GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester


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Henry (Harry) (1889 -1916), Peter and George Forrest

This weeks post is a guest blog by the Barlow WWI Project and is an extract from their book: The Great War seen through the eyes of a rural community – Edgworth, Chapeltown and Entwistle and National Children’s Home and Orphanage, more information about the book can be found at the bottom of this post. The this story was researched by Margaret Ollerton and Linda Spencer.

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War Record

 

Henry, known as Harry, was in the Welsh Regiment (21030).  He enlisted in Bolton 24th May 1915, joining the 15th battalion Welsh Regiment in Rhyl the following day.  On enlistment he gave his address as 7 Collins Road, Bamber Bridge, Preston and his occupation as spinner.  He was 25 years old and single.

Harry embarked at Folkestone in December 1915 and in February he was appointed acting Lance corporal “in the field”.  The appointment was unpaid!

Four months later he was killed.

Elder brother Peter is listed in Naval Records for the 1911 Census, his civil parish being listed as “Australia and South Africa” and his marital status as single.  He must have been on a vessel at that time.(1)  The Register of Seaman’s Services gives his birth date as 31st March 1883 and he joined the navy on 23rd September 1901 (298594).  His records show that he was only 5’ 2.5” tall, with brown hair and blue eyes.  His last service date was 22nd September 1923; 22 years service.   One of many ships he served on was HMS Bellona where he reached the rank of Chief Stoker.(17)

George also served and is recorded as being in training at Farnborough, but no service records exist.(16)  He could possibly have been involved with the Royal Flying Corps as they trained at Farnborough.

 

 The Family History(1)

The men came from a very large family.  In 1901 they were living at 352 Bolton Road, Edgworth.  They were all involved in cotton spinning and weaving, apart from the eldest daughter who was the housekeeper.   William Henry, the father, was born in Preston, Peter and Jane in Warrington, but all the rest were Bolton born and bred.  The mother was no longer living.

 

1901 Census

 

William Henry Forrest                                   age:     46                    Widower

Elizabeth E                                                                          23                    daughter and housekeeper

Peter                                                               21

Jane                                                                                       19

James                                                                                    17

William                                                                                 15

Eliza                                                                                        13

Henry                                                              11

Mary                                                                                        9

Annie                                                                                      7

George                                                             5

Lillian                                                                                    3

Bertha                                                                                    1

 

The 1911 census tells us that 12 children had been born and 12 survived.  However, the age of the youngest child may give us a clue as to why the mother is no longer alive. (1)

 

By 1911 James, Harry and Peter have left home, Harry going to Bamber Bridge where he possibly had relatives as his father was born in Preston.  Apart from anything else, 352 Bolton Road where the family was still living must have been a little crowded.(1)

 

Harry (christened Henry) was the 7th child of William Henry and Mary Forrest.   He was born in Bolton in 1889 and baptized at All Souls church, Astley Bridge.   He was killed on 11th July 1916 at the age of 27.  He is commemorated on the memorial at Thiepval, but has no known grave.    (Memorial reference: Pier and Face 7A and 10A)

 

A war gratuity was paid with £2 8s 6d going to Mrs Fanny Knowles – part legatee and £4 to his eldest sister Elizabeth.  There were no personal effects to be returned to the family, presumably as his body was not recovered.(18)

 

It is thought that Fanny is a misprint, which should read Annie, his sister, who later married Joe Knowles.

 

The army asked for details of relatives so that a scroll and memorial plaque could be “disposed of in commemoration”.

 

Most of the older members of the family had by now left the family home. The remainder now living at 10 Station Road, Bamber Bridge were Henry (father), Elizabeth, George, Jane, Lillian and Bertha.  In 1920 his sister Elizabeth received the 1914-1915 Star and his father received the scroll and was informed that the plaque would be forwarded as soon as it was ready.   He is recorded as being awarded the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the 1914-1915 Star.(18)

 

Harry is commemorated on the Memorial Pulpit in St Anne’s church Turton and also on the memorial at the Methodist Church on Bolton Road, Edgworth.

