Sam Birtles, Private 6407, 1/8th Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment)
Killed in action 22nd October 1916 in Belgium, aged 27
Sam Birtles was born in Macclesfield and baptised on 2 July 1889 at Hurdsfield Holy Trinity Church, the elder son of Harriet Ann and Joseph Birtles, a nightwatchman of Hurdsfield.
In 1901, eleven-year-old Sam was living at 9 Lansdowne St, Hurdsfield, with his parents, younger brother Harry (10) and maternal grandmother Ann Wall. Sam’s father was then employed as a stable man and his mother was a silk hand. By 1911, the family was still at the same address and Sam was employed as a railway porter.
Sam later progressed to working as a railway ticket examiner for the Great Central Railway at Manchester, and lived at 94 Exeter St, Ardwick, Manchester.
On 17 November 1915, Sam enlisted into the 5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, with service number 4612. He was described as 5 feet 5 inches tall, with a 32 inch chest, sallow complexion, brown eyes and dark brown hair.
Sam was drafted to France on 5 August 1916, travelling via Folkestone and Boulogne, and was transferred to the 8th King’s Liverpool Regiment with service number 6407 on 9 September 1916, which at that time formed part of the 165th Brigade, 55th (West Lancashire) Division. The battalion war diary for 9th and 10th September states:
Moved up to support 2/5 Lancs Fus & North Lancs & B & C Coys.
Took part in the attack on Hop & Ale Alley near Delville Wood.
D Coy to Stout Trench.
Casualties: 2/Lt W F Ellis killed; 2/Lt J Coultard wounded; 2/Lt J F Smith wounded; 2/Lt W G Lofthouse wounded; 19 O.R. killed, 64 wounded & 2 missing.
Batt. succeeded in getting into communication with Guards Div on right who had captured Ginchy.
Casualties: 2/Lt Galamothe wounded; 10 O.R. killed, 48 wounded & 3 missing.
For a new recruit’s first day in the field this was quite a baptism of fire. The war diary does not give any details about any specific action which might have involved Sam, but he was admitted to the field hospital on 10 September, suffering from shell-shock, and was subsequently transferred to a hospital at Rouen, where he remained until 3 October. On 6 October Sam rejoined his battalion, but was killed in action seventeen days later on 22 October 1916.
In April 1917 Sam’s mother was sent his personal effects, which included: identity disc, letters and cards, photos, birth certificate, 2 new testaments, a watch chain, and a leather cigarette case.
Sam’s death was reported in the Macclesfield Courier on 25 November 1916:
PRIVATE S BIRTLES – Mr Joseph Birtles, of Lansdowne St, has received information stating that his son, Private Sam Birtles, of the Liverpool Regt, was killed in action in France on October 22nd. private Birtles was 20 years of age and single, and was educated at Daybrook Street School. He attended the Hurdsfield Church Sunday School, and acted as secretary of the Young Men’s Bible Class. He also figured in local football and athletic sports, being a successful sprinter. He joined the Manchesters last February, and was subsequently transferred to the Liverpool Regiment, proceeding to France about three months ago. Prior to enlisting he was employed as a ticket examiner at Hibel Road Station. Mr Joseph Birtles is himself an army veteran, having served twenty years in the 8th Hussars, with whom he went through the Afghan War under Lord Roberts, and holds a medal with two bars.
Private Sam Birtles is buried in Grave Ref. IV. H. 10. in Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Belgium. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Private Sam Birtles, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
In Macclesfield, Private Sam Birtles is commemorated on the Park Green, Town Hall, St Michael’s Church and Hurdsfield Holy Trinity Church war memorials. He is also remembered on a family gravestone in Hurdsfield Holy Trinity churchyard.
Elsewhere, Private Sam Birtles is commemorated on the Great Central Railway Company war memorial which is now located outside the Royal Victoria Hotel, Victoria Station Rd, Sheffield S4 7YE, close to its original location at the entrance to Victoria Railway Station, Sheffield.
GRO (England & Wales) Index: Births
Census (England & Wales): 1901, 1911
WWI British Army Service Records 1914-1920 (Find My Past)
Lives of the First World War website
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Macclesfield Courier: 25 November 1916
Macclesfield Times: 17 November 1916, 23 September 1921 (photo supplement)