A Stretcher Bearers tale

Welcome to another of my blogs and by now some of you will begin to notice a pattern in these lately as this is another story of one of the London Road memorial men. I make no apologies for it as it’s a project that was and still is very close to my heart. It is also a project that is going to take many years to fully research all the 87 men in depth, I’ve only just scratched the surface. It’ll be a retirement occupation at this rate!

Employed as a Carter for the London & North Western Railway Co at Manchester London Road Goods Department, Charles Doyle would go on to join the Royal Army Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer at the beginning of the war. Here below is Charles’s story.

Charles Doyle was born in Openshaw near Manchester around 1894 to parents Charles Edward, a Labourer ( Contractor) & Elizabeth, a Gents Tailoress. In 1901 the family live at 190 New Bank Street, Longsight which backed directly onto the trains sheds & railway depot of Longsight which is still there today. Charles now aged 7 has a older sister Nellie Aged 9, a brother James Henry Aged 5 & a young baby sister Annie just 11 months old. By 1911 the family has moved to Hulme and are living at 41 Cedar Street just off Stretford Road and 3 streets away from the Cavalry barracks where the 15th Hussars who charged the protesters at the infamous Peterloo massacre in 1819 were based. By 1911 the barracks was in use by various infantry units before being sold to Manchester Corporation in 1914. It’s possible that Charles and his father attended here and received some militray training Pre War.

On the 1911 census his sister Nellie is now known as Ellen, his brother drops the James but no record of Annie however there is an Annie Doyle staying in Liverpool with her Aunt & Uncle at the time of the census. There’s now also 2 more brothers for Charles, William Aged 5 & Ernest Aged 2. Charles is shown as working for a railway company as a clerk.

In August 1914 Charles, now aged 20, joins the Royal Army Medical Corps in the 18th Field Ambulance Unit as Private 20001. His father aged 42 would later join the 6th bn Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, but more on him later.

At the outbreak of war the 18th Field Ambulance was part of 6th Division, it had it’s headquarters in Manchester with the it’s sister units of the RAMC 16th & 17th F.A in Cork, Ireland. A Field Ambulance consisted at full strength of 10 Officers and around 224 men split into 3 sections. Chris Baker on his excellent website can detail it better than I here on this link Field Ambulances in the First World War – The Long, Long Trail

The 6th Division was an original BEF divison made up initially of 16th Infantry Brigade ( 1st Bn The Buffs,1st Bn Leicestershire,1st Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, 2nd Bn Yorkshire & Lancashire Regiment) , 17th Infantry Brigade ( 1st Bn Royal Fusiliers, 1st Bn North Staffordshire Regiment, 2nd Bn Leinster Regiment, 3rd Bn The Rifle Brigade, 2nd Bn Manchester Regiment) 18th Infantry Brigade ( 1st Bn West Yorkshire Regiment, 1st Bn East Yorkshire Regiment, 2nd Bn Sherwood Foresters,2nd Bn Durham Light Infantry, 1/16th Bn London Regt) 19th Infantry Brigade (2nd Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers,1st Bn Cameronians,1st Bn Middlesex Regt,2nd Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders). Other Regiments would come and go during 1915 & 1916 including the 17th Brigade who left to be replaced by 71st Brigade in October 1915.

Mobilisation orders were sent out on 4th August 1914 and the day after 9 Officers and more NCO’s and men than were required reported for duty. On the 7th the Quartermaster with 18 men were sent to Burscough to obtain supplies & uniforms for A & C sections, they returned later that day but received a wire to immediately return their supplies of 199 caps, jackets, trousers & boots.

A Sergeant & 39 men from the Army Service Corps arrived from York on 9th August followed by 2 further ASC Sergeants the day after from Bradford completing the units formation. An inspection found that many of the men had poor clothing. The next few days were spent still awaiting equipment, the only things to arrive were 15 neck collars for Heavy horses & 10 Officers saddles on 13th.

On 19th August 2 trains left Manchester at 6.45pm & 7.45pm with Charles and his comrades heading to Cambridge where they finally arrived at 4am & 5am the next day and marched to camp at what looks like Col Fen Camp. Training continued over the coming days including a night march with 18th Infantry Brigade as far as BARSTON, North of Peterborough where they set up a dressing station and dealt with 300 ‘wounded’ marching back in very good order the next morning.