 

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Harry’s sister – Liza (19)

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Harry Forrest’s obituary in The Bolton Journal reads:

 

“After a fortnight’s anxiety consequent on the receipt of news from private sources, Mr. Forrest, formerly of Bolton rd and Wellington rd, Turton, has received official intimation of the death in action of his son, Lance-Corporal Harry Forrest, Welsh Regiment.  Lance-Corporal Forrest enlisted early in the war and was drafted to France in November, 1915.  He was 27 years of age and his name is on the Rolls of Honour at Edgworth Wesleyan School and the Village Institute.  He enjoyed local repute as a runner and was very fond of athletics.  In civilian life he worked at Messrs. Booth and Sons prior to going to Bamber Bridge with his father.  Another brother, Peter, is with the Navy at Hong Kong, and George in training at Farnborough.” (16)

 

References

1          www.findmypast.co.uk census records

16        Bolton Journal and Guardian  11.08.16

17        www.ancestry.co.uk UK, Royal Navy Register of Seaman’s Services

18        www.ancestry.co.uk Register of UK Soldier’s Effects

19        photo from Howard Collection,        courtesy of Bolton Museum and Library Service

 

copyright

© The Barlow World War One Project, 216 Bolton Road, Turton, Bolton, BL7 0AP, www.thebarlow.co.uk.   This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 4.0 International Licence. This licence covers the text created by The Barlow World War One Project and photographs marked reference (30).  Appropriate permissions should be sought separately for other images.

All rights reserved.  Apart from any fair dealing for private study, educational and non-commercial purposes, research, criticism or review as permitted under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrical, chemical, mechanical, optical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.  Enquiries should be made to The Barlow at the above address.

Title: 

The Great War seen through the eyes of a rural community – Edgworth, Chapeltown and Entwistle and National Children’s Home and Orphanage

Authors:

The Barlow World War One Project (2016)

Every attempt has been made by The Barlow to secure the appropriate permissions for material reproduced in this book.  If there has been any oversight we will be happy to rectify the situation and written submission should be made to The Barlow at the above address.

To view these materials online in fully searchable format please go to www.thebarlow.co.uk

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The Barlow Memorial Institute, Edgworth

(Soon after completion in 1909)


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Walter Carr

Within the collection of Bolton Archives there is a copy of a large certificate known as the “Golden Roll of Honour.”  It shows an image of the Thiepval Memorial, which was unveiled on 1st August 1932 by the Prince of Wales. Images of the memorials of the South African Memorial; Ulster Memorial; Australian Memorial and Highland Memorial also appear. The certificate was produced to commemorate the death of Sergeant Walter Carr who died at the Somme and his name appears on the memorial.

 

Margaret Koppens carried out research at Bolton History centre to find out more about the certificate and about the man it commemorates.

 

WALTER CARR killed at the Somme

 

Walter Carr was born on the 5th October 1894 in Halliwell to George William and Emma Jane Carr (nee Orrell) who had married at Bolton Registry Office in September 1892. Walter was baptised at Bridge Street Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Bolton (now the Genting Casino).

 

He was the eldest of four boys born to George, a clogger and Emma and before joining the Army he worked as a little piecer in a cotton mill. His brothers were Thomas Rowland, born 27th August 1896 (possibly died in infancy), George William, 23rd August 1898 and Ambrose Orrell, 24th August 1900. By 1901 the family were living at 30 Wilmot Street, Halliwell.

 

Bolton had many cotton mills where children, some as young as 12 were employed and Walter, was one of them. Some were known as ‘half-timers’, which is to say they went to school in the morning and to work in the afternoon. The following week it would be the opposite way around. This of course resulted in many of them being very tired, for the hours were long and they would fall asleep at their desks or when they should be working. Their job was to crawl under the machines spinning the cotton and sweep up all the dust and fluff that gathered there; this was done whilst the machine was running and many children lost their lives or were badly maimed from becoming trapped in the machinery. Later they were shown how to repair breaks in the yarn being spun, this was known as ‘piecing’, hence the title, ‘Little Piecer’. Although they were employed at the mill they were paid their wage, which was probably only a couple of shillings (10p) for a week’s work, by the Spinner who was the man in charge of the spinning mules.

