GM 1914

The First World War in Greater Manchester

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Private Henry Mayer – Linda’s Story

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

Linda’s Story

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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Private Henry Mayer

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

Henry’s Story

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

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


Pte Henry Mayer

No 2873

9th Rem 3rd Batt






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



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


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

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

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

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


Henry Mayer 1

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


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

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




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

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Gone Down: The First Oldhamer to Die in the War

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

Frank Morrison Picture HMS_Amphion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Morrison 1

Image 2: Frank Morrison – Oldham Weekly Chronicle.

 Stoker 1st Class Frank Morrison


HMS Amphion

6 August 1914

Age 27

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

His death elicited a sympathetic response from Oldhamers:

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

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

 (Oldham Standard, 10 Aug 1914, p.3)



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

International Women’s Day: Margaret Ashton – Champion of Peace

After the initial rush of men to join the fighting at the beginning of the Great War the country seemed to pause. However, after the Battle of Marne (an Allied victory but beginning of trench warfare) the realisation became clear that an end to war would not come quickly.  The true realities became obvious and beyond the death and destruction in Europe, on the Home Front men were beginning to return home with horrendous wounds, rationing was introduced, zeppelin raids began to occur and women took on the additional responsibilities of men’s jobs. To complete this picture, life’s usual struggles continued the rent needed to be paid, meals to be cooked, the children fed and educated.

It was during this time that Margaret Ashton stepped out from the shadows.


Mancunian Margaret Ashton, a non-militant suffragist, Manchester City Councillor and active Peace campaigner. Manchester Central Library – GB127.M50/1/12/6.

Who was Margaret Ashton?

Born in 1856, Margaret was the daughter of Hyde mill owner Thomas Ashton, whose family were early cotton pioneers in Hyde. The family were well known for the good  conditions provided to their workers and their estate at Flowery Field became a testament to their work.  The Ashton’s  were amongst the first employers to provide day schools for their child workers.


Aston Brothers Mill, Flowery Field, Hyde c.1920.  

Beginning in 1875, Margaret had helped to manage the mill school, and then went on to found the Manchester Women’s Guardian Association, she joined the Women’s Liberal Association and was a founder member of the Women’s Trade Union League. She also became the first woman elected to Manchester City Council in 1908 standing as an Independent candidate.  As a councillor she worked for women’s health, education and the improvement of women’s conditions of employment. She implemented many reforms and improvements in public health and it was in part due to her efforts that there was a fall in child mortality in Manchester during 1914-1918. Margaret helped to found the Manchester Babies Hospital in 1914 taking a lifelong interest in the hospital and financially supporting it. She was particularly concerned with the education and welfare of Manchester’s women and children and was on many of Manchester City Council’s subcommittees voicing her opinion.

Manchester Babies Hospital

The Manchester Babies Hospital opened on August 4th 1914 and was staffed entirely by women doctors guided by Dr. Catherine Chisholm. The ambition of the Manchester Babies Hospital was to become not only a centre for children’s health (20% of its patients had rickets) but also a centre for training medical women. The importance of a facility like this to the women and children of Manchester, pre-National Health cannot be undervalued.


Manchester Babies Hospital extension, Manchester, 1927. Manchester Central Library.

 Suffrage and Peace Campaign

Margaret was also a keen suffragist and pivotal member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) acting as Chairman.  At the onset of WW1 the suffragists had agreed to cease the campaign for Women’s suffrage and during the war years channelled  their energies into the war effort. However, this split the loyalties of women’s suffragist groups like the NUWSS.  Emmeline & Christabel Pankhurst and their followers, argued that advocating peace was a sign of defeatism, capitulating to the enemy and undermining the morale of the troops. They were more concerned with helping British men win the war.  Margaret resigned the NUWSS with a number of other prominent Suffragists and joined the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom (WILPF) which better represented her position on peace, later becoming founder of the Manchester branch.  In addition to her work with Manchester City Council , during the war Margaret also became involved with an ever growing peace campaign in order to bring this issue to prominence.


