GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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Exploring Newspaper Advertisements from WWI (Manchester Evening News, 1917)

This blog post was written by Beverley Ho, a volunteer for Archives+.

During the First World War, newspapers were a fundamental source of new, up to date information to the public otherwise had no access to. Therefore buying and reading the local newspapers was very popular and necessary. During this time, newspapers were printed in black and white tiny fonts despite being on very large sheets of paper. Both local and international events were reported, although international news was only found from time to time.

Advertisements were commonly found in the newspapers. Often overlooked, advertisements expressed and mirrored much more information than just the advertised product or service itself. Reading deeper into the adverts, can help us understand the life style, living conditions and the general environment of the WWI period better. The type of products and service advertised, the way it were advertised such as the presentation, technique and their use of words can give us many hints and indications. Testimonials of satisfied users and the use of illustration were a popular shared technique.

Advertisements were primarily of a small range of food or health remedies, occasionally cigarettes but seldom any luxuries or services. The types of food advertised mirrors what a typical diet consists of: bread, ham, bacon, margarine and some form of cereal such as maize flakes. Furthermore we can notice that food were measured in pounds (lbs) as opposed to grams (g) that is dominantly used today. Remarkably different to today, the money system were in pre-decimal currencies, which were pounds (£), shillings (/-) and pence (d). Looking at the adverts, we can observe the approximate costs of certain products and estimate their general cost of living. For example, from the Brito Margarine advert we can learn that margarine costs around 1/3 per lbs and in Lipton’s advert, maize flakes cost around 9½D per 3lbs.



Health remedies found advertised include health salts, liver salts, liver pills, Phosferine tonics and tonic wines. These health remedies claim to cure a similar range of health problems, such as liver problems, anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, indigestion and influenza; suggesting that these were the common illnesses during the WWI.

Making a connection or relating their product some way to the war in advertisements seemed to be a popular marketing technique to attract users; such as having a soldier or war worker as a “satisfied user” to promote their product or stating their product is specifically for “war workers” or ideal for “war time”. These seem to suggest that working for the war were a popular and ideal job and being a soldier or war worker made you trustworthy and a good role-model.

A particularly interesting example found in the Manchester Evening News is an advert for Phosferine. It reappeared in the newspapers numerous times using a range of members of the Army & Navy to promote their tonic medicine. The first promoting user was a “war-battered soldier” from the “5th Royal Berks, British Expeditionary Force”,  the second user was from the “Women’s Auxiliary Corps”, and the third user was from the “Gun’s Crew” of “The Grand Fleet” (the main fleet of the British Royal Navy during WWI). In the advert, Phosferine claimed to be a “proven remedy” for a long list of health issues such as nervous debility, influenza, indigestion, sleeplessness, mental exhaustion, backache and headache.


Another example is VEDA, a brand of bread, advertised specifically “For War Workers… remains FRESH, SOFT and SWEET… Ask Mother or Wife to get Veda.” In this advert we can also learn that bread were sweet and that woman typically carried out the food shopping for the family.


Cigarette adverts appeared occasionally in 1917, while cigarettes and tobacco advertisements are now prohibited. One brand: Player’s Navy Cut garnered consumer’s sympathy by noting the “cigarettes are also supplied at DUTY FREE RATES for the purpose of gratuitous distribution to Wounded Soldiers and Sailors in Hospital.”


There are safety regulations and clinical trials on most goods sold today such as food, medicines and healthcare products, however there were no such system to rely on during WWI. Therefore precedent to the product and advertisement regulations, the health & safety and effectiveness of those products could possibly be questionable. Impressively Andrews Liver Salt is still sold today which may prove its safety and effectiveness, although the packaging has undoubtedly changed.


Ultimately exploring these advertisements from 1917’s Manchester Evening News has gave me a further insight into the life style, living conditions and environment of the WWI period. Overall life wss very difficult and different to now, there were no health & safety regulations, people could not afford luxuries, they were overworked due to long hours, had hurried meals, a diet lacking in nutrition, had to rely on health remedies and constantly lived in worry and anxiety.

carters-little-liver-pills halls-wine

Reference & Further reading

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Manchester’s Industrial War: A view from the factories

As much as the history of World War One is a story of military engagements, of vital importance for victory was success in the industrial war at home. Put simply, Britain needed to produce the many millions of bombs, bullets, and other vital materials to successfully defeat the Germans on the Western (and other) fronts, but by May 1915 she was rapidly running out.

