GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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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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Stretford Council Employee shoots down a Zeppelin

Richard Nelson, a volunteer researcher at Trafford Local Studies, is identifying and attempting to find out more about the lives of servicemen in Trafford who were awarded medals for gallantry, devotion to duty or meritorious service in the Great War. The following story caught his attention as being a little different from the array of Military Medals, Distinguished Conduct Medals and Military Crosses that were being awarded.

Stretford Council Employee shoots down a Zeppelin

Buried in the minutes of Stretford Urban District Council, January 1917, was the following intriguing entry:

Bombardier Herbert Shawcross, employee in the Highways Department, was presented with a Gold Medal by the Lord Mayor of London for bringing down a Zeppelin, 31st March 1916.

A little further research reveals that Herbert, born about 1885, was baptised at the same time as his younger sister, on 23rd February 1887 at St. Matthew’s Parish Church, Stretford. His family were living at Bennett’s Buildings, King Street, Stretford in both 1891 and 1901.

Bennett's Buildings

Bennett’s Buildings, Trafford Lifetimes TL10311.

He was working in Engine Sheds in 1901. He married Mary Ann Derbyshire in the late summer of 1909 and had five children between 1910 and 1917. By the time of the 1911 census we find him residing at 14 Cooper Street, Stretford. His occupation is recorded as Carter for the District Council. By this date his father is an inmate in the Barton upon Irwell Union Workhouse.

So how did an ordinary soldier from a poor background in Stretford come to be presented with a medal by the Lord Mayor of London?

Colonel Sir Charles Wakefield, Lord Mayor of London, had offered a reward of £500 to the first person to shoot down one of the Zeppelins that were undertaking regular bombing raids over London. The Times reports that, on March 31st 1916, anti- aircraft gunners protecting ammunition magazines at Purfleet, Essex, scored a hit on German Zeppelin L-15 as it tried to bomb the establishment.


Zeppelin. This item is from The Great War Archive, University of Oxford (; © John Rowlands.

It was severely damaged and plunged into the sea a mile from the Kentish Knock Lightship. The seventeen survivors were taken prisoner. The remains of the L-15 were then taken under tow, but the airship broke up off Westgate and only small sections were hauled ashore, where parts were taken by souvenir hunters.

Because a number of gun batteries were involved in shooting L-15 down, and each one had claim to the prize for hitting it, the Lord Mayor decided to have 353 gold medals produced, instead of dividing up the cash reward. Herbert Shawcross, serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Bombardier, was one of the recipients of what has become known as a ‘Wakefield Medal’. 


Wakefield Medal. This item is from The Great War Archive, University of Oxford (; © John Rowlands.

Herbert’s 9 ct. gold medal was submitted to Stretford Council Members for inspection, and councillors expressed their appreciation of the honour conferred upon their employee. The Medal Roll shows that he was promoted to Acting Sergeant before demobilisation and also served with 14 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.


Photograph of Bennett’s Buildings, Trafford Lifetimes TL10311.

Photograph of zeppelin – The Great War Archive, University of Oxford (; © John Rowlands.

Wakefield Medal – The Great War Archive, University of Oxford (; © John Rowlands.

Permission to use images from The Great War Archive, University of Oxford, at

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Second Lieutenant Mark Hovell, MA (1888-1916)

This blog post was written by Julie Lee, a volunteer at Trafford Local Studies.


Second Lieutenant Mark Hovell, MA, from the preface to “The Chartist Movement” Illustrated (Kindle Edition) by Mark Hovell.

“On Earth the broken Arcs, in the Heaven a perfect round”1

 So reads the epitaph of Second Lieutenant Mark Hovell, MA. He “was to become one of many young men of great promise whose lives were wasted in the slaughterhouse of the Western Front…”2

He is buried alongside thousands of other soldiers in the military cemetery at Vermelles, Northern France. Hovell was from Sale, Cheshire and was only recently married when he died at the Front aged 28. A history lecturer at the University of Manchester Hovell had almost completed a significant piece of work on Chartism3 when he was called to France. As he left for the Front, Hovell consulted a colleague and former lecturer of his, Professor T. F. Tout:

“… I promised that, should the fortune of war go against him, I would do my best to get it ready for publication. Within a few weeks I was unhappily called upon to redeem my word…”4

This he did, and Hovell’s influential work “The Chartist Movement” was published posthumously in 1918.


