GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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War time experiences of a Royton Prisoner of War

Narrative of a Royton Prisoner of War

After the end of the war a number men from Royton compiled a record of their experiences as prisoners of war of the Germans. Among them was Michael Dowdall who was taken prisoner near Cambrai on Saturday 30 November 1917 after he had been in the front line for 48 days.

The soldiers were about to have breakfast when the officer gave the order to ‘stand to.’ Having got no reply to their SOS they were soon outnumbered by the Germans, shells and machine guns all round them. The officer told them to down and surrender and they were then marched two miles to a hut where all letters and pay books were taken from them. They were then marched again for eight hours and put in a cage (for prisoners) for the night in the rain. Next day they marched a long journey and 600 of them were put in a former motor car place, with a red cross on it, for the night. It had a wet stone floor on which the men were tightly packed and had to be on top of each other to sleep. After three days the men were sent to a railway station and put 50 in a truck (suitable for eight horses) with no light and only a cup of watery soup every 24 hours.

They were taken to a big camp in Munster in Germany. There the rations were one loaf of black bread for 12 men and two cups of soup each. They stayed at the camp for 14 days and were inoculated four times every second day. The prisoners left Germany on 16 January 1918 and were sent to Antoing in Belgium where a new railway was being made. Up at 5am, a drink of coffee at 6am, an hour’s march to the railway and starting work at 7.30am. Work was with a pick and spade and carrying lines and sleepers until 3.30pm, then a march back for soup, a piece of bread and coffee.

After three months the prisoners were taken to Fasnes where they were accommodated in an old brewery, about 250 men to a room. Here coffee was at  5.30am, fall in at 6am, arrive for work at 7am in the yard to be detailed work on railways, unloading transport wagons, making new railways or unloading coal bags until 3.30 p.m. From 7pm to 5.30am the prisoners were locked in their rooms with a tub for all to use as a toilet. If a man reported sick his bread was stopped for that day and reporting sick two days together was not allowed. One day Michael was too ill to stand up but was sent to work unloading a barge. The barge people gave the German guard some soap (soap was like gold to the Germans) and he let Michael rest for a bit and the bargees gave him some bread and coffee.

Michael was glad to be moved on to Blanc Misseron in France near Valenciennes. Here they looked after horses, working with them from 6am to 6pm. After a month there the prisoners started getting Red Cross parcels and enjoyed having more food to eat. They began to feel better and things were going well until our planes started dropping bombs over the town. On 1 June 1918 there was a big explosion at an ammunition depot where all our shells and bombs were sent and girls took the explosive out to use in German shells. A girl in number five mill dropped the bomb as she was working and it exploded and set off others. Many men, women and children were injured with limbs blown off and some were badly burned. The Germans got the wind up and ran away. The prisoners pulled the shutters down from the windows of houses to make stretchers and carry the wounded out of the way. Michael and the other prisoners were still looking after the horses but had to sleep in the fields for safety.

On 13 October 1918 the Germans began to retire as the Allied soldiers were making them leave Cambrai and Valenciennes. The prisoners walked the horses from Blanc Misseron with five horses a man for over four weeks, arriving in Liege on 13 November 1918. Here they were well looked after in houses with a nice good bed and plenty of food. They left Liege for Brussels on 3 December 1918 to make their way back to England.

Who was Michael Dowdall?

Michael Dowdall was born in Salford in 1885, the son of Patrick and Mary Dowdall from Ireland. In 1891 the Dowdall family were living in Chadwick Buildings in Broughton, Salford. By 1901 the family had moved to 203 Middleton Road, Royton where Patrick was employed as a stationary engineer. Michael married Margaret Williams at St Aidan’s and Oswald’s church in Royton on 26 December 1908 and their son, Michael Patrick was born in 1909. In 1911 the family were living in a four-roomed house at 2 Beswick Street, Royton and Michael was employed as a cotton cloth maker-up in a dye works. Their second child, Mary Margaret was born on 26 October 1912; Michael, their son, died in 1914 aged 5.

Michael Dowdall enlisted on 5 September 1916 at Ashton-under-Lyne barracks. He was 5ft. 7 ins. tall with a fair complexion, brown eyes, black hair and a scar on the bridge of his nose. He joined the 10 (Scottish) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment with service number 358659 and went to France on 3 January 1917.

