GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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An Oldham Territorial’s Interesting Letters

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Private 2256 Charles Frederick Kilroy -1/10 Manchester Regiment

Charles Frederick Kilroy was born in Oldham in 1885. At the outbreak of World War I he was married with three children and worked as a travelling salesman for a soap making company. He arrived in Egypt with the 1/10th Manchester Regiment on 10 September 1914 from where he sent a series of post cards including shots of Alexandria and Heliopolis.

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Gallipoli 3 242307 P.C.F.Kilroy D.Coy. 2/5 Ches., Minsmere Nr. Dunwich Suffolk. May 2/15, Dear Wife and children, I arrived at above place yesterday evening. It is 7 miles from the nearest Ry. Station and right on the coast. I have received paper but no letter yet. Best love. Yours ever xxxxxxxxx Charlie”

 Charles arrived in Egypt to join the 1/10th Manchester Regiment on 10 September 1914 from where he sent a series of post cards including shots of Alexandria and Heliopolis.

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Gallipoli 5“This is the place where the Turks tried to invade Egypt and of course came a cropper as I said they would do. It does not look a big place but it has miles upon miles of nothing but sand. To travel the length of this postcard would be certain death without water, never mind reconning(?) us and others at one side with pea shooters”


When I searched the references on the Oldham Evening Chronicle microfiche I was really surprised at what I did find: two letters Charles had written to the newspaper in July 1915! The first was sent on 2nd July 1915 from the Australia and New Zealand Convalescent Hospital, Helouan, Egypt. At the end of it was the well-known-to-the-family poem mentioned earlier. The second was from the British Red Cross Hospital, Netley, Hants. This letter contained much information about the hospital ship Cecilia which tied in very nicely with a postcard of that very ship which was sent to my great grandfather, around the time he wrote the letter, from the ship’s owner, Sir Wyndham Murray.

I was shocked, amazed and in awe all at once at this discovery. I had to sit down with a coffee to take it all in. At this point I spotted my dad’s cousin Hilary – another surprise – who I had been with only one week earlier when we discussed the information we already had about Grandad Kilroy and what we could do from there. I was so excited to grab her attention and tell her what I had found. She too became very excited. The letters were quite difficult to read but I later typed them up as best as I could. A very interesting incite into a soldier’s life around this time:

Wednesday 7th July 1915

An Oldham Territorial’s Interesting Letter

Private C.F. Kilroy, 1/10 Manchester Regiment, well-known in Oldham as a vocalist, sends us this following interesting letter from the Australia and New Zealand Convalescent Hospital, Helouan, Egypt, under date 2nd July :-

Having received no letters or newspapers from my own town through moving about lately, I was wondering if the people of Oldham are aware of the 1/10 Battalion suffering loss of a lot of good lads. We left Abbasia to go on serving along the Suez Canal and then we were packed off to the Dardanelles after nearly a fortnight on the Suez. We left Port Said with half the battalion on one ship, the remainder on another. C and D companies were the lucky ones to arrive first and A and B were not allowed to land, but put back to the naval base to await their chance. After a day or two’s waiting the lads got ashore and the first sight we got of the Dardanelles was men on stretchers being carried passed us to hospital ship along the improvised pier sand bags and stones. Before our company had been one minute ashore we heard a loud bang (not the first we’d heard, as we could see and hear the artillery duels before disembarking, also the big guns of the navy), and looking up we saw men jump in dugouts at a quicker pace than I ever saw a rugby player score a try. Quite a welcome reception, I can assure you! It was a Jack Johnson or something. We were told it was a shot from the Goeben the German warship. They were using their big guns to some effect as that shot counted four men and 14 horses of the British.

Our first questions were about the other half of our battalion and we were told they were in the supports having been sent in as soon as they landed. At that place they had one of their lads killed by a shell. The next day they put all the battalion together in the trenches. On going to join them we had one of ours wounded in the (foot/face(?)). He was sitting down having some grub (i.e. biscuit and bully) when he got potted(?). I judged it must have been a sniper as we were out of range of the Turks’ trench fire. We did fine to have no serious losses in the supports as we were well in range of their artillery, in fact, from the boat to the front trenches all was in range of their guns.

The escapes one sees every few minutes every day are marvellous and cast with a little humour I’ll mention. Soon after arrival, the morning after to be precise, a shrapnel shell burst near our company as the lads were getting ready to have their breakfast and one of the bullets went through the shirt of a lad named Mills, grazing his stomach and not even drawing blood, and as our lads have a habit of throwing a piece of dirt or stone at one another in fun, he thought someone had been throwing at him and the man who threw it was going to have a rough time. But when he found out what it was he was the most surprised lad I ever saw. We had a good laugh over it anyway. I’ve been pretty near them myself but have been fortunate in the way of wounds. I’ve been walking along when a shell has burst over our platoon and had it been a British shell none of us would have lived to tell the tale. As it was the shot counted for many men, some of them being from another lot who were near us. We lost out of our platoon four (that is the number I saw, there may have been more with that shot), one named Carre(?) who, I am told, never spoke after that, and three wounded, Dunkerley, Ross and McConnell. The last named got a bad wound on the throat but I am glad to say he has recovered somewhat since. The same lad had a narrow escape along with me a day or so before that. We had been sent along with our company to do a little fatigue work and coming back we had all our work cut out dodging shells. If you keep your eyes open you have a chance. I heard a whistling and shouted “Duck!” We threw ourselves flat on the ground in less time than it takes to tell and we were bespattered with earth all over us. The shell had gone in the earth about three yards in front and between us – a queer triangle. It failed to burst but owing to the exit nature in that part of the ground we didn’t go west.