 

Walter enlisted (No.18803) during the First World War and attained the rank of Sergeant in the 10th Battalion, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He was sent to fight at the Somme and lost his life three days before the battle of the Somme, which had been raging since July, ended. His body was never found and he was presumed dead on 15th November 1916.  He is remembered along with thousands of others who have no known grave on the Thiepval Memorial.

 

Walter is also remembered on the War Memorial in Victoria Square, Bolton and in the Bolton County Borough Roll of Honour 1914-1918 Book, on page 078.  He received the Victory Medal and the British Medal for his service.

 

The Golden Rolls of Honour were produced by Captain Malcolm Cockerell as a private fund raising enterprise after the First World War and sold for two shillings and sixpence each (12½ pence). The certificates were sent, with a letter, to the relatives of the fallen men asking if they would like to purchase the copy. Certificates for other war memorials in France were also produced. The certificate would include the entry from the Imperial War Graves Commission Register with the service information for the soldier in question.

 

Bolton Archive Ref No ZZ/675/1. Walter Carr, World War 1 Memorial Certificate 1916.

Ancestry.co.uk

Further information regarding the Golden Rolls of Honour is available through the following link.

http://www.kingsownmuseum.com/goldenrollofhonour.htm

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Lieutenant Edgar Hampson 1895-1916

This blog written by Helen Lowe, Neighbourhood Engagement & Delivery Officer, at Manchester Archives+.

I have been researching my father’s family for a number of years, his mother’s maiden name being Hampson.

The Hampson family lived for many years in Radcliffe. Towards the end of the 19th century, and into the 20th century, many of them moved to, and lived in Pendlebury and Swinton.

My dad, a retired journalist for a well known local newspaper, knew that there was a newspaper connection somewhere in the Hampson family, but wasn’t sure who, which newspaper it was, or when.

I quickly found that the person in question was Peter Hampson (1852-1919). Peter was the 9th of 15 children, and the younger brother of my great great grandfather Richard James Hampson (1842-1922).
It turns out that Peter was the founder and 1st proprietor of the newspaper, the “Pendleton Reporter”, later to become the Salford City Reporter, in April 1879.

Peter Hampson married Edith Hirst in 1892, and went on the have two sons, Stuart Hirst Hampson (1894-1956), and Edgar Hampson in 1895.

Manchester Central Library has an agreement with the British Newspaper Archive (BNA) website, which gives library users full access to the collection when they are in the library.

I noticed that the Manchester Evening News (MEN) has recently been added to the website, but only for the war years 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.

Making a casual search of this new resource, I looked for Edgar Hampson, and was surprised to find him mentioned a number of times, including a photo of him, and the fact that he had died on the 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Up to this point, I hadn’t known the exact details of his death, only the date and whereabouts.

Edgar is first mentioned in the MEN on Tuesday 11 July 1916, under the heading “Battlefield Heroes” which lists “Today’s Local Casualties”, firstly those killed, then the wounded, and then the missing. Edgar is listed under the “Missing” section.

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Clearly, it wasn’t known if Lieut. Edgar Hampson had been killed, or if he was only missing. This must have been a very difficult time for his parents, not knowing if their son was alive or not, especially as their older son was also serving with the Lancashire Fusiliers as a Captain.

Edgar is then mentioned twice, in the MEN on Wednesday 22 November 1916, on pages 2 and 3.

Page 2 lists the “Latest Casualties”

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This makes very grim reading, but must have been an all too common fate for those killed during this, and other, terrible battles throughout the war.

