Ernest HOPE
Rank: Private
Number: 26934
Unit: 15th Battalion CHESHIRE REGIMENT
Date of Death: 20 August 1917
Age: 26
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

Ernest was one of at least four children of Benjamin and Nancy Hope, 219 Newbridge Lane, Stockport. He had been born locally and enlisted into the army in the town. His service number suggests that he joined up between may and July 1915.

The local newspaper, reporting his death, gave some details of his family. His brother, Sam, was married to Florrie and lived at 75 Newbridge Lane with their children. He was serving in Salonika, probably with the 12th Cheshires. Another brother, perhaps too young to serve , was still at the family home. He also had a sister who lived at 32 George Street with her husband, Frank (who, in 1917, was serving in Gibralter, probably with the Cheshires' Garrison Battalion).

During the early part of 1917, the Battalion was in reserve, preparing for an attack on a German stronghold, known as The Knoll, in the front line near the town of St Quentin. On the night of 18/19 August, they moved into assembly trenches at Lempire.

At 4am on the 19th, the British artillery opened up and Ernest and his mates left their trenches. The barrage crept across No Man's Land at a steady pace and the infantry kept within 50 yards of it. Nine minutes later, "W" Company was near to the German front line and, according to the Battalion's War Diary, "encountered several enemy outside his wire, but they were easily disposed of". Both assaulting companies had to engage in brisk hand-to-hand fighting with German soldiers concealed in shell holes and still in the front line trench. The War Diary notes, however, that they did not make a very stiff resistance.

The barrage was still creeping forward towards The Knoll. Ernest would have quickly passed through the German front line and, keeping close to the protection of the barrage, would have reached The Knoll. By 5am, they had secured the objective and were consolidating the position. Throughout the day, the German infantry still sniped at the Cheshires but there was no major counter-attack, although the Knoll was heavily shelled for most of the time.

At 5pm, an enemy patrol was spotted crawling towards the British front line, under cover of trees. They were intent on trying to recover abandoned trench mortars. They were fired on by the Cheshires. Three were killed and the other four hid in a dugout. A sniper was posted to try and shoot them when they came out, but they managed to escape under cover of darkness. At 7.30, there was a heavy bombardment of The Knoll and this was followed up with the long-awaited counterattack. The Cheshires waited until the enemy was only 60 yards away before opening fire with rifle and Lewis Gun, causing many casualties.

The next morning, The Knoll was again shelled and, it was presumed, this was a preliminary to a counter attack. British artillery and machine guns opened up on No Man's Land and no attack materialised. Two hours later, the German shelling increased in intensity and large numbers of infantry were seen massing at Vendhuile. They were again dispersed by British artillery fire. During the evening, The Knoll was again shelled but British retaliatory fire prevented an attack.  

Ernest was probably killed by the German shelling and this probably accounts for why he has no known grave. Another local man to be killed was Albert Jepson.

(NB: Original research of the military activity by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website.)

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