GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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Dr Johnston’s Diary, Bolton

Margaret Koppens, a volunteer with Bolton Archive and Museum, has written about Bolton’s own Dr Johnston and his experiences in the Great War.


Dr Johnson's Diary excerpt

This extract is taken from the diary of Dr John Johnston

Military Hospital Notes
‘Greenbank’, Bolton

A wounded soldier had a small piece of shell deeply embedded among the tissues of his right wrist – confirmed by X-ray photograph by Dr Falconer of Bolton Infirmary.

We decided that to attempt its removal might involve some risk to the future usefulness of his hand and we therefore counselled it being left alone. “Danger or no danger” said the soldier to me, “I want you to do the operation, I’d rather lose my hand than go back yonder”. He meant the Front – “it’s Hell!”

In his diaries Dr Johnston writes of conversations he had with soldiers whilst in the Military Hospitals recovering from their wounds, here he records treating a young Scot from the battle of Neuve Chapelle who had suffered a horrible laceration through the thigh from shrapnel. Dr Johnson said to him “that must have made an awful mess of you, boy.” The soldier replied “Ay it did that Dr, it tore my clothes to ribbons and they had ta burn ma kilt!”

Dr Johnston was 62 years old when he joined the staff of Queen Mary’s Military Hospital at Whalley where he spent 16 months before leaving to take up the post of Assistant Medical Superintendent at Townley’s Hospital (now the Royal Bolton) in February 1917. Prior to this he had been a lecturer and instructor for the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade for over 25 years and was the divisional surgeon of the Bolton Corps. and the holder of the St. John South African War Medal. He was the author of several books and a volume of verse and had written travel articles for newspapers. Dr Johnston was also a prominent member of the Bolton ‘Whitmanites’. A group of people who were followers of Walt Whitman, the American poet, indeed Dr Johnston had visited Whitman at his home in America where he was given the Loving Cup which is now held in Bolton Museum.

Source: the Diary of Dr J. Johnston Ref: ZJO/1/36

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Good sports – Soldiers’ experiences in the Great War

‘A healthy mind in a healthy body’was the cry in Victorian and Edwardian England.
As the Great War progressed professional soldiers were inevitably replaced by conscripts. The average height of a soldier was about 5 feet, 5 inches. Their packs weighed over 75 lbs and that was without their Lee Enfield rifle. Their clothing was wool, their boots were heavy. They regularly had  to walk about 30 miles a day. High calorie food was provided in the form of hard bread rations and sugary tinned jam. The bread ration was a kind of biscuit that could be broken up and crumbled into soup, tea or hot water. Remarkably some of these survive. Not even the rats or mice saw them as appetising. Robert Graves writes about using them as fuel in ‘Goodbye to All That’, his autobiographical account of his wartime experiences.
Some men ate better during the war than they had in peace time. It’s said that some of those who survived uninjured were in better shape by demobilisation than they had been at enlistment.
Sports activities were part of the process of building stamina and team spirit, and keeping up morale. The story of the Christmas football game between opposing forces continues to capture the imagination. Whether or not it really took place, there’s still a desire to believe the story.
In the Documentary Photographic Archive there are photos illustrating the role of sporting activities in the army.

Royal Flying Corps
These boxers are members of the Royal Flying Corps.

Physical Drill Of B Company
Physical Drill with rifles.

Boxing Soldiers c1914-1918
Boxing Soldiers
Cricket Field at Whalley
Cricket Field at Queen Mary’s Hospital, Whalley
Royal Engineers Football Team
Royal Engineers Football team
PE Class
Physical Education class

This final image comes from a series of photographs depicting life at Calderstones Hospital, Whalley, Lancashire. This was also known as Queen Mary’s Military Hospital. Originally planned as an asylum hospital, this newly built facility was completed as the largest military hospital of its type in the country. Sixty six thousand British and Allied troops were treated there during the war, and over four thousand beds were occupied after the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
As item number 7
This poignant photo of a sports day there is a reminder that developments in rehabilitation were accelerated by the need for treatment of wounded soldiers. It’s also a reminder that many of the survivors did not come home unscathed.

