Alfred Ernest BAXTER
Rank: Private
Number: 16339
Date of Death: 26 September 1915
Age: 23
Cemetery: Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

In 1901, the Baxter family was living at 16 Ann Street, Reddish. Reuban Baxter was 37 and worked as a rope make. His wife, Elizabeth, was 38 and had given birth to four surviving children – Samuel (11), Alfred Ernest (7), Reuban (5) and Arthur (2).

When Ernest left school, he went to work at the local flour mil of William Nelstrop Ltd on Lancashire Hill. The Company still trades from its Albion Mill.

Ernest volunteered for the army not long after War was declared, being assigned to the newly formed 8th Battalion of the Borderers. After training, they arrived in France in early July 1915.

Senior British and French commanders had planned for some time for an attack near the mining town of Lens in northern France. The actual advance would take place north of the town around the village of Loos, after which the battle would become formally known. It was scheduled to start on 26 September and the Borderers’ 7th and 8th Battalions would take part in the initial assaults.

They were in position by 10pm on the 24th. At 5.50am, there was a final “hurricane bombardment” of the German lines, followed by 40 minutes shelling with gas and smoke shells. The men then “went over the top”. The 7th Battalion was on the right and included local man, Charles Fuller and, on the left, was Ernest and his mates in the 8th Battalion.

The Regimental History records that the men of the 7th “Half smothered in their smoke helmets, they had to scramble over 250 yards of fire trench in which they were crowded, get through gaps cut in the wire and spread out to 400 yards of frontage.” Their objective was Loos Road Redoubt – 200 yards away across No Man’s Land. The Battalion piper, D Laidlaw, “strutted about on the parapet playing the “Blue Bonnets”. He kept playing till he was wounded and won the first VC awarded to a Scottish Borderer in the Great War”.

The smoke only covered the attack for its first 40 yards and, as the men appeared into the open, two enemy machine gun fire opened fire accounting for many casualties in both Battalions.

The 7th Battalion pressed on and took the Redoubt. Although no longer in proper communication with neighbouring units, the Battalion pressed on, taking objective after objective and came within half a mile of the main German second line defence system. They had advanced 1000 yards.

Meanwhile, the men of the 8th Battalion had lost direction and had joined other troops. They were quickly engaged in “mopping up” the German trench while the 7th Battalion pushed on.

Other Battalions from the Division pushed through and captured the village of Loos. All units now dug in for the night. Some time during the day, Charles Fuller had been killed. During the next day, whilst in the trenches, Ernest was killed, most probably by shellfire. Neither has a known grave and both are commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Loos. Fighting in the area would continue until the middle of October – nearly 8000 British troops would be killed. Another 50000 were wounded. The 7th Battalion suffered about two-thirds of its number in casualties (dead and wounded). The 8th Battalion had fewer casualties. The Battle was a success – but a costly one.

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