They received various innoculations during their stay & continued training until on the 8th September they received orders to leave on trains at 6.45am & 7.45am destination unknown! The following evening they arrived at SOUTHAMPTON and embarked on the aptly named ship ‘Trafford Hall’ which must have raised a smile amongst the lads from Manchester as well boarding the Archimedes.

H.M.T Trafford Hall

Arriving at ST NAZIARE on the morning of the 10th September those on board the Trafford Hall were kept on board all day whilst those on the Archimedes disembarked and marched to Camp. The next day after leaving the troopship they all caught a train at 8pm travelling all the next day before detraining and marching to FAREMOUTIERS where they bivouaced for the night.

Over the next 2 days they were back marching again arriving in CHATEUA THIERRY at 1130pm on 15th September after a 29 mile march. The next day a 14 mile march lay ahead of them as they headed to HARTENNES where after staying the night they then moved on 17th to CHACRISE ,South West of SOISSONS, a shorter distance away. Much to Charles & his fellow pals relief i’m sure, the unit rested the following day. They certainly were getting to see the French countryside that’s for sure! It also highlights that at this early stage of the war it was still so fluid, trench warfare had yet to begin.

On 19th they were again on their feet marching this time to MONT NOTRE DAME where they bivouaced near to BRUYERES FARM. The next day they moved to BAZOCHES situated between SOISSONS & REIMS and in the AISNE region and set up a reception hospital in a house near to the railway station. For the next 2 weeks they stayed there and Charles’s daily duties consisted of route marches & general duties. All this was due to the fact that 18th Infantry Brigade had been attached to I Corps with 1st & 2nd Divisions and were taking part in the Battle of the Aisne Heights & Chemin des Dames.

Marching to a place called JURY that no longer appers on modern maps or it may have changed its name since the Great War. After moving further west they arrived in ESTREES- ST -DENIS, west of COMPIEGNE on the 10th October.

At 4pm they entrained departing at 6.30pm and heading North arriving the next day at LANDRECQUES before marching down to WARDRECQUES then on 12th October arriving in HAZEBROUCK. Moving to PETIT SEC BOIS, South East of HAZEBROUCK they set up a dressing station there with A,B & C sections collecting wounded men from the 18th Infantry Brigade, (1st Bn West Yorkshire Regt, 1st Bn the East Yorkshire Regt and 2nd Bn Durham Light Infantry) as well as German wounded, in total 134 men. This was all during the action known as the Battle Of Armentieres.

HAUTE MAISON, STEENWERCK all visited before moving South East of BALLIEUL to SAILLY -SUR -LA- LYS then back Northwards to RUE DU BOIS setting up further dressing stations and treating the wounded. By the 18th October the fighting was reported as heavy and wonded were flooding in each day. On 21st October the unit managed to get out of the fire zone using wagons to evacuate 274 wounded and made it to FLEURBAIX at about 5.45am. Sudden orders were received to move and they made it North to ERQUINGHEM where they took over the Mairie & 2 schools and set up dressing stations to accomodate 250-300 casualities. In total for the month Charles and his fellow medics would deal with 1030 casualities most of which were succesfully evacuated by railhead.

The unit would remain where they were for several months, treating wounded & sick, setting up baths & laundry facilities which amazingly could accomodate 5000-6000 a week!

On Christmas Eve 1914 a concert was given for the men and over the festive period the men were extremely grateful to get a bath and to be able to wear clean & ironed clothes once again. Incidentally the 6th Division HQ war diary records that the Germans had begun celebrating and that battalions at the front had captured 2 drunken Germans after they had begun celebrating obviously a little too much and on Christmas Day itself an unofficial truce took place with no firing of guns.