Manchester Regiment Barracks, Ashton under Lyne, c.1910. (ref: GB124.DPA/641/11).

A French website with photos of the explosion and Valenciennes


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Lightning and the Mule

 Norine Loftus, one of the volunteers at Trafford Local Studies, has researched this story from their archives. Animals played an important role in the Great War and we will be sharing other stories about them in future posts on this blog.

 War record

Lieutenant Colonel William H Barnett, born c1894, died 1981. Served with the Scottish Rifles and Army Ordnance Corps.  Regimental numbers 14452, 029968.


Information obtained from Mr Barnett’s personal war diary held at Trafford Local Studies.

Mr Barnett kept a small diary written in ‘blacklead’ during his time in the army which listed the chief events.  He added a postscript at a later date (December 1963) – obviously a time of reflection – which was written in ink. He also inked over his original pencil entries.


The Tale of the Missing Mule


This incident occurred when Mr Barnett was in and around Salonika in March 1916.

‘On our night march – it seems funny now, but not at the time.  I was in No 4 Company, so was at the back of the battalion when on the march and I had charge of a mule with a pack on its back.  As you probably know, the pack on its back has to be properly balanced and if it slips, it has a chance of going under the mule’s belly, which is what happened.  So of course, I had to stop to try to adjust it and while doing so with my hand on the chain from the halter and the other one trying to adjust the load.  It started to lighten and in one flash, caught the chain, and travelled down my arm, which of course caused me to let go.  Up the mule reared and went off with its load into the pitch black night, and needless to say, I never saw it again.  Surprisingly, I didn’t get into trouble.  I think they must have believed my story.’


Animals in the War

The value of animals in war is well documented and a memorial to them has now been erected in Park Lane, London.

The mule is an offspring of a male donkey and a female horse; they have great strength and intelligence, with great endurance and surefootedness.  They are able to carry heavy loads, eat little, but have great stamina, but as L/C Barnett realised to his cost they are very stubborn and temperamental.

The Animal Memorial bears the inscription:

‘This monument is dedicated to all animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.  They had no choice.



Animals in War; Jilly Cooper

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Shot at Dawn and an appeal for forgiveness – a moving story from Bolton’s archives

James Smith Playcomp

Lois Dean has researched and written this powerful story from Bolton’s archives.

Shot at Dawn and an Appeal for Forgiveness

The brave young Bolton soldier had faced guns before, at Gallipoli and the Somme, but those James Smith faced early on the morning of 5th September 1917 were to be fired by his own countrymen – friends and comrades from his own unit.

James ‘Jimmy’ Smith became the only Boltonian to be ‘shot at dawn’ after being found guilty by a military tribunal of desertion and cowardice.  However, his experience of the horrors of war told a different story, one that led to his pardon nearly 90 years later.

Born in Noble Street, Bolton, in 1891, the son of James and Elizabeth Smith, Jimmy was brought up by his aunt and uncle when his mother died soon after his birth.  At 18, he joined the Lancashire Fusiliers as a career soldier and served in India at the beginning of the First World War before being part of the landing in Gallipoli in April 1915 when half his battalion lost their lives.

Jimmy was sent to France in 1916 to join the 15th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers – the Salford Pals. He saw heavy fighting and gained two good conduct badges before being transferred to the 17th Battalion King’s Liverpool Regiment in June 1917, with the rank of Lance Corporal.

Jimmy almost lost his life on the Somme on 11 October 1916 when a German artillery shell exploded, burying him alive and causing a shrapnel wound ‘the size of a fist’ on his right shoulder. He was rescued and sent home to convalesce before returning to the Front in December.

By now, however, Jimmy Smith was a broken man, both physically and mentally, suffering from what is known today as post-traumatic stress disorder. He gave up his stripes and became 52929 Private James Smith.  Soon he began disobeying orders and was twice given 90 days’ field punishment, losing his good conduct badges.

His comrades recognized he was very unwell and tried to help him as much as possible, but on 30 July 1917, Jimmy had a breakdown and deserted his post, being found wandering some five miles away in the town of Poperinghe. A doctor at the dressing post declared him fit for duty. Jimmy refused and was charged with desertion and later for disobedience for refusing to drill.

