The Battle of the Ancre

Thank you to our Archives+ volunteer Clare McGovern for researching and writing this blog post about a family story.

Pte Leonard Royle, 1/6th Battalion Cheshire Regiment and the Battle of the Ancre (13th–18th Nov 1916).

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Leonard Royle was born in Sale on the 17th of September 1892. He was the first of four surviving children born to gardener, Joseph Royle and his wife Ann Morris. At the age of 18, Leonard lived at home with his family and worked as a bootmaker. Two years later in 1913, he married Mary Houghton. The following year they welcomed a daughter and in 1915, the couple had twin sons. 

Leonard enlisted with the Cheshire Regiment in Chester and although his full-service record has not survived, his regimental number (291645) suggests that he joined the 2nd or 3rd/7th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment (Territorial Army). It is believed that he served in this capacity in the UK as part of the Home Defence before eventually travelling to France to begin active service. On arrival there, he was transferred to the 1st/6th Territorial Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. 

On November 13th, 1916, the Battalion engaged in their first major attack which was also the final offensive of the Battle of the Somme. The action took place along the banks of the River Ancre. The Battalion moved off at 10pm the night before to take up assembly positions in shell holes and trenches. The battle commenced at 05.45 hrs the next morning in very bad weather conditions. Following weeks of inclement weather, the ground underfoot consisted of deep mud and visibility was significantly reduced due to fog and smoke from the barrage. Whilst the fog helped to conceal the movements of the 6th Battalion, it also meant that some enemy troops went unnoticed and taking advantage of the conditions, fired into the back of those who had passed them. Some German soldiers who had been captured in the first phase of the attack took up arms again, resulting in more casualties. 

Conditions were so bad that some of the Battalion, along with the Black Watch became disorientated and lost their way in the fog. An Adjutant, Lieut. Naden luckily managed to reorganise the troops and they went on to meet their objective of capturing Mill Trench. All the objectives of the attack were met, including the capture of the village of St Pierre Divion and the clearing of the Strasbourg line.

An entry for November 13th, 1916 in the diary of Sergeant James Boardman of the 6th Cheshires says:

 “Big attack made along the Thiepval sector. Our Battalion took part. The attack started about 6am. The wounded started coming in about 8am and from this time onwards it was one continual stream all day and night. All the objectives were taken and our Battalion was the first to enter St Pierre Divion. Hundreds of prisoners were taken. We made them carry away our wounded.”

According to an extract from the 6th Battalion war diaries (October 7th to November 17th) all objectives were met by 8.15am. Two Captains, one lieutenant and 27 other ranks were killed in action. Two other ranks died of their wounds, nine were missing and 127 were wounded. Leonard Royle was amongst those killed in action on that first day of the final phase of the battle of the Somme. He was initially buried in St Pierre Divion Cemetery but his body was later exhumed and re-buried in Connaught Cemetery in Thiepval, along with five other men from his Battalion who fought and died with him that day.   

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The images used are from Clare’s private collection.

References• Commonwealth War Graves Commission• War Diaries of 6th Battalion Cheshire Regiment.• David Kelsall (1989) Stockport Lads Together: The 6th Cheshire Territorials, 1908-1919 Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, Leisure Services Division.• Charles Smith (1932) War History of the 6th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment (TF) The 6th Cheshire Old Comrades’ Association• Arthur Crookenden (1939) The History of the Cheshire Regiment in the Great War, Naval and Military Press

 

 

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