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The 1/4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment sailed to France on the S.S Onward on 4th May 1915. Only a few weeks later they received news that they would be taking part in their first major action, the Battle of Festubert on 15th June 1915. The gallant attack, often referred to as ‘the great bayonet charge’ was made and severe losses were incurred.

smith3

A group of soldiers of the 1/4th (Territorial) Battalion

The week in the lead up to the Battle of Festubert

Wednesday, 9th June 1915 – We moved up to the trenches along the RUE DE BOIS, RUE DE L`EPINETTE, through FESTUBERT VILLAGE and down LE QUINQUE RUE, for about 800 yds and relieved the 1/7th Black Watch.

FESTUBERT was the most badly smashed village we had yet seen, there were remnants of barricades still standing in the streets, most of the houses were heavily sandbagged and some had barbed wire round them. Where the church had been, now only recognisable by the Crucifix which still stood unharmed, we turned to the left.

Thursday, 10th June – The day passed away very quietly but there were two or three very heavy thunderstorms with torrential rains which rapidly converted the trenches, the communication trenches especially into quagmires. These trenches became very dirty, in no place being less than boot-deep and in many places thigh-deep in a pestilent liquid mud.

Friday, 11th June – The morning was finer, but the trenches still very muddy. The Battalion was relieved unexpectedly by the 1/7th Black Watch and the Battalion marched back along the Canal to billets near LE CORNET MALO in the wood to the south of that place.

Saturday, 12th June – The day was passed in resting and cleaning up.

Sunday, 13th June – Orders were received to return to the trenches we had left on Friday night and relieve the Battalions which had relieved the 1/8th K.L. Irish and ourselves then. Though no order had been issued we all knew that the Battalion was going up for an attack.

Monday, 14th June – The Brigade had been warned for an attack, and operation orders issued from the Brigade in the morning made this clear. The whole attack was timed for 6pm on the 15th June and was to be preceded by a 48 hours bombardment. The British bombardment was persistent and, from what we could see, effective, whereas the Germans only replied sporadically with some sharp bursts of shrapnel and some high explosive shells on the communication trenches from which B and C Companies lost a few men.

The Battle of Festubert

Extract from the Regimental History

At 6pm on the 15th June the attack was launched by the 1/4th Loyal North Lancashire and the 6th Scottish Rifles. The attack was at first successful, the west end of the German salient was carried, and the attack pushed on to the main German line near the Rue d`Overt, and for a time the third German trench was occupied and held. Unfortunately the attack by the Division on the right of the 51st made little or no progress, and when night fell the 154th Brigade had penetrated the German line on a narrow front, but had both its flanks in the air. The attack consequently failed, but as stated in the Divisional History, “great praise is due to the 154th Infantry Brigade for their advance in the face of heavy artillery and close range rifle and machine gun fire. There is little or no doubt that had the operations on the flanks been successful, they would have had every prospect of holding their gains”.

Initial Casualty Report

Killed … … … … 26*
Wounded … … … … 266
Missing … … … … 110
Total … … … 402

*The actual casualty report for this action would be nearer 150 officers and other ranks killed or dying from their wounds before the end of the month.

The Adjutant, Captain Norman was severely wounded. He advanced with the leading platoon and was on the parapet of the German trench when he was wounded by, it is said, an officer hiding in a dugout.

In C Company, Second Lieutenant P. Parker, who was in command of the charging platoon was seriously wounded, Second Lieutenant Craven was wounded in the leg, and Second Lieutenant Davies, who had already been wounded slightly twice, would go on, but was fatally wounded and died later on the battlefield.

In B Company, Captain Peak was reported killed, but was posted missing, as there was no definite news of what actually happened to him. Lieutenant Moore was wounded in the wrist, and Captain Crump blown up and injured by a shell.

In D Company, Captain Hibbert was last seen directing the platoons through the gap in the fire trench. After that no news can be obtained of what happened to him, and he was posted missing. Captain Whitfield was seriously wounded in the thighs by shrapnel and died in hospital at Boulogne. Second Lieutenant Rawsthorn, in charge of the machine guns, was killed by shell when leading his team across the open to the German trenches. Lieutenant Brindle was hit on the head and in the arm.

