“On July 1st, 1915, “R” Company of the 11th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, after training at Grantham and Witley, left camp and embarked on H.M.T. Empress of Britain, to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force; strength six officers and two hundred and twenty other ranks. Officer in command, Major H.C. Bates. Other officers: Lieutenants E.H. Hartley, A.L. Allen, H.S. Painter; Second Lieutenants, E.H.K. Smithers and R.S. Innes.”
So begins the the journal of the 11th Battalion, Manchester Regiment that I discovered at the library in Ashton-Under-Lyne while traveling in England last year. This was the battalion that my Great-Uncle James William Travis joined as they embarked on the first leg of their journey, first to Gallipoli then from there to the Western front and the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Of course, this journal is not a captivating read, it’s rather dry and quite military in just giving the facts and not really telling the stories of those who would fight and die in that war.
My hope over this next year is to try in my blog to add some color and life to this journal through the eyes of my uncle. Of course, much of this will be fictionalized since I have no letters or documents that he might have written and I am working with memories that have grown dim with time, but I feel that the sacrifices these men made need to be remembered and written down.
At the time of his death in 1916, my Uncle Jim would leave a wife and three daughters, one of those girls he never had a chance to meet. At some point he would be joined by his two brothers, Walter and Albert, two who I continue trying to discover something about in the war records. In doing this I now understand how difficult it is for historians to piece together bits of information and then work to create a narrative that is both informative as well as being a good read. I’m also envious of those authors who write historical novels that draw you into the story where you not only read but can feel the very pulse of the characters.
My uncle, his comrades and all who are mentioned in this journal were flesh and blood people, who loved and were loved, had families and friends, who saw their own struggle in the battles they would fight, some of whom would die. I can only imagine what it must have been like in those trenches, while your enemy rained down gunfire and shrapnel on to your positions, the fear, the daily grind of soldiering, caring for the wounded, and burying the dead.
I can only hope that my small contribution will do justice to the lives and memories of these men, who came from the mills and factories around Manchester and answered the call to go and fight for King and Country.