At this last court martial; Jimmy had no defence lawyer and no-one to speak of his past bravery. He said nothing and was sentenced to death.

His comrades from the 17th Battalion could not believe what they were being asked to do that September morning at Kemmel Chateau in Flanders.  They fired, but aimed to miss the white target pinned to Jimmy’s chest.  He was badly wounded however, and the young officer in charge knew he was supposed to put Jimmy out of his agony with his pistol.  He could not bring himself to do this and instead ordered Jimmy’s friend, Private Richard Blundell, to fire the shot.

Unable to disobey, Richard carried out the task that was to live with him for the next 70 years. On his deathbed in 1989, his final request was for his son to seek forgiveness from Jimmy’s family.

The terrible event was recreated over 80 years later in November 1998, by playwright Les Smith, who wanted to highlight the plight of Jimmy and others like him.  The play, ‘Early One Morning’, was staged at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre to coincide with the 80th anniversary of Armistice Day.  A seminar at the theatre was attended by members of the Shot At Dawn Campaign, which was seeking pardons for 306 Britons who were executed in the war.

These pardons were granted by Parliament in 2006 and a relative of Jimmy Smith, Charles Sandbach, campaigned for his name to be added to Bolton’s book of remembrance, supported by Bolton South East MP, Dr Brian Iddon.

This recognition of James Smith’s bravery and suffering came on Armed Forces Day in June 2009 in a ceremony at Bolton Town Hall, attended by his family. He is buried in grave M 25 at Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery.

House of Commons Hansard 3 Oct 2009.

Permission to use the “Shot at Dawn” Octagon Theatre programme cover courtesy of D-Room Design Communications.

“Remembering the Bolton hero who was shot at dawn” Bolton News 21 June 2009.



Researched and written by Lois Dean

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The sad story of Shadrach and Annie Critchley ; a WW1 Tragedy in Westleigh

Susan Berry, a volunteer with Leigh Local Studies, has researched and written this tragic story.

Shadrach Critchley

 Leigh Chronicle , April 1915


While searching for information on WW1 in the Leigh Chronicle at Leigh Local Studies, a headline jumped out at me “Sensational Tragedy at Westleigh”.

It is the story of a soldier, Shadrach Critchley and his wife Annie, being found in their house having committed suicide.

Shadrach was born 1881 in Leigh , the son of Thomas, a coal miner, and Sarah. Following him through the census it appears he grew up in Westleigh and in turn became a miner like his father. In 1906 he married Annie Heaton, and in the 1911 census they are found living in Westleigh, with the census stating they had no children and Shadrach still working in the mines.

Shadrach appears in the Leigh Chronicle in April 1915 in the list of new recruits at the Leigh office. He signed up with the 3rd Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment where he was stationed at Birkenhead. According to the Leigh Chronicle, he returned on Saturday 22nd May for three days leave and should have reported back on the Monday. He was  seen at the Fleece Inn on the Sunday night, by his friend and fellow soldier, Richard Adamson, where he had discussed with him how he had regretted joining up. His friend told him to “ buck up and he would be alright”, saying he had shown no signs that he was considering suicide. The following evening, Richard went to Shadrach’s home so they could return to their regiment and found the door locked. He told a neighbour he thought something was wrong and they forced open the door, where they discovered Shadrach and Annie lying on a mattress on the kitchen floor with their heads inside the gas oven.

At the inquest it was revealed that Annie had left a letter to her sister, and Shadrach to his father. The coroner requested that the contents of the letters be kept private but disclosed that they were to the effect that they wanted to die together and did not wish to be parted. They were buried together on the 27th May 1915 in St Paul’s, Westleigh. The jury returned a verdict of temporary insanity.

When we think of deaths in WW1 we think of soldiers dying in the trenches and on the front. Although Shadrach and his wife did not die in combat, their deaths can still be directly attributed to the war. I have checked all the local war memorials and as far as I can tell Shadrach does not appear on any of them, however he does appear on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site. His name appears on the Brookwood (United Kingdom1914-1918) Memorial . This memorial was created in 2004 and currently commemorates 500 men who were casualties in the United Kingdom. So nearly 90 years after his death, it was finally acknowledged that Shadrach was as much a victim of the war as the soldiers who died in combat.

