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Albert William Andrews

Albert AndrewsWhat follows is extracted from Orders are Orders: A Manchester Pal on the Somme from the account written in 1917 by Albert William Andrews of the 19th Battalion, Manchester Regiment edited by Sue Richardson (ISBN: 1 85216 157 4)

Private Albert William Andrews was born in Gorton and enlisted in the 4th City Pals of the Manchester Regiment in September 1914. Basic training took place at Belle Vue Gardens and then Heaton Park, from there they moved to Belton Park, Grantham and then to Lark Hill Camp on Salisbury Plain, in November 1915 they sailed from Southampton to Le Havre.

From Le Havre they travelled to Pont Remy not far from Amiens, from here they marched in the darkness through open country, along roads swimming with water. Water trickled down their bodies, their feet were sodden, but still the order came, “Keep going,” and on they marched through Beaumetz, Coisy, Canaples, Halloy, finally arriving at Berles au Bois which was 600 yards from the firing line.

In December they marched to La Herliere, Halloy and Boisbergues where they were shown how to use their gas helmets. In January they marched to Naours, Pont Noyelles, Sailly le Sac, Bray Sur Somme arriving at Billon wood at midnight where they spent 4 days in the trenches before they were relieved, they marched to Bray which was about 5 miles behind the line. This routine carried on for two months, Albert lost a few of his mates who were either killed or wounded. The weather and the strain alone cracked quite a few up.

In March they were sent to Etinehem Wood which was about four miles beyond Bray, the accommodation here was in tents. For a week they cleaned out a communication trench called Maricourt Avenue which was 8 miles from camp. Albert suffered from exhaustion and cold during this period but was soon fit again after a couple of days doing easy work. They went from here to Corbie where Albert and his mates had cream cakes in a Café, that night they were sick. The next day they marched to Frechencourt where they stayed for 10 days building a railway.

After this they marched to Coisy, then to Breilly, they stayed in a cowshed, the weather was fine, the evenings they spent in a café. On April 10th they marched back to Coisy and then back to Frechencourt where they continued working on the railway. In May they marched to Corbie, and then to Bray, after breakfast they marched to Billon Wood where they worked in the tunnels. From Billon Wood they went into the fire trench in front of Carnoy and Mametz Wood, they were told to keep a sharp lookout as it was a dangerous post, the Germans having broken through there two weeks before. At the end of May they were sent to relieve another battalion in front of Maricourt, the Germans were firing at them, they kept it up all day and then it began to rain, the Germans still shelling them.

After three weeks they were relieved and marched to Bois des Tailles, then to Reilly, by train to Picquigny, then on foot to Briquemesnil where they practiced an attack on some dummy trenches. The next move was to march to Breilly, Ailly sur Somme and Amiens (about 20 miles), Albert was carrying a full pack and he was so tired at the end that he was staggering like a drunken man. They stayed at Etinehem for two days where they had a 15 minute church service; here they were told that some of them would be called upon to make the great sacrifice. They left Etinehem for Bray. They were 6 miles from the firing line; they could hear nothing else but a roar of guns day and night. Albert had a piece of red ribbon sewn round the bottom of the right trouser leg with a bow on the outside. This was to indicate that he was entitled to go down German dugouts after clearing out.

On the 1st July Albert was wakened about 5:00am for breakfast, dry bread, cheese and a drink of water. After breakfast they had to fix ladders and take down the barbed wire, at 7.30am signal to attack came, Albert lit a cigarette and up the ladder he went. No Man’s Land was one mass of shell holes, the soil was loose and they had 400 yards of this to go to the first enemy trench, the Germans firing at them all the time. As they went forward Albert’s comrades kept falling either killed or wounded, about half way across the second wave caught up with the first to fill these gaps up. About 100 yards from the German trench, Albert’s Officer turned and said, “up a bit on the left:’ then pitched forwards. That was the last order he ever gave. As they got nearer, dozens of Germans were running towards our lines with their hands up. Others stopped in their trenches throwing bombs, firing machine guns and rifles, but those who stayed until the British got there were killed.

Then Albert waited outside Glatz Redoubt, all the guns being turned on this ring of trenches which was right on top of the ridge. They got the order “Charge!” and away they went, many Germans retreated towards Montauban, the British forces opened rapid fire at them.