Born on March 21st 1888, Mark Hovell had shown promise from an early age, winning a scholarship to grammar school at the age of 10. He excelled academically, gaining a first class degree in history from the University of Manchester, before embarking on a teaching career. He became heavily involved in the Workers’ Education Association, as well as lecturing at Manchester University. During the 1912-13 academic year he went to Leipzig University in Germany. His many letters home talk of his admiration for many aspects of German life, “of the ways in which the Germans studied and practised the art of living, their adaptation of means to ends, their avoidance of social waste. He was struck by the absence of visible slums and apparent squalor5 but also by the marked hostility he encountered towards the English.

By the time of the outbreak of war in August 1914, Hovell was back at Manchester University as a lecturer in military history. Victorian Social and Economic history had been his specialism, but “this (military) study the University prepared to develop in connection with a scheme for preparation of its students for commissions in the army and territorial forces…”6 He was then sent for officer training in the Spring of 1915.

On June 3rd 1916 he married his sweetheart, Francis (Fanny) Gately, headmistress of the local infants school Springfield in Sale. They managed a rainy week’s honeymoon in the Lake District before Mark was back training with the 1st Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment).

In July 1916, he received his orders to France. The Division he joined there were quite broken, having suffered heavy losses at the Somme, but he embraced the experience, writing to Professor Tout:

“Behold me at last an officer of a line regiment, and in command of a small fortress, somewhere in France, with a platoon, a gun, stores, and two brother officers temporarily in my charge.  I thus become owner of the best dug-out in the line, with a bed (four poles and a piece of stretched canvas), a table, and a ceiling ten feet thick.  We are in the third line at present, so life is very quiet.  Our worst enemies are rats, mice, beetles, and mosquitoes. 7

He was fortunate to come across an acquaintance there: Rev. T. Eaton McCormick of his local parish of St Mary’s, Ashton on Mersey, who took Holy Communion with Hovell a few days before he died.

On August 12th 1916, on Hovell’s second visit to the trenches, orders were given to explode a mine beneath the German trenches. As the mine exploded, one of Mark’s men was overwhelmed by the fumes, and as Hovell went to his aid, he too was overcome and he tragically fell down the shaft. His burial was overseen by Rev. McCormick who wrote to Mark’s mother:

“It was truly a soldier’s funeral, for, just as I said “earth to earth,” all the surrounding batteries of our artillery burst forth into a tremendous roar in a fresh attack upon the German line…. He has, as the soldiers say, “gone West” in a blaze of glory.  He has fought and died in the noblest of all causes, and though now perhaps we feel that such a brilliant career has been brought to an untimely end, by and by we shall realise that his sacrifice has not been in vain.8

Mark’s legacy remains for all to see: his daughter, Marjorie, was born 7 months after his death. She became an accomplished artist, teaching at the Manchester College of Art.

The “Mark Hovell and Shuttleworth Prize” was founded in 1918 by his widow, in memory of her husband for performance in exams for pupils studying history at Manchester University.

Hovell’s work on Chartism (in a time when there was still no universal suffrage) was pioneering and contributed enormously to the early study of this period of Victorian Social and Economic history:

It “became and remained for many years the definitive history of Chartism…”9 and “remains import (sic) both for its contribution towards the opening up of Chartist studies and for the influence it had over later historians of Chartism”10 As with so many personal stories of the First World War, one cannot help but wonder what might have been..