Sources: Leigh Journal, Leigh Chronicle, Ancestry, St Paul’s Westleigh burial records

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Stockport Schools and Military hospitals

Stockport Schools as Military Hospitals

 Amanda Swann has written and researched this insightful story from the Stockport Archives.

In researching the effect that the war had on schools in the Stockport area through the logbooks held in the Heritage Library archive, I discovered that one of the biggest disruptions to everyday school life in the area was the acquisition of school buildings by the War Office for use as military hospitals. This began to affect Stockport in March 1915, with the Stockport Advertiser reporting on Friday March 26 1915 that the Mayor had been asked by the Military Authorities which schools could potentially be used as hospitals if required. It was also reported that accommodation for 750 beds might be needed across the borough. The suggested schools were inspected for their potential use, being noted as “new schools with good light and ventilation and [which] from every point of view would make good hospitals”. The schools eventually taken for use as military hospitals in Stockport were St George’s school in Heaviley, Hollywood Park and Alexandra Park schools in Edgeley, and Greek Street Secondary School. The first patients are reported as being admitted into these military hospitals in July 1915 (Stockport Advertiser, Fri July 2 1915, p.5). Greek Street High School 17421  Greek St High School as military hospital

When the schools were taken for use as military hospitals in March and April 1915, it was agreed that the children from the affected schools would be distributed amongst other schools in the area. The Edgeley Council Infants School logbook notes on April 1 1915 of a meeting with the “Chairman of the Primary Education Committee (Mr J Forster, J.P) […] at 4 o’clock on Tues aft next, the 6th instant, at No 2 Committee Room, Town Hall, to consider the best arrangements to be made for instruction of scholars in schools affected by Military Hospital considerations”. As a result of meetings such as this, the affected schools began sharing school premises with remaining schools in the borough, and operating their timetables on what was known as either a two-shift, double-shift or four shift system. The two schools operating on this system would each take a morning and afternoon session, dividing the school day into 4 sessions for 2 schools. The logbooks for Edgeley Council Infants School, who took on pupils from Alexandra Park Juniors School, and St Peter’s School, who took on pupils from Hollywood Park School, record the changed timetables accommodating the altered system, from which they alternated between earlier and later shifts on a term-by-term basis.

Edgeley School Log Book
School logbook with timetable

The transition to sharing the school premises between two different schools seems to have, understandably, initially caused some disruption. As the opening and closing and hours of the schools were extended to accommodate the growing numbers and need for alternating shifts, an effect could be noted on both attendance and progress within the lessons. Just one week after St Peter’s School had switched to a double shift system in order to accommodate Hollywood Park School in the week ending 16 April 1916, the logbook notes that “The under fives do not attend well in the mornings 8.30am being early for them”. A few weeks later, on June 4, the St Peter’s logbook again notes that the “early meeting of school affects attendance greatly”. This on-going disruption and routine sense of change to the school lives of affected pupils continued until September 1919; the significant amounts of injured soldiers needing treatment requiring the continued use of school buildings as hospitals until nearly a year after the conflict ended. The logbooks reveal a sense that this constant changing of attendance times became a routine aspect of school life, presumably lasting for some pupils for the entire duration of their attendance there. Edgeley Council School notes the changing of times every term, for example, throughout 1918 and 1919 as “in accordance with custom”. The Stockport Advertiser also reports, in August 1919, of a delay in the return of the school buildings occupied as military hospitals to their original occupants. Whilst the townspeople had no desire to unduly remove the injured who had fought so bravely for their country, the length of time between the discharge of patients and closing of the hospitals seemed excessive. On August 22 1919, an article in the Stockport Advertiser states: “There has been no desire as far as Stockport is concerned to unduly rush the military authorities, but when we know how long the hospitals have been empty of patients, and the delay in removing equipment and handing the schools back to the local education authority, there seems very good cause for complaint.”   The buildings are reported as being closed down as hospitals as far back as May of that year and yet still remained unable to allow children to return there for their education at the beginning of the new school year in September. In the words of the reporter: “Stockport was very patriotic in regard to placing its best school buildings at the disposal of the military authorities, and undoubtedly the education of the children suffered through the lack of accommodation caused by the withdrawal of these schools – a regrettable but unavoidable effect – but there should be no excuse for any department withholding buildings from their legitimate purposes a moment longer than is necessary” (Stockport Advertiser, August 22 1919, p. 4). This continued and prolonged disruption must have undoubtedly have impacted upon the lives of those trying to move from the horror of the conflict, serving as an extended reminder of those injured or lost.

