Austin Nolan

Name: Austin Nolan1
Rank: Private
Unit/Regiment: G Company, 1st/4th Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)
Service Number
: 1442
Date of Death:
22 August 1914

Austin Nolan

Austin Nolan was born in Staincliffe in 1894. His parents, Parker2 and Ellen Nolan (née Fall), married at St Joseph’s R.C. Chapel, Batley Carr, on 24 July 1882. Parker was from Batley Carr, a stone mason of Irish descent. His bride was from Sherburn, although at the time of their marriage she lived at Staincliffe.

After their marriage Parker and Ellen established their home in the Chapel Fold area of Staincliffe, recorded as living in Cullingworth Street in both the 1891 and 1901 censuses.

Austin was the couple’s eighth child. They had lost four of these before Austin’s birth. Infant death was a shocking reality of the period. But the Nolans were particularly badly hit, with these four children born and dying in a five-year period in the late 1880s/early 1890s. They were James Martin, whose birth and death was registered at the end of 1888; twins Joseph Henry and Gertrude, whose births were registered in the third quarter of 1890 and who died in March 1891 and on 18 January 1892 respectively; and then Joseph Thomas whose birth was registered in 1892, and who died in July 1893.

By the time of the 1901 census therefore, in addition to Parker, Ellen and Austin, the family consisted of daughter Jane Elizabeth, born in 1882; daughter Mary Anastasia, known as Annie, whose birth was registered in early 1885 under the name Mary Hannah Staticus according to General Register Office records; daughter number three Eliza Helena, whose birth was registered in the first quarter of 1887. After Austin came Gertrude Catherine/Kathleen, known as Gertie, born in 1896; and son Tom, who was born in 1898. Within months of this census, in October 1901, the couple’s final child Cecilia (known as Cissie) was born.

But between 1902 and 1905 yet another series of deaths struck the Nolan family, reducing their number to five. In December 1902 the family suffered a double tragedy. Early that month six-year-old Gertie died. Her burial took place in Batley cemetery on 8 December. Two weeks later, on 22 December, Parker’s burial took place, buried in the same plot as his young daughter.3 A little over seven months later, on 25 July 1903, 16-year-old Eliza Helena was buried alongside her father and sister.4 At this stage the family still lived at Cullingworth Street. Two years later, on 16 August 1905, Jane Elizabeth was buried in that same family plot, L471. Her address was given as 54, Belvedere Road.5 Whether this was the new family home, or if Jane was living separately from them, is unclear. However, by 1911 the family had moved to Talbot Street, Batley, and this remained their address at the time of Austin’s death.

Yorkshire CCXXXII.SE (includes: Batley; Dewsbury; Morley.)
Revised: 1905
Published: 19086

On 13 March 1908 Austin appeared in Batley Borough Court, after getting into a spot of bother. Described as an errand boy, he stood accused of pigeon-stealing, along with fellow St Mary’s lads Michael James O’Hora (O’Hara) and Thomas Donlan. The crime was committed on 8 March when they took four dark, dappled birds from Back Cross Park Street. The birds belonged to miner Robert Dewhirst, and were housed in a cote containing 15 pigeons. Robert locked the cote at around 5pm on Sunday evening. When he checked it at around 5am the following morning he found the door swinging open, the padlock discarded on the floor, and four birds missing. According to Court notes they had an estimated value of £2.

Later that day the birds were recovered. They were in the possession of Robert Clarkson, a Commercial Street fish and game dealer. He said he told the boys the pigeons were old and not worth more than 6d. He also claimed to have told the boys to fetch the owner and he would pay for them. The boys never returned.

All three boys were found guilty. They were discharged on entering recognisance for 12 months. And they were instructed as to their good behaviour during this time. During this period they were to be under the supervision of James Gladwin, Batley’s Probation Officer. He was to visit them and submit regular reports to the magistrates about their conduct. Alongside this a 20s surety applied. The really noteworthy facet of this sentencing is this was the first ever case for the local probation officer.

The sentencing appears to have done the trick for Austin. There are no other transgressions recorded against him. But in a sad postscript, all three boys were to lose their lives in the war and all appear on the church War Memorial.

For more details about this case, the boys, and the role of Batley’s probation officer see my post about Pigeon-Stealing in Batley.

According to the 1911 census Austin now worked as a finisher at Taylor’s Mill. However, he subsequently switched employers, and prior to mobilisation worked nights in the finishing department at Messrs. G. and J. Stubley’s mill.

Outside of work Austin was a member of the Batley (John Dillon) Branch of the United Irish League.

Austin joined the Batley Territorials, the 4th KOYLI, in April 1911,7 where he was a very popular member. These part-time “Saturday Night” soldiers, amongst them Austin, were on their annual camp in Whitby as the clouds of war closed in. On Monday 3 August 1914, the eve of Britain’s entry into the war, these local “Terriers” received an urgent order to return home to mobilise. After a couple of days frenetic activity back in Batley, Austin and his fellow “Terriers,” left the cheering crowds at Batley railway station bound for camp in Doncaster.

