GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

Leave a comment

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.

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

Belgian Refugees’ Oldham Concert

From the archive at Oldham, comes this story of a concert for Belgian refugees.

Belgian Concert prog001

Oldham Orchestral Society
On 16 December 1914 the Oldham Orchestral Society played at a Grand Concert in aid of the Belgian and local relief funds. The concert included works by English composers Granville Bantock, Percy Grainger, S Coleridge Taylor, the Russian composer Tchaikovsky, and perhaps surprisingly the German composers Beethoven, Max Bruch and Wagner.
At Number 8 in the programme was an item entitled ‘National Anthems’ featuring the Belgian, French and Russian anthems as well as ‘Rule Britannia’, ‘God Save the King’, and ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’

Belgian prog001

The concert was attended by a correspondent from the Oldham Chronicle who penned his report on 17 December 1914:

On Wednesday evening the Oldham Orchestral Society gave a concert at the Empire Theatre in aid of the Belgian and local relief funds and from the artistic and financial points of view the occasion was very successful.

The theatre was not quite full, but there was a large audience, the splendid sweep of the dress circle presenting a very attractive appearance with the evening dress. The Mayor and Mayoress had seats in the centre of the front row of the circle and Mrs. Alderman Lees had a party in one of the boxes. The orchestra was for this occasion without professional leader, Mr. Frank Jagger having the honour for this concert, and Mr. Frederick Dawson, the honorary conductor, held the baton and the orchestral contributions to the evening’s programme were completely successful.

Possibly the most beautiful of these was the mellifluous Berceuse from Goddard’s ‘Jocelyn’ for strings, woodwind and with a horn solo tastefully played by Mr. W. Hilton.

A very popular mood was adopted in the treatment of the set of national songs with which the first part of the programme was wound up. The item was entitled ’National Anthems’ and was described as Granville Bantock’s arrangement, but we may be pardoned for suggesting that that despite its popularity and its aid to the marching powers of our soldiers it is yet too early to canonise ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ as a ‘national anthem’. However, the large audience jumped at the chance to sing the lifting, swinging chorus when its turn came.

The printed appeal to any Belgians present to sing ‘La Brabanconne’ in Flemish did not elicit any audible response, and the English words printed on the programme seemed to be impossible to fit in with the rhythm of the tune, and the result was that the Belgian anthem was left to the band.

The cover design of the programme was by Monsieur Paul Stordiau, architect of Antwerp, who is at present a refugee in Oldham.

Belgian prog003

The inclusion of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ in the performance of National Anthems shows how iconic the song had become by this early stage in the war. Allegedly written in Stalybridge in 1912 it was taken up by the British Expeditionary force in France and achieved world-wide popularity after being sung in a pantomime in November 1914 by the music-hall star Florrie Forde.

The inclusion of music by German composers suggests there was no widespread anti-German feeling in Oldham certainly at this point in the war

Leave a comment

Bolton Brothers in Arms

Bolton Brothers in Arms

England Bros Bolton Journal 9 Oct 1914comp

In the early years of the First World War, the Bolton Journal ran a regular feature ‘Mothers of England’, featuring local women who had a number of sons in the forces. Sadly, many of these ‘brothers in arms’, whose youthful faces smiled out from the pages of the newspaper, were never to return to their hometown.

The patriotically named England brothers featured in the Journal of 9 October 1914. Matthew, Joseph, John, William, Samuel and Edward had all joined the Colours shortly after the outbreak of war. Younger brother James was to join up later in the conflict. All were the sons of Matthew England of Horwich and his late wife Elizabeth, who had died in 1911. One of the brothers, William, a Private with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, was killed in France on 25 November 1915, aged 25.

