Herbert LEATHER
Rank: Sergeant
Number: 43638
Unit: 15th Battalion ROYAL SCOTS
Date of Death: 28 April 1917
Age: 27
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Herbert was the son of Samuel and Frances Leather and the older brother of Alfred also remembered on the Cheadle Memorial. At the time of the 1901 Census, the family was living at 7 Brooklyn Road, Cheadle, where Samuel was working as a farmhand. Apart from Alfred and Herbert, there was an older brother, Percy, and three younger children, Robert, Mabel and Lizzie. By late 1918, Samuel and Frances were living at 20 Massie Street, Cheadle. Herbert enlisted in Manchester but it is not known when.

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 Herbert'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.

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

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

   
           
   
     
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