Born in 1886 at Macclesfield, Ernest was one of fourteen children born to Joseph and Margaret Ferneyhough, whom in 1911 were living at 11 Nelson Street, Macclesfield. Sadly, nine of the children had died, Joseph was working as a domestic gardener. Ernest was educated at Duke street school and he attended St. John’s Church, he married Sarah Emma Oldfield on 1st May 1905. 1911 Ernest and Sarah were living with her parents at 9 Nelson Street, Ernest was employed as a Silk Dyer at Mr. R Mellor’s Dyeworks a position he held for nearly 17 years, he was a member of the Executive Committee of the Dyers organisation.
Ernest enlisted at Macclesfield at the end of August 1916, and after training he was drafted to France in the first week of December the same year.
In July 1917 the 1/6th battalion Cheshire Regiment were in Ypres, Belgium and preparing for a major offensive which became known as the 3rd Ypres or more commonly now known as the Battle of Passchendaele. The opening day of the battle, 31st July 1917 was to become the worst day of the war for the 1/6th by the evening over 120 had been killed with many more wounded.
The British had long planned a major offensive in Flanders. This was intended to smash through the German lines near Ypres (now Ieper) and drive towards the coast to destroy the submarine bases there. The attack, scheduled for 31 July, became known officially as the Third Battle of Ypres, but more commonly as The Battle of Passchendaele (after the village that was intended to be captured on the first day).
The Cheshire's were part of the reserve Brigade for its Division and were intended to overlap the leading troops once these had captured the initial objectives. The attack, along an 18-kilometre front, had been meticulously planned. An artillery bombardment of the German positions had been underway since 18 July so there was no element of surprise.
By 1am on 31 July, 20 officers and 600 "other ranks" had assembled at a place known as English Farm at Wieltje (to the north east of Ypres). Zero hour had been set for 3.50am and the leading battalions set off for the initial objective - the village of St Julien, approximately a mile away. Later, in the morning the Cheshire’s left their positions and advanced up the hill towards St Julien. The history of the Battalion records "On arrival at the Boche front line, the casualties had been fairly heavy, but the advance was maintained. The Steenbeck was crossed at 10am and the Battalion was re-organised for the final objective, intermittent fire being maintained whilst this was going on."
Throughout the morning, there had been a downpour of rain and the ground was quickly turning to deep mud. Despite these conditions, the advance continued at 10.30 and the final objective (described as the Green Line - some 1100 yards north east of St Julien) was taken at 11.05. The Cheshire’s had reached their objective exactly on schedule. Patrols were then pushed out to Tirpitz Farm, some 300 yards further on.
The position had been secured but at a terrible cost in dead and wounded. There were only 2 officers and 57 Cheshire’s left, together with 11 Black Watch and 8 Hampshire’s out of 60 officers and 1800 men. They had come three miles.
This was one of the rare successful advances along the whole of the front, that day. Neighbouring brigades had not been able to make as much progress and the Cheshire’s were now unsupported on their right. The enemy attacked through this gap. In front, Germans who had been about to surrender now took heart and desperate hand to hand fighting took place. Late in the afternoon, a counter-attack by a battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment allowed the remnants of the Brigade to withdraw back to St Julien. Throughout the remainder of the day, the British positions were heavily shelled, causing further casualties.
A Sergeant J Boardman, who was with the Battalion's medical party, described the day "About 3.50 the barrage started. Soon after, our lads moved forward in the mist. The stretcher bearers moved forward as best they could. We had a lot of stuff to carry - dressings, stretchers, rations and water. As we glance round, we see our fellows being blown up on all sides. We eventually establish our Aid Post in what was called the Black Line. There are dead and wounded all over the place. The din is terrific. We are kept busy all the morning. Prisoners are arriving in hundreds and we make them carry away our wounded. In the afternoon, we move further ahead to a place called Corner Cot. It was hard work getting the wounded away as we had neither bearers nor stretchers and dusk was beginning to fall. Later in the day, our lads had to retire, and we also had to retire. But what could we do. We had about 30 badly wounded men, both British and German. We decided to stay on and try to get the wounded away. To make matters worse, it began to rain."
Ernest has no known grave and is remembered on Ypres Menin Gate Memorial.
Cheshire County Memorial Project would like to thank H.A.G Carlisle and John Hartley for the supporting information on Ernest.