Also featured in the same edition of the Journal were the five sons of William and Mary Harris of Radcliffe Road, Haulgh. Jack was serving in the Royal Navy on HMS Temeraire, having enlisted in 1912. Brother Harry had been with the 5th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire’s for four years, whilst William (Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment), Arthur and Robert (both Bolton Artillery) had joined up at the start of hostilities. All were to return home, but youngest brother Cyril, who joined up in January 1915, aged just 17, was badly wounded in 1917 and then taken prisoner in March 1918 dying at Freidrichsfeld PoW camp on 26 September 1918, his 21st birthday.
Printed memorial cards in an album pay sad tribute to the three Davison brothers of Rose Street, Bolton.
John Davisoncomp

John, the youngest to enlist was also the first to die, losing his life on 9 August 1916 in France, aged 20. He had joined the 10th Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment just a month after war broke out and had risen to the rank of corporal. William was with the 10th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers and was killed in action on 12 May 1917, near Arras, where he is buried in the cemetery. He was 33 and married with an eight-year-old daughter, Mary Ellen.

Tom Davisoncomp

Tom Davison had been at the Front with the 10th Battalion, LNLR, for just six months when he was killed on 7 October 1917, aged 30. He is buried in Zonnebeke, Belgium. Tom had been a commercial traveller before he joined up and was married with a daughter Gwendoline, who was not yet two years old when he died.

Youngest brother George was the only one to survive the conflict.

Permission to use the article from the Bolton Journal courtesy of Bolton News.

Archive ref ZZ/801/21 Corporal J Davison Brooks Family Album

Archive ref ZZ/801/24 Private T Davison Brooks Family Album

Researched and written by Lois Dean

Leave a comment

Home Thoughts from Abroad

While searching through the vast array of World War One images available for viewing on the Manchester Archives+ Flickr, I found myself stopping to pay particular attention to images of soldiers on camels; often, posing before well-known Egyptian landmarks. Although documentation of the British presence in the Middle East during World War One is unsurprising in itself, these photographs offer a more personal and tailored approach to British actions in Egypt and surrounding areas, and provide a striking contrast between their militarily-focused foreground and eye-catching background.

Five soldiers on camels in front of a Sphinx, c.1914-1918

This image depicts a group of five soldiers mounted on camels, and posed in front of the enduring figure of the Sphinx. Although camels were required by British forces to supply soldiers as they crossed the treacherous Sinai Desert, it also appears they were used as a means of all-purpose transportation to properly navigate Egypt. Furthermore, this particular photograph was part of a larger collection belonging to John Beeston Harwood, born 2nd March 1886 and part of the 5th Territorial Battalion of the Welch Regiment during World War One. He and his comrades also served in Palestine and Gallipoli – two other major campaigns for British troops overseas at this time. This is documented below, on the cover of a booklet issued in 1920 to commemorate the battalion and their service.

Cover of booklet

The following photograph depicts a similar set-up – this time, just two soldiers in front of the Sphinx – from a collection of images of James Goodier. A member of the Manchester Regiment during World War One, Goodier kept a detailed record of his day-to-day life as a soldier in the Middle East in the form of letters to his wife and children, as well as the other photographs we have digitised on our Flickr stream. It is also known that he served in Mesopotamia – another campaign fought in the Middle Eastern theatre during the First World War.

James Goodier in Egypt

Fortunately, of these sources, we are able to give some context as to who is depicted in them and their other activities during World War One. However, in other cases, we are not privy to such information, if any at all. The image below depicts a party of soldiers believed to be stationed in Egypt – although we cannot be sure – and came with a front cover sheet simply reading:

To Elsie from Jack Egypt Xmas 1914.

Although we know relatively little about Jack, Elsie or any of the soldiers in the photograph, it still provides an interesting and personal viewpoint from which to view the battles and correspondence of World War One and, in this case, the Middle Eastern campaign.

A party of soldiers

To conclude, the digitisation of images from World War One has enabled us to gain a more individual, intimate insight into the lives of soldiers and their daily activities as part of a Regiment overseas. We may never be able to access the full context behind certain photographs, but they provide a road into further research and source collection to contribute to the Centenary Project. For me, it was the sights of Egypt that caught my eye – why not visit our Flickr set and see what sparks your imagination?

Researched  and written by Alexandra Hulmes, a volunteer on the GM1914 project

Leave a comment

The Royal Army Medical Corps: some personal connections

Lesley Oldham has volunteered at the Greater Manchester County Record Office. Her medical knowledge and background in the TA has been very valuable in helping identify the significance of some of the records held there relating to the Great War. Lesley has researched and written this post about the RAMC.