  1. From the poem “Abt Vogler” by Robert Browning.
  2. From
  3. Google defines Chartism as “…A UK parliamentary reform movement of 1837–48, the principles of which were set out in a manifesto called The People’s Charter and called for universal suffrage for men, equal electoral districts, voting by secret ballot, abolition of property qualifications for MPs, and annual general elections..”
  4. From the preface to “The Chartist Movement” – Illustrated (Kindle edition) by Mark Hovell
  5. Ditto
  6. Ditto
  7. Ditto
  8. Ditto
  9. Pg 11 “Victorian Labor History: Experience, identity, and the politics of representation” by John Host.
  10. The Chartist Ancestors Blog by Mark Crail



  1. Mark Hovell – From the preface to “The Chartist Movement” – Illustrated (Kindle edition) by Mark Hovell.
  2. Cover of “The Chartist Movement” by Mark Hovell, edited and completed with a memoir by Professor T.F. Tout
  3. Photograph of Vermelles British Cemetery, (Copyright and database rights in all material on this site are the property of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission unless otherwise stated. This material may be reproduced free of charge in any format or medium for personal use or for internal circulation at an educational establishment, provided it is not altered or used in a misleading context and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission is acknowledged as the source of the material.”)


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Gallant Service: Oldham Nurse’s Great Distinction

Gallant Service: Oldham Nurse’s Great Distinction Twice Mentioned

In the War of 1914-18 Q.A.I.M.N.S.R. Sister A.H. Wormald was mentioned in a dispatch from General Sir Ian Hamilton, G.C.B., D.S.O.,A.D.C., dated 11th December, 1915, for gallant and distinguished services in the field, I have it in command from the King to record His Majesty’s high appreciation of the services rendered – Winston S. Churchill, Secretary of State for War, War Office, Whitehall, S.W. March 1919.

This was the first of two certificates received in March 1919 by Sister Ada Wormald from the War Office announcing her mention in dispatches. The second certificate was similarly worded but was from Lieutenant-General Sir J.G. Maxwell, K.C.B, K.C.M.G., C.V.O., D.S.O., and dated 16 March 1916.

Ada Hannah Wormald was born on 11 June 1880 the eldest daughter of Thomas and Mary Wormald of 188 Union Street, Rhodes Bank, Oldham. Her father was a dental surgeon. She was educated at Hulme Grammar School, Oldham and then trained as a nurse at the General Infirmary and Dispensary, Bolton, from 1909 to 1912. After leaving Bolton she spent periods at the Maternity Hospital, Birmingham; the Corbett Hospital, Stourbridge; and as a Ward and Theatre Nurse at Clayton Hospital, Wakefield.

Ada H Wormald

Ada H Wormald – Oldham Evening Chronicle.

She applied to the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve on 3 November 1914 and signed for overseas service 6 January 1915. Following a period of military training in Edinburgh, where her first patients were sailors from the German battleship Blucher which had been sunk in the North Sea, she went out to Gallipoli in June 1915 to work on hospital ships. As a result of her work at Gallipoli she was mentioned in dispatches by General Sir Ian Hamilton and received the Royal Red Cross Decoration. Only the Matron and Sister Wormald received the decoration but Ada thought that every sister on the ship deserved it.

Following the evacuation of Gallipoli Sister Wormald remained in Egypt becoming matron at the Government Hospital, Benha and at the General Hospital, Cairo. It was here that she received her second mention in dispatches for nursing in the provinces of Egypt.

In November 1918 she moved to the Armenian Refugee Hospital, Port Said from were she received a glowing reference from the Commanding Officer:

 I have the honour to report that Miss A H Wormald, Sister, QAIMSNR was matron of the Armenian Refugee Hospital, Port Said for a period of six months. She showed herself to be a capable organiser and performed her duties very efficiently. She worked well herself and got her subordinates to work well too. I should strongly recommend her for a further period of service.

After being demobilised in September 1919 she returned to Egypt where in December 1920 she was appointed matron by the Egyptian Government, of a hospital at Mansoura, about 120 km north east of Cairo on the east bank of the Damietta branch of the Nile, in the delta region.

Ada Hannah Wormald died at Budleigh Salterton, Devon in 1967.


 This blog post was written by Sandra Ratcliffe at Oldham Local Studies and Archives.


