GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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A Family at War

Brooks Family with Sissy (Agnes) on right around 1911comp

A Family at War – in Pictures

Fresh-faced young men in uniform stare out from the pages of a photograph album that belonged to a young Bolton woman during the First World War.

Agnes Brooks, known as Sissy, born in 1895, was the second eldest daughter of carter James Brooks and his wife Agnes (nee Smith). She had older siblings Harry, Lilias and James and younger ones George, May, Hetty and Harold. Another brother Herbert was born in 1904 but died the following year. The family had lived at 23 Brierley Street, Bolton, but by the time war broke out, they were living at 31 Rose Street.

As well as family photographs and those of the un-named young soldiers, Sissy saved postcards from family and friends, including several with views of London and Mitcham, Surrey, sent by Will Kent, a neighbour of her aunt and uncle who had moved to Mitcham. One wonders if Sissy had a ‘soft spot’ for Will, who was a few years older than her!

These postcards helped identify the Brooks family, the album having been handed into Bolton History Centre. Another postcard was sent home from Bulford Barracks on Salisbury Plain by the Brooks son James (Jim) who was training there in May 1916.

George Brookscomp

A sadder part of the collection includes ‘memorial cards’, re-prints of articles that appeared in the Bolton Journal Roll of Honour. Friends and neighbours lost sons, the average age being just 20.

The family had their own war tragedy. Son George had joined the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) and lost his life in Flanders on 9th April, 1918, aged just 19. A photograph of the Roll of Honour for Holy Trinity Day School, Bolton, contains his name.

Sissy’s own story has a sad ending. She doesn’t seem to have enjoyed good health, postcards from family members are sent to a sanatorium in Southport. She died at home in Rose Street, aged 21, in June 1917.

Archive Ref ZZ/801 Brooks Family Album

Researched and written by Lois Dean, volunteer at Bolton

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Westhoughton celebrations: ox roasts and ‘Keaw-Yeds’

Westhoughton Peace Celebrations Ox roast

Ox Roast Westhoughtona>

Pam Clarke, President of the Westhoughton Local History Group, has written this account of feasts and celebrations  including a possible explanation for the ‘Cow head’ name given to residents of Westhoughton.  


The townsfolk of Westhoughton had suffered extreme hardship during the French wars; they had also become victims of the Luddites when a mob destroyed one of the world’s first weaving mills with looms powered by a steam engine. Union mill, Westhoughton, was built in 1804 and burned to the ground in 1812.

In 1815 after Napoleon’s army was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, ending the war with France it was decided that an ox should be roasted to celebrate the historic occasion.  The site chosen for the feast was on the land where the ruins of the mill still stood opposite the old coaching Inn, the White Lion.

People came from the outlying hamlets of Wingates, Chequerbent, Daisy Hill, Fourgates and Hart Common to join in the feast and football games were played between the teams of men from the various parts of Westhoughton.  The ‘trophy’ was not a silver cup it was the head of the beast they had just feasted upon.  The victors would parade around with the head mounted on the top of a pole.  This tradition was kept up annually for many years and a nick-name for the town’s people was born – ‘Keaw-Yeds’ (cow heads).

To celebrate the end of the Great War in November 1918 the townsfolk of Westhoughton decided to keep this old tradition alive and a public ox-roasting was again held on the very same ground where the old cotton mill once stood. It is reported that 3,000 schoolchildren marched along Market Street in a procession led by Wingates Temperance Band as it was then called.

The Ox was donated by William Heaton of Lostock, who was a mill owner, the spit-roasting equipment was made at the Westhoughton Gun Works and the first cut of the ox was made by Mr Allden OBE, officer in charge of the Royal Naval Gun Factory, which was located off Church Street, Westhoughton.

In 2011, the members of Westhoughton Local History Group were given a hoof which is said to be from the ox which was roasted in 1918.  This hoof has been made into a gentleman’s stud box; it was varnished and fitted with a decorative brass lid, which is engraved with the date of 30th November 1918.