In A Company, Lieutenant Smith was in charge of the trench mortar team during the bombardment, firing from the fire trench. When the order to charge was given Lieutenant Smith rushed forward with his gun, and was seriously wounded when carrying it across the open. CQMS Lester and Private Cowburn were awarded Distinguished Conduct Medals for rescuing Lieutenant Smith and taking him to the field ambulance. However he died of his wounds in hospital at Lillers two days later.

The Officers who came through the fight unhurt were Major Foley, Major Nickson, Captain Booth, Captain Widdows, Lieutenant Rennard, Lieutenant Ord, Lieutenant Duckworth, Second Lieutenant Lindsay. Second Lieutenant Rogerson was away at General Headquarters attending a Machine Gun Course, and Lieutenant Gregson was attached to the Grenadier Company at the time.

Personal Accounts

A brief account by William Baxendale

“I am lucky towards a lot of our poor lads. We set out to do a task which we accomplished, but at a great price. It was rotten running along and seeing the chaps on either side dropping and not being able to help them. We took three lines of trenches and as soon as we reached their first trench they put up the white flag and yelled for mercy. We gave the rotters no mercy.”

JJSmith-sm

1075 Serjeant John Joseph SMITH was killed in action at Festubert on 15th June 1915

Private Jack Whittle wrote to his family in Preston.

“The charge was made in brilliant style, and the Germans were cleared from two lines of trenches. As we passed through their trenches an awful sight met our gaze, for dead and wounded Germans abounded everywhere, and in places they were piled up one on top of another. There were many who pretended to be wounded and pleaded for mercy. It was a creepy business having to run over their bodies as we advanced. I need scarcely say there were some awful sights and it almost makes me feel sick to write about them.

It was when we got into the open we began to lose our men, for what with their artillery and machine guns, it literally rained lead. Pals fell on all sides of me, and it was miraculous that I got through without being hit.

Unfortunately although we were quite successful in taking two lines of trenches we could not get in touch with our right wing and as it looked as though the Germans would surround us, we were ordered to retire.

During the retirement we all got mixed up and I found myself in a German communication trench with about eight more chaps of another regiment. It was getting quite light by now and none of us knew which way to get to our lines. However, we spotted some more chaps of another regiment and we joined them. Although there were scarcely 30 of them they were keeping the Germans at bay. The two chaps next to me were shot, one dead and the other through the shoulder. Shortly after this, however, a man came along and we slipped away one by one on all fours, followed by showers of bullets as we made for safety.”

The following is an extract from a letter written by an unnamed Officer to his parents after the attack on the 15th June. It was sent to the Lancashire Daily Post in Preston.

“I am feeling the most lucky man on earth to have come through with my life. We went into the trenches on Sunday night (13th June), and were told we were to attack the German trenches on the Tuesday evening. We got all information, even to the minutest details between Sunday and Tuesday.

At six o`clock we made the attack, after an awful bombardment of the German trenches. We took the trenches and it was simply fine to see our fellows; not a waverer amongst them.

We went 200 yards on the further side of the German trenches, but had to withdraw our men as they were absolutely isolated, and it was really pitiful to see men dropping on either side of one. What our losses will be goodness knows. I came through without a scratch, although I was in the front line of the charge. I have got one souvenir in the shape of a piece of shrapnel which entered my haversack, went through a tin of bully beef and stopped in a box of 50 cigarettes. We are now having a well-earned rest in billets.

In a further letter the same Officer mentions that his company was selected out of the Brigade to lead the attack. The charge was preceded by about half an hour`s bombardment but our fellows were in good spirits and did not seem to mind it very much, although we were being continually buried by earth being thrown up by `Jack Johnsons`. At exactly 6pm the range of the guns lifted onto the German reserve trenches and in we went, and our fellows did not half go. What Germans could get away ran for all they were worth. We went on for a further 200 yards, and could not get further on account of the barbed wire, so we dug ourselves in. Eventually we had to withdraw as we had no support on our right and left. I don`t expect we shall get any more trench work for a good bit, not until we get another draft out and are re-equipped.”

gregson

William Gregson sustained gunshot wounds to his left leg and left arm and was taken Prisoner of War. He died in captivity 10 days later.

Private Thomas Preston wrote to his parents in Preston,

Storm of rifle fire and shrapnel

“I am ready for this ending any time. I do not think it can last much longer. We have been in the trenches again, and have been in a charge. You talk of hell! It was awful, but never mind we had the Germans beaten.

