1914, 17 October – Batley News

Here are a selection of articles and snippets from this edition of the Batley News, relevant to the St Mary’s men and parish. It includes letters from those serving, some who would never return home when war ended. I have put in bold the names of men from the parish.

These are exact transcripts (spelling and all) from the paper. Sandbeck Park is almost always written as Sandbech Park, and I have retained this spelling where it occurs. Also do bear in mind that some of the accounts of events are from the perspective of the men, so may not be entirely historically accurate.

I have also interspersed the pieces with popular adverts, giving an idea of Home Front life.

Many of the St Mary’s men were with the local Territorials, the 1st/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and it is with them I will start.

The previous weekend a representative from the paper visited Sandbeck Park Camp, near Maltby, in South Yorkshire where the local Territorials, the 1st/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, were camped. He wrote:

The camp is located in “a rare land, a fair land” teeming with the proverbial milk and honey, not to mention apples and pears, rabbits, deer, pheasant and partridge; great woods adorn the landscape amidst the marvellous patchwork of the cultivated fields – for there are brown-red acres where the earth is being upturned for future crops, deep green patches where swedes have yet to be garnered, and other colours that add to the glorious variety of the countryside. The copses are spangled with the ruby and coral-red berries of the wild roses that not long ago delighted the way-farer’s eye; curtains of golden-brown faded convolvulns [sic] hang over the hedgerows; in the woods, the deep greens of occasional firs make striking contrast with the auriferous autumnal tones of the chestnuts, sycamores and other giants; while in new plantations the leaves of limes and poplars flutter in every breeze in a picturesque endeavour to show their cheery tints. In a sentence, the country is a riot of colour, a pageant of brightness.

And it is amongst such scenes that our self-sacrificing Terriers are located. They and their comrades from other parts of Yorkshire truly make a canvas city….

One gathered that the health and orderliness of the troops were remarkably good – men and officers said so; but an accident on Saturday marred the general good tidings. Private McNamara , of New Street, Batley, was in one of the countless narrow lanes that lead to the splendours of Sandbech Park and the beautiful region of Roche Abbey, when he was knocked down by a motor. He sustained concussion, and, it was reported, a broken leg, and had to be taken to hospital….

More work is required to identify which McNamara this was.

The News correspondent also writes how the plentiful food supply resulted in the men putting on weight. Whilst baskets of fruit, home-made cakes and cigarettes arrived, as well as the work of the Ladies’ Sewing Guilds, woollen gloves and mittens were wanted for the colder weather.

Elsewhere in this edition of the Batley News is this letter from St Mary’s man Private John W Callaghan:

“Our Life at Sandbech”
“I Wish they Would Send us to the Front.”

Private John W, Callaghan, No. 2017 [F?] Company, 4th K.O.Y.L.I., 47, Field Lane, Batley, now at Sandbeck Park, writes to us:-
I have been receiving the “News” in camp, and having read the letters and articles from friends and comrades it occurred to me to let you have my impressions also, on our life at Sandbech. I hope you are all in good health; personally, I am in the pink and feel as fit as a fiddle. Now for camp chatter.

We have been here five weeks, and have had better weather than we had at either Whitby or Doncaster. The men are all well and strong and in tip-top condition. Some of our townspeople may like an account of our day’s work:- We get up at 5.30, turn out of the tent our kit-bags, equipment, blankets, and oilsheet, shake the blankets and wrap them up neat and tidy, have a wash, and parade at six o’clock. We start at the double to get warm, and then drill, returning to camp at seven o’clock for breakfast. Buy the time we have cleaned buttons and done other bits of work, parade time at 8 o’clock soon arrives. We go about four miles, then companies move into different fields for skirmishing, advancing, attacking, etc.

This goes on till 12.30, when we all unite again and arrive back in camp at 1.30 for dinner. More cleaning-up has to be done – rifles and bayonets, which are inspected four times a week. We fall-in at 3.30, and have night operations from 7.30 to 8.30. Roll call is at nine o’clock, and every man has to be present. Once a week there is a brigade route march. The men can stick any march up to 20 miles without a single man falling out.

All of us here at Sandbech have been inoculated against enteric and typhoid fever and vaccinated against smallpox.

This is a beautiful park, with plenty of deer and rabbits, and a big wood. Of two or three accessible villages the nearest is about a mile and a half away.

Letter-writing can be done in the Y.M.C.A. camp, which also serves the purposes of a concert room, post office (with stamps and postal orders), confectionery and tobacco shop, and even hardware is obtainable. In short, the camp would be Desolation but for the Y.M.C.A. tent.

Most of the men want to go to the Front. Time after time the remark is passed: “I wish they send us to France in the morning.”

The country around is well wooded, and just the right sort for skirmishing. It suits both the officers and men to a “T.”