Ox hoovescomp

Some months later, a similar ox hoof was given to the Westhoughton Local History Group – now custodians of two!

Maybe the original Keaw’s Yed will turn up one day, but it must have provenance!

Oxen hoof inscriptioncomp

Description: Ox Hoof, which has been preserved – varnished and fixed beneath into a silver top, this has a hinged lid with the following inscription: HOOF OF THE OX PUBLICLY ROASTED AT WESTHOUGHTON NOVEMBER 30 1918 IN CELEBRATION OF THE ARMISTICE OF THE GREAT WAR NOVEMBER 1918.

Ox roasting for peace1 photo LSW86 Bolton Local Studies collection

Ox roasting invitation card 1918 BOLMG 2012.4.4. Bolton Museum Collection.

Pam Clarke

President of Westhoughton Local History Group

 There is a different explanation for the ‘cow head’ name for inhabitants of Westhoughton, involving a cow with her head stuck through the bars of a gate, and the solution chosen to free her. There’s a similar ‘legend’ about a village in Derbyshire. Neither are flattering! This type of ‘blason populaire’ is a familiar feature in folklore, where communities are criticised and defined in a spirit of competition. ( Nicky Crewe, editor)

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Bolton and Farnworth celebrate peace

Victoria Sq Peace Day celebrations 1919comp

Lois Dean, a volunteer from Bolton, has researched and written this account of peacetime celebrations from Bolton’s collection.

Bolton Peace Souvenir 1919comp
Bolton and Farnworth Celebrate Peace

The summer of 1919 saw peace celebrations taking place throughout Britain and the Bolton area was no exception. However, the Sunday appointed by King George V as a Day of Thanksgiving for Victory and Peace was July 6th, which coincided with the end of Bolton Holidays.  A special form of thanksgiving and prayer had been issued nationally (there is a copy in Bolton History Centre) and all local churches used this, even though the holidays meant there were fewer parishioners than usual present.

Many more local people took to the streets later in the month on Saturday, 19th, when Bolton folk turned out for the Peace Celebration. The festivities began at 10.30am, when the church bells rang out for a full half-hour.  At 1 o’clock, the Town Hall steps in Victoria Square were the venue for a rendition of the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ by massed choirs, accompanied by Bolton Subscription Band. Thanksgiving prayers were said and hymns sung by the crowd of townsfolk assembled in the square.

Later in the afternoon, it was the turn of the schoolchildren, who, having gathered at their respective schools, marched in procession to a local recreation ground, carrying banners and waving flags. Once there, all the schools took part in a drill display and then sang a special thanksgiving hymn, followed by ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and ‘God Save the King’.

Four o’clock saw the elderly of the town, as well as deaf and dumb and blind people, enjoying a tea-time treat in local schools and the day concluded at 10pm with a firework display at the recreation ground. Throughout the day, Bolton Subscription Band, Bolton Military Band and Halliwell Band played at various venues throughout the town.  A Peace Souvenir and Programme of Festivities was produced. It has a portrait of King George V on the cover and inside short biographies of leading politicians and military commanders and a list of significant events during the conflict. Bolton History Centre holds a copy.

The following month, on August 7th, children throughout the town enjoyed a special treat at their schools. Field races, other games and sing-alongs were organised and all manner of tasty food was on offer, much of which had been scarce during the war years.

Farnworth Peace Celebrations 1919comp

Nearby Farnworth held its own peace celebration on Saturday, August 2nd, when children from all the local Sunday and day schools marched in procession to the town’s market ground for a special thanksgiving festival. The schools were accompanied by ten brass bands from Farnworth and surrounding districts. A souvenir programme was produced by Farnworth Urban District Council and a copy is held at Bolton History Centre.

Farnworth Peace celebrations: concert and public presentation B940.3.FAR. Bolton History Centre.