I was one of the first over the parapet, and we were met by a storm of rifle fire and shrapnel. Our chaps were dropping all around, it was an awful sight. I don`t know how I came through it all, I got fast in the barbed wire entanglements and cut my hand to pieces.

I hope and trust I will never see anything like it again. Nobody can realise what it was like. We have lost very heavily as you will see before long. I think that we have done our share now, don`t you? The German Jack Johnsons are awful, some of our chaps were blown into the air”.

The following was written by 2244 Corporal Albert Askew on 18th June 1915. He survived Festubert but was killed in September 1916.

On Sunday morning we were told we were going into the trenches again – for the 3rd time but this time, on the Tuesday night, we were going to make a bayonet charge. We made it, and, thank God I am still living and unhurt.The artillery started bombarding soon after we got into the trenches. We lay there for two whole days with scarcely anything to eat or drink. On the Tuesday afternoon we captured a German. He was a Saxon. It was then about 3 o`clock. He told us what time we were going to charge and said the Germans were ready waiting for us.

Our Officers picked 50 men out for the first line to charge. I was one of the 50 that went first – there are only 7 of us left. At 5.30 the bombardment proper started. It was awful, shells were flying and bursting all over the place. I was really glad when 6 o`clock came and we got the order to “mount the parapet”. I can tell you the boys went over as if they were drilling. It rained bullets when we were advancing. As soon as we got on top of the German trenches the Germans put up their hands, some of them offered us watches, rings & etc., saying “comrade” and asking for mercy. We gave none, we bayoneted and shot the lot. I accounted for a few myself. Our Officers were amongst the first losses sustained on our side.

After that we charged about 200 yards on our own, clearing the trenches as we went. We advanced altogether about 600 yards. When we got to the third line of German trenches we found our artillery had not blown down their barbed wire entanglements, and it was impossible to advance any further, so we dug ourselves in with our entrenching tools. It was hot work.

We held this position until the reinforcements came up. It was worst to see our pals go over and not be able to stop and help. There were some awful sights. There are very few of our men left. I don`t know what they will do with us now. We shall at least get a long rest and we need it.

Lance Corporal John Seddon of “B” Company who had also been wounded on the 15th June 1915 sent a letter to his wife back in Preston. The letter was written while Lance Corporal Seddon was in Colchester Hospital recovering from his wounds;

“I hope the shirkers of Preston and District will read between the lines of this letter. I say all men who won`t enlist should be made to do so and that men who have done their bit should be put to making munitions. Then we should have more men in the field, and men and shells are what we want.

I will tell you of our last engagement with the pick of the German army. We were ordered to mount the parapet and advance in a left incline. Our first company to go over was very hard hit, but our spirits never fell. B Company followed next with Lieut. Moore leading, and we were determined to have our revenge.

When we took the first trench the German Officer in charge of the Maxim gun got hold of one of the 8th Liverpool Irish, threw him in a dug-out and put a sentry over him. But our lads arrived on the scene, and when we made for them with our bayonets, they cried for mercy. One big Prussian asked for a cigarette – and he got it, not half! One lad threw a bomb in a dug-out which was packed with them. They were crying for mercy and offering watches and money for us to take them prisoner.

When we captured the third trench I had the misfortune of being blown into the air by a high explosive shell. The sandbags and earth buried about 16 of us, and I was lucky to get out under heavy fire. I was badly shaken and found I had lost nerve. I could not hold my rifle or fire it. Just before I got back to our line I came across Lance Corporal Holden who was wounded, and was waiting till the firing should slacken. It was kept up, however, so we made a rush for it. There was a long open field to cross and we had to go through barbed wire entanglements. I came across one of our fellows who was badly wounded, and managed to drag him into a hole made by a `Jack Johnson`. Later I was able to carry him to our trenches, and I was not long there before I was blown up a second time. I became unconscious and was taken to the Royal Engineers trenches.”

Private Joseph Dewhurst wrote about his brother, John.

