GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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John Elisha Grimshaw


Corporal John Elsha Grimshaw, 1st Battalion, The Lancashire Fusiliers, awarded the Victoria Cross, West of Cape Helles, Gallipoli, 25 April 1915.

Sergeant John Elisha Grimshaw, of 406 Warrington Road, Abram, was one of the “six VCs before breakfast” during the Gallipoli landings in April 1915. These six soldiers from the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers were awarded VCs for their heroism. They were part of the “Lancashire Landings” at Cape Helles, the southern end of the Gallipoli peninsula. The Gallipoli campaign was fought from April 1915 to January 1916 and in that time approximately 400 people from Wigan Borough died, these included soldiers from both the 1/5 Manchester Regiment and the 6/South Lancashires. On the first day of the campaign the Lancashires lost 533 soldiers out of 930 who began the assault and it was on this day that Grimshaw earned his medal.

The Gallipoli peninsula was difficult to attack and easy to defend, with only a few beaches capable of being landed upon. Two entire Turkish divisions were defending the area that was more favourable to attack. Along with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps the British attacked the beaches.

The Lancashire Landings

At a beach codenamed “W Beach”, two warships deployed 8 motor boats, which each towed 4 rowing boats to the shore (32 rowing boats in all). The rowing boats however became sitting ducks as the beach defences had barely been touched by the fire from the warships. Again, many men were killed in their boats.

The beach was heavily defended not just by machine guns but also barbed wire, both on the beach and in the water. Many soldiers were caught and killed in this, which in turn impeded the soldiers behind who were trying to effect a landing from their boats. Some of the wire was booby-trapped, with mines and explosives detonating if it was cut.

The soldiers were also being slowed down by the weight of the equipment they were carrying, along with their rifles becoming jammed by the water and the sand.

Sir Ian Hamilton, the British commander-in-chief, said soon after the landings: “No finer feat of arms has ever been achieved by the British soldier, or any other soldier, than the storming of these trenches by the Lancashire Fusiliers”.

Who were awarded medals was chosen from a ballot from the survivors and each citation didn’t give much description of each soldiers feat of arms; in the words of the local MP “Although all our lads cannot receive the D.C.M., Sergeant Grimshaw himself will agree that there are hundreds who deserve it, and all we can do is to see that when they return they shall receive the full reward for coming to their country’s aid in the time of need”. During the landing, Grimshaw had been sending information back to the beach whilst exposed to enemy fire, all the time in jovial spirits. Grimshaw was originally awarded a D.C.M. but once his heroism had been recognised he was awarded a V.C.

A memorial plaque has recently been unveiled at Abram Community Garden on Warrington Road, Abram.


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Food Shortages during the First World War

During the early 18th Century, more than one third of the UK labour force worked in agriculture. British farmers were able to produce enough food to feed the whole population, and there was even surplus grain for exports.

However, the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, and the effects this had during the First World War, had a massive impact on British farming and taught us valuable lessons for WW2.


Ministry of Food Ration Book, 1918. Manchester Archives GB127.M138/2481.

The Corn Laws were first introduced in Britain in 1815, when the landowners, who dominated Parliament, sought to protect their profits by imposing tariffs on cheap foreign imports of grain. This resulted in the artificial inflation of bread prices and meant that many British people struggled to afford this staple food item.

The government faced fierce opposition in the form of the Anti- Corn Law League who campaigned to have the Corn Law abolished. However, it wasn’t until the devastating potato blight hit Europe in the 1840s that the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, began to question the rationality of the Corn Law.


Broadside celebrating the Repeal of the Corn Laws, 3 Aug 1846. Manchester Archives GB127.Broadsides/F1846.3.

In January 1846 a new Corn Law was passed that reduced the duty on imported oats, barley and wheat. Imports began to rise rapidly and Britain became more and more dependent on foreign deliveries of food, and, in particular, cereals.

Farmers began to adapt to these changes in trade, and there was a widespread transition from arable farming to pasture farming. This reduction in domestic food production was echoed by a decrease in the number of men employed in agriculture. By 1901 just 12 per cent of the male population worked in the farming industry, and this number continued to decrease. By the time of the Great War the Government’s lack of self-sufficiency and continued reliance on imports threatened to cost Britain the war…

Many men from the farming industry were leaving to join the armed services leaving the country in even shorter supply of agricultural workers. In addition, severe weather in 1916 led to a poor wheat harvest and the failure of potato crops in Scotland and parts of England.

The situation became even worse as supply routes became either completely cut off or increasingly treacherous. Merchant ships became targeted by German U-boats from 1916. By 1917 Germany declared unrestricted warfare and sank one in four merchant ships in the Atlantic.

When David Lloyd George took over as Prime Minister in December 1916 he committed to dealing with the ‘food problem’.

Bills were passed under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) to prevent food wastage and the price of foods such as milk and bread were fixed by the government. Compulsory rationing was also introduced, and citizens were encouraged to cut down on wheat usage and instead use alternatives such as potatoes.


Ministry of Food Leaflet, 1918, encouraging the use of potatoes as a substitue for bread and flour. Manchester Archives GB124.Q330.

The government were also able to seize control of any unused land for the use of farming under DORA. However, replacing lost labour proved more difficult as many of the men working on farms had enlisted. With two million acres of agricultural production needed, the government began a campaign to recruit as many female hands as possible. Thousands of women picked up ploughs, hoes and milk pails and joined the Women’s Land Army.

