I have published a version of this on my main blog, so it may be familiar. But as the research is recent it does not require updating. The fact I have Michael Horan’s Victory Medal makes it seem fitting to have his biography as my first formal one-place study post.
Name: Michael Horan
Unit/Regiment: 10th (Service) Battalion, The York and Lancaster
Service Number: 196812
Date of Death: 3 July 1916
Cemetery: Becourt Military Cemetery, Bercordel-Becourt, Somme, France
Several years ago I researched the men on the War Memorial of St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley. The resulting booklet was sold in aid of the Royal British Legion and the church roof appeal. Over the subsequent years I’ve continued to add to this research – somehow I’ve not been able to let them go.
In May 2020 a medal came up for sale in a military auction in Ipswich. The nearest thing to an auction I’ve participated in is eBay. But this medal was one awarded to a St Mary’s man. I felt compelled to bid, so signed up to do so online. And to my relief I won. The Victory Medal of Michael Horan is now back in Batley, after spending time in Hereford and Anglesey, before its sale at the Ipswich auction house.
Here is Michael’s story, significantly updated since my initial St Mary’s research.
Michael’s parents, Irish-born James Horan and Annie Gollagher, wed in late 1875. As anyone who researches family history knows, spellings of names can be notoriously inconsistent. The Irish accent adds to the confusion. Annie’s name in particular varies depending on records. Her maiden name is occasionally spelled Gallagher, and even her Christian name is inconsistent, with some documents recording it as Honora. The Horan surname is occasionally written as Horn.
The couple settled to married life in Batley. Plentiful employment opportunities in the shoddy industry, and a growing County Mayo community, of which James and Annie belonged to, were the town’s major magnets. James was an integral part of shoddy industry, working as a rag-grinder. It was a filthy, hard, dust-ridden, unhealthy job, which involved grinding down the rags in preparation for them to be mixed with fresh wool in order to produce shoddy fabric.
The couple had six children of which, to date, I have identified five. Only two survived to adulthood. These were Mary and Michael. All the Horan offspring were baptised at St Mary of the Angels, and the infant burials are all recorded in Batley cemetery, within sight of the newly built Catholic Church.
In order of arrival, Mary was born on 4 June 1876; Michael followed on 7 November 1878; Others included Ellen, born on 5 November 1880 and buried on 11 May 1881; John Patrick, born on 23 January 1883 and buried, age two, on 1 February 1885; and Thomas, born on 4 January 1885, just a month prior to his brother’s burial. He also died age two and was buried on 15 May 1887.
The Horan’s family addresses are reflective of ones associated with the Batley Irish community. They included New Street, Fleming’s Buildings, Newsome Fold, Scargill Fold and latterly Hume Street. The Horan’s lived at 64, whilst my Cassidy great grandparents lived at 36.
In 1891, when the family were living at Yard 2, Commercial Street, 12-year-old Michael was already working, as a hurrier in a coal mine. This was the first rung of the ladder to a career as a miner. In 1901 he was lodging along with another Batley man, Patrick Brett, in the home of Margaret Dawson in Winlanton, Durham, and working as a coal hewer.1 But he was back home in Batley by 1911, still working as a hewer.
There are other references to Michael in Batley in the first decade of the 20th century, minor brushes with the law, two of which resulted in stays at Wakefield Prison. On 8 April 1904 the Batley Reporter and Guardian carried the following piece:
ASSAULTING THE POLICE – Michael Horan, collier, of Batley, was charged with being drunk and riotous in Commercial Street, on the 2nd inst., and further with assaulting Police-constable Harris. – Police-constable Moore stated that at ten minutes past seven on the date mentioned he was on Commercial Street, accompanied by Police-constable Harris, when they saw defendant fighting with another man. He was very drunk, and used bad language. They asked him for his name, which he refused to give, and after walking about 40 yards Horan commenced to kick Police-constable Harris. – The defendant pleaded guilty, and was fined 2s. 6d. and costs for being drunk and riotous, and 5s. and costs for the assault on the policeman.
The Wakefield Prison records show both his imprisonments resulted from similar offences – 10 days for being drunk etc., on 11 April 1904.2 and 7 days for obscene language on 24 May 1907.3 In the absence of a photograph of Michael, at least from these records we have a brief physical description. He stood at 5’2” and had brown hair. His education was the basic Standard I.
Michael enlisted in September 1914. At the time he was employed as a miner at Batley’s West End Colliery. In the ownership of the Critchley family, who were associated with Batley Hall, the workings of this mine were between Cliff and Spring Woods, near the bottom of Scotchman Lane, close to the Batley/Morley boundary.
