Category Archives: WW1

St Mary of the Angels, Batley: One-Place Study Update – 6 December 2020 to 1 January 2021 Additions

St Mary of the Angels Church, Photo by Jane Roberts

This is the latest update of the pages relating to my Batley St Mary’s one-place study, the details of which I announced here.

During the last few week I have added seven pages. These include six weekly newspaper summaries. There is also one biography, that of Patrick Naifsey, which encompasses apparitions, miracles, evictions, Kipling and an Irish Great War poet, as well as the County Mayo/Batley connection.

I have also identified more men who served and survived, and have accordingly updated that page.

Below is the full list of pages to date. I have annotated the *NEW* ones, plus the *UPDATED* page, so you can easily pick these out.

1. About my St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church War Memorial One-Place Study;

Batley Descriptions – Directories etc.
2. 1914: Borough of Batley – Town Information from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health.

Biographies: Men Associated with St Mary’s Who Died but Who are Not on the Memorial
3. Reginald Roberts

Biographies: The War Memorial Men
4. Austin Nolan
5. Michael Brannan
6. Michael Horan
7. Patrick Naifsey *NEW*
8. Thomas Curley

Biographies: Those who Served and Survived (this includes a list of those identified to date and who will later have dedicated biographical pages) *UPDATED*
9. James Delaney

Burials, Cemeteries, Headstones and MIs
10. Cemetery and Memorial Details
11. War Memorial Chronology of Deaths

During This Week
12. 1914, 8 August – Batley News
13. 1914, 15 August – Batley News
14. 1914, 22 August – Batley News
15. 1914, 29 August – Batley News
16. 1914, 5 September – Batley News
17. 1914, 12 September – Batley News
18. 1914, 19 September – Batley News *NEW*
19. 1914, 26 September – Batley News *NEW*
20. 1914, 17 October – Batley News
21. 1914, 24 October – Batley News
22. 1914, 31 October – Batley News
23. 1914, 7 November – Batley News
24. 1914, 14 November – Batley News
25. 1914, 21 November – Batley News
26. 1914, 28 November – Batley News
27. 1914, 5 December – Batley News *NEW*
28. 1914, 12 December – Batley News *NEW*
29. 1914, 19 December – Batley News *NEW*
30. 1914, 24 December – Batley News *NEW*

Miscellany of Information
31. The Controversial Role Played by St Mary’s Schoolchildren in the 1907 Batley Pageant
32. The Great War: A Brief Overview of What Led Britain into the War
33. Willie and Edward Barber – Poems

My 2020 Family History Review. And is it Really Worth Setting Any Goals for 2021?

Well 2020 did not go as planned. Massive understatement.

When the New Year dawned, little did I think the goals I set would be scuppered to such an extent. And if there was to be a hitch, a global pandemic would not have been top of my list of reasons. In fact, it would not have featured at all. But there you go.

2020 did begin well. Research for my new book got off to a great start. I gave a talk at Leeds library about World War One research based on the book I co-authored with my rugby league journalist husband. Other talks were lined up. I booked a couple of conference tickets, and the associated accommodation and transport.

And then March came, and with it lockdown. Everything went pear- shaped.

Archives visits and travel generally halted, along with it the prospect of any associated book research. Events and conferences were cancelled, one by one. As were the prospects of any further talks in these pre-Zoom days.

And unimaginably I lost any enthusiasm to review my family tree – apart from anything else getting through the trauma of daily life, where everything was so much more challenging and time-consuming, was an achievement. And these home-life challenges included a major water leak at the start of the year which necessitated a new kitchen and new bathroom – all work due to start in March. Lockdown came in as our bathroom was ripped out. Family history was the last thing on my mind.

The only thing that continued from my 2020 goals was blogging. In fact, this year saw an increase of around 50% in terms of those viewing my blog posts. Thank you. That was the one bright spot in my goals.

But things did pick up. In the place of conferences, I attended far more talks than I ever have before thanks to the wonders of Zoom. I also did a one-place studies course, and ended up starting one for Batley St Mary’s during World War One. Something entirely unexpected and unplanned at the start of 2020. But something I’m thoroughly enjoying.

As was becoming a grandma for the first time as 2020 drew to a close – I know, I’m way too young! It meant much of my free time this year was taken up with stitching a birth sampler ready for the big event.

Birth Sampler

In the light of all this I did think seriously about whether to set any goals for 2021, given the uncertainty we are still living under. But I do need something to aim for.

However, for 2021 my goals will be far more work-related, given how this has taken off.

And with work in mind, this was the major reason behind my decision to step down as editor of the Huddersfield and District Family History Society Journal. I loved doing it, and it is something I’m immensely proud of. But as work built up I increasingly found it squeezed the time I could devote to the Journal, particularly in the lead up to print deadline. My last Journal as editor goes out in January 2021.

And linked to this, my family history column in Down Your Way magazine also came to an end in 2020. The much-loved Yorkshire memories magazine was a casualty of the COVID-19 economic downturn. I must admit I really do miss writing a regular magazine feature, because it gave me another family history focus. But it has freed up even more research time.

As for my goals for 2021, they will be as follows:

  1. Pick up my book research, as and when I am able;
  2. Continue my blogging;
  3. Build up my St Mary’s Batley WW1 One-Place Study, details of which are at the top of my WordPress site;
  4. Focus on my research work for others. It’s a huge privilege to be entrusted with someone’s precious family or local history research, and I undertake it with the same dedication and thoroughness as I would my own; and
  5. Keep up to date with advancements in the field of genealogy as part of my continuing professional development programme. This will include undertaking a minimum of two formal courses, as well as a broad range of reading and practical work.

Finally a huge thank you for continuing to read my blog in these very trying times. As I said earlier this has truly been one of my year’s bright spots.

And as for the New Year, I hope that 2021 will be far kinder to us all than 2020 was.

St Mary of the Angels, Batley: One-Place Study Update – 16 October 2020 to 5 December 2020 Additions

St Mary of the Angels, Batley – Photo by Jane Roberts

Although you may think my blog posts appear to have been thin on the ground of late, the pages relating to my one-place study, as announced here, have more than made up for it. Since its official launch on 15 October 2020 there have been 22 additions.

These are the pages to date. I have indicated the 22 additions.

1. About my St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church War Memorial One-Place Study;

Batley Descriptions – Directories etc.
2. 1914: Borough of Batley – Town Information from the Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health. *NEW*

Biographies: Men Associated with St Mary’s Who Died but Who are Not on the Memorial
3. Reginald Roberts *NEW*

Biographies: The War Memorial Men
4. Austin Nolan *NEW*
5. Michael Brannan *NEW*
6. Michael Horan
7. Thomas Curley

Biographies: Those who Served and Survived (this includes a list of those identified to date and who will later have dedicated biographical pages) *NEW*
8. James Delaney *NEW*

Burials, Cemeteries, Headstones and MIs
9. Cemetery and Memorial Details *NEW*
10. War Memorial Chronology of Deaths *NEW*

During This Week
11. 1914, 8 August – Batley News *NEW*
12. 1914, 15 August – Batley News *NEW*
13. 1914, 22 August – Batley News *NEW*
14. 1914, 29 August – Batley News *NEW*
15. 1914, 5 September – Batley News *NEW*
16. 1914, 12 September – Batley News *NEW*
17. 1914, 17 October – Batley News *NEW*
18. 1914, 24 October – Batley News *NEW*
19. 1914, 31 October – Batley News *NEW*
20. 1914, 7 November – Batley News *NEW*
21. 1914, 14 November – Batley News *NEW*
22. 1914, 21 November – Batley News *NEW*
23. 1914, 28 November – Batley News *NEW*

Miscellany of Information
24. The Controversial Role Played by St Mary’s Schoolchildren in the 1907 Batley Pageant
25. The Great War: A Brief Overview of What Led Britain into the War *NEW*
26. Willie and Edward Barber – Poems

Batley War Memorial and the War Memorial Fund

It is one of Batley’s most iconic sites. The soldier in the Memorial Gardens looking down solemnly over the names of Batley’s Fallen. But the design, and location, of the town’s War Memorial could have been totally different. And, it may come as a surprise, the town commemorated its Great War Fallen with far more than this Memorial. Here’s the story about the debates which went on in Batley about a suitable form of remembrance.

The Batley War Memorial Figure – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Great War officially ended on 28 June 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. It was over a year later, on 9 August 1920, when Batley Borough’s General Purposes Committee resolved that “a representative Committee be appointed to consider and report to a public meeting on the question of the provision of some suitable War Memorial for this Borough.”

The War Memorial Committee was initially made up of the Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors, who were able to add others as deemed appropriate. In addition to these Borough worthies, those involved in the War Memorial Committee, and its offshoots, eventually comprised of representatives from each of the following organisations:

  • Borough Magistrates;
  • Co-opted Members of the Library Committee;
  • Co-opted Members of the Education Committee;
  • Co-opted Members of the Technical School Committee;
  • Chamber of Commerce;
  • Chamber of Trade;
  • Committee of the Batley & District Hospital;
  • Batley Workingmen’s Club;
  • Soothill Workingmen’s Club:
  • Batley Co-operative Society Ltd.;
  • Batley Paxton Society;
  • Temperance Society, Batley;
  • Trades & Friendly Club, Batley;
  • Carlinghow Workingmen’s Club;
  • Liberal Club, Batley;
  • Liberal Club, Staincliffe;
  • Conservative Club, Batley;
  • United Irish League Club, Batley;
  • St John Ambulance Association, Batley Division;
  • Batley Cricket, Athletic and Football. Club;
  • Independent Labour Party, Batley Branch;
  • Primrose League, Batley;
  • Women’s Liberal Association, Batley;
  • Co-operative Women’s Guild, Batley;
  • Teachers Association, Batley Branch;
  • Independent Labour Party Women’s Branch;
  • P.M.E. Batley (Hanover Street Church);
  • British Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA), Batley Branch;
  • BWTA Staincliffe Branch;
  • BWTA Hanging Heaton Branch;
  • Batley Old Band;
  • Batley Nursing Service;
  • Batley Ex-Servicemen’s Social Club; and
  • Batley Branch British Legion.

