53318 Private Joseph Hutchinson, 9th Battalion, Manchester Regiment was killed in action 23 March 1918 and is buried at Unicorn Cemetery, Vend’huile, France.  He was 36 years old and commemorated on Evenwood War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood.[1]

 Family Details

 Joseph was born 1883[2] at Evenwood to Matthew and Margaret Hutchinson.  There were 8 children, all born at Evenwood:

  • Clara bc.1880[3] at Evenwood
  • Joseph Theodore bc.1883
  • Ann Isabel bc.1884
  • Florence bc.1885
  • Charles Gladstone bc.1887
  • Ernest William bc.1889
  • Fredrick bc.1890
  • John Mathew bc.1894

Joseph had an older sister called Clara who does not appear on the 1901 census. The family lived at the Oaks, Evenwood and 51 year old Mathew worked as coal miner and farmer, 19 year old Joseph and 14 year old Charles were colliery labourers. [4]

By 1911, Mathew had died and Margaret lived at Evenwood Gate.  All the sons worked as coal miners.[5]

Military Details

Joseph Hutchinson enlisted at Bishop Auckland and appears to have joined the North Staffordshire Regiment being given the regimental number 48308.  At a later date he joined the 9th Battalion, the Manchester Regiment and was given the regimental number 53318.[6]   The service details of Private J.  Hutchinson have not been examined therefore the date he was transferred to the Manchester Regiment and the date he entered France remain unknown.

The 9th Battalion, the Manchester Regiment was formed in August 1914 in Ashton-under-Lyne as part of the Manchester Brigade, East Lancashire Division.  26 May 1915 it became part of the 126th Brigade, 42nd Division then 19 February 1918 it was transferred to the 198th Brigade of the 66th Division.[7]  At that time other units in the 198th Brigade (2nd East Lancashire) were:[8]

  • 2/4th Battalion, the East Lancashire joined November 1914 absorbed into the 4th Bn February 1918
  • 9th Battalion, the Manchesters joined November 1918, left as a cadre July 1918
  • 2/9th Battalion, the Manchesters joined November 1914 absorbed into 9th Bn February 1918
  • 203rd Machine Gun Company joined 12 March 1917, moved into 66 MG Bn 11th March 1918
  • 198th Trench Mortar Battery joined February 1917

The 66th Division formed part of the 19th Corps of the Fifth Army and were involved in the Battle of St. Quentin 21 – 23 March 1918.[9] The War Diaries of the 9/Manchesters have not been examined so the circumstances of his death also remain unknown.

 The German Spring Offensive:

First Phase 21 March to 5 April 1918 [10]

Often called “the Kaiserschlacht” the offensive was Germany’s last big effort to win the war before the arrival of American troops.  The U.S.A had declared war on Germany 6 April 1917 but it naturally took time to build up forces and prepare them for battle.  The Russians had signed for peace with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in December 1917 so the Germans could now transfer their battle hardened troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front and prepare to attack the Allied forces.

The German plan, Operation Michael was to punch through the British and French Armies at St. Quentin, cut through the Somme and then wheel north-west to cut the British lines of communication behind the Artois fronts to bottle up the BEF in the narrow neck of Flanders.  The British Army would be surrounded with no means of escape and would inevitable surrender.  The target of the first phase of the offensive was the British Army who the German High Command believed to be exhausted by the four major efforts of 1917, namely Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.

By mid February 1918, there were 177 German Divisions in France and Flanders out of their world wide total of 241.  Of these, 110 were in the front line of which 50 faced the short British front.  A further 67 were in reserve with 31 facing the BEF.  The British had 62 under strength divisions defending a recently extended front line.

At the same time as the German forces were growing, the British Army was depleted having faced a manpower crisis during the second half of 1917.  Lloyd George produced official figures to confirm that there were some 324,000 additional men on the Western Front (i.e. British and Dominion Forces) giving a total of 1,850,967 on the 1st January 1918 as opposed to 1,526,182 on the 1st January 1917 but the effective fighting strength had fallen by as much as 7% in the year.