On page 3 of the same newspaper, Edgar is mentioned again under the heading “Salford’s Loss”

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This short piece makes it clear that Edgar’s father, Peter Hampson, was involved in public service as a councillor, amongst other things, as well as being the proprietor of the newspaper he had founded.
Is this something that Edgar would have become involved with after the war had ended? Public service and working in his father’s business?

In the MEN on Thursday 23rd November 1916, Edgar is listed in the Births, Marriages and Deaths column, under “Roll of Honour”

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Although Edgar Hampson died on 1st July 1916, his family only found out about his death for certain in mid November 1916, making for 4 ½ months of uncertainty.

Edgar is next mentioned in the MEN for Tuesday 13th February 1917, in an article called “A Link with Cricket – Mournful Records.”

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Edgar must have been a skilled cricketer, to have been mentioned in the Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanac at such a young age.

More unfulfilled potential.

He wouldn’t have been the only Hampson with sporting prowess. His own brother, Stuart, played rugby for the Broughton Rangers Rugby League Club, and was later their Chairman. Also his cousin (my great grandfather) Vernon Radcliffe Hampson (1877 – 1959) was a professional Rugby League player for a few years in the 1st decade of the 20th century, playing for the Swinton Lions. Vernon was in the team that won the 1900 Challenge Cup, captained by Jim Valentine. Vernon is listed in the book “The Lions of Swinton” by Stephen M Wild, in the statistics section, as scoring the most tries (19) in the season 1900-01.

I have also mentioned Vernon, because, after he retired from playing rugby, due to injury, he went on to work in his father’s printing works in Pendlebury.

Printing, newspapers, and journalism, are well embedded trades in the Hampson family, it seems.

Finally, Edgar Hampson is mentioned in the MEN on Thursday 10th January 1918, under the heading “Manchester Officers Honoured”.

This article is in-fact about Edgar’s older brother, Captain Stuart Hirst Hampson. Edgar is mentioned at the end, as a footnote.

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Clearly, Edgar’s brother was doing very well for himself. Surely Edgar would have been as similarly successful in his own career, had he survived the war.

After grammar school, Edgar attended the Salford Royal Technical Institute. Maybe this is an indication of where his future lay?

His grandfather, Robert Hampson (1805-1877), had been a blacksmith, and had worked on the building of some of the railway tunnels, such as the Woodhead Tunnel in the 1840’s, and the Standedge Tunnel, where many of his 15 children were born.

Edgar Hampson was part of a very small branch of this huge Hampson family, which, I feel, has a rather sad end, for all the potential shown early on.

Edgar’s father, Peter Hampson died in 1919, having passed on the newspaper business to his son Stuart H Hampson. Stuart married Dorothea Winifred Haynes in 1917, a year after his brother died. They had 2 children, Edgar Charles Stuart Hampson (1918-1948), and Margaret Dorothea Edith Hampson (1931-?). As well as running the newspaper with his mother, Stuart was also the chief Air Raid Warden for Salford during WW2; and the National Chairman of the Royal British Legion (RBL). It was while travelling to one of their monthly meetings in London, in January 1956, that he collapsed in a carriage of the overnight sleeper train to London, where he was found the following morning. He died shortly afterwards in hospital. He had been told, but it hadn’t been announced officially, that he was to be awarded an O.B.E. for his services to the RBL. Stuart’s son, also called Edgar, was to have taken over the newspaper business, but he sadly died shortly after the end of WW2, in June 1948, so Stuart sold the newspaper soon afterwards. It is not known if Stuart’s son Edgar, who was married, had any children. I also haven’t been able to find out what happened to Stuart’s daughter Margaret.

