GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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War Wounds and their treatment


This field bandage is in a collection held in the archive (GB127.M198).The collection consists of papers from William John Pegge, who survived the war and later had a significant involvement in local government in Salford and Manchester.
His experiences of serving in the First World War will be the subject of a future post.

This particular item turned up in the boxes of his notebooks and papers. If bandages could talk, it certainly would have a tale to tell.
Whilst it is unused, it is not in pristine condition. How and why did it survive? Did it become an object of superstition?  A kind of good luck charm? The emergency bandage that never needed to be deployed?
Why was it still among this man’s papers in 1974, when they were deposited by his widow?
Its cover is filthy and mud stained. There must have been a time when it was regarded with distaste or even disgust!

The GMCRO holds records for operations performed at Withington Hospital, Nell Lane, during the First World War. Volunteers have been transcribing these so that at some point in the future they can be indexed and accessed. They also include records relating to German patients.

The dates of admissions and operations, continuing right through until 1919, raised questions as to why men continued to be treated for gunshot wounds long after the end of the war.
Lesley Oldham, one of the volunteers on the GM1914 project, has a background of involvement in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). She  passed on a copy of a contemporary article from The Lancet regarding wounds in war.
The Bradshaw Lecture on Wounds in War was delivered before the Royal College of Surgeons of England on December 20th 1915. The speaker was Surgeon-General Sir Anthony Bowlby, K.C.M.G., A.M.S, Surgeon-in- ordinary to H.M. The King; Consulting Surgeon to the British Expeditionary Force in France; Surgeon to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital.
It is a long and very detailed lecture, illustrated with photographs and images of microscope slides.
His experiences in the Boer War  hadn’t prepared him and his medical corps colleagues for the very different conditions in France. South Africa was an uncultivated terrain, supporting few people or domestic animals. The soil was dry and sandy, uncontaminated by manure. The climate was breezy and hot. Pathogenic organisms were not widespread in the soil.
The situation in France was the opposite. Rainfall was heavy and the vegetation luxuriant. It was heavily populated and farming supported cattle and pigs. Every form of microorganism could flourish in the soil.
The design of bullets also created a different type of entry and exit wound. Shells, bombs, hand grenades and shrapnel created terrible wounds to tissue, bone and muscle. New and different missiles created injuries never before seen in wartime medical experience, and certainly beyond any domestic medical experiences.
In France soldiers were living in mud and manure. Their uniforms were contaminated.Their skin was unwashed. Corpses of animals and men rotted in the trenches.
Any wounds introduced bacteria and infection to the body. Wounded soldiers might be left lying out between opposing trenches. Carrying them through flooded trenches for transport to clearing stations could exacerbate their injuries.
There are graphic descriptions of cases seen and observed, for the benefit of the professional medical personnel present at the Bradshaw lecture.
The condition of the wounded soldiers is also commented on. Cold, exhausted, hungry and thirsty, in shock from loss of blood and injury, they had also been coping with the terrible environment of the trenches.
When discussing secondary complications of wounds, he refers to Alexander Fleming’s work on bacterial infection. Gas forming anaerobes resulted in gas  gangrene, a life threatening condition.The original  injury may have been treatable, but the rapid infection caused by staphylococcal and streptococcal bacteria swiftly took hold and destroyed the system.
War time experiences accelerated the medical professions’s understanding of sepsis and infection. New treatments and approaches were developed for all types of conditions, from shell shock to loss of limbs.

Once you realise that these wounds mentioned in the Withington records were full of infection and slow to heal, you can see why Military Hospitals continued to treat men for ‘old’ injuries well into 1919.

an operation to remove shrapnel

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Songs of a Broken Airman: Jimmie Howcroft of Bolton

This post has been written and researched by Margaret Koppens, one of the volunteers at Bolton Museum and Archive


Glorious Dead! Our glorious dead
On Rolls of Fame your names illumined shine
Enduring, whilst fateful bullets sped,
Then fearless stepping o’er the border-line.

Great noble souls who gained in giving
Your victor not the clay nor sod
Still pressing forward, leading, living
Our Vanguard on the march to God

These are the words of Jimmie Howcroft a soldier from Bolton who, in World War 1, was left paralysed after a plane crash in France.

James (known as Jimmie) Howcroft was born in 1893 the second son of Margaret (nee Clegg) and James Howcroft; their eldest child Fred was born in 1891. Jimmie’s father was a coal miner and the family lived at various addresses in the Daubhill area of Bolton. Sadly the boys’ father James died aged 45 in 1893 not long after Jimmie was born.

At 12 years old Jimmie was already working in a cotton mill as a half-timer, he went to school in the morning and to work in the afternoon and the following week it would be the opposite way around. At 15 he was apprenticed to an electrical engineer and went on to work as an electrician in textile and paper mills, a steel works and a motor cycle factory.

