Category Archives: WW1

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.

For Some Their War Was Not Over

Armistice Day 2019, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, marked the centenary of the first two-minute silence. The tradition of holding a silence to remember the dead began a year after World War One ended. But for many wounded ex-servicemen their personal battle was not over when the guns ceased firing. Not even a year on as the country paused to reflect.

As the country fell silent at 11am on Monday, I attended a Project Bugle graveside wreath-laying ceremony for St Mary of the Angel’s man Sergeant Joseph Edward Munns of the 12th King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry). He was awarded the Military Medal (formally announced in The London Gazette of 13 September 1918) for saving the life of an officer trapped under the debris of a burning building whilst seriously wounded himself – wounds which resulted in a badly damaged right arm and the amputation of his right foot. He died at Prescot Hospital on 7 January 1921, age 32, and is buried in Batley Cemetery. Because he died before the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cut-off point of 31 August 1921 he has a CWGC headstone and is commemorated on their Debt of Honour database.

Project Bugle Wreath-Laying Ceremony for Sgt Joseph Edward Munns – Photo by Jane Roberts

Whilst in the cemetery I also visited the grave of another St Mary’s man, Gunner James Delaney. He was my mum’s uncle, married to my nana’s sister. My mum never knew him, but according to her family he was a lovely man. I have a photograph of him and on the back is written the fact that he died of injuries he received during the Great War. He died on 27 January 1928 so was not eligible for an official CWGC headstone. He features on no database of the dead. He is not recalled on any War Memorial. He is but one of so many others whose deaths occurred years after the end of the War, but whose lives were cut short as a result of the injuries and health issues directly attributable to it. They are casualties as much as those who died whilst the war raged. They are the forgotten casualties.

James’ headstone reflects his sacrifice, bearing his rank and Regimental details.

Here is his story.

James Delaney was born in Batley on 9 July 1895, the son of Dublin-born John Delaney and his wife Ann McLouglin, who hailed from Dumfries in Scotland. The family were associated with St Mary of the Angels RC church in Batley, where James was baptised. His older siblings included Sarah Ann, William, John Edward and Charles Emmett. From the 1881 to 1911 censuses the family lived in the Courts off Taylor Street in Batley. In the 1911 census it was 4 Court, 2 Taylor Street, with James now working as a cloth finisher. This was his abode and occupation when he attested in Batley on 9 December 1915, age 20.

He was mobilised on 28 December 1915 and the following day posted to 1B Reserve Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (RFA) at Forest Row Camp in East Sussex, assigned Service Number 111921. His Company Conduct Sheet whilst at Forest Row shows only two offences. He was absent from 6.30pm parade on 9 May 1916. Then he overstayed his leave from midnight on 28 May 1916 until 4pm on 30 May 1916. For this latter offence he was deprived two day’s pay and sentenced to the humiliation of Field Punishment No.2., shackled in irons and liable to undertake menial and heavy labour. But these were relatively minor misdemeanours and overall his military character was described as very good.

On 15 July 1916 Gunner Delaney was posted to France, joining the ‘A’ Battery of the 80th Brigade RFA on 24 July, part of the 17th Divisional Artillery. Their Unit War Diary refers to reinforcements of men and horses being allotted that day, whilst in camp at Dernancourt. The RFA operated the army’s medium calibre guns and howitzers. These mobile guns were horse-drawn, and deployed close to the front line. 

James joined his unit in the midst of the Battle of the Somme. The Unit War Diary notes total casualties for July, (killed, wounded and from sickness) was 5 officers, 124 other ranks, and 32 horses. These rates explain the need for reinforcements.

On 1 August 1916 they moved to the Montauban area, where James saw action until the 20 August when the Brigade was withdrawn. Days later the news came through the Brigade was being broken up to supply guns and personnel to other Brigades in the Division. James was deployed to ‘A’ Battery in the 78th Brigade. His first full month in action had seen much lower losses than in July, with only two other ranks killed and 16 wounded.

September was spent with his new unit. His final days at the beginning of October 1916 saw them operating in the Hebuterne area, with the guns primarily employed in wire cutting. However, James was back on home soil on 11 October 1916, with 5C Reserve Brigade. 

His Casualty sheet and Medical History forms are not among his surviving service records, so the specific reason for his return home is unclear. However, he was back on the Western Front on 30 May 1917, joining the 24th Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) on 12 June 1917 in Belgium. DACs were responsible for transporting all ammunition and artillery as well as small arms for the Division, taking it as far forward as possible for collection by batteries and infantry brigades. This made them targets for enemy guns and aircraft. They also provided reinforcements of men for the RFA. James was once more in action in another infamous battle – 3rd Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. 

But yet again his stint did not last long and he was once more back in England on 21 July 1917. From notes on his service records it is clear this was as a result of injury or illness as he now spent time in 3rd Northern General Hospital, Sheffield. There are no more details as to the specific problem at this point in time.

Following his discharge from hospital he re-joined 5C Reserve Brigade at Charlton Park on 8 September 1917. But it is clear he never re-gained his health. He was compulsorily transferred to the Royal Engineers in June 1918, serving with the Tyne Electrical Engineers at Haslar Barracks, Gosport. His new rank was Pioneer, and new Service Number 365987.

Suffering from the painful condition of neuritis, this disorder is defined as inflammation of the nerves. It can be caused by injury, infection or autoimmune disease. In addition to pain, symptoms include tenderness, impaired sensation, numbness or hypersensitivity, weakened strength and diminished reflexes. Maybe this was the legacy of the injuries which necessitated his earlier hospital stay. His resulting health category of B3 meant he was only fit for sedentary work. As a result, he was only capable of undertaking HQ Fatigues work.

James’ condition was serious enough to lead to his discharge on 1 October 1918. After serving for two years and 278 days he was no longer deemed fit for military service. He was awarded a conditional pension of 11s per week, to be reviewed after 52 weeks. This pension continued beyond this date, over the years mainly set at 12s per week with his disability estimated at 30 per cent. 

He returned home to Batley and towards the end of 1919 married 19-year-old Ethel Rhodes. The couple settled at 18 Brearley Street, Mount Pleasant, Batley, with James back at his old job as a worsted cloth finisher. The couple had no children. In brittle health after the tolls of the war, Ethel became his carer as well as his wife. It was a role she made her job for others after James’ death.

James Delaney and Wife Ethel Rhodes

James died on 27 January 1928 as a result of cardiac failure, myocardial disease and rheumatoid arthritis. He was only 32. He died with Ethel by his bedside not at home in Batley, but in the East Lancashire Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home, Park Lane, in the Higher Broughton area of Salford. 

This was an establishment for disabled servicemen opened under the auspices of the East Lancashire Branch of the British Red Cross Society. With a massive influx of wounded men returning home to ad-hoc care facilities, in the summer of 1916 the organisation – along with the Mayor of Manchester and the Earl of Derby – was involved in the launch of a public appeal to raise money to provide suitable accommodation in which they could be cared for. By the end of September 1916, and after only one month, £22,841 was raised. The fund hit the £75,000 mark by February 1917, an amazing amount for a cash-strapped war-torn society. The appeal was so successful it enabled the provision of not one but five homes which, by 1921, provided in excess of 100 beds. One of these still provides care for ex-service personnel today.

Two of the private houses purchased to provide these facilities were on Park Lane, and both were still in operation in 1929. Miss A.E. Tasker was the sister in charge of Palm House, whilst Miss M. Tracy was the matron at Broughton House. Neither James’ death certificate or the newspaper notices by his wife, parents and siblings indicate in which home he died. He was buried in Batley cemetery on 31 January 1928.

Ethel was understandably devastated after her husband’s death. Her mother, Edith, was instrumental in helping her through this intensely difficult period, when at one period in particular Ethel felt she had no reason to carry on. She did eventually re-build her life and married Fred Armitage in 1931. Ethel never had children. She died on 8 November 1958 and chose to be buried alongside James.

As a footnote to this story, the one surviving former East Lancashire home for Disabled Servicemen is Broughton House. More details about its history, current work and future plans are here. It includes information about how you can help support the continuing work of the charity, because funds are needed throughout the year, not just in the period leading up to Armistice Day.

Sources:

  • 24th Divisional Ammunition Column (DAC) Unit War Diary WO 95/2198/3;
  • 78th Brigade Royal Field Artillery Unit War Diary WO 95/1991/3;
  • 80th Brigade Royal Field Artillery Unit War Diary WO 95/1991/5;
  • 1929 Kelly’s Directory of Manchester, Salford and Suburbs;
  • 1881 to 1911 England and Wales censuses;
  • Batley Cemetery burial records;
  • Batley News – 13 July 1918 and 4 February 1928;
  • Batley Reporter and Guardian – 12 July 1918 and 4 February 1928;
  • Broughton House website https://www.broughtonhouse.com/
  • Burnley News – 9 November 1921;
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission;
  • GRO Death Certificate for James Delaney
  • Manchester Evening News – 30 September 1916;
  • The London Gazette 13 September 1918;
  • The Long, Long Trail website https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/
  • The Western Front Association Pension Record Index Card and Ledgers;
  • WO 363 War Office: Soldiers’ Documents, First World War ‘Burnt Documents.’