I could have simply written a short biography of Edgar Hampson, but that has already been written by Wendy, on the SWARM Salford War memorials website:
http://salfordwarmemorials.proboards.com/thread/1894/thiepval-memorial-sacred-trinity-church
I decided that my approach to this blog needed to be more personal, and to show Edgar’s place within the wider Hampson family instead.
I hope I have succeeded.
Sources:
– Ancestry.co.uk website
– British Newspaper Archives – website
– Manchester Evening News on the BNA – website
– Manchester Guardian & Observer Digital Archives – website
– The Times Digital Archive – website
– SWARM Salford War Memorials – website
– Salford Advertiser & Salford City Reporter, 23 July 2009, special 130 year anniversary edition – newspaper
– The Lions of Swinton, a Complete History, by Stephen M Wild, published by Stephen M Wild, co. 1999 – book
– History and Traditions of Radcliffe, by Rev. W Nicholls, published by John Heywood Ltd, co. 1910 – book


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Wounded Heroes Return from the Somme

This blog post was written by Lois Dean, a volunteer at Bolton History Centre.

Bolton medic Dr Johnston had spent July 1, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, at home with family and friends, but had returned to duty at St Mary’s Military Hospital in Whalley, near Blackburn, in time to record in his diary the first convoy of wounded men arriving on July 4th.

“Yesterday the ‘hooter’, signalled the coming of a Convoy, which however, did not arrive till tonight, when 112 men straight from the Battle of the Somme, along with 42 medical cases, were brought in a Great Eastern medical train and came into our wards.

A pathetic sight was it to see, the crowd of blue costumed Tommies marking a lane through which the procession of wheeled and hand ambulances passed with their burdens of wounded and suffering men – all young stalwarts – all in mud-stained khaki, many bandaged and splinted, but all in good spirits, one man waving his hand and shouting ‘Now we sharn’t be long with the Germans!’.”

Other convoys were to arrive regularly throughout July and into August, patients and hospital staff alike turning out to form a ‘guard of honour’ along the route taken by the wounded soldiers from the hospital train to the wards.

Dr Johnston described one such scene:
“Round the corner and up the slope climbed the Great Train and into the station it slowly drew and halted; the big Red Cross on each of the ambulance carriages, from the windows of which the khaki-clad men were peering and smiling, as these wounded Tommies always do smile – bless ‘em!

To my enquiries, they said they had come from Rouen, to which they had been taken from the trenches of the Somme, and soon were they streaming out of the carriages and along the platform and down the causeways into the wards.

And such a procession of mud-stained, unkempt, bedraggled, tired and worn out men I never saw past. As they marched in – or were carried – each with his little ‘kit’ of personal belongings the thought occurred to me ‘Why is this? Why are these men – the pick of Britain’s youth – in this condition and why have they to be brought all this way to get restored to their normal condition? Is there any real justification for all this horror of suffering?’

And I failed to find a satisfactory answer.”

Inevitably, Bolton soldiers were amongst the hundreds of wounded men who arrived at St Mary’s and two who were allocated to Dr Johnston’s ward were delighted to meet a fellow Boltonian.

One was overheard telling a nurse that his address was Victor Street, Brownlow Fold and during the ensuing conversation with Dr Johnston he revealed that he worked at local engineering company Dobson & Barlow.

Another arrived in a convoy on July 26th. Dr Johnston recalled:
“It so happened that two extra cases were sent to us to admit when we had to send two medical cases into F1 and curiously enough, one of the two extra cases was Frank Whittingham, the son of Mr Whittingham, a solicitor in Bolton. While I was taking his particulars, he looked curiously at me and said, ‘Are you from Bolton?’

‘Yes’ I replied, ‘I’m Dr Johnston.’

‘One of the orderlies has just told me, I thought I recognised you. You know my people.’

‘Why, you are young Whittingham, of course I know your people. I saw your brother in khaki lately in Bolton. How strange that you should be brought here, but I’m very glad.’

‘And so am I, Doctor. Our father and mother will be glad too when they know.’

His injury proved to be a gunshot wound of the knee, which while severe, was not dangerous. His story is that he was digging himself in after taking part in the capture of a wood, when a piece of shell wounded him. He tells the usual tale of the men engaged in the Big Push and says he has seen many men killed – some blown to pieces, many of his company killed, his Colonel and many officers wounded, the majority of the company left wounded or dead.”

Frank Whittingham survived the war and moved to Gloucestershire following his marriage, He died in Cheltenham in 1971.