Peace Day, Victoria Square 1919 photo Bolton Museum Collection

Peace Souvenir and programme of festivities 1919 Bolton Museum Collection BOLMG2011.157

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James Hall and his diary

James Hall and familycomp

The First World War Diary of James Hall 

James Hall from Farnworth was born in June 1889 and before the war was a fitter at the Clifton and Kearsley Coal Company’s Trencherbone Pit.

We know about Staff Sergeant James Hall’s experience of WW1 from the contents of a small diary of events he kept between March 1915 and June 1917. Here are extracts from his diary while in the theatres of war in Gallipoli and France as an engineer in the Royal Horse Artillery. His main role as an engineer was to keep the “big guns” in operation.

25th April 1915:-  Left Limnos for Gallipoli peninsular. Received orders not to speak to Turkish women except through their menfolk. If having cause to go to a house, knock hard to the women time to veil. Not to defile their shrines and temples and to hold all personal property sacred unless ordered to commandeer.

1st May 1915:-  Last night terrible. Infantry forced to give way through the French giving way. We had to dig trenches along guns and man them with only 50 rounds per man. Under terrible machine gun and rifle fire. Several men hit and one sergeant killed in space of five minutes but when day broke just as we were fagged out, we opened fire with our guns at 4.30am until 6.00am at gun fire. Guns red hot but kept up a steady fire until 7.00am. We have slaughtered thousands.

9th May 1915:-  Have gone through a lifetime in the last few days. It was simply murderous.

10th May 1915:-  Lost my best friend, Sergeant Barford, who was killed just as we were talking together about a job we had just completed on one of the guns.

9th February 1916:-  4 days leave. Arrived at Cairo 2am. Put up at Hotel Des Vougithu for the night. Rode on a camel to Pyramids and Sphinx. Had photo taken on camel in front of Sphinx. Saw tombs and temples and back by gharry to Zoological gardens – very fine

Following the extraction of British forces from Gallipoli, his regiment was transferred to France

18th March 1916:-  France. Left Marseilles, (after loading all night, horses and guns), at 9.00am for Abbeville, Calais and Paris line. 52 hours ran through the best of France. Stopped to water horses at Orange, a pleasant, pretty town. Stopped a short time later at Valenciennes, rather important and pretty.

26th June 1916:-  12.30am, a large shell burst over my dug-out. I heard a groan and rushed up with my torch and saw the officer’s hut smashed in. Went inside through the debris and found our officer, Mr Drake lying on the bed, a piece of shrapnel through left lung and heart, dead.

2nd July 1916:- The enemy position is so strong on our front that they have given up taking by frontal attacks and trying to cut them off from the right. Most regiments lost 70% through the front line not being smashed.

4th August 1916:-  Prince of Wales round our quarter with the guards. Passed him riding a bike up a hill from Loussencourt, sweating like a bull.

29th August 1916:-  Gassed for 6 hours with gas and tear shells.

13th September 1916:-  Arrived in Le Havre in hospital at the Casino number 2 General Hospital. Heart rending to pass the hospital boats.

8th April 1917:-  Easter Sunday. Trekking through St. Pol 2pm. No cigarettes, no grub, weary and fed up.

17th May 1917:-  Passing through Bethune this evening, met J .Prendergast and have a stroll (delighted) Later got into action behind Givenchy, alongside canal. An inhabited village on the other bank of the canal and an open café 200 yards lower down. Brave people.

Hall dispatchcomp

There are 178 entries in his diary, detailing his travels, miraculous escapes and the hell of war.

James, mentioned in dispatches for ‘gallant and distinguished service in the field’ eventually returned home safely to Vernon Street, Farnworth to his wife Teresa and son Jack. Together they had six more children. He died on 27th July 1952 and is buried in Farnworth Cemetery.

