Manchester Hill Remembered

Jane Speller, Archivist, writes:

On Sunday 10 June 2018 Manchester Central Library was buzzing with activity as over 60 groups and organisations came together to mark Greater Manchester’s diverse histories and heritage for the Manchester Histories Festival Celebration Day.

At 2pm, under the wonderful domed ceiling of the Wolfson Reading Room, the lives lost during the World War I battle of Manchester Hill on 21 March 1918, were commemorated with a series of moving contemporary performances. These were selected from Manchester Hill Remembered, in which Manchester Histories came together with Manchester City Council and Brighter Sound to create an immersive performance of words and song at Manchester Cathedral earlier this year. The haunting melodies of James Holt’s Safe and Sound were enhanced by the unusual acoustics of the dome.

James Holt
James Holt singing in the Wolfson Reading Room, Central Library, Manchester © Jane Speller

The accompanying Manchester Hill Remembered stand showcased some of the archives used to unearth the story of the little known battle, which was bravely fought by the Manchester Pals Regiment. Sources included, Tameside Local Studies and Archives, The Museum of the Manchester Regiment, Manchester Archives, The National Archives, the Imperial War Museum and the British Library.

Manchester Hill Remembered stand, Wolfson Reading Room, Central Library, Manchester © Jan Whalen

The Manchester Pals were specially constituted battalions of the British Army comprising men who had enlisted together in Lord Kitchener’s recruiting drives, with the promise that they could serve alongside their pals – friends, neighbours and colleagues – rather than being arbitrarily allocated to battalions. The Pals were formed into eight battalions of the Manchester Regiment.

The Battle of Manchester Hill took place on 21 March 1918 in an area of high ground just outside the ruined city of Saint-Quentin in northern France, in the heart of the war zone. The hill had become known as ‘Manchester Hill’ the previous year, after its capture by the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment. The 16th and 17th Battalions, Manchester Regiment subsequently took part in what became known as ‘The Battle of Manchester Hill’, when a huge German force attacked them in an attempt to recapture the hill.

Of the 168 men who went into action 79 were killed and many more wounded or taken prisoner. Among those who lost their lives was the senior officer in charge, 29 year old Lieutenant Colonel Winifrith Elstob.

Lt. Col Winifrith Elstob © Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre, MR4/23/91/81

Elstob enrolled at Manchester University in 1905, obtained his BA four years later and a teaching diploma in 1910. On 11 September 1914, encouraged by his good friend Hubert Worthington, he enlisted with the Public Schools Battalion, and was immediately offered a commission with ‘A’ company 16th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, a unit largely made up of clerks and warehousemen from large Manchester firms. The battalion trained at Heaton Park and on 31 March 1915 paraded in Manchester’s Albert Square for Lord Kitchener. In May 1915, Elstob was promoted to acting Captain. The battalion embarked for France on 6 November 1915.

Worthington first met Elstob at school and was also a graduate of Manchester University. He made several journeys to the area where Elstob was shot in the hope of finding his friend’s body, but was unsuccessful. In 1943, after studying under the architect Edward Lutyens, Worthington was appointed Principal Architect for the Imperial War Graves Commission, North Africa. Worthington was responsible for the design and construction of a number of war cemeteries in the area including El Alamein. The Sir Hubert Worthington Papers are held at the University of Manchester.

Read more about Elstob and Worthington on the University of Manchester’s History and Heritage pages.

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