William Herbert CHANEY
Rank: Private
Number: 201615
Unit: 18th Battalion LONDON REGIMENT
Date of Death: 22 March 1918
Age: 27
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Whilst Herbert's army service is somewhat confusing, his early life is reasonably well documented. He was born in Altrincham, eldest child of Alfred and Miriam. A year or so after his birth, the family moved to Marple where Alfred worked as a domestic coachman for a Mr Barlow of Woodville Lodge. In later life, Herbert would also secure employment, as a groom, with Mr Barlow and, in 1913, he married Nellie Hicklin in a civil ceremony registered at Stockport. Her address, after the War, was 71 Peel Terrace, Hawk Green, but it's not known if this was the home she shared with Herbert.

It was probably early 1915 when Herbert enlisted into the army. He joined the Army Service Corps and was given the service number of T4/059930. The "T4" prefix indicates he was assigned to one of the Horse Transport Companies of the British 4th Army, so he will have been able to put his skill with animals to good use. His medal entitlement index card, held at the National Archives, shows that he went overseas on active service to France, on 7 May 1915.  

At some later point, the card indicates he was transferred to the Royal Irish Rifles and given a new service number - 45751 - probably dating the move to around mid-1916. Another move transferred him technically to the Rifle Brigade with a service number of 201615. This number was issued after the beginning of 1917 and is amongst the range of those allocated to the Territorial Battalions of the London Regiment, which were associated with the Brigade. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes this was the 18th Battalion, which, confusingly, was known as the London Irish Rifles.

On 21 March 1918, the Germans launched their long-anticipated spring offensive. In his book "The Kaiser's Battle", Martin Middlebrook records the account by Rifleman E Chapman of the 18th London. "The bombardment of our trenches started around dawn on the 21st March and was sheer hell - shells, trench mortars, the lot, gradually cutting down our platoon.......there were only about three or four of us alive but no order was given to draw back or pull out. While we were discussing what to do - there being nobody in charge - my pal was hit with a piece of shell which sliced his head completely off. You can imagine how I felt. All the rest were dead by now, mostly having lost their limbs, so I decided to go along the trenches to see if I could find anybody alive. This was not easy as parts of the trench were blown in....Giving up all hope of survival and feeling hopping mad, I waited with my Lewis gun for the enemy to come over the top."

As with other units in the front line, Herbert and Pte Chapman would have had to suffer five hours of German bombardment before the enemy infantry arrived. In the desperate fighting, many more of the frontline troops were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Herbert must have one of the few to escape, only to be killed the following day. It is not possible to establish the precise events of the two days as the Battalion's War Diary for the month is missing from the National Archives.

A photograph of Herbert appears in the book, "Remembered" by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff.

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