Briefly with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Service Number 16939), it appears Michael quickly transferred as a Private to the 10th (Service) Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, with the revised Service Number 19681. His date of arrival overseas fits with him setting sail with the battalion from Folkestone at 10.30pm on the night of September 1915 on board the Duchess of Argyll. They arrived at Boulogne in the early hours of the following morning. With him was a fellow-St Mary’s parishioner Pte James Groark, Service Number 19677.
After entraining for Watten on 11 September 1915, arriving there at 11pm that night, there then followed a series of punishing marches, mainly in the evening and early hours of the morning. These equated to a distance of around 50 miles as the crow flies, until they arrived at Vermelles at 10pm on 25 September.4 Exhausted before they started, they went straight into action, forming part of the reserve for an attack on the Hulluch-Lens Road. It was a true baptism of fire for the pair. They were being thrown into the Battle of Loos. This was the first time the British used poison gas during the war. It also witnessed the first large-scale use of New Army or ‘Kitchener’s Army’ units. And given their rapid approach, no wonder the casualty toll proved to be so heavy for these new troops. More details about the York and Lancaster Regiment at Loos can be found in the Online Diary of Eric Rayner blog.5
The battle commenced on 25 September 1915. The British were able to break through the weaker German trenches and capture the town of Loos, mainly due to numerical superiority. However, the inevitable supply and communications problems, combined with the late arrival of reserves, meant that the breakthrough could not be exploited. A further complication for many British soldiers was the failure of their artillery to cut the German wire in many places in advance of the attack. Advancing over open fields in full range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating.
The 10th York and Lancasters were no exception. By the time they were relieved at 3.30am on 27 September their casualties stood at 14 officers and 306 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.6 James Groark suffered a thigh wound in action on the 26 September. It was sufficiently serious for him to be evacuated to England for treatment in a Cambridge hospital.
From October 1915, the 10th York and Lancaster unit war diary is one of those beloved by family historians. Its appendixes name not only officers, but other ranks casualties too. It includes dates and, even better, other details. For example some month’s lists state if death or injury occurred in the trenches, in working parties (including those with the Brigade Mining Section) or resting etc. Some have other information, such as “wounded accidentally” or “self inflicted.” This extends right through to the end of July 1916, with a separate list devoted specifically to casualties incurred during fighting between 1 and 3 July 1916, the first days of the Battle of the Somme.
This Somme list is broken into sections, identifying those killed in action, men who died of wounds, and pages of the wounded who were evacuated to England, along with the date. There is also a list of others wounded but not evacuated to Blighty, along with the source of this information, e.g. 64th Field Ambulance. Then follows the missing men, and finally a section with amended casualties. This primarily includes updates on those initially posted as missing.
Michael’s name is in the unit war diary amongst these lists. So, what happened to him?
At 9pm on 30 June, the eve of the attack,7 the 10th York and Lancasters left their billets in Ville, making for their assembly trenches north east of Becordel and just west of Fricourt. They fell under the 21st Division, who would be taking part in the attack around the heavily-defended German-held village of Fricourt. As they made their way up the line, did memories flash back to the previous September’s march? Or was hope held of the “possibility of a collapse of the enemy’s resistance…”, brought about by the prolonged period of preparatory bombardment which commenced on 24 June?8
On 1 July 1916 the plan for the 21st Division was that on the left side of Fricourt village would be the 63rd Brigade (which included the 10th Yorks and Lancasters), and beyond them the division’s 64th Brigade, would together carry out an outflanking move to the north. They would join up beyond the village with units of the 7th Division carrying out a similar manoeuvre to the south. Attached to the 21st Division for the attack was the 50th Brigade (taken from the 17th (Northern) Division). Their battalions were designated to attack closest to the northern edge of Fricourt, in an area known as the Tambour. This area was a series of craters, the scene of heavy underground warfare since 1915. The 10th West Yorkshire Regiment would lead off here, followed by the 7th East Yorkshires.9 Later in the day, when the flanking manoeuvre was complete, the plan was battalions from this brigade would take Fricourt.
