Mrs Duxbury’s flags

Recently, whilst looking through back numbers of The Little Piecer, I re-read Albert Winstanley’s article on Halliwell’s Biggest Snowball (Issue 72) where his mother’s warning to ‘keep off Mrs. Duxbury’s flags’ brought a wry smile to my face. Mrs. Duxbury occupied the only house in the very short length of Makant Street, which provided access onto the ‘field’ between Raimond Street and Adrian Road. In the mid-1930’s when we were living at Makant’s Cottage (photograph Issue 31) my sister and I, when going up or down Makant Street, also steered a course well away from ‘Granny’ Duxbury’s flags which were almost cream coloured from years of scrubbing and mopping.

There was, however, tragedy behind Mrs. Duxbury’s pride in the condition of the pavement outside her house. My father, George Watson (Obituary Issue 27) later told me that her son Lewis had been killed in the attack on Guillemont on the 9th August 1916, from which he himself had emerged unscathed. Part 50 of Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, under lst/5th Battalion (Territorial Force) lists Duxbury, Lewis, 2803 Private, enlisted Bolton, killed in action, France and Flanders, 9/8/16.

That part of the Regimental History covering the lst/5th (Bolton) Battalion reads ‘on this day (8th August) the Battalion moved forward into the Dublin and Casement Trenches as reserve to the 164th Brigade, which was attacking on the left of the Division. From here ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies were sent on to occupy trenches running north between the Trones-Guillemont road and the Railway Support trench, ‘C’ going still further forward and joining the 8th King’s Liverpool in the front line: ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies were soon after ordered to trenches at that time held by the 2nd/5th Lancashire Fusiliers, and moved up accordingly. The Battalion now joined in the attack then launched, advancing in four waves, with the Liverpool Scottish on the right and the 2nd Division on the left, the first objective being the enemy front line and, that captured, the village of Guillemont. The opening of the attack was somewhat delayed and hampered by the extreme congestion of the assembly trenches, but it was finally launched at 5.25am. On the left things went well, but on the right the companies were held up by intense machine-gun fire and every officer of these companies, with one exception, became a casualty. Further advance was deemed to be out of the question and the 164th Brigade, and the Battalion with it, was withdrawn to the original line. On the 10th August the Battalion was moved still further back and on the 15th it withdrew to Meaulte’.

The Divisional History gives the following brief account of the attack by the Battalion; ‘On the left the lst/5th Loyal North Lancashire, owing to the lateness of the hour at which orders were received; to the narrowness and crowded condition of the trenches, and to the heavy casualties to officers, were unable to get into position until after 5.00am. In spite of this, and in spite of the fact that the artillery barrage had lifted at 4.23am as arranged, they made a most gallant assault. They were, however, unable to reach the German trenches, and were compelled to fall back to their starting point’.

The total casualties in the attack were four officers and twenty-nine other ranks killed, two officers and eighty-three other ranks wounded, and twenty men missing. Father’s fifteen months in France came to an end some five weeks later when the Battalion was back in the front line alongside the notorious Delville Wood, where he was wounded by shellfire whilst bringing up ammunition.

Operational histories of this type give little background information on the appalling conditions in which these events took place. A fuller account of the nine-week battle for this village, complete with maps and photographs, is given in the booklet Guillemont (ISBN 0 85052 591 8) published by Pen & Sword Books.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirm that No .2803 Private Lewis Duxbury, age 22, son of Peter and Annie Duxbury of 2 Makant Street, Halliwell, killed on the 9th August 1916, has no known grave but is commemorated by name on Pier 11, Face A, of the Thiepval Memorial. Also killed on that day were two brothers well known to my father, Lieut. Ernest Blackburn, ‘A’ Company age 27, and 2nd Lieut, Edward Blackburn, ‘B’ Company age 23, the sons of Fred and Jane Blackburn of Heaton. They too have no known grave and their names are also on Pier 11, Face A of the Memorial.

In 1982 when, with my wife, we took father back to the Somme battleground we went to the Thiepval Memorial specifically to see these and any other names from the lst/5th (Bolton) Battalion. Unfortunately a large section of the interior was under repair and we were unable to get near to Pier 11 which was covered in scaffolding. It was recently reported in the press that the exterior brickwork of the monument; which has a central arch 80 feet high and a total height of 150 feet and was unveiled in 1932; is now in need of extensive repair following 70 years of exposure to the elements.

Lest We Forget

By John Watson