Margaret financially supported the ‘Common Cause’, the suffragist newspaper. Manchester Central Library: GB127.M50/1/8/1.

 Open Christmas Letter of 1915

Margaret Ashton was also one of the 101 suffragist signatories in the Open Christmas letter of January 1915 written by Emily Hobhouse. This letter was an open public message of peace written to acknowledge to growing horror of the war.


Open Christmas Letter, January 1915. Manchester Central Library.

Women’s Peace Conference

In the spring of 1915, one hundred and fifty five German feminists answered the Open Christmas letter.  American Carrie Chapman Catt taking these messages as her inspiration proposed that, instead of holding a women’s suffrage convention in Berlin, that an international peace congress of women should meet in The Hague for four days beginning April 28,1915. It was the intention that the Hague conference would foster “goodwill, love and charity between all Nations”.

Unfortunately, only two representative from Great Britain managed to attend the Congress. One hundred and eighty delegates were ready to travel including Margaret Ashton and Sylvia Pankhurst, however travel papers were refused to all but twenty five.  In the end, only two delegates Kathleen Courtney and Chrystal Macmillan managed to reach the conference as the British Admiralty coincidentally closed all transport to shipping in the North Sea. Delegates on the authorised list made every effort to board the last boat to cross the North Sea with Margaret Ashton and Maude Royden arriving from “remote parts of the country” at dawn. All to no available, the disappointed women then waited at Tilbury Docks for 10 days until the Conference had ended and returned home.

Margaret’s stance on pacifism was regarded as pro German and condemned by Manchester Council  and she was removed from the Education committee as an unfit person in 1917, finally resigning in 1920.

Margaret’s feminism was the source of her pacifism but she always kept Manchester at the heart of her work. Her long record of public service to Manchester ended when Margaret Ashton died October 15, 1937 aged 82.



Women’s International League: Miss Margaret Aston on its Objects. The Manchester Guardian (1909-1959) Oct 15, 1915; Pro Quest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer pg3

The Women’s Congress at the: Hague;Elliott, Spencer H.  The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959) Apr 30, 1915; Pro Quest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer pg12

Manchester Council: Punishment of Unpopular Opinions Miss Ashton.The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959); Jan 6, 1916; Pro Quest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer pg 3

Miss Margaret Ashton : Excluded from the Education Committee.  Manchester Evening News 17th November 1917

Death of Miss Margaret Ashton Women’s Suffrage Pioneer: Long Record of Public Service.  The Manchester Guardian (1901-1959); Oct 16, 1937 ; Pro Quest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian and The Observer pg16

 The Women’s Peace Movement During World War One. A Contribution towards  the Study of British Appeasement by Stanislav Tumis-

Women’s International  League for Peace and Freedom

The Quest for Public Health in Manchester by Emma L Jones and John V Pickston  pp23-24

Medicine and Industrial Society by John V Pickston pp239-241

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Remembering War – the Stories behind Local War Memorials (Part 3)

Sarah Owen from Tameside has written a series of blog posts exploring the stories behind the borough’s war memorials.  In the final part of the series, Sarah discusses the war memorials in Ashton-under-Lyne.


Image 1: Ashton Memorial Gardens War Memorial 2014 – Tameside Image Gallery, copyright James Maddox.

The Ashton-Under-Lyne Memorial is another striking example of Tameside’s local commemoration of the First World War (1914-1918)

A public meeting was held on the 7th February 1919 in Ashton Town hall to consider what form the war memorial would take. The meeting agreed that the memorial should be representative of all and ‘not any sect’ and that there should be a monument in a public place to honour the towns dead.

The meeting for the commission of the Ashton Memorial was also different in that its panel included ‘a large number of ladies, many of whom were in mourning.’

I.C.M Turner pointed out at the meeting: ‘the lady at the back of the room has struck the right feeling of many of them by saying that the memorial should be one solely in recognition of the boys who had given up their lives.’