National Archives: WO/399/9242
Oldham Evening Chronicle, 10 Jun 1916; 2 Jul 1921

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‘The First War in the Air’- AVRO and World War One

As Europe prepared itself for total war in 1914, Manchester not only offered its men to the front line. It also manufactured an array of commodities, from munitions to biscuits, through its already well established industrial economy. This article explores a well-known local business at the time named AV Roe and Company (AVRO), which was opened by Alliot Verdon Roe and Humphrey Verdon Roe. The AVRO 504 and later models played a part in strategic bombing and training during the war.

Brownsfield Mill, Ancoats. Rochdale Canal Lock 83. Copyright Chris Allen,

Brownsfield Mill, Ancoats. Rochdale Canal Lock 83. Copyright Chris Allen.

AVRO was established in 1910 and its first site was in Brownsfield Mill, situated on Great Ancoats Street. As the world’s first enterprise to be registered as an aeroplane manufacturer, unsurprisingly it aroused great interest and wonder amongst contemporaries. An article in The Manchester Guardian from January 1914 described an AVRO aeroplane at a recent aviation display as ‘probably the most efficient aeroplane ever designed, and is, to our pride of Manchester manufacture’. The aircraft on display that day could reach a height of 1,300 feet per minute, and travel at 130 miles per hour.

In 1913 AVRO moved to a manufacturing space in Miles Platting, and later Newton Heath. Many of the training and defence planes in use during WWI would have been assembled in these local workshops.

By 1914 the British government had seen the potential of the aeroplane and feared the possibilities of enemy technology, so the relatively new concept of aerial warfare was included as part of British military strategy. Thousands of aircraft were ordered by the War Office, including an initial order of 13 (a large order by 1914 standards) AVRO 504 biplanes with 80hp Gnome engines for use by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service). 

AVRO - Finest Of All advert.

AVRO – Finest Of All advert.

 Tragically the AVRO 504 was one of the first aircraft to be shot down on 22 August 1914 by the enemy, piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Vincent Waterfall. However, three months later it was to feature in a major successful raid on the German Zeppelin works in Friedrichshafen. The Zeppelin airship was considered by many in both public and military circles with trepidation. These ‘gaseous monsters’ could as reported by sensationalist press stories, drop both bombs and men in their hundreds of thousands over British cities. The destruction of the Friedrichshafen plant would therefore be a symbolic triumph.

In November 1914, four AVRO 504s each equipped with 20lb bombs were flown over Lake Constance situated on the German border, and detonated their cargo onto the plant. The lead pilot Commander Briggs was shot down and was met by some hostile locals on the ground. After a short altercation he was later taken to hospital, whilst the other pilots managed to escape to France. It is now debatable amongst contemporary historians how much damage the attack caused to the works, however the Manchester Guardian in 1914 reported the ‘bombs thrown completely wrecked the only workshops equipped with the indispensable tools and machinery for the repair of the airships.’ It is clear that irrespective of the damage the mission caused, it was used as propaganda on the home front to influence public opinion. Additionally, the AVRO aircraft’s speed, endurance and ability to carry a rifle, machine gun or explosives had rendered it the machine of choice for a round trip to Friedrichshafen by Commander Briggs and his fellow aviators.

AVRO - Nothing Better advert.

AVRO – Nothing Better advert.

As the war progressed, the AVRO 504 aircraft was adapted several times for use as a training plane and was one of the primary trainers during this period. The 504C was also used for reconnaissance and as an anti-Zeppelin aircraft, plus a small number were from 1917 used as part of the RFC Home Defence Squadron. The 504 variants were produced in large numbers so that by the end of the war, 8,340 planes had been produced by AVRO and its subcontractors. The company was still experimental during this time, and the performance of many of the planes was so poor production had to cease. However, successful modifications included greater-powered engines (100hp-300hp), conversion into a passenger plane and the fitting a speaking tube so trainer and trainee could communicate. These changes set a precedent for later systems in later fighter and training aircraft.