When he was 22 in 1915 he joined the Royal Flying Corps., and became an observer in France. However whilst on a reconnaissance mission over the Somme area in 1916 a bad landing resulted in the plane crashing and Jimmie was left with a fractured spine. He had been a very active man prior to this and a member of his Squadron’s football team but the accident left him completely paralysed and in constant pain. He was to spend the next five years in hospital at Liphook in Hampshire, where he was reported to be a cheerful patient always ready to have a laugh.

Later he was taken to live in a small bungalow at Liphook where the nurse who had looked after him in hospital gave up her job to care for him there and it was to her that he began to dictate the poems that were forming in his mind whilst lying under a window and looking out at the Downs. His poems express his love of Nature, his outlook on the world and memories of his home town, Bolton.  At first he self-published and sold his books of poetry himself, receiving good wishes and requests for them from all over of the world, so that later he employed a firm of publishers to do this for him.
His mother went to live with him at Liphook having lost her only other son, Fred, who died of wounds received during the battle of the Somme on 8th July 1916. He lies in the British cemetery at Puchevillers.

Jimmie died in 1936 when he was 43 years old, having been cheerful and courageous to the end.

Source: ‘Songs of a Broken Airman’.  Ref: 800.496/HOW
Poem: ‘By Bolton Town’. Page 20
Poem above: Page 30

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Mistaken Identity – Spy stories from Oldham

Oldhamers Arrested Suspected of Being Spies:

An Artistic Excursion and Its Sequel

In prevailing circumstances naturally there is a good deal of suspicion, and the necessity of preventing news reaching the enemy renders it imperative that the utmost vigilance should be shown.

In August 1914 two Oldhamers and members of the Oldham Artists’ Society, Mr J. R. Sugden and Mr A. Winder, on holiday at Abergele, North Wales found themselves victims of this ‘utmost vigilance’:

The two gentlemen are spending their Wakes holidays at Abergele, and decided to devote yesterday to artistic excursion, selecting Conway Castle as the rendezvous. They left their apartments about 9am and settled down in a convenient spot to sketch Conway Castle. They had not been long at their labours when they were surprised by the military, and requested to accompany them to Conway Castle and bring their equipment along. They were taken to the Castle at ten o’clock, and an explanation of their movement and full particulars of themselves required. These were furnished, and inquiries instituted. Inquiries were made at their apartments and words sent through to Oldham. Mr G. Braddock, of Oldham, called during the day and vouched for the suspects, but he was asked who would vouch for him. Mr W. Barton, MP, also called, but the young men were kept in custody and their equipment detained and examined. It was not until 5.30 in the evening, when word had come through from Oldham that they were allowed to depart, none too pleased at being detained, but doubtless gratified that they were not on the Continent where to be accused is to found guilty and dealt with accordingly. Perhaps if the Government segregated the enemies within our midst there would be less reason for suspicion and less inconvenience to our own people, and there would be certainly more effective means of preventing leakage of information.

If Messrs Sugden and Winder were ‘none too pleased at being detained’ neither could the Oldhamer who in September paid the ‘penalty of curiosity’:

An Oldham man is now paying rather dearly for having satisfied his curiosity. He is engaged in the South of England, and when out for a stroll in the afternoon, thought he would have a look inside an arsenal in the district. How he got within the prohibited area without being challenged is not quite clear, but when leaving he was stopped, and being unable to satisfy the sentry he was at once taken into custody. He was rigorously confined for four days, and since then has put another eight days in Brixton prison. The gentleman in question is the son of a much respected Oldham man. The son, singular enough, speaks some German, and is married to a German lady. At the time he was taken into custody he had in his possession an invitation to a German club.

Perhaps the most ironic incidence occurred on the east coast in the middle of August 1914 as recorded in latter from a Mr A. C. Gardner of the Shakespeare Hotel, Oldham, from Southend-on-Sea:

One Wednesday he and his wife met three Oldham men who had motored over from Newark to Southend, arriving late Tuesday night. On Friday the three of them motored to Shoeburyness where the motor had a slight puncture. Mr Harry Bardsley, of Victoria Street, Shaw, was driving the car, and the other two were Mr A. Whittington of Oldham Road, Shaw, and Mr T. Richardson, of Colwyn Bay and late of Oldham.  Whilst Mr. Bardsley was attending to the repair of the car the other two decided to look around the place. Mr Richardson took his field glasses to view the harbour, and Mr Whittington took his camera in order to get a photograph of his friend. A German Jew who happened to see them informed the military authorities that the breakdown of the car was a hoax, and that the men were German spies. A party of soldiers, with loaded rifles, marched up to them and arrested Mr Richardson, who had chaffed the soldiers and asked them if they would like their photographs taken. Realising the seriousness of the affair, however, Mr Richardson went to the barracks with the soldiers, and was there submitted to a searching examination along with Mr Whittington, who had followed his friend. The men were detained for over three hours before they were released, and than the camera was confiscated. Mr Bardsley drove them back to Southend amidst great cheering.

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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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