Private 14341 Eric Booth.
25thDivision, 75thBrigade, 11 Corps, 5thArmy.
Buried Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, France.
Bailleul was occupied on 14 October 1914 by the 19th Brigade and the 4th Division. It became an important railhead, air depot and hospital centre, with the 2nd, 3rd, 8th, 11th, 53rd, 1st Canadian and 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Stations quartered in it for considerable periods. It was a Corps headquarters until July 1917, when it was severely bombed and shelled, and after the Battle of Bailleul (13-15 April 1918), it fell into German hands and was not retaken until 30 August 1918.
Son of Harry and Sarah. Harry was a shoemaker and Sarah looked after the family. He had 2 sisters Nellie and Eva. Eric was born in Cheadle but by the time of his enlistment he was living at Woodbine Cottages on Park Lane. Prior to his enlistment Eric was employed as a joiner.
Eric enlisted in Stockport on the 15thSeptember 1914 for the duration of the war, and was posted to “B” Company 11thBattalion Cheshire Regiment. The Battalion assembled for training at Codford in Wiltshire, and after a brief period were relocated to Bournemouth and then to Flowerden camp near Winchester, By June 1915 they were at Ramillies Barracks in Aldershot . On the 25thSeptember 1915 the Battalion left for France, landing at the port of Le Havre. Eric received a gunshot wound to his side in September 1916 but after a month in hospital in Boulogne he was soon back with his Battalion.
By June 1917 the 11thBattalion were poised ready for the battle of Messines Ridge.
The Battle of Messines ridge
In preparing for the Messines battle the British high command had authorised the laying of 22 mine shafts underneath German lines all along the ridge, the plan being to detonate all 22 at zero hour at 03:10 on 7 June 1917, to be followed by infantry attacks to secure the ridge from the presumably dazed German defenders, With the infantry heavily supported by the use of artillery bombardments, work on laying the mines began some 18 months before zero hour.
One mine, at Petite Douve Farm, was discovered by German counter miners on 24 August 1916 and destroyed. A further two mines close to Ploegsteert Wood were not exploded as they were outside the planned attack area.
In the face of active German counter-mining, 8,000 metres of tunnel were constructed under German lines. Occasionally the tunnellers would encounter German counterparts engaged in the same task: underground hand to hand fighting would often ensue.
Heavy bombardment of the German lines began on 21 May, involving 2,300 guns and 300 heavy mortars ceasing at 02:50 on the morning of 7 June. The German troops, sensing imminent attack, rushed to their defensive positions, machine guns ready, sending up flares to detect British movement towards the ridge.
Silence prevailed for the following twenty minutes until, at 03:10, the order was given across the line to detonate the mines, which totalled 455 tonnes of ammonal explosives.
Of the 21 mines laid 19 were exploded.
The effect of the mine explosions upon the German defenders was devastating. Some 10,000 men were killed during the explosion alone. Those who survived were severely stunned and had no idea what had happened. Around them were craters of more than 200 feet in diameter. Before the Germans could regain their senses, the British army was upon them. Some 7,300 Germans were taken prisoner, while the rest retreated in shock.
In its wake nine divisions of infantry advanced under protection of a creeping barrage.
By 1.00am the 11thBattalion had assembled in Durham trench. During the night, the positions were shelled with Lachrymatory shells which caused several casualties. At 6.50am, the men left the trench to attack the most distant objectives. On reaching the top of the Messines Ridge, they came under machine gun fire from the left and from German positions at Lumm Farm, but they pushed on towards their objectives. These were secured by 9am, capturing many prisoners, four field guns and a machine gun. Some men pushed on to attack Despagne Farm. But the officer commanding suddenly realised that they were ahead of their own artillery barrage. It was too late to do anything but get the men into shell holes and hope for the best. Fortunately, most of the men survived. The position around the Farm had been consolidated and an expected counter-attack was launched at 1.45pm with about 600 Germans advancing on the Cheshires positions, in four waves. The attack was beaten off in less than 30 minutes by determined rifle and Lewis gun fire and finally dispersed by an artillery barrage.
The attack had been a complete success.
German troops counter-attacked on 8 June, without success, in fact losing further ground as the attacks were repelled. German counter-attacks continued in diminishing form until 14 June: by this stage the entire Messines salient was in Allied hands.
Sometime during the attack Eric was wounded, succumbing to his wounds on the 9thJune.
Total casualties for the 7thJune
3 Officers K.I.A
43 O.R K.I.A
8 Officers wounded
170 O.R wounded
There were two mines which remained undetonated on 7 June, The details of their precise location were mislaid by the British following the war, to the discomfort of local townspeople. One of the mines was detonated in a thunderstorm on 17 June 1955: the only casualty was a cow.
Cheshire County Memorial Project would like to thank Phil Underwood for compiling this page on Eric