Alexandra Park Council School Military Hospital patients and staff 21647
  Alexandra School patients and workers

However, it seems, from looking at some of the logbooks for the schools directly affected by the acquisition of buildings for military hospitals and other schools in the area, that the sharing of school premises and the disruption this brought may have served as a reminder of the sacrifice many men were making for them and their country and drawn together those at home. A feeling of community seems to have been evoked amongst the disruption caused by the transformation of school buildings into hospitals, which led to the sharing of school premises. The increased presence of soldiers within the area as patients within the hospitals also seems to have evoked an appreciation for the soldiers’ sacrifices and a willingness to show gratitude. The logbook for another local school, Brentnall Street Infants School, records a number of charitable donations and sending of gifts to the wounded soldiers in the local hospitals including collections of eggs sent to Greek St and St George’s hospitals on September 22 1915, March 22 and July 6 1916, and February 23 1917. The Stockport Advertiser also reported at the beginning of the occupation of school buildings as military hospitals in April 1915 of the co-operation and unity required by the local community in relation to this, stating that: “The times demand that there should be a spirit of co-operation in all matters which are for the benefit of the state or the individual and particularly should it be so in a case [where schools are being used as hospitals and] where the authorities are handicapped as a result of the war, and are endeavouring to ‘carry on’ as usual” (Stockport Advertiser, Friday April 9 1915, p. 7) The newspaper also highlighted the impact the sharing of schools was having on the schoolchildren in relation to the wider context of the conflict taking place overseas. On April 16 1915, in an article outlining how the children had settled into their new school routines, the Stockport Advertiser reported that one of the notable effects of the new system was that the children “are realising how they can play their part in the war” and that “the way in which everyone settles down so quickly to a new mode of life is one of the surprising features arising out of the war”. It’s particularly heart-warming to read the positivity reported to arise out of difficult and challenging circumstances such as these. Hollywood Park Military Hospital 26114  Hollywood Park school  1916

Another instance of the human nature of the effects of World War I can be found in the appreciation showed by the pupils of Alexandra Park school and their hosts during the war, the Edgeley Council Infants School, during the time the schools were occupied as hospitals. The Edgeley Council school logbook notes on September 12 that “‘Our late guests’, the Alex Park teachers and scholars have returned to their own school. During the whole of the time they were with us, a period of 4 years and 4 months, a true spirit of comradeship was maintained”. Two weeks later, on September 26 1919, the admiration felt towards their ‘late guests’ is reciprocated by Alexandra Park Junior school: “This afternoon we have received from the teachers and scholars of Alex Park Junior School, a beautiful picture. The letter accompanying the picture asks us to accept it as a ‘token of appreciation and kindness shown to them during the time they were our guests 1915-19’”. It is instances such as this that reveal the toll on everyday life the First World War had, away from the trenches, and highlight the extraordinary ways in which war reveals the true benevolence of people to help their community and country.
Alexandra Park Council School Military Hospital 17416
Alexandra Park school, 1915

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‘The Oldham Suffragist’


Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society in 1914 and

‘The Oldham Suffragist’ Ambulance


In the first week of the war, news came that the Suffragettes (the militant suffragists), currently serving jail sentences had been released from prison. Oldham’s Annie Kenney, along with Manchester’s Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia, who were all subject to the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ at the time, were also given their freedom. In addition it was learned that Mrs. Pankhurst’s eldest daughter, Christabel, who had remained in France since evading capture in March 1912 when a warrant had been issued for her arrest, would now be free to return to England without the risk of prosecution.

