Herbert DOWNS
Rank: Private
Number: 59782
Unit: A Company, 10th Battalion NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILIERS
Date of Death: 27 October 1918
Age: 21
Cemetery: Tezze British Cemetery, Italy

The Downs family had lived at 56 Chapel Street, Edgeley for many years before the War. When the census was taken in 1901, Matthew and Kate had four children - Maggie (then 9), Arthur (8), Herbert (3) and Edwin (4 months).

Nothing is known of Herbert’s life until he enlisted into the army, at Stockport, as a conscript. He was originally assigned to the Cheshire Regiment and was given the service number of 244429. This is a number associated with the 5th (Territorial) Battalion and is one issued after the beginning of 1917. It is not known when Herbert transferred to the Fusiliers or the reason for the transfer. It may that he was away from the Cheshires for some considerable period due to illness or recovering from a wound and when he was fully fit, the Fusiliers were in greater need of replacements.

After fighting in Belgium for most of 1917, the 10th Battalion was transferred to the Italian front where it faced the Austrian army, in support of the all but defeated Italians.

On 23 October 1918, British troops started to cross the River Piave in what would prove to be the start of the final battles in this theatre of the War. In the first two days, they cleared the islands that lie in the way of reaching the eastern bank. The final assault on the Austrians’ positions on the eastern bank was scheduled for 6.45am on the 27th and the Fusiliers would be heavily involved.

“A” and “B” Companies were on the islands, with “C” and “D” being held in reserve on the west bank. As the main assault was to go in, “A” and “B” were to form a defensive flank to protect the main attack force. However, seeing the 11th Battalion held up by enemy barbed wire which had not been destroyed by the preliminary British bombardment, “A” Company rushed forward to help cut it by hand. As they were doing so, enemy machine guns opened up from close range and there were a number of casualties.

Shortly after, the Austrian artillery found its range and intense shelling of the attackers started. The main body of the attack was still going well and the men of “A” Company had continued to press forward with them. “B” Company, holding the flank, was ordered to also push forward and, later, “C” Company, was sent into the attack.

The attack had taken almost as long as it will have taken to read this account and the east bank of the river was substantially in British hands by 7am. Many Austrians hurriedly retreated or surrendered. The attack had been a success but at a high cost. Herbert and another local man, Bryan Smither, were amongst the 50 dead (almost all having fallen victim to the early machine gun fire).

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