1915, 6 March – Batley News

This is a round-up of pieces from the Batley News relating to the parishioners of St Mary’s. As usual I have put in bold the names of those connected to the parish who served with the military. Spellings and punctuation are identical to those in the newspaper.

An interview with Private John James Doyle, one of the Batley ambulance men, featured in this week’s paper.

Four Batleyites Come Home.
Arrested as Spies. — Thrilling Escape from German Aeroplane Bombs.
Hospital Life on Ship and Train.
Terribly Wounded Soldiers Amongst Allies and Germans.

War adventures were related to a “News” representative by Private J. J. Doyle, Balk Street, Batley, a member of the Royal Naval Sick Berth Reserve, who has served on both a hospital train and a hospital ship.

When war was declared, he was undergoing annual training at Devonport. His division returned home, only to be mobilised almost immediately, for on August 3rd there were sent to Chatham. Soon after, he and other members of the Batley Division, were appointed to a hospital train, with which he was connected three and a half months. He had to convey wounded soldiers from hospital ships to hospitals up and down the country, and he came into contact with English, French, Belgian and German soldiers, some terribly wounded by shrapnel.

The contingents of wounded varied from 50 or 100 to 300; but on one occasion, when Belgian refugees were being conveyed, 361 were accommodated on one train. Wounded men had very considerate attention, and were fed on Bovril and bread during the journey. After experiencing trench life they could hardly realise their good fortune; and Belgian soldiers, unable to voice their gratitude, were willing and even anxious to press souvenirs in the shape of buttons and pieces of uniform on their kind friends, who, however, were not allowed to accept them.

Not many French soldiers were met with, as they were kept whenever possible in their own hospitals in France. A few German wounded appreciated to the full everything done for them, but did not make much effort to express their thanks. They were very reserved, as if afraid of their British benefactors!


The work on a hospital train was not to attend to the wounds, but to the sufferers’ comfort, until the men reached hospital. On the train on which Private Doyle served there were two or three doctors, and two ambulance sisters, besides the staff of about 25 Naval Reserve men.

“After serving for three and a half months,” Private Doyle remarked, “the life was inclined to grow monotonous, if one may use the word, and I was not the only one to feel relieved when we were taken from the train to be vaccinated. For some time afterwards my division was an unattached party.”


Whilst at Chatham, he observed many phases of military life. Men who had charge of searchlights had a pretty rough time of it. Many a time during the night a British airship would ascend, and it was the duty of these parties to locate the supposed invader with their lights. Several beams of light would be seen flashing about, and when at last one of them located the aeroplane the rest would soon concentrate on the spot also. It was a brilliant spectacle to see the great “birds” hovering about under the lights of a dozen or more searchlights.


Some of Private Doyle’s division were anticipating Christmas leave when it was heard that a party was wanted to man a hospital ship. All hope of liberty tickets dropped at the news, the orders were received almost immediately to man the ship. By 2 p.m. on Christmas day, the men (10 of whom were from Batley) were installed in their new quarters, and for Christmas dinner they had bully-beef and potatoes. On the Monday following, their boat (in peace time a liner belonging to the Belfast Steamship Co.) left Dover for “an unknown destination,” fully equipped to carry 163 patients.

A crew of 40 was necessary, and there were three doctors, two sisters, the head ward-master and a stewardess, besides 50 of a staff, which included the reserve ward-master, two sergeants, two corporals, and 45 Sick Berth Reservists. The boat crossed the Channel the same day, and was sent to a certain seaport town to remain as a base hospital for sailors, but it was liable to be called up at any time to receive a complement of wounded for shipment.


That particular port has received a great deal of attention from the Germans; and Private Doyle witnessed several raids by the notorious German Taubes – dove-shaped aeroplanes which were greatly dreaded. When one was espied in the distance, a flag was flown from the principal building of the town to warn inhabitants to resort to their cellars, while the aerial pests dropped bombs.

One Sunday Private Doyle and some Batley friends were returning from church – they could invariably obtain leave for such a purpose – when he noticed one of the Allies’ aeroplanes ascending rapidly. For some time it continued to ascend, and began to chase a Taube. When the two reached close quarters an exciting duel ensued which was breathlessly followed by those on earth. Several shots were exchanged, but the German escaped and flew rapidly away.

The German machine was in all probability a scout, for early in the afternoon 14 or 15 Taubes suddenly flew over the town in a great crescent. Special aeroplane guns were brought to bear on the enemy, and none of the Allies’ machines were able to ascend, as the Germans were directly overhead, and for a time in a position to destroy any enemy that went up to encounter them. Eventually, three or four of the Allies’ machines rose, and initiated a movement to drive away the invaders. In the meantime the German aeroplanes dropped several bombs on the town, with regrettable loss of life. Most of the bombs fell in the streets, and, strangely enough women and children were in most cases the victims. The shrapnel of the bombs was so deadly that in many cases it penetrated the two walls of a house.


“In most of these raids,” continued Private Doyle, “the Allies’ aeroplanes, instead of making immediate attempts to drive away the invaders, are cute enough to slip off and exact a heavy toll from some of the German bases. Then, on the way back, they encounter the raiders, and differences are settled there and then. So it happened in the case just related, I believe.”

