‚ÄčRoyton Roll of Honour

Joseph Cope was born in Staffordshire, probably in Leek in 1891. His mother was Esther and it's unclear if Cope was her maiden name or she was married and Joseph's father subsequently died. What can be said with certainty is that by the 1901 census he was living in Oldham as Joseph Whitehead - and had at various points prior to that lived in Hollinwood and Shaw. His father (or step father) was James Whitehead who at the time was a gas works labourer. Joseph was the eldest of the family's four children, he had three sisters - Hannah, Mary and Ellen. By 1911 the Whitehead's were living on Clare Street in the Luzley Brook area of Royton & Joseph was a piecer at a cotton mill - most probably the nearby Belgian Mill as this is where he was employed in 1914.
Joseph joined up in August 1914 and was originally posted to the Lancashire Fusiliers before being transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment. The battalion had been in France since November 1914 and had taken part in heavy fighting around Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, suffering 287 casualties. Joseph was one of the 110 'other ranks' reinforcements that joined the battalion on April 10th 1915.
In Spring 1915 it was decided that the British needed to launch attacks to show the French that they were doing their bit. The French Army had suffered massive casualties since the outbreak of war in 1914 and it was felt that it was important for it to be seen that Britain was shouldering some of their ally's burden. The first result of this strategy was the set piece battle at Neuve Chapelle in March which had been successful up to a point and had had the desired effect of forcing the Germans to bring in reinforcements from other areas. It was decided to go again in May 1915 (even though the Second Battle of Ypres was still raging to the north), this time at Aubers Ridge. The Battle of Aubers Ridge was to be a two pronged assault on the German positions there - a slightly raised area of ground that commanded views down upon the British lines, this was to be in support of a larger French offensive at nearby Vimy.
The German positions that the 2nd East Lancs, and other British & Indian units, had to attack were heavily fortified. There was to be a 40 minute long artillery bombardment & then the Brigades (including the 24th that included Joseph's battalion) leading the attack would advance, some 6000 yards apart, in a pincer movement which would roll back the German front line and then they would advance to take the enemy positions on Aubers Ridge some 1.5 miles ahead of the starting positions.
That is how, on paper, the assault was supposed to happen. What actually transpired was an unmitigated disaster for the British Army. No ground was won and no tactical advantage gained. It's also doubtful if it had any effect whatsoever in assisting the main French attack.
The men of the 2nd East Lancs were faced with 300 yards of no mans land to get across before they got to the German trenches. C & B Companies were to lead the assault, with D Company in immediate support. A Company was held back in reserve. The men went over the top at 05:20, not to immediately attack the Germans but they were to advance under cover of the artillery bombardment to 80 yards from the German line and then lie down and await the end of the bombardment. Heavy machine gun fire hit the lead platoons as soon as they emerged above the parapet with many men getting no further. Regrouping, the 3 companies charged forward again at 05:40 but were mown down by incredibly heavy fire from 8 machine guns and also rifle fire before most had got even 25 yards. The survivors crawled back, if they could, to the front trench and sap (a trench leading out into no mans land towards the enemy positions). A further artillery bombardment was requested in preparation for another attempt by the 2nd East Lancs scheduled for 07:30. In the meantime the 1st Sherwood Foresters (who had been planned to follow up behind a successful East Lancs attack) were ordered to attack across the same ground at 06:10, elements of this battalion got as far as the unbroken enemy wire but there without shelter were wiped out. One of the Sherwood Foresters in the attack, James Upton, was to win the Victoria Cross for his actions.
When the British bombardment started up again the shells were falling well short of the German lines and were instead inflicting heavy casualties on the 2nd East Lancs, the battalion's war diary stating that they were being 'annihilated by our own artillery'. The men were forced to withdraw further to escape the shellfire & there was no third attempt. At 01:00 on May 10th the shattered remnants were withdrawn from the front lines to bivouac and reorganise. Joseph Cope was dead along with 134 others from the battalion. At least 325 further men were wounded.
A conversation was recording taking place later in the morning between General Rawlinson (the Corps Commander) & Brigadier Oxley (in charge of the 24th Brigade which included the 2nd East Lancs)

Rawlinson:"This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters?Where are the East Lancashires on the right?"
Oxley:"They are lying out in no-man's-land,sir,and most of them will never stand again'.

It was not until July that Joseph's mother was informed that he was missing and believed dead. She then got final confirmation in March 1916 that he was indeed dead.

