7th Infantry Brigade’s raid on Factory Farm 17 February 1917

The location of the raid is marked on this present-day map with a red X. It lies NE of Ploegsteert Wood and an the enclave of the Belgian province of Hainaut.

The general staff of the headquarters of 25th Division ordered 7th Infantry Brigade to carry out a raid on enemy trenches to obtain identification of enemy units in the trenches; to kill German troops; and to destroy trench mortars known to be within the defined area. Brigade selected two of its battalions to participate. No mention is made in the war diaries that a detachment of 10th Field Company of the Royal Engineers would also take part.

Location: Factory Farm

Factory Farm can be seen in the top right hand corner of this topographical map.

Detailed orders

Two officers and 120 other ranks of the 1st Wiltshire Regiment would be on the right and would attack the German line between U.21.b.85.80 to Factory Farm (inclusive) and the triangle U.21.b.85.83 – U.22.a..00.92 – U.15.d.95.00. The southern party would form a block in Umbo Trench and immediately south of the point of entry at U.21.b.85.80 and would work up the three sides of the triangle. The northern party would form a block in Ultra Lane at about U.16.c.05.05 and would work up the front line to Factory Farm.

Three officers and 180 other ranks of the 10th (Service) Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment would be on the right and would attack the German line between U.15.d.9.5 and U.15.d.88.81. It would penetrate to Ultimo Support. The first wave would penetrate the enemy’s front line and hold it, while forming blocks in communication trenches at U.15.d.88.50 and U.15.d.83.86. The second waves would pass through with the object of destroying or bringing back German trench mortars Gilbert and Christopher located at U.16.c.3.7 and U.16.c.18.87, along with machine guns.

The German trenches are shown in red in this map. The added blue flags mark the extremities of the Cheshire Regiment’s area of attack, and the blue triangle is the supposed location of trench mortar Christopher. The added red flags mark the extremities of the Wiltshire Regiments raid, with a flag in the middle highlighting the triangle. The southernmost red flag is in a rather odd location as it is not on the German front line: it is possible that the grid map reference was written incorrectly and should be more like U.21.b.50.80. The “snout” of German trenches with Umbo Trench at the bottom of this image had also known in 1914-15 as the “Duck’s Bill” after the German “Entenschnabel”.

All troops would withdraw and be clear of the enemy’s trenches 30 minutes after the time of entry.

The raid would be supported by numbers 77.80, 112, 113, 160 and 173 Brigades of the Royal Field Artillery. The division’s Heavy and Medium Trench Mortar Batteries would assist. IX Corps Heavy Artillery also arranged for the fire of eight 6-inch howitzers and six 60-pounder guns. The artillery of 36th (Ulster) Division on the left of 25th Division would also fire on their front.

Countdown to the raid

The ground of the Ploegsteert area had been frozen hard throughout a very cold winter.

8 February 1917

Howitzers and heavy trench mortars fire to register on the enemy’s defences in the neighbourhood of Factory Farm.

One officer and 65 men of A, C and D Companies of 10/Cheshire were withdrawn and moved to Regina Camp, preparatory to carrying out training for the raid. [This is a much smaller party than defined in orders and I have been unable to determine the cause of discrepancy. The reported number comes from the battalion’s war diary and may be an error].

C Company of 1/Wiltshire is withdrawn and moves to be billeted at The Piggeries, preparatory to carrying out training for the raid.

8 February 1917

Howitzers, 18-pounder field guns and heavy trench mortars bombard enemy first and second lines between 11am and noon.

10 February 1917

Rest of 10/Cheshire is relieved in the front line and moves rearward to brigade support position near Touquet Berthe.

Rest of 1/Wiltshire is relieved in the front line and moves rearward to Regina Camp. C Company moves to Pont de Nieppe. It begins to practice the raid on ground near Regina Camp which has been marked with flags to resemble the layout of the enemy’s defences.