A Batley Boy’s Fatal Shooting

On the evening of Friday 24 April 1896 as the life ebbed from seven-year-old George Sharpe [1], he named the person responsible for shooting him – his playmate Alfred Brearey.

George was the son of rag grinder Jesse Sharpe and his wife Mary Wilson. The couple married at Batley Parish Church on 28 April 1877 [2]. It was Mary’s second marriage. Her first husband Fearnley Windle died in 1875, age 19 [3], just over a year after their marriage in the same church [4]

George was born on 27 April 1888. By the time of the 1891 census the family were living in the Healey area of Batley, at 41 Healey Street. In addition to George, their other children included Joseph (12), Rebecca (9), Letitia (6), Alice (5) and Lily (4 months) [5]. Ten years later they were at 5 Clark Green Street [6]. But at the time the incident took place their address was 4 Knowles Hill, otherwise known as Baines Street, off Dark Lane in Batley, with George attending Purlwell Board School.

Healey Street – Photo by Jane Roberts

Who was the boy accused of the fatal shooting? Many of the records, including the notes of Coroner Thomas Taylor, refer to him as Arthur. But clues exist that this is not the full story.  There are several other references naming him as Alfred or Alfy, many of these within the same documents which refer to him as Arthur. 

The report in The Batley News of 1 May 1896 provides the answer to this confusion. A footnote states:

It will be seen that the prisoner was referred to in almost every case as “Arthur.” His Christian name is Alfred. 

Accordingly, Alfred was the name by which he was summoned before this Court. His birth date was also helpfully confirmed in the Batley Borough Court evidence as reported in the same edition of The Batley News – Alfred was 11 on 8 April. 

Combining this information with General Register Office birth registrations, the fact he was the nephew of Benjamin Wilkinson Crossley, and his father was a carrier named Thomas all pinpoints him as being the son of Thomas and Martha Ann Brearey (née Crossley), who married in 1871. His baptism [7] at Batley Carr Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on 18 May 1885 confirms his 8 April 1885 birth date, and a Hanging Heaton residence [8].

Alfred was one of 14 children born in the marriage, but by 1911 only seven were still alive, with Alfred being the only surviving son. In 1891 the family lived at Mill Lane [9], and it was the Hanging Heaton Mill Lane Board School which Alfred attended. But, prior to the shooting, the family moved to Norfolk Street which was close to where the Sharpe family lived. It was once Alfred “flitted” here that he became friends with George.

Norfolk Street, opposite Baines Street – Photo by Jane Roberts

I have pieced together the events of the evening of George’s death from various reports on the two official hearings, including the inquest notes made personally by Coroner Thomas Taylor.

First came the inquest on 27 April 1896. With a bitter twist of fate this would have been George’s eighth birthday. Held at The Commercial, this piece of Batley history is no longer a public house and was ear-marked for demolition to make way for apartments. I’m not sure if that is still on the cards.

The Commercial at the bottom of Dark Lane – Photo by Jane Roberts

Two days later, on Wednesday 29 April, the boy accused of causing George’s death appeared before the Batley Magistrates in a special session of the Borough Court.

In my narrative, to avoid confusion, I will use his officially registered name, Alfred. Though do bear in mind if you are searching yourself many of the original references are actually in the name of Arthur.

This is my summary of events.

On the evening of his death George came home from school at about 4.30pm and, after having his tea, he asked if he could go with Alfred to Farfield Nursery. He set off at around 5pm. This was the final time his mother saw him alive. The nursery, located near the Lady Ann Railway Crossing in Batley, was owned by Alfred’s uncle, Benjamin Wilkinson Crossley – a gardener, seedsman and florist who lived at Park Farm on Grovesnor Road. The Kelly’s West Riding of Yorkshire Directory of 1893 describes Crossley’s multiple floristry services which included:

….ball & wedding bouquets made to order, cut flowers with ferns for table decoration, Memorial wreaths & crosses of white flowers at short notice & moderate prices.

In addition to the nursery, he had an establishment located on Branch Road, easily accessible to potential customers popping into the town centre. Presumably it was from these premises that orders for flowers could be placed.

The 1895 published map of Batley shows Farfield Nursery to be of such a significant size to feature. In 1929 when, after 48 years ownership by B.W. Crossley & Sons, the market garden and rhubarb forcing business was sold, it consisted of five acres with greenhouses, cold frames, two large forcing sheds and three dwelling houses [10]. Back in 1896 it was where Alfred’s father, Thomas, had employment as a carter. 

Extract of Six-inch OS Map Surveyed 1888 to 1892, Published 1895 showing location of Nursery, Hospital, Commercial (Inquest), and the streets where the boys lived – Adapted

Alfred was in the habit of going to the nursery most evenings to wait for his father to finish work. For the past month or so, whilst waiting, he had undertaken simple tasks such as pricking out and transplanting seedlings. George, at most, accompanied him to the nursery on only a handful of occasions.

This particular evening Alfred went into the potting shed to prick out seedlings, whilst George played, running about the nursery land. Head gardener George Benson left his office in the potting shed at around 6.10pm. He claimed to have locked the office door and put the key in its usual place, hanging by a nail outside the office at a height of about five feet. In the office was a single-barrelled shotgun. This was stored on a beam about seven or eight feet from the ground, but it was accessible to boys if they climbed on the office table. Used for scaring or shooting the pigeons, these birds posed a constant threat to seedlings and crops. In fact, only recently they had destroyed almost all the pea crop. However, it was debatable whether the birds should actually have been shot – many local men owned racing pigeons and some of these birds were quite valuable, as indicated in my blog post about the fate of some local Batley youths who stole pigeons to earn cash. Benson fired the gun on Thursday, and reloaded it with shot and powder on Friday morning. He placed a cap on the gun along with a label on the trigger indicating the weapon was loaded.

Within 20 minutes of Benson’s departure, at around 6.30pm, Benjamin Crossley was summoned by his nephew to the nursery. A boy had fallen in the gardens and was bleeding. Crossley could get no more information from Alfred, so he hurried to the nursery to investigate. He found George face-down on the cart road about eight yards or so from the potting shed, with a trail of blood leading back to it. Crossley turned the boy over and asked what was wrong. Cinders embedded in his face from his fall, George uttered the chilling words: Alfred had shot him.

George asked for some water, and the child took a sip. Crossley then went to get medical help and the police. On his way he saw Batley Councillor Rooke Garbutt in the garden of his Howley View home and informed him of the incident. Garbutt, the manager at John Jubb and Sons shoddy manufacturers at Batley’s Phoenix Mills, hurried to the nursery which quickly became a hive of activity. In the melee Arthur melted away. He went to the home of George’s parents. 

Jesse Sharpe was now home from work. Ironically, he worked in the same mills as Garbutt. He had eaten his tea and was smoking his pipe when Alfred turned up. It was around 6.45pm. Alfred seemed frightened and was trembling, which prompted Mary to ask where George was. Alfred spoke two words only – “He’s dead.” With that he left. Stunned by the news, Jesse went to find out what on earth was happening.

Back at the nursery Rooke Garbutt was doing his best to assist the boy, who had a wound the size of half a crown in his right side between his ribs. From the air being expelled from the hole, the shot had clearly entered his lung. Deep red blood flowed, which Garbutt tried to stem with his handkerchief. Garbutt judged by the jagged shape of the wound, and the absence of pellet marks, the lad had been shot at close range. He asked the child’s name and, on at least two occasions, he questioned who had shot him. The response never changed. Alfred Brearey. 

Dr Wilkinson arrived on the scene, and immediately judged nothing could be done. George was placed on an ambulance cart and Garbutt, assisted by others, started the journey to Batley Hospital. From the description provided, and with Garbutt said to be between the shafts, it appears this was a cart pulled by the men rather than one drawn by horses. There were various designs of these wheeled ambulance litters and carts throughout the country in this period. The example below is one of the models in use. Others, like the Bischoffsheim hand ambulance which was particularly favoured by London police in this era, were akin to wheeled stretchers. What is unclear is if the mode of transport used for George was an improvised ambulance cart, rather than an official one – especially given there appears to be no named official bearers.

An example of an ambulance, Wrington Cottage Hospital Ambulance, Horace Swete. https://wellcomecollection.org/works/act7mvnt Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

On their way to the hospital Mrs Dyson of Grosvenor Road came out to dab George’s lips with brandy. She gave the ambulance-carriers the bottle in case more should be required. George managed one final word “mother” and, as the ambulance neared the hospital on Carlinghow Field Hill, he breathed his last.

