At 4.50pm on Saturday 17 October 1914 a group of 20 wounded Belgian and French soldiers arrived in Oldham accompanied by officers from the Royal Army Medical Corps. The soldiers were taken to the Davies and Platt Wards of Oldham Royal Infirmary. The majority of soldiers here had leg injuries (though they could all walk) while other soldiers had head injuries. One soldier spoke English, the rest Flemish and French, so Mr Owen of Platt Brothers was enrolled to act as interpreter.
Several men had to be operated on to remove bullets, and one of the Belgian soldiers, Bernard Conrardy was shot in the right eye.
Bernard Conrardy, aged 29, was a railway plate layer from Halanzy, Luxembourg. His father was Belgian and his mother French. He worked a great deal in northern France but lived in a house he owned in the village of Halanzy in Luxembourg. He was married with no children. At midnight just before the outbreak of the war, he left home to go to his work, and was called to the colours next day. He was serving with the 2nd Company of the 1st Battalion of the 13th Belgian Infantry (No 22119) when he was wounded by a bullet near his eye in the Battle of Termonde. The Germans were trying to build a bridge to cross the river at Termonde and had met Belgian resistance.
The doctors at the Infirmary decided Bernard’s eye needed to be extracted as the patient was suffering great pain, and if the eye wasn’t removed he would become completely blind. The operation was almost complete when the patient collapsed and, despite attempts at resuscitation, the patient died. A post mortem revealed that the bullet had entered near the right ear and travelled under the skin, coming out of the outer wall of the socket of the right eye. At the subsequent inquest on 20 October the coroner’s verdict was ‘death from heart failure following the skilful administration of chloroform.’ No blame was attached to anyone, and the Coroner said the man’s stamina had been reduced through hardships he had endured through fighting for his country.
The funeral at St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church was attended by an ‘immense crowd’ of thousands of Oldham people. ‘Never before in the history of Oldham did a funeral attract more widespread notice, or was more general sympathy in evidence’. A firing and bearing party was provided by the Manchester Regiment from Ashton, and five wounded comrades also attended: Jean Leraux, Edmund Vereinden, Hector Prette, Antoine Robert and Schwinder Leonard.
Following a requiem mass the coffin was conveyed to New Moston Cemetery, where it was interred in a grave at the side of the main walk in the centre of the cemetery. The firing party fired three shots and the Last Post was sounded.
An unfortunate incident occurred after most of the crowd had dispersed from Moston Cemetery. Two young ladies ridiculed the service and a number of people became indignant and threatened them, forcing the women to take refuge in the Church.
The remains of Belgian soldiers were repatriated after the war and Bernard Conrardy’s name can be seen on the war memorial at Halanzy.
Thanks to Roger Ivens at Oldham Local Studies and Archives for this great blog post.
Oldham Evening Chronicle
Image 1: A photograph of the Infirmary, Oldham – Oldham Local Studies and Archives
Image 2: A photograph of Halanzy War Memorial – Jean Housen, Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20120505_halanzy07.JPG?uselang=en-gb)