Accessibility Statement
Chat icon Chat with us live

Private Albert Hutchinson, 2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment

The Boer War

Albert Hutchinson in 1942Albert Edward Hutchinson was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire on 20 February 1880 to Frederick, a pork butcher, and his wife, Elizabeth. On 3 October 1898 he volunteered for seven years of Regular Army service and five years in the Army Reserve.

He enlisted as a private in the Manchester Regiment at Ashton-Under-Lyne and was given the number 5475. At a medical on the same day he was declared ‘fit for the army’. He stated that he was 19 years and seven months old.(1) He was only 5 feet 4⅞ inches tall and stated that he was a butcher.

After a few weeks at the regimental depot at Ashton-Under-Lyne, Pte Hutchinson was posted to 2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment on 12 December 1898; the regiment had just returned from India and was at that time quartered in the Manchester area. Hutchinson was quartered in Hulme for a few days before moving to Lichfield. He was promoted Lance Corporal on 1 May 1899.

On 8 December 1899 the battalion embarked at Holyhead for Dublin but, following the outbreak of the Boer War, it was ordered to Aldershot and from there to mobilise for active service in South Africa as part of the 17th Brigade in the 8th Division under Lieutenant General Rundle. It was decided that one company, ‘H’, would be trained and equipped as a mounted infantry (MI) company.

The NCOs and men chosen for this company were either those who had been through an MI course or who had had something to do with horses in civilian life. As he later served in the MI, it is quite possible that Hutchinson was one of those so chosen and was sent to the Army Service Corps barracks at South Camp, Aldershot for MI training before re-joining the battalion the day before it embarked for South Africa.

Having been promoted to Corporal on 1 March 1900, Hutchinson, and the 2nd Battalion, embarked in the SS Bavarian at Southampton on 16 March 1900. They disembarked at Port Elizabeth on 9 April and two days later moved by train to Edenburg. Here the MI company was reunited with its horses which were in a poor state after their journey by ship and train. From there the company rode to Dewetsdorp where they came under fire for the first time.

All mounted troops under General French were moved off at once for the relief of Wepener, in the south-eastern part of the Orange Free State where colonial troops were besieged by De Wet, but the siege was lifted before they arrived. The rest of the battalion, as part of Rundle’s force, moved east towards Dewetsdorp where it encountered fierce Boer resistance from a force under the command of Piet De Wet.

While the battalion pursued the Boers north to Ficksburg, where it remained in occupation, the MI company left the battalion and was attached to mounted infantry ‘regiments’ as part of the 3rd Division (Hutchinson was eventually attached to the 14th MI).(2) They remained in the area of Dewetsdorp for two weeks before the column moved to Bloemfontein, arriving there for the official annexation of the Orange Free State, the company taking part in the parade in the square.

After these operations the MI company re-joined the 8th Division as the mounted troops of the 17th Brigade and its movements corresponded to those of the 2nd Battalion for several months moving between Thaba ’Nchu, Senekal, Bethlehem, Winburg and Harrismith, taking part in the Wittebergen operations and convoying columns from Harrismith to Bethlehem.

The mounted troops and two MI regiments were sent through the Brandwater basin to Ficksburg in February 1901 and they remained there for a month for a well-earned rest. In March a drive to prevent the Boers in the area of Ladybrand from breaking out failed and so the MI company and the other troops involved returned to Ficksburg on 3 April where the MI enjoyed a peaceful time interlude with expeditions into the Brandwater basin to collect supplies and cattle.

The enemy was generally encountered on each of these expeditions and ‘there was usually a good deal of rifle fire and a few casualties on each side’. It was probably on one of these expeditions that Hutchinson was shot, as he is shown as being ‘severely wounded’ in the area of Tweefontein on 5 May 1901.(3)

It is not known for how long Corporal Hutchinson was out of action but on 12 May the column left Ficksburg and joined up with the rest of Rundle’s 8th Division, spending the next four weeks in the Brandwater basin rounding up farms and taking away supplies, women and children.

On 9 June the MI company was in Harrismith and it is possible that Hutchinson was serving again by this time with the 14th MI in one of General Spens’s columns which, on 10 June, started searching the mountainous country bounded by the lines from Nelspruit to Lydenburg and from Lydenburg to Machadodorp. These operations lasted a fortnight during which time 17 Boers were killed and 48 captured.

