Thomas Edwin BILLINGE
Rank: Private
Number: 6718
Date of Death: 14 April 1917
Age: 21
Cemetery: Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France

Thomas' father, also called Thomas, was a railway engine driver and lived with his wife Mary at 11 Fosnett Street and, later, 11 Cunliffe Street, Edgeley. The 1901 Census shows them to have four children - Jane (then 8), Nellie (7), Thomas (5) and Alice (1).

Thomas enlisted into the army at Manchester, joining the first of the Manchester Regiment's "Pals" Battalions (later called the 16th Battalion). He was assigned to 9 Platoon, "C" Company. It is not known what Thomas did for a living but almost all of the original recruits to the 16th Battalion worked for major employers in Manchester city centre - most of them for the large cotton companies.

He probably went abroad in November 1915 with the Battalion and may have seen action at the Battle of the Somme in the summer of 1916. It may well have been that he was wounded there and, when recovered, was transferred to the 2nd Battalion if they were more in need of replacements at the time. This would be the most usual reason for a transfer at that stage of the War.

On 12 April 1917, the Battalion moved to Savy - a small village near the German occupied town of St Quentin . The plan was that the next morning French troops would attack the town. If the attack proved successful, the Manchesters would go forward in support. Overnight, they moved to assembly positions and had dug-in by 4.30am. In the event, the French attack failed due to uncut barbed wire in No Man's Land, heavy German artillery fire and the enemy trenches being too strongly held. By 4pm, the Manchesters were relieved back to Savy

On the 14th, the Battalion was again designated to be in support of an attack and, at 8am, the orders came to move forward to Savy Wood. At 11.15, further orders arrived instructing another move forward, in preparation for an attack at 12.30. There were, however, no orders as to exactly what the Battalion was to attack. The Colonel rode to meet the Brigadier General and returned with more precise instructions. The objective would be a trench near a position known as Cepy Farm.

The Battalion's own War Diary takes up the story as they moved forward. "It was realised by the Battalion at the outset that it was impossible to cover the distance in artillery formation with the loads and paraphernalia that the private soldier is called upon to carry in the attack, in the time given. Upon arriving at the Bois de Roses it was found that the remaining 1000 yards to be covered was in full view across the enemy's front."  The Colonel gave orders for the men to use a different route to their assembly positions which were then found to be on the slope of a hill in full view of the enemy at St Quentin.

"It was found necessary to come over the top of this hill and move forward to a position more under cover from view, in full view of the enemy.  On this account, the Battalion went over in attack formation. Immediately the first wave passed over the crest of the hill, the enemy placed a hurricane barrage on the ground to be crossed with 10.5cm and 15cm high explosive shells. Though this barrage was straight in the middle of the Battalion, they moved forward through it as steadily as going on parade, each wave keeping its dressing and distance and every carrier retaining his load. By the Grace of God alone only 30 men were lost in this barrage."

Orders were changed again. The enemy was still holding a trench thought to have been previously captured and this would now become the Manchesters' objective. The intent was to attack it from the flank but the designated assembly positions involved crossing another small crest in full view of enemy machine guns. A small party went out to investigate a new route to the trench and it was decided to make a frontal assault as the men could get within 50 yards without being seen. As they were moving forward, the leading troops realised that the Germans had retreated from the trench so it was captured without a further shot being fired. Thomas was one of those killed during the day. His body was never recovered and identified. David Hughes, also from Edgeley, was badly wounded and died later the same day.

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