At the War Memorial Committee Meeting on 11 October 1920, three resolutions were passed:

  1. That they should recommend to a public meeting that a suitable monument be erected in the Borough as one way in which to perpetuate the memory of those from Batley who fell in the War;
  2. That it should also be recommended that a portion of any War Memorial Fund should be go towards the extension of Batley & District Hospital. Alongside this, that a Sub-Committee be appointed to consider and report upon the amount of pensions being paid to widows and other dependents of the men from the Borough who fell in the Great War; and
  3. That subscribers to any arising War Memorial Fund should be allowed to earmark their subscriptions to any one or more of the selected schemes.
Batley War Memorial in Winter – Photo by Jane Roberts

The pension aspect was considered further in January 1922. In this meeting the War Memorial Sub-Committee decided in view of the increased amount of State pensions payable to War widows and War dependents, and the decrease in the cost of living, the Batley war Memorial Scheme should be confined to raising subscriptions to erect a suitable monument. The main Committee accepted this recommendation and, as a result, the establishment of a larger benevolent fund was deferred. Essentially this meant it was scrapped.

The War Memorial Committee then appointed another Sub-Committee to prepare and consider plans for the erection of the War Memorial.

On 20 February 1922 this War Memorial Sub-Committee discussed the siting of the Memorial. One suggestion was part of Batley Parish Church Yard. However it was felt a new Memorial inappropriate for an old church yard. The two remaining options were the park, adjoining Bradford Road; or the Market Place, because of its accessibility. Objections to the latter were raised on the grounds that the market would be too crowded. As an alternative, another portion of the Market Estate was proposed – the open ground at the top of the Market Hill. The Committee voted on the two options, and overwhelming decision was Market Hill. The Borough Surveyor had the task of preparing a rough layout in time for the next meeting.

The Sub-Committee reconvened on 6 March 1922 for further discussions, based on the layout drawn up by the Borough Surveyor. Some did not like the proximity of the Memorial to the police station. Others still argued for a more central market position. But the top of the Market Hill won the day, with the lay-out approved to put forward for main committee sign-off.

The Borough Engineer was asked to obtain sketch models for the Monument and a walled enclosure on the Market Hill site, with the design of the Monument left to the discretion of the artists. A cost of £1,500 was set as part of the design specifications.

The Borough Engineer brought 16 submitted designs to the 15 May 1922 meeting. Two designs were selected – one by Messrs. Wright and Sons Limited of Bradford; and the other by Messrs. R.L Bolton and Son of Cheltenham. The Committee also wanted a third design in the form of another Cross, so the decision was taken to ask Messrs. Kelly of Bradford and Messrs. Scott of Dewsbury to resubmit designs so one of these crosses could also be considered. The rough minutes of the meeting contained rudimentary doodles of the designs. I have reproduced these below. Yes, my sketches are bad. But in my defence they are very good replicas of those in the draft minutes!

Now thoughts turned to names on the Memorial. The Town Clerk was asked to compile a nucleus list consisting of name, rank and unit. This could then be circulated amongst churches, clubs etc, and checked with information from official bodies like the War Pensions Department and Post Office. Once this nucleus list was established, it would be publicly available for consultation in the Town Hall and library, and advertised in the local papers.

June 1922 came and went. The War Memorial Sub-Committee failed to reach a design decision. More designs had come in. More were sought. And the Town Clerk and Borough Surveyor were instructed to obtain photographs of monuments already erected in other towns.

These photographs were presented on the 30 August 1922 War Memorial Sub-Committee meeting. Finally two designs were settled on. As in May it was the design by Bradford’s Messrs Wright and Sons Ltd, at a cost of £2,000. This was a figure on a pedestal. However, the Sub-Committee decided to ask this firm to submit an alternative design for the figure. The second design selected was by Mr L.T. Moore of London. This was a tall pillar on a plinth surmounted by a Cross. Lions were depicted on the sketch, and the Sub-Committee wanted an amended design without the lions.

The Memorial site and designs now went before the full War Memorial Committee on 8 September 1922. They overwhelmingly concurred that the Market Estate site was preferable to the park, 20 votes to 4, with one abstention. But the designs attracted more debate.

The Borough Surveyor outlined the design of Messrs Wright and Sons Ltd. In a pose symbolic of attendance at a funeral, a bronze soldier stood on a Bolton Wood Stone pedestal. But some were dissatisfied with a soldier. Alternate suggestions bandied about included a Winged Figure for Victory. Another suggestion was for a Sailor, a Soldier and an Airman; and taking this combined services theme a step further, a single symbolic figure representing all three services was mooted. But the line was held. This bronze soldier was the design decided upon by the Sub-Committee, and it was this design which the full Committee had to consider.

Mr L. T. Moore‘s design was similarly debated by the Committee. Rather than lions surrounding the cross, could it not be the figure from the first design, came the suggestion? It was confirmed that the Sub-Committee agreed that the lions be removed. The War Memorial Committee choice here was therefore the cross with or without figures.

Finally it came to a vote. With 23 in favour against nil, and two abstentions, Messers Wright & Sons Ltd Soldier design was the one chosen at Sub-Committee stage for Batley’s War Memorial.

The next step was the approval of these decisions by the General Purposes Committee of the Town Council (28 September 1922), and sign-off by the Town Council itself (5 October). Both passed as stood – the Market Hill area of the Market Estate, and Messers Wright & Sons Ltd were confirmed. Preparations were now taken to enclose and lay out a portion of the Market Estate for the Monument, and to inform the people of Batley.

The town’s meeting took place on 30 November 1922. Even here there was a last-ditch unsuccessful attempt to force a reconsideration of the the Market Estate location for the Memorial. But the plans were finally signed off here, with only three dissentients.

The town’s meeting also saw the newly-elected Mayor, Councillor Hamilton Crothers, formally launch the Mayor’s Fund-Raising Appeal to pay for the Memorial. At the meeting it was announced that an initial £750 had been donated equally by Messrs G. & J. Stubley, Messrs J., T. & J. Taylor Ltd, and Mrs Adeline Stubley. By 1 August 1923 the Mayor’s Appeal stood at £2,248 7s and 6d, with donations coming in from across the town, way in excess of the amount needed.

Batley War Memorial in Summer – Photo by Jane Roberts

In parallel to the fund-raising appeal, collecting the names of the Fallen moved onto the next phase. In February 1923 forms were issued to householders in the Borough asking for the particulars of any relative who was killed or whose death was certified as due to wounds received, or disease contracted in the War. In addition to this house-to-house canvass, names were obtained through the War Pensions Department, Clubs, Institutes, Religious bodies etc. Information poured in, on officially distributive pro formas, in various books placed in the municipal buildings, and by post. Multiple clubs, organisations and churches also submitted names. All this information was used to produce lists, with numerous corrections and iterations leading to multiple versions and refinements. A format of the list was also published in order to receive further names, or any corrections (including spellings). This was an enormous task, in a time when information had to be cross-checked, compared, collated, sorted and organised manually – then typewritten.

By August 1923 a satisfactory draft list showing rank, name, regiment and date of death was produced. This list – 782 names in total – was forwarded to the chosen contractor, Messrs Wright and Sons Ltd of Bradford, for them to prepare the twelve bronze tablets for the Memorial. These tablets would include the men’s Christian and surnames, organised in alphabetical surname order.

On 6 September 1923 the Sub-Committee responsible for the unveiling of the War Memorial met formally for the first time. They had not long to make arrangements for the event, which they set for 27 October 1923. In terms of who would perform the unveiling, the Sub-Committee tasked the Mayor with approaching either Field Marshal Earl Haig, Admiral Earl Beatty, General Ian Hamilton or General Harrington, G.O.C. Northern Command

General Sir Ian Hamilton, commander at Gallipoli, had retired from the Army in 1920. But he subsequently took a keen interest in the work of the British Legion, and he was in great demand as a speaker for veteran organisations. Despite the very short notice he agreed to perform the unveiling of Batley’s War Memorial.

And yet, even at this late stage, there had been no decision as to the War Memorial inscription. Those discussions continued during September. By early October the sculptors finally received confirmation that the inscription would be:

In grateful memory of the men of this town who fell in the Great War 1914- 1918.

Batley War Memorial Inscription – Photo by Jane Roberts

The War Memorial unveiling ceremony commenced at 3pm on 27 October 1923. General Hamilton, in his short address, said it was not enough to raise a memorial to the nearly 800 dead. The people must take their part to prevent the world entering upon another period of war, and to save their children from suffering as they themselves had suffered. The inscription on the War Memorial today, shows this hope did not come to pass.

At the wreath-laying ceremony which followed the unveiling, nearly one hundred relatives of the fallen men laid flowers at the foot of the Memorial.

Batley finally had its War Memorial.

Unveiling of Batley War Memorial

So what of the other proposals for the Mayor’s War Memorial Fund? As explained earlier, there were originally three:

  • The now fulfilled erection of a monument;
  • The augmenting of the pensions received by widows and other dependents of men from the Borough who fell – an aim which was quickly dropped; and
  • Contributing to the Batley Hospital Extension scheme.

From 1924 onwards the move was made to ensure that the surplus of the Mayor’s Appeal Fund be devoted to the urgently needed hospital extension “in such a manner as to help perpetuate the memory of those who fell in the Great War.

In fact, the Mayor’s War Memorial Appeal Fund had been so well-supported by the folk of Batley that £750 was duly handed to the Board of Batley Hospital on 30 April 1926. And there was still a surplus available. Around £100 of this was earmarked for a suitable Memorial Plaque for the hospital to commemorate the gift from the War Memorial Fund. It was mooted that this could possibly be in the new entrance hall of the hospital, but the final decision as to location would be for the Hospital Board. This £136 surplus was still under discussion in 1934.