Imperial War Museum photograph Q5092. British troops taking up timber for a trench support through a communication trench at Ploegsteert, March 1917.

11 February 1917

Preliminary raid orders are issued within 10/Cheshire.

2-inch trench mortar batteries begin to fire on the German barbed wire at planned points of entry.

14 February 1917

10/Cheshire, less the raiding party, returns to the front line and relieves 3/Worcestershire.

1/Wiltshire, less C Company, returns to the front line and relieves 8/Loyal North Lancashire.

The 25th Divisional Commander Royal Artillery issues his detailed orders to the brigades.

15 February 1917

A conference is held at brigade headquarters to finalise details.

14 Sappers and NCOs of 106th Field Company of the Royal Engineers began training for the raid.

Artillery begins to fire on enemy barbed wire defences. Gaps are observed. There is little German retaliation. The situation is generally reported quiet.

During the night, Germans go out to repair the gaps in the barbed wire. This is observed and a decision taken to prolong the artillery bombardment to ensure there will be adequate gaps for the raid.

16 February 1917

The weather is warming up and a thaw begins after a recent severe period of frost.

Artillery continues to fire on enemy barbed wire defences.

A German trench raid is carried out near Monmouth House, elsewhere on 25th Division’s front.

The raid

The raid began at zero hour, set for 10.40am on 17 February 1917

Observers saw five red Very lights being fired by the Germans at Factory Farm between 10.43am and 10.51am and a white ones at 10.48am and 10.51am. They would appear to be “SOS” calls for artillery support. At 11.21am a green light was fired.

The raid progressed well and all objectives were seized except for a portion of Factory Farm “where stout resistance was offered”. North of the farm, the raiding party reached the second German line; south of it the position U.22.a.10.95. Very few Germans were encountered except at the farm. Dugouts were bombed (divisional HQ reports it as eight of them); dumps of grenades and other trench material were destroyed. The 1/Wiltshire reported that they believed about 20 Germans were killed in their area, but no identification was obtained nor enemy prisoners captured. Ten enemy prisoners were taken by the Cheshire Regiment but eight were reportedly killed by German machine gun fire on the journey to British lines; two who survived were of 5th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. No mention is made of any destruction of the enemy trench mortars.

The 1/Wiltshire initially reported the loss of four men killed; one died of wounds; 26 were wounded; and one man was missing. They reported that the majority of these casualties were caused by enemy machine gun fire during the return to British trenches.

106th Field Company reported the loss of one killed, five missing and one wounded.

Patrols sent out by 10/Cheshire that night brought in 15 of the wounded and dead.

The divisional artillery fired a total of 5245 rounds in support of the raid, not including the preliminary bombardments on previous days. The heavy and medium trench mortars fired an additional 167 rounds. Enemy artillery retaliation was relatively light – but trench mortar Christopher was still firing after the raid and had clearly not been affected by it. There is no mention in any report of Gilbert.

Imperial War Museum photograph Q4648. Soldiers of the Lancashire Fusiliers in a front line trench: this is said to be in January 1917 and near Ploegstreet and opposite Messines, so close to the Factory Farm line. If so, it is possible that this is the 11th (Service) Battalion which was under command of 74th Infantry Brigade of 25th Division. The men are cleaning a Lewis Gun. On the left of the photographs can be seen the gas alarm horn and wind vane. Several rows of sandbags form the top left-hand edge of the trench.

Casualties of the raid

Killed in action and died of wounds

**The men marked thus are buried in Berks Cemetery Extension in the grave given in parentheses (plot – row – grave number). All others have no known grave and are commemorated at the Ploegsteert Memorial unless otherwise specified.

1st Wiltshire Regiment
The list of the men of the battalion killed in action appeared in the “Times” on 17 March 1917.