Brother`s story in a letter

Private John Dewhurst (21) of 187 Ribbleton Lane, Preston, a well-known salmon fisher was one of the members of the 1/4th L.N.L. Territorials who fell in action last month. He belonged to C Company. His brother Joseph (23), of B Company, describes his death in a letter in which he says; “It is very hard luck, but I can say he died a good Catholic, and he had all done for him that a French and an English priest could do. We went into the charge at 6 o`clock on the Tuesday evening, and it lasted until daybreak. It was simply awful but we came out of the trenches and went to the rallying post. The first thing I did was to look for Jack. I could not see him, but as stragglers kept coming in I did not give up hope. I had been waiting about three quarters of an hour when he came in. I rushed up to him and shook hands, and nearly cried for joy. After that the battalion fell in and marched away to our billets for a well-earned rest; but the men were so tired we didn`t quite reach the place we intended. We rested about six hours, and then moved on again.

This time we landed all right and the people at the farm at which we halted fairly did their best for us. I got a couple of poached eggs, some bread and butter and two basins of hot coffee, and I don`t think I ever tasted a better meal, it was so good just then. When we arrived at our billets we got down to a long sleep. I was quite happy and light hearted, thinking what a blessing it was to be able to write home and say that we had both come through all right.

I was having my dinner on the Thursday when one of our chaps said to me, “Have you heard about your Jack being wounded?” I said I saw him at the rallying post and he was right as rain then. You see I didn`t know then that he had had to go back into the trenches and I would not believe he had been hit. One of the men who had been in hospital sick told me Jack passed away on June 16th. I would not believe it until he told me some of the bomb throwers had to go back to help some of the other regiments.

The village where Jack was buried was five miles away. He is buried in the next grave but one to that of Lieut. Haldane, Lord Haldane`s nephew, and behind a Catholic Church. I put a card on his grave and went into the church to say a prayer for him. When I came out one of the first chaps I met was one of the bomb throwers, who told me as they were going up to the trenches again, they were shelled. Four shells missed, but one fell right in the middle of them, a piece hitting Jack in the left leg. They took him to hospital but they could not stop the bleeding and he died the day after…..

We are in the trenches now but this is a quiet part of the line and we are not doing so bad. All that trouble us are the snipers”.

This letter was penned by a driver in the Army Service Corps on 16th June which appeared in the Lancashire Daily Post. The driver was from Chorley.

 The 4th L.N.L.`s

THEIR FIRST BIG ACTION “Been thro` hell and back” – Feared heavy losses

“I have just heard that several of our boys are amongst those who suffered severely in last night`s attack. Out of 1,100 only 403 answered the roll call. The fire of the big guns was terrific. I did not know our Territorials were in the district until last weekend, and the night I was going to see them, they went into the trenches.

I was busy last night helping with the stretchers for the wounded. There were about 20 of them got into the last trench, and the bomb throwers were out of bombs, and the Germans cleared them out. They got there without Officers or non-comms, and from particulars every man was a hero. God grant that the remainder may return safe.

Our boys have gone through the mill and paid the penalty. I can`t explain my feelings, I am full up, and wish I could wake and find it was all a dream. Chorley`s roll of honour will never be tarnished as long as men like ours are here.

Would to God those in England who are eligible would do their duty and finish this terrible slaughter. It is not fighting. You see men in khaki clayed up to the face with arms, legs and heads bandaged and arriving in hospital close to where I am camped. I have just seen 50 or 60 Chorley chaps in tents, they are all more or less wounded and will be removed home soon. I am awfully depressed and can`t get my mind off the thoughts of our Chorley lads”.

Private C Wright wrote

“You will have heard long ere this about the brilliant bayonet charge we made on the night of June 15th about 6 o`clock. Well we took what we were told to take – two lines of trenches. You should have seen the treacherous devils run when we charged, but God knows the losses we had. They were Prussians – six feet fellows – and they put up the white flag and cried for mercy, but our lads remembered the Lusitania and gave it to them. It was an awful sight, the cry of our wounded and dying haunts me yet and I never want to see any more”

Privates J Moss and R Howarth wrote into the Daily Post in Preston.

“We soon found out that this time we had come to a very hot shop, for before many hours were out we had added considerably to our list of dead and wounded. The bombardment was terrible and we quickly found that the enemy were prepared in great numbers against us, yet our men went out to the charge like true Britons. Our men took the trenches with very depleted numbers.