In 1935 it was resolved at last. A Memorial plaque would definitely be erected. Two choices for wording were considered. The final decision was:

To assist
in perpetuating the memory
of the men of Batley
who fell in the Great War 1914-1918
whose names are recorded on
the town’s War Memorial
the sum of £862 was given
from the War Memorial Fund
towards the cost of the extension
of this Hospital
begun 1924, completed 1928.

There was one other tangible form of remembrance. In 1925 the War Memorial Committee decided to seek tenders for a Memorial Tablet Frame containing the names of Batley’s Fallen. Despite these tenders being commissioned and received in 1925, nothing happened for almost another ten years. Finally in 1935 another set of tenders were requested. The specification decided upon was for two English Oak Mural Tablets, encasing behind glass parchment scrolls containing the names of the 782 fallen. These were to be displayed inside Batley Library. The 1935 tender request was quite specific that this was to be English Oak. Perhaps this was a throwback to 1925 when one of the aborted tenders, from Harry Senior, cabinet maker of Daisy Hill, Dewsbury, showing an astounding lack of awareness, stated his quote was for frames of PRIME QUALITY AUSTRIAN OAK ! (And yes, his quote did have this phrase in capital letters).

Messrs. Osborn Hoyle Ltd, Engravers, Die Sinkers and Stamp Makers of 17 Bond Street, Dewsbury finally won the tender, at a cost of £14 4s for the frames, and £7 10s for the 12 parchment scrolls and glass. There was also an additional cost of supplying and fixing 108 bronze letters on the oak frames, amounting to £4 1s 1d. This work was all complete by August 1935. This firm also won the contract for the Hospital Memorial plaque.

I believe the Oak Memorial Tablets are now in Batley Town Hall. But does anyone recall seeing the bronze Memorial Plaque in Batley Hospital, or know what became of it since the hospital’s closure? It did briefly resurface back in 2014, but I’ve not found out what happened after that. I’ve not noticed it in Batley Town Hall, but since researching the War Memorial history I’ve been unable to go down to check. It may be it is still in storage somewhere. I really do hope it can go on display once more at some point. After all, it is part of our town’s history, and it is a tribute to our ancestors’ efforts to commemorate our town’s Great War Fallen in perpetuity.

Batley Hospital Plaque, on Display at Dewsbury Town Hall in around 2014/15 Photo donated and permission granted to use in this blog

Finally, this Remembrance Sunday will not be like others because of the pandemic restrictions. If you have not been able to buy your usual poppy locally this year, and do feel able to donate to the Royal British Legion, here is the link to the Poppy Appeal 2020.

Batley War Memorial in Autumn – Photo by Jane Roberts

Footnotes:
• For more information about those on the War Memorial see Batley’s Roll of Honour;
• I am gradually uploading mini-biographies for the St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church parishioners on the One-Place Study section of my website.

Healey’s Peace Festival of 1919

As a lifelong Healey, Batley resident, a treasured piece of the village’s history which I own is a commemorative mug. It is linked to Healey’s peace celebrations, which marked the end of the Great War.

Healey Peace Celebrations Commemorative Beaker

Given it is the Remembrance period, it seems a fitting time to share the history behind the commemorative mug, or beaker as it was termed at the time.

If you have Healey, or Batley, links you may recognise some of the names or the streets mentioned in the Healey Peace Festival story. I certainly do. Many of the surnames were familiar ones to me growing up in the area over half a century later. And the procession passed along the streets of my childhood and youth, and by my current home.

First of all to set the scene. Even before the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919, the Treaty which was to officially end the war with Germany, the country was gearing up to celebrate. The government was keen that any local festivities should be put on hold for a collective celebration of peace by the entire country. Their initial plans were for national celebrations over four days at the beginning of August, to coincide with the summer Bank Holiday on 4 August. But this was reduced to one day of simultaneous celebrations across the Empire on 19 July, with King George V proclaiming the day would be a Bank Holiday and Public Holiday throughout the United Kingdom.

But even though 19 July 1919 was the official national ‘Peace Day’ this did not put a stop to the extension of local celebrations, in line with initial plans, over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

And this was the case in Healey, Batley, which held its Peace Festival on Saturday 2 August 1919

The Batley News of 9 August 1919 reported Healey’s celebrations as follows. Note spelling and punctuation is as per the article, and some of the print is not legible:

HEALEY’S PEACE FESTIVAL
Brilliant and Entertaining Spectacle.
Glorious Feast for the Children.
Fancy Costumes and Sports Results.

There was an atmosphere of joy in Healey on Saturday, when the little village threw itself heart and soul into Peace rejoicing. The streets were gaily decorated with flags and bunting, and several of the residents had transformed the appearance of their houses into that of fairy dwellings. Flags were flying from the windows, and the fronts of the houses were a mass of red, white and blue.

When the procession assembled in White Lee Road at two o’clock the weather was somewhat undecided, and it looked, indeed, as if the workers’ splendid efforts were going to be spoiled. Luckily, however, there were only one or two showers, and everything passed on beautifully. By 2.30 the procession was organised, and proceeded along White Lee Road, Healey Lane, Deighton Lane, Trafalgar Street, West Park Road, Healey Lane, to Mr. A. Oldroyd’s field (kindly lent for the occasion), where the children sang the National Anthem and “O God, our Help in ages past,” under the conductorship of Mr. J. H. Wagner.

Mr. W. T. Exley (President) walked at the head of a picturesque procession, and he was accompanied by a little girl dressed as Red Riding Hood, and a boy dressed as Boy Blue. Decorated bicycles and tricycles followed, some gaily attired in patriotic colours, and others covered with charming flowers, A [?]der in khaki was heartily applauded. He had built his machine to represent a tank, and with the guns projecting from the framework, the machine looked very warlike.

There was a blaze of colour amongst the boys and girls, who represented various Allied nations, including Japan, India, Spain and China. Several boys and girls were also attired in Scotch costumes. Britannia followed, and behind her was a decorated wagon containing young children. A novel and interesting group of children with dolls’ perambulators presented a pretty appearance. The little carriages were tastefully adorned with flowers and ribands. One of the turnouts was decorated as a Red Cross carrier.

Humorous characters followed, and after them came boys and girls in historical dresses, including courtiers, etc. John Bull was a striking figure, and succeeding a motor wagon load of children who seemed to enjoy the fun, was Liversedge Parish Church Boys’ Brigade drum and fife band, who were followed by pierrots and humorous characters, conspicuous amongst whom was an impersonator of Charlie Chaplin. One member of the procession represented the Kaiser. A competitor who caused much merriment wore a fireman’s hat and coat and a Scotch kilt, with khaki puttees. A woman dressed in red, white and blue material, and wheeling two rag dolls in a carriage, also raised roars of merriment.

The Prize-Winners.

Prizes were awarded for the three best competitors in all the classes, and the following were the awards:-
Decorated bicycle or tricycle, for boys under 16. – 1, Albert Oldfield; 2, Fred Wadsworth; 3, Jos. Preston.
Best dressed Allied girl, under 16. – 1, Dorothy Tattersfield; 2, Grace Auty; 3, Kathleen Blackburn.
Best dressed Allied boy, under 16. – 1, Walter Senior; 2, Wm. J. Newsome; 3, Harold Tattersfield.
Best child’s doll turnout, girls under 11. – 1, Kathleen Armitage; 2, F. M. Walker; 3, Florence Senior.
Basket of flowers. – 1, Floris Robinson; 2, Esther Blackburn; 3, Kathleen Raine.
Best dressed humorous boy under 16. – 1, Harold Boocock; 2, Herbert Auty; 3, James A. Illingworth.
Best dressed historical boy under 16. – 1, Lawrence Smith; 2, Clifford Newsome; 3, Willie Sykes.
Best dressed novel boy, under 16. – 1, Wilfred Bald[w]in; 2, Ernest Riley; 3, G. Tattersfield.
Best dressed humorous girl under 16. – 1, Ivy Bailey. [No other names].
Best dressed historical girl under 16. – 1, Madge Barber; 2, Edna Bruce; 3, Barbara Tattersfield.
Best dressed novel girl under 16. – 1, May King; 2, Lilian Trott; 3, May Swallow.
Best dressed humorous gentleman. – 1, Mrs. Illingworth; [yes, it does say Mrs.] 2, Smith Senior; 3, Percy Riley.
Best dressed humorous ladies. 1, Mr. Illingworth; [yes, it does say Mr.] 2, Mrs. Swallow; 3, Mary Fisher.

The judges, Messrs. J. F. Whitaker, A. Jowett and F. W. Gaunt, had a very difficult task to perform in selecting the winners owing to the keen competition, and both winners and losers merited high praise. The prizes in each class were of the value of 10s., 5s. And 2s. 6d.

After the judging, tea was provided in a large marquee for boys and girls under 16 who had taken part in the procession. Children who were unable to attend owing to sickness or employment will receive due consideration if their cases have been notified to the officials.

Interesting Sports.

In the evening sports, including flat races, sack races, skipping and three-legged races, were held, and suitable prizes given.

The winners were:-

60 Yards Flat Race, girls under 9. – 1 Olive Gibson, 2 Elsie Barber, 3 [?]y Sykes.
60 Yards Flat Race, boys under 9. – 1 Geo. Atkinson, 2 Fred Wadsworth, 3 Frank Pyatt.
80 Yards Flat Race, girls under 12. – 1 Alice Sykes, 2 Edna Bruce, 3 Elsie Lee.
80 Yards Flat Race, boys under 12. – 1 John Rhodes, 2 Laurence Blackburn, 3 Ronald Kershaw.
Wheelbarrow Race, boys over 12. – 1 W. Parker and C. Preston, 2 [Blank] Flowers and Frank Scott, 3 [Blank] Gibson and J. Robinson.
Potato Race, girls under 12. – 1 Gerty Parker, 2 Dorothy Wilkinson, 3 Elsie Lee.
Three-legged Race, boys under 12. – 1 J. Rhodes and N. Scott, 2 Horace Greenald and R. Wharton, 3 Lawrence Blackburn and [Blank] Boocock.
80 Yards Skipping Race, girls under 12. – 1 Edna Bruce, 2 Elsie Lee, 3 Alice Sykes.
60 Yards Sack Race, boys under 12. – 1 Ralph Ward, 2 W. Baldwin, 3 John Rhodes.
100 Yards Flat Race, boys over 12. – 1 Geo. Tattersfield, 2 Clifford Preston, 3 M. Gibson.
100 Yards Skipping Race, girls over 12. – 1 Marion Barker, 2 Ivy Bailey, 3 Dorothy Tattersfield.
60 Yards Sack Race, boys over 12. – 1 Willie Parker, 2 Clifford Preston, 3 M. Gibson.
100 Yards Flat Race, girls over 12. – 1 Lilian Sykes, 2 Louise Robinson, 3 Marion Barker.
Three-legged race, girls over 12. – 1 Muriel Pyatt and Lilian Trott, 2 Dorothy Sykes and Annie Autie, 3 May King and Rene Redfearn.