The immense German attack on the 21st March 1918 enjoyed a numerical superiority of 56 Divisions against 16. German superiority was overwhelming.

The Battle of St. Quentin 21 – 23 March 1918 [11]

 The 66th (2nd East Lancs.) Division formed part of the XIX Corps of the Fifth Army defending the front line to the south of Roisel and north of Vermand.  The British Official History quotes a total of 177,739 casualties – men killed, wounded and missing.  Of these just under 15,000 died and of the 90,000 missing a very large proportion were taken prisoner as the Germans advanced. A high proportion of those who died have no known grave.  The greatest losses were:

  • 7,310 – the 36th (Ulster) Division
  • 7,149 – the 16th (Irish) Division
  • 7,023 – the 66th (East Lancs.) Division

All 3 formations were effectively destroyed and had to be taken out of the order of battle and rebuilt.  Six other Divisions each lost more than 5,000 men. German casualties for a period up to 30 April which includes the second phase i.e. the Battle of Lys is estimated as 348,300.  The XIX Corps faced 9 German Divisions on an 8 mile front which gave the enemy a superiority of 4.5 to 1: [12]

  • 21 March 1918: 4.40am: Heavy German artillery bombardment on the British front held by the First, Third and Fifth Armies.  The main weight of the attack was between Arras and a few miles south of St. Quentin.  Thick fog in the morning.
  • 7.00am and 9.40am: German infantry began to attack.
  • Enemy pushed quickly through the Forward Zone but is temporarily checked at Villeret by 2/6 Manchester.  Hargicourt held by 4/East Lancs. lost by 10.30am.  HQ of 2/8 Lancashire Fusiliers was captured.
  • Noon: The Germans captured the Fifth Army’s Forward Zone.  Those troops that had been holding this zone were mostly lost, either killed in the bombardment or by the advance of the enemy infantry.  Those taken prisoner would have been surrounded as the Germans advanced quickly, unseen in the fog.
  • Severe fighting continued between Grand Priel Wood and Templeux-le-Guerard. 2/7 Manchesters defended Brosse Wood for several hours and 2/6 Manchesters did the same at Fervaque Farm near Villeret until a flamethrower attack at 1.30pm.  Enemy pushed on but outran its own artillery cover and was halted on the Jeancourt-Hargicourt road.  To the north the German attack reached Templeux Quarries which held on until 5pm.
  • XIX Corps reinforced by 1st Cavalry Division.

The German advance continued into the 22 and 23 March and the 66th Division suffered heavy casualties which resulted in the Division being reduced to a training cadre, 9 April to 18 September 1918 then it was reformed and reconstituted.

Private Joseph Hutchinson was killed in action 23 March 1918.  Later research records that between 21 and 24 March 1918, the 9/Manchesters lost 5 officers and 74 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds.

Private J. Hutchinson was awarded the British War and Victory medals.

 News of “Missing”

The Evenwood Church Magazine reported:

“Joseph Hutchinson of Evenwood Gate is also missing and nothing has been heard of him for a considerable time.” [13]


Private Joseph Hutchinson is buried at grave reference III.C.10 Unicorn Cemetery, Vend’huile.  Vend’huile is a village about 19km north of St. Quentin and 24km south-east of Peronne, in the region of Aisne, France.  The cemetery was begun by the 50th (Northumbrian) Division after the village was taken 30 September 1918 and men of the 18th Division are buried there. After the Armistice, graves from other isolated burial sites were brought into the cemetery.  There are 1,008 burials and commemorations to servicemen of the First World War.   [14]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.198 Auckland 1883 Q4

[3] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.217 Auckland 1880 Q4

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Soldiers Died in the Great War, Medal Roll & 1918 April: Absent Voters’ List – Bishop Auckland Division – Evenwood Polling District L, Parish of Evenwood and Barony




[10] Various sources including




[13] Evenwood Church Magazine June 1918

[14] CWGC




HUTCHINSON J. Medals & Plaque

Medals & Plaque