The end of the war led to the cancellation of several contracts and the business experienced financial demise, so many of its employees had to be laid off. However, AVRO undoubtedly left a legacy in the history of aircraft production for warfare, and the Manchester company in its later more prosperous form went on to produce the iconic Lancaster Bomber during World War Two. 

Avro 504 aircraft airborne - 3/4 front view. Archives+ GB124.DPA/2083/48

Avro 504 aircraft airborne – 3/4 front view. Archives+ GB124.DPA/2083/48


This blog post was written by Jess Dodd, a volunteer at Archives+.


Brownsfield Mill, Ancoats. Wikimedia Commons. Copyright Chris Allen, 2008.,
I. Castle , London 1914-17: The Zeppelin Menace (2008)
R.Jackson, Avro Aircraft, (1995)
‘A.V.Roe & Co. Ltd’, The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester (2009), [accessed March 2015].
‘Nothing Better’, The Historic British Aviation Advertisements Archive: 1900-1970, [accessed March 2015].
‘The Finest of All’, The Historic British Aviation Advertisements Archive: 1900-1970, [accessed March 2015].
‘Avro 504’, History Learning Site, [accessed March 2015].
Avro 504 aircraft airborne-3/4 front view, Manchester Archives+ Flickr, [accessed March 2015.]
‘The British Air Raid’, The Manchester Guardian, 27th November 1914, pg. 7.
‘Looping the Loop in Manchester’, The Manchester Guardian, 2nd January 1914, pg. 8.


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Three Military Crosses in One Family

Richard Nelson, a volunteer with Trafford Local Studies, has been researching Trafford servicemen awarded medals or distinctions for gallantry, distinguished service or meritorious service.

Three Military Crosses in One Family:

Captain Eric Gilbert Leake, 48th Canadian Highlanders, 7th Manchester Regiment, RFC and RAF, (1893 – 1918) M.C.

Captain Russell Medley Leake, 3rd Battalion, attached 1st, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (1894 – 1918) M.C. and Bar.

Captain Kenneth Harper Leake, 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, RAF, (1896 – 1980) M.C.


To be awarded a Military Cross is an outstanding achievement and a testament to true bravery. To achieve three in one family is surely astonishing.

Research in the Altrincham, Bowdon and Hale Guardian identified that three of the four sons of Florence and James Medley Leake, a grey cloth agent for JB Lee’s, Son & Roberts of Brazenose Street, Manchester, all won Military Crosses. Further research in a wide range of sources has revealed more of their remarkable stories.

The three boys were born in Fallowfield, Manchester, before the family moved to Wood Hill, Harrop Road, Hale, by the time of the 1901 census. They were living at Ardencraig, Ollerbarrow Road, Hale, at the 1911 census and through the war period. All three boys attended Sedbergh School, as did their older brother, Gordon Lee Leake, who had established himself as an accountant in New York by the time war broke out.

Eric Gilbert Leake

Eric Gilbert Leake was born on 26th January 1893. He started at Sedbergh Preparatory School in 1901, after a period at Wadham House School, Hale. He became Head Boy at Sedbergh Preparatory School before moving to the main school in 1906. Here he played rugby and sang in choral competition for his house teams and joined the Officer Training Corps where he reached the rank of Lance-Sergeant in March 1910.

He left Sedbergh in 1910 and worked for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank for nearly three years before moving to Ontario, Canada, in 1913 to work as a bank clerk for the Royal Bank of Canada.

At the outbreak of war, he joined the 15th Battalion, Canadian Infantry and went with them to France in February 1915. He was wounded fighting for the 48th Canadian Highlanders in April that year. He attained the rank of Company Quartermaster Sergeant with the Canadian forces and, on 28th November 1915, he transferred to a commission in the 7th Manchester Regiment. He saw active service with this regiment, and was promoted to temporary Lieutenant by the end of December that year.

Like many army officers he took the opportunity to experience the excitement of the Royal Flying Corps. He joined this in September 1916 and gained his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate in January 1917. Now a temporary Lieutenant, he was formerly seconded to the R.F.C. in March 1917. He flew with 59th Squadron in RE 8 two-seater aircraft, designed for bombing and reconnaissance.