  • Pte 26681 Arthur Burch (Portland)**(I.O.20)
  • Cpl 33146 Sidney Foster (Nuneaton)**(I.O.19)
  • Pte 19045 Sidney Martin (Salisbury)**(I.O.21)
  • Sgt 8292 John Matthews (Swindon)**(I.O.18)
  • Pte 7626 Frank Gould died of wounds and is buried at Nieppe Communal Cemetery (II.A.4).  Pte Gould was aged 31 and the son of Henry and Priscilla Gould of South Mill, Amesbury.

10th Cheshire Regiment
The lists of the men of the battalion killed in action appeared in the “Times” on 17 and 19 March 1917.

  • Pte 49437 Ernest Bell. Aged 32. **(I.O.7)
  • Pte 10238 Clifford Bignall. Aged 23, the son of Joseph and Annie Bignall of Crewe. **(I.O.8)
  • Pte 50041 John Broadhead. **(I.O.16)
  • L/Cpl 53055 Peter Capper.
  • Pte 49471 James Davies. Aged 33, son of William and Sarah Ellen Davies of Birkenhead and husband of Josephine Davies of 3 Hurst Street, Old Swan, Liverpool.
  • Pte 36774 Harry Dean. **(I.O.11)
  • Cpl 14770 Arthur Gerrard. **(I.O.6)
  • L/Cpl 10152 George Hayes. **(I.O.3)
  • Cpl 9958 Charles Jones. Was actually reported as wounded in action in “Times” of 19 March 1917.
  • Pte 15004 Henry Jones. Aged 21, son of Daniel Doodson.
  • Pte 36152 John Kelly. Aged 25, son of Thomas and Catherine Kelly of 8, Church Street, Sandbach. **(I.O.26)
  • Pte 24209 Albert Kettle. Aged 29, son of Charles Henry and Alice Kettle of 52, Station Road, Lostock Gralam, Northwich. **(I.O.27)
  • Pte 18371 James Kettle. Aged 29, son of Joseph Kettle of 35 Station Road, Northwich and husband of Elizabeth Dodd (formerly Kettle) of 4 Chapel Lane, Moulton, Northwich.
  • Pte 32952 Thomas Lardner.
  • Pte 26681 John Lowndes. **(I.O.10)
  • Pte 25200 John McGarry.
  • Pte 36741 William Morrey. Aged 25, son of Samson and Frances Morrey of Worleston, Nantwich and husband of Margaret Morrey of Manor Cottage, Minshull Vernon. **(I.O.25)
  • Pte 36824 Walter Newton. Aged 20, son of Charles and Lena Newton of 44 Ashton Road, Newton, Hyde.
  • L/Cpl 44377 George Nichols. **(I.O.5)
  • Pte 44259 Henry Oldham.
  • Sgt 14008 Willie Povey. Aged 27, son of George Povey of 51, Primrose Lane, Glossop, Derbyshire, and the late Catherine Povey.
  • Pte 33423 Harold Reeves. Aged 20, son of Edwin Reeves of Road Side, Christleton. **(I.O.27)
  • Pte 22492 Walter Richards.on Aged 20, son of Mary Elizabeth Richardson of 174,Whealland Lane, Seacombe, Wallasey. **(I.O.28)
  • Pte 31566 William Riley. Lived St. Helens in Lancashire **(I.O.12)
  • Sgt 8998 Arthur Scragg.
  • Pte 36237 Harry Slater. Age 25, husband of Florence Slater of 176 Cheetham Hill Road, Dukinfield. **(I.O.9)
  • Pte 11617 George Smith. **(I.O.13)
  • Sgt 16217 James Stanton. **(I.O.15)
  • Sgt 18468 Frank Wainwright.
  • Pte W/544 Charles Wilkins.
  • Second Lieutenant John Carlton Manning died of wounds and is buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension (III.B.54). He was listed as having died of wounds in the “Times” on 5 March 1917. Manning was the son of Samuel and Alice Manning and husband of H. A. Haynes (formerly Manning) of Britton’s Cottage, St. Michael, Barbados, British West Indies.