Thanks to the work of British farmers and growers the country avoided being starved into surrender. The First World War changed the face of British farming and food production forever. The lessons learned by farmers, growers, policy makers and society continue to influence the decision making process in the 21st century.



Broadside celebrating the Repeal of the Corn Laws, 3 Aug 1846. Manchester Archives GB127.Broadsides/F1846.3.

Ministry of Food Ration Book, 1918. Manchester Archives GB127.M138/2481.

Ministry of Food Leaflet, 1918, encouraging the use of potatoes as a substitue for bread and flour. Manchester Archives GB124.Q330.

National Farmers’ Union: The Few that Fed the Many

‘Feeding the Nation’ by Jonathan Brown (The Journal of the Landscape Institution)

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A Salford Story: Jack Trenbath

I had the privilege of reading and transcribing the letters sent home from the front by Jack Trenbath, of Pendleton, Salford. By reading his extensive correspondence I noticed how many of his letters reflected the familiar themes, such as the expectation of a quick end to the conflict, but also surprising and interesting stories, such as the being on the wrong end of exploding “minnies”. Although writing almost a hundred years ago I got to know Jack and his family back home. Over the next few paragraphs I will summarise some of his interesting tales.

It is commonly believed that everyone expected a quick victory in the war. Jack seems to have enlisted in 1916 at the tender age of 19. He trained at Sobraon Barracks, Colchester before embarking for France in September 1916. Was his early confidence a sign of his belief of an early victory, or a way of playing down the risks for his family back home?

Jack Trenbath pic 1

My last glimpse of the dear old country was of a small piece of white shore shut in by high white cliffs on which there were boys and girls playing cricket. This was all lit up by a shining sun. That little fleeting glimpse I got will live for ever.

The place is simply crowded with officers waiting to go up. It’s a fine life I can tell you… Nearly all those who left blighty with me are here. So we do have a gay time. Let me impress upon you the fact that there is no more cause to be worrying for me than if I were at Scarborough and another thing we do get leave after 5 months.

The war goes on quite well without us, the latest news being very encouraging.

Jack Trenbath pic 2

Even by the beginning of March the following year he is still upbeat:

Being under canvas it is rather a change from the luxury of billets with soft beds and carpet slippers, though I suppose we are in France now and the fun has hardly commenced. The worst feature of the place is the fact that the town is strictly out of bounds to us and we have to derive the maximum of solace from the ever present YMCA.

Then again the majority of the chaps are greatly delighted by the state of the exchange which stands at 29.90 Frs for silver. Expressed in a more concrete form this means that for an English shilling you get 1.40 Frs which is the equivalent of 1/2. So that if you go into the YMCA or any of these places you put down a shilling, buy an 8d box of cigarettes and get 6d change…

When all is done and said you must know that I am having a really fine time, much more interesting than previously and with the real hardship thrown in. In old Blighty we sort of played at enjoying it, now we are doing the real thing and believe me it is not half bad.

However, the letters soon start to reflect the harsh reality of the situation. Despite the censorship:

For the present I think there is nothing more I can tell you because of the censorship, which personally I think is an unenviable job.

Is this because the people back home are realising the awful truth and Jack can respond with honesty?

From here to the front line the sensations which one experiences are beyond description by ordinary mortals. At first the report of our guns administers a shock. You hear the rattle of machine guns, the scream of shells and the splitting reports of all various shells bombs etc. used in war. Though generally speaking it is really surprising how unconcerned one can be in the midst of all this. During the day time little of much importance happens except desultory shelling and bombing. When it grows dark everywhere the place is lighted up by the livid glare of star shells, the machine guns start to rattle and everything seems to liven up. There is plenty of time to rest during the day in the dug-outs. The one I was in was about 5 feet square and the entrance was something after the style of a rat-hole just large enough to admit my carcass. Talk about rats, they are large enough to run off with your rifle and seem to have a greater affinity for biscuits (hard ones) than we have.

Next morning James and I were standing in the trench when we heard one of Fritz’s heavy shells coming in our direction. It fell just over the trench and the concussion was all we got. He sent these over for a long time, one of them bringing the trench in with it a few yards away. Another shell bursted over the dugout blowing the candle off the table and sending shrapnel down the entrance. During these times one lives fast and the suspense when waiting for the shell to burst is hardly an enjoyable experience.

During the early hours I have been finding my way about an unknown system of trenches. In this region there used to be a lot of mining but this has ceased and the conflict now rages in the craters formed by the explosions. At some places we have posts only 10 yards from the Bosch trenches and long communication trenches lead from our line to these places. Going down one of these on a very important message and got stuck in the mud. There I sat for an hour and a half as Fritz dropping munitions all around. Finally I had to abandon my waders and tramp nearly a mile through the mud in bare feet. My hat! Wasn’t it cold. Capt. Allan sent me some rum and I was alright again in an hour or so.

My chief occupation is looking after the men’s rations and other issues to the Company which occupies from dusk till about 10.30pm. I might say that ration carrying is one of the rotten jobs. ______ we were before the rations are brought under cover of dark and over the top. Fritz evidently is aware of this for he gives a nightly accompaniment on the machine guns. At the sound of this it is very funny to see the crowd of us flatten ourselves out flatter than flounders. Even father with his bad leg would get down in even time. Sometimes when you have to go along the trench for them Fritz will shell it all the way down. Then of course you have to look out.