One can go on for an indefinite period on the same subject, but if I can say I’ve seen more miraculous wounds than escapes – shots through the head, jaw, chest and stomach, etc., and nothing more than loss of blood in some cases, others, of course, more serious; how they’ve lived through it, I don’t know. After about three weeks there I had the misfortune to get in a bad way and the doctor sent me down to the base hospital. At this time I was attached to a battalion of regulars of the 29th Division as our battalion was split up and sent to different battalions. I have heard since that our lads have done some glorious work with losses I won’t try to give, but leave you as goes if news has not already reached you. Our lot was not at the storming of the Peninsula, though we went soon after. The landing party had a hard task and I have endeavoured to put the story in rhyme, a copy of which I enclose. It may be of interest to know, there are snakes on Gallipoli. I don’t know if they are dangerous or not. I broke the butt of my rifle on one. I didn’t give it the chance to let me know whether it was dangerous. I was told that our sergeant killed one. The one I smashed would be about 1½ yards long.



There’s a tale to tell, and it’s worth it, too, of lads who’ve fought and died,
And others, too, who lived it through; good luck was on their side.

On April 25th it was, the year nineteen fifteen,
That a landing party made its way, ne’er dreaming what a scene,
To storm the fort at Sedd-ul-Bahr, and different points all round,
For the boys had got the order to take and keep that ground.

To reach the boats and run ashore to some it may sound well,
But at the first step in the game the lid was raised from hell.

The big guns spat their awful flame and rifles sent their sting;
And Turks with their machine guns had us central and each wing.
The blood was up of every man, ‘neath fire without reply,
He’d to chance his mit, jump in the sea, he’d to reach the shore or die.

All soaked wet through, yet on and on, theirs was a sorry plight,
For they lost full half their comrades e’er they got achance to fight.

There was wire to cut and cliffs to climb, yet everymother’s son,
He did it bravely, nobly, though in range of a Turkish gun.

Then all at once, from every point, like magic breaks a spell,
Came a lusty cheer and a wild ” Hurrah,” and they ran, nay dived, in hell.

Midst dying groans and shrieks of pain each side they fought and bled,
Till the Turks cried “Allah! mercy,” and in great disorder fled.

And when the first respite did come and a roll they’d chance to call,
‘Twas then, and only then, they found how many men did fall.

Men set to work with pick and spade to put in earth the brave,
And many a rough man shed a tear as they placed them in their grave.

There was not a man amongst them who had not lost a chum,
And many a mother now does mourn her loving, hero son.

Wives, too, will grieve, and children they, along with sweethearts true,
Will weep in silence when peace reigns, and the crisis safely through.

All honour to the lads who’ve fought, to none give special pride,
From Colonies and Motherland they fought there side by side.

Those who’re safe in peaceful homes, who’ve had no brunt to bear,
Just raise your hats and, if ashamed, in silence breathe your prayer.

They were lads, perhaps, and some were wild, but none at heart a craven;

They had forced themselves in Turkey; some had dived in hell to heaven.


Private C. F. KILROY,

1 /10 Manchester Regiment.



Oldham Evening Chronicle Saturday 31st July 1915



Private C.F. Kilroy, 1/10 Battalion, Manchester Regiment, writing from the British Red Cross Hospital, Netley, Hants, says:-

I should like to let you know for the comfort of the relatives of soldiers who at this time should have the misfortune to get wounded and be sent to this hospital, that it is as fine a place as anyone could wish to be sent to, the only drawbacks being the distance it is from Oldham, and thus you cannot see your friends as often as you would like. The food is most excellent and the cleanliness cannot be surpassed. You also get the best that can be done for you in medical skill and appliances.

To give you an idea of the routine here: We get up to a good breakfast – those who are able – and if it is not raining one can take a stroll through the grounds (as fine as any country place I have seen) and in about ten minutes one is down on the seashore with a fine view of the shipping backward and forward Southampton way, both transports and troopships daily. Then get back to see the doctor on his rounds and then dinner.

After dinner one is at a loss what amusement to take. There are golfing, skittles, billiards and games of all descriptions; whist drives and concerts to no end in the afternoons and at nights and occasional garden parties. Every ward possesses its own gramophone and records. Ladies and gentlemen in the vicinity send cigarettes, matches, flowers and try in every way to alleviate the monotony of waiting to get well.

My most enjoyable experience was as the guest of Colonel Sir Wyndham and Lady Murray who put their beautiful yacht Cecilia at the disposal of the boys who are in hospital here. His crew are fully occupied every day and Sir Wyndham Murray takes a keen delight in doing his best to help in every way and likes to chat with anyone of us. I have heard that he had the misfortune to get a nasty wound during the South African War.