Excerpts taken from “The First World War Diary of James Hall” (1889-1952) Staff Sgt Royal Horse Artillery. A typescript of the diary is available at Bolton History Centre Ref B940.3 HAL.

Kevan Williams, a member of Farnworth Local History Society and one of the volunteers at Bolton, has researched and written this fascinating post. There will be more  diary extracts on the blog through 2014, including another eye witness account of Gallipoli from Arthur Sanders, serving on a hospital ship.


Oldham Doctor in Serbia : A Lady’s Thrilling Experience

Dr Catherine Payne

This story from Oldham is in the best tradition of wartime endeavour and adventure, showing just how much  women played their part. It’s a long post and a gripping story.

Some of the extracts are taken from Mabel Stobart’s book, ‘A Flaming Sword in Serbia’.

Oldham Doctor in Serbia: A Lady’s Thrilling Experience

In February 1915 the Serbian Relief Fund asked Mrs St Clair Stobart to organise a hospital unit to work in the field with the Serbian army. For several years the Serbs had been engaged in military struggles with the Austro-Hungarian forces but during the early months of 1915 there was a lull in hostilities which the Serbs were using to try to rebuild and re-equip their battered army. Soldiers returning on leave to their families had spread the typhus virus and during the winter of 1914-1915 and on into the summer months, a deadly epidemic raged throughout the civilian population, killing thousands including doctors and medical staff.

Mrs St Clair Stobart gathered together a group of 89 volunteers including seven doctors, nursing sisters, orderlies, dispensers, cooks, chauffeurs, a treasurer, a chaplain, someone in charge of clothing and an interpreter. Ten of the group were men but, apart from one of the dispensers and the man in charge of x-rays, all the medical staff were women.

The seven doctors had all worked in northern hospitals and four had worked in Oldham. Dr Kate King-May Atkinson and Dr Mabel Eliza King-May were sisters born in London who had both trained in Manchester and had held brief posts at Oldham Infirmary. Dr Edith Maude Marsden was born in Rochdale, she too worked for a short time at the Infirmary and at a children’s hospital in Manchester.

Dr Catherine Payne came to Oldham in 1910 to take up the post of Senior Resident House Surgeon at Oldham Infirmary and moved in the spring of 1911 to take up a similar post at Oldham Poor Law Union, staying until she resigned to go to Serbia in 1915. She was born in Monks Eleigh, Suffolk in 1877 and completed her medical training in 1907 at Royal Free Hospital, London.

She went to Serbia with the best wishes of the Board of the Union

Minutes of meeting 17th March 1915

It was moved by Miss Lees, seconded by Mr. Philip Buckley and resolved:
That the board, having received and accepted the resignation of Miss Catherine Payne M.B.B.S. of the appointment of Resident Assistant Medical Officer at the Oldham Poor Law Institution do place on record their esteem, regard and high appreciation of the valuable services rendered by her to the Sick Indoor Poor during the period she has held that position and do express their sincere hope that in Serbia whither she is about to proceed she may be given health to continue the practice of her profession with that skill which has hitherto characterised her efforts.

It was decided that the hospital unit would be housed completely under canvas to enable it to be fully mobile and also because it was thought living in the open air would render people safer from the typhus epidemic. The Serbian Relief Fund was able to raise the money needed from charitable donations and so sixty tents were specifically made for wards, x-ray, operating theatre, surgery, dispensary, bathrooms, kitchens, staff accommodation etc and furnished with camp beds, tables and folding chairs. The party left on 1st April 1915, some personnel sailed from Liverpool with the equipment and supplies and some travelled overland.


The train of which I was a commander, and some of the flying field hospital unit, with field kitchen, Motor ambulances, wagons, oxen, horses and soldiers, leaving Kragujevatz for the front.

Other similar female hospital units had been raised around the same time and it was not until she arrived in Serbia that Mrs St Clair Stobart learned that her unit would be based at Kragujevatz which was the Serbian military headquarters. They were all pleased to be in such a central position. The equipment had to come overland from Salonica and it was April 23rd before the hospital was finally set up on the town race course. There was an avenue of staff tents, an avenue of ward tents and a third avenue for the kitchens, x-ray and dispensary.


