Bolton Librarians at War
by Lois Dean, a volunteer for Bolton History Centre
Workplace memorials for the First World War are not uncommon, but one of Bolton’s more unusual ones is a Roll of Honour that names 14 local authority librarians who exchanged the peace and quiet of their workplace for the noise of the battlefield between 1915 and 1917.
Bolton County Council as it was known at this time, promised that their jobs would be held open for them. All but one returned from the war, but not all remained in library work.
The first to enlist was George Slinger who joined the Royal Field Artillery in April 1915, aged 22. After the war he returned to his position of Senior Assistant Librarian at Bolton Library and was promoted to Librarian in Charge of Farnworth Library in March 1919 and remained there for the rest of his career.
Two of George’s colleagues enlisted in May 1915, Harold Hamer, who joined the Royal Engineers and Wilfred Smith, who joined the Loyal North Lancashire’s. Both returned to distinguished careers with Bolton Public Libraries, working in all the branch libraries before returning to Central Library, Harold as Assistant-in-Charge of the Reference Library and Wilfred Assistant-in-Charge of the Lending Library.
In 1926 Harold Hamer was appointed Deputy Chief Librarian and then in 1931 he succeeded Mr Archibald Sparke as Chief Librarian, on a salary of £500 p.a. Wilfred Smith became his deputy, earning £375 p.a. Both men retired in the 1950s.
Three more librarians joined up in late 1915, Frank Sefton, who followed Wilfred Smith into the Loyal North Lancashire’s, William Worrall, joining the Army Service Corps and William Blackburn the Royal Army Medical Corps. Frank returned to the library service after the war, but resigned in 1919, William Worrall moved to Middlesex in the 1920s. William Blackburn served in both India and South Africa during the war. He does not seem to have returned to library work and may have joined the family grocery business.
1916 saw three librarians leave to fight. Harry Ellison joined the Royal Engineers as a sapper. After being demobbed he returned to the library and took a two-year course at London University College School of Librarianship, graduating in 1921. However, he then moved to Wallasey on the Wirral and changed career, becoming a plumber’s merchant.
Richard Parker was the only librarian to lose his life in the conflict. He was a Junior Assistant in 1915 when the Library Committee agreed he should be allowed to take up a position in munition-making in Barrow-in-Furness. He joined the Loyal North Lancashire’s the following year and was soon promoted to Lance Corporal and then Corporal in July 1917. Sadly, he was killed by an exploding shell just over two months later, aged 21, during the Battle of Menin Road Ridge, part of the Passchendaele campaign. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial in Belgium.
Another sad tale is that of John Smith, who was in charge of Mere Hall Branch Library when he was called up, joining the Army Service Corps. John returned to a job as a Senior Assistant Librarian and in January 1921 was appointed Assistant-in-Charge at Great Lever.
Just over a year later, John successfully applied for the post of Deputy Librarian of Norwich and moved to Norfolk with his wife Elizabeth and young daughter. However, the Bolton Journal reported in March 1923, that John had died on 24th February, following several months’ illness. The obituary said he had gained all six certificates of the Library Association and described him as ‘a man of considerable promise’. Following John’s death, his widow and daughter returned to live in Middleton, Manchester.
Five more Bolton librarians enlisted in 1917. Norman Entwisle, John Rothwell, John Thorpe and Stanley Longworth joined various training reserve battalions, whilst Ernest Okell joined the Royal Flying Corps.
The first four returned to the Bolton library service after the war, but none seems to have remained there after the 1920s.
By contrast, Ernest Okell stayed in Bolton. On being demobbed he returned to Central Library as a Senior Assistant and by the early 1930s he was Assistant-in-Charge at Tonge Moor Library, earning £320 p.a. In 1944, Ernest was appointed Assistant-in-Charge of Central Lending Library and remained there until his retirement in August 1951.
The Roll of Honour listing all the men can be seen on display at Bolton Central Library. A booklet describing their library careers is being compiled.
Bolton Journal cuttings, 1917-1960; Bolton History Centre, Central Library, Le Mans Crescent, Bolton
Bolton County Borough Records, Libraries Committee Minute Books, 1915-1968; (AB/10/1/11-16)