Whilst aboard we were taken to all the interesting places between Southampton and the open sea, visiting Cowes and viewing the beautiful scenery which can be seen all the way. The Isle of Wight looks splendid when you get a view of it cruising by the sunlight. A most enjoyable tea helps to make one breathe the sea air with more delight.

As a compliment to Sir Wyndham and Lady Murray I penned the following lines on the yacht:-

In different climes, at different times

I’ve spent some days at sea.

But the sweetest hours I’ve spent are now

On the yacht Cecilia

And thanks are due to all the crew,

And their master who is so kind.

So where’er I go, while life does flow,

‘Tis a thought stocked in my mind.



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Gallipoli 7Postcard dated 2nd July 1915 “From Sir Wyndham Murray – Private C F. Kilroy No. 2258 1st 10th Manchester Rgt. Red Cross Hospital Netley Southampton.”

Upon returning home that day I Googled some of the things in the articles and was surprised again to come across a blog containing the poem “A Tale of the Dard-in-Hell” by a man whose father had been a soldier in the area at the time.  I sent him a message to ask him what the connection was to the poem. He wrote back saying that although his father had been there he had not fought and he had no connection with the poem. He had found it on eBay! The poem was a pristine postcard copy:

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I was even more surprised when I came across Great Grandad Kilroy’s war medals for sale on eBay!   It took me ages to find the actual page where they were for sale but I persevered only to find they had been sold, this year, 2nd February to be precise, for £67.00 – approximately 1 month to the day.  I couldn’t believe it!  It was definitely a day of finding things and it somehow felt like I was meant to find them and someone (or some entity, dare I say) was willing me on. I sent a message to the person who sold the medals asking if he could give me details of the person who bought them from him.  He replied and there occurred an exchange of emails between myself and the purchaser of the medals. He was a very nice man who collected medals and researched their previous owners. He agreed to meet to discuss the medals.

On 11th April 2014 at 11 am, at The Tickled Trout, Salmesbury myself, along with my parents and my Dad’s cousin Hilary met with the purchaser of the medals. We exchanged information about my great grandfather and he produced three pristine WWI medals and kindly gave us a Manchester Regiment cap badge. He refused to take any payment from us as he regarded it as a pleasure to be able to reunite the medals with their owner’s descendants and he sees his research as doing his bit to keep the memory of these forgotten soldiers alive – I believe a very noble act. I will be forever in his debt.

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Medals of Charles Frederick Kilroy as displayed for sale on eBay.

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Medals of Charles Frederick Kilroy as displayed for sale on eBay.

 Up to this point the research into my great grandfather’s army career is on-going. We have postcards relating to later on in his career and another relative, my Aunt Marie, has done much research regarding the movements of the 1/10th Manchester Regiment which gives some clues. We plan to visit Netley next year during their World War I commemorations.

It just goes to show that perseverance and searching in the most unlikely of places can sometimes turn up the most exciting additions to a story. Who knows what other exciting information we may be able to find to add to the story relating to our ancestor who we are extremely proud of.




This blog was compiled by Chantal O’Brien using post cards from her own collection.
Transcripts of letters are taken from the Oldham Evening Chronicle.
The medal roll was taken from


Fighting for your Conscience

During the recent ‘Manchester Remembers’ event week at Manchester Central Library the Manchester & Lancashire Family History Society held a Handling Session to show the Disley Tribunal Papers. The Disley Service Tribunal papers consist of an (incomplete) set of documents from men who applied for exemption from military service after the introduction of conscription in 1916. During World War 1 tribunals were set up by the Local Registration Authorities to review applications for exemption to Military Service and we are lucky to have this box of archival material.

Exemption from Conscription

Grounds from exemption included those medically unfit, clergy, teachers, and certain classes of industrial workers.   Conscientious Objectors (CO’s) were also exempted, and were in most cases were given civilian jobs or non-fighting roles at the front. It is worth noting that there were several types of Conscientious Objectors:

  • Some were pacifists who were against war in general.
  • Some were political objectors who did not consider the government of Germany to be their enemy.
  • Some were religious objectors who believed that war and fighting was against their religion. Groups in this section were Quakers and Jehovah Witnesses.
  • A combination of any of the above groups.

CO’s whose arguments were rejected by the tribunals faced a difficult choice: did they answer the call for duty or wait to be arrested? Once drafted into the Army, men disobeying orders faced a court martial. Anyone who fled the front could be shot as a deserter.

In 1921, the Ministry of Health decided that all tribunal papers relating to individual cases of exemption from National Service and the tribunal minute books (except those of the Central Tribunal), should be destroyed and therefore the vast majority of files do not survive.   However, since then the Disley files have been happily residing at the Greenwood Grill until the renovation of Central Library when they were ‘re-discovered’.

The Disley Tribunal papers are a very interesting set of documents (though not complete).  At first glace they include some exemption forms from individuals, mainly for those employed by J. Makin & Co, a large paper manufacturer in Disley, they also include some agricultural exemption forms from local farmers, a small selection of exemptions for Colliery recruiting courts , a number of  ‘Notice of Hearing’ summaries with notations scribbled on them and a plethora of directives from government agencies. Until now we had thought that the Disley Tribunal papers did not contain any men who wanted exemption from military service as a conscientious objector, that is until now.