In July and August the columns continued to sweep the north-eastern corner of the Orange River Colony and were in Lindley on 17 August. There were continual encounters with small Boer commandos throughout August and September in the area of Kroonstad.

In October a plan was devised to leave the Vrede district clear in order to allow Boers to assemble there. Then at a given moment, 12 columns would converge inwards and hopefully capture a significant number of Boers. The 14th MI was to move in from Botha’s Pass towards the east. The drive began on 5 November but, given the vast distances covered, the number of troops involved and the bad weather, the Boers were able to escape through gaps in the British lines before the drive was completed on 12 November.

On 18 December four companies of the 14th MI were surprised by a large Boer commando and suffered several casualties before being relieved by the rest of Spens’s column. The commando was pursued for several days with casualties being suffered by both sides. The 14th MI was involved in further drives into the spring of 1902.

On 1 June 1902 news was received that peace had been signed and on 26 September 1902 2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment sailed for the UK in the SS Michigan. However six days previously Hutchinson was one of 65 non-commissioned officers and men who had transferred to 1st Battalion,

The Manchester Regiment which was at Standerton but in doing so he had been obliged to revert to the rank of private. The 1st Battalion remained in Standerton for several months before moving by train to Durban on 8 March 1903 where they embarked in the SS Delwara on 11 March bound for Singapore, which was reached on 30 March and the battalion moved into the Tanglin Barracks.

For his service in South Africa Hutchinson was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps ‘CAPE COLONY’, ‘TRANSVAAL’ and ‘WITTEBERGEN’ and the King’s South Africa Medal with clasps ‘SOUTH AFRICA 1901’ and ‘SOUTH AFRICA 1902’ – this being the most common combination of clasps awarded to 2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment.

The former was presented to the battalion by Brigadier General Sir Arthur Dorward at a parade on 17 April 1903 and the latter on 20 October.
On 4 May 1903 Hutchinson was granted his first good conduct pay at 1d/day and extended his service to complete eight years with the Colours.

Hutchinson’s time in Singapore was not healthy as not only did he injure his eye but he also suffered badly from malaria, so much so that he was invalided back to the UK, embarking in the SS Delwara, on 26 January 1904 and arriving in England on 3 March, where he was immediately admitted to the Military Hospital Netley but was discharged the following day.

As he was now back in the UK, on 2 July 1904 he was transferred back to 2nd Battalion The Manchester Regiment, which was at that time stationed at Aldershot, where he remained until 2 October 1906 when he was discharged and transferred to the Army Reserve before moving back to Nottinghamshire.

Photograph of Pte Hutchinson wearing his QSA and KSA, believed to have been taken c 1904-06 Photograph of Pte Hutchinson wearing his QSA and KSA, believed to have been taken c 1904-06
(courtesy of Albert Hutchinson’s family)

On 17 March 1907 he married 18-year-old Eva Elizabeth Heeds from Retford, Nottinghamshire (possibly in a hurry as their first child was born six months later). Albert Hutchinson appears to have worked as a self-employed butcher in Huthwaite, Nottinghamshire as three of his children were born there between 1907 and 1911. He signed on for a further four years in the Army Reserve on 3 October 1910.

The First World War

On 4 August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany and the following day Albert Hutchinson was mobilised, initially with 3rd Battalion The Manchester Regiment but on 9 August he was again posted to 1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment.

The 1st Battalion was in India at that time and, as part of the 8th (Jullundur) Brigade of the 3rd (Lahore) Division, it embarked at Karachi in the SS Edavana and disembarked at Marseilles on 26 September. The battalion then moved north, via Ypres, and eventually moved into the trenches at Festubert on 26 October 1914. Meanwhile Hutchinson was no doubt undergoing training and being issued with kit and it was not until 13 November that he embarked from England bound for Le Havre. From here he was despatched to the front on 6 December to join his battalion which was then in the trenches in the area of La Quinque Rue.