There had been no fighting in the area for some time, so for the first few weeks the hospital cared for convalescent soldiers but soon found that civilians came begging to be treated. Years of hostilities had meant Serbian medical resources had been concentrated on the army and the typhus epidemic had taken its toll. The unit set aside some of its beds for non military patients, then it was decided to set up dispensaries for civilians. Seven were established in a twenty-mile radius around the main Kragujevatz hospital camp staffed by members of the Stobart hospital.


Stobart dispensaries around Kragujevatz, Serbia

During the summer of 1915 fund raising continued at home. Dr King-May returned to England in June and spent three weeks giving lectures and attending events organised by some influential women in the north of England which raised several thousand pounds. Seven motor ambulances with stretchers – one for each dispensary – and some ox wagons were provided. The London department store Derry and Toms presented the unit with two wagons and supplies arrived for the dispensaries.

In September it was rumoured that the Bulgarian troops were massing on the Serbian frontier and that the Austrians and Germans were forming up on the Danube, the situation looked serious. The Serbian army began to mobilise and Mrs St Clair Stobart was asked to organise a group of her volunteers to accompany them to the front as a flying field hospital. To go to the front with the army, to tend to any casualties, had always been part of what was expected of them.

Two doctors were chosen for the front, Dr Catherine Payne and Dr Beatrice Coxon, one of the original seven doctors. She was a Northumbrian and had worked in Preston hospitals before going to Serbia. The others in the group were four women nurses, one woman cook, two women orderlies, a dispenser, six chauffeurs, two interpreters, one secretary and sixty Serbian soldiers who were to serve as ambulance men and drivers. They took with them six of the motor ambulances to transport the staff and their baggage, thirty oxen and horse wagons to transport hospital equipment, tents and stores. Their wheeled field kitchen had been taken from the Austrian army in 1914. The Serbian Colonel Dragitch put Mrs. St Clair Stobart in charge of the whole unit and said the soldiers were to follow any orders she gave them.

All the remaining personnel stayed in the field hospital at Kragujevatz with Dr King-May in charge. Six nurses were travelling overland to replace the staff leaving to go with army. The dispensaries had to close, so once again the civilians suffered to meet the needs of the military.

On Thursday September 30th marching orders were expected at any time. Early that morning German aeroplanes flew over the town of Kragujevatz and dropped bombs, killing five people and wounding many more. The next morning they came again, this time targeting the hospital but failing to hit anything important. Comment was made that white tents presented too clear a target and that in future green or khaki canvas would be better. Later that day, Friday 1st October, the hospital, known officially as The First Serbian-English Field Hospital (Front) – Commandant Madame Stobart and attached to the Schumadia Division of 25,000 men, left for the front.

The hospital, with all the personnel and equipment, including all the vehicles boarded a train and travelled north to Pirot. They disembarked and set up the hospital camp surrounded by soldiers in their bivouacs all expecting to march into Bulgaria. All was quiet and after a few days the convoy was ready to move by road to Stananitza and then on to Nish. Here they encountered wounded soldiers arriving by train from Belgrade and learned that the city had been taken by the German army. After spending a few days tending to casualties who arrived by train from Belgrade in the north, the hospital and all its equipment boarded a train bound for Belgrade but before they reached the city they had to disembark and that was the last time they travelled by train.

From this point the Serbian army was in retreat and initially moved south to Dobrido. Columns of refugees were also moving south from villages south of Belgrade which had been bombarded by the Germans, the hope was that the Allies would arrive to help but that did not happen.