What followed, under the leadership of David Lloyd George as Minister for Munitions, was an enormous ramping up of Britain’s industrial efforts. Dozens of new factories were established to provide British troops with the equipment they needed, and a new, (and more significantly, largely female) workforce was recruited with profound political consequences following the end of the war.

Evidence for these changes on Manchester can be found in the letters and photographs at the Central Library Archives, which provide a window into the effects of the industrial war on Manchester at this time.

The first of these is a letter written by Lord Kitchener in March 1915 to MP Herbert Samuel, a member of the Local Government Board in Whitehall. In it, he hints at the scale of the challenge facing British industry, and asks Samuel

“…do you think that the local government authorities have any such persons [fitters, mill-wrights, machine hands and skilled or unskilled labour] in their employ who could be taken from them for the vital necessities of our armament factories?”

Kitchener's letter requesting industrial conscription

Figure 1: Letter by Lord Kitchener requesting surveys of local authority staff fit for factory work

By April Kitchener’s request for men was already being put to the local authorities in Manchester and elsewhere, with several communiques asking how many men could be spared, (even from roles within the public libraries):

Memo regarding Library Staff for industrial conscription

Figure 2: Memo detailing how many men from Manchester’s public libraries were available for industrial conscription

The result in Manchester was a massive mobilisation of the urban workforce into helping production for the war effort, and in particular an increased prominence given to the role of women. Private enterprise was also involved alongside state activity, with companies such as Mather and Platt Ltd also producing war materials, as these pictures show:

Female factory workers at Mather & Platt Ltd

Female factory workers at Mather & Platt Ltd clocking off

Figure 3: Women undertaking war work at Mather and Platt Ltd

The work was by no means easy, however, and on several occasions could be extremely dangerous. The people of Ashton-Under-Lyne tragically learned this to their cost on the 13th of June 1917, when an explosion at the Hooley Hill Munitions Factory killed 46 people, and injured hundreds more.

Ashton munitions factory explosion, 1917

Ashton munitions factory explosion funeral, 1917

Figure 4: The aftermath of the Hooley Hill Munitions Factory disaster

Although Manchester played just one part in Britain’s industrial war, the role it played, alongside all the other local authorities, was ultimately vital to the securing of victory by Britain at the end of World War One.

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 Manchester Central Library and 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:

  • M740/4/5/18 – Munitions workers, 1915 – correspondence regarding the appeal made to local authorities for war labour
  • M08143 – Munitions workers at Mather and Platt Ltd, clocking off at the end of the day.
  • M08144 – Munitions workers at Mather & Platt Ltd
  • t10244 – Ashton Munitions explosion, 1917 (held by the Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre)
  • t10246 – Ashton munitions explosion, funeral image (held by the Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre)
  • Earnshaw, L. ‘Tragedy on the Home Front: Munitions Explosion in Ashton’, GM1914, 30/01/2014, found at:
  • David, S. ‘How Germany Lost the WW1 Arms Race’, BBC News, 16/02/2012, found at:


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The story of Fred Preston.

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

Fred Preston was born in Westhoughton on 3 June 1895. He was one of five children that Moses and and Rachel Preston had towards the end of the 19th century. His father, Moses Preston, worked as so many others did in a cotton mill. Records suggest he worked there as a weaver. Records surrounding Moses are disappointingly few, however they do suggest he passed away sometime between 1901 – 1911. The death of his father meant that he and his fellow siblings had to step up and support the family. Moses and Rachel had a total of five children. Mary and Henry were the oldest of the Preston siblings working as a cotton weaver and in a coal mine respectively. The three youngest children were Moses (presumably named after his father), Albert and Fred.

Fred worked in Westhoughton colliery in the run up to the outbreak of the First World War where he signed up when he was about 19.