What a blessing for us the enemy proved such cowards. They were huddled in their dug-outs crying for mercy…….when the day broke we were relieved and as we met in small batches in the road and returned to camp we realised what the night had cost. All were looking in vain for their dear chums. There was not a dry eye in our midst.”

johnwhitfield

Captain John Lawrence Whitfield sustained shrapnel wounds to his thighs and was evacuated to hospital. He died of his wounds five days later whilst maintaining to his loved ones back home he had only been ‘slightly wounded’.

Casualties of Festubert 

It should be understood that this list is not complete. Men that were wounded in this battle but died after 30th June 1915 may not be included.

Captain CYRIL GORDON REUSS HIBBERT
Captain JOHN HAROLD PEAK
Captain JOHN LAWRENCE WHITFIELD (Biography)
Lieutenant WILLIAM SMITH
Second Lieutenant WALTER AMBLER DAVIES
Second Lieutenant ERIC RAWSTHORN

2055 Private JOSEPH AINSWORTH
2819 Private GEORGE ALLISON (Biography)
3232 Private WILLIAM FRANCIS ARMSTRONG
2622 Private JOHN ASHWORTH (Biography)
12615 Private FRANK ATKINSON
2312 Private SAMUEL JAMES BALL
2806 Private ALBERT JAMES BAMBER
1055 Private FRANK BARLOW
3321 Private HARRY LESLIE BARNETT (Biography)
2621 Private WILLIAM BATESON
141 Private JAMES BAXENDALE
3169 Private ROBERT BILLINGTON
1393 Lance Corporal ALFRED BLACKLEDGE
1453 Private RICHARD BLAND
1469 Corporal HERBERT ARNOLD BLEAKLEDGE
1381 Private CHARLES BOLTON
2557 Private FRANCIS JAMES BRAITHWAITE
200788 Private FRANCIS BURNS
2857 Private RICHARD BURY
2917 Private HARRY WILLIAM CASHMORE
2665 Private LAWRENCE CATTERALL
3360 Private GEORGE CHAPPLE
3001 Private JOHN JAMES CHILD (Biography)
120 Private HENRY CLARKSON
2059 Private SIDNEY CLAYTON
2088 Private EDMUND COCKER
140 Private EDWARD COMMONS
1462 Private WILLIAM CONNOLLY
3038 Private JOHN COOKSON
1429 Lance Corporal F CORTMAN
735 Serjeant EDWARD CROSS
2254 Private JOHN DEWHURST (Biography)
2981 Private JOHN DOWNING
2686 Private THOMAS FARRELL (Biography)
2303 Private ROGER JAMES FINCH (Biography)
3165 Private LOUIS FLANNERY (Biography)
2691 Private WALTER FLETCHER
2574 Private RICHARD FORSHAW
2773 Private JAMES FOWLER (Biography)
2690 Lance Corporal ARTHUR FRASER (Biography)
2875 Private ALLEN FREEBURY
1091 Private JAMES GARDNER
2061 Private RICHARD GELDEARD
1468 Private DAVID ALLISON GENT
2069 Private HARRY GLOVER (Biography)
210 Private NICHOLAS GILLETT
1944 Private THOMAS HERBERT GORST (Biography)
200953 Private WILLIAM GRIFFIN
3375 Private JOHN ARTHUR GRIMSHAW
2083 Private TOM VICTOR HALL
2842 Private MATTHEW HARDICKER (Biography)
161 Serjeant WILLIAM HARLING
1289 Private GEORGE HARRISON (Biography)
1083 Private ARTHUR HERBERT HATTON
1788 Private JAMES HEAPS
2768 Private FREDERICK HELM (Biography)
2927 Private HARRY HELM (Biography)
289 Private WILLIAM HENLEY
2863 Private HENRY HEWITT (Biography)
2771 Private JOHN HAYES (Biography)
200404 Private DAVID ROBERT HODGKINSON
2219 Private JOSEPH HOGG
2753 Private JAMES HOLKER
1646 Private JAMES HOLLINGHURST (Biography)
300 Private WILLIAM HOLT
78 Private JAMES CAMPBELL HOULDING (Biography)
2513 Private JOSEPH HOWARD
2597 Private JOHN HOWARTH
1555 Private WILLIAM INGLIS
219 Private GEORGE IRVING
217 Private JACK JACKMAN
1622 Private SAMUEL JACKSON
1069 Lance Corporal ALBERT JAMESON
2406 Private ROBERT CRANE JOHNSON
3040 Private ELIJAH KAY (Biography)
2659 Private THOMAS WILLIAM KELL (Biography)
3438 Private WILLIAM KELLET (Biography)
1201 Lance Corporal JOHN KERFOOT
2641 Private GILBERT LEE
1633 Private THOMAS EDWIN LEECH
1387 Private JOHN CLEOBURY LEIGH
2051 Private ROBERT HESKETH LUCAS
2236 Private HAROLD LYNCH
244 Private JOHN MAGUIRE
3368 Private AMBROSE MARGINSON (Biography)
3003 Private WILLIAM MARTIN (Biography)
1043 Private THOMAS MATTHEWS
1665 Serjeant ALBERT MERCER (Biography)
1294 Private JAMES HERBERT MORRIS
1476 Private LANCELOT MORRIS
2652 Private JAMES MOSS
2078 Private AUSTIN NAYLOR
3019 Private PHILIP O NEILL
3122 Private THOMAS O NEILL
1900 Lance Corporal EDWARD OWENS
70 Private JOHN PARKINSON (Biography)
2584 Private ERNEST PARR
275 Lance Corporal ALFRED JOHN SIMMONS PERRY
145 Private GEORGE PILKINGTON
2577 Private ALFRED PYE
2651 Private HAROLD RANSON
2108 Private SYDNEY THOMAS RATHBONE
52 Lance Corporal JOHN REID
2062 Private WILLIAM RIDING
1024 Private THOMAS RIGBY
200637 Private FRANK ROBINSON (Biography)
2414 Private GEORGE ROGERSON (Biography)
2722 Private JOHN SEED
3281 Private GILBERT EDMUND SELLERS
1408 Private MOSES SHARPLES
2619 Private WILLIAM HENRY SHARPLES
106 Private FRANCIS SHUTTLEWORTH
2796 Private LOUIS SILCOCK
398 Serjeant WILFRED SKINGSLEY
1783 Private FRED SLATER
1075 Serjeant JOHN JOSEPH SMITH (Biography)
2874 Private JOHN SOUTHWORTH
2902 Private RICHARD SPENCER
1643 Lance Corporal ROBERT STONES
2672 Private RICHARD STREET
2230 Private JOHN WILLIAM TAYLOR
76 Private ALBERT TOMLINSON
2311 Private FREDERICK TURNER (Biography)
2787 Private ALLAN WARD
3192 Private GEORGE COOK WHALLEY
2024 Private ADAM WHARTON
2632 Private WILLIAM WHITESIDE
200179 Private WILLIAM WHITTLE
1965 Private HENRY WILSON
2499 Corporal THOMAS LINDOW WINDEBANK
58 Serjeant ROBERT WILLIAM WOODS
1774 Private ERNEST YATES

