WW1

Cemetery Focus: Dantzig Alley

In the first of a series where I look at individual cemeteries on the Western Front I’ve decided to start with Dantzig Alley which is one that has drawn me back many times over the years

Dantzig Alley British Cemetery (Authors own photo)

Located on the Somme by the side of the D64 road which runs from Montauban-de- Picardie to Mametz, the cemetery was one of many designed for the IWGC (Imperial War Graves Commission) by Sir Herbert Baker

It contains 2,053 graves & commemorations of which 518 are unidentified, 17 special memorials to those known or believed to be buried here as well as a further 71 special memorials to those known to be buried elsewhere but their grave lost

As you enter the cemetery, up a few short steps, if you look to your right you’ll see the Stone of Remembrance surrounded by rows of headstones. This is the original plot of 183 graves now known as Plot 1. These were started not long after the 1st of July & later used by Field Ambulance units stationed nearby as well as fighting units who took over the area at various times

The cemetery stands across the road from the German trench known as Danzig Alley, how this evolved into Dantzig is unknown. On 1st July 1916 this was on the boundary of 18th Division at Montuaban & 7th Division at Mametz, the latter to whom this area fell as part of their sector. 91st Brigade consisting of the 22nd Manchester’s & 2nd Queens were given this objective and successfully took it but with heavy casualties & requiring the assistance of 21st Manchester’s to support the final push

Many of those of 7th Division who fell on that day around Mametz & Fricourt now rest here together with casualties of the 18th & 30th Division concentrated from individual graves & long gone battlefield cemeteries some near Montuaban such as Vernon Street near the tip of Talus Bois, only 43 however of the 110 known to be buried here were ever recovered possibly due to the depth of the original trench (Source: Zero Hour Z Day, Jonathan Porter)

Others are from the surrounding areas as the battle progressed towards Longueval, High Wood, Delville Wood & further on Ginchy, Lesboeufs. You’ll see many of those in particular of the Pals battalions of Manchester & Liverpool with their familiar regimental badges engraved on this headstones. The area was lost in the Spring Offensive of 1918 and it wasn’t retaken by the allies until August of that year so you will find a few graves from this period of August/September 1918

The cemetery offers some superb views of the Somme battlefields, to the east are glimpses of Mametz village & towards Fricourt & beyond to Albert, on the far SW horizon Mansell Copse & Bois Francais can be seen, to the north Mametz Wood and across the Longueval ridge and on a clear day towards Contalmaison & Poziéres

As we move back to the entrance of the cemetery on the wall just beyond the shelter of brick & Portland stone, which can be a godsend at times from a heavy shower or a strong wind, is a plaque remembering the men of the Royal Welch Fusiliers who fell on the Somme 1916-18 and at the very back of the cemetery can also be found a seat dedicated to the 14th bn Royal Welch Fusiliers who had a baptism of fire between here and at Mametz Wood. Very apt that this looks towards a panorama of that infamous wood itself

The Cross of Sacrifice sits at the back of this cemetery and a further bench can be found beyond the Stone of Remembrance,a perfect place to sit & reflect in your own thoughts despite it being so close to the road all external noise seems to disappear

Dantzig Alley looking North (Authors Own Photo)

Those buried or commemorated here lay side by side regardless of rank and as ever are equally looked after by the CWGC and on my many visits I’ve always found it to be immaculate

Many of you will no doubt have heard of Captain Charles May of B company 22nd Manchester’s buried here after being killed by shellfire on 1st July in the German trenches that his battalion had successfully taken

He had some stories published but it was from the publication of his diaries that he is probably well known. I won’t reproduce the details except to say a copy of To Fight Alongside Friends: The First World War Diary of Charlie May edited by GERRY HARRISON is worth adding to your collection

