Sergeant Joseph Lister VC

1st Bn Lancashire Fusiliers
Fundraising Appeal


2017 Commemoration
Through September and October 2017 the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers will commemorate the Third Battle of Ypres more popularly known as Passchendaele. In Lancashire the commemoration will focus on the experience of Sergeant Joseph Lister of the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers

Sergeant Joseph Lister in action at Poelcapelle, Belgium on 9th October 1917 and the proposed design for the memorial to be constructed at the same location in 2017

Fundraising Appeal
In Belgium on Saturday 30th September 2017, a monument will be unveiled at the site of Joseph Lister's 1917 act of gallantry, which led to the award of the Victoria Cross. The ceremony will be attended by the Burgemeester of Langemark-Poelcapelle, the Governor of West Flanders, representatives from the City of Salford and the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The purchase of the land and the construction of the memorial will cost £5,000. The Lancashire Headquarters is therefore making an appeal for contributions towards the cost.

Local Commemorations
In Salford, where he was born, at a date to be decided in October 2017, Joseph Lister will be commemorated by the dedication of a memorial stone. At Willow Grove Cemetery near Stockport, where Joseph Lister is buried, a celebration of his life will take place on Saturday 4th November 2017. Finally, the commemoration will include a small exhibition on Joseph Lister in the Fusilier Museum Bury and at the Salford Museum and Art Gallery.

Profile of Joseph Lister VC
Joseph Lister was born at 65 Fenney Street, Higher Broughton, Salford, (about a mile from the Broughton Detachment of Greater Manchester Army Cadet Forces) on 19 October 1886, the son of Joseph and Nancy Lister (nee Gee). His father had a book-keeping business in Burnage, Manchester and had moved to Higher Broughton in 1881. In 1896 they moved to Longsight, before settling at 17 Ash Street, Harpurhey, Manchester. Following his marriage, he and his wife Harriet moved to Reddish near Stockport where Joseph gained employment at Lowe's Chemical Works. At the outbreak of the Great War he enlisted in the Lancashire Fusiliers and was posted to the 1st Battalion. The 1st Battalion had fought in the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 where it had been awarded the famous, "Six Victoria Crosses before Breakfast" and taken part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916 in which Lister was wounded. By October 1917, Lister had rejoined the Battalion which found itself in Belgium preparing to take part in the Third Battle of Ypres, what would become popularly known as Passchendaele.

The 1st Battalion moved about 10 miles up to the start line from Vlamertinge during the night of the 8th/9th October and despite a number of platoons getting lost the battalion was in position at 0510hrs for a Zero Hour of 0520hrs. The weather was appalling with record levels of torrential rain which when combined with broken drainage systems, produced extremely difficult going for the troops. Just as dawn was breaking, the barrage opened and the attacking waves moved forward. Seven minutes later a German counter-barrage came down. However, the major opposition came from German machine guns operating from pill-boxes in strong-points situated to the south and east of a position known as Olga Houses. The citation for the Joseph Lister's Victoria Cross best described what followed:
For most conspicuous bravery in attack during a violent thunderstorm at Passchendaele Ridge, Belgium on 9th October 1917, during the 3rd Battle of Ypres, when advancing to the first objective, his company came under machine gun fire from the direction of two "pill -boxes". Seeing that the galling fire would hold up our advance and prevent our troops keeping up with the barrage, 8133 Sergeant Lister dashed ahead of his men and found a machine-gun firing from a shell-hole in front of the pill-box. He shot two of the enemy gunners and the remainder surrendered to him. He then went on to the pill-box and shouted to the occupants to surrender. They did so with the exception of one man, whom Sergeant Lister shot dead, whereupon about a hundred of the enemy emerged from a shell hole further to the rear band surrendered.
This non-commissioned officer's prompt act of courage enabled our line to advance with hardly a check and to keep up with the barrage, the loss of which might have jeopardized the whole course of the local battle.

By about 1000hrs the 1st Battalion had accomplished its task, but with the loss of all but five of the company's officers and about half of the total of other ranks.

