GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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Robert Simeon Wood; a wartime headmaster’s story

Lois Dean, a volunteer with Bolton, has uncovered a fascinating aspect of life on the home front. As will be seen in some of the other posts in this blog, headmasters played an important role in keeping in touch with their former pupils fighting at the Front.

Robert Simeon Woodcomp

Bolton Schools at War and a Very Enthusiastic Headmaster


The days, weeks and months of war are recorded in a variety of ways through the pages of Bolton’s schools logbooks.

Some head teachers make much of the teaching of patriotic songs, flags pinned to maps of Europe, fundraising and collection of ‘treats’ for servicemen and PoWs, the creation of a school ‘Roll of Honour’ and visits or letters from former scholars and members of staff now with the ‘Colours’.

For others, the conflict barely rates a mention amongst the recording of test results, visits by the local vicar, the absences or resignation of teachers and in the latter years, the growing influenza epidemic. Even the signing of the Armistice and events such as the Zeppelin raid of 26th September 1916 drew little comment. Indeed the head of Derby Street Infants, the closest school to the site of the raid, recorded in a somewhat detached manner: “It is supposed that one or two children, who attend this school, are buried in the debris at Kirk St, close by.”

One headmaster, however, barely wrote a single entry that did not relate in some way to the war. Robert Simeon Wood was already well known in Bolton education circles and beyond, when he took over the headship of Folds Road Mixed School in 1904. He had gained his teaching certificate in 1874 and had been headmaster of two Bolton schools, All Saints and St Luke’s. In addition he had written and edited a number of books and articles on the subject of teaching children a love of literature and poetry. His book ‘Analytical Examples or First Exercises in English Composition’ is still available.

By the outbreak of war, Mr Wood was nearing the end of his teaching career, but his enthusiasm remained undimmed. In November 1914, he records how “special maps have been mounted in the hall and marked with flags showing the centres of conflict and of interest from week to week”. In the same month he carefully lists the entire contents of a parcel of clothing and cigarettes collected by staff and pupils to be sent to the Red Cross Fund for wounded soldiers and sailors and later entries record the stitching of sandbags by pupils.

Throughout the war, the logbook is peppered with the names of former pupils and staff serving king and country, recording their letters, visits, promotions, bravery awards, hospitalization and in some inevitable instances, death.

Sadly, Mr Wood’s fascinating record of a wartime school was not to last until the end of the war. In June 1918, he was told by the Education Department that he must retire.

His final entry on August 9th reads: “Broke-up at noon today and retired from school after 50 years’ (1868 to 1918) of teaching in Primary Schools as Pupil-Teacher, Assistant and Headmaster under the Board of Education.”

Folds Road Mixed School itself closed in 1920.

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Frontline fashion – wartime wear

World War One card
Child with puttees and uniform

I am of a generation that grew up in the 1960s. Military fashions worn in an ironic way were part of the fashion scene.  Sergeant Pepper, Portobello Road, Army and Navy stores, I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet and antique clothing stalls on Kensington Market all provided rich pickings and style inspiration.
Harold Ackley
Safari suits are still a fashion staple for men and women, turning up in different guises in designer collections.

Two Men
This image gives an idea of civilian and military styles of the World War One period, though the bush hat gives a colonial flavour to the uniform.
Man in uniform
The trench coat was an alternative to the army uniform heavy serge wool greatcoats. Only officers and Warrant Officers Class One could wear them. They had to be purchased privately. Burberry and Aquascutum both claim credit for their invention. Styles developed to include belts, D ring fastenings, epaulettes and pockets, and the trench coat continues to be a classic fashion item for both men and women to this day.
Troops on Maneuvers

Some trench coat styles included capes, based on army issue.
Ethel Ainsworth & William Rothwell
The uniform wool great coat worn in this studio photo is recognisable as the style of army surplus coat that  continues to be worn as a fashion item by some teenagers to this day.
William Jones
Heavy wool and waterproof uniforms were completely impractical in the Middle East. Army boots peep out from under native dress.
Percy Holdsworth
This amazing sheepskin waistcoat must have been a welcome piece of kit when it was cold, though completely impractical and no doubt smelly when wet.
Edward Woodall

There’s no denying the stylishness of this Royal Marines dress uniform.