The other men from the 2nd East Lancs to die that day were:

ALLEN PERCY 25 Lieutenant from London
ASTLEY JOHN 26  Lance Corporal 9894 from Blackburn
AUSTIN THOMAS Private 5510 from Haslingden
BAILEY ARTHUR 27 Private 9690 from South Bank,Yorks
BANKS HAROLD 19  Private 10573 from Montgomeryshire
BARRITT WILLIAM  Private  4939 from Brierfield
BASS ALBERT Private 10150 from Great Harwood
BATES JAMES 34  Private 19376 from Oldham
BEECH EDMUND 20 Private 21141 from Todmorden
BERRY ANDREW 18 Private 5431 from Blackburn
BLADES JOHN Private 4255 from Nelson
BLIGH ERIC Second Lieutenant        
BRANDON THOMAS Private 13842 from Blackburn
BURNIE JOHN 34 Private 12370 from Preston
BURNS FRANCIS Private 10349 from Burnley
CAFFERY  PHILIP Private 9729 from Tuam, Co.Galway
CASSON  WILLIAM  37 Private 5931 from Preston
CATTERALL LEWIS  Private 19505 from Bolton
CHARNLEY JOSEPH Private 5671 from Blackburn
CLARK SAMUEL Private 12345 from Burnley
CLAY LEONARD 30  Serjeant 8737 from Leeds
CLEGG FRED Private 19538 born Sheffield, lived Belfast
COOK JOSEPH 34  Private 17491 from Nelson
COPESTAKE RICHARD Serjeant 19350 from Liverpool
COWIE EDWARD 32 Private 19377 from Todmorden
COWLEY THOMAS 23 Private 19433  from Warrington
CRANE JAMES 22  Private 19399 from Dukinfield
CROSS THOMAS Private 9632 born London
CULLEN  EDWARD  Private 10909 born Burnley
CURD REGINALD Private 17702 from London
DAW THOMAS Lieutenant from London
DIGGLE WILLIAM  29 Private 8257 from Ramsbottom
DOTHIE ELVERY 23 Second Lieutenant from Ilford
DUCKWORTH JAMES 18 Private 17575 from Nelson
EMMETT JOB 19  Lance Corporal  5109 from Burnley
FISHER  JOHN 20  Private 19446 from Manchester
FLETCHER ROBERT 21 Private 5338  from Barnoldswick
FOGG THOMAS Private 19441 from Manchester
FRY WILFRED Private 11033 from Hull
GIBNEY  MICHAEL  36 Private 19530 (SERVED AS GILBANY).from Co.Galway
GILMOUR EDWARD Private 21159 from Salford
GOODALL GEORGE 21 Second Lieutenant from London
GOUGH HARRY Private 19560 from Manchester
GRAY FREDERICK  24 Lance Corporal 9962  from Surrey
GRAY LOUIS Private 9133 from Wandsworth
GUTHRIE JOHN 18  Private 19384 from Manchester
HAFFENDEN STEPHEN 24 Private 10253 from Horsham
HAGAN PATRICK 35 Private 641 from Bolton
HAMMILL MALCOLM 19 Private 5423 from Nelson
HARPIN OSWALD Private 21073 from Bolton
HARRIS GEORGE 24 Lance Corporal 9927 born India.Lived in Cambridge
HARRISON FRED 24 Private 17747 from Atherton
HART JOHN Lance Corporal 10971 from Darwen
HAWKINS  ALBERT 30 Private 10393 from Peckham
HEARN ALBERT Private 19366 born Pendleton
HICKS ARTHUR Serjeant 9043 born Warwick
HILL THOMAS 27 Serjeant   10423 from London
HITCHON  JAMES Private 9801 from Clitheroe
HOCKING  JAMES 40 Private 17825  from Portsmouth
HODGKINSON JAMES 33 Private 19438 from Wigan.Served 14 yers in Lancashire Fusiliers
HOLMES  CHARLES  30 Serjeant 19352 from Manchester
HOLT JOSEPH Private 4757 from Colne
HOWARD JOHN Private 19524 from Manchester
HOWARD WILLIAM 16 Lance Corporal 5410 from Ramsbottom
HOWELL HERBERT Second Lieutenant        
JACKSON  THOMAS  21 Private 5451  from Blackburn
JACKSON  WILLIAM  23 Lance Corporal 10248  from Ramsbottom
JARRETT FRANK  21 Private 19545 from Pendleton.2 brothers also killed in WW1
JONES EDWARD 21  Private  11078 from Colne