Whilst I was looking at some historic newspapers in order to find out more information about the Disley Tribunal I came across the name of George Benson.  The name rang a bell and I went back to the Disley Tribunal file and found a few papers with his name on clipped together with a rusty pin.

So,  just who was George Benson?

George Benson born May 3rd 1889 in Clifton, Lancashire and was the son of Thomas Duckworth Benson;  land agent, social activist in the Independent Labour Party, and Quaker, and his wife Ellen Maud Foy.  George was educated at Manchester Grammar School leaving at 17 to follow his father’s profession and establish himself in politics.  He crusaded for the Independant Labour Party in the North several years prior to 1914.  We can continue  to follow George Benson’s story through a number of sources (though there are gaps) –

Paperwork for George Benson in the Disley Tribunal Papers starts on 11th May  1916 with a notice of hearing:


Image 1: Disley Tribunal Paper, May 1916 – Manchester Central Library, GB127.MISC.1171.

Followed by this note to the Tribunal dated 17 May 1916:


Image 2: Note to Tribunal, May 1916 –  Manchester Central Library, GB127.MISC.1171.

And a memo from the Stockport & East Cheshire and District Appeals Tribunal to the Recruiting Officer, Stockport dated 20th May 1916 advising them that George Benson’s appeal was dismissed on  7th April 1916.


Image 3: Memo from Stockport & East Cheshire and District Appeals Tribunal to the Recruiting Officer, Stockport, 1916 – Manchester Central Library, GB127.MISC.1171.

Refuses to fight

We can pick up George’s story by looking at his Military Service record which I found on  Luckily George’s file was one of the few that survived the bombing raids in WW2 and subsequent water damage.  I was able to find 27 pages (!) which chronicles his story and this includes three witness statements about his refusal to follow a command. Here is the first page of his service record:

ancestry image1

Image 4: WW1 Military Service Record for George Benson, 1916 – Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives and

Newspaper reports

A series of high profile newspaper reports appeared with regard to Benson’s  claims of ill treatment and torture when court-martialed against disobedience to parade.  Part of his objection during the trial was that an officer from the 3rd Cheshire Regiment was selected as part of the court to sit on his case.

Example from the Manchester Guardian October 4th 1916:

Newspaper Article 1

Newspaper Article 2

Image 5: Exert from the Manchester Guardian, October 4th, 1916 – Copyright the Manchester Guardian.

The various articles which can be found on this case outline that Benson had been granted exemption from combatant service by the Disley Tribunal and he had appealed this decision at the Stockport Tribunal. He then applied for a revision on his exemption and to be granted alternative service. The appeal was then dismissed and his certificate for non-combatant service taken away. He was arrested on August 14th and handed over to the Military Authorities on  September 14th,1916.  He was  first put into the Lancashire Fusiliers but when an officer heard that he was a Conscientious Objector (CO) his transfer to the Cheshire Regiment was arranged. He overheard an officer say that they would process him more quickly there.  He was moved the same day to Birkenhead and told that they would “break him”, “tame him”.

It was here that George Benson incurred cruel treatment when he refused to drill on 22nd September 1916.  He was kicked in the ankles whilst having his rifle hung around his neck on a thin string, forcibly drilled and beaten. Benson had demanded a court-martial but his demands had been ignored.

George’s fate was finally revealed  to me on this page of his service record which confirms his future and the final outcome of the Military Court Martial.


Image 6: WW1 Military Service Record for George Benson, 1916 – Image reproduced by courtesy of The National Archives and

What happened next?

After his famous trial and conviction he was sentenced to spend two years in Wormwood Scrubs from 24/10/1916 to 13/10/1918. He was then transferred to ‘W’ class reserve and sent to the Conscientious Objectors work centre  in Wakefield, Yorkshire. This place held 600 CO’s and originally had been earmarked for Irish revolutionaries before the war.  Benson was finally discharged on 31st March 1920.

George had previously been the Treasurer of the National Administrative Council of the Independent Labour party but resigned in 1924 after he was invited to contest the Chesterfield seat as a Socialist candidate at the next election.  Toppling the Liberals he was elected with a majority vote to become the MP for Chesterfield 1929. He held this seat until 1931, he then regained it once again in  1935-1964.  Benson became an author on financial matters and wrote a book on the history of Socialsim. He was chairman of the Howard League for Penal Reform and became a member of the Home Office Advisory Council on delinquency. In 1937 he was seriously injured in a road accident along with his wife Marjorie while his brother Thomas was killed.

Ironically, he was Knighted in 1958 for services to the Government after representing the Labour Party for 22 years.  He had been both chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and the Library Committee in Parliament. His obituary in the Times stated that “..he became a pacifist, a prison reformer, and one of the leaders in the campaign against corporal punishment”.  His experiences in prison during the First World War led him to become a leader of reform, which became one of the greatest purposes of this life.  George Benson died aged 84 in Surrey on 17th  August 1973.