The children hugely enjoyed Professor Candler’s famous punch-and-judy show. There was also dancing round the Maypole by a number of children. Batley Old Band played for dancing. To complete an excellent day’s enjoyment there was a grand firework display after ten o’clock.

A beaker souvenir will be presented to each child under 16 resident in Healey, at an early date.

Hard-Working Officials.

The following are the officers of the committee, who worked hard for the success of the proceedings, along with others:- Messers. W. T. Exley (president), C. P. Tattersfield and J. A. Oldroyd (joint treasurers), and E. Bruce and H. G. Auty (joint secretaries). The officials on Saturday were: Chief marshall, Mr J. A. Blackburn; assistant marshall, Mr. Saml. Brearley; band, Mr. J. H. Wagner; decorated cycles, Mr. P. Ward; Allied girls (Mr. J. A. Blackburn (D.L); Allied boys, Mr. A. Newsome; child’s turnout, Mr. W. Whiteley; flower girls, Mr. Pinder; decorated wagon, Mr. F. Jowett; humorous boys, Mr. G. H. Wilson; historical boys, Mr. H. Haley; novel boys, Mr. G. Naylor; humorous girls, Mr. Colbeck, B. Barber; historical girls, Mr. H. Sykes; novel girls, Mr. A. Gaunt; motor waggon (children), Mr. F. Jowett; drum and Fife band, Messrs. Parkinson and W. T. Stone; adult gentlemen, Mr. J. Stone; adult ladies, Mr. C. H. Preston; stewards, Messrs. J. A. Tattersfield and J. W. Haigh; competitors’ stewards, Messrs. Battye, Pinder and Preston; bell men, Messrs. Cordingley and Bennett; prize stewards, Rev. Geo. Trippett and Mr. A, Oldroyd; handicappers, Messrs. E. Robinson and C. Buckley; starter, Mr. J. A. Blackburn (D.L.).

I must admit reading the article gave me an immense sense of pride in the Healey of my childhood. It even reminded me of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Celebrations in 1977 at the now gone Harrison’s Social Club and fields on Healey Lane. Us children were given commemorative mugs then. Sadly I’m not sure what happened to mine.

But it is one of these antique 1919 Peace beakers that I have, presented to one of the Healey under 16s over a century ago. I’m not sure who owned it originally. But I will treasure it. And it will be handed on to future generations with Healey village links.

Healey Peace Celebrations Commemorative Beaker

Announcing a New Family and Local History Venture

If you regularly read my blog, you may have noticed I’ve been quiet on the posting front of late. There is a reason for it.

My blog does regularly contain stories relating to the Batley Irish community in the late 19th and early 20th century. Well, in future I’ve decided to consolidate this research and these stories into a formal one-place study. I’ve decided to chose St Mary’s War Memorial as the focus. It’s in the parish I most associate with my family – in effect since the parish’s inception. I see the study as a way to examine the life and times of the Catholic community in which my ancestors lived.

St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church, Batley – Photo by Jane Roberts

The study though will not be totally devoted to the Great War. I see the War Memorial as a way to investigate the history of a community not normally the focus of history – even within my home town. And the study will not be centred around those who normally feature in books – the civic leaders, the mill and mine owners. It will primarily be looking at ordinary, working-class people living in extraordinary times – both in terms of wider national and international events, as well as against the backdrop of the rapid expansion of the town.

Yes, it will look at the part played in the Great War by this Catholic community. But that is only one strand. In addition to biographies of the men, I will be researching their wider families. I will be mapping where they lived, investigating their occupations, and looking at the wider parish history and community – including that all-important migration from Ireland. In the process of my research I hope to identify those from the parish who served and survived, and weave their stories into the study. And I will be conducting a wide range of data analysis to build up a picture of the Catholic community in Batley.

If you look at the top of my website (possibly in the Menu section, depending on how you are viewing) you will see there is a tab entitled St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church War Memorial, Batley – One-Place Study. Click on that and you will find a number of sub-pages relating to the study. It is still early days and there is much work to be done. But so far there are the following pieces under these various sub-pages:

I will be adding more in the coming months.

The downside is because they are not classed as blog posts (although that’s in effect what they are) they will not feature in the blog section of my website, so you will not automatically see them in chronological posting order at the front end of my website. To read them you need to click on the one-place study page.

The good news is that I will regularly write a blog post signposting this new material (along the lines of this one). I will also index the posts as usual, under the Blog Index page (again, for this, see the top menu of my website).

And I will be continuing to blog regularly on other topics as usual. So really the one-place study is bonus material.

St Mary of the Angels War Memorial: Thomas Curley

This is another updated mini-biography of one of the men on the War Memorial of St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley: Thomas Curley. Significantly more records and information are available for him since my initial research, which I started over a decade ago.

Thomas’ parents, Anthony Curley and Mary Rush, originated from County Mayo but married locally in 1895 [1]. Anthony is shown in various records working as a labourer [2], with Mary’s employment (when mentioned) a rag sorter [3].

St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley – Photo by Jane Roberts

Thomas was born on 28 July 1896 and baptised at St Mary’s less than a fortnight later [4]. I have not obtained his birth certificate, but some sources indicate a Batley birthplace, others Heckmondwike. It is clear though that the family lived in Heckmondwike by the time of the 1901 census [5]. Given that sons John (born 12 January 1898 [6]), Anthony (born 8 August 1899 [7]) and Willie (born 1 May 1904 [8]) were not baptised at St Mary’s, but at St Patrick’s in Heckmondwike, (now the Holy Spirit parish), it is likely the move to this neighbouring town took place before John’s birth.

By 1911 the family had returned to Batley, living at what would be their home for life, 25 Villiers Street [9]. This was in the well-known Skelsey Row vicinity of town, popular with the Irish Catholic community. This census also indicates Anthony and Mary had another child, as yet untraced, who died at an early age. Mary though was once again pregnant when the family filled in their census form. The the couple’s sixth child, James, was born on 26 July 1911 [10]. No further children are recorded.

Extract of OS Six-inch map, Yorkshire CCXXXII.SE, Revised 1905, Published 1908 – Shows the location of Villiers Street

By the time of this 1911 census, 14-year-old Thomas had put school well behind him and was already working as a coal mine hurrier. A working life down the pit all changed with the declaration of war on 4 August 1914.

Thomas enlisted in Dewsbury as a Private with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. His Service Number, 3/1578, indicates he joined the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, a depot/training unit. They were based at Pontefract at the outbreak of war, subsequently moving to Hull. Although his service papers have not survived, his number indicates he enlisted around the mid-point of August 1914, at just 18 years of age. He was clearly keen to do his bit.

His disembarkation date overseas, in the France and Flanders theatre of war, was 26 January 1915. Technically, at 18 years of age, he was too young to serve overseas – the minimum age being 19. His Medal Index Card or Medal Award Rolls do not indicate which King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry battalion he first went out to serve with. However, investigating others with similar service numbers and medal qualifying entitlement dates, does give clues. Pte. James William Bollington, Service Number 3/1577, had the same disembarkation date and died on 1 April 1916. He served with the Regiment’s 2nd Battalion. It was based at Bailleul, on the French/Belgium border at the end of January 1915. It received drafts of 98 and 72 men respectively on 28 and 30 January [11]. Perhaps Thomas was amongst these men.

Confirmation that this was indeed the battalion Thomas served with overseas comes in the form of a Daily Casualty List. The War Office produced these grim rolls. A version of these was also published in the newspapers, in particular The Times. Column upon column, densely packed with the names of the dead, missing and wounded, appeared day after day after day. Although published some time after the event, these lists would be poured over by families up and down the country, checking to see if relatives, friends and neighbours were listed, praying they were not. In the 4 October 1915 list Pte. T Curley, 1578, of the 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, was reported wounded.

This battalion’s Unit War Diary is scant on casualty details, with lots of ‘Quiet Day’ reports. In the weeks leading up to this 4 October list, the men rotated their time in trenches, or supplying digging and mining parties, around the Bray and Carnoy areas of the Somme. The only significant activity was the Germans detonating two mines on 4 September, blowing in some of the British listening posts [12].

Looking at Commonwealth War Graves burials for the battalion in the period 1 September to 4 October 1915, there are only six recorded. Five of these are in Carnoy Military Cemetery, the latest being 18 September, again indicative of nothing dramatic or large scale. Neither is there any report in the Batley News for the period to shed any further light on how Thomas sustained his injuries [13].

Thomas returned to action, possibly by now with the 8th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. For it was with this battalion that he sustained wounds which proved fatal.

Their Unit War Diary does not provide specific name details about Other Rank casualties; and again neither the Batley News or Batley Reporter and Guardian carried any report of Thomas’ injuries or subsequent death.

In terms of major action, the nearest time-wise to when he died was the Somme Battle of Le Transloy. Taking place between the 1-18 October 1916, the 23rd Division, which included the 8th KOYLI, assisted in the capture of Le Sars. This is a possibility. But in terms of it definitely being when Thomas was injured, it is speculation on my part.

The circumstances surrounding the 8th KOYLI involvement here is detailed in their Unit War Diary.