Tom Hadfield
And this great coat worn in a relaxed fashion looks equally flattering.

The great coat and trench coat became everyday clothing when soldiers kept them to wear once the war was over.
Four Officers

Khaki shorts, grandad shirts and short sleeved vests are still worn when the sun comes out.


sGordon Highlanders

Kilts still have their place at weddings, and occasionally come round as a fashion trend.

Alexander Birchall

This soldier looks extremely smart with his leather gloves and cane.

Fiance of Stella Miller

Jodhpurs may not be in fashion at the moment, but army style lace up boots are always popular.

Elsie Murray Womens Legion

Women adopted military style dress alongside their menfolk.

Comic Postcard
Not all uniform was fit for purpose!
Internment Camp
These men in an Isle Of Man internment camp provide a contrast  to men in uniform. It’s a vintage work wear look that is continues to be popular now.
Oliver Entwistle
These fabulous leather flying coats have inspired fashion trends for a century.

Take a look at  the fashion magazines . Camouflage, leather belts, webbing and canvas bags, I can guarantee you will see military influences in style and materials.

Maybe it’s time someone reinvented the puttee! These bandages used as gaiters  were adapted from traditional Indian dress. The name comes from a Hindi word. And did you know that khaki comes from a Hindi and Urdu word meaning ‘soil’?  So the variations of shades of light and dark brown and  olive green we are familiar with was a kind of camouflage colour.

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What was Morris Heaton’s War Story?

Lois Dean, a volunteer in Bolton, has written and researched this life story of a local man. Can anyone fill in the gaps?

What Was Morris Heaton’s War Story?


Heaton Peace Certcomp

The loyal service of a Horwich man during the First World War is recalled in the archives of Bolton History Centre.

A commission certificate appointing Morris Heaton a Second Lieutenant (Special Reserve of Officers) in the Royal Garrison Artillery in October 1917 and signed by King George V commends his ‘Loyalty, Courage and good Conduct’.

Second Lieutenant Heaton survived the conflict. Accompanying the certificate is another, presented to him as part of the local peace celebrations by Horwich Urban District Council, honouring his war service. It is signed by all the members of the Council’s Peace Committee and the Committee Clerk, William Carter.

Sadly, neither document reveals the full story of Morris Heaton’s war – the battles he fought in, or the acts of courage that led to his officer commission.  Did he ever share his memories with family and friends?

What we do know is that Moses Morris Heaton was born in Withnell, Lancashire in 1888, the only son of William and Jane (nee Morris) and that he was named Moses after his maternal grandfather, Moses Morris. He had a sister Alice, born about 1901.

The early years of the 1900s saw the family living in Horwich, where William was a loco engine fitter at the Horwich Loco Works. By 1911, Morris is also working, as an assistant surveyor with the local council.  Shortly after the outbreak of war, Morris joined the Royal Engineers as a sapper, later transferring to the Royal Garrison Artillery.

After the war, Morris married Ethel Price at St Catherine’s church, Horwich, in 1921. At some point the couple moved to Manchester New Road, Alkrington, Manchester and remained there until Morris’s death on 19 January 1965.

Archive Ref ZZ/740 World War 1 certificates of Morris Heaton of Horwich.

Lois Dean

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Wigan’s Conscientious Objectors

Cameron Fleming has been volunteering at the Wigan archives as part of his sixth form work experience.

He researched  conscientious objectors from Wigan. The GM1914 blog  is a way of sharing other stories and experiences of COs from the Greater Manchester area, providing a valuable resource for those who are interested in these often untold and forgotten stories.

Conscientious Objectors of Wigan

Between August 1914 and December 1915, 2,446,719 men volunteered into the armed forces. In the first few months, in Wigan alone, 3,000 men volunteered. However, the next wave of soldiers, shown by the National Registration Act research, were more reluctant.

Due to the nature of the war, there was a shortage of soldiers so in January 1916  conscription was introduced for all men 18-41 under the Military Service Act. There were exemptions on grounds of employment, dependants, health or conscientious objection.