NPG x165038; Sir George Benson by Walter Bird

Image 7: George Benson, 1959 – Copyright National Portrait Gallery, London.


Original papers related to the papers of the local Disley Military Service Tribunal can be found at Central Library Archives at   Papers of the Disley Local Military Service Tribunal GB127.MISC/1171

WW1 Military Service records available on

Stories of military tribunals can be searched on British Newspapers online at:

Archives Plus have a selection of the Disley Tribunal papers on flickr:

The Times Digital Archive: “Sir George Benson.” Times [London, England] 22 Aug. 1973: 16. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

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Remember Scarborough!

The Shelling of Scarborough, Hartlepool, West Hartlepool, and Whitby on 16 December 1914


Remember Scarborough%2C_North_Yorkshire_-_WWI_poster

Image 1: British propaganda poster: “Men of Britain! Will You Stand This?” referring to civilian casualties and destruction caused by the German Raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby on 16 December 1914 – Wikimedia Commons.

In December 1914 an Oldham traveller, Mr W.T. Hirst (employed by Hirst Bros., wholesale jewellers), was staying at the Broadway Hotel in Scarborough. He had just got up at 8am when he heard the sound of firing:

Knowing that all windows had to be opened when any firing commenced I got on a chair and was in the act of opening the window when a second flash occurred and the roof of the house opposite the hotel was taken off. I went downstairs and did my best to console the proprietor and his family. With another traveller I went to the front door to see what was going on. A shell burst on a house further up the street and the concussion from it knocked me and the other traveller against each other and we both fell in the hall, being stunned for a few minutes. Everywhere people seemed to be in a panic and things were in great disorder. In Victoria Road all the houses were either hit or shaken and there was not a single window intact. I picked up several pieces of shell. It is a terrible business.


Scarborough had just been shelled for an hour and a half by two German battleships, the Derfflinger and Von der Tann.  Meanwhile, three other German battleships, the Seydlitz, Blücher and Moltke, had opened their attack on Hartlepool at 8.10am. Mrs Jane Whitehead from Delph was living at the Alma Hotel, Whitby Road, Hartlepool with her husband, Lees, and her family:

I sent my daughter, Phyllis, to school and started on my housework and thought I heard the gunners practising at the fort. Thinking that it was much louder than normal I went out into the street and saw the commotion. The postman told me about the bombardment and that the gasworks were already on fire. Whilst I was talking a shell burst right over my head sending splinters in all directions. A poor woman was struck on the breast and killed instantaneously. Children in neighbouring streets were blown to pieces and there was heartbreaking carnage all around. My first thoughts were for my daughter’s safety and I was very relieved when she came home unhurt. A shell had carried off the roof of the school but fortunately had not injured any of the children. Newspapers are usually accused of exaggeration but I know that the worst that has occurred has never been published.


At 8:50am the German ships departed. An Oldham man working in Hartlepool witnessed the bombardment:

 The alarm came about eight o’clock with the sounds of sharp firing, which gradually became fuller and more alarming. Shells burst in all parts of the town, and we could hear them whizzing overhead. About 8.30 the gasworks were ablaze, and flames shot up yards high. The railway station at the back here was damaged, a huge hole being made in the brickwork and carriages battered. A woman was killed by a shell within 20 yards of us and the house shattered, while one of my friends lost his daughter, killed before his eyes by a shell bursting in the room. Parts of shells were flying about in all directions and were picked up just outside this place. The people from the houses on the sea front came hurrying along the streets and before long wounded men, some almost dying, were carried along on stretchers. The old town of Hartlepool presents a sad spectacle, as some of the houses are practically demolished, and the promenade has been battered. Whole rows of houses have their windows blown out, several ships in the harbour were damaged (including a German prize) and shipyards set on fire. The losses are variously estimated, and the wounded are numerous, while some accounts are very harrowing. The gunners at the battery acted splendidly and kept up an almost incessant fire for half an hour, driving the enemy off, although they came very close during one part of the bombardment. I am deeply thankful I am alive to write you a brief impression – by candlelight. If this does not stimulate recruitment, nothing will. It makes one able to picture – though very faintly – the dire distress of our poor Belgian comrades. The people are somewhat excited to-night, but we hope the danger has passed, both here and on the Yorkshire coast.


Mr. J. J. Buckley, proprietor of the Alexandra Hotel, Redcar, and formerly of Delph, visited Hartlepool after the bombardment:

