Colonel Percy Wilfrid Machell - Commanding Officer 1914-1916

Colonel P.W. Machell, C.O. Lonsdale Battalion


 Lord Lonsdale  Major W.W.R.Binning

Not long after the outbreak of the Great War , the Earl of Lonsdale submitted a proposal to the War Office to raise a battalion of Cumberland and Westmorland men for service in the war. On the 17th September 1914 the approval was received from the Army Council in War Office letter No.20/Gen No./3162(A.G.I.). An executive committee was then formed to raise the "Lonsdale Battalion" with Lord Lonsdale as chairman, Colonel Weston M.P. Vice Chairman; Major W.W.R. Binning, Mr F.R. Hodgson and Captain Wakefield as convenors of the local committees and Mr Gerald Spring-Rice as Honorary Secretary.
The local committees were based in Carlisle, Workington and Kendal. On September 1st 1914 command of the Lonsdale Battalion was given to Mr P.W. Machell C.M.G., age 52, of Crackenthorpe Hall, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

He was to mould the Lonsdales in to a fighting unit and make warriors out of the men of
Cumberland and Westmorland and tightly bond them to him and the battalion in the days to come.

Crackenthorpe Hall today Percy Wilfrid Machell was born 5th December 1862 at Glanford Brigg Lincolnshire. The Machell family descend from Matus Catalus (456AD) a Roman Centurion at Kirbythore Roman fort near Crackenthorpe. Crackenthorpe Hall was the family seat from 1100 to 1708, when they sold it to Lord Lonsdale. Crackenthorpe Hall was the ancesteral home of the Machell family. The original house was built before the fifteenth century and has had a number of alterations over the years. When the Lancastrians were defeated by the Yorkists at the Battle of Hexham in 1464, King Henry VI sought refuge here as the guest of the Machells and is said to have spent his time gardening. One of the flower beds is known as the King's Garden and one of the rooms is called the King's Bedchamber. The ghost of Peg Sleddal (ne Elizabeth Sleddale, who had been married to Lancelot Machell) is said to ride a carriage and six horses through Crackenthorpe when the Helm wind blows down from the Pennines during September.

 Captain J.O. Machell  Roger V. Machell 1914
Captain James Octavia Machell (1837-1902), formerly of the 14th Foot (Prince of Wales Own Regiment of Yorkshire) a well known racing owner and trainer, Derby Winner in 1876 with "Hermit", bought the Hall back in 1877 and on his death in 1902 left it to his nephew Percy Wilfrid Machell. The Machells had returned to Crackenthorpe Hall.


Percy was the son of Canon Rev. Richard Beverley Machell, who was from Scarborough and his mother Emma Willoughby (married Malton, Yorkshire, 1850) was from Radford, Nottinghamshire, she was the sister of Lord Middleton. Percy attended Clifton College in Bristol. Percy Wilfred Machell married Princess Victoria Alice Leopoldine(Valda) Countess Of GLEICHEN (b: 28 Nov 1868 in St James' Palace, Westminster, Middlesex, England) the daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, Prince Victor of Hohenlohe, Langenbur, R.N. , G.C.B. and relative of Queen Victoria( this, I think, shows the many connections across the royal courts of Europe at the time as quite a few of our nobility were German by origin, inc the Royal Family), on 5th December 1905 ( his 43rd birthday). Their son, Roger Victor Machell was born on 23rd July 1908.

Colonel Percy Wilfrid Machell was a man who had much soldiering experience in the far flung reaches of the British Empire. In 1882 he joined the 56th(Essex) Regiment- they still went by numbers then and in 1884-5 served in the Nile Expeditionary Force(awarded medal with clasp and bronze star) . In 1886 he was attached to the Egyptian Army and commanded at the capture of Fort Moussa, for which he was awarded the Order Of Osmanieh, 4th Class and in operations near Suakin and action at Gemaizah, in the Sudan, in 1888 (clasp, horse shot) under him. In the Sudan in 1889-91, he took part in the Toski Expedition,as Brigade Major, No.2 Column, took part in the capture of Tokar ( awarded clasp, clasp on bronze star, Medjidie,4th class). He also raised and commanded the 12th Sudanese Battalion from 1891-95. This experience I feel sure will have been vital in his selection for raising and commanding the Lonsdales on the outbreak of the Great War, in no small part due to the abilities shown at this time.
In 1896 he became Inspector General of the Egyptian Coastguard, then Advisor to the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior from 1898-1906, receiving the Grand Cordon of Medjidie in 1902 and the C.M.G in 1906. Having married in 1905, he appears to have settled down in Crackenthorpe Hall, Westmorland to raise a family, his army career behind him, as a gentlemen landowner.
Events in Europe in the next decade had other ideas and when it came to it even at 52, Colonel Machell heeded the call of his country. He put his Sudan experience to good use and took up the task of raising and commanding the Lonsdale Battalion.