Garbutt passed him to the care of Miss Kanann, hospital Matron, who did her utmost to revive George, but to no avail. Drs Russell and Keighley arrived and pronounced death. 

George did not stand a chance. The gunshot had fractured his ribs, perforated the lower part of his right lung, and caused injuries to his liver and abdominal cavity. His body was carried back to his home. Catherine Smith of Thorn Bank Cottage on Dark Lane, who had seen George leave his house at 5pm, only around three hours later was laying out his body. She burned his blood-soaked vest and shirt to spare his mother further distress, an action which earned censure from the Coroner. Evidence should not be destroyed. George’s mother finally saw her son at home at around 11pm, once Catherine work was complete.

Meanwhile police brought in Alfred on suspicion of having caused the death of George Sharpe. Inspector Weightman interrogated him. He described Alfred as quite calm, but uncooperative. Alfred stuck to his story. He had found George on the ground; George had fallen; and Alfred had not seen a gun.

Weightman finally took him to the nursery at 9pm, where Crossley and Garbutt met them. The office gun had vanished from its stated place on the beam. Even then Alfred denied ever seeing a gun, but eventually said it had been in a corner of the building. A search ensued and, after around 10 minutes, the discharged weapon was found beneath a bench with the exploded cap still in place. When Alfred’s father arrived, the lad said Benson had told a story – the office door was unlocked and the gun was not hung up. The police decided to release George into his father’s custody whilst investigations continued.

On Sunday evening, Alfred, accompanied by his parents and a sister went to the Sharpe house. It was an act which demanded tremendous courage under the circumstances. One cannot imagine the reaction and emotions of the Sharpe family when the boy accused of killing their son turned up on their doorstep. At first Alfred denied having shot George, but when pressed by Jesse he finally admitted to it.

The Coroner’s inquest, headed by Thomas Taylor, was held the following morning, 27 April. Taylor was critical of the nursery’s gun practices. Firstly, he questioned the necessity for having one at all, suggesting they should employ a boy to scare the birds. He also criticised the way in which the nursery kept the gun, particularly the fact it was stored fully loaded.  

As for the shooting, he pointed out only George had provided evidence that Alfred was responsible, as the admission extracted by Jesse was inadmissible in Court.

In summary, Taylor stated the boys had no right to be in the office where the gun was kept, but they had got into boy-like mischief. It was impossible to say whether they were simply curiously examining the gun or playing with it. But it was unlikely Arthur would fetch the gun and deliberately shoot his friend. If a person over 14 years old killed another it was murder, unless the contrary could be proved. However, if the person was under seven it was no crime in law. Between the ages of seven and 14, as in Alfred’s case, the jury needed to consider whether the perpetrator had sufficient comprehension to know what he was doing. The jury must consider whether Alfred was playing, as boys would do, and this was an accident; or if he shot George wilfully and with knowledge and understanding. The jury deliberated for 15 minutes before returning a verdict of “Death from Misadventure.” 

That very day, on what should have been George’s eight birthday, he was laid to rest in Batley cemetery. 

The Borough Court hearing of 29 April initially did not reveal anything further, other than Alfred had never been in any trouble, and caused no problems at home. It was in Court that Alfred was finally interrogated publicly, this not being allowed at the inquest.  And it was here, in a dramatic turn, he finally revealed his version of events that fateful evening.

He stated George entered the potting shed asking to see the plants tended by Alfred. The office door was wide open. George went in, got the gun from behind the door and gave it to Alfred. Alfred was trying to put it back when it knocked something and went off. Both he and George were in close proximity in the office when it happened. Sharpe ran for about 10 yards then fell. 

The Mayor’s summing up and address to Alfred was recorded in The Batley News. He told Alfred that his:

….future might be a bright and successful one….but a cloud would hang over him. If he desired to get on in the world he should remember that it was only by being honourable and upright that he could hope to succeed, and he hoped the events of the past few days would be a lesson to him and to boys outside not to meddle with anything that did not belong to them. Had the gun not been touched except by those to whom it belonged a great deal of misery would have been spared. A liar was worse than a thief, for doors could be locked against a thief but the mouth of a liar could not be bolted. He trusted therefore that the prisoner would take warning. If he [took to heart all that has been said] he would find himself not merely a good lad but a good citizen, and (if he married) a good husband.[11]

The Bench duly agreed with the verdict of the Coroner’s Jury – George’s death was the result of misadventure. Alfred was discharged. 

Whether the full truth came out in Court when Alfred finally admitted responsibility, we will never know. But the scenario described by Coroner Thomas Taylor at the earlier inquest does seem plausible. This was a case of lads messing around. Whether George did get the gun, or whether it was Alfred wanting to show off to his younger friend, is unclear. What is obvious, reading through all the evidence, it does seem to have been a horrible accident. Alfred was only just 11, a child himself. He would have been traumatised by the events of that evening – in shock and extremely frightened. No wonder he did not dare admit what happened. But still he went to seek help.

As for Crossley, he unsurprisingly declined the option to take back his gun. The Coroner’s words of two days earlier clearly hit home. If the gun had been stored correctly none of this would have happened. A boy would still be alive to celebrate his birthday. A mother and father would still have their son.

But even though this was all clearly a tragic accident, Mary Sharpe’s reaction is one with which everyone will sympathise. On hearing the verdict, she burst into tears and said “he has got off scot free, whilst we have lost our George.” 

So, what became of Alfred Brearey? Did he heed the advice given by the Court? It seems he did. A warper at Taylor’s Blakeridge Mills, he married Florence Shephard on 2 September 1905 at Batley Parish Church [12]. He was an active member of St John’s Church, Carlinghow where he was Secretary for their football club. A sports enthusiast, he was a particularly good cyclist and member of the Yorkshire Road Club. They awarded him a medal in 1909 for his record-breaking ride to Goole and back in 4¾ hours. He went on to serve with the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) in World War One, and was killed in action on 27 August 1917. He has no know gave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. At home he is remembered on Batley War Memorial and is recognised in the Rev. W.E. Cleworth’s Soothill War Register and Record book [13].

Alfred Brearey – The Batley News, 15 September 1917

For more details about Alfred Brearey see Batley’s Roll of Honour website.

Footnotes:
[1] Other records have the spelling Sharp, but for consistency I will use the Sharpe variant;
[2] Jesse Sharp/Mary Windle Marriage, Batley Parish Church Marriage Register, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP37/27;
[3] GRO Death Registration for Fearnley Windle, accessed via the GRO website, reference June Quarter 1875, Dewsbury District, Volume 9B, Page 388;
[4] Fearnley Windle/Mary Wilson marriage, Batley Parish Church Marriage Register, 19 September 1874, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP37/26;
[5] Sharp family, 1891 census England & Wales, accessed via Ancestry.com. 1891 England Census [database on-line]. Original record The National Archives Class: RG12; Piece: 3721; Folio: 137; Page: 31
[6] Sharp family, 1901 census England & Wales, accessed via Ancestry.com. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Original record The National Archives, Kew Class: RG13; Piece: 4258; Folio: 49; Page: 1;
[7] His name is entered as Brearley in the Baptism Register. The error is replicated for some of his siblings. Even the Coroner in his notes occasionally records his name as Brearley, and then this is amended. Baptisms for other of Thomas and Martha Ann’s children are recorded under the surnames of Brearey or Breary;
[8] Baptism of Arthur Brearley [sic], Batley Carr Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference C7/1/2;
[9] Brearey family, 1891 census England & Wales, accessed via  Ancestry.com. 1891 England Census [database on-line], original record The National Archives RG12; Piece: 3736; Folio: 14; Page: 22;
[10] The Leeds Mercury, 11 September 1929, accessed via Findmypast;
[11] The Batley News & Advertiser – 1 May 1896;
[12] Alfred Brearey/Florence Shepherd marriage, Batley Parish Church marriage register, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1813-1935 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service, Reference WDP37/36
[13] Cleworth, Rev. W.E. Urban District of Soothill Upper, Yorkshire, War Register and Records, 1914-1919. Batley: E.F. Roberts, n.d.

Other sources:

  • Inquest notes for George Sharpe, Coroner Thomas Taylor’s notes, accessed via Ancestry.com. West Yorkshire, England, Wakefield Charities Coroners Notebooks, 1852-1909 [database on-line]. Original record at West Yorkshire Archive Service Reference C493/K/2/1/198
  • Kelly’s West Riding Directory, 1893, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk
  • OS Map Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • The Batley News and Guardian – 2 May 1896
  • The Huddersfield Daily Examiner – 28 and 30 April 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • The Leeds Mercury – 25 April 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • The Leeds Times – 2 May 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • The Yorkshire Evening Post – 25, 27 and 29 April 1896, accessed via Findmypast
  • Wellcome Collectionhttps://wellcomecollection.org/

Shrouds of the Somme

Shrouds of the Somme was an art installation created by Rob Heard. It provided a physical and visual representation of each of the 72,396 British and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Their names are etched on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. The majority of those whose names are engraved on the Sir Edward Lutyens designed memorial, the largest Commonwealth Memorial to the missing in the world, died during the Somme offensive of 1916.

