Bertie Clarence Smallwood ARSTALL
Rank: Private
Number: 57095
Unit: 1/5th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 27 March 1918
Age: 19
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that Bertie's parents were Emily and the late G Arstall of 197 Grey Street, South Reddish. His father was probably the George Arstall who died in the Stockport area in 1922. The family history website, CheshireBMD confirms that Bertie was his proper name and not a familiar version of Robert.

Bertie's service number suggests that he enlisted in 1916 when he was 18 (or nearly that age) and was probably a conscript. The number is associated with one of the Regiment's "service" battalions which were formed for the duration of the War only. Several of these were disbanded in France in February 1918 and this was, probably, when Bertie was transferred to the 5th (Territorial) Battalion.

On 21 March 1918, the Germans launched an overwhelming attack on the British trenches. Within hours, the front line had been overrun and the troops were engaged in a desperate fighting retreat. Units in reserve, including the 5th Manchesters, were mobilised to move into defensive positions. The Manchesters received their orders on the morning of the 23rd and, by mid-afternoon, had deployed on the Ablainzevelle-Moyenneville Ridge. The Army was still in retreat and the Manchesters were withdrawn to a new position on the road between Bihucourt and Sapignies.

At dawn on the 25th, the expected attack was finally delivered by the German infantry. Between 9am and 10am, the enemy was reported to be in Sapignies and, as they passed through the village, their next objective was Bertie and his comrades. The Manchesters poured heavy fire onto the Germans and this temporarily checked the advance forcing them to withdraw back to the protection of the village buildings.

By early afternoon, yet another withdrawal became inevitable and the Battalion moved to Logeast Wood. No sooner had they arrived there, in the early hours of the 26th, than they received orders to withdraw further to Bucquoy, to cover the withdrawal of the 6th and 7th Battalions. The Battalion's War Diary records "Situation now delicate as there appeared to be no British troops on our right." The withdrawal of the two battalions was successful and the 5th Battalion followed them.

Early on the 27th, the Battalion was again on the move, this time to Essarts, taking up another defensive position by 12.30pm. The War Diary notes that the enemy attacked several times during the day.

Sometime during these days, Bertie was badly wounded. It cannot be known when this was, nor under what circumstances. He has no known grave. It is possible that, in the chaos of the retreat, the location of his grave was not properly recorded. Similarly, it may be that it was impossible to move him and he was taken prisoner by the Germans, dying shortly afterwards. They would not have been overly concerned about ensuring correct identification when they buried him.

   
           
   
     
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