1915 came and it wasn’t until 20th March that Charles and his unit would move this time to ARMENTIERES to take over the hospital established at the St Jude Catholic school and also an Advanced Dressing Station near the Mairie in HOUPLINES. This ADS was garrisoned by 1 Officer, an NCO and 2 squads with a ambulance wagon for emergency cases. The diary reports not much fighting during this month with most cases being as a result of hand grenades or sniping by the enemy. A total of 430 casualties were treated bringing the total so far treated by the 18th Field Ambulance up to 4228.

On 6th May the diary records that the Germans heavily shelled ARMENTIERES for over an hour & a half and whilst not many troops were wounded there were several civilians who were killed or wounded. By the end of the month they move to WIPPENHOEK, again somewhere that no longer exists but it was East of ABELE or South West of LIJSSENTHOEK.

On the 5th June they opened a large ADS at VLAMERTINGHE at the Hop Store, hence the name of a cemetery which is there now, with 6 Officers and 2 sections. At night motor ambulances brought back sick & wounded from the aid post at POTIJZE before then transferring them in the morning to a Casualty Clearing Station.

18th Field Ambulance Dressing Station in the old Hop Store at Vlamertinghe, June 1915. 6th Division. © IWM Q 50241

Shelling is now reported everyday in Ypres, Vlamertinghe & Poperinghe and some fell in a field close by so the next day dugouts began to be made to house several patients & staff. Battles raged to the right of their postion in the coming days and by the end of June they had treated 1471 Officers & Men, the whole total for the unit now at 6925.

On the 8th August 1915 information was received that the 18th Infantry Brigade was to lead an attack at HOOGE and therefore the 18th F.A would gain further medical supplies and they set up Regimental Aid Posts (R.A.P) for 1st East Yorkshires at Map ref I.24.b.2.5 and for 2nd D.L.I & 2nd Sherwood Foresters at I.24.b.7.7, ( SANCTUARY WOOD) each battalion allocated 10 Stretcher Bearers each, a total of 30 bearers. At MAPLE COPSE they set up a collecting station in dug outs that could accomodate 150 men with 1 Officer, 1 SGT and 30 Bearers who had 80 strechers, wheels for 7, dressings & medical comforts. A second at ZILLEBEKE DUMP with 1 Officer, an NCO and 20 Bearers with 12 stretchers & another at KRUISTRAAT with 1 Officer, an NCO & 25 Bearers as well as 10 motor ambulances and 7 horse ambulances. The Main Dressing Station would be on the Vlamertinghe- Poperinghe road at the Hop Store.

Trench map 28.NW

All medical units set up these intricate casualty evacuation chains and it’s worth looking at them. In this case at HOOGE all wounded during daylight were initally taken to MAPLE COPSE. Walking cases were sent via a communication trench back to ZILLEBEKE DUMP where bearers conducted them to waiting cars on the junction of the LILLE Road at SHRAPNEL CORNER. Some lying cases were also sent on wheeled carts from here as well.Two motor ambulances then ferried wounded back to the Dressing Station at Hop Store.

At night motor ambulances came as far as YEOMANRY POST I.23.b whilst horse drawn ones came a far as MAPLE COPSE itself. Generally evacuation seems to have gone well, just the communication trench is noted as that it could be larger in size. Between 800-900 casualites were sent to the Dressing station with the worst being sent back further to CCS nos 10 & 17 at REMY SIDINGS.

Horse ambulance at Ypres, by Sir D. Lindsay. (Wellcome Collection)

To date this would have been to the largest number of casualties that Charles had had to deal with and I wonder how he felt. He would however get some rest on the 16th August as the men were given 2 days rest. Back at VLAMERTINGHE they continued normal duties for the coming weeks and no major action took place except the usual trench bombing & artillery fire. Heavy guns during late September saw damage around the Dressing station but failed to cause any injuries.

On 13th October they moved the dressing station to the White Chateau at VLAMERTINGHE and on 1st November a Aid Post at the Prison in YPRES was set up. Routine work by the unit continued to be done on a daily basis.

On the 19th December 1915 the Germans launched a phosgene gas attack at WIELJTE which resulted in the unit treating over 500 casualties. This was the first time that the Germans had used this type of gas against British troops. The 6th Division were in the front line at the time next to the 49th West Riding Division who appear to have suffered the worst.