The artist created an individual, hand-sewn calico shroud-encased figure to represent each of the missing.

The installation, ultimately located at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and featuring all the Shrouds of the Somme, was open to the public Between 8-18 November 2018 to coincide with the Armistice centenary.

The Shrouds are now available to purchase, with profits from their sale donated to SSAFA The Armed Forces Charity and the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation. Each Shroud is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and includes the name and regiment of one of the servicemen commemorated at Thiepval.

My Shroud arrived in January 2019. It is dedicated to 23-year-old Private Leonard Mark Pateman of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, whose death is recorded as 17 February 1917. He is therefore not a Battle of the Somme casualty (1 July to 18 November 1916), which accounts for over 90 per cent of those commemorated at Thiepval. He is one of those who perished after the Somme Offensive ended.

It seemed appropriate that I should research the life of the man commemorated by this artwork, especially as this month marks the anniversary of his death. Here is his story.

Leonard Mark Pateman was born in Hitchin on 24 April 1894, the son of fellmonger’s labourer Mark Pateman and his wife Jane, (née Odell). The couple married at the parish church of St Mary’s, Hitchin, on 20 September 1884. Leonard was the fifth of their 11 children. His siblings included Ellen, born 12 November 1884; Harry, born 13 October 1886; Arthur, born 31 December 1888; Jane, born 21 September 1891; Amelia, born circa 1896; Emma, born 1897; William Sydney, born 1899; Grace Pretoria born in 1900; another child named Harry, born circa 1902; and Herbert, born in 1904.

In the 1891 census, and at the time of Harry’s baptism on 21 February 1894, the family lived at Mill Yard, Hitchin. When Leonard, along with siblings Ellen, Arthur and Jane were baptised in the parish church of St Mary’s on 25 April 1894, the address was Thorpe’s Yard, Queen Street, Hitchin. By 1911 the address was Barnard’s Yard, again in the Queen Street area. This was a notorious slum neighbourhood. Serena Williams in her 2009 Hertfordshire Memories piece about the locality wrote:

The mass of tiny yards dating back to the 1700s developed near St Mary’s Church and became the most densely populated area of the town.  Dotted amongst the tenements were 13 pubs and several slaughterhouses……….In 1902 Queen Street was compared to the worst slums of London. In 1921 Hitchin Urban District Council declared the housing was unsanitary and that they should be demolished so clearance began in 1926…..There was more demolition in the 1950s and when Barnard’s Yard came down, a Tudor half crown was found under the floor.

She quotes a description of the cottages in the Queen Street area by Alice Latchmore, a child in 1919:

Some houses had earth floors.  The windows and doors were small and in a few cases the only window downstairs opened to a passage where there was no light and very little air.  The only bedroom was like a stable loft, reached by a decrepit stairs or a ladder.  Tea chests served as tables and 5 or 6 children in one bed was not unusual.  It was very much survival of the fittest.

This battle for survival was lost by the Pateman’s eldest son, Harry, in 1894 and youngest daughter, Grace Pretoria, in 1901. Leonard’s mother Jane’s death was registered in the March quarter of 1909, age 45.

The school log book for St Andrew’s National School, Hitchin on 27 March 1903 indicates the health problems facing the family and school generally too, stating:

Leonard Pateman & William Dear are in the Hospital. The attendance has not been so good this week owing to sickness.

The school’s Admissions Register entry for what appears to be Leonard (his date of birth here is given as 20 November 1893 but other details match) shows he left school in May 1907, attaining a good level of education in reading, writing and arithmetic, passing Standard V. This was superior to his siblings.

By the time of the 1911 census he was working as a fel[l]monger, that is someone who prepares the skins or hides of animals, especially sheepskins, prior to leather making.

Leonard enlisted in Hitchin. Initially a Private with the 1st/1st Hertfordshire Regiment (Service Number 5077) he transferred to the 6th Battalion Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment). His entry in the National Roll of the Great War states:

He joined in November 1916 and was almost immediately drafted to the Western Front. In this seat of war he took part in important engagements and was killed in action at Delville Wood on February 17 1917. He was entitled to the General Service and Victory Medals. 13 Barnard’s Yard, Hitchin.

Given the date of his death, which his Soldiers Effects Register entry clarifies took place on or since 17 February 1917, it was the Battle of Boom Ravine not Delville Wood in which he lost his life.

The Battle of Boom Ravine, known officially as the Actions of Miraumont, was named after a system of sunken roads which formed a rugged letter T shape, south of the Ancre River between the villages of Petit Miraumont and Grandcourt. The overall objective of the battle was the capture of Hill 130, the heights of which gave the Germans a valuable viewing point.

Three Divisions were involved (2nd, 18th and 63rd), each deploying a portion of their Brigades. The 18th Division used their 53rd Brigade, of which the 6th Royal Berkshires were part, and 54th Brigade. Each component of the attack had its own specific set of objectives, which when combined would achieve the overall Hill 130 objective. The 6th Royal Berkshires were tasked with taking a stretch of the Grandcourt Trench and, beyond that, three short lengths of newly-wired trenches named Rum, Coffee and Tea. To their right they had the 8th Suffolk’s and to their left the 8th Norfolks.

The attack was scheduled for 5.45am on 17 February 1917, but as the troops began assembling the Germans, said to have been tipped off by one or more British deserters, began a heavy barrage. The night was particularly dark and a thaw had set in over the frozen ground creating a rising mist. All this combined to make the going tricky. Despite the problems the 18th Division official history by Captain G.H.F. Nichols records the Berkshires “assault was carried out with fine impetuosity.

The Unit War Diary of the 6th Royal Berkshires provides an in-depth narrative of their involvement that morning:

At about midnight the enemy opened a slow barrage on all our lines of approach. The line to the GUNPITS was barraged all night. At 4am a slow barrage was opened on all our forming up line. At 5am this increased in intensity and caused some casualties……Our barrage opened and attack launched in the dark [5.45am]

The attack progressed in accordance with programme but owing to the darkness troops became somewhat disorganized. Casualties in the actual advance were not very serious. The final objective was reached but owing to the line taken up on the right the right of the B[attalio]n had to be withdrawn…..Casualties were mostly walking cases….

There then follows an account of the actions by each of the Companies. The West Berkshire War Memorials site quotes the recollections of an unidentified Sergeant who summarises these events in the Berkshire Chronicle of 24 April 1917 as follows:

The attack was launched at 5.45am and three companies went over with A Coy in support. First of all three trenches which were named Rum, Coffee and Tea, had to be captured and this task was soon accomplished, the enemy putting up but little opposition. But a different story has to be told when it comes to taking the final position, viz the Ravine. Here the Germans were very strongly entrenched. They had machine guns galore and dug-outs that could be counted by the dozen. The fighting was of a fierce character with plenty of bombing. We ultimately occupied all the dugouts, our bombers doing splendid work. In fact bombing formed the chief part of the fighting. We lost some men through them going beyond the position without clearing the enemy……

The 18th Division history mentions an event not referred to in the Unit War Diary:

The bodies of two platoons of men belonging to the Berks were found in a trench taken by the 2nd Division, showing that they had fought to the last.

By 8am the 6th Royal Berkshire assault was over and consolidation of the line continued throughout the remainder of what was described as a quiet day, as was the following day (18 February). They eventually came out of the front line in the early hours of 19 February. However, the overall goal of the attack by the three Divisions, the vantage point of Hill 130, remained in German hands.

In summarising the losses incurred during the attack, the 6th Royal Berkshire’s unit War Diary records 6 officers wounded (1 died of wounds); 19 other ranks killed and 169 wounded or missing.

Leonard Mark Pateman was amongst those losses, and he has no known grave. He is commemorated in his home-town of Hitchin on the War Memorial outside St Mary’s Church, the church where he was baptised.