 I along with two friends visited the Hartlepools yesterday, and we were particularly lucky in having Mr. J. Bingley for a guide, as he appears to know all the ins and outs of the town. We saw most of the damage to property, which cannot be realised until seen; roofs, ends, fronts, backs of houses and churches blown away. On the sea wall huge pieces of flags, concrete and earth were torn away. This is near the semaphore station and evidently directed there to destroy the apparatus, but luckily missed it. The lighthouse has also been another target which also fortunately was not damaged, but very near to it is a big gun, and it was here that five soldiers were killed. (One has since died of wounds). The gun, however, was not damaged although a shell exploded so near. I was told William Bradbury (late gravestone letterer at Saddleworth Church) stood on the green, which stretches along the northern front between the town and the shore and watched the whole of the bombardment. If this is true he will have something to relate to his Saddleworth friends. There is any amount of fragments of shells in both towns and Bingley has got many good specimens. He kindly gave me two pieces. As souvenirs they are much sought after and fancy prices are being paid. We afterwards met by appointment Mr Fryer, the Mayor of West Hartlepool, who amongst the many places we visited, took us to the workhouse. This is quite a small house and has been converted into a hospital. We visited two large wards which were more than half filled with civilian wounded men and children. They had nearly all different types of wounds, some head, some back, shoulders, arms legs etc. One boy, probably eight or nine years old, had just had a fractured leg amputated and he did not know about it. Some others were not expected to live long. Mr Usher, the master, then took us to the church where a shell had come through the roof and done considerable damage. This happened five or ten minutes after service and all had cleared out. We next inspected huge fragments of the shell, which are very ugly things. I cannot express the feelings of joy in this town at being so fortunate in not getting a shot, although the German ships sailed past us on the way to Hartlepool and probably not more than two or three miles from us. Apart from the loss of life and property I would not have missed the sight for anything. We could see the fire from the muzzle of the guns at every shot. When salvoes were fired it was a magnificent sight; when broadsides were fired it was easy to tell as the whole of the town trembled, and the surprise is that no windows were broken with the concussion which from the guns was terrible.


The attack on 16 December 1914, during which the German Navy shelled the seaport towns of Scarborough, Hartlepool, West Hartlepool, and Whitby, left one hundred and thirty-seven people dead and 592 injured.

What was the purpose of the German attack? One possibility is that the German Navy was seeking to lure out small parts of the British Navy in order to destroy it bit-by-bit. Another is that the real target for the Germans was the radio stations used by the British Navy, of which there were three in Scarborough.

Whatever the reason, the German shelling of Scarborough, Hartlepool, West Hartlepool, and Whitby had a pronounced effect on British public opinion and was used to underpin a major recruiting campaign under the slogan ‘Remember Scarborough!’


Thanks to Sandra Ratcliffe from Oldham Local Studies and Archives for this great blog post.  



Oldham Standard
Oldham Chronicle
Oldham Evening Chronicle
Image 1: British Propaganda Poster, 1915 – Wikimedia Commons (,_North_Yorkshire_-_WWI_poster.jpg?uselang=en-gb)

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War at Last

WWI Proclamation Wikimedia

Image 1: Proclamation by H. M. the King regarding the defence of the realm – Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout Tuesday 4 August there were great scenes of excitement in Oldham as groups of people, sometimes swelling to crowds, hung around the Town Hall and the General Post Office. Following the proclamation for the mobilisation of the naval reserve and kindred forces, fourteen Oldham men, members of the Oldham Corps of the St. John Ambulance Brigade belonging to the Royal Naval Auxiliary Sick Berth Reserve, left that afternoon for service. Their destination was Devonport, after which they were to be detailed either for duty in a naval hospital or on warship. The men included James H Johnson, Herbert Wormald, Harry Winterbottom, Fred Halliwell, Charles Broadbent, James Heyes, Fred Williams, A J Gurney, J Jenkinson, Thomas Edward Rossiter, Edmund Butterworth, Isaiah Hall, Harry Smith and Walter Grimshaw.

People then continued to wait expectantly for the order mobilising all army reserves and embodying the Territorials. By nine o’clock in the evening the crowd had grown much larger, and a little later the expected proclamation came:

 Owing to the rejection by the German Government of the request made by his Majesty’s Government for the assurance that the neutrality of Belgium will be respected. His Majesty’s Ambassador at Berlin has received his passports. His Majesty’s Government have declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on August 4th.

The following day at 8am most of the army reservists left for their different stations:

The scenes at the local railway stations were remarkable. Throughout the morning the staffs of the different stations were extremely busy in despatching trains of reservists to their different regiments. Twenty, thirty, and even more travelled in every train that departed. They were seen off by their relatives. In many instances the partings were very pathetic. A weeping wife, a crying child, or a brother and sister, or in many cases parents, could be seen bidding their relatives good-bye. As the trains moved out of the station rousing cheers were given for the men who are going to fight for King and country.

A very touching incident happened at Royton Junction, where one of the pointsmen left on Wednesday. He kissed his wife and two children and bade them good-bye, and expressed a wish that he would soon return.

 Ten members of the Oldham police force who were called up as reservists received a hearty send off at the Town Hall from the Mayor and Mayoress (Alderman and Mrs Wilde) and the Chief Constable (Mr D H Turner).

  The Chief Constable briefly alluded to the object for which they were assembled. He said he felt sure that the men would do honour to their King and would be a credit to their country and the town to which they belonged and add to the reputation of the police force of which they were members. He expressed the belief that it would be a comfort ot the men to know that in the event of them returning to the town their positions would be open to them.

The Mayor and Alderman Cheetham also addressed the men, pointing out to them the importance of assisting in the defence of their country. Both expressed the wish that God would guide them, and that they would return safe and sound from their duties. The men were escorted to the station by Superintendent Pigott and a number of police officers, who gave them a hearty handshake and wished them Godspeed when they left.

