Songs of a Broken Airman: Jimmie Howcroft of Bolton

This post has been written and researched by Margaret Koppens, one of the volunteers at Bolton Museum and Archive

SONGS OF A BROKEN AIRMAN

Glorious Dead! Our glorious dead
On Rolls of Fame your names illumined shine
Enduring, whilst fateful bullets sped,
Then fearless stepping o’er the border-line.

Great noble souls who gained in giving
Your victor not the clay nor sod
Still pressing forward, leading, living
Our Vanguard on the march to God

These are the words of Jimmie Howcroft a soldier from Bolton who, in World War 1, was left paralysed after a plane crash in France.

James (known as Jimmie) Howcroft was born in 1893 the second son of Margaret (nee Clegg) and James Howcroft; their eldest child Fred was born in 1891. Jimmie’s father was a coal miner and the family lived at various addresses in the Daubhill area of Bolton. Sadly the boys’ father James died aged 45 in 1893 not long after Jimmie was born.

At 12 years old Jimmie was already working in a cotton mill as a half-timer, he went to school in the morning and to work in the afternoon and the following week it would be the opposite way around. At 15 he was apprenticed to an electrical engineer and went on to work as an electrician in textile and paper mills, a steel works and a motor cycle factory.

When he was 22 in 1915 he joined the Royal Flying Corps., and became an observer in France. However whilst on a reconnaissance mission over the Somme area in 1916 a bad landing resulted in the plane crashing and Jimmie was left with a fractured spine. He had been a very active man prior to this and a member of his Squadron’s football team but the accident left him completely paralysed and in constant pain. He was to spend the next five years in hospital at Liphook in Hampshire, where he was reported to be a cheerful patient always ready to have a laugh.

Later he was taken to live in a small bungalow at Liphook where the nurse who had looked after him in hospital gave up her job to care for him there and it was to her that he began to dictate the poems that were forming in his mind whilst lying under a window and looking out at the Downs. His poems express his love of Nature, his outlook on the world and memories of his home town, Bolton.  At first he self-published and sold his books of poetry himself, receiving good wishes and requests for them from all over of the world, so that later he employed a firm of publishers to do this for him.
His mother went to live with him at Liphook having lost her only other son, Fred, who died of wounds received during the battle of the Somme on 8th July 1916. He lies in the British cemetery at Puchevillers.

Jimmie died in 1936 when he was 43 years old, having been cheerful and courageous to the end.

Source: ‘Songs of a Broken Airman’.  Ref: 800.496/HOW
Poem: ‘By Bolton Town’. Page 20
Poem above: Page 30

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