, Colonel of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, said: “The defence of Manchester Hill by the Manchester Regiment is nationally recognised and a significant event both for the city and the regiment today. The commemoration will provide opportunities for the whole community to reflect and learn more about the battle, and the involvement of so many schools and other organisations is particularly meaningful and important.”
More information at: www.manchester.gov.uk/mcrhill