On 1 October, when in trenches near Martinpuich, the 8th KOYLI were tasked with the capture of two lines of German-held trenches. The diary account of the attack reads:

Battalion took up its position in assembly trenches behind DESTREMONT FARM just before dawn. The attack was timed for 3.15pm and the objective was the two lines of German trenches over a frontage of 300 yards in front of LE SARS. The advance was across 600 yards of open ground. At dawn our position was revealed and the assembly trenches were shelled continuously. About 25% of strength were then lost in casualties before the attack. At 3.15pm our artillery put up an intensive barrage and A. & D. Companies left their trenches clearly followed by C. Co[mpan]y in support. B. Co[mpan]y remained in reserve. The objective was gained easily despite a counter barrage by German artillery and work of consolidation on the two lines began. The objective was held all night against small counter attacks and at 2am B Co[mpan]y reinforced. At 4 am two companies came up from Brigade Reserve and took over O.G.2. While the remainder of the 8th K.O.Y. L.I. were withdrawn to O.G.1. [14]

By the time the O.G.1 contingent were relieved the following day, the battalion’s casualty count stood at 1 Officer killed, 2 missing, 8 wounded, along with 248 Other Rank casualties.

Despite this the operation was deemed a success. Major General Babington, the General Officer Commading the Division, sent his personal congratulations to them, writing as follows:

My dear Colonel. Will you please tell all ranks of your battalion how very pleased I am at their behaviour on Oct[ober] 1st. I congratulate them most heartily on their success which was due to their gallantry and the fine spirit they showed. Good luck to you all.
Yours Ever (Signed) J. M. Babington [15]

Additionally, a number of officers and men of the 8th KOYLI collected gallantry awards for the parts they played.

There then followed a period of quiet days resting, and undertaking working and carrying party duties before moving to billets prior to heading up to Ypres in mid-October. The only casualties mentioned in the period after 1 October are an accidental one on 19 October in the line at Zillebeke; and 1 Other Rank wounded at Ypres on 24 October 1916, where they were either bathing or assigned to working parties. But Thomas’ burial location makes these less likely options.

Wherever sustained, his injuries were sufficiently serious for him to be moved down the line to Rouen. The southern outskirts of the city had a number of military camps and hospitals. These included eight general, five stationary, one British Red Cross and one labour hospital, and No. 2 Convalescent Depot. Almost all of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for practically the whole of the war. The great majority of those who died in these hospitals were buried in the city cemetery of St. Sever. In September 1916, it was found necessary to begin an extension, and it was here that Thomas was buried when he succumbed to his wounds on 28 October 1916.

Thomas Curley’s Headstone, St Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen – Photo by James Percival

Thomas was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War and Victory Medals. In addition to his parish church of St Mary of the Angels in Batley, he is also remembered on Batley War Memorial.

The family remained in the 25 Villiers Street home in the years following Thomas’ death. This is Anthony and Mary’s recorded home in Batley cemetery’s burial registers when they died in 1937 (Anthony was buried on 29 March, and Mary on 21 November). It is also where William and James are living in their 1939 Register entry. The streets went in Batley’s slum clearances in the 1960s period.

Villiers Street – unknown source

Notes:
[1] GRO Indexes, September Quarter 1895, Dewsbury, 9B, Page 1182, accessed via Findmypast;
[2] 1901 and 1911 Censuses England and Wales, Labourer for Building Contractor in 1901 and Mason’s Labourer in 1911 Censuses, accessed via Findmypast, originals at The National Archives (TNA), References RG13/4261/141/28 and RG14/27245;
[3] Rag Sorter in the 1911 Census England and Wales, as above;
[4] St Mary of the Angels, Batley, Baptism register, accessed 2010;
[5] 1901 Census England and Wales, as above;
[6] Birth date obtained from 1939 Register, living 19 Villiers Street, Batley, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/3608B/008/22 Letter Code: KMEX
[7] Birth date obtained from 1939 Register, living 91 New Street, Batley, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/3608A/011/44 Letter Code: KMEW; and GRO Death Indexes January Quarter 1984, Dewsbury, Register 384 Volume 4
[8] Birth date obtained from 1939 Register, living 25 Villiers Street, Batley, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/3608B/008/32 Letter Code: KMEX; and GRO Death Indexes, January Quarter 1970, Bradford, 2B, Page 735;
[9] 1911 Census England and Wales, as above;
[10] St Mary of the Angels, Batley, Baptism register, accessed 2010, also his GRO death registration in 1974. Note the 1939 Register gives the date as 27 July;
[11] 2nd Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Unit War Diary, 1 August 1914 – 31 December 1915, TNA Reference WO95/1551/1
[12] Ibid;
[13] The Batley News editions between 9 to 30 October 1915 have been checked to date. Earlier dates and the Batley Reporter for the period have not been examined;
[14] 8th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Unit War Diary, 1 August 1915 – 31 October 1917, TNA Reference WO95/2187/2
[15] Ibid

Sources (other than mentioned in the notes):
• 1905 OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, https://www.cwgc.org/
Daily Casualty Lists, The Genealogist website;
History of The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the Great War 1914-1918 ; Bond, Reginald C. London: Lund, Humphries, 1929.
Soldiers Died in the Great War, accessed via Findmypast;
Soldiers’ Effects Registers, accessed via Ancestry, original record
National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers’ Effects Records, 1901-60; NAM Accession Number: 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 367001-368500; Reference: 197;
• WW1 Pension Ledgers and Index Cards 1914-1923
, accessed via Ancestry and Fold3, original record Western Front Association; London, England; Pension Record Cards, Reference: 055/0235/CUN-CAR and PRC Ledgers, Reference: 687/04D;

Michael Horan: St Mary of the Angels War Memorial, Batley

Several years ago I researched the men on the War Memorial of St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley. The resulting booklet was sold in aid of the Royal British Legion and the church roof appeal. Over the subsequent years I’ve continued to add to this research – somehow I’ve not been able to let them go.

In May 2020 a medal came up for sale in a military auction in Ipswich. The nearest thing to an auction I’ve participated in is eBay. But this medal was one awarded to a St Mary’s man. I felt compelled to bid, so signed up to do so online. And to my relief I won. The Victory Medal of Michael Horan is now back in Batley, after spending time in Hereford and Anglesey, before its sale at the Ipswich auction house.

Auction Win – Michael Horan’s Victory Medal and his Headstone Photos

Here is Michael’s story, significantly updated since my initial St Mary’s research.

Michael’s parents, Irish-born James Horan and Annie Gollagher, wed in late 1875. As anyone who researches family history knows, spellings of names can be notoriously inconsistent. The Irish accent adds to the confusion. Annie’s name in particular varies depending on records. Her maiden name is occasionally spelled Gallagher, and even her Christian name is inconsistent, with some documents recording it as Honora. The Horan surname is occasionally written as Horn.

The couple settled to married life in Batley. Plentiful employment opportunities in the shoddy industry, and a growing County Mayo community, of which James and Annie belonged to, were the town’s major magnets. James was an integral part of shoddy industry, working as a rag-grinder. It was a filthy, hard, dust-ridden, unhealthy job, which involved grinding down the rags in preparation for them to be mixed with fresh wool in order to produce shoddy fabric.

The couple had six children of which, to date, I have identified five. Only two survived to adulthood. These were Mary and Michael. All the Horan offspring were baptised at St Mary of the Angels, and the infant burials are all recorded in Batley cemetery, within sight of the newly built Catholic Church.

In order of arrival, Mary was born on 4 June 1876; Michael followed on 7 November 1878; Others included Ellen, born on 5 November 1880 and buried on 11 May 1881; John Patrick, born on 23 January 1883 and buried, age two, on 1 February 1885; and Thomas, born on 4 January 1885, just a month prior to his brother’s burial. He also died age two and was buried on 15 May 1887.

The Horan’s family addresses are reflective of ones associated with the Batley Irish community. They included New Street, Fleming’s Buildings, Newsome Fold, Scargill Fold and latterly Hume Street. The Horan’s lived at 64, whilst my Cassidy great grandparents lived at 36.

In 1891, when the family were living at Yard 2, Commercial Street, 12-year-old Michael was already working, as a hurrier in a coal mine. This was the first rung of the ladder to a career as a miner. In 1901 he was lodging along with another Batley man, Patrick Brett, in the home of Margaret Dawson in Winlanton, Durham, and working as a coal hewer [1]. But he was back home in Batley by 1911, still working as a hewer.

There are other references to Michael in Batley in the first decade of the 20th century, minor brushes with the law, two of which resulted in stays at Wakefield Prison. On 8 April 1904 the Batley Reporter and Guardian carried the following piece:

ASSAULTING THE POLICE – Michael Horan, collier, of Batley, was charged with being drunk and riotous in Commercial Street, on the 2nd inst., and further with assaulting Police-constable Harris. – Police-constable Moore stated that at ten minutes past seven on the date mentioned he was on Commercial Street, accompanied by Police-constable Harris, when they saw defendant fighting with another man. He was very drunk, and used bad language. They asked him for his name, which he refused to give, and after walking about 40 yards Horan commenced to kick Police-constable Harris. – The defendant pleaded guilty, and was fined 2s. 6d. and costs for being drunk and riotous, and 5s. and costs for the assault on the policeman.

The Wakefield Prison records show both his imprisonments resulted from similar offences – 10 days for being drunk etc., on 11 April 1904 [2]; and 7 days for obscene language on 24 May 1907 [3]. In the absence of a photograph of Michael, at least from these records we have a brief physical description. He stood at 5’2” and had brown hair. His education was the basic Standard I.

Michael enlisted in September 1914. At the time he was employed as a miner at Batley’s West End Colliery. In the ownership of the Critchley family, who were associated with Batley Hall, the workings of this mine were between Cliff and Spring Woods, near the bottom of Scotchman Lane, close to the Batley/Morley boundary.