Once signed up, Fred would go on to meet up with his fellow soldiers. Fred and the rest of his regiment were not told about where they were being taken. It took three days travel to make it to their destination. Once they arrived into the Western Front, they were told to march, in the baking heat, twenty-five miles fully equipped. The average British soldier during the First World War would have been made to carry any number of items that would often include: a mess tin, spare clothes, food rations, weapons and ammunition. There has been evidence to suggest that men would of have to leave items from home, such as letters, due to their load being too heavy to carry.

After marching the twenty-five miles, Fred recalls the time when he and his comrades saw the British tank in action for the very first time. Due to the tactics and nature of artillery warfare, barbed wire was in abundance and sometimes made roads highly dangerous and impassable. Initially, the role of the tank before being developed to be a highly destructive weapon of modern warfare, was to break and clear barbed wire for onrushing soldiers. It would have been an incredible sight for the men to see his instrument of war being used for the first time.

When Fred arrived at his position, he along with the other men were told to dig trenches in preparation for the offensive. It has been widely wrote about and discussed in much of the literature surrounding the First World War, conditions in the trenches were horrific. Disease was rife due to a high number of trenches being invaded by rats and poor sanitation. Lice were also another constant nuisance to the men in trenches and would add to the horror of trench life.  In Fred’s case, it was the weather that had an impact on his initial brush with trench warfare. Trenches often flooded, in and around the Somme area, meaning that building and living in them would prove to be difficult. Whilst building his trench, heavy rain flooded Fred’s trench up to waist height.

Fred and the men would continue to build trenches for three months, before given leave to rest and recuperate. Soldiers were often given leave and allowed to return home for a brief period of time. It was an important psychological weapon that would be vital to maintain morale and keep the men fighting on the frontline. Being allowed to go home to see loved ones and take a break away from the traumatic images of war was a highly important to their wellbeing. Fred recalls that reinforcements were always there to support and fill in for them when they were sent home. Additionally, he says that a high number of these new soldiers had never been to war before and the frontline was brand new to them. It is an interesting thought to think about what was going through the mind of the men going into the trenches for the first time.

After a few weeks back home in England, Fred was brought back to the Somme and was ordered, along with the rest of the men to march in platoon formation to an area of the frontline that was being heavily attacked by German forces. After marching, for about a mile, they were greeted with little gunfire and explosions. It would not be long, however, until the shelling began. Fred was hospitalised by a shrapnel blow to the face.

As a result of being wounded, he was sent to Bristol Southern General hospital to get his wounds treated. He was visited there by his mother, which made a real difference to Fred to see her. After his two month stay in Bristol, he had to report back for duty. He and along with other previously wounded men were rounded up and were told an urgent order and been received. They were driven to Liverpool where they would set sail, again, for France. According to Fred’s account of events, he arrived at Albert which is located in Northern France, just a few miles away from the Somme front. The day after Fred arrived in the trenches, British shelling inflicted a major defeat on the Germans. He recalls that they were “around 150 yards away”, which brings to life how terrifying it must have been to live in those trenches. As mentioned, heavy shelling and gunfire killed many German soldiers opposite to Fred’s position at the Somme. Remarkably, he tells the story of how cavalry were sent out to kill remaining soldiers in no mans land.

He witnessed thousands of German prisoners get taken by the British and recalls how it was a big defeat for them. Once the dust had settled on this British victory, Fred says how he and the men were told, unusually, about what would be happening next.

The Battle that Fred was told about would obviously become known to us as the Battle of Passchendaele. The major offensive would last from July 1917 – November 1917 in order to hold the strategic city of Ypres. Images like this would have been commonly witnessed by Fred and his fellow soldiers.

The nature of the battle was intense and destructive. Many thousands of men were either killed or injured, including most of the men Fred fought beside. It was only him and one other soldier, who could not walk, from his regiment who survived. Fred was also wounded but not the extent of the other man who needed stretcher bearers to leave the battlefield. Fred was sent to an American hospital somewhere in France for around three weeks.

It would have been the last action of the First World War for Fred. He was told in August 1918, much to his surprise, that he was being demobilised due to his knowledge and skills as a miner. One presumes that the coal shortage that hit Britain towards the end of 1917 played a role in his return. Furthermore, the simple fact that thousands upon thousands of miners went to war and did not return home meant that there was a shortage of people like Fred.

