1915, 2 January – Batley News

This is a round-up of pieces from the Batley News relating to the parishioners of St Mary’s. It is a mixed bag, covering the fall-out of comments made by Fr. Russell, the Catholic priest in Birstall, as well as news from France, and over-exuberant Christmas celebrations. As always, I have put in bold the names of those connected to the parish who served with the military.

Some sad news to start off with. The newspaper death notices had one relating to St Mary’s: that of James O’Donnell, the 14-month old son of James O’Donnell of 9, Back Richmond Street, who died on 28 December.

Walter Hughes received another letter from his uncle, a long-time resident in France, with news of German brutalities.

Letter to Carlinghow Desribes German Wickedness.

Mr. Walter J. Hughes, Coalpit Lane, Carlinghow, has received another interesting letter from his uncle, Mr. Jas. Kearney, of Senlis (north-east of Paris). When the Germans bombarded that town, the second-named had to flee, and his house was pillaged by the marauders; but now that the tide of battle has turned, he has gone back home. Happily, his house is one of six which, in a long street, came through the bombardment practically undamaged. After expressing thanks from English newspapers received by him, he continues:-

I see the Germans have paid you a visit.1 I am afraid they will do a lot of damage in England before they give in, as they can’t stand Englishmen. When they found a wounded English soldier here, they opened his veins and left him to bleed to death. I think they are the worst brutes in the world and have no pity. Persons found in the streets were shot and left, and the Germans would not let anyone touch them. Of course the bodies began to smell in the sun, and they were like that for days. It was something awful. We can still hear the cannon night and day, for the enemy are still close to Rheims. I hope we shall soon get the Germans out of their holes and send them back to where they came from.

Meanwhile, locally there was controversy over comments made by Fr Russell, the Catholic priest in Birstall. These included some around Irish Catholics at the Front. But the main focus was Belgian refugees. I will not go into these in detail as most are general, or relate specifically to incidents in Birstall. However, some of the allegations touched directly on the contingent of refugees in Batley, and the insinuation that a Catholic Belgian family here was being forced to send their child to a non-Catholic school. The paper reported this as follows:


The Mayor of Batley has refuted Father Russell’s observations as regarded a house accommodating refugees in Batley. The rev. gentleman complained about a certain child being sent to a Church of England School, but a “News” inquirer ascertains from the parents of the child that they are not Catholics. Father Russell quite correctly hinted that this party of refugees attended Batley Roman Catholic chapel on the Sunday morning after their arrival; but when he knows the facts he will assuredly be ready to retract his comments.

When the Belgians arrived, it was surmised that they would be Catholics, like many more of their compatriots. The question was asked, “Would you like to go to church to-morrow morning?” They replied in the affirmative, and the interpreter kindly went from Woodhall on Saturday night to Cross Bank, to ascertain the hours of morning service. Moreover, she neglected her own church in order to accompany the strangers to the Roman Catholic Chapel.

Not till afterwards did it transpire that a mistake was made – that the Belgians were not Catholics, and that they did not wish to attend such a church! “We are Protestants,” they explained. And if it had not been a religious matter everybody would have enjoyed the incident as “rather a joke.” The Belgians are quite content with their situation, and are at liberty to go to whatever church they like. Even if anyone cares to get them to attend a Roman Catholic Church, it does not appear as if an obstacle will be put in the way. These refugees are as free and unfettered in religious thought and movement as any British non-Catholic.

Finally, it being the Christmas holiday period, Batley Court saw a number of cases involving seasonal over-indulging. Three of these cases involved St Mary’s men.

Soldiers “Over the Line.”

Looking at the list – with six drunk cases – the Mayor remarked that it was very unusual for Batley – it seemed as though the town had not been as good as it is usually was at Christmas-time…

Two miners, Peter Gavaghan, Jacob Street, Batley, and Thomas Cairns, Victoria Street, Carlinghow, were each fined 5s. and costs for being drunk and riotous in Ward’s Hill, Batley, on Christmas Day. — Constable Pickles said Gavaghan used bad language, and Cairns had a poker in his hand, threatening to smash windows. Both men got drink at a house in Ward’s Hill, where witness found boxes of bottled beer, brandy, and whisky. — The Mayor (addressing accused): It is a great shame you cannot spend Christmas in a more decent way.

John Edward Kilroy, New Street, Batley, a soldier on leave from Draycott, Wiltshire, admitted being drunk in New Street on Christmas Eve. Constable Cannon said accused was full length in the road, with a broken bottle and a bottle of rum in his pocket. — In answer to the Mayor (Councillor Ben Turner) Kilroy said he was treated to drinks. — His Worship said it was a great mistake that people should tempt the men in khaki, and the men could not hope to keep themselves in first-class condition if they took drink. — Kilroy had to pay 2s. 6d. and costs…

1. This is likely to refer to the German naval bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool on 16 December 1914.