It’s now 1916 and on 14th January the unit moves to PROVEN to take over the Divisional Rest Station where they remained until 14th March before moving for training to CALAIS. By the end of the month they were moving again this time down to HERZEELE where they set up a hospital to treat sick & wounded from units in the area, then moved to WATOU before moving closer to the front on the ELVERDINGE Road and setting up a HQ and small hospital at a farm which is now where FERME-OLIVIER Cemetery now is.The men would spend 6 days at the ADS on the Canal bank whilst others were at R.A.P and dealt with the wounded of their brigade who were in the left sector.

Sadly but incredible, seeing as they had been out since September 1914, on 20th April 1916 the 18th F.A would suffer it’s first casualty since it arrived on the Western Front. Private 69494 Patrick Byrne,24 Years old from Dublin was hit in both lungs and died at the hospital at FERME-OLIVIER where he now rests in Plot 2. Row C. Grave 6.


April 1916 would also see another tragedy. Remember earlier I mentioned Charles’s father Charles Edward Doyle? Well he joined as I said the 6th Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regiment as a Sergeant. This Regiment was part of 38th Brigade, 13th (Western) Division. They had sailed from AVONMOUTH on 18th June 1915, stopping off at MALTA 8 days later, then to ALEXANDRIA on 30th June arriving at MUDROS on 5th July and going into bivouacs. The following day they would land at 10pm at GALLIPOLI (CAPE HELLES) and again be bivouaced this time at GULLLY RAVINE. They would move around over the coming months including being posted to SUVLA BAY. On the 20th December 1915 they would leave the peninsula and land at MUDROS where they went to PORTIANOS CAMP and spent a month before moving to PORT SAID. They would take up forward positions at the SUEZ CANAL before moving in February 1916 to MESOPOTAMIA to boost the force that was to be involved in the relief of the garrison at KUT AL AMARA known as the Siege of Kut. The Division had assembled near SHEIK SA’AD by late March and came under orders of the Tigris Corps. It then took part in the attempts to relieve KUT. The relief attempt is usually known as the First battle of Kut. The British Empire’s forces numbered about 30,000 soldiers, which was roughly equal to the Ottomans.The Imperial War Museum have an incredible film here of the Kut relief force WITH THE KUT RELIEF FORCE IN MESOPOTAMIA [Main Title] | Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk).

The battle began on 5 April and the British soon captured FALLAHIYEH but suffered heavy losses including Sgt Charles Edward Doyle who was shown in the battalion records as death presumed on or since 9th April 1916. His name is on the BASRA Memorial in IRAQ.

Basra Memorial,Iraq ( Image:Cwgc)

Charles at this point wouldn’t have known what had happened to his father, his mother may have written to him later once she received word from the War Office, we can only surmise of course.

At the end of July 1916 the 18th F.A marched to WORMHOUDT before on the 3rd August they entrained heading to DOULLENS and a few days later would arrive and play their part in the Battle of the Somme.

Arriving at ACHEUX they set up the hospital in a nearby building then the C.O on 6th August went to visit to A.D.S at MESNIL and the R.A.P at ‘The Cookers’ and at Knightsbridge,HAMEL after which he then detailed 2 Officers & 56 Other Ranks to take over these posts. At MESNIL the railway station being used to house the sick & wounded was deemed to be unsatisfactory and orders were given to evacuate the sick & wounded and move to dig outs cut into the hillside. This was delayed by enemy shelling of MESNIL. Over the coming days & weeks they would deal & move several casualities by motor ambulances back to the Divisional Collecting Station West of ENGLEBELMER and to a CCS ,all whilst MESNIL was continuing to be shelled by the Germans including by gas shells causing some damage & casualties.

An example of the bravery of the RAMC was reported by an Heavy Artillery Officer who had reported that he had men suffering from the effects of a gas attack. Immediately an Officer and 8 bearers volunteered to go assist and under heavy shelling of both gas & shells carried the wounded over a mile on stretchers.

On 26th August the Dressing station & posts were handed over to the 134th F.A and Charles & his comrades began a march back to VIGNACOURT during heavy rain, stopping to assist several wounded of the 18th Infantry Brigade on their way. Training began at 6am, 10am & 2pm for the stretcher bearers specifically in carrying wounded over long distances over bad country. This was to prove invaluable in the coming weeks.