Extract of OS Six-inch map, Yorkshire CCXXXII.NE, Revised 1905 to 1906, Published 1908 – Shows the location of West End Colliery

Briefly with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Service Number 16939), it appears Michael quickly transferred as a Private to the 10th (Service) Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, with the revised Service Number 19681. His date of arrival overseas fits with him setting sail with the battalion from Folkestone at 10.30pm on the night of September 1915 on board the Duchess of Argyll. They arrived at Boulogne in the early hours of the following morning. With him was a fellow-St Mary’s parishioner Pte James Groark, Service Number 19677.

After entraining for Watten on 11 September 1915, arriving there at 11pm that night, there then followed a series of punishing marches, mainly in the evening and early hours of the morning. These equated to a distance of around 50 miles as the crow flies, until they arrived at Vermelles at 10pm on 25 September [4]. Exhausted before they started, they went straight into action, forming part of the reserve for an attack on the Hulluch-Lens Road. It was a true baptism of fire for the pair. They were being thrown into the Battle of Loos. This was the first time the British used poison gas during the war. It also witnessed the first large-scale use of New Army or ‘Kitchener’s Army’ units. And given their rapid approach, no wonder the casualty toll proved to be so heavy for these new troops. More details about the York and Lancaster Regiment at Loos can be found in the Online Diary of Eric Rayner blog [5].

The battle commenced on 25 September 1915. The British were able to break through the weaker German trenches and capture the town of Loos, mainly due to numerical superiority. However, the inevitable supply and communications problems, combined with the late arrival of reserves, meant that the breakthrough could not be exploited. A further complication for many British soldiers was the failure of their artillery to cut the German wire in many places in advance of the attack. Advancing over open fields in full range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating.

The 10th York and Lancasters were no exception. By the time they were relieved at 3.30am on 27 September their casualties stood at 14 officers and 306 other ranks killed, wounded or missing [6]. James Groark suffered a thigh wound in action on the 26 September. It was sufficiently serious for him to be evacuated to England for treatment in a Cambridge hospital.

From October 1915, the 10th York and Lancaster unit war diary is one of those beloved by family historians. Its appendixes name not only officers, but other ranks casualties too. It includes dates and, even better, other details. For example some month’s lists state if death or injury occurred in the trenches, in working parties (including those with the Brigade Mining Section) or resting etc. Some have other information, such as “wounded accidentally” or “self inflicted.” This extends right through to the end of July 1916, with a separate list devoted specifically to casualties incurred during fighting between 1 and 3 July 1916, the first days of the Battle of the Somme.

This Somme list is broken into sections, identifying those killed in action, men who died of wounds, and pages of the wounded who were evacuated to England, along with the date. There is also a list of others wounded but not evacuated to Blighty, along with the source of this information, e.g. 64th Field Ambulance. Then follows the missing men, and finally a section with amended casualties. This primarily includes updates on those initially posted as missing.

Michael’s name is in the unit war diary amongst these lists. So, what happened to him?

At 9pm on 30 June, the eve of the attack [7], the 10th York and Lancasters left their billets in Ville, making for their assembly trenches north east of Becordel and just west of Fricourt. They fell under the 21st Division, who would be taking part in the attack around the heavily-defended German-held village of Fricourt. As they made their way up the line, did memories flash back to the previous September’s march? Or was hope held of the “possibility of a collapse of the enemy’s resistance…”, brought about by the prolonged period of preparatory bombardment which commenced on 24 June? [8]

British Plan Somme 1 July 1916 (21st Division north west of Fricourt), Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

On 1 July 1916 the plan for the 21st Division was that on the left side of Fricourt village would be the 63rd Brigade (which included the 10th Yorks and Lancasters), and beyond them the division’s 64th Brigade, would together carry out an outflanking move to the north. They would join up beyond the village with units of the 7th Division carrying out a similar manoeuvre to the south. Attached to the 21st Division for the attack was the 50th Brigade (taken from the 17th (Northern) Division). Their battalions were designated to attack closest to the northern edge of Fricourt, in an area known as the Tambour. This area was a series of craters, the scene of heavy underground warfare since 1915. The 10th West Yorkshire Regiment would lead off here, followed by the 7th East Yorkshires [9]. Later in the day, when the flanking manoeuvre was complete, the plan was battalions from this brigade would take Fricourt.

Looking towards Fricourt in 2017, the Tambour Mines (to the left) and Fricourt New Military Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

Before the attack a final heavy bombardment of the Fricourt area began at 6.25am on 1 July. Gas was released between 7.15am and 7.25am, during which period a Stokes bombardment was also launched. At 7.28am two mines were exploded to the right of the Tambour [10]. Two minutes later the 63rd Brigade assault commenced with the 4th Middlesex Regiment and 8th Somerset Light Infantry in the initial wave. The 10th York and Lancaster were following up as part of the second wave of the attack, along with the 8th Lincolns. The York and Lancaster’s unit war diary for 1 to 3 July goes on to say:

At 8.30 a.m. [1st July] 10th York and Lancs. and 8th Lincoln Regt. advanced from Assembly Trenches and passed through the Middlesex Regt.and 8th Somerset L.I. respectively, coming under very heavy machine gun fire from FRICOURT and FRICOURT WOOD. After very hard fighting (in which heavy casualties occurred) the Battalion consolidated in LOZENGE ALLEY and later in DART LANE. Battalion remained in this position till about 2 p.m. third day when it moved up to SUNKEN ROAD and took up Support Position in DINGLE TRENCH, with H.Q. in SUNKEN ROAD. [11]

The 10th York and Lancasters were relieved at 4 a.m. on 4 July. The diary, in its appendixes, contains a more detailed account:

OPERATIONS
July 1st 1916 – July 4th 1916
The Battalion advanced through 4th Middlesex Regt, who were in German front line, and came under heavy machine gun fire from FRICOURT and FRICOURT WOOD. The leading wave got some distance in advance of DART LANE, when they were held up by machine gun fire from FRICOURT WOOD. At the same time three large parties of Germans attempted to bomb their way up all the trenches South of DART LANE. Also at the same time the Battalion Bombers were having a hard struggle with a large bombing party in LONELY TRENCH. They had three barricades in this, which we destroyed. We then placed a barricade at North end of LONELY TRENCH near junction of LOZENGE ALLEY. A party of D. Company with stragglers from other Units were sent into ARROW LANE to protect that flank, with the assistance of one gun of Machine Gun Corps. This party came under heavy fire from the South, the enemy making several strong attempts to bomb up EMPRESS SUPPORT and the remains of EMPRESS TRENCH. The remainder of Battalion were then in LOZENGE ALLEY with the Lincolns and parties of other Units. This we were consolidating. About 5.0 p.m. I re-organized the Battalion to take them to DART LANE, which I consolidated. I had also a holding party of Bombers at corner of DART LANE, EMPRESS SUPPORT and LONELY LANE. I had also a party in ARROW LANE: with this party were about 30 men of the 10th Yorkshire Regiment. The Battalion remained in this position until about 2.0 p.m. on the second day, during which time the Battalion was working very hard in passing up S.A.A., [12] Bombs, etc. to 62nd Brigade, who were calling for supplies very urgently. This work went on continuously till about 2.0 p.m. when I was ordered to move up and join 62nd Brigade. I took Battalion up SUNKEN ROAD and put them in DINGLE TRENCH from D 21 Central to about junction of DINGLE TRENCH and PATCH ALLEY, with my headquarters in SUNKEN ROAD at South end of ROUND WOOD.
Whilst here we were under a shell fire from 2 heavy enemy guns. We remained here till relieved by one Company of 12th Manchester Regt at about 4.0 a.m. on morning of 4th. The blocking party ordered to follow immediately in rear of 4th Middlesex Regt did not reach their objective, as all the men were knocked out with the exception of about six men, the Officer being wounded just after getting over the parapet. I also collected what spare bombers I had and sent them up to 62nd Brigade, who were calling for more men. The party protecting our right collected a fair number of prisoners from the dug-outs in DART LANE, EMPRESS SUPPORT and various small communication trenches.
One Officer and a small party of men actually reached the hedge running on outside of FRICOURT FARM, but were compelled to fall back owing to a large bombing party coming down LOZENGE ALLEY from FRICOURT FARM.
Lieut-Colonel.
5th July 16. Comdg. 10th (S) [13] Bn. York & Lancaster Regiment [14].

Extract from Trench Map 57D.SE.4 (Ovillers), Scale 1:10000, Edition 2B, Published 1916, Trenches corrected to 27 April 1916 – Illustrates some of the locations mentioned in the 10th York and Lancaster Unit War Diary Operations Report (above)

With elements of the 21st Division now behind them, the Germans began to abandon Fricourt during the night of the 1/2 July. British troops entered the village on the 2 July.

As a result of the part they played and their consequent heavy losses, the 63rd Infantry Brigade swapped with the 110th Brigade, to become part of the 37th Division. At its departure it received the following communication on 8 July from Major-General David ‘Soarer’ Cambell, commanding the 21st:

I cannot allow the 63rd Brigade to leave my command without expressing to all ranks my immense admiration for their splendid behaviour during the recent fighting.
No troops in the world could have behaved in a more gallant manner.
I feel sure that the 63rd Brigade will uphold the reputation of the 21st Division in the Division to which they are attached.
Whilst deeply deploring your heavy losses, I feel that these gallant men have willingly given their lives to vindicate the character of the 21st Division.
Hoping that our separation may be of short duration only, I wish you Good Luck [15].

Michael was amongst the heavy casualties. His name appears in the 10th York and Lancaster unit war diary. It is amongst the list of 24 other ranks listed as killed in action between the 1 and 3 July 1916. Officially his death date is 3 July.

News of his loss reached Batley later that month. According to reports he was carrying ammunition when a shell exploded in his immediate vicinity causing his instant death [16].

Michael is buried at Becourt Military Cemetery, Bécordel-Bécourt, in the Somme region of France. He is commemorated at home on the Batley St Mary’s War Memorial and Batley War Memorial.

Becourt Military Cemetery, Final Resting Place of Michael Horan – Photo by Jane Roberts

Michael’s parents survived him. His father (age 75) was buried in Batley cemetery on 7 April 1923. His mother (age 72) was buried in the same cemetery plot on 24 December 1925.