These releases were a result of a re-orientation of the Suffrage and Suffragette movements as recorded in the annual report of the Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society published in October 1914. For the duration of the conflict and in line with NUWSS policy, the work of the society would lie in supporting the war effort rather than actively campaigning for women’s suffrage.

The activities of the Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society in 1914 were recorded in its annual report in October 1915. ‘Falling into line with the position of the National Union, we have, like all other Women’s Suffrage Societies, laid aside our active political work to do our share in relieving distress both at home and abroad. It would take too long to particularise the many activities in which our members are engaged. Many have taken up Red Cross work. One is on the medical staff of the women’s hospital in Serbia….’

In the opening months of the war the society had begun to organise the distribution of free milk, clothing and aid to the needy of the district. As in the past, Marjory Lees, President of the Oldham Women’s Suffrage Society and her mother, Dame Sarah Lees, were swift to offer their support when it was needed. Marjory paid for the free milk to expectant and nursing mothers in 454 families which, in the first 3 months of the scheme in 1914, amounted to 1,594 pints each week. The members of the Society also organised the distribution through their ‘visitors’ who also worked with the Oldham Committee for the Care of Women and Children, establishing clothing depots throughout the town to provide warm clothing for those in need. In addition, it is recorded that Marjory donated £1,000 to the Allies Relief Fund.

In December 2014 Dame Sarah Lees presented the Oldham Branch of the St. John Ambulance Society with a fully equipped ambulance, which she named ‘The Oldham Suffragist’. On one side of the ambulance was inscribed: ‘Presented by Mrs. C. E. Lees to the Oldham No. IV District ‘ and on the other ‘The Oldham Suffragist’. The ambulance, destined for the Front, was supplied by Oldham Motor Company.

The presentation took place at WernethPark, the home of the Lees family, in the presence of numerous medical and civic representatives, 36 uniformed nursing sisters, and 30 men who gave displays of ‘ambulance work’.

In his speech of thanks the President of the Oldham Branch of the Association spoke of the 6,000 ambulance certificates and orders of merit awarded; of the 42 Oldham men who had already joined the Royal Army Medical corps; of 26 ‘berth reserve’, the Royal Naval Auxiliary Sick Berth Reserve (RNASBR) attached to the navy; and 25 to the Royal Marines. There were also 70 men in training and ready to go as soon as orders were received. In addition there were over 30 women with certificates, 12 of whom had volunteered for service with the Red Cross in Belgium.


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Gathering an Army – Enlistment in Manchester

Soldiers lined-up
Albert Jordan was a member of the St Paul’s Literary and Educational Society which published a selection of essays and reports by members each year. The bound copies were then loaned out to members of the Society. We have copies of ‘Odds and Ends’, as it was known, for 1917 and 1918, and included in amongst  the poetry and watercolour illustrations are some fascinating insights into life on the home front.

Albert Jordan  wrote a long and detailed account of his work as an enlistment clerk. For any historian researching these practical processes it could be a valuable resource. Here are some extracts from that account.

It may be that in the years to come some casual reader of this magazine, browsing around these pages, will have his attention arrested by the above heading and pausing to reflect, may remember that, though he may have heard and read much of the marvellous doing of those sons of England, during the great war, and may have even himself have taken part in the fighting with all its misery and glory; he still has little or no knowledge of how that tremendous force came into being as a fighting force;  and it is with a view to giving him some slight insight of that work, that these few pages are written.  The reader, of course, already knows how in the first few months of war, the wild enthusiasm of hundreds of thousands caused them to fling away their business positions in office, workshop, mine, or wherever it might be in order to join the ranks,  and how rich and poor, educated and illiterate, virtuous and vicious, stood shoulder to shoulder learning their drill, and enduring all the discomforts and dangers of camp life, with very inadequate equipment, shelter and food.

               But in spite of the immense numbers who had already joined, it had become, by the spring of 1915, quite evident that only the united and entire effort of the whole nation, could avail against the danger that threatened us.  A great and powerful nation, long prepared for war with millions of men fully equipped, already in the field, and with tremendous resources of her own and her allies to fall back upon, could not be overcome except by the most strenuous effort on the part of those opposed to her.