As before we are in a tunnel through a perfect pig sty to the last. From end to end it is crumbling away and it fell down in two places simultaneously, fortunately without burying anyone. Notably the platoons were cut off and we had a job to get their meals to them. The engineers got a narrow way through just sufficient to crawl through and we had to drag the dixies through after us expecting every minute the stuff to fall in again. I had just got through with the last one when it did happen. Then the place where I sleep is as bad – one side fell in and hit me on the chest, flattening me against the opposite wall.

Perhaps you know that it is now the practice here for both sides to send up Very Light at night. These are a species of rocket which go up a short distance and then burst into a very brilliant light which slowly descends. Anything within a reasonable distance (100-200 yards) is clearly visible in silhouette. If you happen to be standing up at the time all you have to do is to stand perfectly rigid and then he will not notice you, but if you make any movement whatever the game is up and he knows that someone is there. It is rather a crucial moment when a light goes up and you are balancing yourself on your eyebrows extricating your lower extremities from the loving embrace of a coil of barbed wire or doing a sort of balancing trick on the muddy incline of a shell crater. However it all serves to add a spice of fun and excitement.

Like most young soldiers Jack was forced to grow up very quickly as demonstrated in this excerpt:

Father used to say that I did not know what it was like to lose a nights sleep. Perhaps I did not, but I do now. Not only that, but I know what it is to lose four or five nights sleep. Sometimes I manage a couple of hours sat on the floor with equipment on and expected every second to be called up. The last night I spent pushing a truck laden with rations etc. from the dump behind the trenches along the line and Fritz searching for us with a machine gun. The moon was at its height and of course the truck squeaked like mice.

I am more than thankful to be able to have come out of that tunnel alive, it is perfectly miraculous that I was able to send a nil casualty report. Time after time Fritz blew down our parapets and each time the fellows built them up.

It was a very hairy moment when we stood behind our parapet till everyone was ready. When we filed over the top into the dark empty space. The first thing we did was go rolling down a huge shell hole into the water at the bottom, but we had no time to enjoy this fun for we had some of Fritz’s wire to negotiate so soon in a disused trench. No-mans land is a perfect labyrinth of disused bashed-in trenches often laid with trip-wires and other entanglements, but after sundry abrasions we were well away into space. There were five of us and I brought up the rear. When you remember the time that I would not go up into the attic alone in the dark you will realise that some change has happened. So off we went like a serpent wriggling and writhing on hands and knees pausing frequently to take our bearings and I can tell you that in view of the previous night’s escapade we quite expected that he would attempt to snaffle me again.

Jack helped distribute the rations and made frequent comments on the good standard of the food.

For quite a long time now we have been very well fed indeed in fact the trouble at the beginning was just while the commissariat became accustomed to cooking bacon and onions in the same receptacle that they had for boiling tea. There are always some cheerful idiots who tell you that we live on Bully and biscuits. We don’t and never have done for very long spells, it’s about three months since I mealed on either of them. As a matter of fact I don’t eat anything like all the bread I have issued. When fresh meat is not obtainable we get maconochie (?) rations which are boiled in tins and contain a first class meal of meat and vegetables of all descriptions. They are top hole and I prefer them many a time to fresh stuff.

For use with the brazier we have a frying pan to cook our food. This consists of a petrol can with one side cut out. All the same it acts admirably.

Then we have dried vegetable, which when cooked and put with stewed meat I defy any one to detect. Once per week we get cold roast with pickles and at odd intervals steak and chips, fig and date puddings, rice and altogether better grub than we get in England.

Jack Trenbath pic 3

It is amazing to see the quantity of the letters sent by Jack (and presumably he received a similar number). They were sent at regular intervals and occasionally Jack asked his correspondents to note a new address. The postal system must have been very efficient as the letters seem to have arrived swiftly and accurately (and were very welcome). Equally amazing were the number of parcels of food received by Jack:

I received the third parcel from you last night but one and the contents were fine. The bread was simply A1 and the parkin was champion. The eggs were lovely too. In fact the whole lot was past description. Last night I received one from Auntie Millie and Uncle also some cigarettes from Eric. We nearly went mad at the sight of some “Three Castles”. You know I have to smoke anything I can get and it is generally woodbines or something worse. Here you have chaps who in civil life smoked cigars and Abdullas (?), begging a cigarette however common.

Parcel from “The Height School”.

……….For the first time your parcel was well bashed. Better luck next time.

The parcel was A1. The strawberries and cream were top hole. The ham I have not yet cooked though it is good.

……………2 parcels……one containing amongst many other things a pair of socks from Sunday School – very good of them all.

Sometimes a parcel arrived, but it was difficult to consume the contents!

Your parcel arrived just before we went into the trenches so I carried it in and opened it there, but on the way it had quite an exciting passage. We went down under one of our own barrages something enough to turn your hair grey. The night was perfectly quiet until all the guns in the neighbourhood suddenly spouted forth together. Bedlam pandemonium and all those sort of places seemed to have been opened and venting their pent up fury on some unfortunate individual. Some of the guns go off with a livid yellowish spurt whilst others give out a red Mephistophelian (?) glare and the combination was too weird for words. Overhead it seemed as if ten thousand express trains were tearing away and rending the air with an earsplitting din. For the first time I saw shells actually on their way. You know that the friction of their passage through the air makes them red hot and you can see them describing their important trajectories through the air.