Medical Soldier

A  soldier serving as a Medic

Tribunals were set up nationwide to decide upon whom to send to war, give non-combat duties or delay conscription. Conscientious Objectors were around 6% of cases locally with cases on religious grounds often given more consideration than political grounds. Even if the appeal was granted, rulings may give temporary exemption or non-combat roles (e.g. Medic). The tribunal in Wigan had 11 members from varying backgrounds. All were over the age of 41.

Fred C.Critchley, 33, objected service on “conscientious objection” grounds as he “refuse[d] to take a life.” The tribunal gave him a non-combat role.

Eli Ernest Trotter, 25, refused because his point of view was that “war is wrong from all standpoints.” He refused to be part of a military machine as a socialist party member. He received a non-combat role. His brother, John, claimed he was too short at 4ft10in. He refused a non-combat role saying: “If I have to go, I will go as a right man or not at all” and was conscripted.

Albert Stoker, 22, applied on conscientious and employment grounds but his claim of conscience to the workers who fought while “capitalists were reaping the benefits” was struck down as he was a capitalist employing 30-40 workers. He remained in his combat unit.

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Stockport and Haybes ; wartime links


Stockport and Haybes

It came as a surprise to learn, towards the end of 2013, that Stockport had a connection to a village in the French Ardennes, due to the First World War. In 1921 Haybes was described as “before the war, a pretty riverside place on the Meuse with about two thousand inhabitants.” Between the 24th and 26th August 1914, this small town came under attack by the advancing German army. Some of the population fled into the slate mines to escape the enemy soldiers. The result of the attack was that 594 houses out of a total of 610 were destroyed by shelling and fires and, of the civilians who were taken prisoner, 56 men, women and children were killed. A tragedy undoubtedly and certainly Haybes was just one of many communities which suffered for being in the wrong place. But why did Stockport become involved?


This is a question we are still trying to answer fully. We know that in 1919 an appeal was sent out to all the French departments and some foreign countries for financial help to rebuild Haybes. In June 1920 the town of St. Etienne sent some money, followed in August by a donation from a school in Switzerland and in October 1920 Stockport Council began enquiries about what aid was needed.

In July 1921 the mayor of Haybes, Louis Bouvart and his deputy visited Stockport to meet the town council and plead their case. The Stockport Advertiser of 8th July 1921 reported on the meeting. Marcel Braibant, Conseiller General des Ardennes, spoke about “the unfortunate village of Haybes, which was in German occupation for the greater part of the war”. Sir Thomas Rowbotham compared Haybes to his home town of Bramhall which he said was just the same size and “It would be a real joy to the people of Stockport if they could help in some little way to rebuild this village which he had compared with Bramhall”.

No mention is made in the Council minutes of this delegation nor of Haybes. Despite this, the councillors did respond favourably as subsequent events showed.

At the beginning of September the Stockport Advertiser announced that “M. Marcel Dupré, the celebrated organist of Notre Dame, Paris, has generously offered to give an organ recital in Stockport, the proceeds to be devoted to the fund for the restoration of Haybes”. Alderman Charles Royle who was Mayor, called a meeting at the Town Hall and the offer was accepted and a small committee “was formed for the purpose of carrying out the arrangements”. No minutes of this committee seem to have survived so presumably it was a private one despite the Mayor being chairman and the Town Clerk (Robert Hyde) and Councillor Green being the treasurers.

The date for the recital was set for Thursday October 13th and the chosen venue was the Centenary Hall of Stockport Sunday School as there was a “fine organ” there. Admission charges were fixed at 2s and 1s. Presumably the lower charge was for children though this is not stated.

It was quite a coup to have M. Dupré appearing in Stockport. Born in 1886, Marcel Dupré rapidly established his reputation as a concert artist after World War I. He performed from memory the complete organ works of Bach in a series of recitals in Paris. He toured extensively as a virtuoso, giving as many as 110 recitals in a single trip and making ten tours of the U.S. alone between 1921 and 1948. International success came first in England, and then in America, where the improvised organ symphony at his first recital was hailed in the press as ‘a musical miracle’. In 1926 he was appointed Professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire, where he remained for 30 years. Small wonder then that his recital attracted a large audience. The programme closed on a stirring note with the playing of the French and British National Anthems. M. Dupré, asked after the recital for his opinion of the organ said it was a splendid instrument.  According to the Stockport Advertiser “It was one of the most interesting instruments he had found on his tour through England.” He also praised the acoustic qualities of the Centenary Hall.

