Ralph WILLIAMS
Rank: Private
Number: 44019
Unit: 18th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 23 April 1917
Age: 21
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Almost nothing is known about Ralph. He was named after his father and had been born in the Hulme area of Manchester in about 1896. By the time of the Great War, he was living in Stockport, possibly at 137 Chapel Street, Edgeley, where his father was known to be in the early 1920s.

Ralph's service number suggests that he didn't enlist into the army until perhaps the middle of 1915, or later, and will probably have first gone overseas in the summer of 1916 as one of a draft of replacements for casualties from the Battle of the Somme.

The Battalion had been in action at the beginning of April 1917 during the opening attacks of the Battle of Arras. They were now ordered into another attack and arrived at the assembly trenches near the French village of Heninel at 3am on the 23rd. They would act as the support Battalion for 90th Brigade. The 16th Battalion attacked at 4.45am and, at about 9.30, called for assistance. "C" Company was sent forward followed, at 11am, by "A" and "D". They stayed forward until mid-afternoon, when it became clear that that the attack had failed and an order was issued to withdraw back to the British front line.

About 90 minutes later, fresh orders came, that the 18th and 19th Battalions were to try again. At 6pm, they advanced with "D" Company leading the way on the right, with "A" behind it and "C" leading on the left supported by "B". The artillery threw down a barrage which crept across No Man's Land and the men kept as close as possible behind it's protection as it kept down the heads of many of the Germans. The Battalion History takes up the story "The leading wave kept fairly close to the barrage as they advanced and had hardly left  the line when the enemy machine guns opened from the front and both flanks. Despite casualties, the advance continued unchecked up to a particular point. But here the whole line was temporarily held up, not only on account of the heavy machine gun fire, but also because there had been a number of officer casualties and some little re-organisation was necessary."

In fact, only two officers remained and they were both wounded as the Battalion reached its objective at about 8pm. NCOs - sergeants and corporals - now took command of the remaining men - now numbered at only about 100. "The trench itself was not yet clear of the enemy and sharp hand-to-hand fights took place, a number of Germans being killed. Finally, for about twenty minutes the Manchesters were left in undisturbed occupation, but the enemy then launched a counter-attack, first opening fire from the front and right flank with rifle grenades. Under such a barrage bombing parties advanced towards the trench and though the Manchesters put up a gallant fight, using all their Mills bombs and rifle grenades with good effect, they were subsequently overwhelmed by weight of numbers and forced to withdraw."

Only 53 men made it back to the British trenches before midnight on the 23rd, although more did crawl back in later. Three hundred and sixty men had become casualties - dead, wounded or missing. Ralph and James Miller were amongst the 100 who had been killed. Neither has a known grave.

   
           
   
     
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