The First World War came to an end in November 1918, with victory for the Allies. For Fred, he did not go back to the mines from where he had been pre-war. Instead, on his mother’s orders, he went to become a railwayman. It was then seen as a secure job and paid him nineteen shillings a week. Some years after the war, in January 1924, he would get married.

The records surrounding where Fred lived and to what year he lived to are not clear. However, from what we do have, it seems to me that he lived in the Bolton area until his death in the mid 1970s.







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Searching for Great Uncle Harry

This blog post was written by Margaret Bell and was originally published in Past Forward – Wigan’s local history magazine.

Searching for Great Uncle Harry WHEN I began to be interested in my family history it was to Dad that I turned for his memories of family and friends. He had a wealth of information including personal memories and stories told to him as a child, of long past relatives. One person stood out from his childhood – his Uncle Harry.

Uncle Harry had been a big, fine young man, very tall, strong, good physique and a good sportsman. He could run and jump and had won lots of races. It was said that he won so many clocks that he mother had one in every room and gave them away as presents. He played a bit of football, wrestled and did some boxing. He was a good all-rounder. He volunteered for the First World War, joined the Grenadier Guards and was killed in France.

There was a letter from the Commanding Officer in reply to one sent by my Dad’s Dad asking for information. Harry’s mother had heard first of her son’s death from another soldier writing home and she wanted to know where he was buried. The reply had been that as soon as the C.O. had any further information he would let the family know. As far as Dad was aware there was no further correspondence. He briefly showed me the letter which was kept in a wallet. It was obvious that Uncle Harry had made quite an impression on the then eight year old boy because of his sporting abilities.

I re-discovered the World War I letter whilst sorting through Dad’s personal belongings after his death in 1990. As I quietly read through the letter I realised that the Captain had written it during the Battle of the Somme in which thousands of men died; a period of history of which I knew little. My quest to know more about Great Uncle Harry, his final resting place and of the Battle of the Somme began.

A Leigh Boxer Killed

Pte. Bilsbury’s death was reported in the Leigh Journal of 29 September 1916. The report also mentioned that his friend Pte W. Harvey with whom he joined up had also been killed that week. It also recorded Harry’s sporting achievements in the district prior to joining the colours. The Chronicle of 29 September printed a long obituary with the heading ‘A Leigh Boxer Killed’, with a photograph in boxing stance. It gave details of a letter, dated 20 September which had been received by the parents of Pte. G. Waterworth saying:

“No doubt you will have heard about W. Harvey and H. Bilsbury being killed. It is very hard lines. I might say we have had some narrow shaves – too near to be nice – but I suppose it is our luck. It is God’s will if we have to stop one”.

The same man also wrote to his brotherin-law who was in hospital suffering from shell shock saying:

“I dare say you will have heard about Harvey and Bilsbury being killed …….. They were done close to where you were injured”.

It may well have been these reports from local soldiers that prompted the letter of enquiry to the Battalion. The official Army record shows that Harry was killed in action on 15 September, and the next of kin notified on 29 September.

In October, the letter which was in Dad’s possession and addressed 2nd Batt. Grenadier Guards, B.E.F. was written by Capt. Wiggins, Harry’s Officer. He very much regretted having to say that Pte. Harry Bilsbury was killed in the attack which the Battalion made on 15 September.

“I have not yet received the records of where he is buried, but will let you know when I get it”. He went on to say … “He proved himself to me on many occasions to be a clean and gallant soldier and a most upright man. I greatly respected him and shall miss him very much in my company. I sympathize most deeply with you and all his relations and friends”.

There seems to have been no further communication, and his 1914/5 Star was received by his mother in 1920, and the British War Medal and Victory Medal in 1921.