As for the meals, we are getting good ones now, and no man can grumble. We are all used to the soldier’s life now, and expect to remove from here next week to a place where we shall be billeted out.

This next piece is about Private James Fitzpatrick.

Batleyite Who Fought in India and Africa

Private Fitzpatrick, of Back Richmond Street, Batley, writes to his wife from Frensham Camp to say he is in the kitchen of the camp, working as a cook: – “We have to work very hard, seeing we have to serve 3,000 men. We all get plenty of food, but are short of tobacco.” Private Fitzpatrick served his country in India, fighting in the Tirah campaign, and was later wounded in the Boer War. On the outbreak of present hostilities he joined Kitchener’s New Army.

Gunner Michael Phillips also features in this edition of the Batley News.

Batley Gunners and Cigarettes.

Gunner M. Phillips, of the 1st Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force, sends to his wife in Dark Lane, Batley, a message hoping she is in the best of health, like himself, and adding:
I got your letter all right and thanks very much for the “fags”. Send some more by all means, and some “cig” papers, pipe, and writing paper.

The Hopkins family also feature. Although I suspect I know which branch, I will need to undertake more work to confirm.

Batley Mother Has two at the Front.

Mr. Hopkins, Peel Street, Batley, has three sons serving their country. Their ages are 20, 21 and 24. The two eldest are at the front and the youngest with the Terriers at Sandbech Park. One of the former, writes to his mother under date October 8th:- “I am on board ship going to the Front. We are at Southampton and going to-night.”

The News had a weekly Half-Sovereign Competition, whereby the writer of an exclusive story received the monetary equivalent to spend on goods of their choice with one of the paper’s advertisers. The winner of the Half-Sovereign Order in this edition went to St Mary’s man Richard Carroll Walsh, of Brownhill, Batley.

Serving with the Royal Naval Division, he was part of the reinforcements sent to Antwerp in October 1914 in a doomed attempt to prevent the city falling to the Germans. And there’s a simple explanation as to why the Royal Naval Division were infantry fighting on land rather than being ship-based. At the start of the war the Royal Navy had too many men for their ships. The surplus were formed into two Naval Brigades and a Marine Brigade. These would take part in land operations.

Richard Carroll Walsh’s winning story is as follows.

German Bombs Kill Many Comrades
Aeroplanes Shot at
(Exclusive to the “News”)

Seaman Carrol Walsh, of 55, Brownhill, Batley – on the Birstall border – told a “News” representative yesterday, with a simplicity characteristic of British soldiers and sailors, a rousing story of the Naval men’s lightning visit to Antwerp, their encounter with Germans at 500 yards’ distance and less, how the Teutons were easy to shoot because they moved in solid columns, and the infernal devastation wrought by the enemy on the fine old Belgian city. He experienced the thrills of shrapnel firing, of German aeroplane visits, and of seeing dear comrades killed or horribly wounded. Yet he and his bosom friend, Joe Gallagher…both escaped unhurt.

Walsh, who was formerly employed at Howden Clough Colliery, was in the Royal Field Artillery 15 months until the outbreak of the war, when he volunteered for the Royal Naval Brigade, with which he spent in Belgium the liveliest week in his life. Their camp was at Bettshanger (Kent), where work comprised 5½ hours’ drill and other work every day – counteracted by the great kindness of local people and by good food.

When reveille was sounded at 5 a.m. last Sunday week, the command was circulated to get ready for France, and in two hours thousands of men were on their way to an unknown destination. So much for the readiness of Britain’s sons to answer urgent calls.

The next thing of interest was that the Britishers were landed at Dunkirk. “We had a great reception from the French people,” said Walsh. “They gave us cigarettes, chocolates, tobacco, etc., and cheered us splendidly. We left at 8 p.m., and travelling through the night we were in Belgium at daybreak. We detained at 9 a.m. in Antwerp, and were taken to a school for dinner.

“That building was later blown down by a bomb, seven people being killed. In it were all our kit and beds, so we have come back with practically only what we stand up in. I’m glad we weren’t in the school any longer.

“We were only there three hours before we marched straight to the trenches just before the Lierre Forts, on the west of the city. There were four battalions of us – the 2nd R.N. Brigade – there, whilst the 1st Brigade were on the south. Altogether there were 10,000 of us.

“My mate, Joe Gallagher, of Birstall, was not with me, but on the very dangerous and important work of carrying messages on behalf of Lord Curzon.

“We slept that night in a barn near the trenches, and at breakfast time we had a mixture, but there was plenty of it. There were tins of sardines, also cigarettes, beer, and plenty of food.”

Asked when he got his first “real” taste of war, he said it came about 5 p.m. on the Monday, just as they got to the trenches. It was a bomb “made in Germany,” and fell into an adjoining turnip field, where it made the usual big hole and sent the turnips flying in all directions.