E G Leake

Eric Gilbert Leake (photograph courtesy of Royal Aero Club Trust)

Flying was a dangerous business. His aircraft was damaged in combat with an enemy aircraft while on a photographic mission on 8th April 1917, in the period before the Battle of Arras, when the crews of the other three British aircraft in the patrol became casualties. He sustained slight wounds from anti-aircraft fire in May and June that year. He was shot down over the Collincamp area in March 1918, but he and his observer returned safely, despite his aircraft being destroyed. Next month he was appointed Flight Captain of 59th Squadron.

He was awarded his Military Cross in June 1918 for action between 1st and 7th April 1918. His citation in the London Gazette records:

“On one occasion, observing a hostile scout, he at once attacked and fired 1000 rounds at close range. The hostile machine went down in a steep glide and crashed to earth. Later, when on contact patrol, his machine was damaged and forced to land just behind our lines. Although under heavy shell fire he, assisted by another officer, succeeded in saving all the instruments and equipment on the machine before destroying it. He set a very high example of courage and devotion to duty throughout the operations.”

On the 1st July 1918, Eric, now Captain Leake, was at home on a short leave. On return to France, on 24th July, the day after rejoining his squadron, he was wounded when his aircraft came under heavy anti-aircraft fire. His R.A.F. Service Record notes him as being in a Casualty Clearing Station on 29th July and his Sedbergh School obituary states that there were hopes of his recovery. That was not to be. He had sustained a broken blood vessel in his brain and died in hospital of his wounds on 31st July 1918. A fellow officer wrote of him as: “One of the best, popular with his squadron, and an excellent Flight Commander.” He is buried at Bagneux British Cemetery at Gezaincourt. His brother Russell Medley Leake attended his funeral.


Russell Medley Leake

Russell Medley Leake was born 9 July 1894 and sent to Sedbergh Preparatory School in 1903 where he played cricket for the school. He won a scholarship to enter the main school at Sedbergh in June 1909. He favoured literary and musical interests but took sport seriously. He won the Junior Shakespeare prize in 1909 as well as the IVB form prize. He sang in house music competitions in 1911, 1912 and 1913. A report of his cricket play in 1911 states: “A very promising left hander. He starts with great confidence and gets the ball in the middle of the bat. His weak spot is the ball on his leg stump. Bowls without guile, but keeps a length. Very slow in the field.”

He was made a House Prefect in the summer of 1912 and by the winter term of 1912, was a Librarian and the Secretary of the Literary Society. In March 1913 he took the role of War Minister in the Debating Society’s Mock Parliament session and was awarded the Prefect’s Leaving Prize at the end of that year. The writer of his obituary, published in the school magazine, the Sedberghian, describes him as “a clever, whimsical boy, whose mature self-command concealed a nature sensitive and passionate to an extreme point.”

In 1913 he left Sedbergh to continue his education as a Classical Exhibitioner at St John’s College, Oxford. The war intervened and, despite what his school described as “his intense hatred of militarism”, he enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion in August 1914 and went to France in November that year as a private in the 19th Royal Fusiliers. His leadership qualities were quickly recognised, and in August 1916 he was awarded a commission with the 3rd Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

He gained the Military Cross in April 1917 for his actions on 6th/7th March at Dompierre in Picardy:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He made three most gallant attempts to rescue a wounded officer and eventually succeeded in getting him to a place of safety. He set a splendid example of courage and determination.”

He gained a Bar to his M.C. in November 1917 and was promoted to Lieutenant in February 1918, having already held the role of Acting Captain.

By the time of his death on 18th September 1918 he was a Captain, commanding B Company of the 1st Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. On that day his regiment was involved in an attack to capture high ground held by the Germans to secure part of the start line for the assault on the Hindenberg Line. According to the Regimental History, he was killed by machine gun fire in a German counter attack as his company were attempting to take Villemay trench, near Holnon village in France as part of the Battle of Epehy. His Colonel’s words describe his qualities as a soldier: “I have never met a more fearless man… His act by which he gained the Military Cross on 6/7th March 1917, was one of great bravery… He is buried at Bellicourt Cemetery.