Before the attack a final heavy bombardment of the Fricourt area began at 6.25am on 1 July. Gas was released between 7.15am and 7.25am, during which period a Stokes bombardment was also launched. At 7.28am two mines were exploded to the right of the Tambour.10 Two minutes later the 63rd Brigade assault commenced with the 4th Middlesex Regiment and 8th Somerset Light Infantry in the initial wave. The 10th York and Lancaster were following up as part of the second wave of the attack, along with the 8th Lincolns. The York and Lancaster’s unit war diary for 1 to 3 July goes on to say:
At 8.30 a.m. [1st July] 10th York and Lancs. and 8th Lincoln Regt. advanced from Assembly Trenches and passed through the Middlesex Regt.and 8th Somerset L.I. respectively, coming under very heavy machine gun fire from FRICOURT and FRICOURT WOOD. After very hard fighting (in which heavy casualties occurred) the Battalion consolidated in LOZENGE ALLEY and later in DART LANE. Battalion remained in this position till about 2 p.m. third day when it moved up to SUNKEN ROAD and took up Support Position in DINGLE TRENCH, with H.Q. in SUNKEN ROAD.11
The 10th York and Lancasters were relieved at 4 a.m. on 4 July. The diary, in its appendixes, contains a more detailed account:
July 1st 1916 – July 4th 1916
The Battalion advanced through 4th Middlesex Regt, who were in German front line, and came under heavy machine gun fire from FRICOURT and FRICOURT WOOD. The leading wave got some distance in advance of DART LANE, when they were held up by machine gun fire from FRICOURT WOOD. At the same time three large parties of Germans attempted to bomb their way up all the trenches South of DART LANE. Also at the same time the Battalion Bombers were having a hard struggle with a large bombing party in LONELY TRENCH. They had three barricades in this, which we destroyed. We then placed a barricade at North end of LONELY TRENCH near junction of LOZENGE ALLEY. A party of D. Company with stragglers from other Units were sent into ARROW LANE to protect that flank, with the assistance of one gun of Machine Gun Corps. This party came under heavy fire from the South, the enemy making several strong attempts to bomb up EMPRESS SUPPORT and the remains of EMPRESS TRENCH. The remainder of Battalion were then in LOZENGE ALLEY with the Lincolns and parties of other Units. This we were consolidating. About 5.0 p.m. I re-organized the Battalion to take them to DART LANE, which I consolidated. I had also a holding party of Bombers at corner of DART LANE, EMPRESS SUPPORT and LONELY LANE. I had also a party in ARROW LANE: with this party were about 30 men of the 10th Yorkshire Regiment. The Battalion remained in this position until about 2.0 p.m. on the second day, during which time the Battalion was working very hard in passing up S.A.A.,12 Bombs, etc. to 62nd Brigade, who were calling for supplies very urgently. This work went on continuously till about 2.0 p.m. when I was ordered to move up and join 62nd Brigade. I took Battalion up SUNKEN ROAD and put them in DINGLE TRENCH from D 21 Central to about junction of DINGLE TRENCH and PATCH ALLEY, with my headquarters in SUNKEN ROAD at South end of ROUND WOOD.
Whilst here we were under a shell fire from 2 heavy enemy guns. We remained here till relieved by one Company of 12th Manchester Regt at about 4.0 a.m. on morning of 4th. The blocking party ordered to follow immediately in rear of 4th Middlesex Regt did not reach their objective, as all the men were knocked out with the exception of about six men, the Officer being wounded just after getting over the parapet. I also collected what spare bombers I had and sent them up to 62nd Brigade, who were calling for more men. The party protecting our right collected a fair number of prisoners from the dug-outs in DART LANE, EMPRESS SUPPORT and various small communication trenches.
One Officer and a small party of men actually reached the hedge running on outside of FRICOURT FARM, but were compelled to fall back owing to a large bombing party coming down LOZENGE ALLEY from FRICOURT FARM.
5th July 16. Comdg. 10th (S)13 Bn. York & Lancaster Regiment.14
With elements of the 21st Division now behind them, the Germans began to abandon Fricourt during the night of the 1/2 July. British troops entered the village on the 2 July.
As a result of the part they played and their consequent heavy losses, the 63rd Infantry Brigade swapped with the 110th Brigade, to become part of the 37th Division. At its departure it received the following communication on 8 July from Major-General David ‘Soarer’ Cambell, commanding the 21st:
I cannot allow the 63rd Brigade to leave my command without expressing to all ranks my immense admiration for their splendid behaviour during the recent fighting.
No troops in the world could have behaved in a more gallant manner.
I feel sure that the 63rd Brigade will uphold the reputation of the 21st Division in the Division to which they are attached.
Whilst deeply deploring your heavy losses, I feel that these gallant men have willingly given their lives to vindicate the character of the 21st Division.