On 20 December the battalion was ordered to march to Gorre in order to re-take the village of Givenchy which had been captured by the Germans. The battalion began their attack at 3pm and found the village held in unexpected strength and hand to hand fighting took place, but the battalion took the village house by house and held it all night. However, the next day the arrival of fresh enemy reinforcements, attacking from the front and left, forced the battalion to retire but it had held the line long enough for reinforcements to be brought up.

1st battalion The Manchester Regiment at Givenchy1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment at Givenchy, 20 December 1914
(The History of the Manchester Regiment Vol II by Col H.C. Wylly, CB)

The battalion suffered heavily in this action with two officers and 64 men killed, three officers and 123 men wounded and 46 men missing. Hutchinson was one of those who failed to return after the attack and was posted as missing on Christmas Day 1914. Eventually on 21 May 1915 his wife was officially notified that he had been killed in action on 21 December 1914.

At this time Eva Hutchinson was living in Worksop with her four children (her fourth child having been born in September 1914). She was also notified of her pension entitlement of 25/- a week. However two days later, on 23 May, she received a postcard from her husband which informed her that, having been shot in the arm and captured during the action at Givenchy on 21 December, he was in a German PoW camp at Wittenberg, one of the most notorious in Germany.

Captivity (4)

On 21 December 1914, having been severely wounded in the arm, Hutchinson was captured and, covered in mud and blood, he was marched through the German trenches to the rear. Here he was beaten and robbed before being marched to the station where he was bundled, along with other French and English troops, into cattle trucks. A train took all the prisoners to a large railway shed, some six or seven miles from La Bassée, where they were each given a slice of black bread and a cup of coffee before spending the night trying to sleep on the straw-covered floor.

Early the next morning, following questioning, the prisoners re-boarded the train and were taken to Lille where they were marched through the streets. Many of the local French inhabitants tried to give them money, cigarettes and food but were stopped from doing so by their German guards, although Hutchinson managed to get some cigarettes.

The troops were marched to a barracks/magazine building and housed in tunnels where there were already some 200 soldiers from the Highland Light Infantry. After some coffee and biscuits, the wounded were taken off to have their wounds dressed but later they were returned to the tunnels.

Hutchinson and the others remained in the tunnels until the evening of the following day, 24 December, when they again boarded their cattle trucks and were taken to Wittenberg, some 50 miles east of Hamburg, where they arrived in the afternoon of 26 December and were marched to the PoW camp which was next to the station.

On arrival each man was given two blankets and had to share two sacks of straw (a mattress) between three or four men.
It was now mid-winter and life in the camp was grim. Throughout that winter Hutchinson never had a drop of warm water to wash his wounds even though he had had them dressed. In fact he did not have a wash with soap from 20 December 1914 until March 1915 and it was not long before the men became infected with lice.

Food was in very short supply and what was issued was little more than bread and very thin soup with the occasional potato. Hutchinson would sometimes go for six weeks without seeing any meat and in his diary he wrote ‘I was so hungry I could have eaten a horse and gone back for the rider’.

Typhus broke out in the camp in January 1915 and the Germans closed the canteen and all the German guards moved out of the camp, although orders continued to be given through the wire. The death toll mounted as bodies were carried out of the camp each day. Eventually six British doctors were sent into the camp and conditions immediately began to improve even though three of the doctors were dead within three weeks.

Hutchinson had his first hot bath with soap in early March 1915 by which time his wounds had healed but his hand was quite useless and painful. Soon afterwards he fell ill with typhus and was more or less in a coma until late March and cared not whether he ‘lived or died’ until 10 June when he received a letter from his wife responding to the postcard that he had sent to her on 7 May, the first such card to reach his wife. In June Hutchinson received a most welcome parcel from his wife and, on opening it, immediately ate a two-pound currant loaf.

He continued to write to his wife and she would send food parcels to him, several of which unsurprisingly never arrived, but he also received some food parcels from Lady Burghley’s Fund and from the Lancashire Regiments’ Fund.

In May 1915 the German guards shot dead, through the wire and for no apparent reason, some seven prisoners and for the next 12 months the guards continued to mete out severe punishments for even the most minor of offences. In August, as typhus had almost been eradicated, the German guards re-entered the camp.

