Samuel's birth certificate confirms he was the son of of William, a blacksmith, and Sarah Ann Knowles (nee Ellor). He was born on 20 September 1881 at 18 Lee Street, Stockport. His mother registered his birth and made her mark on the register.
The local newspaper, reporting his death, confirmed that Samuel was single and, for the 15 years prior to his enlistment, on 28 August 1914, he had worked for Tonge's Ltd. The Company were coal merchants with several branches around town. He was an original member of the newly formed 12 Battalion, enlisting at Ashton under Lyne, and will have gone overseas with it when it went on active service in July 1915.
He died of wounds he had received in action and was in a military hospital on the channel coast when he died. Although it cannot be known with certainty when he was wounded, the Battalion was involved in major attack only a few days before.
The Battle of the Somme had opened on 1 July and many Manchester battalions had their baptism of fire that day. The 12th Battalion was held in reserve during the first week but, on the 7th, they would also go into action.
There had been successes around the village of Mametz on 1 July and a German stronghold known as the Quadrilateral had been subsequently captured. The next objective was a trench known as Quadrilateral Support. This ran between Mametz Wood and the nearby village of Contalmaison.
There seems to have been a chaotic attempt to capture the position during the night of the 6/7th but this had failed. A renewed attempt by the 12th Battalion was ordered for 8am. In the 1920s, Major Thompson described the attack for the Battalion's History (recently republished by the Regimental Archives):
"The route to the assembly point was under constant shell fire and we lost some men but eventually the Battalion formed up in good order. At 8.00am our barrage ceased, "D" and "B" Companies moved forward, followed by "C" Company. "A" Company was held back until the others got well forward. The steadiness of the men was wonderful and they went over in as good a line as if on parade, although as soon as the advance started, they were subjected to very heavy shelling and machine gun fire. As our barrage had ceased, they had no shelter whatsoever and had a distance of 700 yards to cross. As soon as the first three Companies showed themselves on the ridge overlooking the trench, they were met by a withering fire and were mown down in great numbers. The same fate awaited "A" Company. In a few seconds, hardly any of us were on our feet. The casualties were very numerous."
200 men were dead and many more, like Samuel, were badly wounded. He will have been treated at a field hospital where his condition will have been stabilised before he was evacuated to the full facilities of a military Stationery Hospital at Wimereux.
Mention was made earlier of a newspaper report of his death. In a strange turn of events, his details and photograph were also used to record the apparent death of a man called Samuel Burns. Research for this project suggests this is a complete error and it has not been possible to establish the death of any man of this name. However, it would seem that the newspaper report itself provided the basis for the name of S Burns to be included on the Stockport War Memorial. Click here for further details.