A sum of money was bequeathed to Sedbergh School by the estate of the late Russell Medley Leake, as the nucleus of a fund for providing an annual “Chamber Concert” at Sedbergh; himself a great lover of orchestral music, he wished that musical enthusiasts at the school should have a regular opportunity of hearing good instrumental music.

Death Penny

Death Penny of Russell Medley Leake (source unknown).

Kenneth Harper Leake

Kenneth Harper Leake, the youngest of the brothers, (born 30 July 1896) attended Wadham House School, Hale, and Sedbergh Preparatory School and played cricket for this school’s team in 1908.

Cricket Team

Sedbergh Preparatory School Cricket Team 1908; Kenneth Harper Leake, far right bottom row, Russell Medley Leake, 2nd left bottom row (image courtesy of

Moving to the main Sedbergh School in 1910, his achievement there seems to have been mainly in the field of sport. In July 1911 he gained his Colours for First XI Cricket team and became Captain of Cricket in 1913, though was forced to resign his captaincy through illness. He represented his house teams at gymnastics and rugby and played for School under 16 rugby team in 1911.

On leaving school in 1913, he attended the Royal Military College and was awarded a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in March 1915. He went to France at the beginning of October 1915 and was promoted to Lieutenant in December that year.

The London Gazette in October 1916 gives the citation for the award of the Military Cross:

For conspicuous gallantry in action. After an attack he took out a patrol with a machine gun, and established a post to protect the right flank of the outpost line, though the enemy were still in position on the flank and rear and were using machine guns.” He lost his right arm in subsequent action at High Wood. Presumably it was this that forced him to relinquish the office of Temporary Captain in November 1916.

Both the Yorkshire Post and the Sedberghian Magazine report the Royal Visit to Sedbergh School on 18 May 1917 to inspect the school contingent of the Officer Training Corps. King George V and his wife, Queen Mary, were introduced to Kenneth and spoke kindly to him. On 22 November 1917 Kenneth married Hilda Cunningham Hacking at St Stephen’s Church, South Kensington. Unfortunately she died during the last three months of 1918.

At the beginning of June 1918 Kenneth returned to war service and was appointed as Lieutenant in the Administrative Branch of the RAF as an Assistant Adjutant and on 28th September moved to 5 Training Depot Station at Easton on the Hill, Northamptonshire. However he was admitted to Wothorpe Hospital on 9th October for a short period and was placed on the half pay list on account of ill health caused by wounds in January 1919. He was admitted to Wothorpe again at the end of March and retired at the end of November 1919.

In January 1920 he travelled to New York on the SS Royal George, possibly to visit his brother Gordon who lived there. In November 1922 he announced his engagement to Gwyneth Mary Brownrigg Jay and married her in Dorset on 18 August 1918. She petitioned for divorce in 1927. No children have been located with certainty. He lived in London after this and in Croydon from the late 1950’s until his death in 1980.


Thanks to Katy de la Rivière, Archivist at Sedbergh School for information and a superb resource in the Sedberghian magazine on line. Thanks to Andrew Darwent, Trustee, Royal Aero Club Trust and Andrew Jackson of the website for permission to use photographs. Thanks to staff at Trafford Local Studies for support and encouragement.

Sources: RAF Service Records,The Royal Aero Club Trust, The London Gazette, the Great War Forum at, The Manchesters website –, The Loyal North Lancashires website,,, The Manchester Guardian on line, Trafford Ward Dead website, and for census, birth death and marriage registrations, parish records, passenger lists etc.

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The Prince of Wales National Distress Fund

This blog was written by Jennifer Clark from Oldham Local Studies and Archives. The post explores ‘The Prince of Wales National Distress Fund’, an initiative set up by Edward, Prince of Wales, to help the families of serving men and those suffering from ‘industrial distress’. 

