Thomas WATSON
Rank: Lance Corporal
Number: 8326
Unit: 12th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 9 September 1918
Age:
Cemetery: Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Almost nothing is known of Thomas' early life. He is remembered on the Bredbury and Romiley War Memorials so must have been known in both localities. Regimental records published after the War indicate he had been born in the Moss Side of Manchester and that he enlisted into the army in the City. The records suggest he was living in Stockport at the time. 

His inscription on the Bredbury Memorial records him as serving with the 8th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a pre-War Territorial Battalion based at Ardwick and it is possible that he had been a member before 1914. However, there is no indication that he served with the Battalion during the Great War. He was, in fact, an original "Manchester Pal", joining the 2nd City Pals (the 17th Battalion) in early September 1914. He was assigned to Platoon 8 in "B" Company. Some details of the recruitment and training of the Battalion can be found here.

At some unknown later point, he was transferred to the 12th Battalion. This is likely to have been after a lengthy period recovering from wounds or illness. When he was fit enough to return to duty, the 12th Battalion will have been in greater need of replacements.

By early September 1918, the Allied forces had been on the attack for a month and had made great progress. The coming attack would lead to the breaching of the main German line of defence known as the Hindenberg Line. In the sector where the 12th Manchesters were fighting, a preparatory attack was to be made to capture high ground near Gouzeaucourt which overlooked the Line. The Battalion's precise objectives were positions known as African Trench and Heather Support Trench.

Thomas and his mates moved into position at 1am, ready for zero hour at 5.30am. Their assembly positions were in a sunken road near the main road running between Gouzeaucourt and Fins. "B" and "C" Companies led the attack with "A" and "D" in support about 100 yards behind. "B" Company quickly secured their objective, capturing a considerable number of prisoners and were soon joined by "D". North of the road, "C" and "A" were meeting considerable opposition and suffered quite a few casualties.

Shortly afterwards, the Germans launched a strong counterattack, mainly against the positions held by "B" Company. Encouraged by their comrades, the German prisoners now attacked their captors grabbing whatever weapons came to hand and there was fierce hand-to-hand fighting. The Company commander was reported to have been killed by a bayonet wound to the chest.

All four companies were now coming under attack, with the Germans advancing down the main road. The Battalion history recounts that the German advance was led by an officer well in front of his men and encouraging them with his swagger stick. The Manchesters opened fire with their light Lewis machine guns and the Germans took cover in a ditch. After about ten minutes, the German officer was seen again encouraging his men and a Manchesters officer shouted to him to surrender. He refused and fired his revolver at the Manchester man and then ran back towards his troops. At this point he was shot and killed by a Lewis gunner. His body was later searched and he was identified as Ober-Leutnant Karl Ludwig Axel Eduard von Oppenfeld of the 2nd Kurassier Regiment, 6th Cavalry Division. This brave man was an ex-student of Heidleburg University and had been awarded the Iron Cross. After the War, the commander of "D" Company managed to track down von Oppenfeld's family and returned his inscribed cigarette case to them . At the family's request, he visited the man's grave at Gouzeaucourt in 1932.

Meanwhile, casualties had continued to mount and only "D" Company was operating as a coherent unit: the remainder of the Battalion were fighting in small groups. At 11.15 am, orders arrived to undertake a small withdrawal to the protection of nearby trenches. This was completed without problem and the remnants of the battalion were able to hold this position until they were relieved during the night of 10/11th. Although many men were wounded, fatalities were relatively light bearing in mind the desperate fighting of the day. Thomas was amongst the 30 dead. Reginald Hunt is believed to have been amongst the wounded.

   
           
   
     
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