Wilfrith Elstob (VC, DSO, MC), Lieutenant Colonel, 16th Bn. Manchester Regiment
Killed in action 21st March 1918 in France, aged 29
Son of the Rev. Canon J. G. Elstob and Frances Alice Elstob, of “Fanshawe”, Chelford, Cheshire.
Lt-Col Wilfrith Elstob was reported to have been wounded in the Macclesfield Courier on 22 July 1916:
SIDDINGTON – CANON ELSTOB’S SON WOUNDED – News has been received that Canon Elstob’s son, Wilfrith, has again been wounded and is in hospital. Canon Elstob’s son was formerly a master at Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, and on the outbreak of war he obtained a commission in the 16th Manchester’s. This is the second time he has been wounded.
The Macclesfield Times reported on 5 April 1918 that Wilfrith was missing:
MISSING – Canon Elstob (Vicar of Siddington and Capesthorne) has received an official intimation that his son, Colonel Wilfrith Elstob, DSO, MC, of the Manchester Regt, has been missing since March 23rd. No further details are to hand. Canon Elstob has three other sons serving.
Further information was printed in the Macclesfield Times on 19 April 1918:
MISSING – From accounts to hand, it now appears certain that the officer in command of the battalion of the Manchester Regt which fought so gallantly around Manchester Redoubt was Col W Elstob, DSO, MC, who was officially reported missing a fortnight ago. He is the third son of Canon Elstob, Capesthorne, whither he went when six weeks old, and before the war was a master at Merchiston, the great Scottish public school. He was one of the earliest to respond to Lord Kitchener’s appeal. His Military Cross was awarded for gallant work at Montaumont, where he was wounded. He was wounded again during the fierce fighting in the Trones Wood engagement. The DSO was awarded to him in the New Year honours. Colonel Elstob was one of the youngest commanding officers in the Army, for though not quite 30 years of age, he had been Lieut-Colonel commanding a battalion of the Manchester Regt for 18 months. A memorial service to the men who died on Manchester Hill was held at the Manchester Cathedral on Monday, when Bishop Welldon told the story of their heroism. Canon Elstob, Vicar of Capesthorne and Siddington (father of the gallant commander of the battalion) was present at the service.
The assumed death of Lt-Col Wilfrith Elstob was reported in the Macclesfield Courier on 27 July 1918:
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL ELSTOB REPORTED KILLED – BRAVE, MODEST, AN INSPIRATION TO ALL
Very general and widespread sympathy will be felt and expressed with the Rev Canon Elstob, Capesthorne Vicarage, Chelford, upon the sad news received this week. Lt-Col Wilfrith Elstob, DSO, MC, 16th Battalion Manchester Regiment, his third son, who was officially reported missing on 21st March 1918, is now officially reported killed on that day whilst in command of his gallant battalion of “Pals” – the heroes of Manchester Hill. He was 29 years of age. “The Manchester will defend Manchester Hill to the last” – in death “The Pals” were not divided.
One who knew Colonel Elstob well, both at Merchiston and in France, writes thus of him:- “I believe Elstob is definitely reported killed. The report comes from his Major, who was with him in his last great fight at Manchester Hill, and who is now a prisoner in Germany. I had hoped all along that he might turn up in Germany, but I could not help feeling that if he had any say in the matter he would not allow himself to be taken alive. He was one of the finest men in the Division. He was a man of unusually strong personality. Every one who came in touch with him felt the force of it, from Divisional Commander to private. I happened to hear from the lips of two successive Divisional Commanders what a particularly fine fellow they thought him, and I know his own officers and men worshipped him. He was one of the most modest men I have ever known. Whether commanding a brigade, as he did for a time last year, or a platoon, as he did barely two years ago, he was just the same. He got an MC, of course, and then a DSO. He was the kind of man to whom such things are bound to come, but they did not affect him… His extraordinary high sense of duty was an inspiration to all of us who knew him well…”
Lt-Col Elstob was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously. The citation, taken from the London Gazette dated 6 June 1919, includes the following words:
For most conspicuous bravery, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice during operations at Manchester Redoubt, near St. Quentin, on the 21st March, 1918. During the preliminary bombardment he encouraged his men in the posts in the Redoubt by frequent visits, and when repeated attacks developed controlled the defence at the points threatened, giving personal support with revolver, rifle and bombs. Single-handed he repulsed one bombing assault driving back the enemy and inflicting severe casualties. Later, when ammunition was required, he made several journeys under severe fire in order to replenish the supply. Throughout the day Lieutenant-Colonel Elstob, although twice wounded, showed the most fearless disregard of his own safety, and by his encouragement and noble example inspired his command to the fullest degree. The Manchester Redoubt was surrounded in the first wave of the enemy attack, but by means of the buried cable Lieutenant-Colonel Elstob was able to assure his Brigade Commander that “The Manchester Regiment will defend Manchester Hill to the last.”
Sometime after this post was overcome by vastly superior forces, and this very gallant officer was killed in the final assault, having maintained to the end the duty which he had impressed on his men – namely, “Here we fight, and here we die.” He set throughout the highest example of valour, determination, endurance and fine soldierly bearing.
Lt-Col Wilfrith Elstob is commemorated on Panel Ref. 64 to 67 of the Pozieres Memorial. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Lt-Col Wilfrith Elstob, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
Locally, Lt-Col Wilfrith Elstob is commemorated on the Park Green, Town Hall, St Michael’s Church, Park Green Club, Henbury and Broken Cross, The Ryleys School (Alderley Edge) and Siddington All Saints Church war memorials. He is also commemorated in a stained glass window at Siddington All Saints Church.
He is commemorated elsewhere in the country, including on the Manchester University war memorial, on a plaque dedicating a library room to him at the former Toc H Headquarters at Victoria Park, Manchester (now located at Kings Regimental HQ, Ardwick Green, Manchester), and at Christ’s Hospital School, West Sussex.
Lives of the First World War website
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Macclesfield Times: 5 April 1918, 19 April 1918
Macclesfield Courier: 22 July 1916, 27 July 1918
London Gazette: 6 June 1919