Whilst his sister Mary did marry John Owens at St Mary’s on 24 July 1915, the couple had no children. John died in December 1926 and Mary in November 1933. Mary’s death brought to an end the direct relations of Michael and helps explain why the medal went out of the family.

Michael was also awarded the 1914-15 Star and British War Medal. Those I have not traced. But at least his Victory Medal is back in his hometown. And although he is not buried in the same cemetery as his family, he is commemorated in the church just across the road.

St Mary of the Angels RC Church Batley – War Memorial Panel Commemorating Michael Horan – Photo by Jane Roberts

Notes:
[1] 1901 census, England and Wales, surname written as Horn, accessed via Findmypast, original records held at The National Archives (TNA) Reference RG13/4763/99/27;
[2] West Yorkshire Prison Records 1801-1914, accessed via Ancestry, original records at West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield Prison Records, Reference C118;
[3] Ibid;
[4]
The route according to the unit war diary was Watten, Nortebecourt (Nortbécourt), St Omer, Campagne [Les Wardrecques], Aire [Sur la Lys], St Hilaire [Cottes], Auchel, Sailly la Bourse (Labourse) and Vermelles.
[5] For more on the 10th York and Lancasters at Loos see Eric’s Daily Diary, 2 September 1915, The Battle of Loos – how Haig tried to kill my grandfather, http://ericsdailydiary.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-battle-of-loos-how-haig-tried-to.html
[6] Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
[7] The attack was originally planned to start on 29 June. However, summer storms and heavy rain which led to the decision being taken on 28 June (less than 21 hours notice) to postpone until 7.30am on 1 July.
[8] Addition to Operation Order No. dated 23 June 1916, H Broadbent, Lieut. & Adjt. For Lt-Col. Cmdg. 10th (S) BNA. York & Lanc. Regt., 29 June 1916
[9] The 10th West Yorkshire’s suffered in excess of 700 casualties. According to Gerald Gliddon in Somme 1916: a Battlefield Companion their casualties were higher than any other British battalion on 1 July. Martin Middlebrook in The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 stated their losses was probably the highest battalion casualty list for a single day during the war.
[10] The 178th Tunnelling Company laid three mines which were due to detonate that morning, but only two explosions occurred, with the largest mine failing to detonate;
[11] Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
[12] Small Arms Ammunition;
[13] Service;
[14] Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
[15] Ibid;
[16] Batley Reporter and Guardian, 28 July 1918

Sources:
1881 to 1911 England and Wales Censuses, accessed via Ancestry and Findmypast, originals at TNA;
• Batley Cemetery Records;
Batley Reporter and Guardian, 8 April 1904 and 28 July 1918;
Capture of Fricourt, Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_Fricourt;
• Cooksey, Jon, and Jerry Murland. The First Day of the Somme. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2016;
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour Database, https://www.cwgc.org/;
• Gliddon, Gerald. Somme 1916: a Battlefield Companion. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2016;
• General Register Office birth, marriage and death indexes
• Hart, Peter. The Somme. London: Cassell, 2006;
• Middlebrook, Martin. The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916. London: Penguin Books, 2016;
• OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
Parish Registers, St Mary of the Angels;
Soldiers Died in the Great War, accessed via Findmypast;
Soldiers Effects Records 1901-1960, accessed via Ancestry, original records National Army Museum Accession Number 1990-02-333, Record Number Ranges 322001-323500, Reference 167;
• Stedman, Michael. Somme: Fricourt-Mametz. Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1997;
• Trench Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
• Reed, Paul. Walking the Somme. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2011.
Wakefield Prison Records, accessed via Ancestry, originals at West Yorkshire Archives;
War Office and Air Ministry Service Medal and Award Rolls, accessed via Ancestry, TNA Reference WO329 Reference 1590 and 2787;
Western Front Association Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, References 102/0462/HOP-HOR and 686/04D;
WW1 Medal Index Cards, accessed via Ancestry, originals at TNA.

Talk: Researching Your Great War Army Ancestors. (Includes details of my other 2020 talks)

Heads up about my forthcoming talk on 4 March at Leeds Central Library.

Based on my groundbreaking book The Greatest Sacrifice: Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union about rugby league players who died in World War 1, the talk investigates the stories behind some of the men. It will also be packed with tips for researching your own Great War Army ancestors.

The book, co-authored with Rugby League writer Chris Roberts, has received widespread acclaim, locally and nationally, in print and on radio. The reviews include:

The talk will take place in the Leodis Room, starting at 1pm. It will last for one hour, with opportunity to ask questions. Tickets are free and available through Ticket Source. You can also contact the library direct on 0113 378 5005.

This is one of a series of talks I give. The others scheduled for 2020 are:

  • Blogging for Family and Local History; and
  • The Home Front: the White Lee Explosion of 1914

For more details about these talks please contact me at: pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com

That’s also the contact if you would like to buy a copy of the book. The price, including p&p within the U.K., is £14.99. It is also available direct from the publisher, Scratching Shed Publishing Ltd. It is also stocked at independent Leeds bookshop, Philip Howard Books. And it’s also available from the normal retail outlets.

The White Lee Wartime Disaster: Devastation across Heckmondwike, Batley and the Spen Valley

Just before 2pm on Wednesday 2 December 1914, a tremendous explosion occurred. It centred on the Hollinbank Lane area of Heckmondwike. The ferocity was so great it was felt 50 miles away. A yellow mist and smoke enveloped the area, and an awful stench permeated everywhere. It was the early months of the War and people feared a Zeppelin attack, or some form of enemy sabotage. Madame Personne, a refugee who had escaped war-torn Belgium, now living in the comparative safety of a White Lee cottage, fainted from shock.

Close to the epicentre of the blast, homes and workplaces suffered major damage: roofs and doors were blown off, crockery smashed, furniture was damaged, wooden partitions in buildings were torn down, gas street lamp lanterns broke and, within a three-mile radius, thousands of glass panes shattered. Many homes were rendered uninhabitable. The scene represented a war zone, more familiar in Belgium and France.

Arthur Barber described the damage to his home:

Our houses were wrecked, all the windows being out and the roofs broken through, and much damage done inside also….The kitchen door was blown straight off, and the pantry blown down, and the staircase was riven off the walls. The cellars are practically tumbling in. All the hen-pens were blown in pieces. And where all the hens are we don’t know it is impossible to sleep there, and we are staying with relatives.

Collections were raised to help those whose homes were destroyed. The thousands of sightseers who visited in the aftermath helped swell the coffers.

Whole swathes of Heckmondwike, Cleckheaton, Healey and Batley were affected, with stories coming in from across the area. A tram car travelling between Batley and Heckmondwike temporarily lifted off its tracks. A man was thrown out of his sick-bed. Some workers at Messrs. J & F Popplewell’s rag works on Hollinbank Lane were forced to leap for safety from the top window of the mill, as the roof tumbled in. Scores of windows in Belle Vue Street, Healey were blown out. The pupils at Healey school were showered with glass as the windows shattered. As a result, several children were injured, with one boy, John William Stone, requiring treatment in Batley Hospital. The school was forced to close temporarily for repairs. Even Batley hospital did not escape damage, with an operating theatre window breaking during an operation.

Shoddy manufacturer Joseph Fox was particularly involved. Driving his car in the Healey area, it lifted off the ground with the strength of the blast. He witnessed the plate glass window of Healey Co-op stores fall out (known today as Healey Mini Market).

Healey Mini Market today, the former Healey Branch of the Batley Co-op
– Photo by Jane Roberts

Fox was one of those involved in ferrying the scores of injured for treatment. And, returning to his Hollinbank Terrace home, he discovered his house was one of those buildings to have taken the brunt of the explosion’s impact. His wife’s maid May Thompson was in Batley Hospital with an eye injury caused by flying glass. The house, one of three in a terrace built originally for the Heaton brothers, still stands – now on Dale Lane.

The Houses on Hollinbank Terrace (now Dale Road) which bore the brunt of the 1914 blast – Photo by Jane Roberts

But all this was overshadowed by the total devastation and carnage at the seat of the explosion, the Henry Ellison-operated White Lee chemical works. Situated on high ground off Hollinbank Lane, the firm moved in as tenants of the former Heaton family-owned chemical factory in 1900. Ellison’s were an established chemical manufacturer. They quickly obtained a Government licence to make picric acid, a major component of lyddite used for the manufacture of shells, in their newly acquired White Lee premises. They undertook this work for a couple of years until the end of the Boer War in 1902, when demand for the product slumped. They briefly re-opened the factory in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War, selling the picric acid to brokers. After this, demand tailed off once more and the works closed until August 1914.

Extract of Six-inch OS Maps: CCXXXII.SW and SE, revised 1905, published 1908 – National Library of Scotland – Adapted

The outbreak of the First World War proved a game-changer, with the Government’s need for picric acid for shell manufacture rocketing again. It was now a race to get the works ready to resume full-scale production, with buildings tarred inside and out, wooden floors covered with linoleum, and separating brick walls and rudimentary sprinkler systems in place. In total, the works comprised of five buildings in which the wet processes of picric acid manufacture were carried out. Four other buildings were used for drying, sifting/grinding, packing and storing the chemical.

Picric acid was regarded as safe in its pure state, but if it came into other substances, such as metals, it could form sensitive picrates which were dangerous. For this reason, production licences were required. Regulations limited the quantity of picric acid in any one area, ensured it was not confined and precautions had to be taken to ensure no foreign bodies were introduced to the production process. In order to avoid any ignition risk, no matches could be taken into the most dangerous areas, such as the sifting and grinding shed – so pockets were checked and sewn up before entry. Additionally, protective rubber overshoes had to be worn in these areas to prevent possible contamination by stones and nails. Commonly worn hobnail boots could be a particular issue, as they could cause sparks and, theoretically, the nails could be loosened by acid present on site. These objects could then contaminate the acid production, and potentially enter the grinding machines. The overshoes placed outside the doors to these areas, in theory, minimised the risk.

