Alderley -World War 1. July August 1916
Civic Service 2016: Remembering the Somme
Two days ago the nation commemorated the centenary of the Battle of the Somme with a ceremony at the Thiepval Memorial in France and a national service at Manchester Cathedral. So it seems appropriate that today we should remember the part played by men from Alderley Edge in that terrible battle.
Four of the 19,240 British soldiers who died on the first day of the battle were from Alderley Edge. Two more died on the 9th and 10th July, and a further 12 in the five months that the battle lasted. Of these, 8 are among the 72.000 commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial because they have no known grave. There isn’t time to tell the stories of all of them, but those who died in the later stages of the battle will be remembered in the monthly newssheet which this church distributes throughout the village. Today I propose to tell you more about the six who died in July 1916, amplifying the brief information in our July newssheet.
Between them these 6 provide a snapshot of early 20th century Alderley Edge and of the contribution of the village to the war effort. They comprise two officers and four other ranks. The two officers were from the business and professional classes – the sort of people who gave Katherine Chorley the title of her book about Edwardian Alderley Edge, Manchester made them. The four Other Ranks comprised an upholsterer’s labourer, a plumber, and two gardeners. The youngest of the six was three months short of his twentieth birthday when he died, the oldest 46. Only one of them was born in the village. Alderley Edge was a place people moved to either when they had made good in business or the professions, or to take advantage of the demand in the growing village for tradesmen or domestic workers.
At the top of the social scale was Lieutenant Frederick Gordon Ross. Aged 46, he was one of the two oldest men from the village to die in the war. He was serving in the 20th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, one of the battalions known as the Manchester Pals, when he was killed in action on 1st July. The family were well established in the cotton industry in Manchester. His father and grandfather were cotton merchants. He was educated at Clifton College and then entered the family business, Malcolm Ross & Sons, yarn agents. Subsequently he became managing director of Robert Platt, cotton spinners in Stalybridge - his wife Kathleen’s great aunt had married Robert Platt. She was also the daughter of a Conservative MP. I quote from the Advertiser:
Gordon Ross was a prominent figure in the village. He was a member of the Cricket Club for 32 years and for more than 20 years was either treasurer or secretary of the club. He also took a leading part in promoting the annual athletic sports held in connection with the club, and in his 40th year won the quarter mile. He was a prominent member of the Manchester Amateur Dramatic Society, and was an amateur actor of quite unusual merit. Of late years he took a very keen interest in the Lads’ Club in Alderley Edge village. He had been connected for many years with St. Philip’s Church, Alderley Edge, and had occupied the positions of sidesman and assistant treasurer.
He is buried in Dantzig Alley Cemetery, Mametz. There is a copper plaque in his memory in the north aisle, which is itself worthy of note as it is the work of James Smithies of Wilmslow, who was a notable metalworker in the arts and crafts style
The other officer, also from the well-to-do of Alderley Edge, was Lieutenant Roland Minor, of Avonmore, Wilmslow Road. Born in 1895, he was the only son of Philip Scott Minor and Susan Helen Minor. Philip Scott Minor was a solicitor, living in Heaton Norris when Roland was born, but the family had moved to Alderley Edge by 1911. Roland was educated at Abbotsholme School. and then became an articled clerk in his father’s firm of solicitors in Manchester. At the outbreak of war he joined the Public Schools Battalion and was commissioned in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment in May 1915. He was posted to France in May 1916 and was placed on special duty as an interpreter. On 1st July, the 1st Battalion of the Regiment attacked the German lines at Serre. The battalion was almost wiped out. Lieutenant Minor is buried at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps. He was 21 years old.
Turning to the Other Ranks, Private William Price Griffiths came from the tradesman class of Alderley Edge. He was born in Liverpool in 1895, but by 1911 the family had moved to Chapel Road. His father was a plumber and decorator and had what the local paper described as a well-known business in London Road. – a fact confirmed by Kelly’s directory 1914. William Price Griffiths enlisted in February 1915 and was posted to France in November. When he died on 1st July 1916 he was serving in the 17th Manchesters and attached to the 1st Trench Mortar Battery of the 90th Brigade. The family were members of the Methodist Church and he is commemorated on a plaque there as well as on the Thiepval Memorial.
Rifleman Clement Griffith was born in Congleton on 1st October 1896, the youngest son of Clement and Sarah Griffiths. By 1901 the family were living Trafford Road and the father was a coachman domestic. Ten years later, however, Clement’s father had died and the family were in West Street. Clement’s widowed mother Sarah was earning – probably scraping – a living as a charwoman. Clement was now a bookstall boy, having left the village school at 13. In March 1915 he enlisted in the Rifle Brigade and was posted to France in 1915. He was reported missing, presumed dead on 1st July and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He was three months short of his twentieth birthday.
Lance-Corporal Frederick Waller, born 1893, was the eldest son of Alfred and Florence Waller. Alfred was the cemetery caretaker and the family lived at Cemetery Lodge. As the cemetery only opened in 1907 and the family were recorded at Cemetery Lodge in the 1911 census, Alfred may well have been the first caretaker. Before the war Frederick was head gardener to Mr Claus of Elm Bank. In January 1915 he enlisted in another of the Manchester Pals battalions and was posted to France in November.
A sad letter from a fellow soldier printed in the Advertiser records his death on 9th July.
“Our company had been told to take a certain wood and in the advance over the open, Fred was, as you will imagine, well in front in charge of his section when he was killed by a machine gun bullet and suffered absolutely no pain . He was the most liked man in our company. We lived together in a little dugout months ago – just the two of us, as happy as could be, both of us full of plans for the future. Alas! It was not to be”.
The 18th Manchesters had in fact been ordered to take Trones Wood. The Manchester Regiment website tells us that
“About midday, the position became impossible and the Battalion was ordered to withdraw as it was being gradually wiped out to no purpose”.
Interestingly, two days earlier command of the battalion had been taken over by Major Philip Godlee, who, although not a resident of Alderley Edge at the time, later moved to The Meadows on Ryleys Lane and is remembered as the founder of the Alderley Edge Orchestra.
Like William Price Griffiths and Clement Griffith, Frederick Waller is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
The last of the Alderley Edge men who died in the first days of the battle of the Somme is Sergeant Oliver Leah, who died on 10th July. Oliver Leah was born in 1896 and baptized at the Hough Chapel. His father was a gardener and the family lived at Oak Meadows, Heyes lane. In the 1911 census Oliver was described as a telegraph messenger but, according to the report of his death in the Advertiser he had moved before the war broke out to Bury, where he worked as a gardener. The newspaper also says he was a member of the local Prize band and the scouts. He enlisted at Bolton in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in September 1914, and went to France a year later. He was killed on 10th July in the Battle of Albert, the first phase of the Somme offensive, and is buried in Pozieres British Cemetery.
Six men from Alderley Edge, ranging from the managing director of a cotton mill to the 19-year-old son of a widowed charwoman – but linked in death on the Somme.
We will remember them!