Fritz’s line absolutely danced under the busting shells (high explosive) and the air was crowded with the red flash of burning shrapnel. This side of the question is all very nice, but Fritz is not yet in such a parlous state that he will stand such a bumping without replying. So over came his infernal stuff. It’s a good job for me that some of his shells don’t go off and that those that did go off sent no shrapnel in my direction. Anyway it made me sweat some.

Jack made reference to the horrors of the mud, which is well known, but did you know about the rats!

From head to foot I am one mass of mud inches thick. I have got a pair of those rubber waders which come right up the thighs and are a boon in the wet places.

The weather is very bad and the trenches are waist deep in mud. Communication is awfully bad. Still when things are like this it is generally quieter.

By the way talking about rats! They swarm in dozens about a piece of bread and provide much fun for we who have revolvers. Some of them are too fat to do anything but crawl and you can easily kick them as they pass. It is quite a novel experience to wake up and not find a battalion of them crossing your chest in column of route.

Jack seems to be intelligent and observant of the events around him. He mentions (censorship allowing) some of the new technologies of war:

Aeroplanes and aeroplanes fights are common order of the day. Observation balloons lift their ungraceful shapes before our door. The night is characterised by the sharp rattle of machine gun fire whilst the vivid flashes in the sky proclaim the increasing vigilance of our guns. In the trenches when Fritz has a saucy mood on and throws all kinds of horrible things over, you suddenly hear the scream of one of our shells followed by in rapid succession by countless others. Then you feel perfectly safe and give not the slightest heed to Fritz and his infernal stuff.

I am going to tell you something but I don’t want you to worry about it. The first day up here I was going down the trench when suddenly there palled (?) upon my ears the telltale sound of a “Minnie”. I saw it coming straight for me; like a frightened rat I skittled away but found as usual that it had swerved and was coming in my direction. Thereupon I doubled back, stopped and ran on and then CRASH it came just behind me only over the parapet. The concussion threw me head first down the trench and I lay on my chest to be covered with the falling earth. Events moved rather quickly – rather too quickly to be healthy – it took less time than it takes to write. If you could have seen me you would have laughed. Just down the trench a working party seemed highly delighted with my feats.

The things up at Messines are horrible what with eruptions more violent than any earthquake and those “new and terrible engines of war.” These latter are I presume unknown to you except by name, though I have an idea of their terrible character. With regard to the explosions, only those who know the violence of a few pounds of Ammonal (?) can realise or form any opinion of the explosion and the hole left by them. At present we are on a similar hole the dimensions of which would astound you.

It seems like Jack’s sister wasn’t too sure of aeroplanes and told him not to stand underneath one as it might drop out of the sky. In WWI the German Army used a type of trench mortar called a Minenwerfer. This was nicknamed the ‘minnie’ by the Allied forces. The first record in print of it being called that is in From the fire step – a WWI memoir by the American soldier and author Arthur Guy Empey, published in 1917: “A German ‘Minnie’ (trench mortar) had exploded in the next traverse.” Finally, is a “new and terrible engine of war” a tank?

Jack Trenbath pic 4

Jack was a committed and dedicated soldier. A number of times in his letters he spoke sympathetically of individual German soldiers, despite his hatred for the Bosche.

As you say they are giving Fritz a warm time of it in this part of the globe. Such a gruelling that I don’t imagine he can stand much of. The worse he gets it the sooner he will give up, although of course that is a callous sort of thing to say when you think of the individual Bosche.

Jack warned his readers to beware of exaggerated and misleading stories of the war. His foresight was spot on when he said that the “economic question” would be a deciding factor in who would win the war.

On a number of occasions Jack wrote of his attempts to obtain a Commission. The London Gazette of 13th July 1918 recorded that he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the East Lancs Regiment. Sadly only a few days later, on 8th September he was killed at Adiers. Jack is buried at Nieppe, nr Armentieres at Pont D’Achelles Military Cemetary.

Jack Trenbath pic 6

Jack Trenbath pic 5

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The Chapel Street Memorial

Chapel Street in Altrincham became known as ‘The Bravest Little Street in England’ for the sacrifices of its residents: from 66 houses, 161 men volunteered for active service, with 29 men losing their lives in the conflict. A memorial was successfully campaigned for by the residents of the time, and erected in 1919. This is its story.

The Chapel Street Memorial was placed next to the wall of what was originally a Wesleyan Chapel. By the time the memorial was unveiled, the building was used as a church by St Margaret’s parish. Don Bayliss states in his book ‘Altrincham, a history’:

The original All Saints Church, located in Regent Road next to the Grapes Hotel, was previously a Wesleyan Chapel opened in 1788. John Wesley preached there on 5 April 1790. Subsequently it became a Congregational Chapel and in 1896 it was presented to St Margaret’s parish as a daughter church by Mr John H Grafton.

The position of what was then a Congregational Chapel is shown on the OS map of 1878 (XVIII.7). It stands at the junction of Chapel Street and Regent Road, on the opposite side of Chapel Street to The Grapes Inn.

Photographs show the memorial at the side of the church.

Chapel Street c1920s TL5907

Chapel Street c1920s (TL5907).