After the war he became a postman in Reddish and later worked at Craven's a local firm as a watchman. At the outbreak of the Second World war he re-joined the Lancashire Fusiliers. Following the Second World War, he lived at 25 David Street, Reddish and following retirement became a school crossing warden. He died on 19th January 1963 aged seventy-six. Following a service at St Elizabeth's Church, Reddish, he was buried in Willow Grove Cemetery (grave P/9931)
Third Ypres
In 1917, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the Commander in Chief of the British and Empire Forces argued that Flanders was the best site to launch a major British offensive. Success would ease pressure on the main British cross-channel routes and enable British Forces to seize the strategically important Roulers rail junction just a few miles behind the German lines. Seizing the Passchendaele Ridge was crucial to the plan as it would not only open up the route to Roulers but also take the pressure of the hard pressed British Army defending Ypres, whose trenches were overlooked by the Germans dug in on the Passchendaele ridge. The Campaign was in two phases, the first in June 1917 successfully cleared the Messine Ridge, south of Ypres. It was followed between July and November by the battle to clear the ground that overlooked Ypres known as the Passchendaele Ridge. The battle opened up on 31st July and closed on 10th November 1917.

Lancashire Fusiliers in the Campaign
The small village of Poelcappelle is situated some six miles to the north west of Ypres located on the Passchendaele Ridge between the villages of Langemark and Passchendaele. On the 9th October it would be the objective for the two regular battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who for the first and only time in the history of the Regiment would fight side by side. Four Territorial Battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers played a part including the 3/5th Bury, 2/6th Rochdale, 2/7th and 2/8th Salford. A "New Army" Service Battalion (19th Salford) worked close behind the lines. For their actions on the day, the Lancashire Fusiliers were awarded a Victoria Cross, two Distinguished Service Orders, two bars to the Military Cross, 13 Military Crosses, one bar to the distinguished Conduct Medal, 13 Distinguished Conduct Medals, one bar to the Military Medal and 113 Military Medals. The casualties included 67 officers and 1,539 other ranks killed, wounded and missing.

The Battle
On July 18th 1917, a heavy artillery barrage was launched at the German lines. This lasted for ten days. Three thousand artillery guns fired over four million shells. The infantry attack started on July 31st. The main assault was led by Sir Hubert Gough's Fifth Army. To their left were units from the French First Army led by Anthoine and to Gough's right was the Second Army led by the victor of Messines, Sir Herbert Plumer. The Allied attack, launched across an eleven-mile front, made small gains. The artillery bombardment destroyed the drainage system and shell craters filled with water. Then to make matters even worse, in the early days of August, the area was saturated with the heaviest rain the region had seen for over 50 years. Flanders became effectively a swamp. Infantry soldiers found movement very difficult and tanks, inherently unreliable, found the ground impossible and were of little use.

Between October 9th and October 12th, two battles were fought, Poelcappelle and the First Battle of Passchendaele. In addition to the bad weather, the situation became even worse when Russia withdrew from the war and German troops, who had been fighting on the Eastern Front, were moved to the Western Front to reinforce the Passchendaele Ridge and block the British advance. In late October three further Allied attacks were made on Passchendaele Ridge but it was only on 6th November 1917 that Passchendaele village was taken and the battle was then closed down.

The Cost
The Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele had been a very costly battle. The British had lost 310,000 men and the Germans 260,000. Haig was heavily criticised for the attack and for failing to modify his plans as the attack progressed and in particular for not closing the offensive down earlier due to bad weather and increasing German opposition.

Points to Consider
" The war was being fought as part of an alliance with the French. Between April and November 1917, following the failure of the Nivelle Offensive, almost two-thirds of the French Army the mutinied and refused to fight. If the German High Command had realized the situation, then the reinforcements from the East and those divisions opposing the British Army in Flanders would have been thrown against the French army with catastrophic consequences. Thus Third Ypres became dominated by distracting the German Army until morale and discipline of the French Army had been restored. Any attempt to cease fighting earlier would have resulted in the defeat for the Allies.

" Haig could not have known that the weather would have played such a major part in the battle.

" The input of the newly arrived German troops from the Eastern Front was not part of Haig's planning and nor could it have been.

" Haig argued that the Allies could sustain more losses as America had joined the war by the end of Passchendaele. German losses of men and material were of greater importance than British losses

Joseph Lister epitomized the typical Lancashire Fusilier. From the back streets of Salford to the front line in Belgium. He knew his duty and did all he could to project his friends and comrades at a critical point in the battle and as a consequence was awarded the Victoria Cross. It is therefore appropriate to focus the 2017 commemoration on Joseph Lister. I would therefore ask all of you who have a pride in the history and heritage of the Lancashire Fusiliers to contribute to this fundraising appeal for a permanent memorial in Belgium.

Lancashire Headquarters
The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers


Joseph Lister's Medals