On 19th October news arrived that the tented hospital at Kragujevatz had received 180 wounded soldiers. The same day they also heard that the Germans were pressing south and were not far behind them and at 6 a.m. the next day they received marching orders once again. Things were serious, the Bulgarian and German armies were closing in and from now on the army was kept constantly on the move. Each night just some of the hospital tents were erected to allow the staff to do what they could for wounded soldiers, surgical operations became impossible. The terrain was difficult and muddy. On the road with the army were columns of civilians fleeing from towns and villages which had been overrun by the enemy. Instead of sleeping in tents the hospital staff were sometimes able to spend a night in houses abandoned by Serbian families in anticipation of the German army arriving.

By the end of October they arrived at Voliovtza, but now the only casualties were those who could walk into the hospital, it was too dangerous for men to go into the field to rescue the more seriously wounded. Mrs St Clair Stobart heard that their field hospital in Kragujevatz had been abandoned, they later found out that the staff managed to get back to England. When they reached Varvarin they had been driven further south than Kragujevatz and that town, with its army headquarters, had fallen to the Germans. The Schumadia Division was retreating at the rate of 20 miles on some days, the enemy were so close that any accident or delay would be catastrophic. On one occasion one of the motor vehicles broke down and four cows were commandeered from a farm to pull it.

The route south from Kupci to Blatzi was through a narrow pass and there was a great fear that the Germans would block off the northern end and the Bulgars would move from the south to cut them off at the southern end, leaving the Serbs trapped in the pass. The only hope was to get through as quickly as possible so they set off in the dark at 5 a.m. The pass was completely filled with the army, refugees and all kinds of vehicles. After 25 hours of continuous marching, with the sound of gunfire all around, they reached the mid point of the pass and were able to snatch a few hours’ rest but at 4 p.m. they set out again to complete the journey. There was still hope that the British or French armies were on the way from Salonika and once through the pass everyone would be safe. They knew, however that if help did not arrive the only escape was over the Montenegrin mountains to the coast of Albania.

On November 15th they arrived at Marzovatz, the hospital unit set up camp for a few hours to provide treatment, more for sickness among the army than for wounds. They managed to acquire more carts and oxen so all the animals could pull lighter loads but by now it was snowing and the animals were suffering from the cold. Many of the army officers had been on horseback but the horses had been worked so hard that a lot died of cold and exhaustion. They all crossed the plain of Kosovo in intense cold and arrived at Prishtina. Here Mrs St Clair Stobart received the order for the hospital unit to head for Kosovan town of Dresnik with the army. About 200,000 people – soldiers, refugees with their animals, carts and supplies started on the trek all of them organised into columns. There were a few different routes through the mountains but it was essential for a column to stay together to retain access to their own food and other supplies and for about 80 people, with assorted animals and vehicles moving at different speeds, that was not easy. From Monday November 22nd the hospital unit marched for 81 hours with only brief stops during which the staff were often in demand. When they arrived at Dresnik they found a deserted farm where they ate round a campfire then pitched their tents and got some decent sleep in camp beds.

The way ahead was now on foot over the mountains and the members of the field hospital and their accompanying sixty soldiers made preparations. They sawed the ox carts in half to create two-wheeled vehicles which might be more suited to the terrain and lighter for the oxen to pull, they bought ponies to carry equipment in panniers and they bought food. They were only able to find maize flour, rice and beans so that was their staple diet for the mountain crossing. They gave most of the tents and some surgical supplies to a hospital in nearby Pec. Their five remaining cars were destroyed to avoid them falling into enemy hands.

They set out at daybreak on Friday December 3rd. After only one day they entered ravines which were only two or three feet wide in places, impassable for the carts. The retreating army was using several similar routes over the mountains but there was a danger that many people would be held up by jammed carts and so the order was given by the military high command forbidding from them going any further. The hospital unit had to abandon its field kitchen, tents, camp beds and most of its remaining medical equipment and supplies. It would now be difficult to help anyone in need.