From “Dulwich College Record”: Born 4th November, 1891. On leaving Dulwich he went up to Caius College, Cambridge, and in 1911 took a Class II, in Part II, of the Law Tripos. Afterwards he was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple and returned to Barbados, where he practised and established a name for himself at the Bar. In October, 1915, he came to England and after passing through the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps at Berkhamsted was gazetted to the Special Reserve of the Cheshire Regiment in September, 1916. Three months later he proceeded to France, being attached to the 10th Service Battalion of his regiment. He was shot by a sniper on 17th February, 1917, and died of his wounds the same day, being buried at Bailleul. He leaves a widow and one child.

Royal Engineers (traced to belong to 106th Field Company)
Listed in the “Times” on 16 March 1917

  • Spr 32935 Richard Smith (Newbury)**(I.O.4)

 

Missing and later officially presumed dead

These men were later presumed dead and are commemorated at the Ploegsteert Memorial.

1st Wiltshire Regiment
Casualty list printed in the “Times” 2 April 1917

  • Pte 26183 Walter Watson (Bradenstoke)

10th Cheshire Regiment
Casualty list printed in the “Times” 20 April 1917 unless stated

  • Pte 11049 Harry Barlow. Aged 21, the son of Edward and Sarah Ellen Barlow, of 40, Hyde Street, Stockport.
  • Pte 49431 Harry Barlow. Aged 32, the son of Joseph and Jane Barlow of 15 Derby Street, Birkenhead.
  • Pte 10746 Edward Burke.
  • L/Cpl 434 Charles Cliffe.
  • Pte 24817 Thomas Dagger. Listed as missing “Times” 30 April 1917. and “now reported killed” 13 February 1918.
  • Pte 34520 John Freeman. Son of Mrs. Annie Shaw of 41, Lancashire Hill, Stockport. A German record of 6 June 1917 lists him as dead. This was confirmed in “Times” 1 March 1918.
  • Pte 44253 Lewis Hall. Aged 36, son of  James Hall of Halifax and husband of Edith Hall of 24 Clark Avenue, Carr House Road, Doncaster.
  • Pte 35698 Harry Helsby. Aged 28, son of William and Mary Jane Helsby of Seven Houses, Frodsham Bridge.
  • L/Cpl 13115 Thornton Hickson. A German record of 23 April 1917 lists him as dead and of C Company. This was confirmed in “Times” 1 December 1917.
  • Pte 11137 Joseph Holland. C Company. Aged 25, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Holland of 8 Paradise Street, Northwich.
  • Pte 39996 Percy Houghton. de Ruvigny’s roll of honour states “2nd s. of the late William George Houghton, Local Preacher, by his wife, Mary ; b. Rock Ferry, co. Chester, 26 Nov. 1887 : educ. St. Luke’s School there ; was a Sack Merchant ; enlisted in the Cheshire Regt. 8 June, 1916 ; served with the Expeditionary Force in France from 7 Oct. following ; was reported missing after the fighting on 17 Feb. 1917, and is now assumed to have been killed in action on or about that date. He m. at St. Peter’s Church, Liverpool, 28 Feb 1908, Ellen (76, Inglemere Road, Rock Ferry), dau. of (-), and had three children : William George, b. 22 Dec. 1908 ; Percy, b. 20 July, 1911, and Margaret Lilian, b. 7 July, 1914.
  • Pte 35717 Thomas Hughes.
  • Pte 36169 George Jones. Aged 29, son of George and Sarah Jones of 43 Victor Street, Chester and husband of Agnes E. Jones of 2 New Street, Chester. “Times” of 12 July 1917 lists him”Previously Reported Missing, Now Reported Killed”
  • Pte W/316 James Leadbeater. Aged 22, son of William and Emily Leadbeater of 2, Lock Road, Eastham Ferry.
  • Pte 13238 Stephen Lloyd. Reported as wounded and missing by “Times” 12 June 1917.
  • Pte 15518 John Loughlin.
  • Pte 35435 Harold Lowcock.
  • Pte 10801 James Smith. Husband of Elizabeth Bennett Smith.
  • Pte 44284 Thomas Southern. “Times” of 22 January 1918 lists him”Previously Missing, Now Reported Died As Prisoner of War In German Hands”
  • Pte 35282 James Spilsbury. Aged 26, son of Henry and Annie Spilsbury of The Halfway House, Mobberley.
  • Pte 44158 John Tilsley. Aged 35, husband of Catherine Tilsley of Poole Hall Lane, Reaseheath, Nantwich.