‘Artistic direction’ in the design and town planning involved with the memorials creation was offered by J.H. Croonshow, the art master at the Hegginbottom school of Art in Ashton (now Tameside Central Library)

The Ashton memorial was perhaps the most controversial of the examples included in this article due to the fact that the total cost was estimated at around £10,000 in 1922, almost double that of the Stalybridge memorial and five times that of the Chapel Hill example.

The unveiling ceremony took place on 16 September 1922 and was dedicated by the Rev. W.A. Parry. During the ceremony, 4 young girls whose fathers had been killed in the war laid wreaths, once again reflecting the contemporary role of memorials in a social healing process following the conflict.


Image 2: Ashton-under-Lyne Secondary Day School Memorial, 1921.

While the previous three examples are of Memorials located in the centre of towns around Tameside, my final example is one which campaigners are hoping to have reinstated in local schools.

Ashton-Under-Lyne’s beautifully preserved Secondary Day School Memorial is of particular interest as it reflects the First World War as one which deeply affected British society, with conscription in 1916-1917 resulting in the loss of life of young men and their teachers alike.

As a former student at Audenshaw Sixth Form, I had the privilege of being able to view the schools similar memorial to ‘Teachers and Boys’ lost in the Second World War. While issues of the so called ‘glorification of war’ is brought up by presenting such artefacts in modern schools, the case could be made that in teaching students of conflicts such as the First World War 100 years on, being able to relate to pupils that attended the same school and grew up in the same areas is one of the best ways for students to deal with the history of war in a way which encourages them to look beyond the statistics often used within school syllabuses.

Follow the links for part 1 and part 2 of ‘Remembering War – the Stories behind Local War Memorials’.


Image 1: Ashton Memorial Gardens War Memorial 2014 – Tameside Image Gallery, copyright James Maddox (
Image 2: – Ashton-under-Lyne Secondary Day School Memorial – Used with the kind permission of Gay J Oliver (

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Remembering War – the Stories behind Local War Memorials (Part 2)

Sarah Owen from Tameside has written a series of blog posts exploring the stories behind the borough’s war memorials.  Part 2 of the series discusses the history of the Stalybridge War Memorial. 

Stalybridge War Memorial

One of the region’s most unique and admired examples of a War Memorial, The Stalybridge War Memorial, was unveiled to the public on the 6th November, 1921 in front of a crowd of some ‘24,000 people; virtually the population of the town’.


Image 1: Stalybridge War Memorial, 2008 – Wikimedia Commons, Copyright Clem Rutter, Rochester.

In comparison to the previous example of Chapel Hill in Dukinfield, the Stalybridge Memorial reflects the intention of the erection of the memorial to become a place of remembrance and reflection. This is particularly evident on the inscription which reads:

All you who pass by remember with gratitude the men of Stalybridge who died for you.’

The Memorial also features a number of other quotations. One of the more well-known is the words taken from Katherine Tynan’s poem, Flower of Youth.

Now heaven is by the young invaded. Their Laughter’s in the House of God.

 At the unveiling ceremony, which began at 3 o’clock, the Mayor of Stalybridge, Councillor Ada Summer unveiled the army pedestal and the navy pedestal was unveiled by the war time mayor, Alderman James Bottomley. In a poignant touch, Stalybridge born ex-Private Ernest Sykes, who had received the Victoria Cross during the conflict, laid a wreath on behalf of the Stalybridge Branch of the newly established British Legion of Ex-Servicemen.

As with many of our local memorials, Stalybridge memorial was adapted following the conclusion of the Second World War in order to feature the names of those soldiers lost in the second conflict. The Stalybridge Memorial is perhaps unique in that its arch design was extended to the double arch which can be seen today. The extension was unveiled by Mrs Gertrude Monday of 128 Mottram Road who had lost her husband in the Great War and her son in the Second World War.

Part 1 of ‘Remembering War – the Stories behind Local War Memorials’ can be found here.


Image 1: Stalybridge War Memorial, Trinity Street, in 2008 –Wikimedia Commons, Copyright Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent (

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Remembering War – the Stories behind Local War Memorials (Part 1)

Sarah Owen from Tameside has written a series of blog posts exploring the stories behind the borough’s war memorials. Part 1 of the series discusses the history of the Chapel Hill Memorial at Dukinfield.    