One scene that Dr Johnston found particularly moving was seeing the wounded men being brought together for a cinema show in the hospital.

“Here are some of the elements in the scene: orderlies and convalescent patients wheeling in Patients on their beds from the wards and lining them up in serried rows and packing them close together on the available floor space. Pretty girls wandering about the floor and distributing cigarettes or flowers to the bedridden soldiers and officers going about talking to them…the whole one half of the floor space was filled by wheelchairs, occupied by wounded men who were not quite bedridden – the entire theatre filled by crippled, helpless patients.
“When all were assembled, the photographer took a picture of the scene from the stage. I obtained permission to take a photograph with my camera from the same position and never shall I forget the sight of those 200 ward cots of white and 200 wheelchairs, each occupied by a poor lad who had risked his life and perhaps given a limb. It was a moving and heart-touching spectacle.”

Dr Johnston

Dr Johnston

Reference:
ZJO 1/40 to 1/41: Dr Johnston’s Diaries – Somme, July-September 1916, held by Bolton Archives.


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“We are the boys of hardship” – Scrapbook of a POW captured at the Somme

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the Battle of the Somme is the sheer enormity of the numbers wounded or killed. Fifty thousand British troops were wounded or gave their lives on the first day alone, and over the course of next five months that number would rise to around 400,000.

Less well known, however, are those who fought at the Somme but were captured by the enemy. Of these, those who left records of their imprisonment provide a fascinating window into the lives of Prisoners of War. One such example is held by the Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre: the scrapbook of Pvt John William McGrath.

Pvt McGrath's Notebook

Figure 1: Pvt. McGrath’s Scrapbook

McGrath served in B Company of the 18th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, and was captured outside the town of Guillemont on the 30th July. He records that he was captured along with about 50 of his comrades, as well as two officers, before being taken away for imprisonment.

McGrath recalls his capture

Figure 2: McGrath recalls his capture

McGrath’s scrapbook is patchy, and lacks the detail and organisation we might expect of say, a diary, but nonetheless it provides and insight into the treatment of POWs, and indeed of McGrath himself.

Above all, his scrap-book complains about the lack of food given to prisoners. Recalling the Christmas of 1916 for instance, he notes that he and his comrades had almost nothing to eat:

Pvt McgGrath recalls Christmas 1916-7

Figure 3: McGrath writes about Christmas 1916

In another entry in the scrapbook, McGrath, (or one of his fellow prisoners), made further commentary on the food situation in the form of a poem, saying:

Pvt McGrath's poem

Figure 4: McGrath’s poem, “We are the boys of hardship”

Despite the tough situation in terms of food, McGrath and the other soldiers seemed to have enjoyed a degree of home comforts. In particular, they seemed to have been able to send and receive letters from home, as this (sadly torn) letter illustrates.

McGrath's torn letter

Figure 5: A letter written by Pvt. McGrath

That these were real correspondences seems to be confirmed by McGrath noting down the addresses of his comrades, as well as references to parcels received for the prisoners:

McGrath's addresses 1

McGrath's addresses 2

Figure 6: Some addresses noted by McGrath

McGrath's parcels

Figure 7: Packages received by the prisoners. The text is faint, but in the top left for instance we can see they received clothing parcels

Unfortunately for McGrath and his fellow inmates, their incarceration by the enemy would be a long one. One final note of interest, for instance, provides a date for an event as July 28th, 1918 – almost two years since McGrath was captured in the beginning of the Somme offensive.

McGrath reference to 1918

Figure 8: McGrath’s reference to 1918

Sadly no further notes are written which provide evidence of McGrath’s activities following the war. Unfortunate though that is, the record he has left us provides a valuable insight into the experiences of some of those captured at the Somme, and other battles of the First World War.

This blog post was researched and written by Isaac Boothroyd, a volunteer at the Manchester Central Library’s Archives+ scheme.

References & Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the staff of the Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre for their help with accessing the resources used in this post, as well as draw attention to the following sources used within it:

  • MR4/17/322/2 – Notebook of Pvt John William McGrath.