Chapel Street 1934 TL3687

Chapel Street 1934 (TL3687).

The earliest reference found to the suggestion of a memorial is in the minutes of the Highways and Lighting Committee of Altrincham Urban District Council, 17th March 1919, which state that:

It was reported that the residents of Chapel Street desired to put up a Roll of Honour on the wall of All Saints Church in Regent Road to the memory of those inhabitants in Chapel Street who have fallen in the war.

The minutes go on to say that the consent of the vicar of St Margaret’s Church had been asked for, but not received, and the inhabitants wanted to know whether placing the memorial on posts on the footpath could be considered as an alternative position. The Surveyor said that he had seen the site and the memorial would not pose an obstruction. It was resolved that the Vicar’s permission be sought, but if this was refused, permission be granted for the memorial to be fixed to the footpath.

The General Council Minutes of Altrincham UDC, April 1st 1919, record that:

A letter, dated 29th March was read from the Rev Hewlett Johnson, stating that he was unfortunately ill in bed and was not able to attend to the Resolutions of the Council concerning the memorial and asking that any communication might be sent to the Church Wardens.

A letter dated the 2nd instant was read from Mr Joseph Butler, thanking the Council on behalf of the inhabitants of Chapel Street for allowing them to place the Roll of Honour on the kerb in Chapel Street. The letter also invited the Council to join in the procession. The invitation was accepted by the Council.

A newspaper article in the Altrincham, Bowdon and Hale Guardian, April 4th 1919, records that the position of the memorial was a subject of negotiation between its promoters, the Vicar of St Margaret’s and Altrincham Urban District Council. A request was made to place it on the wall of the church but the wardens of the church property, acting for the vicar, Mr Hewlett Johnson who was ill, refused permission. The promoters of the memorial stated that in the event of permission being refused, they would like it placed on the footpath near the wall. The site was inspected by the Council Surveyor and this arrangement was agreed to by the Highways Committee and sanctioned by Altrincham UDC.

The unveiling ceremony is advertised in the Altrincham, Bowdon and Hale Guardian of April 4th 1919. It states that the procession starts at 3 o’clock prompt from Regent Road and the Roll of Honour will be unveiled at 4 o’clock.



The unveiling of the Chapel Street Memorial on Saturday, April 5th 1919 is shown in a film taken at the time, and now transferred onto DVD by the North West Film Archive.

An article in the Altrincham, Bowdon and Hale Guardian, April 8th 1919, on the unveiling states:

(The memorial) was willingly subscribed for by the inhabitants of the street, who are very properly proud of the fine record and the fame it has won and the permission of the District Council to place the handsomely framed memorial on the narrow kerb, adjoining the little church of All Saints, which stands at the entrance from Regent Road, was a privilege which added no little to the pleasure and satisfaction of the many subscribers to the fund. The general management of the whole scheme was placed in the hands of Mr J Butler of George Street who must be congratulated on carrying it through with a success that gave every evidence of great personal interest and enthusiasm. The memorial, or roll of honour, was designed and executed under his direction, and its pleasing form drew appreciative comments from the thousands who came to see it.

The article describes the procession which preceded the unveiling, and the announcement by Mr G F Turner, Chairman of Altrincham UDC, of a telegram from the King which was read by the Earl of Stamford. The original telegram, pictured below, has been framed and hangs in Altrincham Town Hall.

The King's Telegram TL9588

The King’s Telegram (TL9588).

An acknowledgement from the people of Chapel Street follows the article, in which they state their indebtedness to the committee, Mr J Butler, Mr Dennis Hennelley (sic), Mr James Ratchford, Mr J W Davies, Mr P de Courcey and Mr John Rowan, for the arrangements. The letter is signed Thos. Clarke of Chapel Street.

The unveiling reached the national press with an article in The Observer newspaper of 6th April 1919, entitled ‘Street’s Proud War Effort’.

The street’s memorial was funded by the families of the street and by donations locally. The street had a committee consisting of the above named. Dennis Hennerley lived at 13 Chapel Street (he was born in the street in 1865) and is linked to William Hennerley who died in the war. John Rowan was proprietor of the Rose and Shamrock public house at 18 Chapel Street. Patrick de Courcey, from No 4, and James Ratchford from No 56, both fought and survived the war.
However, when the total cost proved to exceed the donations received, the residents’ committee asked the Council for contributions. The Council minutes of April 16th 1919 record that:

A letter dated the 14th instant was read from Messrs Joseph Butler and Charles Nickson, asking for subscriptions toward the cost of the Roll of Honour, the men and women of Chapel Street having collected about one half of the cost, a substantial sum of about £15 remaining to be raised. It was felt by the Council that they could not officially recognise the appeal and it was left for individual Members if they felt inclined to forward their subscriptions to the Clerk, and Mr Baker handed in his subscription of £2.

The minutes don’t record the reaction of Messrs Butler and Nickson!

Despite the difficulties over funding, the memorial stood as a fitting and nationally recognised tribute to the sacrifices of the men of Chapel Street, and the crowds shown on the film of the unveiling show how much that recognition meant to the local residents.



Copy of the Chapel Street Memorial

Copy of the Chapel Street Memorial.