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Herbert Eckersley : 1895 – 1917

Margaret Koppens, secretary of the Halliwell History Society, has researched and written this story from Bolton’s collections.




Herbert Eckersley was the eldest child of George and Elizabeth Eckersley (nee Vickers) who lived at 12 Bertrand Road, Bolton. He had a sister, Alice and two brothers, George and Stanley. While at junior school Herbert passed the examination to enter Bolton Municipal Secondary School where he was an excellent pupil, going on from there to read History at Manchester University. He was a committed Christian and attended Chalfont Street Independent Methodist Church and Sunday School where he later became a Sunday School teacher.

Eckersley second row on left standing with nursescomp

With the onset of war in 1914 Herbert joined the Friends Ambulance Unit (Quakers) and spent some time on the Hospital Barge ‘Secours’. Barges were used on the River Seine and the canals of France and Belgium behind enemy lines to evacuate casualties.

Barge small comp

The journey on a barge was much more smooth and gentle than on the rough roads and the nurses were able to wash and clean up the injured and dress their wounds. After two years Herbert decided his duty lay in a combatant corp and he went on to Trinity Hall Cambridge to attend Officer Cadet School. Due to his poor eyesight he was not accepted for infantry service and in the summer of 1917 he was posted to a Labour Battalion near Ypres as a Second-Lieutenant. He had only been in France for about two months and it was whilst working on road construction that he was killed by enemy bombing on the 15th of November 1917 at the age of 22. He is buried in La Brique Military Cemetery No.2 Ypres, West Flanders, Belgium and he is remembered on the Manchester University Roll of Service.

His parents received many letters of sympathy which included ones from his Commanding Officer and his own men in which, although he had not known them very long, they all expressed the respect and love which he had gained from them.

He was described by a friend who had been at school and university with him “as a man who was honest, ingenious, frank, courageous and what is more he was honourable to the core. As a friend he was true; as a soldier he was brave….”


Photograph Album: ZZ/562/1

Notes written by Herbert’s nephew: ZZ/562/2

Medals: BOLMG: 1991.19.1.L-19.3.L

Photographs & Post Cards etc: 1991.19.4.L-19.11.L

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Cigarettes and home comforts

Seven soldiers in group

It’s strange to see photographs of people smoking in our World War One collections. It’s not surprising that informal photos often capture someone with a cigarette in their hand. This posed photograph of uniformed soldiers shows every man a smoker.

Cigarettes must have been a comfort at the front. We know tobacco is an appetite suppressant. There are apocryphal stories of the dangers of lighting a match in the trenches, or of lives saved by the bullet deflected by a metal cigarette case.

Looking at the log book for Granby Row School my colleagues came across the following entries for 1914.

Weds Nov 4th 1914

Boys asked permission to bring in cigarettes or cash to be sent to the Old Boys at the front instead of spending the money in fireworks. I accepted the trust and received by Friday Aft. 1100 cigarettes. We sent 800 to Jas. Egerton in Hospital at Paris – Robt Skitt & J. Machin in the trenches, F.Wright H.M.S. Hindustan (North Sea) F.Whitney H.M.S. Duke of Edinburgh (Mediterranean) W.E. Carter & R Fletcher wounded at home. The remainder 300 to the Military Hospital Whitworth St.

Friday 13th

Fred Wright H.M.S. Hindustan – H Thompson R.A.S.C. and J.Bell R.E. visited.

Letter from J. Machin Rifle Brigade. Jas Calardine (Cyprus), Sapper Shaw R.E. Driver Edge R.H.A. W. Blakeley (Cyprus)

Written by Henry Littlewood, Head Teacher. He retired on Weds 23rd December after 39 years as headmaster.

It’s fascinating to see that former pupils kept in touch with their school in this way.

The numbers of cigarettes involved is astonishing. Cigarettes or fireworks? They wouldn’t be old enough to buy either nowadays!

M66/30/3/1/1 – Granby Row log book

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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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