On Sunday Albert did one hour of sentry duty, the Germans counterattacked but were repulsed. That night they were relieved by the 20th King’s Liverpools, but they did not go far away, only to their own front line trench. On Monday Albert was ordered with others to bury the dead, this was when he realised the cost of the victory. When the roll was called there were too many that did not answer. On the 8th July Albert was supporting in Glatz Redoubt, it had been raining about two days, the trenches were full of water and they were plastered with mud when they got the message that they were going over at one o’clock.

The Wiltshire’s took the wood except the top corner; the fight swayed to and fro, the Platoon finished just on the right of the wood, joining up with the French. The German firing was fierce here; the British lads kept tumbling one by one. Between two and three the Germans counter-attacked just on the left and after a stiff fight were driven off. Trones Wood was lit up by shellfire that night. They were relieved at dawn on Sunday by the Royal Scotch Fusiliers.

On the 22nd July they attacked a village called Guillemont, which was situated in front of Combles. After some hand to hand fighting they captured the village, but were counter-attacked immediately, this attack cut off the first two waves who were killed, wounded or taken prisoner; including all the Officers. The third and fourth waves suffered very heavily through this. There was only a handful left who withdrew at 6.00am. Albert was shot through the right shoulder. He got back to Trones Wood and made his way to the doctor. He bandaged Albert properly, put a ticket on him and said, “Blighty for you this time, Andrews. Can you walk down?” Albert set off down the railway line, passing Bernafay Wood and leaving Montauban on his right, asking for another drink all the way, but no, there was no water. Then he was put on a motor vehicle which put him down on the Bronfay road.

A parson saw him, picked him up and carried him into the dressing station at Billon Farm, where Albert was given a drink of tea. The parson asked if he felt fit to go before the Doctor and took him in. The Doctor looked at Albert’s wound, inoculated him in my right breast, and then he was put on another vehicle which went to a place called Heilly. More tea, and bread and butter, then up before another doctor. He ordered Albert to lie down a while and when he came to examine Albert he put another ticket on him with a “B” on it, meaning “Base”. Albert stayed there until nearly midnight and then was put on a train. A nurse came and spoke English, the first English girl Albert had seen or heard speak since he left home.

They arrived at Rouen at 1:00pm on Monday, 24th of July; Albert was examined by another doctor who marked him “S”, which meant “Ship” - England! The next dinner time Albert’s name was called out, two tickets put on him. About 2.30pm they left Rouen, arriving at Le Havre about 7.00pm. They sailed about 6.00am, arriving at Southampton at four that afternoon. Two hours later they were on the train, which took them to Rubery, near Birmingham. By 11.00pm they were travelling on vehicles to the hospital. People were cheering all along the roads, but Albert could not believe that he was in England.

Albert was kept in hospital until the end of August and then went on 10 days sick leave when he was reunited with his brother who had been injured at Trones Wood. They reported to the Manchester Regiment depot at Ashton under Lyne. Tom and Albert were there together, doing three marches a day of one hour each, Tom was sent to B Company, 3rd Manchesters, at Cleethorpes. A week later Albert was sent to the same company, here they did two marches of about one hour each, per day.

After three weeks 50 soldiers were transferred to the 2nd Garrison Battalion, Lincoln Regiment, for Home Service. They went to Marsh Chapel; stayed there a week and then the Company went to George Street Schools, Grimsby. Here they did guards and fatigues but generally had an easy time.

Tom and his brother had a very good time in Grimsby, they played billiards, went dancing, met some very nice people and made a good many friends. Their mother visited them twice, their dad once. There was a soldiers’ clubs, the ladies giving up their time to look after them. The brothers did three years soldiering together, on the last night they had supper with a great friend, Dick Booth, and then the following day they were both off elsewhere. They both said the same thing on their last night together: “We will never let them get us down.” They were to part after being together so long, but they were soldiers and orders are orders and must be obeyed.
Albert’s brother was sent back to the 3rd Manchesters at Cleethorpes. Albert was transferred to the 26th Durham Light Infantry Works Battalion and was telephone orderly at the ASC, George Street. In May 1917 he was transferred to the 7th Labour Battalion, in July to the 506th Works Company.

Acting Corporal Tom Andrews was killed on the 20th November 1917