2nd Bn Lancashire Fusiliers
Arras
1918

Lieut Bernard Matthew Cassidy V.C.

Birth: Aug. 17, 1892
Death: Mar. 28, 1918

World War I Victoria Cross Recipient. A native of East London, Cassidy served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. He was awarded the V.C. for action at Fampoux, east of Arras, during the "Kaiserschlact," the final series of last-ditch German offensives of the war. From his citation: "For most conspicuous bravery, self-sacrifice, and exceptional devotion to duty during an hostile attack. At a time when the flank of the division was in danger, Lt. Cassidy was in command of the left company of his battalion, which was in close support. He was given orders prior to the attack that he must hold on to his position to the last. He most nobly carried this out to the letter. The enemy came on in overwhelming numbers and endeavoured to turn the flank. He, however, continually rallied his men under a terrific bombardment. The enemy were several times cleared out of the trench by his personal leadership. His company was eventually surrounded, but Lt. Cassidy still fought on, encouraging and exhorting his men until he was eventually killed. By his most gallant conduct the whole attack was held up at this point and the left flank was undoubtedly saved from what might have been a disaster." His remains were never recovered. (bio by: Paul F. Wilson)
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Burial:
Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery
Arras
Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
Plot: Arras Memorial, Bay 5 (No Known Grave)



A very humbling pilgrimage: BEL MOONEY'S moving account of how she retraced her grandfather's footsteps on the Somme
By Bel Mooney (Daily Mail)

My grandfather used to like putting my blonde hair into tight pigtails. He’d joke that it was like plaiting his beloved horses’ tails and manes when he worked as a carter before World War One.
There were about 53,000 horses on the Western Front, too, but he didn’t like to talk about that. What’s more, I never asked him. How I regret never teasing memories from the man who loved me so much, and who fought in two wars to secure the freedoms we take for granted.
That’s why, last month, I decided to make my first-ever journey to Picardy in northern France, where Grandad served with the Lancashire Fusiliers. This year is the 95th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme: it was time for me to make a pilgrimage.

Poignant: Bel Mooney holds a photograph of her grandfather and his collection of medals at the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme
But how? I’ve never made the time (more regrets) to research where exactly Grandad was. All I know is he fought at the Somme (1916) and Ypres, the following year. To wander in an ill-informed way from graveyard to graveyard would be strange, since he was one of the lucky ones who went through hell, yet lived.

Poetry has always played a central part in my life. So what better introduction to the battlefields than to a join a tour to the Somme organised by the War Poets Association. A tour called, hauntingly, Fall In, Ghosts.
The aim was to study the poetry and contrasting battlefield experiences of two men: Isaac Rosenberg and Edmund Blunden, the former two years younger than Grandad, the latter two years older.

They couldn’t have been more different. Rosenberg was Jewish from a poor East End background, an ordinary ‘Tommy’ who experienced some anti-Semitism in the ranks. He was killed in April 1918.
Blunden was a young officer-poet who fought, like my grandfather, at the Somme and Ypres. He was gassed, but survived the war to become a distinguished academic and writer, haunted for ever by his battlefield experiences.

Loving relationship:
Although Bel was very close to her grandfather,
she never got to speak to him about his war experiences

 


We headed to the Channel Tunnel on a coach carrying more than 40 people, the oldest over 70, the youngest (Blunden’s great-grandson Jack) just 13.