Paul McCormick
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Paul McCormick

Paul McCormick is the creator and administrator for the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment website. Since 2010 he has been researching the soldiers that served during the First World War and sharing their stories on his website. You can contact Paul through the website 'Contact Me' page or on Twitter and Facebook.
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4 Responses to Festubert Personal Accounts and Casualties

  1. Ann Roocroft says:

    Thank you for the personal accounts of the battle of Festubert. My Great Uncle, Philip O’Neill, died in this battle he was only 18 or 19 years of age.

  2. Bernadette morales(sharples) says:

    thank you, I have found both my grandads names on your list of injured at Festubert wwi loyal lancs . cant thank you enough. regards B Morales. …. Harrison & sharples

  3. Katharine Harris says:

    Please will you pass on my thanks to Janet Davis for her biographical account of Albert Mercer no. 1665 4th Bn Loyal North Lancs. I have been researching him for some time now, but had not got as detailed information as I found here. I would be really interested to know how she got the photograph of him.
    My maiden name is ‘Mercer’, hence my interest!I wrote the account of my great grandfather Herbert Mercer who was in the 10th Bn Loyal North Lancs, which is published on this web-site.

    • Janet Davis says:

      Hi Katherine, Thank you for your kind comments, they are very much appreciated. The photograph came from either the Preston Guardian or the Daily Post (Harris Library, Preston newspaper collection). Apologies but I can`t recall which one it was as I`ve taken so many over a long period of time!

      Kind Regards
      Janet

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