When I first got involved with the archive I decided to have a look at the  Manchester Archive + flickr webpage on the First World War. I was hoping to find pictures relating to the East Lancashire Field Ambulances who I have had an interest in for many years. As a serving member of the local TA (now the Army Reservist) medical unit (207 (Manchester) Field Hospital) I regard these field ambulances as my military ancestors. I was surprised therefore that on the very first page I found two pictures where I could recognise two people, one of which was marked “First World War Officers- no details” So I decided to do a little digging to see if I could identify any of the other people in the photographs.

Whitworth Street Military Hospital

Firstly the picture showing the Royal Army Medical Corps at Whitworth Street Military Hospital (the Headquarters of 2nd Western General Hospital). It must have been an important date judging by the decorations behind the men. The officer sat in the middle wearing the lighter coloured riding breeches is Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Hibbert Westmacott. How do I know this? Well I have passed his picture regularly for more years than I care to remember on a board of various senior officers who have commanded the Volunteer Medical Services for over one hundred years. He commanded 2nd Western General Hospital from 2 October 1915 until 12 April 1917 (others give slightly different dates but only by a few months) until he mobilized to command 57th General Hospital which deployed to Marseilles, France in July 1917. He commanded 2nd Western again from 2 October 1917 to 15 May 1918 when he returned to France where he remained until the Armistice.

The only other person who is identified is William Strutt, (front row, third right) whose relative donated the picture to the archive. I have tried to find out more information on William using the WW1 medal roll index and the 1911 census but without success.


Lieutenant Colonel Westmascott is stood to the left of the picture as you look at it. I recognised some of the other faces in this photograph from another  that appears to have been taken at the same time, held in the photograph archive of 207 (Manchester) Field Hospital and thought to be taken inside 2nd Western Hospital on Whitworth Street.

EPSON scanner image
So knowing when Westmacott commanded the hospital I searched the local newspaper archive for events that may have been related to the pictures. I found a visit by Field Marshal Lord French to Manchester in November of 1916 which was to include the hospital. French had been the Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force at the start of the war until his resignation (sacking) in December 1915 when he look up the post of Commander in Chief of the British Home Forces, so there are plenty of images of him on the internet. I think I can safely say the officer Westmacott is talking to is Lord French. The papers mention that Sir William Pitcairn Campbell, the Commander in Chief of the Western Command,  accompanied him on his visit. Again using images from the internet I think he is stood behind Lord French on the right as you look at the picture. The man with the top hat and chain I assumed to be the Lord Mayor of Manchester who was at that time Alderman Thomas Smethurst.

But the man who I recognised immediately and whose image drew me to the picture was that of Colonel Sir William Coates. At that time he was the Assistant Director of Medical Services of the Western Command. He is the small man whose face is half hidden by Lord French.

Why am I so sure it is him?

When I first joined the TA part of the induction was to be shown around the Coates room of the Officers’ Mess, which at that time housed pictures of former Commanding Officers and many of their medals. Chief among them was William Coates who had, during ‘the Great War’, been awarded Officer Order of the Crown (Belgium) for his support to Belgium. I always wanted to find out more about what heroic deeds he performed in Belgium that prompted such an award.

Sir william Coates

It is only in the last few years when the TA Centre (still used today) he helped to build for the Royal Army Medical Corps Volunteers in the early years of the 20th Century  was renamed after him that I fully understood the impact the deeds of this man had on the provision of medical care both on the home and foreign fronts during the war.

Born in Worksop in 1860 he trained as a doctor at the London Hospital and moved to Manchester to take up practice in 1884. In 1885 he became Acting Surgeon to the 20th Lancashire Rifle Volunteer Corps and shortly after he was instrumental in the formation of the Manchester Volunteer Medical Staff Corps. From this point on he was a major influence on the provision of voluntary military medical services not just in Manchester but in the Country, sitting on Haldane’s Committee on Army reform that brought about the formation of the Territorial Force in 1908. He did not limit his actives to military medical services and in 1910 organised and formed the East Lancashire British Red Cross Society.

