WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.
This year 2016, holds some very moving Anniversaries for this Country and the rest of the world.
It will be the 102st Anniversary of the start of World War 1 (4 August 1914), the Great War, the War to end all Wars ?
It will be the 77th Anniversary of the start of World War 2 ( 1st September 1939 ).
It will also be the 71st Anniversary of the end of World War 2 VE and VJ days.
It will be the 76th Anniversary of the Dunkirk Evacuation, Operation Dynamo.
Also this year commemorates the 76th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
It is also the 72nd Anniversary of the D Day Landings in Normandy France which heralded the looming defeat of the Natzi's.
It will also be the 34th Anniversary of the Falklands War ( 2 April 1982 ).
Armistice Day Ceremony at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan 2013.
British and Commonwealth Troops played a part in all these conflicts, and are still today fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is very easy to look at these conflicts from a World view, and not to look more closely at the part played by local men and women from Wirral, Liverpool, and Cheshire both in the armed forces and those on the home front who fought for this Country. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice, others came home scarred both Physicaly and Mentaly from what they had seen and done.
For this years Show we will be looking at ways we can remember our Local Veterans, both those that have died and those still with us.
As 2014 was the centenary of the First World War we feel it is appropriate for our Festival to acknowledge the contribution made by Wirral service Men and Woman.
On 4 August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany, and took the first faltering steps along the road to Armageddon. Patriotic men “keen to have a crack at the Kaiser,” flocked to join the colours, precisely how many of these reservists or Kitchener Army recruits enlisted from Wirral is uncertain. We do know some 150,000 men enlisted at Liverpool, and among them were men from the Cheshire side of the River Mersey; other recruits enlisted locally or at Chester. Wirral men were also present among the pre-war regulars serving in various local infantry regiments or corps, not forgetting the Royal Navy. Local men traditionally served in the King’s Liverpool Regiment or the Cheshire Regiment, others joined their father’s former regiment. But freedom of choice ended following the 1916 introduction of compulsory military service. On completion of training, drafts of conscripted men were used to reinforce Battalions depleted by battlefield casualties.
At the outbreak of war the 1/Cheshire Regiment were stationed at Londonderry policing unrest in Northern Ireland. On 5 August they were mobilized, and nine days later they boarded a ship destined for France. The Battalion was a component of the small British Expeditionary Force (BEF) that made first contact with German troops at Le Cateau. Driven back by a numerically superior force the Retreat from Mons ensued, and after a series of reverses the Germans retired. They then established a series of defensive strong points, these were gradually linked by trenches and became known as the Western Front. The 1/Cheshire served with distinction in France and Belgium until December 1917 when they were transferred to Italy, they returned to France in April 1918. When the Armistice was declared on 11 November 1918, the Battalion were near Le Quesnoy.
Wirral had long established Territorial Battalions and Corps that were primarily intended as a home defence force. However, following the outbreak of war some units volunteered for overseas service.
The 4th Cheshire Battalion was recruited locally and elected for overseas service. They sailed in July 1915, for Alexandria, and almost immediately they departed for Gallipoli. After landing at Suvla Bay they received their baptism of fire on 9 August. Following the December Allied evacuation of Gallipoli the Battalion went to Egypt where they spent several months erecting defences against attacks by the Senussi. They repeated the work on the Tripoli border and between July and November worked on the Suez Canal defences prior to the advance on Palestine. On 26 March and 19 April 1917 the battalion was heavily engaged in the First and Second Battles of Gaza. In late May 1918 the battalion sailed for France where they joined the 34th Division. On 18 July they were near Soissons where the Battalion sustained very heavy casualties. By September the Battalion had returned to Belgium and on 14 October Menin was captured, they remained in action until the Armistice.
The Cheshire Field Company Royal Engineers, based at Harrowby Road Birkenhead recruited almost exclusively amongst Birkenhead and Wirral men. In the early months of the war a home service unit was recruited also a Foreign Service detachment. Early in the winter of 1914 they had the distinction of being the first Territorial Company of the Royal Engineers to be sent to the front. The squadron sporadically sent out detachments to France, Flanders and Gallipoli. A century later the squadron continues to welcome recruits and greatly contributes in our annual Transport Festival Show.
Another branch of the forces was the Cheshire Brigade Company Army Service Corps (ASC). The supply section of this company served at Suvla Bay, where they were under direct shell fire daily from landing until the evacuation. The section then went to Egypt, and took part in the campaign against the Senussi in the Libyan Desert, and then joined the 53rd Division advance towards Palestine. The Transport Section went to France at the end of 1915.
Some of the better known Kitchener battalions were the Pals. They were raised from a section of the community or workplace and would serve together as a Battalion of friends or pals. Commencing on 31 August 1914, Lord Derby raised four Battalions of Pals for the Kings Liverpool Regiment, these Battalions comprising city office workers included Wirral volunteers. The 2nd City (18/KLR) Battalion were briefly billeted at Hooton Park Racecourse now part of the Vauxhall site.
Wirral had its own Comrades or Pals Battalion – the 13th (Wirral) Cheshire Battalion. This was recruited during the early weeks of the war; some 700 men from the Battalion were employees of the Port Sunlight soap factory. The Battalion went to Aldershot for training, as part of 74 Brigade 25th Division they landed 25 September 1915 in France. They fought and died on the Somme and Flanders battlefields. Due to the reorganization of British infantry divisions the 13/Cheshire were disbanded in France 16 February 1918.
Birkenhead had the distinction of raising the world’s
first Bantam (named after small fighting cocks) Battalions. These were
recruited in Birkenhead on 30 November 1914 from men below the military minimum
height of 5’ 3 inches. Within a few days the Birkenhead Bantams were raised,
after adoption by the War Office they became the 15th and 16th Cheshire’s. Other
towns followed the Birkenhead initiative leading to the formation of the 35th
(Bantam) Division. In January 1916 the Division departed for the Western Front
where they served at Ypres and the Somme. The 16th Battalion were disbanded in
Belgium on 6 February 1918. The 35th Division played a vital defensive role
during the German Spring Offensive. And when the Armistice was declared the
35th Division was at the forefront of the Allied advance.
To commemorate the centenary of the First World War the festival will hopefully have in attendance military re-enactors kitted out as 1914 -18 Cheshire Regiment infantrymen. “Lest we forget.”
Written by Stephen Magreal