Benjamin Richard KNOWLES
Rank: Private
Number: 6174
Unit: 2nd Battalion BORDER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 16 May 1915
Age: 24
Cemetery: Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Benjamin was the only son of Richard Knowles (a cordwainer) and Ellen Knowles. He was born in the Levenshulme area of Manchester (although a separate local authority at the time) in the autumn of 1890. In 1901, the family was living at 18 Railway Avenue, Reddish and was still in the area when war was declared in August 1914.

Information supplied by the Regimental Museum confirms that Benjamin went overseas on 23 February 1915. His comparatively low service number indicates he must have enlisted just after War had been declared in the previous August. The 2nd Battalion was part of the Regular Army, but its numbers had been decimated by the losses of the first few months of fighting and new recruits, who had joined for the duration of the War only, were being sent to it.

The Battle of Festubert was one of a series of major attacks undertaken by the British Army in the spring of 1915. This attack, on a three mile wide front, was to the north of the French village  of Festubert. It was intended to capture specific objectives and to generally advance the line.

At 11.30pm, on 15 May, the leading battalions left their trenches to advance across No Man's Land. Some units are successful in reaching the German line; others are cut down in the open, by machine gun fire. At 3.15am on the 16th, the first two platoons of the Border's "A" Company went into the attack but were checked by two shells from British howitzers landing amongst them. The howitzers had continued to fire after they should have ceased. The Regimental History records that the Company advanced a second time and got to the German trenches. The artillery barrage had "completely destroyed the enemy's wire, which offered no impediment whatever.....The leading platoons were at once reinforced by the remainder of the Company, but the German trenches were so completely levelled by our shell fire that they afforded little or no cover and an attempt was at once made to progress further, but onward movement was now stopped by a ditch full of water and by heavy machine gun fire from the left flank."  "B" Company was then sent over in support and they were able to clear Germans from some of the trench system to the left by throwing grenades. "Some 200 yards of trench in this direction was made good but the supply of bombs (grenades) was meagre and the ground gained had eventually to be given up; these parties came under a heavy trench-mortar fire during these attempts and suffered heavily."

"C" and "D" Companies were now brought up to reinforce the position which was held all day until the Battalion was relieved during the hours of darkness. Over 120 men have been killed, including Benjamin. Many now have no known grave and, like Benjamin are commemorated on the nearby Memorial to the Missing. The Battle continued for another 10 days but the Borders played no further part.

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