Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Ernest Owen

 Ernest Owen :

 Ernest Owen : Distinguished Conduct Medal

Distinguished Conduct Medal

We don't know anything about Ernest's early life or family. He grew up in Oldham, Lancashire and was living there when the First World War broke out in August 1914.

Ernest joined the Army towards the end of 1915, most likely during late September or early October. He enlisted in the 10th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was a Territorial Force unit based in Oldham. Soldiers serving with units of the Territorial Force were given new service numbers in around March 1917. Ernest's became 376555. We don't know his old number.

We don't believe Ernest left the UK before the new service numbers were allocated. The 10th Battalion had formed two separate units for front line service, the 1/10th and the 2/10th. They both landed in France and Belgium at around the same time that the new service numbers were allocated.

The 1/10th and the 2/10th Battalions both served in France and Belgium from March 1917 until February 1918. At this time the 2/10th was disbanded. This was due to a reorganisation of the Army that aimed to have more soldiers in fewer battalions, rather than fewer soldiers in more battalions. Unfortunately, because we don't know which unit Ernest was a member of, we can't say for certain where he served.

If Ernest had been a member of the 2/10th Battalion, then he was one of around 250 men who were posted to the 1/10th after the disbandment.

During 1918 the 1/10th Battalion helped to defeat the German Spring Offensive of March and April. The attacks began on the 21st March, while the battalion was in the rear, but they were quickly organised and by the evening of the 24th they were on the front line near the village of Ervillers.

The 1/10th Battalion would fight hard for the next 2 weeks as they retreated and tried to slow the German attack. Although only around 35 soldiers were killed many more were wounded and captured. They returned to the front on the 14th April and served there until the 6th May.

On the 8th August the Allies began an offensive of their own. They were soon advancing and by the 23rd September the 1/10th Battalion had reached the village of Trescault, near Cambrai. This was part of a German defensive position known as the Hindenburg Line. It had been built during the winter of 1916-17 to allow the Germans to defend captured territory as strongly as possible, but without needing large numbers of soldiers. It had a formidable reputation, but the British had to break through if they were to win the war.

The first attack near Trescault was launched on the morning of the 27th September. The units involved made progress but took heavy casualties and did not capture their objectives. It was decided to try again the next morning, and the 1/10th Battalion was given the job.

By this time Ernest had been promoted to Lance Corporal. For his conduct during this attack he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in the London Gazette of the 16th January 1919. This is his citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the operations on 27th and 28th September, 1918, East of Trescault, when his brilliant leading of his section, enabled his platoon to capture two field guns and their crews.

The attack was stunningly successful. The 1/10th Battalion had broken through the Hindenburg Line by the end of the day, capturing almost 250 Germans and losing only 5 men dead and 30 wounded. Their next attack would be an assault on a railway cutting near Solesmes in mid October.

By the end of the war on the 11th November Ernest held the rank of Acting Corporal. Soon after this he will have been demobilised out of the Army. His life afterwards remains a mystery. His medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in November 1945.

As well as his Distinguished Conduct Medal, Ernest was also awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal for his Army service.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf

Telephone: 0161 342 5480
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council