Sources:

  • GRO Birth and Death Indexes accessed via https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content
  • Hertfordshire Marriages at St Mary’s Hitchin, accessed via FindMyPast. Original source Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies. No reference supplied
  • Hertfordshire Baptisms at St Mary’s Hitchin, accessed via FindMyPast. Original source Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies. No reference supplied.
  • Hitchin St Andrew’s Admission Register & Log Books, accessed via FindMyPast National Schools Admission Registers and Log Books 1870-1940. Original source Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies, References HED2/6/1 and HED2/6/7
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission https://www.cwgc.org/
  • Soldiers Effects Register entry for Leonard Mark Pateman, acccessed via Ancestry.com. UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data, National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers’ Effects Records, 1901-60; NAM Accession Number: 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 617501-619000; Reference: 36.
  • WW1 Medal and Award Rolls, entry for Leonard Mark Pateman, accessed via Ancestry.com. UK, WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original Records at The National Archives, Class: WO 329; Piece Number: 1442
  • Medal Index Card for Leonard Mark Pateman, accessed via Ancestry.com. British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Original data: Army Medal Office. WWI Medal Index Cards. In the care of The Western Front Association website.
  • L.M. Pateman, National Roll Of The Great War 1914-1918, Volume V, Luton, accessed via FindMyPast
  • Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919, accessed via FindMyPast
  • Slum Housing in Hitchin, 1850s – 1930s by Serena Williams, accessed via Herts Memories, http://www.hertsmemories.org.uk/content/herts-history/towns-and-villages/hitchin/slum-housing-in-hitchin-1850s-1930s
  • The Biscuit Boys, Section 246, Interlude II, The 6th Battalion – September 1916 to March 1917http://www.purley.eu/RBR3246.pdf.
  • Boom Ravine – Trevor Pidgeon, part accessed via Google Books
  • The 18th Division in the Great War – Captain G.H.F. Nichols, accessed via Google Books
  • Lance Corporal 15400 Albert Nailor, 6th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, West Berkshire War Memorials websitehttp://westberkshirewarmemorials.org.uk/texts/stories/WBP00886S.php
  • Unit War Diary, 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment, 18th Division, 53 Infantry Brigade, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, originals at The National Archives Ref WO 95/2037/1

The Confessions of a Blogger: Review of 2018

I’ll start with an admission: My 2018 blogging year was not as prolific as usual. In fact it was nowhere near the efforts of previous years. But I’m far from downhearted. In fact I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you have too.

Here are the details.

The Statistics. My blog saw a noticeable decline in output, with 25 posts during the year, down from 33 in 2017 and in excess of 60 in 2016. This was entirely due to other commitments such as completing my genealogy studies and publishing a book. Neither was it unexpected – I did forecast this in my 2017 blogging review post. And it is pretty much in line with what I promised: two posts a month.

However onto the positives. Despite the downturn in posts, my blog has grown from strength to strength numerically. Views increased from 20,649 in 2017 to well in excess of 21,000 in 2018. Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read my random family and local history outpourings.

My blog has now well and truly developed its character with core themes of my family history, interspersed with local history tales from Yorkshire, alongside news from – and my musings on – the genealogy world’s latest developments.

Most Popular Times? Monday proved my most popular blogging day, with 21% of views. And my golden hour shifted to the slightly earlier time of 6 pm. I suspect this shift is as much a result my blog posting times as anything more profound.

How Did They Find You? Search Engines took over as the key engagement route accounting for around 7,000 views.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress never fails to amaze me. Going on for 100 countries are represented in my list of views. The UK accounted for well over 10,000 of these which was almost double the number of my next most popular country, the United States. Australia came third with over 1,000. But all corners of the globe feature with readers extending to Cambodia, Tonga, Peru and Tunisia. A huge thank you to you all! You’re what makes it worthwhile researching and writing these posts.

And it’s fantastic to receive so many comments either indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. They’ve added new information, context and connections. Thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2018: Other than general home pages, archives and my ‘about’ page, these were:

General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free. This was actually posted in 2016 but, as in 2017, it continued to perform well in 2018 . This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF trial, an alternative and cheaper source than buying a birth or death certificate. Note the PDF option, a copy of the register entry rather than a certificate, still continues. However the cost will rise to £7 on 16 February 2019. The cost of a certificate increases from £9.25 to £11.

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was. This was another 2017 post which continued to prove popular. It is testimony to the importance with which genetic genealogy is now seen. lt dealt with my shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But it indicated that I’m not entirely the Yorkshire lass I thought – the ethnicity pointed to some genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I reckon this could be linked to a potential 5x great grandmother from Colne. I really do need to push on with my Abraham Marshall New Year’s Resolution.

Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder. Yet another 2017 offering, and in last year’s “one that got away” category as being one of my favourite posts which failed to reach the Top 5 that year. Well it proved immensely popular in 2018. It dealt with the unsolved murder in Huddersfield of a Dewsbury woman of ‘ill-repute’ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death.

“Historical Vandalism” as more Archive Services Come Under Threat. Published in December 2018 its appearance in the Top 5 for the year shows the importance with which any threat to these vital services are seen. It covered some recent swingeing funding cuts to archives and corresponding proposed (and actual) major reductions to these services across the country. Some of the consultations, Surrey (4 January 2019) and Kent (29 January 2019), close imminently. So I would urge you to have your say.

Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia. My childhood memories of food led me to focus on this particular northern ‘delicacy’, which was very popular when I was growing up. It covered some early 20th century local tripe stories including theft, death and prodigious eating feats, as well as recipes to try. I was also inundated via social media with suggestions of where I could still buy it. I’ve yet to confront once more this culinary challenge.

So yet again this was a mixed bag of popular posts, ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales – which sums up my blog perfectly.

The Ones that Got Away: These are a few of my favourite posts which didn’t make the top five:

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic looked at how to use various information sources to build up a picture of the impact of the Spanish Flu “plague” on local communities. In my example I focused on Batley.

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved another Family History Mystery. I used this newly available online record source to prove a family tale and discover more about my great uncle.

Irish DNA Breakthrough and Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue covered how DNA led to the demolition of one of my family history brick walls and helped me find out more about two of my Irish grandpa’s sisters who emigrated to the United States.

A Family Historian on Holiday: A Whitby Cemetery and WW1 Shipwreck was about the sinking of the Hospital Ship Rohilla off the Whitby coast in 1914. With links to the Titanic, heroic rescue attempts and a disputed will it illustrates how a family and local historian is never off duty, even on holiday!

Finally there was Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of The Northern Union. This marked my greatest achievement of 2018 and the culmination of around two years’ work, the publication of my book co-authored with husband Chris. It has been described as the definitive book about those Rugby League players who fell in the Great War.

What Does 2019 Promise? Well, as in 2018, I aim to do two posts a month. These will be on the same type of themes as usual – family and local history tales, plus topical genealogy offerings when anything big hits the headlines. I will also be including some Aveyard One-Name Study stories.

I anticipate my major challenge this coming year, as ever, will be time. I also have the added concern of keeping things fresh and relevant. I now have two other writing roles to add to my blog. At the end of 2018 I took on the role of editor as the Huddersfield and District Family History Society quarterly Journal, the first edition of which came out in January. And I now write a regular family history column in Yorkshire nostalgia magazine “Down Your Way.” So clearly I want to ensure my blog posts are separate and distinct from my other writing commitments. However, my head is buzzing with ideas so I don’t think that will be too much of a creative dilemma.

But whatever direction my blogging year takes, thank you for reading, engaging and supporting.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2019 filled with family history fun!

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved Another Family History Mystery

Last weekend I finally gave in and subscribed to Fold3 taking advantage of their cyber week special and buying annual premium membership at a 40% discount of $47.95. The deciding factor was the need to view their exclusive record set:- the Western Front Association (WFA) collection of Pension Record Cards and Ledgers.

Dependents of each serving British soldier, sailor, airman and nurse who was killed in the Great War were entitled to a pension. So were those service personnel wounded or otherwise incapacitated. For those who died the next of kin and pension amounts are detailed in the cards and ledgers. For those who survived they provide details of injury (wounds, illness), plus regimental details (unit, regimental number) and home address. The latter are particularly important for researchers, as those who survived are often more difficult to find information about, especially with common names.

My interest was driven by the need to find out more about my great uncle Michael Callaghan, brother of my grandpa John. The son of Michael Callaghan and his wife Mary (née Murphy) of Carabeg in County Mayo, his birth date was registered in the Swinford District as 17 January 1890.

It’s a date I take with the usual large pinch of salt. His baptism at Glan Chapel, according to transcripts, took place on 1 January 1890, pre-dating his birth and indicative that he was born in late 1889 – Irish catholic baptisms taking place shortly after birth. This is a common theme with my Callaghan ancestors – their official birth dates often postdate their baptisms. It was easier, and more important, to be received into the church. By the time they got round to official registration, dates were fudged to avoid late registration fines.

Mum said she thought Michael served with the Irish Guards during World War One and had received a severe facial injury. She cannot recall ever seeing him, and believed he lived in Leeds. She said she’d been told he was tall, with very dark hair like his mother and, in his youth, had been very good-looking.

That’s as much as I had to go on.

A few years ago, the possible I’d come up with, based on the assumption his injury resulted in his military discharge, was a Private Michael Callaghan of the Irish Guards, service number 11415. According to the Silver War Badge Rolls he enlisted on 31 July 1916 and was discharged on 29 July 1918, age 29, no longer physically fit for war service as a result of wounds. His Badge Number was B71936. Checking with Michael’s Medal Index Card it also showed he had served as a Private in the Labour Corps, Service Number 702152. But this entirely speculative search proved nothing, so I parked the information in my research file.