Stockport was able to send a substantial amount to Haybes to assist in its rebuilding. It has not so far been possible to establish exactly how much but it is a testament to the generosity of the Stopfordians of the early 1920s. Times were not easy but people recognised the great need of Haybes and responded.

In 2014, Haybes is commemorating the centenary of its devastation and it seems fitting that Stockport should also remember the part it played in the post war reconstruction of one small town which had had its world turned upside down by the events of August 1914. The work of hunting for more information about the Stockport/Haybes connection is continuing.

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Policewomen in WWI

When war broke out in 1914, large numbers of men left their jobs to fight for their country. Although certain occupations were initially protected, the demand for a workforce at home grew as military service called more and more men away to battle.

Women across Britain stepped up to the challenge and staffed a whole host of traditionally male occupations. Keen to help out during times of great need, these ladies provided crucial support to local communities and industries. There is an excellent post on this blog already about some of the roles performed by women during the war.

However, less well documented is the role of female police volunteers. In fact, it was only whilst researching an unrelated topic for Archives+, that I stumbled across a picture of a WWI policewoman in the Documentary Photographic Archive at the Greater Manchester County Record Office.


Above: Emily Walker, WWI policewoman? (source)

Emily Walker was a friend of the family who donated this photograph. Indeed, the donor’s mother, Elizabeth Portlock, apparently served alongside Emily as a volunteer policewoman during the war. Both ladies lived in Manchester. The words ‘apparently’ and ‘supposedly’ in the information accompanying the file suggest some doubts as to the exact nature of the roles these women performed.

Harry Thompson Lea and Elizabeth Portlock, on the day of their engagement, c1921

Above: Elizabeth Portlock with her soon-to-be husband Harry Thompson, who served in the war (source)

Whilst the Documentary Photographic Archive offers few clues about Elizabeth or Emily, by using existing sources about policewomen during WWI from elsewhere, it is possible to re-imagine the context in which they might have worked.


Above: WWI policewomen (source)

Prior to 1914, women frequently supervised, searched and escorted women and children, or acted as prison matrons. Often the wives of police officers, they performed limited roles within the criminal justice system. However, it wasn’t until WWI that they took on more significant roles in public life.


Above: PC Williams, his wife Kate and 12-year-old son George in 1914 (source)

Kate Williams was the wife of a police constable, and she received payments for looking after female prisoners. The above image is also from the Documentary Photographic Archive here at the Greater Manchester County Record Office. Although it was not obligatory for wives of police officers to assist in such duties, they often did. Indeed, such women were arguably the predecessors of wartime policewomen.

However, the transition from such roles to actual policing, has been lengthy and fraught with challenges, as ladies such as Margaret Damer Dawson discovered.

Margaret Damer Dawson

Above: Margaret Damer Dawson was a key figure in the campaign for female police officers (source)

Damer Dawson approached the Chief Commissioner of Police in 1914 with a proposal for a group of trained female officers. Interestingly, her main concern appears to have been the new levels of freedom afforded to young women during wartime, and the lapse in morals that might subsequently ensue. Policewomen, she argued, would be ideally placed to deal with such eventualities. Her long-term vision was a permanent female police force, ideally trained and equipped to deal with female criminality.

Nina Boyle was another key figure who campaigned for female officers, and she and Margaret Damer Dawson joined forces to form the Women Police Volunteers.


Above: WWI Policewomen inspection (source)

The ‘policewomen’ of WWI were initially recruited as volunteers, and this was coordinated not just by the Women Police Volunteers, but also the National Union of Working Women. Soon thousands of patrols were taking place across Britain. Although Manchester is not mentioned in any of the sources I’ve found, it seems unlikely that such a major British city would have been excluded from this.

The story of Emily and Elizabeth seems to evidence the presence of women police volunteers in Manchester during WWI. It is likely that their work would have been challenging, and that members of the public may have found it difficult to accept their authority. Indeed, police volunteers were not afforded the same official status as ‘regular’ officers, but still contributed much to British law enforcement during WWI, and the legacy of these women continued beyond the war, as is evidenced in the Documentary Photographic Archive.