Hoping that our separation may be of short duration only, I wish you Good Luck.15
Michael was amongst the heavy casualties. His name appears in the 10th York and Lancaster unit war diary. It is amongst the list of 24 other ranks listed as killed in action between the 1 and 3 July 1916. Officially his death date is 3 July.
News of his loss reached Batley later that month. According to reports he was carrying ammunition when a shell exploded in his immediate vicinity causing his instant death.16
Michael is buried at Becourt Military Cemetery, Bécordel-Bécourt, in the Somme region of France. He is commemorated at home on the Batley St Mary’s War Memorial and Batley War Memorial.
Michael’s parents survived him. His father (age 75) was buried in Batley cemetery on 7 April 1923. His mother (age 72) was buried in the same cemetery plot on 24 December 1925.
Whilst his sister Mary did marry John Owens at St Mary’s on 24 July 1915, the couple had no children. John died in December 1926 and Mary in November 1933. Mary’s death brought to an end the direct relations of Michael and helps explain why the medal went out of the family.
Michael was also awarded the 1914-15 Star and British War Medal. Those I have not traced. But at least his Victory Medal is back in his hometown. And although he is not buried in the same cemetery as his family, he is commemorated in the church just across the road.
1. 1901 census, England and Wales, surname written as Horn, accessed via Findmypast, original records held at The National Archives (TNA) Reference RG13/4763/99/27;
2. West Yorkshire Prison Records 1801-1914, accessed via Ancestry, original records at West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield Prison Records, Reference C118;
4. The route according to the unit war diary was Watten, Nortebecourt (Nortbécourt), St Omer, Campagne [Les Wardrecques], Aire [Sur la Lys], St Hilaire [Cottes], Auchel, Sailly la Bourse (Labourse) and Vermelles.
5. For more on the 10th York and Lancasters at Loos see Eric’s Daily Diary, 2 September 1915, The Battle of Loos – how Haig tried to kill my grandfather, http://ericsdailydiary.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-battle-of-loos-how-haig-tried-to.html
6. Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
7. The attack was originally planned to start on 29 June. However, summer storms and heavy rain which led to the decision being taken on 28 June (less than 21 hours notice) to postpone until 7.30am on 1 July.
8. Addition to Operation Order No. dated 23 June 1916, H Broadbent, Lieut. & Adjt. For Lt-Col. Cmdg. 10th (S) BNA. York & Lanc. Regt., 29 June 1916
9. The 10th West Yorkshire’s suffered in excess of 700 casualties. According to Gerald Gliddon in Somme 1916: a Battlefield Companion their casualties were higher than any other British battalion on 1 July. Martin Middlebrook in The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 stated their losses was probably the highest battalion casualty list for a single day during the war.
10. The 178th Tunnelling Company laid three mines which were due to detonate that morning, but only two explosions occurred, with the largest mine failing to detonate;
11. Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
12. Small Arms Ammunition;
14. Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
16. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 28 July 1918
• 1881 to 1911 England and Wales Censuses, accessed via Ancestry and Findmypast, originals at TNA;
• Batley Cemetery Records;
• Batley Reporter and Guardian, 8 April 1904 and 28 July 1918;
• Capture of Fricourt, Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_Fricourt;
• Cooksey, Jon, and Jerry Murland. The First Day of the Somme. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2016;
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour Database, https://www.cwgc.org/;
• Gliddon, Gerald. Somme 1916: a Battlefield Companion. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2016;
• General Register Office birth, marriage and death indexes
• Hart, Peter. The Somme. London: Cassell, 2006;
• Middlebrook, Martin. The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916. London: Penguin Books, 2016;
• OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
• Parish Registers, St Mary of the Angels;
• Soldiers Died in the Great War, accessed via Findmypast;
• Soldiers Effects Records 1901-1960, accessed via Ancestry, original records National Army Museum Accession Number 1990-02-333, Record Number Ranges 322001-323500, Reference 167;
• Stedman, Michael. Somme: Fricourt-Mametz. Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1997;
• Trench Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
• Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
• Reed, Paul. Walking the Somme. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2011.
• Wakefield Prison Records, accessed via Ancestry, originals at West Yorkshire Archives;
• War Office and Air Ministry Service Medal and Award Rolls, accessed via Ancestry, TNA Reference WO329 Reference 1590 and 2787;
• Western Front Association Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, References 102/0462/HOP-HOR and 686/04D;
• WW1 Medal Index Cards, accessed via Ancestry, originals at TNA.