Silver War Badge – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Pension Record Cards and Ledgers on Fold3 offered a new avenue to explore. Still being uploaded, when I checked on 6 December 2018 there were four records relating to the Silver War Badge Pte Michael Callaghan. They confirmed his injury as a gunshot wound to his face, and the degree of disablement which was attributed to his war service ranged between 40 to 60 per cent. He was awarded a life pension. Interestingly two different birth years were given – 1889 and 1890. The records indicated he was unmarried. Mum seems to think he did marry and had two sons, but she isn’t entirely sure and has no names.

They also gave three addresses – none though in Leeds. The earliest record had an address of Carpenters Arms, West Woodside, Lincoln but also indicated a permanent address of 18 Bound[a]ry Street, Bury. By 1924 the address was recorded as 55 Union Street, Hemsworth, Wakefield. These latter two addresses were of particular interest. My Michael Callaghan had brothers with links to both Bury and Wakefield.

Checking the 1911 census, a 47-year-old widow named Catherine Walsh lived at 18 Boundary Street, Bury. Also in the household were her four surviving Bury-born children Martin, Mary, Annie and John, whose ages ranged from 17-24. There were also two nephews listed – 30-year-old Barney Roan and 25-year-old Thomas Callagn, both miners. They, along with Catherine, were born in County Mayo (recorded as Maho in the census).

This 1911 census entry is a perfect illustration of not relying on indexes: both Ancestry and TheGenealogist record Thomas’ surname as Roan in their index, whilst FindMyPast’s version is Collagen.

Thomas piqued my interest – Michael’s brother Thomas settled in Bury. The surname wasn’t too far out – I’ve seen many a mangled version of Callaghan. His date of birth was 19 November 1884 giving an age of 26 at the time of the census – so not too far out either.

Catherine’s address was also 18 Boundary Street in the 1901 census, when her husband John Walsh was alive. Checking the GRO birth indexes for the registration of Martin, Mary, Annie and John revealed Catherine’s maiden name as Bones or Boans.

I next turned to the Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk. The marriage of John Walsh (Latin form Joannem used in the parish register), son of Joannis Walsh, and Catherine (Catharinam is the Latin register version) Bones, daughter of Andreae, took place at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Bury on 29 November 1884.

This was perplexing – so far my Callaghan line doesn’t link to either Bones or Walsh. So was Thomas, described as Catherine’s nephew in the 1911 census, really my grandpa John’s eldest brother?

I decided to look for the baptisms of John and Catherine’s children, again using the Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk. And it is here Catholic registers come into their own. Anna (Latin form of the name) Walsh, daughter of Joannis Walsh and Catherinae, formerly Bones, was born on 26 August 1888 and baptised at St Joseph’s on 16 September 1888. And the priest helpfully annotated the entry, stating Anna married Thos. Callaghan at St Joseph’s on 15 June 1912.

Unfortunately, this marriage has not been transcribed on the Parish Clerk site. However, the baptism of two of the children of Thomas and Annie are there, including Mary (or Maria as recorded) born on 14 April 1914. The priest’s note that she married Gulielmo J. Dunne on 24 May 1947 was enough. My mum attended this wedding – Mary was her cousin. Bingo! The same family.

One final corroboration was the 1939 Register entry for Thomas and Annie Callaghan. The birth dates of 19 November 1884 and 26 August 1888 matched. Mary’s married name of Dunne has also been added – the Register was a living document used subsequently by the NHS as it’s Central Register.

So now I have a link for Pte Michael Callaghan back to my Callaghan family in Bury via the 18 Boundary Street address on the pension entries. And it appears I have now evidence of my great uncle’s Great War military service and injury, corroborating what mum heard as a child. I’ve still a fair way to go – I would like to learn more about his war service. I also want to know if he did marry and have a family. I also want to find out when he died. But I have now made a start as a result of the Pension Cards and Ledgers.

More information about the cards can be found on the WFA website in a series of articles including ‘The Western Front Association’s Pension Record Card and Ledger Archive,’ ‘Great War Pension Record Cards and Ledgers: deeper understanding‘ and ‘Pension Record Cards and Ledgers: some examples of dependents’ cards.’

20 DECEMBER 2018 UPDATE

If you are a member of the Western Front Association you can now access these records using your membership login and without having to subscribe to Ancestry/Fold3. Here’s the relevant information. As of this month about 37% of the total archive has been digitised, so it’s worth checking back as more are rolled out in 2019.

Sources:

  • Birth Registration for Michael Callaghan, 17 January 1890, Swinford via https://www.irishgenealogy.ie/en/irish-records-what-is-available/civil-records
  • Michael Callaghan Silver War Badge Number B71936, via Ancestry.co.uk, Originals held by The National Archives, War Office and Air Ministry: Service Medal and Award Rolls, First World War, Ref WO329 Piece Number 3087,
  • Medal Index Card for Pte Michael Callaghan, 11415, Irish Guards via Ancestry.co.uk
  • Pte Michael Callaghan, 11415, Irish Guards Pension Cards and Ledgers via Fold3, originals held by the WFA
  • 18 Boundary Street, Bury Household in the 1911 Census via FindMyPast, The Genealogist and Ancestry.co.uk, The National Archives, Ref RG14/23489
  • Catherine Walsh, Bury, 1901 Census via FindMyPast, The National Archives, Ref RG13/3638/38/35
  • Lancashire OnLine Parish Clerk website https://www.lan-opc.org.uk/
  • Thomas and Annie Callaghan, 1939 Register via FindMyPast, The National Archives, Ref RG101/4319E/017/8
  • Western Front Association, webpages indicated via hyperlinks in main body

A Week to Remember

It has been a hectic week or so since the publication of The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union about those professional rugby league players killed in the Great War. It has also been far more tiring and emotionally draining than anticipated. I’m more used to being closeted away in archives or working on my laptop at home ferreting through records and writing research reports with only my trusty four-legged friend to keep me company.

Dealing with media interviews and attending high-profile launch events isn’t normally on my to-do list. So I’ve found it exhausting.

Imperial War Museum North, Poppy Wave – by Jane Roberts

But it was a huge honour and privilege to go to The Imperial War Museum North to attend the unveiling of the England Rugby League commemorative jersey. This shirt will be worn on 11 November 2018 in the Third Test in the series against New Zealand. It will also raise funds for the Royal British Legion as part of their ‘Thank You’ movement, recognising all the First World War generation who served, sacrificed and changed our world, be it those lost their lives, those who returned and those on the Home Front.

More details of the shirt launch, including where to buy one, can be found here. Details of the ‘Thank You‘ campaign are here.

Chris and I with Tom and George Burgess in the England Commemorative Shirt

As part of the launch Jamie Peacock, former England and Great Britain captain, along with Yorkshire-born South Sydney players Tom and George Burgess were presented with copies of our book. The book will also be used to provide context to the England Rugby League team’s visit to the Western Front on 20 October 2018.

Chris presenting Tom and George Burgess with copies of The Greatest Sacrifice

In between there have been media interviews with national and local radio, plus TV and press.

I have copies of The Greatest Sacrifice, which can be signed and dedicated if required. I can also drop off locally around Batley and Dewsbury areas. If so the cost is £13.50. Post within the UK increases the cost to £14.50. Payment can either be via cheque (UK) or bank transfer. My contact email is pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com.

The book is also available from Scratching Shed Publishing at £14.99.

Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union

On Saturday I saw my book for the first time. The finished product looks amazing.

As the publisher said:

What began as an idea in the press box at Huddersfield is now one of the definitive history books about rugby league. Scratching Shed Publishing is honoured to publish a tribute to the 69 men who fell in WWI by Chris & Jane Roberts….

Chris and I echo these sentiments. It has been a real privilege to be able to research the lives of these men.

The publishers have done a fantastic job, supporting us throughout the process of writing this long overdue and important rugby league history book. But above all this is more than a rugby league book, a sporting history book, or a World War One book. It is the story of the impact of war on individual men and their families from across Great Britain.

I hope we’ve done them justice.

The book is available from Scratching Shed Publishing at £14.99.

I also have copies for sale, which can be signed if required. I can also drop off locally. If so the cost is £13.50. Post within the UK increases the cost to £14.50. Payment can either be via cheque (UK) or bank transfer. My contact email is pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com.

The book will also shortly be available from the usual book retailers.

If any family history, rugby league or local history groups would like Chris and I to do a talk, please contact me on the above email address.