JUDSON  THOMAS Private  21161 from Burnley
KEALEY  JAMES Private 12357 born Middlesbrough,enlisted Darwen
KENYON  WILLIAM  Private 19476 from Farnworth
KETT ROBERT 26 Private 9122 from Cambridge
KIRK WILLIAM 20 Private  19500 from Bolton
LLOYD WILLIAM Private 17682 from Liverpool
LOCO JOHN Serjeant 19469 from Manchester
LONG SIDNEY 19  Private 5378 from Preston
LONSDALE THOMAS 25 Private 12514 from Nelson
LOWCOCK  GEORGE 20 Private 10360  (SERVED AS BROWN). From Nelson
LUMB THOMAS Private 8749 from Cambridge
LYONS THOMAS 31 Private  14761 from Haslingden
LYONS THOMAS E 23 Private 17004  from Haslingden.Cousin of above?
MANKIN SEPTIMUS 23 Private 10106 from South Shields
MARGERISON JOHN  Private  10575 from Withington,Manchester
MATTARS  CHARLES  22 Lance Corporal 6400 from Pendleton
MATTHEWS JOHN  Lance Corporal 9782 from Sheffield
MOORE WILLIAM 22 Serjeant 10618  from Colne
McGOVERN JAMES  Private  13168 born Enniskillen,lived in Manchester
McTAGGART WILLIAM 24 Private 9851 from Co.Down
NORTON  ALFRED 20 Second Lieutenant from Fulham
NUTTALL  JOHN Private 12617 from Manchester
O'NEILL  JOHN 37  Private  11425 from Warrington
PARSISSON GEORGE 21 Corporal 19470 from Bolton
PEARCE    WILLIAM 18 Private 5313    from Burnley
PICKERING CORNELIUS 38 Private 11486 from Blackburn
POPE GEORGE 22    Private    19573 from Bacup
POYNTON RICHARD  25 Private 11232 from Blackburn
PRESTON  WILLIAM  Private  6570 from Burnley
QUINE JAMES Private 17620 born Isle of Man,enlisted in South Africa
RICHARDSON WALTER 41 Captain son of a Major General
RILEY LEONARD Private 10350 from Bolton
RILEY PATRICK Private 6917 born Bury
RUCKER  HERBERT  Private 19372 from Manchester
RUSSELL LEONARD    42 Major from Gravesend
RUST ALFRED 26 Lance Corporal  9281 from Southall
SARGEANT JAMES Lance Corporal  9496 from London
SARGENT  JOHN  Private  12201 born Blackburn,lived in Falkirk
SCHOALES GEORGE  Serjeant 9694 from King's Co.,Ireland
SCOTT EDWARD 42  Private  6258 from Clitheroe
SCOTT JAMES Private 6524 born Preston
SHANNON  THOMAS  Private  5805 from Burnley
SHERIDAN GEORGE  24 Private 9849  from Sligo
SHIPLEY    ALBERT  19 Private 19420 from Blackburn
SHONK FREDERICK  Lance Corporal  9903 from Ramsgate
SKINNER  WALTER  24 Private 9127  from Cambridge
SLATER WILLIAM Private  6919 from Blackburn
SMITH JAMES 35  Private  7760 from Middleton
SMITH WILLIAM 45 Private 6126 from Nelson.Boer War veteran
SOWDEN  SAMUEL 32 Private 19415  from Burnley
STEVENS  ERNEST Private  9700 from Bristol
TATE HERBERT Private 9267 from London
TAYLOR  EDWIN  25 Private 19412 born Oldham, lived in Radcliffe
TAYLOR  WILLIAM  32 Private 6542  from Longsight, Manchester
THOMAS  FRANCIS 32 CSM 7888 born Bolton, lived in Blackburn
THOMPSON ALFRED Private  9997 from London
TIMEWELL FREDERICK 20 Private 19576 from Moston, Manchester
TOPPING  HENRY 26 Private 9443 from Lisburn
WARD THOMAS 23 Private  9501 from Hull
WHITHAM  JOHN Lance Corporal 6714 from Rawtenstall
WHITTAKER JAMES  26 Private 19461 from Salford
WINSTANLEY JOSEPH 23 Private 16861 from Upholland
WOODCOCK SIMEON  Private  7999 from Darwen
WORSWICK ALBERT  27 Lance Corporal 10024  from Darwen

Service No:19421
Date of Death:09/05/1915
Regiment:East Lancashire Regiment
Unit:2nd Bn.
Ploegsteert Memorial
Panel Reference:Panel 6