  • Altrincham Urban District Council Minutes
  • Altrincham Bowdon and Hale Guardian
  • Trafford Lifetimes
  • ‘Altrincham: a history’ by Don Bayliss
  • Ordnance Survey maps of Altrincham

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Home from Germany: Oldham Soldier’s Thrilling Escape from the Huns

In the early hours of Wednesday 6 June 1917 Private Tom Lever of the 2nd Manchester Regiment arrived back at his home, 6 Spencer Street, Oldham. Later that morning he was interviewed by reporters from local newspapers for he was not back in Oldham on leave or suffering from injuries received in action; the reporters had come to hear the incredible story of how he had escaped from a German Prisoner of War Camp.


Private Tom Lever.

Tom Lever had been captured by the Germans at Le Cateau following the retreat from Mons in August 1914:

They were placed in a school and had at once to undergo great privations, being kept for four days with barely a thing to eat. They were then marched in their weakened condition to Cambrai, where under a heavy guard they were conveyed by rail on a three days journey…The German people, military and civilian, were bitter towards them, and spat in their faces as they went along to the first camp… From September to the end of December they were quartered in huge marquees, in which they had to sleep on wet straw, there being 500 men in each…He had no change of clothing when captured, and it was February 1915 before he got any change, and then he got a pair of drawers…

He was subsequently in eight different camps but found little variation in the treatment accorded to prisoners:

Nothing is too bad for them. On the slightest pretext they would strike you with the butt of a rifle, and have even used pieces of piping to beat prisoners with. In one camp there were trained dogs, very ferocious dogs, too, which were set upon prisoners if they refused to work… Prisoners were compelled to go working in coal mines and salt mines. In one particular camp Lever was ordered eleven days in the cells for refusing to work in a mine, and after he had served his sentence he was sent to work on the moors, knee deep in water, on irrigation work. The treatment when in the cells was: three days dark cell with only bread and water; fourth day, light cell, with soup allowed; this rotation going on for the full term of the punishment… Whilst at Hameln camp he saw prisoners returning from working behind the firing line. They were too weak to walk, and had to be carried into the camp

The rations supplied to the men were totally inadequate and that without the parcels which had been sent from Great Britain they could never have lived. He expressed his own gratitude to Oldham people who had sent him parcels. The allowance of bread to prisoners was less than half a pound per day, and soup made from mussels was served for dinner and at night. Coffee made from burnt barley, without sugar, was served in the morning. The ‘soup’ dinner was seldom varied, unless they got on occasion, maize meal and water, which was only thin stuff.

Food was very short for the German population, so bad that sentries would ask prisoners of war for some of their bread. The prisoners could not get better rations allowed them because the Germans had not got them. Soap was almost unobtainable. The civilian ration of bread was half a pound per day and they were allowed a quarter of a pound of meat per week and about six pounds of potatoes.

If the people of this country could only see the things which are going on in Germany they would no complain much about the shortage of food and the little inconveniences which occur.

In May 1917 he arrived at Herzlake in Lower Saxony about 30 miles from the Dutch border. Six days later:

He and four others tunnelled their way under the foundations of the camp at Herzlake, where he had been for only six days when he escaped. Two of the men were either recaptured or perished, but he and two others got clear. They passed the barbed wire entanglement near the commandant’s office. An alarm was given by a dog barking, but they found shelter in the moors, and had to make their way by night to reach the frontier. It was very light weather and they had to hide for 17 or 18 hours a day. They swam across three canals and across the river Ems. After swimming these waterways the men had to lay up with their wet clothing. All the food they had between them during this time was two bottles of Horlick’s Malted Milk tablets, one tin of Horlick’s Malted Milk, and twenty small biscuits. They had to drink bog water. On the Sud-Nord Canal they had an exciting experience, being observed by one of the patrols. It was 1am and the light was uncertain. A sentry raised bus rifle to fire and then hesitated as they stood perfectly still and must have like trees in the uncertain light. He walked away a few paces, looked again, and then went off and when he was out of sight the got to the canal lock bridge and turning the lever, went across it.

The men subsequently crossed the Dutch border but didn’t stop to ask where they were until they were a good few miles into the country. It was easy to tell they were in Holland as they could see many hay ricks unlike in Germany where the stock was apparently low. They were treated with friendliness by the Dutch people as they made their way across the country to Rotterdam where they reported to the British Consul, who then arranged for them to travel home to England.

Back in Oldham Tom Lever and his wife were visited by the Mayor and Mayoress of Oldham who were anxious to purchase something so that he would not ‘forget the experience and the achievement’ of his escape. As Tom Lever and his wife were ‘preparing for what they called the best room’ the Mayor and Mayoress decided to provide an oak overmantel and an oak table’. These two items were presented to Mr and Mrs Lever together with a safety razor for Tom Lever at a ceremony in the Mayor’s parlour a few weeks later.



Oldham Chronicle
Oldham Standard



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The John Sington Fund

Trafford Local Studies volunteer, Cynthia Hollingworth, has researched the story behind the The John Sington Fund, a fund set up to benefit men, and their dependants, who had been killed or injured in the First World War.

The John Sington Fund

Who was John Sington? Census records show that he was the son of Adolphus Sington, a Jewish Prussian shipping merchant who eventually came to Britain and in 1845 became a naturalised citizen. Adolphus was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, and part of Poland), and had visited Britain in the course of his work.