Chapel Street War Memorial

As we approach Remembrance Sunday, War Memorials such as the Cenotaph in London and the Arboretum in Birmingham will once again become the focal point of reflection.

In this, the 100th Anniversary of the First World War, it is perhaps poignant to reflect on the role of the War Memorial at a local level. In Tameside, for example, some 100 Memorials were constructed between 1922 and 1926. They were often placed in central locations within towns to ensure that the local people would be reminded on a daily basis of the magnitude of the conflict and remain thankful for the sacrifice given by the men from their towns and villages.

Although for many people they are a central focus of local Remembrance Parades and Moments of Silence, for the majority it must be said that our memorials have become so accepted as part of our local towns that they are perhaps often forgotten for their historical origins of post- WW1 Britain.

After researching the construction Tameside’s ‘Great War’ Memorials, I hope to bring to life the stories behind the construction of several of our regions finest commemorations to the fallen.

chapel hill

Image 1: Chapel Hill War Memorial, Dukinfield. Copyright Tameside MBC.

Although war memorials had been constructed to commemorate wars prior to the First World War, they had always been of Generals, Leaders and Notable Warriors, like those which adorn the streets of Westminster. Those built at a local level were to remember the local lives and contributions to the conflict, with the Chapel Street Memorial featuring 460 names of soldiers lost.

What is also striking is that while national memorials were funded by the government, those built to commemorate the First World War were funded entirely by local people, reflecting the inherent social desire to ensure that the sacrifice made by so many local men would never be forgotten- a consequence no doubt of the crude reality that so many sons, brothers and fathers would not be returned to their homes due to the scale of deaths worldwide.

Chapel Hill Memorial was unveiled on 30 July 1922 and was funded entirely by Public Subscription, or the local taxes paid by the people of Dukinfield. As with many local memorials, the decision was also made to give the job of sculpting the statue to local firms, with the 7ft 4in Soldier being carried out by Messrs. W. Hewitt and Sons, Crescent Road, Dukinfield.

As readers familiar with the current season of Downton Abbey will appreciate, the decision to construct the memorial was one filled with public debate. A meeting of taxpayers was held in the Town Hall on 3 February 1919 to decide whether a public memorial should be erected to the town’s dead and what form any memorial should take. Although it was agreed that there should be a memorial in Dukinfield, there were a number of proposals as to its form. Members of the neighbouring town and district councils had already met and sent a letter to the meeting suggesting that a fitting memorial would be the extension of the District Infirmary. Other councillors were in favour of building a large public hall which would contain a memorial plaque.

Opposition to the memorial was put forward by Councillor Grundy, who argued that in addition to the problems of cost ‘monuments were not suitable in a district like this on account of the prevailing atmosphere’, in other words suggesting that people simply wanted to forget the war.

In contrast, Rev. C. Jackson Shawe, an army chaplain at the meeting, argued that the memorial should not be simply ornamental: ‘Any memorial for posterity must be a memorial of the ideal life… the Memorial should serve the purpose of spiritual reconstruction and should give their young people ideas.’

Finally, the decision was made to construct the increasingly popular style of a memorial as opposed to a plaque or building, with Chapel Hill chosen over the Town Hall as the location.

The Memorial was unveiled by Sir John Wood M.P and dedicated by the Rev. W.H.F Palin ‘in the presence of thousands of spectators’.

Sergeant Brooks, an ex-serviceman from the town who had been blinded in the war, laid the first wreath. In total, between two and three hundred wreaths were then laid, covering the base of the memorial in flowers and reflecting the support the memorial had within the community.

The Major, Alderman Underwood then addressed the crowd saying that although there had been many important occasions in the town, ‘there had never been an event which could claim to be equal in greatness or solemnity to that taking place that afternoon’.


Image 1: Chapel Hill Memorial, Dukinfield – Tameside Image Gallery, Copyright Tameside MBC (


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