The Prince of Wales National Distress Fund

On Thursday 6 August 1914 the Mayor of Oldham, Herbert Wilde, issued a circular inviting attendance at a preliminary meeting at the Town Hall the following day:

 I have been requested by the Government to form a local committee for the purpose of dealing with any distress that may arise in the town consequent upon the war and to control the distribution of any relief funds that may become available for this purpose.

 At the meeting it was resolved that a subscription list be opened, advertisements placed in local newspapers and banks invited to receive subscriptions.  During the meeting a telegram was received by the Mayor:

 Earnestly trust that you will assist my National relief Fund by opening Subscription List without delay and forward result to Buckingham Palace. Please do all that lies in your power to interest those among whom your influence extends.

 The telegram had been sent on behalf of the Prince of Wales requesting the Mayor to open a local fund as part of the National Relief Fund.


Image 1: HRH The Prince of Wales Edward VIII pre-1914. Wikimedia Commons.

A public meeting was then held at the Town Hall on Monday 10 August 1914 for the purpose of forming a Local Committee to be known as the ‘Oldham War Relief Committee’.  The Committee consisted of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor and representatives from the following organisations:

 Oldham Chamber of Commerce;  Master Cotton Spinners’ Association; Oldham Insurance Committee;  Cardroom Operatives;  Operative Spinners;  Amalgamated Society of Engineers;  Weavers Association; Church of England Clergymen;  Nonconformist Ministers;  Oldham Chronicle and Oldham Standard;  Oldham Equitable Co-operative Society;  Oldham Industrial Society Ltd;  Charity Organisation Society; Free Breakfast Mission;  Oldham Chamber of Trade;  Representatives of the Blind;  Alderman Mrs Lees;  Miss Marjory Lees;  Mrs Higgs; Womens’ Labour League;  Mrs Jagger and Mrs Clynes.

 The beginning of the war was marked by the departure of men to the armed forces and a temporary period of unemployment. As a consequence, many women suddenly found themselves in severe financial difficulty. To address this situation a National Relief Fund was instituted of which the Prince of Wales National Distress Fund was part. The aim of the Fund was to help support wives and dependants of soldiers and sailors, and those made unemployed due to the war.

One of the main principals of the Fund was to keep dependants of soldiers and sailors in as good a position as they were before the serviceman had signed up.  Other help available included free school meals, medical and maternity aid.

The Prince of Wales National Distress Fund Civil Scale

Image 2: Letter to the Ward Secretary at Oldham regarding the scale of the relief fund. Oldham Local Studies & Archives.

Collecting boxes were distributed among mills, workshops, public houses and shops and public buildings. Donations were received from individuals and collections were taken at mills, workshops and places of worship. By the end of December 1914 the Fund had supported 6645 military cases and 8275 civilian cases.

Assistance was also welcomed from across the Atlantic when the United States of America sent over clothes and toys for distribution to children of soldiers and sailors in November 1914. In December 1914 Oldham Council began to receive gifts of food from various provinces of Australia and Canada which were passed to the Oldham War Relief Committee. By 23 June 1915 the following food-stuffs had been distributed by the Committee:

From Quebec                                    16,000 lbs of Cheese

From British Columbia                    4,800 tins of Salmon

From New South Wales                 800 lbs of Tinned Mutton

From New South Wales                 1,400 lbs of Flour

From New South Wales                 144 frozen rabbits

From New Brunswick                      72,000 lbs of Potatoes

From the People of Canada          196,000 lbs of Flour

 The committee continued to meet throughout the war granting free railway passes for relatives to visits wounded soldiers who had been sent home to distant hospitals. Arrangements were also made to enable relatives to visit Prisoners of War in Switzerland. A few were sent to Murren, one to be married to an Oldham soldier imprisoned there.

The last meeting was held on 10 June 1935, when it was unanimously agreed to close the account and dispose of the balance. Residue monies were donated to Oldham Royal Infirmary and Oldham Bluecoat School.



Image 1: HRH The Prince of Wales Edward VIII pre-1914 – Wikimedia Commons (
Image 2: Letter to the Ward Secretary at Oldham regarding the scale of the relief fund – Oldham Local Studies and Archives (ref. CBO/25/2/2)


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