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Capt Arthur de Bells Adam (MC)
1885 - 1916


CPL David Wallace Crawford
1887 - 1916


Lce-Corpl John Joseph Nickle
1894 - 1916


Pte 17911 Morton Neill
1897 - 1916


Lieut Edward Stanley Ashcroft
1883 - 1918
Lieut Edward Stanley Ashcroft

L/Cpl 22311 Stephen Atherton


  • Age: 31
  • From: Birkenhead, Cheshire
  • Regiment: The King's (Liverpool Regiment) 20th Btn
  • K.I.A Sunday 30th July 1916
  • Commemorated at: Guillemont Rd Cem
    Panel Ref: III.J.5

Stephen was born in Birkenhead in the first quarter of 1885 the son of Stephen Atherton and his wife Margaret Ann (nee Dennis). He was baptised Stephen James at St Paul's Church, Birkenhead on 05th April 1885.

The 1891 Census shows the family living at Oliver Place, Birkenhead. Stephen is now 6 years of age and is living with his parents and 3 siblings. His father is shown as a general labourer born in Winsford in 1855, whilst his mother, margaret, was born in Birkenhead in 1854. His siblings are shown as; Margaret born 1880, James born 1888 and newborn Elizabeth.        

In 1899, at the age of 15, he started work as a groundsman for Oxton Cricket Club, and went on to become a professional cricketer with the club. He proved to be a good left-hand bowler, and figured prominently in the club's first team.

The 1901 Census shows the family living at 108 Oliver Street, Birkenhead. Stephen is now 17 and shown as a general labourer living with both parents and 3 younger siblings. They are listed as James 14, Elizabeth 12 and Ruby 4.

He married Mary Hadley at St John's Church, Birkenhead on 07th June 1908. Stehen was 24 and Mary was 25. They went on to have 4 children: Olive born 04th October 1909, Gerald William born 05th January 1911, Dorothy born 10th November 1912 and Jessie born 14th June 1914.  

The 1911 Census finds Stephen living with his wife and two children at 21 Barnston Street, Birkenhead. Stephen is now 26 and described as a groundsman, his wife Mary is 27 and their children are listed as Olive aged 1 and newborn Gerald William. Also living in the household is Stephen's sister Eliza.   

Stephen enlisted in Liverpool on the 10th November 1914 as a Private in the 20th Battalion of The King's Liverpool Regiment. He gave his occupation as "Gent" and his age as 29 years and 9 months. he is described as being 5'5 inches tall, weighed 116lbs and had a 35 inch chest. He had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. His religion is stated as Church of England.Further in his enlistment papers it states his employment as Groundsman (Oxton CC).  

Formed in November 1914 the 20th Battalion were originally billeted at Tournament Hall, Knotty Ash before on 29th January 1915 they moved to the hutted accommodation purposely built at Lord Derby’s estate at Knowsley Hall. On 30th April 1915 the 19th Battalion alongside the other three Pals battalions left Liverpool via Prescot Station for further training at Belton Park, Grantham. They remained here until September 1915 when they reached Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain. Stephen arrived in France on 7th November 1915. He was promoted to unpaid Lance-Corporal on 05/05/1915  which was ultimately changed to paid Lance Corporal on 01st July 1916.

On 30th July 1916, Stephen's battalion was to take part in an attack on the strongly fortified German held village at Guillemont on the Somme. His battalion was on the right of the 89th Brigade's ( 30th Division ) attack between the positions known as Arrow Head Copse and Maltz Horn Farm, in front of the village of Guillemont.The 20th King's advanced at 04.45 a.m., through thick mist, visibility being down to 10 yards. Their objective being the German trenches that stretched from the northem comer of Wedge Wood. This position was never reached. However, they did capture and consolidate all the German front line trenches within the boundaries of their attack. The 20th King's sustained 373 casualties during the attack. He was originally posted as Missing during the confusion following the disastrous attack. His death was assumed and confirmed by the military authorities on 03rd September 1916.

He was confirmed as being killed in action on the 30th July 1916 aged 31 and now rests at Guillemont Road Military Cemetery, France.

The events of 30th July 1916 were regarded at the time as Liverpool’s blackest day. There follows an extract from The History of the 89th Brigade written by Brigadier General Ferdinand Stanley which gives an indication of the events of the day.

30th July 1916

The 20th King’s Battalion Diary records:

“At 4.45am prompt the attack was launched. Unfortunately, a thick mist prevailed and it was impossible to see more than 10 yards ahead. This continued until about 6 o’clock when it lifted slightly, but it was still too hazy and impossible to see what was happening 100 yards ahead. This being so, it was not surprising to find that the attacking waves were experiencing great difficulty in maintaining connection.”

At 6am, Lt. RE Melly, No.1 Company, reported that his men had taken the German Maltz Horn trench.

At 6.30am, 2/Lt. CP Moore reported that he had 150 men, 4 Stokes Mortars and 2 Lewis Guns, but he was the only officer. He also said that due to the fog, both his “flanks were in the air” i.e. he was not in contact with neighbouring troops.

At 9.10am, Moore was still not in contact at his flanks, and now he had only 75 men, he had sent out 2 patrols and neither not returned. Later Moore established communication with the French on his right.