Touching and sad

Concerned about what happened and where his grave was I wrote to the War Graves Commission, enclosing postage for a reply and asking for details of the grave of Pte. Harry Bilsbury, Grenadier Guards, killed on the Somme. The reply was both touching and sad, for Great Uncle Harry has no known grave and the writer of the letter showed concern for my feelings on reading this news. He is commemorated by name on the Thiepval Memorial, France, which commemorates 72,085 men who died on the Somme sector up until March 1918. Enclosed was an information sheet with pictures of the Thiepval Memorial and details of the Battle of the Somme 1916. It includes details of the battle, the dead, the numerous cemeteries and a map of the battle field, which shows the guards cemetery at Les Boeufs. Originally this was for 40 men of the 2nd Batt. who were killed on 25 September (this was Harry’s battalion). Many more bodies were brought in after the war and it now has 3136 graves, about half unidentified.

I felt that I had completed my enquiries until one Sunday evening in September 1996 while listening to a radio programme about the Battle of the Somme commemorations, I heard a man describing how he traced his uncle’s movements up to the time he went missing in battle. He had then gone to France to the place he thought he had been at the time.

Heavily shelled

My next step was a letter to the Regimental Headquarters of the Grenadier Guards, London, requesting information about Harry Bilsbury and enclosing a copy of the original letter from Capt. Wiggins. I quickly received a reply from the Archives with a copy of Record of Service. There was also the helpful suggestion that I visit my local library and borrow ‘The Grenadier Guards in the Great War 1914-18’ by Ponsonby. These books give all the activities of the regiment throughout the war, including the Somme battle completed with detailed maps. For anyone with a relative in the Guards in W.W.I they are well worth reading.

I chose to concentrate on the volume with the details of the 2nd Batt., and their activities during September 1916, in particular the 13-16th and the Battle on the 15th. The objective was to size Morval, Lesboeufs, Gueudecourt, and Flers, breaking through the enemy’s system of defence. Chapter XIX goes into great detail of the preparation, the battle, and the aftermath of the Guards operations at Ginchy and clearing of the trenches and orchard of Germans which cleared the ground for the advance on the 15th. On 14 September the 2nd Batt. remained in the front trenches all day, where it was heavily shelled. One shell pitched on the headquarters of No. 1 company; Capt. Wiggins (officer who later wrote the letter) was so severely shaken that he retired suffering from shell shock and the Company Sgt. Major was mortally wounded. The Battalion was relieved in the evening, went to bivouac behind Ginchy, rations and rum were served. The men had been in the trenches three days, hardly a moment’s sleep. It was bitterly cold at night, and the men, who had no greatcoats, suffered very much. Casualties throughout the three days 13th, 14th and 15th totalled 365, not counting officers, 12 of these being missing, Harry Bilsbury was one of these missing men. The Battle took place on the road between Ginchy and Lesboeufs, a road under two miles long. Lesboeufs is where the Guards cemetery is. Could Uncle Harry be one of the un-named soldiers in there?

A White Hope Killed

Included in the information from the Guards Archives was a press cutting from the Evening Standard dated 25 September 1916. “A White Hope Killed” was the heading. This recorded Harry Bilsbury’s ‘great sacrifice’ and said that he was one of the best all round athletes in the North of England. His magnificent physique helped in all forms of sport, for he stood at 6ft. 4 in. in height and stripped at nearly 15 st. He was extremely popular in sporting circles and in ordinary life. This recorded his boxing; he went into the semi-finals of the Sporting Chronicle and Daily Sketch “White Hope” Competition at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, where his hard hitting was a feature. He was persuaded to enter the competition, and trained by Harry Brown of the Crown Public House, Leigh. Jack Smith, a notable trainer at the time, took him up afterwards. He won several matches. While in the Army both in England and France he won a number of contests.

Deciding to follow up yet another lead, I wrote to the British Boxing Board of Control, who passed my enquiries onto boxing historian, Mr. Harold Alderman. From him I received a full compilation of the boxing career of Harry Bilsbury gathered from various sources. Harry did so well that he earned his nick-name ‘one round’, just as when he was running he earned the name ‘long span’. Prior to joining the Guards he had been sparring partner to Bombardier Billy Wells, in exhibitions at the Palace Theatre, Manchester. Mr. Alderman explained that these could only be ‘spars’ as Harry was a ‘novice’ starting out and Wells was a ‘pro’, the British and Empire Heavyweight Champion. Had Harry survived, who knows that might have been? He was improving all the time, and his ‘spars’ with Wells would have taught him a great deal.

