At 4.40 am on March 21st 1918 the German army launched operation 'Michael', the first in a series of five major offences against the British Third and Fifth armies. 'Michael', however, was the key to these operations, its primary objective to smash through the British lines and in doing so force the remnants of the British army back to the coast and in doing so split them from their French Allies. Having effectively neutralised the British Army the French would capitulate and resort to the negotiating table.
For the Germans this was a race against time and it was an imperative that they had to achieve this final victory before the Americans, who declared war against Germany in April 1917, had the opportunity to bring its overwhelming resources in men and material to the Western Front and whilst they, due to the capitulation of Russia, had a temporary advantage in numbers.
Before night fell on that first day the British had sustained horrific casualties; 7,512 Killed, 10,000 wounded and 21,000 taken prisoner amongst the fatalities was private Arthur Ivan Gilman who died, together with 77 of his comrades of the 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment (1st City Pals), defending the redoubt known as Manchester Hill.
Arthur Ivan Gilman was born in 1894, the son of Arthur Gillman and his wife Edith who lived at 49 Low Street, Hoxne. These facts hide a personal tragedy for the family for although Arthur's birth was registered in January 1894 his mother's death, presumably as a result of his birth, had already been recorded in December 1893. In late 1900 Arthur senior married Florence Eliza Butcher and the census of 1901 records the arrival of Arthur Ivan's half sister, Florence Jane. By 1911 the census shows that the Gilman household had grown somewhat, Arthur, now seventeen and classed as a labourer, had been joined by siblings Edith, Olive, William, Ethel and Beatrice in addition to a 54 year lodger by the name of James Bailey. It was clearly a very crowded household.
The date of Arthur's departure from Hoxne, or indeed the reason why he left, is not recorded but he clearly made his way north, for on the 6th May 1915 he enlisted at York and joined the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (K.O.Y.L.I.). From the available evidence it appears that Arthur was seconded into the 9th Battalion which had been raised at Pontefract in September 1914 and was part of the 64th Brigade, 21st Division of Kitchener's Third Army (K3). After initial training locally the 9th was posted to south to Berkhamstead and then onto Halton Military Camp near Wendover, 1914 ended with them being moved into winter quarters at Maidenhead. In April 1915 the battalion returned to Halton and it is here that Arthur must have joined them, in August they moved to Witley near Reading for final training and by mid September were preparing for service in France.
The battalion left for France in two contingents, the first on the 10th September included the transport and machine gun sections and sailed from Southampton to La Havre. The second, the bulk of the battalion, sailed from Folkestone on the SS Seriol and arrived at Boulogne on the 11th and marched straight to the rest camp at Ostove. On the 12th both contingents were reunited at the railway station at Pont de Briques and were transported to a billets at Zutkerque near Calais where they commenced another brief bout of training.
The Battalion fought at the Battle of Loos in September, the War Diary recording:-
"26.9.15 1.30pm Battalion took part in the attack on Hill 70. Capt Adjt C.K. Butler and 2nd Lieut E.R Nott were wounded and 2nd Lieut. F.J. Powell suffered from the effects of gas. Battalion lost 215 rank and file killed, wounded and missing. Battalion returned to the trenches after the attack"
Arthur disembarked on the 18th September 1915 so avoided the horror of Loos, it is not known how long Arthur served with the K.O.Y.L.I. before being transferred out to the Manchester Regiment though one of the few records of Arthur's military service that has survived, "Admission & Discharge Book (Document also stamped Medical Research Committee Statistics Department)", confirms that on the 23rd March 2016 Arthur, who was then already serving in the 1/10 th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, was sent on a "sick convoy" back to England. He had been treated for 23 days at the 19th General Hospital for enteric (fever). The record does, however, indicate that Arthur had served one year in the Army and that he had only 2/52 weeks field service.
At some point after his transfer and hospitalisation in England Arthur was transferred from the 1/10th to the 16th Battalion, Manchester Regiment. The 16th Battalion Manchester Regiment had landed in France in November 1915 and was heavily involved in action on the Western Front including the Somme Offensive.
For the 16th Battalion Manchester Regiment the German Offensive of March 1918 would be its nemesis. Occupying a forward defensive position on a slight rise over looking the German held town of St Quentin the Battalion occupied a position known as Manchester Redoubt (later, more commonly known as Manchester Hill) named due to the fact that it had been captured by the 2nd Battalion Manchester Regiment in April 1917. On the 21 March 1918 the Germans unleashed operation 'Michael', a brief but intense artillery barrage which included a cocktail of high explosive and gas shells targeted not only the front line but also rear lines and artillery batteries. Aided by fog the Germans advanced with overwhelming numbers, sweeping past defences such as the Manchester Redoubt and pushing onto the rear areas. Pockets like that held by the 16th were left to the rear echelon troops to reduce.
The defence of Manchester Redoubt has gained the reputation of being one of the bright moments in a day that was little short of a disaster for the B.E.F. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Wilfrith Elstob, a graduate of Manchester University and a teacher by profession, the Battalion put up a stout defence Elstob reputedly stating to his men "Here we fight - and here we die". A post action report signed off by a Second Lieutenant acting as the Commanding Officer stated that by 10.30 am under the cover of mist the Germans were within bombing range of the Redoubt, when S.O.S. flares failed to secure support from anyone to the rear, the outposts withdrew back to the main defence where rifle fire which ensured that "the Bosche were held off for a time". Time was not with the 16th and by the late afternoon surrounded and running out of options the Redoubt was taken and those that could surrendered. Elstob was not one of them having been killed during the defence, he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Arthur was oneof the seventy nine men who died defending the Redoubt.
One further event occurred during Arthur's military service and this was his marriage to Lily Clark. The wedding took place at the Parish Church of Bolton Percy, a small village about four miles from Tadcaster, on the 3rd October 1917. How long Arthur spent in Yorkshire is not known, neither is the date of his return to the front. Lily remarried in 1920.
Arthur is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France as well as the Colton and Steeton War Memorial, the Bolton Percy War Memorial and, of course, the Hoxne War Memorial.