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Ernest Atkinson Barker was born on 31st January 1886, in Much Hoole. His parents were George Barker (b. 1856), a market gardener, originally from Manchester, and Matilda Atkinson (b. 1859), originally from Markby in Lincolnshire. George and Matilda were married in Much Hoole in 1883 and had 7 children: Ellen (b. 1884), Ernest, William (b. 1889), Fred (b. 1891), Allan (b. 1894), Georgina (b. 1896) and Elizabeth (b. 1900). It appears most of the family continued to live in Much Hoole, but I have been unable as yet to find them in the 1911 Census; however, Ernest married Ellen Gidlow in Much Hoole in 1911 but shortly thereafter moved to Lostock Hall where he worked in the cotton mill as a weaver.

Ernest enlisted in the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment as private 25413 (UK Soldiers Died in the Great War give his service number as 25412, but all other sources have 25413). He was posted to 10th Battalion. In Spring 1917, 10Bn formed part of 37th Division in the VI Corps on the Third Army and was deployed in the Battle of Arras, fought from 9 April to 16 May. For the first two days, the battalion was in support whilst the army made good progress and they joined the attack on the morning of the 11th fighting through the next two days to continue the advance but at the loss to the Battalion of 13 officers and 286 other ranks, killed, wounded or missing. They were then withdrawn to rest at Ambures before returning to the front line on 23 April near St. Nicholas, south of Arras. Under heavy barrage and machine gun fire, the Battalion, now reduced to only 140 NCOs and men, failed to make any progress. The War Diary records:

27 April: Received orders to attack Greenland Hill at dawn next day. Made all necessary arrangements and decided that the Battalion should ‘go over’ in two waves.

28 April: 4.25am. Barrage opened, Battalion already in position for the attack. Battalion advanced and reached a point where the enemy had commenced to dig a trench, and during this movement the losses had been heavy and only one officer – 2nd Lieut. Jones – was left. We at once began to improve the newly begun trench under enfilade fire from the direction of the Chemical Works on the right, and in this trench and adjacent shell holes what remained of the battalion hung on until the early hours of the 29th (when it was relieved and withdrawn to St. Nicholas).

Ernest Barker was killed on 28th April 1917 and his body was never found. He was 31 years old.

During these operations of April 1917, the Battalion had 21 officers and 478 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. Overall, the British losses totalled close to 160,000, the Germans lost 125,000 men. The opening two days of the battle had seen some spectacular gains, including the capture of the strategically important Vimy Ridge, but the Allies were unable to make the breakthrough they hoped for and the situation returned to stalemate.

Ernest’s brother, William was 36097 PTE. W. BARKER. L.N.LAN.R, killed 7 June 1917 – Matilda (their mother) had lost her husband in 1913, then she lost two sons within 6 weeks of each other in 1917.

His brother Allan served in the Lancashire Fusiliers. He signed up in December 1915, served briefly in France in May/June 1916 but was then sent home suffering from chronic nephritis, exacerbated by his service abroad. He was discharged as medically unfit on 24 July 1916.

It’s quite likely that the other brother, Fred, would also have served but I have no records.

Ernest’s brother-in-law was 2246 PTE A. GIDLOW. L.N.LAN.R, killed on 9 Sep 1916.

Rank: Private
Service No: 25413
Date of Death: 28/04/1917
Age: 31
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 10th Bn.
Panel Reference: Bay 7.

Bill Brierley
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