Above: Lancashire Police detective staff in 1922 (source)

As the above image shows, by 1922, police services were beginning to embrace the idea of female officers, although Lancashire was considered one of the more progressive organisations of its time. However, other police forces followed suit and today policing is an occupation open to both genders. Arguably the women who volunteered their services as policewomen during WWI paved the way for today’s female officers – they were pioneers.

The story of WWI policewomen is documented differently by various sources, and the account presented here is by necessity a general one. To find out more, please take a look at some of the sources below, which provide more detailed overviews:

Metropolitan Women’s Police Association

South Wales Police Museum

The Open University

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Belgian Refugees in Bolton

Margaret Koppens has researched and written this post from Bolton.

Belgian Refugeescomp



In August 1914 Germany invaded Belgium and to escape the atrocities taking place, over 220,000 Belgians left their homes to flee to England, the largest contingent to ever come here. Many of them were brought to Bolton and by early September the Bolton Catholic Women’s League were busy finding accommodation for the refugees from this largely Catholic country, in the Bolton area. They arrived with nothing, having had to flee quickly to escape the commandeering of their homes and the destruction of their possessions.

The Fourgates Old Church School, Westhoughton which had been unused for over six months was made ready by the residents and members of the church who quickly transformed the one-roomed building into a home with carpets, comfy chairs, beds and blankets. The first two families to arrive were Mrs & Mrs Cornelius and their child who had been turned out of their home and forced to live in a one-room shed while German soldiers moved into their house. Mr & Mrs Klutz and their eight children lived a peaceful life in a small village until the German soldiers arrived. They lined up and shot Belgian men who had a tattoo on their arm denoting that they were liable for Belgian military service. Mr Klutz had this mark but had been rejected due to ill health. His wife gathered their children together and they fled travelling for days facing shelling all the way, sleeping where they could and without food and warmth until they eventually reached the coast and a boat to England. They found sanctuary with the people of Westhoughton who looked after them and made sure they wanted for nothing.

The Rev. A Vantomme, Rector of Holy Infants Church, Astley Bridge who was himself a Belgian, acted as interpreter to all the Belgians in Bolton and he gave hospitality to several of them in his Rectory. Another large party of 31 were housed at ‘Thornleigh’; these were professional gentlemen, their wives, children and servants, who again came away with very little in the way of luggage, valuables and money. They were sad that their beautiful homes in Brussels would be broken into and ransacked but they were grateful for the hospitality afforded to them in Bolton.

The Egerton, Eagley, Dunscar and Bromley Cross Belgian Relief Committee had five adults and four children in its care in November 1915. They were housed at Dimple in two cottages lent rent free by Mr Edward Deakin.

The children needed schooling and in 1915 a Belgian male teacher was appointed at Horwich Lady of the Rosary RC School and Miss Elise Scholz from Antwerp commenced duties at Derby Street Infants School. M. Paul Pastiels a highly qualified young surgeon spent several weeks working at the Bolton Infirmary before leaving for a post in Italy.

In June 1915 the Horwich Belgian Workers Union presented to the Horwich Council a framed photograph of King Albert in recognition of what the town had done for them. In November the Horwich Belgian Union of Help sent £20 to Belgium to help the poor women and children. In reply to a letter from Mr J Fletcher, King Albert replied thanking them for their kindness.

In June 1916 at a meeting of the Horwich Branch of the Belgian Union of Help a speech was given by M. Galle, the Belgian Consul in Manchester. He expressed the thanks of the Belgian people in Horwich for all that had been done for them in their hour of need and he said it would live for ever in their memory.

In 1934 the gift of a seat was given to Edgworth by Belgians who had lived in the village during the war. The inscription on the seat read ‘A few friends who lived at peace in Edgworth, sharing its life during the four years of the war, give this seat as a sign of friendship and remembrance, 1934.’




Bolton Journal & Guardian

18.09.1914: 16.10.14: 23:10.14:

15.01.1915: 16.04.15: 30.04.15: 19.11.15:26.11.15:


The Bolton Evening News 09.01.1935 Ref: Al p138

Derby Street Infants School Log Book 1893-1922 Ref: SLB/21/2 page 225/226

Photograph: Brooks family collection ZZ/801/141


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