Mrs St Clair Stobart wrote in A Flaming Sword page 245:

It took us, at first, a long time to pack the ponies but we were away by dawn (Monday, December 6th), climbing up the mountain, through the fir trees, over slippery ice, and rocks which were half hidden in snow. There was no longer a defined way; the whole earth was now an untrodden track, from or to perdition. Whichever way you looked, oxen, horses, and human beings were struggling, and rolling, and stumbling, all day long, in ice and snow.
As the physical difficulties of the route increased, the difficulty, for all the columns of securing bread for men, and hay for the oxen, and for the horses, increased also, with the result that the track became more and more thickly lined, with the dead bodies of oxen, and of horses, and worse still – of men. Men by the hundred lay dead: dead from cold and hunger by the roadside, their eyes staring at the irresponsive sky; and no one could stop to bury them. The whole scene was a combination of mental and physical misery, difficult to describe in words ……… it is believed that not less than 10,000 human beings lie sepulchred in those mountains.

Each night they bivouacked where they could with thousands of others on sloping ground near a campfire for some warmth.

On Thursday December 9th they reached the village of Kalatchi and an Albanian offered the women the chance of a night in his house. They bought and cooked a sheep then gave the man some tea from their provisions. Soon they were back on the rough mountain tracks hoping to reach Yabuka where there was a military station which might have bread for them. They got there on Monday night, the women managed to cram into one room of a hotel and the soldiers slept in outhouses.

Thursday December 16th was the last day in the mountains, they arrived in Podgorica, capital of Montenegro. Everywhere was packed but they found space in a school. The next morning the women had the luxury of riding in lorries to Plevnitza. At this point Dr Catherine Payne and Dr Beatrice Coxon together with some of the other women took a boat to Scutari, the rest of the party went by road. The Stobart field hospital column was one of the few to reach their destination without losing any men or women.

Nine months after they had arrived in Serbia, the women set out for home by bullock cart to the Adriatic coast, boat to Brindisi, train through Italy to Paris and they arrived in London on December 23rd 1915.

On her return to Oldham Dr Payne was interviewed by a reporter from the Oldham Evening Chronicle:

We left England on March 27th and arrived at Kragujevatz on May 1st. We went out to carry on a field hospital for wounded soldiers, but by the time we arrived the soldiers were practically all convalescents, as there had been no series fighting there for some months. Out hospital was entirely of tents, including operating theatre; we had no buildings whatever. We were dealing with the soldiers for a month or two, and then, as there was no fighting, we started dispensaries for the civilian population, one at Kragujevatz and five others round about at a distance of about 20 miles away; and we also had tents set apart for civilian in-patients.

We did that until war broke out again, and then I went with Mrs Stobart to a small field hospital with the army. First of all we went to Pirot, south of Nish, and then as there was no fighting we went north again almost as far as Belgrade, and then began the retreat of the Serbian army. We did quite a lot of work in the way of first dressings, but we were not able to do any operations then as we had to keep moving owing to the army being gradually pushed back. At first we retreated about two or three miles a day but afterwards we had to go faster and cover ten or twelve miles a day. One time we were going through a mountain pass with the Germans behind us and threatening us on either side, and the Bulgars closing in from the east and threatening to cut us off, and we had to hurry and get through the pass as quickly as we could move. There was very heavy fighting for about 20 or 30 miles south of Belgrade, but after that the Serbians practically gave it up and simply retreated all the time.

We had our motor ambulances part of the time and also bullock wagons as far as Prishtina and across to Ipek, but from there we had to walk the whole of the way. The footpaths over the mountains were too narrow for vehicles and only ponies could be used on them, so we left our motor ambulances at Ipek, where they were blown up. We were four days going over the mountains from Ipek to Andrievitza, and six days from there to Podgoritza. From there we able to ride. It was on a sort of lorry with our luggage in the bottom and us on top. We reached Plevinitza and crossed the lake in a motor boat to Scutari, and from there we rode in bullock wagons to San Giovanni, on the Adriatic coast, which we reached on December 19th. There we hot a steamer across to Brindisi, and train thought Italy to Paris, and we arrived in London on the 23rd.