“Those big siege guns of the Germans were firing as we landed,” Walsh went on, “with their ‘Jack Johnson’ shells, but very few of the Belgians were killed, and not so many of ours, considering the number of shells. These stopped coming round us when darkness came, but they were fired on the city, so we got a few nods of sleep – four men taking an hour’s turn of acting as guard. Luckily there was no rain, so we were not particularly uncomfortable.”

Walsh said the trenches were well made – by the Belgians – up to a certain point, but he and his comrades set about to make them bomb-proof by covering them with iron. For propping, his colliery experience proved useful, and trees were cut down to provide the props.

At daybreak on the Wednesday, a German aeroplane flew over the trenches, and obviously took news to the artillery, for the latter began to fire at once on the Britishers, and 100 men were killed or otherwise put out of action by 2 o’clock in the afternoon. Walsh could not estimate the number of shells, except that there were dozens of them – the sort of shells as the British 9.2 guns use.

“The firing was very accurate,” he remarked, “for the shells dropped exactly on our trenches or just behind. Our men who were just behind us, backing us up, but not under cover, were the poor fellows who suffered. Some were hit in the back and killed straight off, for a hit from a big lump of shrapnel is a deathblow.

“There were no British artillery, and the Belgians had only 4.7 guns against the Germans’ of 9.2 calibre.”

Walsh said another aeroplane visited them, and, unlike the first one which escaped from all the firing at it, it was damaged, but the pilot managed to get it back to his own lines.

The Brownhill soldier-sailor next related how the Britishers and Belgians are as well up in the “tricks of the trade” as the Germans:-

“We are only 500 yards from the enemy. I took about 200 rounds of ammunition with me, and fired about 50 rounds. When they moved towards us, we couldn’t help hitting them, the way they came up in column formation. The Germans, by the way, were not entrenched – their only covering was what they could get on the ground.

“Plenty of Germans were electrocuted. We had barbed wire, and when the poor beggars touched it, it finished them right off, for a heavy current of electricity was going through it. Not only that, but we had wires hidden in or on the earth, and when the Germans came tumbling on to them, the electricity killed them.”

Walsh went on to tell how, at dark on Wednesday night, after being in the trenches 51 hours, the men got the order to retire quietly. “Our Company had lost 70 killed and wounded, but the others of us got safely away with Lord Curzon. Another company was left to come back under a guide, who we thought was a Belgian. But he misguided them, and altogether 2,000 of the Expedition were taken prisoners in Holland.”

The speaker confessed it was incomprehensible that the “guide” could get lost in his own district, and Walsh agreed with a suggestion that it seemed like treachery.

Having regained the city of Antwerp, the men were taken on Thursday to Ghent, via St. Gilles Station: and on Friday they went to Ostend. There and then they embarked on the Fremona to the number of some thousands. A roundabout course was taken down the coast to Dunkirk, and then to Dover, which was not reached till Sunday night.

The route of retreat revealed some awful sights. Antwerp, where the Anglo-American Oil Company’s place was seen ablaze, was like an inferno with smoke and flames. Refugees were seen in countless crowds. To quote Walsh’s words: “There seemed to be nothing else at one part of the journey for 15 miles.”

On the other hand the people were as good as they could possibly be, considering how the country was denuded of eatables, etc. In the trenches, however, he recalled that there was nothing but bully beef and hard biscuits – “dog biscuit,” he humorously called it, as he pulled out some pieces as sample souvenirs.

While at Ghent, an effort was made by some of the men to get a meal in the town, but there was practically nothing to buy or eat except currant bread. The good-hearted Belgians did the best they could, and provided unlimited coffee free for those who had made a hurried trip across the Strait to defend a gallant little country.

“I have practically nothing but what I stand up in,” Walsh concluded, “because our kit was lost in the destroyed school, and so we have a few days’ leave whilst replacements are found for us. That, however, is nothing compared with what some of our fellows suffered. Some of the sights were horrible – men with an arm or leg blown off; but they were very brave in their terrible sufferings.

“I don’t know what the German losses were, but we just mowed the men down. We couldn’t help it – we couldn’t do anything else for we couldn’t miss them when they did move towards us.”

There was also as report on the Batley v Keighley rugby game at Mount Pleasant. Described as a poor game Batley, with five tries, won by 19 points to nil. Robert Randerson made it in time, and scored a try. He also set up two of the others. The write-up stated:

…and Randerson, who only arrived just in time to turn out, was far better in attack than defence. In the former movements he showed all his old dash, but was inclined to overrun his opponents when they were in possession of the ball. There is no denying, however, that given the opportunities Randerson would prove a great factor in the scoring department, but he has chosen the temporary career of a soldier, for which he is to be admired.