Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Herbert Dunkerley

Herbert Dunkerley :

Herbert Dunkerley : (L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

(L to R) 1914-15 Star; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal

Herbert was born in Oldham in around 1890. His father was called James and his mother was Alice. Herbert was their middle child, Fred was older and Roland was 10 years younger. The family were members of the Church of England.

Herbert grew up in Oldham. In 1901 the family lived at 33 Norfolk Street in Chadderton and James worked as a cotton warper in one of Oldham's many mills. Ten years later they were at 18 Bower Street near the centre of the town. James now worked in a grocer's shop that also had an off licence. Herbert had begun to work as a cotton piecer. In 1914 he worked at the Ruby Mill in Watersheddings, we don't know if he had worked elsewhere before this.

On the 25th January 1913 Herbert married Matilda Newton at St James' Church in Oldham. They made their home at 12 Iona Street in the town.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and Herbert joined the Army on the 16th November. He was accepted into the 'Comrade's' battalion being formed by the men of Oldham and given the service number 14230. This unit would later become the 24th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. When he enlisted Herbert was 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 116 pounds. He was assigned to 11 Platoon of C Company and began his training at Chadderton Hall Farm (in 2012 a park).

In early March 1915 the battalion moved to Llanfairfechan between Conwy and Bangor on the North Wales coast, then moved again to Grantham, Lincolnshire 2 months later. They stayed there until September and then moved one last time to Larkhill in Wiltshire. From there Herbert and the 24th Battalion moved to France on the 8th November.

By the time he went overseas Herbert had been promoted to Corporal. After 2 months in France he became a Lance Sergeant on the 9th January 1916.

During May 1916 the 24th Battalion was given the new role of Pioneers. They would now focus on work such as digging trenches, building roads and buildings, and moving supplies. They were still equipped and trained to fight as infantry, but this was no longer their main role.

As well as changing roles Herbert also had his health to worry about during May 1916. He was hospitalised on 4 separate occasions between the 19th May and the 3rd June suffering from 'pyrexia (fever) of unknown origin'.

On the 20th August 1916 Herbert was promoted to Sergeant. During this time he was involved in supporting the Somme Offensive.

We don't know much about what Herbert did between then and November 1917. He had been involved in supporting the fighting around Ypres in Belgium between June and October, but now he was being sent to a completely different environment.

The 24th Battalion arrived in Italy in late December 1917. They had been sent, along with other British and French units, to help support the Italian Army in their fight against Austria-Hungary. The Italians had suffered a devastating defeat at the Battle of Caporetto the previous month, and were in danger of collapsing completely.

Herbert's surroundings may have changed, but his job had not. Digging trenches was more challenging in the rock of the Asiago plateau than the mud of France and Flanders, although once built they needed less maintenance. Moving supplies up narrow, steep paths from the plains to the trenches 4,000 feet above was also a significant challenge. As compensation though, for Herbert and his comrades the Italian front was generally quieter and more relaxed than France.

Herbert was able to go on leave to the UK between the 17th March and the 12th April 1918, although only 14 of those days were actual leave.

Less than 2 weeks after he returned to Italy Herbert was dead. On the 23rd April 1918 he was part of a reconnaissance patrol that was caught in the open by an Austrian shell. Herbert was wounded in the scalp by the explosion, and although he was taken to the 22nd Field Ambulance for treatment his wound was too severe, he never regained consciousness and died the same day. He was 28 years old.

Matilda was living with James, Alice and Roland at 49 Stafford Street in Werneth when she heard the news (Fred had moved to Sydney, Australia). The chaplain who wrote the letter informing her said the Herbert was a 'splendid Non-Commissioned Officer and had the respect and confidence of both men and officers'.

Herbert's personal effects were sent to Matilda during June. There were a number of letters and photographs, a note case, a prayer book, 2 religious cards, a belt, a mirror, a handkerchief, 2 cigarette cases and a comb. There was also a French dictionary, a cigarette holder, his uniform collar badges and a bag.

Herbert and Matilda had no children. He is buried along with 437 other men in Montecchio Precalcino Communal Cemetery Extension, north of Vicenza. Herbert lies in Plot 1, Row C, Grave 7.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council