By the start of the war East Lancashire and North East Cheshire were ready to provide four Field Ambulances, three deploying to Egypt and one to France in September 1914, a casualty clearing station, a military hospital in the form of 2nd Western General Hospital plus a large number Red Cross Hospitals. It speaks volumes of Coates’ organisational and planning skills that 2nd Western opened its doors just 10 days after it had been mobilised, admitting its first patients on the on the 16th August and its first overseas patients on 20th September. By the end of November 1914 the hospital had admitted 5560 wounded patients including 43 Germans and 1172 Belgian officers and men.

The determination of Coates and his ability to think ‘outside the box’ was shown when the men of the Manchester Companies of the Royal Army Medical Corps refused to join the new Special Reserve in 1908 (which would require them to serve overseas) due to their experiences in the Boer War when, whilst leaving Manchester together, on arrival in South Africa they were separated. Coates proposed and gained War Officer approval for the formation of No. 18 Field Ambulance, Royal Reserve Army Medical Corps with reassurances that should the need arise to mobilise for overseas service they would do so as a formed body. The Ambulance was experimental and as far as I can tell the only one of its kind. When war came No. 18 Special Reserve Field Ambulance arrived in France on the 10th September 1914 as part of the 6th Division. It remained on the Western Front until 1919 when it returned to Kinmel Park, according to the last war diary entry on 20th September 1919.

Several years ago I had the good fortune to meet William Coates’ grandson Michael and was able to talk to him at length about his grandfather  with whom  he had  lived as a child. What came across were Coates’ personality and the traits I most admired him for. He was a practical man good at problem solving with little time I think for sentimentality. But he was a compassionate man who worked tirelessly for the good and benefit for those around him. Michael told me of one occasion after the war when Sir William discovered that a member of his household staff had stolen some money from him. At that time, as can be gleaned from other posts on this blog, the staff member should have expected  harsh consequences for the theft. But Coates did not dismiss the man nor did he turn him over to the police. He did however make the man pay back the money in full and the man remained with the family for many years.

Sir William knew many of the most prominent medical men of the day, including Sir Frederic Treves. On one occasion Treves took Coates to visit the Star and Garter Home for disabled servicemen at Richmond. Coates was so impressed that he helped to provide similar facilities in the North. Four houses where purchased with a view to great homes for Totally Disabled Soldiers, one at Wyborne Gate, Southport, one in Blackburn and Grangethorpe House, Rusholme, the latter becoming an orthopaedic hospital. The fourth, Broughton House, still exists today as a home for ex-service men and women.

As for why Sir William got awarded Officer Order of the Crown I still don’t really know but I expect it was in recognition of all the wounded Belgium troops treated in East Lancashire. As far as I am aware he never actually went to any of the battle fronts. None of his medals were for heroic deeds, saving lives whilst putting his own at risk, or for working long hours in the trenches in difficult conditions. Rather they were for his tireless work in providing medical care both during and after the war to all who needed it. He was a modest man, you will not find much about him on the internet. Even the online picture of him on the National Portrait Gallery website is labelled simply ‘Physician’. Yet his actions still impact on people’s lives today particularly in the form of Broughton House which still holds true to Sir Williams’s vision of caring for ex-service personnel long after wars are forgotten.

Coates, W., The evolution of the Medical Services of the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 1935. LXV: p. 270-279, 334-347.

Brockbank, W., The honorary medical staff of the Manchester Royal Infirmary 1830-1948. Manchester U.P 1965 ISBN B6512669

The Long, Long Trail [website] January 2014; Available from:

Manchester Evening News 06 November 1916 page 3

Manchester Evening News 03 November 1916

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 22 November 1909 page 8

Sir William Coates, A leaflet produced on the occasion of his 100th Birthday, R. Verney Baker & Co., Printers, 19 Bloom St., Salford, 3.

Thorburn, W., The 2nd Western Gerneral Hospital. The British Journal of Surgery, 1914. 2(7): p. 491-505.

Gray, P., Grangethorpe Hospital Rusholme 1917-1929. Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, 1975. 78: p. 51-64.    



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 690 other followers