 P.W.Machell-entry in Warloy Baillon  Communal Cemetery register

Work was began on the camp At Blackhall on 25th September 1914, by Major Binning, Captain Sale and 75 recruits, who were to form the basis of A and B Companies. D Company in Workington took in recruits from West Cumberland under Mr Hodgson, Mr Highton and Mr J.McKay.On October 15th 1914, they moved to Battn HQ at Blackhall Camp. On 17th October 1914, Lieutenant Colonel Machell and the Orderly Room and Quartermaster Lieutenant Dawson, moved from Penrith to Blackhall Camp. Training now proceeded apace and under Colonel Machells guidance a group of civilians were turned into soldiers, soldiers with a bond of shared background and roots and a determination to do their bit for the nation.
On 3rd December 1914, the War office in War Office Letter No.20/Infy./635 (A.G.1) became the 11th(Service) Battalion, Border Regiment( Lonsdale). They were attached to the 124th Brigade under Brigadier General Collings, on 10th December 1914.
At Kendal Captain Wakefield enrolled recruits for C Company which included two Kendal platoons and on Windermere and one North Westmorland platoon. When Capt Wakefield left to go to war, Colonel Haworth took over and commanded the company until it joined the Battalion at Blackhall on 5th January 1915.
With all the Lonsdales at Blackhall, training stepped up and under the direction of Col. Machell a battalion was formed which would give a good account of itself in the fight to come, just like it's Commanding Officer.

 Blackhall Camp, Racecourse, Carlisle

On the 16th March 1915 the Battalion was transferred to 112th Brigade under Brigadier General Mackenzie, but on May 8th 1915, they finally left Blackhall to join 97th Infantry Brigade, under Brigadier General Hacket Thompson C.B.. They moved to Prees Heath Camp, Shropshire. The other battalions in 97th Brigade were, the 15th ,16th, and 17th Highland Light Infantry.This was the brigade the Lonsdales were to be with at the Battle of the Somme and for most of the war, as part of the 32nd Division Fourth Army under Major General Rycroft. On 22nd June 1915, they moved to Leyburn Camp, Wensleydale, Yorkshire under canvas along with the rest of 97th Brigade, training until August including a weeks musketry training at Stensall Camp near York.

 Leyburn Camp, Wensleydale, Yorkshire


Between the 5th and 11th August 1915, the Lonsdale moved to Salisbury Plain with the 32nd Division for divisional training and Colonel Jardine of the 5th Lancers was appointed to command the 97th Brigade. Between 9th and 13th August 1915, Colonel Machell and other 97th Brigade C.O.'s left for France to visit the trenches of the Western Front.
On the 23rd November 1915, the Battalion sailed for France at 1 a.m. from Folkestone to Boulogne, aboard the Princess Victoria. They entrained the next day for Longpre and then marched during late November/ early December to the Albert area where they were billeted around Aveluy, close behind the front lines they were to attack from on July 1st. Now a process of "blooding" the men to the Western Front was begun.
Colonel Machell was very proud of his men and very concerned they should show their worth as fighting men - some of his diary quotes from the period show this -
Col. Machell and Capt. Smith

On marching to the front-
"Very good, moving on gradually so the men get used to billeting.
It's a big change for the lads, accustomed to having
everything done for them. Their minds move slowly and
they think it's still training, so far we have got along
first rate, much better than others."

On their blooding in the trenches, 14th Dec-
"They are in good form and prepared to look smiling under
all circumstances. I had a talk yesterday on the futility
of grousing and the necessity of making the best of the
worst of everything. Sandbags much wanted. I have been
in the trenches a lot today and seen how useful a private
supply would be.Having difficulty in keeping the walls
standing owing to the quantity of water and there is
nothing like sandbags."

On the 19th December-
"All my Companies in the firing line now, as Companies
attached to other Battalions and I go out daily to
see them. I am glad....I was pleased with this glimpse
of the Lonsdales. They certainly are behaving extremely
well and it is a very severe trial at first. All will
be more comfortable when our division takes over.
C.O.'s are well enough off, always apparently having
pretty good dugouts and a chance of drying up, but I
feel very bad about the men and one cannot do enough
for them"



The Lonsdales remanined around the Authuille/ Aveluy/Albert area for most of the early part of 1916, including a month in isolation at Contay Wood when the battalion had an outbreak of measles. They carried out a raid on 5th June 1916, on the Leipzig Salient, the object being to take prisoners and find out information about the trenches opposite. The raid was a success with prisoners and vital information on the German defences of the Granatloch quarry, which they were to attack in the v coming "Big Push". Unfortunately, Lieutenant W.S. Barnes was killed in this raid along with 5 men, 17 wounded and 1 missing , Lieutenant Barnes was killed returning to No Man's Land for a revolver lost during the raid.
Colonel Machell wrote -
"The success of the enterprise was due to the great care he (Lieut. Barnes) took in training the party, and his leadership up to the end was most splendid. Complete success last night, only unfortunately Barnes was killed just before they got back, with five others. We took eleven prisoners alive and about 25 others killed. Men did splendidly and I have telegrams from the Division, Corps and Army, today."


Now the preparations for the "Big Push" on the Somme were well under way. The bombardment began on 24th June 1916, the day the Lonsdales took over the Authuille sector from the Manchester Regiment. This was the area they were to attack just after zero hour. The Lonsdales were to follow up the initial assault by the Highland Light Infantry and on reaching the German lines, turn to the east and assault capture the German Advance H.Q. at Mouquet(or Mucky) Farm. Colonel Machell realised that this was an enormous task, probably difficult enough if all went to plan, but plans rarely go straighforward in battle, and if performed under any sort of heavy defensive fire, it was likely to prove very costly. The trenches opposite were only part of the problem as the German line doglegged to the right of the proposed advance, giving the Germans enfilade fire over the area the Lonsdales were to operate in, as they advanced up a slope across open ground. Prophetically Colonel Machell was to write in his final instructions to his Officers - "If it goes badly, I shall come up and see it through".

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