Adolphus married London born Frances Symons and together they had a large and prosperous family. He had his own company, involved originally in the production of linen and cotton, and later the import and export of machinery for the cotton industry. John, who was born in 1861, and at least one of his brothers worked in their father’s business in Princess Street, Manchester, which continued until about 1970, with branches in France and Italy.

Adolphus continued to practise his Judaism in Manchester, helping with the relief of the poor, but some of his children abandoned the faith, and John himself was baptised as a Christian in 1883.

In 1885 John Sington married Mildred Campbell Maclure, daughter of Sir John William Maclure, Bt., who became MP for Stretford the following year. Both Sir John and John Sington were Deputy Lieutenants of Lancashire. Mildred’s uncle Edward was the Anglican Dean of Manchester, which could explain John Sington’s baptism before his marriage.

John and Mildred had two sons, Alan John Campbell Sington, born in 1886, and Edward Claude Sington, born in 1893. Census records show that Alan was born in Lille, France, where presumably his father was working at the company’s branch. They both studied at Harrow School and then Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1914 both Alan and Edward enlisted in the army, and their father is listed in The Gazette in 1915 as Major John Sington, Royal Engineers, Territorial Force Reserve. The sons embarked within 3 days of each other in September 1914. Edward served in the Dardanelles before being evacuated to Egypt in 1915.

Both John’s sons survived, ending the war as army captains. Alan, a barrister, then became a partner with his uncle Gerald in the family business, while Edward, also a barrister, worked first in London with the Board of Trade, then in Manchester.

When the Second World War broke out, Edward re-enlisted with his earlier regiment, the Lancashire Fusiliers, and in 1940 led his men safely through France to Dunkirk to be evacuated.

Interestingly, John’s great-nephew Derrick Adolphus Sington, a captain in the Intelligence Corps, was the first British officer to go into the Bergen-Belsen
concentration camp when it was liberated, and his was the voice which announced the news to the prisoners in German through a loudspeaker. He gave evidence at the Nuremberg trials, where his uncle Edward was serving on the British legal team, and Derrick married one of the survivors from the camp.

When Major John Sington’s two sons returned safely from active service during the First World War, he decided to establish a fund ‘as a Thanksgiving Offering for [their] safe return’. Its purpose was ‘for the benefit of the wives, children and dependants of any men who, as a result of service with His Majesty’s Forces or the Mercantile Marine, have died or been killed or disabled, and for the benefit of any members of His Majesty’s Forces or the Mercantile Marine who have been disabled as a result of such service.’

John Sington Fund

John Sington Fund

In 1909 the Sington family had moved from Whalley Range to Dunham House, on Charcoal Road, Dunham, and the fund’s scope was limited to those who had been resident in the Urban District of Bowdon or the village of Dunham Town for at least six months.

Six trustees were appointed, namely, John Bleckly, Henry Edwin Gaddum, William Alfred Hampson, Joseph Kenworthy, Joseph Watson Sidebotham and the Major himself. The Clerk to the Trustees was Willis Paterson, to whom applications for grants had to be made.

Bowdon Urban District Council administered the fund which continued to operate throughout the 20th century, and when Major Sington died, he left a further £1,000, which in 1923 became known as No. 2 Fund.

Will extract

Extract from the Will of John Sington.

After the local government re-organisation of 1974, Trafford Council took over the administration.

The minutes of the trustees’ meetings are stored in the archives of Trafford Local Studies, with separate details of claimants and the payments they received. Although many of the details of the claims are not recorded, there are some interesting cases shown.

Trustees Minute Book

Trustees Minute Book.

There are widows who have no family able to support them; mothers whose sons can no longer contribute to household expenses; young widows left to bring up children alone, and ex-servicemen whose health was damaged by injury, trauma or the effects of poison gas.

Each claim tells, on the one hand, a poignant story of bereavement and hardship, while on the other the kindness and compassion of a stranger:

Mrs Lucy Herrity, a widow, needed financial help after 2 of her 4 sons, who all served in the army, were killed in 1916 and 1917. She was left with a ‘simple-minded’ daughter to care for, long before the welfare state came into being.

Mr & Mrs George Aldcroft had no fewer than 5 sons who fought, including Ernest, who worked at Luke & Spencer and was exempted from service. Nevertheless, he enlisted, and was killed in action in July 1917.

Peter Dean, who was wounded, asked for a grant to help him set up a business, though there is no record of any payment. His description of himself as being ‘totally disabled up to now’ (1919) gives the impression of a man whose glass is surely half full!

Herbert F Cansell, who applied for a grant in 1926, was still suffering from ‘nervous exhaustion following war service’ – probably what we know as shell shock.

Two branches of the Spilsbury family applied for help: Charles Spilsbury was caring for his brother, Stanley, who had lost the use of his right hand after being wounded, and suffered from fits and shell shock. Mrs Mary Ellen Spilsbury received help with schooling expenses for her two young children after her husband Samuel had been killed in action. The minutes show that both children eventually won scholarships, and the fund was able to help with the purchase of school uniforms.

A grant to Mrs Frances Sparkes, whose husband Frank had died of wounds, enabled her to send her 14-year old daughter on a shorthand training course – another investment in the future of a fatherless girl.

Claimants continued to be helped by the fund into their old age: Mrs Richard Ollier received a grant in 1934, by which time she was 80, and suffering from rheumatism.