From Berlin to Batley and Beyond: A Tale of Four Brothers

22 August 1918 marks the centenary of the death of Guardsman Clement Manning. The 22-year-old lost his life whilst serving with Number 1 Company of the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards. His Soldiers Died in the Great War record gives his birthplace as Batley, Yorkshire. This was stretching the truth – by over 600 miles. Whilst he did live in the town in the years leading up to the outbreak of war, he was actually born on 13 November 1895 at Niederschöneweide, a German industrial town which subsequently assimilated with Berlin.

Clement’s parents were Michael Manning from Kilkenny and Mary Eliza Manning (née Waterson), also known as Muriel, from Triangle, Yorkshire. The couple married in 1881 and had 12 children in total, seven who were still living by the time of the 1911 census. Their eldest son, John Tynan, was born in Batley in April 1883. The other children listed in the 1911 census included Michael Wilfrid (born March 1886), Cecilia (born January 1889), Hester (born February 1891), Cecil Tynan (born July 1893) and Walter Nicholas (born August 1900). All these younger children shared the same birthplace – Niederschöneweide (written as Nieden Schonweide in the census). Of the five children who had died before the 1911 census I have traced three to Germany: Lillian (born October 1887 and died April 1889); Henriette (born October 1894 and died February 1903); and Helene (born March 1897 and died the following month).

The key to the Manning children’s German birthplace was their father’s occupation. In the 1881 census, prior to his marriage, Michael worked as a rag grinder (woollen). Batley mill owner John Blackburn opened a shoddy mill in 1869 in Niederschöneweide. Another woollen factory, Anton Lehmann’s, followed in 1881. English employees with expertise in shoddy manufacturing were employed in these factories and they, along with their families, moved into the community.  Consequently hundreds of Batley people are said to have left their native town and found very lucrative employment here. By the mid 1880’s there was quite a substantial Yorkshire colony in Berlin, with Yorkshire men working for either John Blackburn or Lehmanns, so it is probable that this was the magnet which pulled the Mannings to Germany. Education was at the village school, the Gemeinde-Schule, but English was spoken at home and at Sunday School, so the children would have had the advantage of being bi-lingual. Batley Feast was celebrated, as were festivities for Queen Victoria’s Jubilees in 1887 and 1897.

Clement spent the first seven years of his life in Germany.  When the family came back to Batley they returned to worship at St Mary of the Angels R.C. Church and Clement attended the associated school to complete his education. Their 1911 census Batley address was on Bradford Road with 15-year-old Clement described as a butcher boy.  He continued in this field of employment because, before enlisting, his employers were the Batley branch of the Argentine Meat Company.  He also played football with the Batley shop assistants team.

Clement enlisted with the Grenadier Guards in February 1915, the third of the Manning boys to enter military service. Cecil attested with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in February 1908 but proved unsatisfactory and was discharged days later. Perhaps it was the fact he was not yet 15, rather than his declared age of 18 years and six months, which played the deciding factor in his swift departure. Undeterred, in July 1911 he tried his hand again joining the Royal Navy, and in this pre-war era once again gave his birthplace as Berlin. His service records show at the age of 18 he already stood at 5ft 11½ inches. During the war he served on ships including Cruisers HMS Berwick and HMS Endymion, seeing action in the Dardanelles on the latter. He ended the war serving on the Dreadnought battleship HMS Orion.

Michael Wilfrid enlisted with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry at the beginning of September 1914 but quickly switched to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to serve with the Royal Naval Division (RND). The RND was formed because there was a surplus of Royal Navy and Royal Marine reservists and volunteers. With insufficient ships to accommodate these men they were not needed for service at sea, so the men who served in the RND fought on land alongside the Army. Michael’s Record of Service has no birthplace recorded, but it shows he too was a tall man, standing at just under 6ft 1in. His war came to an abrupt end in the RND’s hastily prepared and ill-equipped part in the Defence of Antwerp in early October 1914. By 9 October he was a Prisoner of War, along with around 1,500 other RND men.

Doberitz POW


Döberitz Camp PoWs

Letters home from Michael appeared from time to time in the local newspapers.  On 8 May 1915 the Dewsbury District News reported that he was being held at Döberitz, acting as an interpreter in a German military hospital.  Ironically this camp was a little over 20 miles from where Michael spent his childhood. His letters show a desperate need for food and other provisions.  This proved a recurring theme in his letters home.  In one to his parents he wrote:

“Please don’t leave off sending cocoa, bread, cakes, bully beef, and other things”.

In another letter he says:

“I have got all your parcels but no cigs.  You know, if you cannot get food or cigs through, you can always send money, and then I can buy what I am short of.  With the money you have sent, I shall be able to last another month, and then perhaps you will send some more.  In good health.  Please send cocoa and biscuits”.

The Dewsbury District News published a further letter on the 24 July 1915, Michael again writing from Döberitz:

“Please send me each week one loaf, quarter pound of cocoa, a tin of milk, and a few cigarettes.  There is no charge for sending them, and you will never miss them in your weekly bill.  We are having plenty of warm weather, and a little rain.  I suppose it will be the same at home.  How are our local Terriers feeling the strain?  Are the county or local cricket matches played?  I have just got 8 marks 50 pfennigs.  That is what your 7s 6d postal order is worth here.  I hope you will send me some more money and parcels every week – tea, cocoa, and one loaf of bread and biscuits.  Salmon, or a tin or two of lobster, would not be amiss.  I have a little garden were I grow radishes, lettuce and tomatoes.  I live a very quiet life.”

Michael Manning

On 25 October 1915 Michael Manning (senior) died, five days after Clement embarked for the Western Front with the 3rd Grenadier Guards. A couple of months later a fourth Manning brother, John Tynan, signed his attestation papers under the Derby Scheme.  He too inherited the family tall genes, being another 6 footer. A mechanic by trade he eventually received his call up to join the Army Service Corps (Mechanical Transport) in March 1917, going out to France the following month. But as John was going overseas Clement was back home in England after taking part in the 3rd Grenadier Guards’ action on the Somme in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.

The summer of 1916 was a particularly anxious time for the Manning family, who were receiving a series of updates from the captive Michael Wilfrid. These coincided with another wave of countrywide reports about the neglect and ill-treatment of Döberitz prisoners as illustrated by the case of Pte Tulley, a Royal Marine captured at Antwerp. 14 stone when taken prisoner he was sent back to England to die weighing only 5 stone. His case was widely reported in April 1916. His death, two weeks after arrival home, was attributed to exposure and insufficient food and clothing whilst held prisoner in Germany.

Extracts from Michael’s letters featured in the 12 August 1916 edition of the Batley News and supported the claims, by revealing more about the conditions he was enduring with a particular focus on the need for food. In one dated May 1916 he wrote:

“I hope you are sending my parcels every week.  Please send everything – bread, meat, sugar, tea, milk and fish.  I hope this beastly war will finish before long.  Are you getting ready for my coming home?  I hope to see everyone I know then”.

A sarcasm-laden letter postcard dated June 1916 revealed he had indeed undertaken a move – but further east to German-held territory in Russia. The move was a direct German reprisal against the British who in April 1916 had sanctioned the use of around 1,500 German POWs to work in France.

“I have just finished a 2½ day railway journey, and after travelling that time it is a pleasure to rest and be able to stretch your limbs again.  You will no doubt wonder why I have had to leave the hospital.  Well, you see 2,000 of the prisoners are required for work, and I with the other five sanitates at Rohrbeck Hospital had to come with the party to act as sanitates here.  I am pleased I could come with them.  It is a splendid change, and we get to see the world.  In years to come I and others will look back upon these times and thank the Germans for these trips”.

And, in addition to Michael Wilfred’s move, there was the Flers-Courcelette injury to Clement. Commencing on 15 September 1916, this engagement during the Battle of the Somme marked the first use of tanks. The 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards unit war diary recorded prior to zero hour on 15 September:

“the ‘tanks’ which were allotted to the Division could be heard making their way up in rear of us”.

It also recorded the numbers of killed, wounded or missing when roll call was taken at the end of 15 September 1916: 413 officers and men. This was the largest single day’s loss for this battalion in the war. Amongst their dead was Lt Raymond Asquith, son of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. It appears Clement was amongst those injured, receiving what was recorded as a gunshot wound to his left arm. He was evacuated back to England on board the HMHS Asturias on 17 September 1916.

Incidentally six months later, on 20 March 1917, en route from Avonmouth to Southampton this hospital ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Fortunately she had already unloaded her cargo of wounded, otherwise the casualty count would have proved far higher. Nevertheless in excess of 30 crew, including two nurses, perished. The ship was declared a total loss.

