By Elizabeth Quayle, Department of History & Archaeology, The University of Chester
Yn Chied Chaggey Mooar (The First Great War)
Soldiers from the Isle of Man played a significant role in the Cheshire Regiment and consequently, in the First World War. Despite the Isle of Man not having a regiment until 1938, in the First World War a great number of Manx-men enlisted. On the commemoration page for Manx soldiers of the First World War, the Manx Government state that 8,261 men enlisted in the armed forces, which was 82.3% of the eligible population. Such a high percentage demonstrates how greatly the people of the Isle of Man contributed to the war through the armed forces alone.
As there was not a Manx Regiment, a great number of Manx-men enlisted in the Cheshire Regiment (along with other regiments such as The King’s Liverpool Regiment, The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the Suffolk Regiment). Norman Holding, in The Location of British Army Records 1914-1918, states “men from the Isle of Man fought with many regiments but the Cheshire Regiment had a Manx Service Company”. The Manx Service Company was part of the 2nd Battalion Cheshire Regiment. As Matthew Richardson states in This Terrible Ordeal “there was comfort to be drawn from the presence of fellow Manxmen”.
The Isle of Man played a large role in the provision of men to fight for the British Empire. The island was indeed as Richardson describes in This Terrible Ordeal a “little Manx nation ready to play its part”. The contribution made by Manx-men to the armed forces as a whole was massive, but in the Cheshire Regiment in particular, (in the Manx Service Company) there were many men from the Isle of Man who contributed greatly to the war.
There were great sacrifices made by Manx-men in the Cheshire Regiment in the First World War. Private Robert Oates from the 1st Battalion in writing to his brother describes an advance on a German-occupied village where he recounts the injury he suffered to his lower leg. Oates writes “the agony was terrible. The stretcher bearers could not get near me- the fire was too heavy”. A letter addressed to James Harvey Senior informing him of his son’s death in the Battle of the Somme, is only one of many sent to the fathers of serving Manxmen and describes the bravery of James Harvey, “we are all more proud of him than we ever can say, and we all sympathise with you profoundly in your irrespirable loss and sorrow “. Many Manx-men lost their lives in the battle of the Somme in France, but also in Mesopotamia and Salonika.
The Manx Service Company of the Cheshire Regiment was stationed at Salonika for two years (1916-1918). And according to the Rolls of Honour, Salonika, and Mesopotamia was where many Manx-men lost their lives. J.F Moore, R.C Kewin, E. Graham and W.E Callow are just a few who died fighting in Salonika. Richardson also writes of how the Manx Company served in “one of the fiercest actions in which the 2nd Battalion Cheshire Regiment participated” where the Company occupied Kumli (a village “well in front of the line”). This event led to the capture of two Manxmen; Private Joseph Buckley and Harold Dod, further demonstrating how much the Manxmen contributed, for as Dr Heather Jones states on the British Library website, “Germany kept British and French prisoners of war on the Western Front in dangerous locations, carrying out forced labour”.
In an edition of the Ramsey Courier, a passage from 16 year old Johnny Kaneen describes his time at the front as a Battalion Scout of the 2nd Cheshire Regiment, indicating that Manxmen of all ages contributed to the war. Sergeant Edward Holmes writes “The mosquitos were too strong for us and we had no protection equipment. I was first down with Malaria” showing how disease was also responsible for the diminishment of the company.
Such a great involvement however, also meant great sacrifice. In ‘Outlines from Manx History’Christopher Shimmin concludes that the war had greatly reduced the population of the Isle of Man, demonstrating the huge part played by the men of the island in the First World War. Statistics from the Commemoration page on the Isle of Man government website confirm that 1,165 of Manxmen gave their lives and that 987 were wounded. This shocking statistic demonstrates just how much the men of the Isle of Man gave to this war.
To give context, due to the island being a maritime nation, not only did Manx-men serve on land, a significant number of men served at sea. In April 1916 in the Isle of Man Examiner, statistics prove that the Isle of Man had less men than of military age per 100 acres than England and Wales (3.6%), Ireland (6.8%) and Scotland (3.1%) at only 2.3%. Such a statistic shows how much Manxmen were needed at home, yet chose to defend their country. An article in the Examiner in 1916 states “the shortage of labour was serious. Horses were standing in the stable, work was getting behind”. Such shortages demonstrate the commitment Manxmen made to defending their country, in leaving their own at a standstill.
As Belchem wrote in ‘The Little Manx Nation: Antiquarianism, Ethnic Identity, and Home Rule Politics in the Isle of Man, 1880-1918’ “Britishness came to the fore in the island during the war”. The many men who served in the Cheshire Regiment although from a small island were keen to defend Britain. Mannin, a nationalistic journal also stated “The Great War continues and Manx men and women are bearing their full share of the burden. It is said that, estimating the number of fighting men in relation to the population, the ‘Lil Islan’ comes first in Great Britain- a proud record.” On the whole, due to the involvement of the war, the Isle of Man earned its place in Great Britain by doing far more than its fair share contributing to the war effort.
In 1896 “Manx poet T. E. Brown described the Island as having a “poor history, no great cause to fight for, no thrill, no glow … we have no love song, no war song.” Such an attitude could have contributed to the great deal of propaganda in making Manxmen feel the need to fulfill a duty and signup for war. The notion of adventure being even greater for Manxmen than the English, for many had not left the island at all. As Norman Holding states in More Sources of World War 1 Army Records “one thing Britain has always been good at is propaganda, and in wartime it excels itself”. An unknown soldier in a letter published in the Isle of Man Times (25.9.1915) informs men back at home “your king and country needs you… show that you are Manxmen and not shirkers”. Such nationalism was evident in many similar letters of the time.
A sense of nationalism was created in the Manxmen serving in the Cheshire Regiment. In This Terrible Ordeal Richardson states “The Company never lost its Manx Character or Identity”. As can be seen in the Cheshire Observer (8.8.1914) “there is not a local battalion but what is now over strength”, localities were kept together and men who joined with their local workmates often stayed together in the same company. The participation of the many Manxmen in the war resulted in a shared sense of identity. This can be seen in the Manx Company in the Cheshire Regiment in particular.
The involvement and sacrifices made by the many young Manxmen in the First World War, both in the Cheshire Regiment and in many other regiments could be said to be responsible for Richardson’s believed result. In This Terrible Ordeal Richardson states after the war period, the island possessed “a growing sense of itself as a nation with its own destiny, and the ability to confront hardships head on and ameliorate them as best it could.” Which may not have been possible had the many Manxmen not sacrificed so much.
In a similar fashion to most speeches made on Armistice Day at ceremonies all over Britain, Hall Caine stated “your loss is the world’s gain. You have given your sons for the greatest battle for liberty and freedom the world has ever fought”. This demonstrates how much the people of the Island gave to the war, shows that Manxmen were significant and that they played a vital role. The Manx Government website states that 269 officers and men from the Isle of Man gained high honours during the war with practically all the main battlefronts represented. This is an incredible achievement and is proof of how highly valued the Manxmen were in the First World War. On a larger scale, according to Forces War Records, the Cheshire Regiment awarded 75 battle honours and 2 Victoria Crosses yet lost 8,413 men.
Beemayd Cooinaghtyn Orroo (We will remember them)
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Cheshire Observer. (1914) Aug 8th.
Cheshire Observer. (1914) Aug 22nd.
Isle of Man Weekly Times. (1914) Nov 7th.
Mannin, No. 6 (Nov 1915)
Isle of Man Examiner. (1916) Jan 22nd.
Isle of Man Weekly Times. (1916) July 15th.
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