One guard had a large dog which he encouraged to bite the prisoners as he walked through the camp with his dog on a very long leash. Soon afterwards an American reporter visited the camp and his report on the horrors he saw was published widely in the British press after which conditions in the camp improved slightly.

Early in 1916 Hutchinson, along with other wounded soldiers, was examined by German doctors with the view to including him in an exchange of wounded prisoners but, despite further examinations, he remained in the camp. However, things were gradually improving in the camp: in April 1916 wooden beds were issued so Hutchinson was able to sleep off the floor for the first time; the attitude of the Germans had also improved somewhat; and with food parcels arriving from the UK and with PoWs now responsible for their own cooking, the food position had improved. However, on 24 May 1916 Hutchinson was informed that he was to be sent to Switzerland.

The following day he was among a group of PoWs who boarded the 2nd class carriages of a train and started a 30-hour train journey to Switzerland during which they stopped twice to be very well fed. The party arrived at Konstanz, on the German/Swiss border, at midnight on 26 May, where they marched to the local barracks. That night Hutchinson slept between clean sheets for the first time since he had arrived in France 18 months earlier.

The following day the party had to undergo yet further medical examinations after which about 120 of the men were informed that they were to remain in Germany. Luckily, Hutchinson was allowed to leave Germany and at 7pm on 29 May 1916, he climbed into the 1st class carriages of a Swiss train in Konstanz station.

During the journey through Switzerland the group enjoyed ‘the finest reception … fit for a king’ with flowers, chocolates, cigarettes and newspapers being thrust through the train windows as they travelled along. They stopped at Berne for lunch on the 30th and, as they crossed the platform to get to the station restaurant, they were handed so many gifts that on his return to the train after lunch Hutchinson looked like ‘Father Christmas going on his rounds’.

On the station an English woman took Hutchinson’s details and later wrote to his wife informing her of his safe arrival in Switzerland. The train moved on to Montreux where the party changed trains and went on to Chateau d’Oex. Throughout the journey Hutchinson cheered himself hoarse and could hardly speak for the next five days.

It would appear that Pte Hutchinson’s wounds were quite severe because he had an operation on his left arm and elbow while in Switzerland and it was not until 15 September 1917 that he was returned to England. He was immediately given two months’ leave after which, on 15 November 1917, he was posted to 3rd Battalion The Manchester Regiment.

However, his days of military service were over and on 31 January 1918 he was discharged as ‘no longer physically fit for war service’ and awarded a pension, (5) £6-13-4 of regimental pay and a bounty of £20. It was also stated that there was no need for him to attend any further physical examinations.

For his service in the First World War Hutchinson was awarded the 1914 Star (without Bar) trio and the Silver War Badge. On discharge he had served for 11 years and 179 days in the Army and seven years and 306 days in the Army Reserve.

Albert Hutchinson died around February 1954 in Worksop.

Sources:
Census 1881(Sheffield), 1891(Worksop) and 1911 (Huthwaite).
Wylly, Colonel H.C., CB (1925), The Manchester Regiment Vol II. London: Foster Groom & Co Ltd.
Medal index card.
Personal diary of Albert Hutchinson.
South African War Casualty Roll: South African Field Force (1980).
The National Archives (TNA)
WO/364 & 365: Soldier’s Service Papers and Pension Documents.
WO100/198 & 340: QSA and KSA medal rolls.
WO329/2471 & 3075: 1914 Star medal roll and silver war badge roll.
WO95/3927: 1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment War Diary 20-24 December 1914.

Notes:

1 Place and date of birth supplied by the family, although attestation papers indicate a birth date around March 1879
2 WO100/198 indicates that Hutchinson was attached to the 14th MI – others from the battalion would have been attached to different MI ‘regiments’; the movements of the 14th MI are not clear but they would have been acting in close co-operation with Rundle’s troops
3 Date differs between 3 and 5 May depending on document
4 This section is taken from Albert Hutchinson’s own diary; some of the dates in the diary differ slightly from dates in the official papers. Dates in the official papers have tended to be followed
5 In September 1923, Albert Hutchinson was awarded a pension of 11d/day for life in addition to his disability award

This article was written by Bob Barltrop and appeared in the September 2014 edition of the Journal of the Orders and Medals Research Society. It is reproduced here by kind permission of the author and the society."