Mother kept a good table

What about the home life of this man who created such an impression on his young nephew? He was born in 1891, at Crab Fold Farm, Atherton, the family later moving to Hart’s Farm, Leigh Road. He was the youngest of a family of 13 children, one of whom was my Granny. There was a plentiful supply of food at the Bilsbury farm, where mother kept a ‘good table’. He was amiable, got on well with people and was popular. He was always willing to do a good turn and had time for children, having lots of nieces and nephews. As he grew into manhood his sporting activities made him a well known figure. His earliest sporting interest was athletics but they did not stop there; he played rugby football at 3/4 position, although a knee injury gave later trouble; he did some wrestling and, of course boxing.

To sum up, during my search for Great Uncle Harry, I have learned a lot. No longer is he just a missing soldier on the Somme. He was killed in the ‘great push’ on the 15th on the Ginchy-Les Boeufs Road. He may be one of the un-named men in the Guards Cemetery, but his name will stand for evermore on the Thiepval Memorial with thousands of other brave soldiers who have no known grave. He died at the young age of 25 years, leaving good memories for family and friends left behind. He died with the friend he joined the colours with. He died with a life full of promise, having already packed a great deal into the short life he had been given. What a sportsman! What a man! What an uncle for an eight year old boy!

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Teenage Soldier who served at the Somme

Mobile phones and computers fill the lives of many Bolton teenagers today, but how different it was 100 years ago for Bolton lad Fred May – at the age of 18, he was taking part in the Battle of the Somme.

Born on 31 October 1897, Fred attended Sunning Hill Council School, the same school as the subject of another Bolton blog, 2nd Lieut. Alexander Clegg.

Fred enlisted in Kitchener’s 1st Army in 1914 at the age of just 16 years and 11 months and the rest of his teenage years were spent in Belgium and France, fighting in every major battle up to the third Battle of Ypres in 1917.

He first joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, where he remained for two months before volunteering for the Royal Field Artillery.

Like many soldiers, Fred kept mementoes of his time on the battlefield – an identification bracelet made by a fellow soldier, a signet ring made from an artillery shell by a French soldier and of great significance to him, pieces of shrapnel from a German 8 inch shell which burst near him but only tore his tunic.

However, Gunner Fred May’s war was to end on 26 April 1918, when he was discharged having suffered gas poisoning. To show that he had served, he was given the Silver War Badge (no. 404754) to wear on the lapel of his jacket. He received the Mons Star and the Victory and British War Medals after the war.

Fred married Marjorie Caldwell in 1921 at St Augustine’s Church, Tonge Moor, Bolton. The couple had a son and a daughter and the 1939 Register finds the family living at 31 Fairmount Avenue, Breightmet, Bolton, with Fred working as a cotton salesman.

In 1967, Fred donated his WWI mementoes to Bolton Museum, together with some photographs, including one of him in his R.A.M.C. uniform. Currently, they form part of a display in the Main Library.

Fred May died on 24 February 1982 in Bolton.




Personal items held by Bolton Museum and Archives.


Photo of Fred May in his R. A. M. C. uniform, late in 1914, prior to him volunteering for the R. F. A.


BY.184.1967 The brass wristlet identification plate was made by one of his comrades and worn on his wrist daily-in case of death etc. It was made from the cartridge-case of a British 18lb shell. The red identification circular plate was one issued by the army to be worn daily for identification purposes in case of wounds or death.


BY.183.1967 The Signet Ring purchased from a French infantryman (a poilu) in the French front line of the Somme and it was made by the latter from a French 75mm shell; made entirely by hand, it is really unique.


BY.185.1967 a & b pieces of steel from shells which although they hit Sgt May they did not wound him but tore a hole in his tunic. Incidentally, the metal was red-hot when they struck him.


The Somme in Leigh

This blog post was written by Hannah Turner, and was originally published in Past Forward – Wigan’s local history magazine.