Soon the Second World War was affecting the next generation, and Major Sington’s kindness was extended to them too. By 2006 the eligible claimants had all died, there was little money left, and in 2008 the fund was removed from the Charities List.

  • The Making of Manchester Jewry Bill Williams
  • The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History
  • The Royal College of Music’s Centre for Performance History has valuable information and some photographs on its website regarding Edward Claude, whose collection of concert programmes was given to them on his death.
  • Trafford Local Studies

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The Nortons of Chapel Street

Chapel Street, Altrincham (Trafford Lifetimes TL3687).

Chapel Street, Altrincham
(Trafford Lifetimes TL3687).

Chapel Street in Altrincham was described as the “bravest little street in England” by King George V. Sue Arcangeli, a volunteer at Trafford Local Studies is the granddaughter of David Norton, one of seven brothers from Chapel Street who joined up to fight for King and country and who all survived the conflict. Sue has researched the lives of the Norton (Naughton) brothers before, during and after the war and writes as follows:-

My great grandparents Patrick Joseph and Charlotte Naughton had lived in Warrington, Runcorn and Wigan before finally settling in Chapel Street, Altrincham at the end of the 19th century. It is believed they had 17 children although only 12 living children are listed in census records (9 boys and 3 girls) Sadly 2 of the boys died in 1905 and the 3 girls also had health problems, and died young. The surviving brothers were Michael, Thomas, Joe (Patrick Joseph) Jack (John William), Robert and twins David and Peter. Over the years their surname ‘Naughton’ changed to ‘Norton’.

Michael (1880 -1948) was working as a scaffolder and bricklayer for a Broadheath company when war broke out. He had been with the Volunteer Battalion Cheshire Regiment from 1900 to 1906 and joined the 3/5th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment in 1915, transferring to the South Lancashire Regiment in 1917. He was posted to France in 1917 and by the end of the war and until he left the army in 1919 he was a Sergeant Drill Instructor.

Thomas (1882 – date unknown) had been an engine driver before the war. At some point during his service with the Royal Garrison Artillery he received a head wound and was sent to hospital in Sheffield. His medical records at the end of the war, when he was granted a 20% disability pension, mention nerve deafness in both ears, a hernia due to the lifting of heavy 6″ Howitzer shells and malaria.

Joe (1883 – 1947) was a military man before the start of the Great War having fought in the South African War from 1900 to 1902. He joined the Grenadier Guards in 1902, working his way through the ranks to Company Sergeant Major. His battalion was part of the British Expeditionary Force which went to France in 1914 and took part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, where Joe was wounded by machine gun bullets in both thighs and evacuated as a casualty back to England. In 1917, having recovered from his injuries, he joined the 4th Battalion in France and was mentioned in despatches. During 10 days of action in 1918 the battalion came under heavy fire and Joe superintended and greatly helped in the removal of the wounded. For his heroism Joe was awarded the Italian Bronze Medal for Military Valour and the DCM. After the war, he stayed in the army until 1923 when he retired with the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. Joe continued in public service, eventually becoming the custodian at 10 Downing Street, “remaining at his post throughout the nerve-wracking days of the bombing of London” and served under 5 Prime Ministers until his death in 1947.

Jack (1884date unknown) had spent 12 years in the army, serving in India just before the war with the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancasters. It has proved difficult to find accurate information about his war service. It is known that his battalion was returning to England when it was drafted to France as part of the BEF. The battalion fought at Frezenberg Ridge during the 2nd Battle of Ypres; between 1st and 6th January 1915 where they lost a total of 481 men out of a battalion of about 900-1000.

Robert (18921955) according to newspaper reports, enlisted “at the outbreak of hostilities” in the Army Service Corps, later transferring to the Cheshire Regiment and serving in France.

David (1896 -1958) enlisted at the same time as Robert, although he later transferred to the 2nd Cavalry Division and wrote to his twin brother from Flanders. After he left the army, David worked for the Altrincham Post Office until his retirement and he too was an active worker in public life. He served on numerous health, social services, work and pensions and youth employment committees. He was a local councillor, a member of the Altrincham and Sale Labour Party and served in the Home Guard during WW2.

Peter (1896 – 1960) had been granted exemption from military service at the request of his mother Charlotte, on the grounds that she needed his help in caring for his invalid sisters. It appears that this wasn’t what Peter wanted as, according to the local paper, he made several attempts to enlist, finally joining the Gordon Highlanders in 1916 and earning the nickname Jock, which stuck with him for the rest of his life.

The brothers’ war service is recognised in the Chapel Street Roll of Honour, where they are listed under the surname Norton. The Roll of Honour was unveiled during a ceremony in 1919 which followed a victory parade through Altrincham. Four of the brothers joined in the parade led by the imposing figure of Joe who can be seen in a photograph of the occasion below, standing head and shoulders above the other men.

If the other brothers were like David my granddad, and preferred not to talk about their wartime experiences, it may well be that there are Norton descendants in the area who know nothing about their ancestors’ connections to the bravest little street in England.  

Chapel Street 1919 Victory Parade.  Image courtesy of the  North West Film Archive Manchester Metropolitan University.

Chapel Street 1919 Victory Parade.
Image courtesy of the
North West Film Archive
Manchester Metropolitan University.



Image 1: Chapel Street, Altrincham (Trafford Lifetimes TL3687).
Image 2: Courtesy of the North West Film Archive Manchester Metropolitan University.



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