Title - Cecil Douglas Gay

The Family | The Early Years | The Somme | Third Ypres | To Merville | Post-War


In the words of the regimental historian, "It would be idle to say that there was a man in the battalion who regretted his departure from the blood-drenched mud of Flanders".

Left: Men of the East Lancashire Regiment marching through the village of Metz-en-Couture, 2nd January 1918. Photograph courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, London (Q8385).

The 1st East Lancashires were spared from further major action until the German offensive of 21st March 1918.

Despite spending 3 days in the line of battle west of St. Leger, the battalion seems to have been relatively unscathed by the time it was relieved on the night of the 23rd/24th March1.

The battalion returned to the front line - this time east of Armentières - on 31st March, and was still there when the second German offensive was launched on 9th April. Over the next 9 days, the East Lancashires suffered heavy casualties as they were forced back more than 7 miles (12km) to a position north-east of Bailleul. The battalion was withdrawn from the battle on the 21st, "a mere skeleton of its former self."

In June 1918, the 1st East Lancashires took over the front line in the St. Floris sector (Nieppe Forest). A quiet period in the trenches was interrupted by a successful raid on the enemy lines over the night of 25th/26th June. After 31 days in the front area - 23 days of which had been spent in the front line - the battalion was brought back to Linghem for a period of training. It was here on 17th July that Cecil was appointed to the rank of Acting Captain.

Cecil's first responsibility of Company command came just one week later when "C" and "D" Companies were ordered to Calais to deal with an alleged disturbance in which about 60 deserters, armed with rifles and revolvers, had run amok and occupied the training area. In the event, the operation must have come as an anti-climax. The training area was surrounded on the night of the 25th/26th, with 2 platoons deployed on each of the four sides. Each side furnished a party of 15 men led by an officer to work towards the centre, searching all the trenches and dugouts. The search took only 25 minutes to complete, and resulted in the discovery of just one Private!

Cecil went up to the front line - on the edge of the Nieppe Forest north of Merville - for the last time on 14th August. Saturday the 17th was a fine day, "the usual day on a normal front line [which] passed without any unusual incident " according to the battalion's war diary. During the night of 17th/18th August, however, Cecil was caught in the explosion from a direct hit by an enemy trench mortar2.

After receiving early treatment for severe wounds to the legs and hands at a casualty clearing station at Aire, Cecil was taken by canal barge to Calais. On the 28th he was returned to England and admitted to the Prince of Wales' Hospital for Officers in Marylebone, London.

Cecil was still convalescing at Marylebone when the war ended on 11th November, and was demobilized with the rank of Captain on 25th April 1919.


  1. As the 1st East Lancashires marched away from the battle front, they passed another battalion preparing to take up a defensive position on the Ervillers-Hamelincourt road; this was the 11th Battalion, early in the manoeuvering that would end in the action at Ayette on 27th March. [back]
  2. Capt. William Frederick Matthews, on attachment from the South Wales Borderers, was the battalion's only fatality on 17th/18th August. It is likely that he was killed in the explosion that wounded Cecil Gay. Captain Matthews lies in Tannay British Cemetery, Thiennes (Plot 5, Row D, Grave 3). [back]

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