Francis McManus, Private 17/105 2nd Leeds Pals

On 24 November 1896 Francis McManus was born at 28 Council Street Leeds to Luke and Sarah McManus.  He was the youngest of three children behind elder sister Catherine and elder brother John.

The 1911 Census reveals Francis’ family living in Hatfield Street Leeds.  The eldest daughter Catherine was now a boot maker, her younger brother John (known as Jack) was a cloth finisher like his father and Francis was an iron driller at the age of 14.  There was also a 3 year old daughter Norah.  On the Census form is the note that 10 children had been born into the family between 1888 and 1911 but only these 4 had survived by that date.  Norah died later that year.  Council and Hatfield Street were demolished but their outline can still be seen on overhead imagery.

Francis failed to enlist on the outbreak of war In August 1914 – he was turned away due to age and height.  However, on the 8th December 1914 when Mr J E Bedford the Lord Mayor of Leeds raised a Bantam battalion of The West Yorkshire Regiment – the 17th (Service) Battalion The West Yorkshire Regiment – Francis must have been one of the first to enlist because his personal Army number is 17/105. 

Following training throughout 1915 from Ilkley to Salisbury Plain, on 14th January 1916  Francis wrote his Will leaving everything to his Mother Sarah.  This is the only surviving artefact belonging to Francis I have so far been able to find.

On 31st January 1916 the Battalion embarked for France on the SS Duchess of Argyll.  From 1 February onwards they began work up training in and out of the front line.

On the 27th March 2016 the Battalion went into the line between ARMENTIÈRES and LAVENTIE – the PETILLON Subsector of the line.  On the 29th March 1916   Captain Hepper’s Diary[1] records that: …“8.30 am.  The enemy have just sent over some rifle grenades, I hate the things.  We are busy retaliating.  I bet the old Hun is chuckling up his sleeve as all ours are falling short and ten out of the fifteen are duds. Bless the munitioneers or perhaps it may be the damp ground.”  However, the Battalion’s War Diary for 29th March 1916 records:

“4 Lewis guns forward in battle emplacements, 2 used as moveable guns.  Some interchange of rifle grenades.  Unfortunate accident with rifle grenade by which 1 man killed and 2 wounded.  Some shelling by enemy of CELLAR FARM and DEE POST.  Patrol went out from left Coy (Z Coy).  Water too deep to allow of useful information to be gained.  Snipers very active all along the front.  They have a loophole in nearly every bay and move position when firing and thus difficult to locate.  Night passed quietly.  Much work done.”

WW1 Soldiers’ deaths are rarely ‘named’ but according to the West Yorkshire’s Regimental History Francis McManus is the only recorded death on 29th March 1916 so must have been the man killed by the ‘unfortunate accident’ with the rifle grenade; clearly not all were duds.  He was probably dead before 9.00 am.  Corporal Sheard, a Battalion Medical Orderly, recorded in his journal[2] that the casualties that day had been caused by; ‘…one of our rifle grenades bursting.’  (It is interesting that there is no mention of how Francis died in the Regimental History’s Casualty Lists.)  He is recorded as ‘Killed in Action’ on his Medal Record Card, in Leeds in The Great War and on the Medal Roll, but other documents, (his overseas Death Certificate, Effects Record and The Leeds Roll of Honour), speak of his ‘accidental death’.

On the 18th April 1916 in The Times Newspaper’s ‘Roll of Honour’ Francis is listed under ‘Accidentally Killed’. 

Francis was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  He is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Rue-Petillon, FLEURBAIX, Plot 1, Section N, Grave 6.

Researcher:  Andrew Greenwood

[1] Captain Hepper’s Diary as an officer in the 17th Battalion is a most useful source of background information on the Leeds Bantams.

[2] Held by the Imperial War Museum.

Please Note:

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