Back in England Clement recovered from his Battle of the Somme injury and was assigned to the Regiment’s home-based 5th (Reserve) Battalion to recuperate. This proved longer than anticipated with three further hospital admissions recorded whilst with the Reserve unit. On 28 November 1916 he suffered an accidental foot injury and concussion. He was not discharged from hospital until 14 February 1917. A week later he was admitted once more, this time suffering from rheumatic fever. It was a shorter stay, with his discharge date recorded as 21 April 1917 – three days prior to brother John going overseas. There was a further admission on 20 June 1917 when enteritis struck Clement down. He was able to undertake light duties from the end of July 1917, but it was not until 5 September 1917 that he was considered fully fit to return to duty, ultimately going back to the Front to rejoin the 3rd Battalion once more.

Clement was killed in action in the last 100 days of the war, with the Germans in retreat. The 21 August 1918 marked the start of the Second Battle of the Somme. From the 21 to the 23 August 1918 the 3rd Grenadier Guards were involved in what became known as the Battle of Albert, a phase of this battle, as part of the Third Army under the command of General Byng. The battalion were part of the Guards Division, VI Corps.

The official history of the Grenadier Guards describes the events of the battle, as does Reminiscences of a Grenadier by E.R.M. Fryer, who was in command of 1 Company, the company with which Clement served, for the crucial period.

On the 20th August 1918 they took up its assembly positions East and South East of Boiry. Their orders were to attack Moyenneville. The attack commenced in the early hours of an initially extremely foggy on 21 August.  The fog veiled the Guards Division as they advanced towards their first objective.  However, later it lifted, exposing the attack to enemy artillery and the inevitable accompanying hail of German machine gun fire.  Surprisingly, the Guards reportedly incurred few casualties during this stage of the battle.  By midday they had secured all their objectives, including Moyenneville, the 3rd Grenadier Guards taking a chalk pit to the south east of the village, whilst a platoon belonging to the battalion had advanced as far as the outskirts of Courcelles. By noon on the 21st V1 Corps had attained almost all of its objectives and were positioned along the Arras—Albert railway line where they came under intense artillery fire.  At this stage of the battle it had been intended for tanks and the cavalry to take over from the infantry to exploit the situation, but none had appeared. Unexpectedly Number 1 Company of the 3rd Grenadier Guards, who were intended to have a reserve role that day, played a key part in events.

Captain Fryer described the aftermath of the 21 August and the events of the 22 August as follows:

That night passed off fairly uneventfully; we were content with our day’s work, the Commanding Officer had praised us, and we heard that the higher authorities were well pleased, and so we were contented. It is hardly necessary to say the men were wonderful they always were. Were it possible to mention them all by name in this book I would do so…..No one was more loyally served by the men under him than I was, from the C.S.M. to the youngest guardsman;…….

On the morning of the 22nd at dawn we were just getting ready to stand to arms in the ordinary way when the Germans opened a terrific barrage on us, and a messenger arrived from the front line to say the Germans were coming over; we raced out from our quarry, ran the gauntlet of innumerable shells, and reached the railway safely;…….

Someone on our right sent up the S.O.S., our artillery put down a very good and accurate barrage, and all was quiet; it was impossible to get communication with our front platoon during this time, and we had no idea how they were faring……it was an organised counter-attack with the idea of [the Germans] regaining all they had lost the day before. It failed completely, …..

The rest of that day was very trying; we were all tired, and the Germans shelled us relentlessly all day, and also trench-mortared us; they got on to our quarry, and it became far from healthy….

Sometime during the day of 22 August 1918 Clement was killed. At the time the local newspapers reported Clement’s death, his brother John was serving with the ASC in France; Michael was still a prisoner of war; Cecil was in the Royal Navy on board HMS Orion.

John, Michael and Cecil all survived the war. Michael was the first to return to his home in Providence Terrace, Bradford Road, Carlinghow after more than four years captivity.  He arrived in Leeds on Christmas morning 1918, having come from Copenhagen via Leith.  An account of his time as a prisoner of war appeared in the Batley Reporter and Guardian on 3 January 1919 as follows:

“…..of his stay in Germany Seaman Manning says the German doctors treated them well, and he believed they would have been treated even better if the authorities would have allowed it.  The doctors bandaged and attended British soldiers in a similar manner to their own.  Seaman Manning, who was acquainted with the German language, often performed the duty of interpreter between the doctors and his fellow-prisoners.  As for the rest of the Germans, Seaman Manning says they behaved like uncivilised creatures.  A favourite trick of the German nurses was to first spit into a glass of water and then hand it to the prisoners.  At other times when a glass of water was asked for by the prisoners the nurses would hold it just out of reach, then either dash the water into the prisoners face or pour it on the floor.  About 5,000 prisoners were sent on a reprisal party to Russia and made to work behind the lines in range of the Russian guns.  The reason for this was that the Germans alleged that the Allies were [using] the German prisoners behind the lines on the Western Front.  The “reprisal party” were working behind the lines for 18 months, three months of that time being spent in some of the coldest weather ever known.  Complaints of poor food and clothing and frost bite etc received no attention.  At the time of the signing of the Armistice many prisoners were working in coal mines, and the Germans told them they must continue working in order to provide coal to work the trains.  The conditions of the mines was most terrible and the prisoners refused to work.  Threats were used, and finally machine guns were brought up in a vain effort to frighten the prisoners into submission.  In regard to food, Seaman Manning says that it was often not fit to eat, and often when the prisoners were starving they refused to eat the food.  When parcels began to arrive from home German food was rarely eaten, all the prisoners required at this time was sufficient air, light and cooking accommodation and this was often lacking.  During the time he was in the internment camp Seaman Manning came across prisoners of all allied nationalities.  The camps were often overcrowded and in a filthy condition.  Asked his opinion of the [revolution] Seaman Manning says that he thinks it is a humbug meant to throw dust into the Allies eyes.  The German people are trying to make it appear, he says, that it was all the rulers fault, [whereas] all the German people were “for” the war.  When Seaman Manning left Germany the Germans said they would soon be in England on business.  Seaman Manning adds that he would like to [meet some] of the brutes in England”.

John was demobilised in October 1919 whilst Cecil left the Navy in June 1921.

Clement was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.  In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial and the Memorial at St John’s Carlinghow. He is now laid to rest at Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Ficheux, France. This is a concentration cemetery with graves being brought in from the wider battlefield and smaller cemeteries in the neighbourhood post-Armistice. These re-burials included Clement.

Sources:

  • Soldiers Died in the Great War
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Medal Index Cards & Medal Award Rolls
  • General Register Office Indexes
  • 1881 and 1911 Census (England & Wales)
  • Dewsbury District News
  • Batley News
  • Batley Reporter & Guardian
  • Landesarchiv Berlin; Berlin, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; via Ancestry.com. Berlin, Germany, Births, 1874-1899 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
  • Landesarchiv Berlin; Berlin, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister ; via Ancestry.com. Berlin, Germany, Deaths, 1874-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
  • Oswego, New York, United States Marriages via FindMyPast and FamilySearch Film Number 000857423 (Walter Nicholas Manning)
  • The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902-1954; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 – 2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: M1480; Roll Number: 090 via Ancestry.com. U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1960 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. (Walter Nicholas Manning)
  • The National Archives, Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services, Ref ADM 188/654/3883 for Cecil Tynan Manning via FindMyPast
  • The National Archives, Admiralty and War Office: Royal Naval Division: Records of Service, Ref ADM 339/1/23549 for Michael Wilfrid Manning via FindMyPast
  • 1914-1918 Prisoners of the First World War, ICRC Historical Archives: https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/
  • The National Archives War Office: Soldiers’ Documents, First World War ‘Burnt Documents’ Ref WO 363 – John Tynan Manning via Ancestry.co.uk
  • 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, Guards Division, 2nd Guards Brigade, 1 July 1915 – 31 January 1919 – TNA WO 95 1219/1
  • The National Archives War Office: First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen MH106/955, MH106/1609 and MH106/1623 – extracts via Forces War Records
  • Fryer, E. R. M. Reminiscences of a Grenadier: 1914-1919. London: Digby, Long & Co, 1921.
  • Ponsonby, Frederick. The Grenadier Guards in the Great War of 1914-1918. London: Macmillan and, Limited, 1920.
  • The Long, Long Trail – The British Army I’m the Great War 1914-1918: https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/

Book Update: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union

The final countdown is on and I can finally reveal the title and cover of the book I’ve been working on with my husband Chris for what seems like forever. ‘The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union‘ about rugby league players who were killed during the 1st World War will be published towards the end of August.

Seeing the cover has made it all seem very real.

If anyone tells you writing a book is easy, don’t believe them. It’s been month upon month of hard work. I didn’t realise how it would take over my life. From the endless research to redraft upon redraft and then the proof reading stage which went on for an eternity. The final version was never actually the final as each time we read it we’d make changes. I’ve gone through it that many times I was even reciting it in my sleep! Pregnancy and giving birth was far quicker and easier.

But it has been a labour of love. The more I researched the lives of these men the more I wanted to learn about them and my determination that this should be a fitting tribute to their lives increased. I hope the final version does them justice.