With all these precautions in place fire, not explosion, was believed to be the most immediate danger. If the fire was quickly put out to prevent the acid overheating, an explosion would be avoided.

On 2 November 1914 production recommenced at Ellison’s White Lee Works. On 19 November a government inspection found everything in good order, with only a few minor points identified due to the long period of building disuse. These were quickly rectified.

Labour was in short supply due to men enlisting, but picric acid production was not regarded as a skilled job. The company recruited a good, young analytical chemist from Cleckheaton, 22-year-old Bradford Grammar School and Leeds University educated Fred Wright. He had previously worked at the Barugh Benzol Works near Barnsley and, more recently, at the Benzol Works at Low Moor. However he had no previous experience with picric acid. He started work at White Lee only two weeks before the explosion.

Ellison’s also brought in a well-regarded employee from the Low Moor Chemical Works to act as foreman. 37-year-old James Nicholas had considerable experience of picric acid manufacturing.

The rest of the workers were recently recruited unskilled labourers, some starting on the day of the explosion. Because of the shortage of labour, these men worked across a number of areas of the production process, as required.

On 2 December, when the explosion occurred, 11 employees were on site. There were also several workmen engaged in construction, as the facilities were being extended to cope with the demands of the war. Unfortunately, these men were also caught up in the tragedy.

The afternoon shift started and production work was proceeding as usual. Wright and Nicholas worked in the packing shed, whilst three men were employed in the sifting and grinding room. At just before 2pm a massive blast occurred, centred on the sifting and grinding areas.

Buildings crumbled, a huge flash of flame soared into the sky, followed by dense clouds of yellow smoke. All that remained of the sifting and grinding shed area was a deep hole where the structure once stood. Peripheral works buildings were severely damaged, with any walls still standing being dangerously cracked. Surrounding fields were littered with masonry, smashed timber, pieces of machinery and roofing. Body parts were found for days afterwards. Containers holding liquid acid split, the corrosive liquid tracking down the hillside, which all added to the horrific scene.

Aftermath of the White Lee Explosion – Copyright of Kirklees Image Archive who granted permission for use in this blog post. Website http://www.kirkleesimages.org.uk/

One eyewitness, Leeds man James William Bellhouse working with a colleague on the roof of Robert Bruce’s William Royd cotton mill, stated:

The explosion made a tremendous row and blew us off the building. I saw a mass of flame, and the sky seemed to be lit up by a blazing red. A lot of debris were flying all up and around….

Bellhouse and his workmate were unharmed.

Some others had equally lucky escapes. A couple of men employed in the grinding area had not returned to work there for the afternoon shift. They had struggled to cope with the dust, despite covering their noses and mouths, and frequently opening the door. They survived.

Former Batley rugby league player Jim Gath of Wilton Street, Batley was on site to undertake work on the boiler. Minutes before the blast he decided to leave the boiler house to do some outside work. He had just climbed scaffolding when the explosion occurred. Covered by debris, only by sheer strength did he extricate himself, injuring his arm in the process. He remembered walking, then crawling, then nothing until he awoke in Dewsbury hospital.

William Sykes of Healey Street, Batley was working in the boiler house, which was demolished. According to reports at the time, concussed and dyed yellow by the fumes, he escaped too. However, this was not the whole story, and it did not end happily. Subsequent reports indicated he also sustained injuries to his legs and eyes. His health deteriorated and he died in July 1915. Coincidentally, his daughter Lizzie, working in the nearby Robert Bruce-owned mill, suffered a compound fracture of her right arm.

The blast killed nine men outright. Another died in Dewsbury hospital later that day. The men were as follows.

Percy Ashton, born on 26 October 1892 was the son of Willie and Elizabeth Ashton (née Barker) of Tidswell Street, Heckmondwike. He was a joiner working on construction of the new buildings. A popular member of Dewsbury AFC, he was buried in Heckmondwike cemetery. 

Heckmondwike Cemetery, Percy Ashton’s Headstone – Photo by Jane Roberts

Arthur Cooper, was born in Leeds on 19 February 1863. He married Martha Ann Wheelhouse in Leeds in 1885. A boot finisher for most of his working life, by 1893 he and his family were living in Lobley Street, Heckmondwike. He now had employment in the boot department at Heckmondwike Co-op. Sometime after the 1911 census he switched work to become a mason’s labourer for his neighbours, the Firth brothers. Initially amongst the missing, his body was found under rubble two days after the blast.

Albert Laycock Firth was a 51-year-old living at Lobley Street in Heckmondwike. He and his brothers Nimrod and Ralph were the stone masons erecting the new drying building. Ralph nipped back to their own Work’s yard prior to the blast, and heard the explosion. He identified his brother. Albert left a widow Elizabeth (née Briggs) who he married in 1893. The couple had three children in the 1911 census – Aked, James Albert and George.

Nimrod Firth the brother of Albert was 34 years of age. He also lived at Lobley Street. The son of James Firth and his wife Sarah Laycock, Nimrod married Lucy Wright in April 1913. He was identified through keys in his pocket. His funeral, along with that of his brother, took place at Heckmondwike Upper Independent Chapel.

James Nicholas was the works foreman. The 37-year-old was born in Herefordshire, but the family eventually settled in Cleckheaton. The 1901 census shows him employed as a picric acid labourer, so by 1914 he’d had at least 13 years experience of working with the chemical. Later that year he married Edith Emma Strickland. The couple went on to have four children – Harold Cookson, Eric, Edith Gladys and Laura. His brother John formally identified him. He was buried in Cleckheaton.

Clifford Thornton, a joiner from Boundary Street, Liversedge, only started building work at Ellison’s on the day of the explosion. Like Percy Ashton he was employed by Messrs. R Senior and Sons.  A 25-year-old single man, he was the only living child of John Marsden Thornton and his wife Betty (née Cordingley). He survived the blast, but died as a result of his injuries at 4.05pm in Dewsbury Infirmary. An active member of Heckmondwike Upper Independent Chapel and Sunday School, this was where his funeral took place.

Heckmondwike Upper Independent Chapel – Photo by Jane Roberts

Fred Wright, worked as the establishment’s analytical chemist. From Cleckheaton, he was the 22-year-old son of Walter Henry Wright and his wife Elizabeth Savoury. Walter Wright was well known in local musical circles, being the organist at Providence Place Chapel, Cleckheaton and a former conductor of Cleckheaton Philharmonic Society. His son was so badly mutilated he was identified by the contents of his pockets (including a gold watch, purse, and visiting card) and a distinguishing mark. Fred was buried in Whitcliffe cemetery.

The three men working in the grinding room were William Berry, George Terry and James Alfred Morton (some sources mistakenly name him as John Edward Morton). Only identified amongst the dead from various items of clothing discovered in the days after the explosion, the partial human remains found which possibly belonged to them were buried in a single coffin in Heckmondwike cemetery. Father O’Connor, the parish priest at Heckmondwike Catholic Church (now the Holy Spirit Parish) conducted the service for Morton. Father O’Connor later became the inspiration for G.K. Chesterton’s fictional detective Father Brown.

William Berry transferred from Ellison’s Cleckheaton works two months prior to the blast. A labourer, he supervised the drying shed activities. 36 years of age, his widow Clara identified his overcoat. There was also his return railway ticket to Low Moor where he lived. Born in Halifax, he married Clara Hargreaves at All Saints, Salterhebble in July 1910. The couple had two children, Annie (b. 1911) and Arthur (b. 1913).

James Alfred Morton (38) was separated from his wife May, and living at Staincliffe. The  son of Cornelius and Bridget Morton, he was a miner by trade. However, in recent years he worked as a casual labourer, most recently for a gardener in Batley Carr. He only started at the chemical works on Tuesday. His brother, Joseph, could only identify scraps of his clothing – parts of his trousers, shirt, coat and red, white and blue striped tie. 

George Terry (22) of White Lee only started at Ellison’s on the Monday, previously working as a rag grinder in Batley. Initially his father wrongly identified one of the original bodies as his son, so badly mutilated was it. He was led away in a distressed state, only for others to realise the mistake. Days later, small strips of waistcoat and corduroy trousers belonging to George were identified by his widow Lilian. They had been married less than six months. She had left him at the gates of his work after lunch at 1.25pm on her way to visit her mother, and heard the explosion.

Commemorative Postcard from my Collection (note there is no image of James Arthur Morton who is wrongly named)

The official Home Office inquiry headed by Major Cooper-Key, Chief Inspector of Explosives, reported in January 1915. Although Cooper-Key found the wearing of protective overshoes was not strictly adhered to in the designated danger areas, crucially it was enforced in the sifting and grinding shed where the explosion occurred. He went on to conclude that Ellison’s complied with all the necessary regulations for picric acid manufacture, and could not be held responsible. Sabotage was also effectively ruled out.

He attributed the disaster to two factors. The ignition occurred in the sifting and grinding room, probably due to the accidental presence of a nail, stone or similar hard foreign body entering the grinding mill. Under normal circumstances this would have resulted in a spark and fire which would have been extinguished before the picric acid had chance to heat to explosion point. But the shed was extremely dusty, a situation exacerbated by the strong wind that day which constantly fanned the particles as the door opened and closed to try to let fresh air in. The initial ignition resulted in the explosion of this carbonaceous dust.

Although the White Lee explosion led to a review of picric acid manufacturing guidelines, it did not mark the end of accidents resulting from its manufacture during the war.

And the ten men who died on the day of the explosion, as well as William Sykes who died seven months later, are yet more local casualties of the First World War.

A plaque has been laid by the Spen Valley Civic Society to commemorate the event and those affected.

White Lee Disaster Plaque – Photo by Jane Roberts

Sources:

  • Multiple sources were used, including newspaper reports, the official accident report, censuses, civil registration indexes and parish registers.
  • OS Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Special thanks to Kirklees Image Archive for permission to reproduce their image of the aftermath of the explosion. http://www.kirkleesimages.org.uk/ This is a fabulous local pictorial archive. The images are subject to copyright restrictions.