Chorley's darkest day of First World War

Chorley soldiers killed at the Battle of Festubert, clockwise from top left, Philip O'Neill, Lancelot Morris, Tom Victor Hall, Austen Naylor, Charles Bolton and John Kerfoot
Chorley soldiers killed at the Battle of Festubert, clockwise from top left, Philip O'Neill, Lancelot Morris, Tom Victor Hall, Austen Naylor, Charles Bolton and John Kerfoot
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June 15 marks the anniversary of what was labelled ‘Chorley’s darkest day’ as a result of the loss of life of 28 men from the town in the First World War.

It is not only important to remember this event because of the general attention given to the First World War at the moment, but this particular battle left a very deep mark on this borough and also Leyland (many men serving alongside those from Chorley Borough).

Battleground at Festubert

Battleground at Festubert

These were the Chorley Terriers (Territorial Soldiers), precursor to the now better remembered Chorley Pals.

Festubert became the borough’s first major tragedy during the war and many families were affected in some way.

It is appropriate for us to continue to honour these men, not out of duty but out of respect that, although we deem it such a long time ago, veterans of this battle still have sons and daughters alive in the two boroughs today.

Details of the action which took place on Chorley’s darkest day can be found within the Regimental History.

Unknown Soldier grave at Le Touret and the medals and plaques of Austen Naylor, Charles Bolton, John Kerfoot, Lancelot Morris, Philip ONeill and Tom Victor Hall

Unknown Soldier grave at Le Touret and the medals and plaques of Austen Naylor, Charles Bolton, John Kerfoot, Lancelot Morris, Philip ONeill and Tom Victor Hall

On Tuesday, June 15, 1915, the British bombardment against the enemy trenches continued as on the previous day, with the Germans only occasionally replying.

Under this rain of shells B and D Companies, of the 1st/4th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, moved up the communication trenches towards the front line trench from the supports, and A Company to the supports from the reserve line.

But while the British bombardment increased greatly in intensity, the German shelling, from being light, also became intense.

High explosive shells, in salvoes of four, dropped upon the communication trenches, filling them in many places with earth and mud, and in some cases obliterating them.

Le Touret Memorial to the Missing

Le Touret Memorial to the Missing

It became a task of extreme difficulty to move up to the firing line under this heavy fire.

This caused a number of casualties before anyone had left the trenches.

At 6pm precisely,

C Company charged from the fire trench. They had to climb the parapet and, under a withering fire, form to the left flank slightly and then charge.

They did this almost perfectly in line and, with bayonets fixed, were in possession of the enemy trench inside three minutes. Their losses were chiefly from rifle and machine gun fire.

All telephone communication was very soon destroyed and messages had to be sent by a relay of orderlies. The course of the battle becomes a little obscure.

Shortly after the first, the next supporting Company was B, and at this period the German artillery redoubled in intensity. Whereas C Company had suffered chiefly from rifle and machine gun fire, B and then D and A Companies suffered from shrapnel and high explosive.

The attacking Battalions were withdrawn to the support trenches at about 4am.

In the retirement all the attacking Battalions became mixed up and it was soon apparent that the number of casualties was high.

On June 13, the strength of the Battalion was 646 men and officers. Following the battle the number of killed, missing and wounded totalled 402.

It was a devastating action and around 28 men from Chorley borough died that day or shortly after as a result of their wounds.

It was many days before news of the battle filtered back to Chorley.

The Chorley Guardian soon began to report the stories, details of the casualties and Chorley’s Mayor Ald.Hindle (whose son Lt.Col. Hindle commanded the Battalion at Festubert and was himself injured in the face) issued a public statement of sympathy.

During the ensuing months and years, families of local men killed that day had their details added to family gravestones, church memorial services were held and there was even the following was printed in the Chorley Guardian’s ‘In Memoriam’ column on June 17, 1916, to mark the first anniversary of the Battle of Festubert.