 The ten reservists were: Detective Smith, PCs Brown, Russell, Low, Grubb, Brierley, King, Mannion, Hankinson and Graham. Three of the men were also members of the fire brigade.

In addition to the Oldham policemen, a number of officers were called up from Shaw, Royton and Chadderton. These included County police constables 1,706 Robert Good, 1,767 Alfred Priestley, and 1,768 Albert Atkinson (all of whom were married men and stationed at Shaw); two Royton policemen (Detective Currie and a mounted constable named Callow); and PC Baron of Chadderton.

They were soldiers, every inch of them. They betrayed no fear, were not wild in any way, but went to their duty firmly and with a deadly surety which makes Englishmen the premier fighters the world over. All had served their country and were ready to serve her again in her hour of need.


This blog was written by Roger Ivens from Oldham Local Studies and Archives.



Oldham Standard
Oldham Chronicle
Oldham Evening Chronicle
Image 1: Proclamation by H. M. the King regarding the defence of the realm – Wikimedia Commons (

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Private Henry Mayer – Linda’s Story

In last week’s blog post, Stockport volunteer Linda Davies told the story of Private Henry Mayer, a Stockport lad who became an Australian Soldier in WW1. This week, Linda reveals the unexpected discovery which first inspired her to find out more about Henry’s fascinating life. 

Linda’s Story

I first became ‘acquainted’ with Henry Mayer in 2004 when I was helping to pack up books for my Church’s relocation to other premises. Tucked away in a large pile of books I found his Bible. I had a keen interest in history and especially in the two World Wars and I was fascinated to find this small book inscribed with his name, address and date.

I was interested to find out how an Australian soldier’s Bible could find its way to Stockport, so I took the Bible home with the thought that it would be nice one day to try and trace his relatives to return the Bible to them. For two years it sat in a bedside drawer until I came across it again and decided the time was right to do something about it.

I found a website for the Australian War Memorial and sent them an email asking how I could find any relatives.  They emailed me back with more websites to visit.  When I searched the websites I came across many details about Henry including that he was killed in action, the place of his memorial and a copy of a form completed by his brother Joseph, giving details for the Roll of Honour at Fromelles.


Image 1: Henry Mayer’s Bible was donated to Hurstville City Museum and Gallery – Wikimedia Commons.

I checked the website for Mortdale which is where he lived and found a museum in Hurstville which was the closest to where he lived. As I was unable to trace any relatives I emailed the museum to see if they would like to have the Bible. They were delighted to accept. After the Bible arrived they arranged for an article to be published in the local press about the Bible’s journey and showing a photo of the inside cover. The article was eventually seen by 82 yr old Henry Mayer of Sydney (known as Harry) who was Henry’s nephew, being the son of Henry’s brother Oswald, and had been named after his war hero uncle. He and his cousin Helen (daughter of Henry’s sister Emma) later visited the museum and an article and photo of them with the Bible appeared in the local press.

From further research it would appear that the Bible was probably returned to Henry’s mother in England and eventually found its way to the Stockport church by way of relatives.

Interesting Note:  an ancestor of Henry Mayer was Joseph Mayer, a founder of Stockport Sunday School, who also served as a teacher and Treasurer. The current building is called the Joseph Mayer Building.



Image 1: Hurstville City Museum and Gallery – Wikimedia Commons (,_14_MacMahon_Street,_Hurstville,_New_South_Wales_(2010-07-18).jpg?uselang=en-gb)

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Private Henry Mayer

This blog post, written by Stockport volunteer Linda Davies, tells the story of a Stockport lad who became an Australian Soldier in WW1.

Henry’s Story

Henry Mayer emigrated from Stockport to Mortdale, NSW, Australia in 1912 with his brother Joseph. He was 19 years old. On 22 June 1915 he joined the NSW contingent of the Australian 5th Division, which had been formed in February 1916 as part of the expansion of the Australian Imperial Force Infantry brigades. In addition to the existing 8th Brigade, the new 14th and 15th Brigades (spawned from the battalions of the 1st and 2nd Brigades respectively) were added to form the 5th Division. Henry was part of the 55th Battalion of the 14th Brigade.

Like many other soldiers, Henry was presented with a New Testament Bible. The bookplate inside the front cover states that it was presented to members of the NSW contingent of the Australian Imperial Force by Friends of the NSW Auxiliary of the British and Foreign Bible Society. He inscribed the inside cover as follows:


Pte Henry Mayer

No 2873

9th Rem 3rd Batt






On 19 June 1916 Henry’s battalion embarked for France. The 5th Division was to replace three other divisions which had been acclimatising on a quieter sector near Armentieres but had now been dispatched to the Somme as reinforcements. The result of this move was that the 5th Division, the most inexperienced of the Australian divisions in France, would be the first to see major action in the Battle of Fromelles, after only having been in France for a fortnight. They were to join the British 61st Division, also having recently arrived in France. Both divisions were devoid of any combat experience.



Image 1: Diagram of 5th Australian Division positions during the Attack on Fromelles (on the Aubers Ridge), 19 July 1916.


The battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916 was a bloody initiation for Australian soldiers to warfare on the Western Front. The Australian and British soldiers were ordered to attack strongly fortified German front line positions near the Aubers Ridge. The attack was intended as a feint to hold German reserves from moving south to the Somme, where a large Allied offensive had begun on 1 July. The feint was a disastrous failure. Australian and British soldiers assaulted over open ground in broad daylight and under direct observation and heavy fire from the German lines.

In one night of fighting over 5,500 Australians became casualties. Almost 2,000 of them were killed in action or died of wounds and some 400 were captured. It is believed to be the greatest loss by a single division in 24 hours during the entire First World War. Some consider Fromelles the most tragic event in Australia’s history. There were also over 1500 British casualties.

Henry Mayer, in a Lewis Gun section, was shot and killed during that night. He was 23 years old. His officer made the comment “He was quiet, but a fighter, one of my best lads”.

The body of Henry Mayer was not found, and after the war a VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Australian Memorial Park was created. Behind these mass graves a wall carried the names of 1299 men who died with no known grave. Henry Mayer’s name is on this wall.


Henry Mayer 1

Image 2: Private Henry Mayer’s grave at Fromelles Military Cemetery, France.


However, in 2007, following persistent research by retired Melbourne teacher, Lambis Englezos, archaeological investigations began to uncover the remains of up to 400 Australian and British soldiers who were buried in a mass grave in a copse known as Pheasant Wood by German troops in 1916.

DNA testing on one of the bodies found proved it to be that of Henry Mayer, and in February 2010 he was buried with several others with full military honours at the new Fromelles Military Cemetery – 94 years after he was killed in action. The official dedication of the Military Cemetery on 19 July 2010 was attended by Prince Charles, the Duke of Kent who is the President of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Australian Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. Also present were some of Henry’s relatives from Australia. After the ceremony two of each solder’s relatives were invited to meet the Royals. They then returned to the graveside to await the Minister who would Dedicate each grave. The family brought Henry’s Bible with them and read from this at the graveside.




Australian War Memorial (
History Learning Site (
Image 1: Diagram of 5th Australian Division positions during the Attack on Fromelles (on the Aubers Ridge), 19 July 1916 – Wikimedia Commons
Image 2: A Mayer family photograph showing Henry Mayer’s grave, used with permission from Beverly Mayer
Further credits: Harry and Bev Mayer; Graham Mollett.

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Gone Down: The First Oldhamer to Die in the War

This blog was written by Sandra Ratcliffe from Oldham Local Studies and Archives. It tells the story of HMS Amphion, an Active-class scout cruiser which became the Royal Navy’s first loss of WWI. 

Frank Morrison Picture HMS_Amphion

Image 1: Photograph of the HMS Amphion, launched on 4 December 1911. Wikimedia Commons.

At the beginning of the war HMS Amphion was part of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, defending the eastern approaches to the English Channel.

On Wednesday 5 August 1914, HMS Amphion was carrying out a search of the North Sea, when they were informed that a suspicious ship had been spotted nearby. The ship was the German minelayer, Königin Luise. The German ship was chased down and sunk, and the HMS Amphion picked up any survivors. It then continued on its search, later preventing the sinking of the St Petersburg, which was carrying the German ambassador back to Germany.

Having completed her search, HMS Amphion turned back for Harwich. However, at 6:30am on 6 August she struck a mine that had previously been laid by Königin Luise, killing over 150 British sailors and 18 of the crew rescued from Königin Luise. Among the British sailors who lost their lives was the first Oldhamer to die in the war, 1st Class stoker Frank Morrison.

Frank Morrison was born in Oldham in 1887, the son of John and Mary Morrison. On leaving school he worked at Messrs Platt Brothers and Co Ltd. in the saw-mills department.

He later joined the Territorial Force, where he was an active member prior to joining the Navy in 1912.

Frank Morrison 1

Image 2: Frank Morrison – Oldham Weekly Chronicle.

 Stoker 1st Class Frank Morrison


HMS Amphion

6 August 1914

Age 27

 He was due to come home on leave on 5 August 1914 to see his wife Elizabeth, his son James (aged four years) and daughter Julia (aged seven weeks) at their home in Mordaunt Street, Werneth. However, all leave was suspended and he had to remain on duty. When intimating to his wife that he would be unable to come to Oldham, he told her not to send any further letters as he was going on active service and could not tell her where he would be.

His death elicited a sympathetic response from Oldhamers:

 There is a great deal of sympathy in the district in which the widow lives, with her in her bereavement. The blinds in the houses are drawn, and doubtless something more practical will be done to show that her late husband’s death shall not go unnoticed.

The Morrison family have certainly served their country as far as could be expected. The father was a soldier for many years and two brothers are at present in the Navy, and may be at this moment on the scene where a battle is more than likely to be waged.

 (Oldham Standard, 10 Aug 1914, p.3)



Oldham Standard
Oldham Chronicle
Oldham Evening Chronicle
Image 1: Photograph of the HMS Amphion – Wikimedia Commons (
Image 2: Photograph of Frank Morrison – Our Local Heroes: Second War Supplement of the Oldham Weekly Chronicle, 13 Mar 1918, p.1.


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