 


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A Chaplain on the Somme

This blog post was written by Roger Ivens of Oldham Local Studies and Archives, and references a letter which was published in the Oldham Chronicle 100 years ago today, on 25 July 1916.

Godric Kean was born at Crook near Durham in 1866. He was ordained at Fribourg, Switzerland on 22 March 1896 and after serving at a number of churches in the Salford Diocese was appointed to St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Oldham in 1911. In April 1915 together with a number of other priests from the Salford Diocese he was appointed chaplain to the forces, joining the 12th Durham Light Infantry at their camp at Bramshott near Bordon in Hampshire. The Battalion was transferred to France in August 1915.

The 12th Durham Light Infantry entered the Battle of the Somme battle on 3 July and was involved in the capture of Contalmasion on 10 July. On 25 July 1916 the following letter was published in the Oldham Chronicle:

We have been in the thick of the battle. It was the lot of my brigade to take an early and important part in the great offensive – and a successful one too. I was attached to a field ambulance. What a time I had! What sights I saw! How brave our men in action, how patient in suffering, how cheerful at all times. One fine young officer was brought in, a splendid fellow, one of magnificent physique. His legs were shattered by shrapnel; the both had to be taken off. He never murmured. Recovering consciousness after the operation, he smiled and thanked the doctors for what they had done for him, and the poor fellow died a few hours afterwards. Some of the wounded in the broadest of Lancashire and Yorkshire dialect would create mirth even in the operating theatre, where their wounds were being dressed, by the recital of droll incidents either in connection with what they had gone through on the field of battle or by some witty remark regarding their prospective voyage to “Blighty” land. I have seen men in most excruciating pain acting as stoically as to manifest almost an imperviousness to sufferings.

What is the cause of this? How has it come about, for surely it is something superhuman. Is it that God gives a special aid in a special case – an auxiliary help to a particular vocation? But I must not go into metaphysical speculations, for all do not bear pain with the same Spartan-like temperament, and you are a much more advanced student of human nature than I am; you are profoundly  a thinker, I not.

Well, we are pushing on; not swiftly, but surely. Every inch of ground we take is drenched with blood. As we must advance, and as against the Germans, with their scientific warfare, their organisation, their courage, and their resource, the price to be paid for our progress must be blood; that blood has flowed freely, copiously, and, alas! From the youngest, the purest, and the strongest veins of the nation’s manhood.

Hundreds of German prisoners have passed through our quarter. Many have been attended to by our ambulance. I buried one; he was brought in in a dying state. From accounts given by them, and I interrogated dozens, their forces lost heavily. We had the Prussian Guards, Wurtemburgers, and Saxons up against us. Not one seemed to regret having been taken, with the single exception of a young probation officer. Their suffering had been great. Many had been without food for four days, they said. They were at once supplied with hot tea of coffee and bread, and so great is the kindheartedness of our soldiers that they would give the prisoners even their own cigarettes. The young officer whom I referred to was expecting his commission or promotion this month. He did not attempt to conceal his disappointment and disgust at having been taken. He had spent some time in England, probably as a spy, and was occupied in some engineering work in Birmingham. He had also passed some time in France. As I sat by his side I could easily perceive that in his being taken a proud bird had been captured, and one that would like to break the bayonet bars of his British cage. “A prisoner! A prisoner!” he muttered aloud, and then with an expression of satisfaction “Well, I have done my duty.” No doubt he had – by sending gas shells t poison those whom fair fight could not overcome.

Many of our poor fellows came in suffering from gas shells. I had as many as twenty three of the Munsters (Irish Regiment) lying around in the open-air at once, all poisoned.

We are just having a few days’ respite before returning to action again, so I take occasion to write to you. In spite of all I love the army life. If I ever return to civil life it will be with reluctance. I want to see the thing through – I am, thank God, I the best of health – and all here have bright hopes. We are cheerful, even joyful. What shall we be when victory crowns our efforts?