“I still go cold when anyone says The Somme. It became a nightmare. Everyday you heard of somebody being killed or injured.”
Taken from Leigh and the Somme by Cyril Ward and Evelyn Finch.
The Somme, known at the time as the Big Push, aimed to end the stalemate on the Western Front. Following the Battle of Marne in September 1914, when the German Schlieffen Plan to invade France and capture Paris in six weeks failed, a stalemate took place between the opposing armies. A line of trenches stretching from the Belgian coast, through France and up to the Swiss border became embedded. Attempts to break the stalemate took place along the western front but they did little to contribute to breaking the deadlock. Endeavours to win the war on other fronts resulted in campaigns such as the chaotic Gallipoli operation.
General Haig produced an idea of an offensive to break through the impasse. The operation would begin with bombarding the German troops with artillery and thereby destroying their defences. The bombardment began on the 21 June 1916. British Intelligence has underestimated the strength of the German defences and in some cases they were deep below ground. In fact, Private Joseph Wharf from Peel Lane, Tyldesley, inspected one of these trenches after it had been captured. Describing them ‘as fine works of engineering’ he goes on to say how some of them were nearly 40ft below ground and so the bombardment failed to completely destroy the German defences and when the whistles blew along the British line on the 1 July 1916 at 7.30am signalling to British soldiers to go over the top and advance towards the German trenches, German gunners were able to position themselves and shoot at the lines of soldiers walking towards them in no-man’s land.
20,000 men are believed to have been killed on the first day of the Somme. Local historian Fred Holcroft’s research led him to conclude that over 100 men from the borough died on that day. Despite the massive loss of life General Haig remained optimistic and wrote in his diary ‘the total casualties are estimated at over 40,000 to date. This cannot be considered severe in view of the numbers engaged, and the length of the front attacked’. Haig’s optimism kept the offensive continuing until November. By the end of the Battle of the Somme it is believed that there were around 650,000 British casualties and 400,000 German casualties. Some parts of land had been captured by the allied armies but no were near the amount they had originally planned on.
News of the Somme began to trickle home. Haig’s optimism was reiterated by the local press. The Leigh Journal declared ‘the opening days of July are destined to stand out boldly in the chronology of the war, marking as they have done, the end of an historic period of enforced waiting and the beginning of a great offensive by the Allies’. A wounded British officer interviewed in London described witnessing some of the Manchester Regiments taking part in the battle, he said it was ‘inspiring to see them leap over their own parapets and tail off into the mist of the morning singing’.
Not everyone described the opening scene of the battle in quite the same alleged way as the officer did. Private Nolan who had served in the Gallipoli campaign said ‘there were more shells in five minutes than were fired at Gallipoli in three months’. Writing to his mother in Tyldesley, Private Alfred Jackson of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers told of the ‘terrible handling’ they received. Wounded and sent home, Alfred died of his wounds a few weeks later and was interred at Tyldesley Cemetery.
Private Thomas Edwin Walker wrote to his mother in Blackmoor from a hospital in Manchester. During the attack Private Walker had been in no-man’s land for 19 hours before being ‘brought down’ and ‘in that time I saw some awful sights’. All of the officers in Walker’s regiment were killed including his colonel.
During the offensive Private Joseph Wharf of the South Lancashire Regiment, was hit by a shell and covered by dirt and sandbags. It took his ‘pals’ an hour to dig him out. Private Wharf’s battalion was one which captured a German trench. He marvelled at the engineering of the trenches as well as the drink and food the Germans had left behind. Similarly, the Leigh Journal reported that Private Stephen Barnish of the 2nd Manchesters had also captured a trench with his battalion but Private Barnish implies a different image, a stark reminder of the brutality of the war:
We have captured part of the enemy’s lines, and a heavy struggle is proceeding.
We are progressing slowly but surely…The Germans are good fighters until you
get into their trench, and then they throw up their hands, and cry for mercy. If he
is a sniper or machine gunner he is a dead man for cert. The sniper is worst of all,
for he is the one who accounts for many of our boys when they are crawling along…
Back in England, local people were given the opportunity to observe the Somme for their selves with the documentary ‘The Battle of the Somme’ arriving in cinemas. The documentary is regarded by some as propaganda and was believed to be staged in parts. However, curiosity drove people to the local picture houses. In Leigh ‘The Battle of the Somme’ arrived at the Palace Theatre in September 1916. Despite drawing ‘record houses to the Palace’ not everyone was pleased to see the film, one local recalls ‘I remember my father coming home on leave and as a treat taking us to the pictures…so you can imagine our disappointment when we got there and father found that it was a picture about the Somme battle. He said, “I’ve seen enough Somme, I’m not paying to see it again.” So we all came home’.
The Somme ended in November 1916 but the recollections of the battle still stayed with the survivors. Interviewed in the 1980s a Somme veteran from the Leigh district still ‘wept openly at the memories’ and then requested that his painful rememberances die with him.
Leigh and the Somme by Cyril Ward and Evelyn Finch.
Leigh Journal
Wigan Observer
Pals on the Somme