Describing his adventures during a minor raid, Private Doyle stated that on another occasion in the same port, he and his friends were enjoying leave on shore, and were walking through the streets when a German aeroplane was noticed. Almost immediately two deafening explosions were heard, evidently in close proximity, and a companion who had been under shell fire before instantly threw himself on the floor. The others, who did not realise the danger, commenced to laugh at him – but little bits of something – evidently shrapnel – whistled past them, and on turning round the men realised that bombs had fallen very near to them. The infernal things were probably intended for the principal building of town. As it was, all the windows in the vicinity were broken by the concussion, although none of the men was hurt.


On another memorable occasion, Private Doyle and a few companions were detained on suspicion of being spies. An old lady with whom the S.B.R.1 men had struck up an acquaintance issued an invitation to Private Doyle and a few companions to have tea with her, and when they next obtained shore leave they accepted the invitation – “for even a plain tea cost 1s. 3d.,” the ambulance man declared. In the middle of the meal, they were interrupted by four gendarmes entering, and by signs intimating that the guests were suspected of being spies and conveying messages to the old lady. The gendarmes kept guard and commenced to ransack the house. Drawers big and little were turned out and the intruders even peeped into tiny ornaments for evidence.

All four were armed, and the quartette of Sick Berth Reservists were told to keep still, until a most scrupulous search – which of course, failed to bring anything to light – was carried out. Even then the gendarmes were not satisfied, and each of the suspected party was searched thoroughly. The four Britishers were liberated after 3½ hours’ detention, the police superintendent giving them a necessary pass to admit them through the dock gates. Then, for exceeding the period of leave, the four S.B.R. Men were brought up before an officer. However, the superintendent’s pass cleared the air.


Whilst in the same town, Private Doyle had the opportunity of obtaining a piece of the aeroplane which Grahame-White came to grief in the North Sea on returning from the famous Zeebrugge raid. The remains of the machine were deposited on the dock side, and after the engines had been removed the rest of the aeroplane was left for souvenir hunters.


After a time, another hospital ship entered the port to relieve Private Doyle and his comrades and also took orders that they were to proceed to another French seaport. The captain was also warned that two mines were adrift, so special watches had to be kept. No mines were encountered, however, and the destination was reached safely. At this port 60 wounded were taken aboard, and later the journey to Southampton was accomplished. The wounded having been transferred to a hospital train, some of the S.B.R. men were able to obtain a few hours’ shore leave, which was immensely appreciated after life in a strange country for many weeks.

On returning to headquarters yet a more pleasant surprise awaited them, for after giving seven months’ unbroken service they were offered a few days’ leave in which to come home.

The liberated party, including Pvts. Doyle, Ernest Healey, Percy Crowther and Willie Healey, promptly took train for London, where they missed a northward express by inches. Not to be dismayed, the party enjoyed a few hours’ sight-seeing in London, and ultimately reached home in the best of health.

For travelling companions they had two Belgian refugees, destined for Ossett, and they proved interesting company. They encouraged conversations as they were anxious to pick up English, and the Batley lads enjoyed the “parley-vous” immensely.

“France is warmer than England,” Private Doyle declared, “although there is plenty of rain at this time of the year. Foodstuffs, especially, are very dear, and the plainest of meals costs the equivalent of 1s. 3d.”

The ten Batley lads wish, through the “News,” to thank all kind friends for comforts sent, and to assure the public that they are doing their best to maintain the excellent traditions of “good old Batley.”

There was one relevant absentee entry in Batley Court this week.

Batley Court – Monday.

Private George Nutton, Back Upton Street, and Private Michael Lyons, Derby Terrace, Batley, admitted being absentees from the 3rd K.O.Y.L.I.’s camp at Hull since February 24th. Detained to await an escort.

The death of the daughter of Fred Byrne appeared in the family notices column.

BYRNE. — On the 4th inst., aged 2½ years, Amelia A., daughter of Frederick Byrne, 23, Villiers Street.

The advert taken from this week’s paper is for the shop owned by parishioner Thomas Egan. Elected as a Liberal Party Councillor for Batley West Ward in 1904, he later became President of the Batley Chamber of Trade in 1924, and a Batley J.P. in 1929.

In the local news in brief columns two references to the Manning family were made.

Private Michael W. Mannings, [sic.] one of three warrior-brothers who hail from Carlinghow, has been appointed an interpreter at a hospital in Doeberitz, Germany, where he is unwillingly a guest of the Germans. He was born in the Kaiser’s country.


APPOINTED INTERPRETER IN GERMAN HOSPITAL.—Pte. Michael W. Manning (Royal Naval Division), a prisoner of war at Doeberitz, Germany, writes to his parents at Carlinghow to say he has been appointed interpreter in a hospital, as he has an exceedingly good knowledge of both English and German, being born in the Kaiser’s country and spending the first 18 years of his life there. He continues, “I am well. Please let me have some magazines and papers. How is Turk, my dog?” No news has been heard for some time from Mr. Cecil Manning, formerly of H.M.S. Berwick. In a letter some time ago he wrote “I am going in for diving,” and it is assumed he is aboard a submarine. A third son of Mr. and Mrs. Manning left recently to join the Grenadier Guards. He lived the first eight years of his life in Germany.

Although unnamed in this piece, the third son is Clement Manning.

1. Sick Berth Reserve