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A Lost Generation.

This blog post was written by Andrew Cannon, a research volunteer for GM1914 at Archives+.

The First World War not only changed the political and economic landscape of Europe but it destroyed the lives of millions of families across Britain. This post will tell the story of one particular family whose life was turned upside down within a few short months over 1915-1916. Sadly, many records have been destroyed in the aerial bombings that Britain endured during the Second World War, so piecing together the pieces of this families jigsaw was challenging, however, there is still surviving information that can help tell their story. Joseph and Mary Vickers had three sons together. Harry was the oldest, born in 1893, Percy was born in 1894 and the youngest of the three brothers was Louis who was born in 1897. They were a working class family who initially lived in Chester before moving to Seedley, which is located in Salford. Here is a picture of the three brothers that was posted in the Manchester Evening News.

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The story of the three brothers starts before the outbreak of the First World War. Records show that Harry and Percy worked together on the railways, but in particular the Great Central railway. The youngest brother, Louis, worked in a shop as an errand boy presumably due to him not being old enough to work on the railways.

Percy was part of the 1/7th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. Records show that he travelled through Egypt during March 1915 and by mid to late April, landed in the Balkan Theatre of War. More specifically, though, Percy Vickers and his fellow soldiers landed at Gallipoli. This campaign was intended to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the First World War by securing allied naval entry through the Dardanelles to capture Constantinople (Istanbul). Gallipoli, to most in the present day, is known for the the brave contributions led by Anzac (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) troops, which is now celebrated in Australia and New Zealand on Anzac Day which is held on 25 April.  The attack, like many during the Great War led to an extraordinary loss of life of over 55,000 allied troops. It also led to the resignation of future Second World War Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Out of the 58,000 who died at Gallipoli, Percy was unfortunately one of them. On 20 December, Percy died.

The story of Harry Vickers is, unfortunately, a short one due to lack of records surrounding him. He was a soldier of the the 15th Lancashire Fusiliers. He landed in Boulogne on 22 November 1915. Whilst in France, his battalion served heroically in different assaults during the Battle of the Somme. Harry died, like so many others, on the first day of the Somme. Records show that they would go on to fight at the Battle of Albert, Battle of Bazentin Ridge and the Battle of Ancre. The latter was the final assault that the British made on the Somme in November 1916. If any readers of this post know of any further information to tell the story for Harry Vickers, please comment and I will edit accordingly.

Louis’ story is slightly different to this brothers. After enlisting in Salford, he changed regiments from the 2/5th battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1916. Louis, the youngest of the Vickers brothers, landed in France on 21 May 1916. The reasons to why he changed are not totally clear, but one can assume that due to low numbers, the War Office had to rearrange men to make up numbers at different points of the frontline where fighting was particularly heavy. This is supported by the War Diaries which is provided by “Ancestry” which states that the training of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment was

“Proceeding, but under great difficulty owing to low strength of battalion.”

Louis unfortunately died on the second day of the Battle of the Somme. My previous article examined, briefly, the Somme so for him to survive the horrific first day is something that should be commended. The War Diaries state on the second day that it was a “quiet day generally”. This arguably reflects the brutal nature of warfare and perhaps the outlook of commanders. It certainly supports sources and statements from soldiers that suggests some commanders did not care about lives of their men.

Records that track the movement of Joseph and Mary Vickers after the War have proved to be hard to find. With Joseph being 51 and Mary being 48 when their children died, it is highly unlikely they had any children after the war. Again, if a reader of this post knows any more information, please comment.

So within the space of a few short months, Joseph and Mary Vickers had lost all three of their sons during the First World War. They posted an obituary for their sons in the Manchester Evening News which shows their grief and sadness. Within this announcement was a poem dedicated to their fallen sons.

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One can only imagine the pain and sorrow that they both felt on hearing the news. This must have been the case for many, many families not just in Britain and Ireland but across the countries who fought in the Great War.

 

 

References:

Ancestry – War Diaries

 

 

 

 

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