Diary of Charlie May

I have a few connections with individuals in this cemetery that I always like to visit one of them being Pvt Charles Edward Randall. A professional footballer from County Durham he had signed for Newcastle United in 1908 before being loaned out to newly formed (& my team) Huddersfield Town between 1908 & 1910 playing a forward position where he made 19 appearances scoring 6 goals. He moved to Woolwich Arsenal in 1911 before enlisting with 4th bn Coldstream Guards as Private 15469 in March 1915. In the Battle of Morval 25th-28th September 1916 the Guards Division were near Lesboeufs and it’s likely Charles was wounded there and then brought back by Field Ambulance units where he died on 27th September Aged 32 and was buried here at Dantzig Alley Plot I.D.6

Charles Edward Randall (FootballandtheFirstWorldWar.org)

My other connections are to two of the London Road railwaymen who I’ve mentioned previously in the blog ‘Railwaymens Memorial’

One of these men was Pvt 26999 William Birtwistle 21st Manchester Regiment who now rests in Plot III .G.7. A Goods Porter employed by the London & North Western Railway Company at Manchester London Road Station ( Now Piccadilly) he had enlisted & joined the 21st battalion. On 1st July as part of 91st Brigade 7th Division they found themselves behind their sister battalion the 22nd Manchester’s in support of the 1st bn South Staffordshire Regiment. This battalion would be the first to fight their way into Mametz village being submitted to heavy shell & machine gun fire yet they still managed to take several prisoners but we’re soon held up at around 7.45am near Cemetery Trench to the south of Mametz. At 8am men of the South Staffs entered the outskirts of the village but heavy casualties were taken so B & C companies of 21st Manchester’s were sent to assist. Another company of the 21st Manchester’s were sent to support their sister battalion the 22nd who had suffered a counter attack and had been pushed out of Danzig Alley. After several bombardments Danzig Alley was finally taken again at 1.30pm and the South Staffs together with the afformentioned companies of 21st Manchester’s successfully held the left part of Danzig Alley down in Mametz. William was killed in one of these attacks and he was buried amongst others in the site of an farm Orchard in Mametz village. 113 Labour Company would exhume & rebury William in later years. All that they had to go on was 2689 W.B Manchester when they found his original Grave marker

Pvt William Birtwistle ( Authors own Photo)

The second of the London Road men is Private 17241 James Thomas 20th bn Manchester Regiment. A native of Ancoats, Manchester he worked at the nearby railway station as a Goods Checker. On 1st July he was in the front line. A & B companies were in front of Aeroplane Trench with D company on their right in a quarry and C company just in front of D company with Bois Francais at their front & the craters. They were to be part of the subsidiary attack which would take place later in the day with the 7th Green Howards on their left & supported by 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers who amongst their numbers that day was Siegfried Sassoon. The frontage of the Manchester’s attack was huge in comparison to others that day and it was almost certain that things would not go well for them

At 2.30pm they went over the top 400 men walking 6 paces to cheers from the reserves of ‘Bravo Manchester’s’ Good Luck’. The first wave crossed without many casualties(Approx 40) most from a machine gun sited in Fricourt & disappeared from the sight of Sassoon 20 min’s later.

However on the far left near Wing Corner things weren’t so well. Tasked with bombing down Kitchen & Copper trenches towards Fricourt they were almost all wiped out. By 5pm A company 2nd RWF had sent over support but we’re met shell & machine gun fire.

The Manchester’s wounded lay everywhere & it had been reported they they were held up at Bois Francais Support. Hearing this 20th bn CO Lt Colonel H Lewis went to investigate and was killed almost immediately. James was killed in this area and dies aged 30. Together with his CO James would be buried close to where he fell close to Bois Francais being moved again by 113 Labour Company to Dantzig Alley where he now lies in Plot III.I.10

Pvt James Thomas (Authors own Photo)

I hope that you’ve enjoyed joining me on this brief visit & that you’ve maybe learnt a little about this cemetery & those that sleep here eternally that you didn’t know before. I really hope that it spurs you on to want to research some of those yourself and to share your own stories & memories that you have of Dantzig Alley

I hope you will join me again soon for another Cemetery focus

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