11 days in a shell hole Sgt Huddart

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Eleven days in a shell-hole: an Openshaw Sergeant’s experience a the Somme.

Born in 1888, by July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme, Sergeant Huddart of Openshaw was a fresh-faced twenty-eight year old member of the Manchester Regiment. During the battle he would suffer serious, though not fatal injuries due to enemy machine gun fire, enduring for eleven days in a shell-hole before finally being rescued. The following is an article from the Daily Dispatch, which recorded his extraordinary story after interviewing him in Seymour Park Military Hospital, Manchester:

“Thrilling experiences of a sergeant in the Manchester Regiment who, after being severely wounded, lay in a shell-hole for nearly eleven days without food and help, have just come to light. He is Sergeant Huddart, aged 28, of Elysian Street, Openshaw, Manchester, who, prior to the war, was employed at Messrs. Armstrong, Whitworth and Cos works in Manchester.

Huddart, who is in the Seymour Park Military Hospital, Manchester, suffering from severe wounds in the left hand, thigh, and left leg, received these injuries during a lively encounter with the enemy at the Somme. He was in the most cheery mood when a Daily Dispatch representative, to whom he related his terrible experiences, saw him yesterday.

“At the time the enemy hit me”, he said, “We were going into a charge amidst a heavy rain of shells. It was between six and seven o’clock in the morning. We were playing havoc with the Huns, when suddenly I was brought down with a shot from a machine gun. I crawled for some distance until I managed to get in to a shell-hole.” I lay there for four or five days without help, when four of the R.A.M.C [Royal Army Medical Corps] stretcher bearers passed me. They told me they would send stretcher men to remove me, but they did not arrive.”

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Figure 1: Sgt. Huddart’s article in the Daily Dispatch. (1 of 2)

“Quite a Fusillade”

“It is probably they were not able to reach our line, for at the time they passed me the Germans were turning quite a fusillade in my direction. I had nothing to eat, as I had left my emergency rations, and I subsisted solely on the water I had with me. I was conscious all the time, but it was impossible to sleep owing to the heavy cannonading. Debris was flying in all directions, and each time I lifted my head, I saw that my feet were buried in mud and earth.”

“Any minute I expected a stray shell hitting me and sending me to kingdom come. After eleven days I was finally relieved from my terrible predicament. I saw a British officer passing along and I called out for help. He saw me, and soon afterwards stretcher bearers came and I was taken to a dressing station. This was done under enemy fire, and one of the stretcher men was hit.”

“I was glad to get to a place of safety, and much relieved when a doctor there told me my leg was not fractured. I was subsequently taken to the hospital at Rouen, and then conveyed to a Lancashire hospital. I shall never forget my experiences in France.”

It is a miracle how Huddart held out so long without food and attention to his severe wounds, but he attributes this to his strong constitution. He is getting his strength back again and recovering very nicely.

Huddart, who for some years served in India, praised the work of the Lancashire men in France, and said no one could speak too highly of the ‘pals’ battalions. He saw thousands of German prisoners brought in, and the general feeling amongst the Huns was that they were “heartily sick of the war”.

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Figure 2: Sgt. Huddart’s article in the Daily Dispatch. (2 of 2)

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:

  • MR/4/B/13 – Newscutting, “11 days in a shell-hole”