Alfred JOHNSON
Rank: Lance Corporal
Number: 18691
Unit: 15th Battalion ROYAL SCOTS
Date of Death: 28 April 1917
Age: 25
Cemetery: Lievin Communal Cemetery Extension, Pas de Calais, France

Alfred Johnson, senior, had died by the time of the 1901 Census. His widow, Jane, and their children lived at 29 Windsor Street, Stockport. She was then 53 and working as a charwoman. Alfred, the future soldier, was aged 9 and the youngest of four children. His older brothers and sisters were Harriett (23), Charles (19) and Carrie (14).

Nothing else is known of his private life except that he enlisted into the army at Manchester and that, by that time, the family home was at 25 Cambridge Street, Stockport. In the autumn of 1914, a Royal Scots recruiting party arrived in the city from Edinburgh, having heard that there were many young men, with Scottish ancestry, who wanted to join a Scottish Regiment. Although there is no indication that Alfred had such ancestry, he was one of over 500 men who joined up and would form half the Battalion's original strength. It became known unofficially as the "Manchester Scottish Battalion".

The Allied offensive known as the Battle of Arras had started on 9 April 1917 and had been a success. On 28 April, 34th Division was ordered to attack the village of Roeux, some 13 kilometres east of Arras. The 101st Brigade, which included Alfred's Battalion, occupied front line trenches extending some 700 yards from the River Scarpe to the village cemetery. Opposite them were the German 6th and 65th Infantry Regiments.

Zero hour had been set for 4.25am but the British artillery barrage had been so ineffective that most of the enemy front line proved to have been untouched. "A" & "D" Companies of the 15th were the leading units and, as they left their trenches, they must have been surprised that there was no enemy machine gun fire. The first waves of men quickly got across No Man's Land and then the machine guns opened up, preventing the companies following from getting across. The men who had got across, some 200, were now completely cut off in the ruins of the village. They could not dig in for protection, due to the marshy nature of the ground.

The Germans crept around the British left flank and opened fire with machine gun and rifle fire. Lieutenant Robson, commanding this flank, could not arrange for effective fire to be returned as ammunition was already running low. At 8.30am, the Germans also attacked the right flank. The Royal Scots had more or less run out of ammunition and their commander, Captain Pagan had been badly wounded. A withdrawal back to the safety of the British lines was essential. They tried to take refuge in a nearby wood, but they found it occupied by the enemy who attacked them with machine gun and mortar fire. By now, Lt Robson had only 30 men left, many of them wounded. He tried to lead them to safety by swimming up the River Scarpe, under cover of the banks, but they were all captured. As they were led away to the German rear, they saw lines of machine guns in shell holes, supported by six reserve battalions. Clearly, chances of any breakthrough would have been slim.

Alfred was one of 108 men killed in the attack. Two other local men, James Walsh and Herbert Leather were also amongst the dead. Captain Pagan died from his wounds.

(Note: Original research into the attack by John Hartley for the Cheadle & Gatley War Memorials website)

   
           
   
     
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