Royal Engineers (all traced to belong to 106th Field Company)
Casualty list printed in the “Times” 2 April 1917

  • Spr 134443 Frederick Bale (Minehead). Was listed in a German “Totenliste” dated 23 April 1917. He was the husband of Ruby Bale of 16 Middle Street, Minehead.
  • 2/Cpl 95485 Fred Collins (Camden Town). A skilled painter originally from Birmingham, enlisted in London in April 1915. He landed in France with he company on 26 September 1915. He was married to Eva of 7 Gloucester Road, Regent’s Park. His presumed death was mentioned in a War Office list of 12 January 1918.
  • Spr 62333 Arthur Manley (Ivybridge). Enlisted in Plymouth in January 1915 and was with the company throughout the rest of his life. A skilled tailor, his presumed death was also mentioned in the War Office list of 12 January 1918. He was unmarried and was the only son of Tom and Mary Manley of 42 Fore Street, Ivybridge.
  • Spr 58065 Matthew Miller (Kirkcaldy). An iron turner, enlisted at the age of 19 in Edinburgh in November 1914 and was with the company throughout the rest of his life. He was unmarried and the son of Sarah Miller of 32 Union Street, Kirkcaldy. She had last seen in him during a spell of home leave in early January 1917.
  • Spr 58904 James Phillips (Wigan) was the son of Peter and Mary Phillips of 4 Newman Avenue, Springfield Road, Wigan. Before enlisting he had worked as a drawer at the Giant’s Hill Colliery. Phillips had recently earned the Military Medal for bravery when aged 22 in 1916: it was announced in the London Gazette” on 21 December 1916.

The “Dundee People’s Journal” (this edition dated 8 March 1919) ran a column titled “Our inquiry bureau” after the war, hopeful that repatriated prisoners of war could report on men who were still missing. Matthew Miller’s mother made an enquiry. One wonders whether she ever gained any further information: it must surely be doubtful.

Photograph of Matthew Miller from the “Bond of Sacrifice” also in Imperial War Museum collection HU125668

James Phillips MM. Photograph from the “Bond of Sacrifice” also in Imperial War Museum collection HU116935

Commemoration

The men who have no known graves are commemorated at this memorial. They form a small part of the more than 11,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in this sector during the First World War and have no known grave.

The men with known graves all lie in Plot I of Berks Cemetery Extension. It is alongside the memorial.The extension – the original Hyde Park Corner (Royal Berks) Cemetery is across the road – was begun in June 1916 and used continuously until September 1917. At the Armistice, the extension comprised Plot I only, but Plots II and III – on the other side of the memorial – were added in 1930. In all, the three plots include 876 Great War burials.

Wounded

1st Wiltshire Regiment
The list of wounded of 1/Wiltshire appeared in the “Times” on 17 March 1917.

The list includes two men wounded on 16 February: Miller and Strong. The rest are casualties of the raid.

10th Cheshire Regiment
The list of wounded of 1/Cheshire also appeared in the “Times” on 17 March 1917.

The two wounded officers appeared in the “Times” casualty list on 26 February 1917: Second Lieutenants Joseph Leslie Watkin Bles and Second Lieutenant William Norman Nicholls, who had led the detachment of C Company. Both survived the war.