Although it was very hard, of course, I quite enjoyed the journey over the mountains. The difficulty of the journey was not so much the walking as the shortage of food. We had only bread and it was very coarse and indigestible, so much so that it made people ill and then they could not eat it and so they had to starve.

It was awful seeing all the dead animals lying by the side of the road and to see the hungry people cutting the flesh off them – especially the Austrian prisoners who had been taken by the Serbians before and who had been let loose to take care of themselves.

In the first part of the journey we saw many Serbian peasants retreating with their worldly possessions all packed on bullock wagons, with supplies of food for the journey, and the children tied on top, and the sheep, and so on, running by the side. But later on we did not see that. The Bulgars had come in from the east and cut them off, and the Germans and Austrians were coming southward and there was nowhere for them to go. So a great many of tem had to stay behind and they must be starving. There must be terrible distress in Serbia now, for their was no food, not even to buy. It had all been taken for the army. What will become of these people one cannot tell.

Shortly after her return to Oldham Dr Payne resumed her post with the Oldham Union but after a few months she fell ill with tuberculosis and was unable to work. All the staff of the Serbian Relief Fund field hospital were given a Serbian bravery award but when Catharine’s arrived she had lapsed into unconsciousness and was never aware of it. She died after a long illness on February 4th 1918 aged just 41 years. She was buried in Chadderton Cemetery.


Mabel Stobart, A Flaming Sword in Serbia, 1916

Oldham Evening Chronicle, available at Oldham Local History and Archives


Mons Star over Bolton

Lois Dean, a volunteer at Bolton Museum and Archive, has researched this story.

Mons imagecomp

‘Mons Star’ medal recipients from Bolton

Some twenty-seven WWI survivors gathered at Bolton Town Hall in March 1919 to receive their ‘Mons Star’ medal from the Mayor, Lord Leverhulme, in what he described as a ‘stirring ceremony’. Also present were relatives of six men who had subsequently been killed in battle or died of wounds.

The medal was awarded to those who served in France and Belgium between the declaration of war in August 1914 and the first Battle of Ypres in November 1914.

You may recognise a relative amongst the following names, whose addresses are all in Bolton, unless stated otherwise:

E Bayfield, 7 Horace Street; R Lever, 1 Tong Street, Deane; R Morrison, 10 Foundary Street; T W Matthews, 5 Hartley Street, Blackburn Road; A Lee, 123 Mason Street, Horwich; C Gavin, 4 Providence Street; W E Baxter, 48 Vernon Street, Farnworth; J Burton, 14 Alecia Street, Darcy Lever; J Reed, 33 Venture Street; R Cryer, 52 Back Foundary Street; D Coleman, 14 Delamere Street, Halliwell; F Richards, 28 Fenn Street, Horwich; W Clemmett, 5 Arden Street; S Murray, 58 Livingstone Street; J Chadbond, 11 Division Street, Great Lever; T W Matthews, 11 Hartley Street, Blackburn Road; H Sandiford, 28 Irving Street; A Wright, 25 Buxton Street; H Green, 28 St Helens Road; J Mullen, 8 Stuart Street; G Heyes, 25 Back Punch Street; C Webster, 14 Fox Street, Morris Fold; J Chadwick, 6 Back Newport Street; T Forster, 27 Victor Street; J Hunt, 482 Wigan Road; G Whalley, 45 Bashall Street; T Grundy, 19 Ryefield Street.

Those whose relatives received their medal:

J Bradley, 13 Haydock Street; W Lawton, 29 Parkfield Road, Great Lever; E Howley, 27 Faraday Street, Halliwell Road; C Davies, 11 Ardwick Street; H Melling, 28 Cotton Street, Halliwell, H McCarthy, 16 Claughton Street.

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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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