            Accordingly as an early part of her preparation, the Government of this country, decided that on August 16th 1915, a census should be taken of the whole of the population between the ages of 16 and 62. This having been done, the papers were taken charge of, in the first instance, by the Local Authorities, and in Manchester, the clerical staff at the town hall were sent to work, extracting from the returns, each on a separate form, the particulars of each male between the ages of 18 and 40 years.  These were in turn passed on to the Military Authorities, who presently issued an appeal for voluntary assistance in the clerical work necessary.  Such an appeal had only to be issued to meet with an immediate and hearty response; and amongst many others, the present writer expressed his desire and willingness to do what he could.  Long past the military age, and never at any time a fighting man, I nevertheless desired to do what little I could.  

He continues:

I think and hope that, had I been within the military age, and found physically fit, I should have been found brave enough, even though fearful to offer myself to my country’s need. 

But this could not be, and it was with feelings of great satisfaction that I received a notice to attend at the Hulme Town Hall at the request of the military authorities.  Armed with my notice, I duly presented myself and was taken into the large hall, capable of holding some hundreds of people.  The floor space was taken up with plank tables, and forms for seats.  Inkwells, blotting paper and pens were scattered over the tables, and already a number of persons were at work under the supervision of a small permanent staff previously engaged.  I was placed at one of the tables and given a packet of ten of the papers I have already alluded to as containing the particulars of all men of military age.  The information given included the man’s full name, and address, year of birth, age, married or single, children over sixteen years of age, people wholly or partly dependant on him, occupation, employers’ name, business and place of business, also number of area, number of polling district, and occupation number, altogether a well thought out scheme giving all the necessary information.  With these ten papers we were also given ten white cards, ten coloured cards and an army form divided into ten places, with the instruction to copy all the particulars from the originals onto the two cards and army form.  Although almost entirely routine work, this was not at all uninteresting, the difficulty in at times deciphering the writing with the possibility of making errors that might easily lead to later confusion and the unintended humour sometimes to be found all varied the monotony. In one case I found that a comparatively young man claimed as having dependant on him, eight children over sixteen, seven under sixteen, and eight other persons partially dependant upon him, making one think that he must have totalled up the whole of his relations and put them down.  In another case the man apparently desirous of showing that someone found him useful, put down his landlady as dependant upon him.  Such as these added a little variety to the work.

He mentions restricted trades and ‘starred’ men.

                  Having got all the particulars of all the men; the next step necessary was to get the men themselves.  All could not be taken, some were necessary to make supplies for the army; others could not be taken from certain occupations if the trade of the country was not to be entirely stopped.  To avoid taking these men, certain trades were made restricted, and the workers became known as starred men, and their cards and army forms marked accordingly, showing that they were not to be touched.

Continuing on the theme of voluntary enlistment versus conscription:

Lord Derby had been appointed by the government as Director of Recruiting with the idea of getting a voluntary army without having recourse to conscription.  The political parties were asked to undertake the personal canvas of men already not in the army.  One set of the cards we had made was issued for their use, and we waited for the returns .

                Presently these commenced to come in, and although considerable success had been attained it was very evident that the bulk of the willing fighters had already gone and many of the cards contained excuses, some pitiful, some curious, and some frankly indifferent or hostile.  I think the most humorous part of our work consisted in reading the various remarks on the cards, when entering them up as we had to do on the army forms.  It soon could be seen that unless greater numbers came in, conscription would be unavoidable, and presently a date was fixed when voluntary enlistment would be closed.  This started things off with a rush, and such scenes were witnessed as had never before been seen.  It was also made known that all who enlisted could not be taken into service at once, as arms and equipment were not ready for them, but they would be entitled to wear Khaki Armlets which would be issued on a certain day, and the wearing of which would proclaim to their fellows that they had voluntarily offered themselves for service.  The existing recruiting stations soon became all insufficient and others were opened at various Public Halls, and amongst them at the Hulme Town Hall.  


There still remained of course an immense number of men who had not been enlisted, and further efforts, finally resulting in conscription were made, but the remaining work so far as our labours were concerned was of such a character and proportion  that it could be readily dealt with by the permanent staff, and so by the time that February 1916 came around, I and most other of my fellow voluntary workers felt that we could withdraw with the happy consciousness that we had been at any rate of some little use in ‘Gathering the Army’.     



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