The enemy unit that faced the raid

The two prisoners were reportedly of the Königlich Bayerisches Reserve-Infanterie-Regiment 5, a unit raised in Ludwighafen, Landau and Neustadt. It came under command of 5 Reserve-Infanterie-Brigade of 4. Königlich Bayerische Division.

Other notes

The chosen date  for the raid was of significance to the Cheshire Regiment, which annually celebrated it as “Meanee Day” in memory of an action fought by its predecessor the  22nd Regiment of Foot in the Sind province of India in 1843.

The Cheshires raiding party was commanded by Captain Ivan Appleton, supported by Second Lieutenants Harvey Rowe (A Company), William Nicholls (C Company) and John Manning (D Company).

Ivan Stuart Appleton had been commissioned from the ranks of the 15th Hussars in June 1916. He survived the war and retired from the Tank Corps in 1933.

Harvey Rowe Wilfred Warwick Rowe, still only 21, died of wounds on 20 August 1917. The son of Lydia Ada Rowe of Putney, London, and the late Charles Courtney Rowe, he is buried in Reninghelst New Military Cemetery. He had been commissioned from the ranks of the London Rifle Brigade in July 1916. Rowe was awarded the Military Cross for his part in the raid: “For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. He was the first to enter the trench, and himself accounted for five of the enemy. He then organised the clearing of the trench with marked coolness and ability, with the result that heavy casualties were inflicted on the enemy.”

Visiting the area today

The two opposing front lines overlaid onto a present day map along with the flags and markers shown above. On the left of the image, the red X marks the location of the Ploegsteert Memorial and Berks Cemetery Extension.

A tour of the Ploegsteert area often features in trips to see the sites of the unofficial truce of Christmas 1914 and (hopefully) those following my tours of the area of the 1918 Battle of the Lys (described in “The Battle of the Lys : North : Objective Ypres” published by Pen & Sword Battleground Europe in 2018). Factory Farm would also feature in any good tour following the Battle of Messines in 1917 as it was blown up by two of the enormous underground mines exploded on 7 June 1917. It is of considerable interest that the mine tunnels had already been dug by the time that this raid took place.

Of the raid area there is now little to see by way of any remaining trenches, bunkers or other traces of the battlefield although there are remains of the craters that resulted from the June 1917 explosions. Even so, it makes for an interesting visit.

Thanks to Google Maps we are standing – evidently on a gloomy day – at the junction of Rue St. Yvon (left) and Rue Riche (right). The brigade’s front line trench ran alongside the Rue St. Yvon. The trees that can be seen down Rue Riche surround Ultimo Crater, the northernmost of the two exploded at Factory Farm in June 1917. The farm itself lay on the right hand side of the road. The field ahead of us was the no man’s land crossed by the 10th Cheshires raiding party and where most of their casualties were incurred on the way back.

We have now moved further down Rue Riche – how the weather has changed! We are now standing on the position of the German front line that was raided on 17 February 1919. On this spot it was called Ultra Trench: on our left it became Ultimo Trench. The trees on the  left are those around Ultimo Crater. Across the field on the right, the grassed lip of the crater at Factory Farm can be seen just before the trees. The farm itself was never rebuilt. It had been the northernmost extremity of the Wiltshires part of the raid.

Now back on the Rue St. Yvon but a little further south. We are on the Wiltshires front line. The trees on the right are at Factory Farm; those in the middle at Ultimo Crater. The raiding party crossed this no man’s land on their way to do death and destruction in the enemy trenches.

Sources used in compiling this article

  • The National Archives unit war diaries collection WO95
  • The National Archives army service records collection WO363
  • British Newspaper Archive
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission registers
  • Imperial War Museum photographic archive
  • International Committee of the Red Cross POW archive
  • London Gazette

Links

25th Division

Cheshire Regiment

Wiltshire Regiment