Around 10.00am, 2/Lt Musker reported that he had just over a company with him, but his left flank was suffering from German machine gun fire. Later he reported that he had over 30 casualties from the machine gun fire. His flanks were also “in the air”. No contact was made with this party until the remnants returned around 9.30pm, all runners sent were killed or missing. The War Diary states that this group had: ”held the ground won all day, and this permitted the consolidation of the ground won on the Maltz Horn ridge with little interference from the enemy”.

Relief for 20/Kings had been planned for 11.00pm, but it was 5.00am on the 31st July before it took place, ending a tragic day for the Liverpool Pals.

Casualties for 20th Battalion were 16 Officers and 357 Other Ranks

When darkness fell on the battlefield the 30th Division held a line from the railway on the eastern side of Trones Wood , southwards and including Arrow Head Copse, to east of Maltz Horn Farm. On this line the division was relieved by the 55th Division during the early hours of the 31st July.

 

The events of 30th July 1916 were regarded at the time as Liverpool’s blackest day. There follows an extract from The History of the 89th Brigade written by Brigadier General Ferdinand Stanley which gives an indication of the events of the day.

Guillemont

Well the hour to advance came, and of all bad luck in the world it was a thick fog; so thick that you couldn’t see more than about ten yards. It was next to impossible to delay the attack – it was much too big an operation- so forward they had to go. It will give some idea when I say that on one flank we had to go 1,750 yards over big rolling country. Everyone knows what it is like to cross enclosed country which you know really well in a fog and how easy it is to lose your way. Therefore, imagine these rolling hills, with no landmarks and absolutely unknown to anyone. Is it surprising that people lost their way and lost touch with those next to them? As a matter of fact, it was wonderful the way in which many men found their way right to the place we wanted to get to. But as a connected attack it was impossible.

The fog was intense it was practically impossible to keep direction and parties got split up. Owing to the heavy shelling all the Bosches had left their main trenches and were lying out in the open with snipers and machine guns in shell holes, so of course our fellows were the most easy prey.

It is so awfully sad now going about and finding so many splendid fellows gone.       

 

Following his death the company commander, Lieutenant Robert Denzil Paterson (a fellow member of Oxton Cricket Club, who was killed in action on 12th October, 1916) wrote the following letter to his widow:

" Your husband, I regret to inform you, was killed on July 30th.He was found and buried by the Divisional Salvage company, just south of ( Censored ) Wood, near ( Censored ). I received official information of this yesterday. You have my heartfelt sympathy, as I was fond of Atherton, and this splendid soldier always did his duty well"

Following his death Oxton Cricket Club published a notice intended to raise financial assistance for the family of Stephen. The notice was reproduced in Graham Maddocks' book Liverpool Pals as follows:

Oxton Cricket Club
Oxton
Birkenhead

We have learned with profound regret that ATHERTON was killed in action on July 30th.

He has been in the employ of the Cricket Club for fifteen years, and earned the esteem of all - as Cricketer, Groundsman and Professional.

He was one of the very first to join the colours on the outbreak of War, although a married man: and he leaves a wife and four little girls; the eldest aged 7 and the youngest 2 and a half years.

The Committee have decided to appeal for a Testimonial for the benefit of the Widow and Children and it is hoped that the necessary sum will accrue to enable them to carry out a proposal to hand over monthly, a sufficient amount to tide the Widow over the next six years, or until the children are in a position to assist the home by their own earnings.

We realise that there are many calls at teh present time, but feel that this one will appeal very directly to all members and friends of the Oxton Cricket Club.

Donations should be sent to and will be gratefully acknowledged by:-

G.E Goodwin President 

D N Hebblethwaite Hon. Treasurer

B K Stratton Acting Hon. Secretary     

Addresses were supplied to where donations could be sent. 

His widow Mary was awarded a military pension for herself and four children. She also received his medals, plaque and scroll and effects. Included in those effects was a precious photograph that the family had taken in 1915 of the children. Stephen carried it with him whilst he was serving.

In a Next of Kin document dated 10th December 1919 Mary detailed members of Stephen's immediate family as follows:

Children: Olive, Gerald William, Dorothy and Jessie all living with her at 4 Church Road, Higher Tranmere. His father also Stephen is shown to be living at 3 Westbourne Road, Birkenhead along with his son (Stephen's brother) James. His two sisters are also listed as Margaret of 29 School Place and Eliza of 9 School Place Birkenhead.

Probate records show: 

ATHERTON - Stephen of 1 Spring Villas, Oxton, Birkenhead. Lance Corporal in the 20th Battalion King's Liverpool Regiment died 30th July 1916 in France. Aministration (with Will) Chester 18th January (1917) to Mary Atherton, widow Effects £127 15s 7d.   

Stephen is commemorated on the following Memorial's.

St. Saviour's Church, Oxton, Birkenhead,  

Oxton Cricket Club (where he is incorrectly commemorated as J Atherton).

Birkenhead Cenotaph

A year after his death,  Stephen was remembered by his wife and children in the Liverpool Echo on 30th July 1917, under the heading, “Lost at Battle of Guillemont”:

“In loving memory of my dear husband, Lance-corporal Atherton, 20th K.L.R. (Pals), who was killed in action July 30, 1916. (Never forgotten by his Wife and Children and all at 4, Salisbury St., Birkenhead.) (One of the best.)”

Grateful thanks are extended to Peter Threlfall for biographical details provided in respect of Stephen.

It was a great pleasure to meet members of Stephen's family who were present at Guillemont Cemetery on the morning of 30th July 2016 to commemorate the Centenary of the battle.