Marching again they arrived on 7th September at SAILLY-LE-SEC on the NORTH banks of the River Somme. A few days later they moved to DIVE COPSE which was originally the Main Dressing Station and also a rest station for Field Ambulance units.

The Infantry brigades of the 6th Divison were ordered to take over from the 56th Division & a portion of 3rd Guards Brigade on a front of around 1200 yds from NW of LEUZE WOOD to the SW corner of GINCHY on the night of 11th/12th September. The enemy were still in postion in the area known as the Horseshoe.

At 6am on the 13th September 18th F.A bearers marched to the fighting lines and to the medical stations which were located at ARROW HEAD COPSE & GUILLEMONT CEMETERY.

At 6.20am on 15th September the 16th & 71st Infantry brigades attacked. 16th I.B with The Bedfords & Buffs leading were on the right with York & Lancs in Support and K.S.L.I in reserve and 71st I.B led by The Leicesters & Norfolks passed through The Suffolks & Sherwood Foresters who had attacked 2 days earlier. 18th I.B was the Divisional Reserve back at ARROW HEAD COPSE and CHIMPANZEE TRENCH. On the left of 6th Division were the Guards Division and on their right 56th Divison. Supported by tanks, some of these which broke down before coming into service, their objective was the German Trench system known to the British as the QUADRILATERAL. By 10am however it became apparent that the 6th Division attack had failed.

Charles was kept busy all day and night with bearers and horse drawn ambulances collecting the wounded and ferrying them back to BRONFAY FARM or DIVE COPSE. The unit itself suffered 6 casualties during this action.

Paul Reed in his recent OldFrontLine podcast covered this landscape and battle much better than I can so please do go have a listen.

Over the coming days further attacks were made and due to the atrocious weather conditions the bearers soon became exhausted carrying the wounded some distance from the fornt line back to GUILLEMONT & ARROW HEAD COPSE, this is where that previous training came into being.

On 19th September the 18th F.A were relieved and went back for rest at MEAULTE but only 2 days later were back at the front. This time on 23rd September the 6th Division, supported on their left by Guards Division and on their right by 5th Division, would be attacking LESBOUEFS and MORVAL. The 18th Infantry Brigade had the objective of LESBOUEFS itself. The bearers move to GINCHY POST which was an Advanced Collecting Post on the 22nd and then squads of bearers are then attached to the battalions in the trenches in preparation for the forthcoming attack.

Trench Map 6th Division War Diary 16th September 1916

The 18th F.A relieve the 16th F.A and continue to prepare for another attack scheduled for 25th. On the 24th September the war diary reports that one of it’s bearers is wounded and that another is killed by a shell. The man killed would be Pvt Charles Doyle. His body would be buried in a small plot just North of the village of GINCHY, possibly where the post referred to above was located, at map ref 57c.T.13.b. On 19th August 1919 the 3rd Labour Company moved his body to GUARDS CEMETERY, LESBOUFS where he now lays in Plot XIII.R.8

Grave of Pvt Charles Doyle ( Author’s Own Photo)

On Wednesday 18th October 1916 his Mother & family posted touching notices in the Manchester Evening News. One can barely imagine Elizabeth’s grief at losing both her Husband & son

Family Notice Manchester Evening News (© British Library)

Thank you once again for taking the time to read Charles Doyle’s story, I know it may have been a little in depth for some ( Probably not enough for others! ) but it’s important to try and get the full details to build up a picture of his life & experiences during the Great War. The more research I do the more I begin to learn about the Ypres Salient. Those that know me will know that the Somme is still my main area of interest but it’s good to be able to learn so much more about the place names around Ypres that whilst they are familiar to me,as I’ve visited the area often,have been without knowing their full stories. These places are now being backed up with knowledge & facts so the next time I’m able to be there I’ll have a much better and deeper understanding.


The Long, Long Trail website

National Archives War Diaries WO95/1603/1 18th Field Ambulance
Wellcome Collection.org

IWM Archives

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