Forty disparate strangers, lovers of history and poetry - including Blunden’s daughter, Margi Blunden, and Isaac Rosenberg’s nephew - on a shared journey of discovery. It was to be one of the most moving experiences of my life.
Inside my handbag I carried my grandfather’s picture, taken in 1919, his medals from two wars, and his Army Service Book and Prayer Book, from World War Two. Inside my mind was the poetry which, for me, gives a voice to working-class men like my grandfather who answered the call and marched away to war.
Men like him weren’t good with words, but what the poets had witnessed, they saw and suffered, too.
My grandfather, William Alfred Mooney, was born in Edge Hill, Liverpool, in 1898. His Irish grandfather had crossed the sea from Dublin, as so many did, in search of a better life. His father, also William Alfred, was difficult and a drinker — unsuited to bringing up the family after his wife died giving birth to her sixth.
Grandad was 13 then and, as the eldest, he took responsibility, drove the cart delivering hay and straw, and looked after his siblings. My father believes that his dad went to war in his own father’s place. That often happened, the names being the same, and the recruiting officers not being too fussy.
By autumn 1915, there was already a desperate need for men, and conscription began in January 1916. I sometimes wonder if Grandad was glad to get away. For young men like him, ignorant of the horror in store, to cross the Channel would have been a thrill.
I have a recollection of him telling me he knew Arras, where our tour group stayed. That was when I was learning French, and he was pleased to be able to tell me what an estaminet (which he pronounced ‘esstayminette’) was.
Young soldiers like him would have been drawn to such scruffy bars for a beer - a respite from what Blunden called ‘the maniac blast of barrage’.
'He was a handsome young man, with dark hair and a long, sensitive face. I imagine him wearing his khaki with pride, shining his buttons, shouldering his 80lb pack, and obeying orders without complaint. He was that kind of man.'There’s a family story that when Grandad went back to France in 1939 - then in the Royal Army Medical Corps - he revisited one estaminet and was recognised by the lady behind the bar, who called out: ‘It’s Willie, the little Fusilier!’
He was a handsome young man, with dark hair and a long, sensitive face. I imagine him wearing his khaki with pride, shining his buttons, shouldering his 80lb pack, and obeying orders without complaint. He was that kind of man.
My father recounts how, when Grandad was crawling across No Man’s Land, he heard groaning and spotted, in the flash of a shell, the insignia of the Lancashire Fusiliers on a slumped body nearby. Risking his life, he stood up to haul the badly wounded man on to his shoulders and get him back to the line.
As our coach travels through the peaceful countryside of Picardy, lit by the autumn sun, it is almost impossible to imagine the carnage that haunts our national consciousness.
Yet, when we stop, our tour leader points out a faint white zig-zag streaking across the ploughed earth of a field across the valley. This is the mark of a German trench, still visible after 95 years.


Over the top: British troops in action at the start of the Battle of the Somme - one of the bloodiest days in military history


The ground displays its wounds to those who know how to look. All over the battlefields of the Somme are small, faint signs of colossal human suffering and strife.
When we visit our first cemetery, at Le Touret, near Bethune, I’m suddenly overwhelmed by numbers. There are 915 burials in the peaceful colonnaded spot — but on the memorial panels there are more than 13,000 names of men who fell in this area before September 25, 1915 and have no known grave.
During the next couple of days, this feeling of awe would sweep over me again and again. How on earth could my grandfather have survived going over the top?

Every German machine-gun post taken cost 2,000 lives. Those guns fired 650 bullets a minute, and on that first terrible day of the Battle of the Somme — July 1, 1916 — 20,000 men were slaughtered by perhaps 100 German machine-guns.
In the hideous wasteland, there was no place to hide. By 5pm, when the German guns stopped, 58,000 British soldiers lay dead or dying. As Rosenberg put it: ‘Their shut mouths made no moan.’
You can read the devastating statistics, but there is nothing like standing in one of the military cemeteries of northern France to make you silent with an inconsolable, universal grief. And also to feel deeply proud of the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which honours the dead still, on a scale no other nation has achieved.
The pale, Portland stone tombstones stand shoulder-to-shoulder. The grass is clipped and shrubs bloom before each stone, even when the inscription says ‘Known only to God’.
During lulls in the shrieking horror of battle, both Isaac Rosenberg and Edmund Blunden heard birdsong. I hope my Grandad noticed it, too.

Touching: One of the cemetery at Delville Wood on the Somme
As we travel, sharing poetry aloud among the graves where scarlet roses nod in the breeze, I marvel at beauty created from horror. Yet that feeling of peace is accompanied by a profound sense of accident. What if these men had lived? What if William Mooney had been killed? Humbly, you realise you owe your identity to the sheer happenstance of war.
The picture I carry with me wasn’t taken until 1919. On the back, it states that Bill Mooney was then with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, serving in Cologne. A Scottish regiment. But why?
After the Somme, he served on the Flanders coast in mid-1917 but moved into the terrible Third Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele, in October. They had a monstrous time fighting around the village of Poelcapelle and facing Houthulst Forest, in the Ypres moonscape of deep mud and flooded shell-holes.
I think his regiment moved back to the Somme and saw action against the enormous German offensive on March 21, 1918. So heavy were the casualties that the Division was withdrawn from the battle-line, reduced to a training cadre from which it could be re-built.
I do not know where or how he must have celebrated on that first Armisitice Day, when the guns fell silent. But from the date of that photograph, he must have re-enlisted after the end of the war, when he’d surely have longed to go home, and been assigned to the new regiment as part of the army of occupation.
There was a financial incentive not to demob and Grandad needed money, for he was to marry his sweetheart in 1920. One day, in the trenches, he’d received a letter out of the blue. My grandmother, Ann Lewis, a maid, had switched to factory work for the war, and the girl on the next machine told her about her neighbour, a young soldier with nobody to write to him.
That soldier was William Mooney.
They finally met when he went back to Liverpool on leave, and their love lasted until she died in 1971.
As a child, I played with the silken postcards he’d sent her from France, thrown away when Nan and Grandad moved to Wiltshire in 1961. They wanted to forget.
But I am remembering with gratitude, as our party moves towards the massive Thiepval Monument to the missing of the Somme.
In the calm, healed landscape which still contains an unfathomable weight of shell and shrapnel, eight deer bound across a field in golden light, making me reflect on the fleet souls of our beloved dead.
There were moments on this journey I will never forget. We stood by the grave of Isaac Rosenberg and heard his sister’s son (who had never visited the grave) struggle through tears to pay tribute to his uncle then read his greatest poem, Break Of Day In The Trenches.
Standing by the grave of one of Edmund Blunden’s comrades, we hear a lyrical poem by great-grandson Jack, who begs war not to ‘visit’. At last we arrived at Thiepval, one of the fortress villages held by the Germans. Blunden recorded that: ‘Thiepval wood leaps with flame.’
It was chosen as the location for the Memorial to the Missing, to commemorate those who died in the Somme sector before March 20, 1918 and have no known grave.
There are more than 72,000 names on the panels of the massive arched monument. My husband and I find the Lancashire Fusiliers. I gaze on the names of the fallen whose families could never lay them to rest.
There are 20 columns containing nearly 2,000 names. I look for the Irish ones, the Murphys, O’Briens and Rooneys, and imagine ‘our Bill’ striking a Lucifer match to share a Woodbine (cupped within his hand) with J. Moodie or A. Moore.
‘Did you know any of these poor men, Grandad?’ I whisper.
And then, on the ground, I notice the poppy wreath - one among many, because we’re so near Remembrance Sunday. But something makes me kneel to read this one’s label, which says: ‘In memory of the grandfather I never knew.’
My eyes flood, and all poetry seems contained in those words. As Wilfred Owen memorably wrote: ‘The Poetry is in the Pity.’
That grandchild never had plaits made by gentle hands, or was given a shilling to spend on sweets. How lucky I was. My grandfather survived - a good man who walked along a beach with me collecting pebbles, told silly jokes, dreamed of winning the pools, grafted hard (working on ambulances after WWII), and lived for his family, surviving to cradle two great-grandchildren in arms which once carried weapons.
He never talked about the Somme, or being wounded at Dunkirk. He enjoyed his half pint on a Friday, and humble delights of the present, and died with his stories in 1984.
What can you say about men like William Mooney - and the ones who never returned? Only that ‘We will remember them’.

Taken from the Daily Mail 7th November 2011