It was not his final time in Batley. Shortly before his death he paid a flying visit home from the Doncaster encampment. In the absence of a father, Austin had taken over the mantle of the family’s chief support, and his widowed mother was now, to a large extent, dependent on his earnings. As a result of mobilisation he received some money from the authorities, so came home to hand over a large portion of it to his mother. The family also made plans for his youngest sister, Cissie, to visit him in Doncaster.

Whilst the “Terriers” were stationed at Doncaster part of their duty was to guard the Steel Tubular Bridge over the River Trent, on the Great Northern main line at Newark. Detachments were brought in by train on a daily basis.

On Thursday 20 August Private Thomas Hall, KOYLI, narrowly escaped death there. He was on the line when the six o’clock express from London approached. A comrade noticed the danger and shouted the alarm. Hall leapt off the line, and the train missed him by a hair’s-breadth. He did injure his leg as he crashed into the ironwork of the bridge, but it could have been so much worse. After initial treatment at Newark Station he was well enough to be stretchered back to Doncaster.8

On the morning of Saturday 22 August 1914 Austin was one of a squad from the Batley Detachment sent to take their turn. It was the first time he had been selected for sentry duty there.

The fatal accident occurred at around 6am. Sergeant Arthur Hodgson of Ealand Street, Carlinghow, was leading Austin to his sentry post. The weather was foggy, and the men walked in the four foot way along the bridge.9 They walked inside the metals because the ironwork was slippery, and they felt it was safer to walk on the wood between the metals. Walking at the side of the rails in poor visibility was equally tricky, because of the incline of the bridge. Through the mist, Sergeant Hodgson saw an engine approaching. He jumped out of the way and shouted for Austin to jump too. But a goods train was on the other line, and the noise from this meant Austin failed to hear the warning cry. He was hit.

The driver and fireman of the Peterborough to Doncaster light engine said they were going at about 20 miles an hour at the time and, although they knew the railway had been taken over by the Government, they had no detailed instructions from their employers that troops were actually on the bridge. The weather was foggy so visibility was far from perfect, and as soon as they saw the two men they stopped.10 But it was too late, Austin suffered a broken neck, and death was said to be instantaneous.

The jury at the Inquest, which was held at Newark Hospital that Saturday afternoon, recorded a verdict of “accidental death,” but added that men being taken to their posts should walk on the line side instead of the four foot way.

Austin’s mother received a telegram at around 9am that morning, informing her of her son’s death. A letter from Captain J. P. Critchley, commandant of the Batley Detachment KOYLI, arrived on Monday giving further details. He wrote:

Dear Madam, I regret having to inform you that your son, Private Nolan, No 1442 G Company, 4th KOYLI, was accidentally killed whilst performing the duties of a sentry on a railway bridge at Newark. He was being taken to his post, and must have walked too near the metals, and a passing engine caught his head. The doctor says his death was instantaneous, and he suffered no pain. I want to offer you my deepest sympathy in your loss, which is also a great loss to the Company, as he was a courageous and willing lad and was the stuff of which soldiers are made.

We are making arrangements for a military funeral in Doncaster, on Monday afternoon unless you otherwise desire. His body is now at a mortuary in Doncaster.

It must be some little consolation to you to know that your son died in the service of his country and in the execution of his duty. I may add steps will be taken to try and get a soldier’s pension.11

Ellen immediately wired back to say that, whilst appreciating the honour of a military funeral, she felt that she would prefer her son to be brought back to Batley for interment. Then, she and a neighbour, Mrs Hargreaves, went straight to Doncaster to fetch her son home. Arrangements were then hastily made to bring Austin to Batley that day, by a special coach attached to a train. Sergeant Hodgson12 and Privates Goodall and Cooper accompanied Ellen on the journey. Once in Batley the soldiers carried the coffin to the hearse. Then the sombre military procession made the journey to Austin’s Talbot Street home, a great number of townsfolk paying respect to the dead soldier along the route.

Austin was buried in Batley cemetery on the afternoon of Tuesday, 25 August 1914, the first military funeral of the war to be held there. It was reported that hundreds, probably thousands, of residents congregated in the vicinity of Talbot Street, where all the houses had blinds drawn as a mark of respect. More crowds gathered at the cemetery. The cortège made its solemn way to the cemetery via Field Lane, Bradford Road, Hick Lane, Commercial Street and Blakeridge Lane. All along, the route was lined with sympathisers.

Amongst the many people who attended the funeral were the Mayor of Batley, Councillor Ben Turner. Military representatives included Colour Serjeant C. H. Talbot, leading about 18-20 members of the Batley Detachment of the National Reserves; also Serjeant Swift and Lance Corporal Briggs of the Territorial Force.

Members of the National Reserve acted as pallbearers, six of them carrying the coffin shoulder-high from the family home in Talbot Street to the bottom of the street, where it was placed in the hearse. The funeral was simple, and St Mary’s parish priest Rev. Father Lea conducted the graveside ceremony. There were several wreaths including those from the family, Mrs Hargreaves, “his little friend Jack Turner,” Mrs Heeson and daughter, the members of the National Reserve Batley and his friends at the Borough Arms.13

Although pension ledgers and cards do exist for a dependents pension claim for his mother, they include no details of the final award. Austin was not eligible for any campaign medals, because he did not serve overseas. In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on Batley War Memorial.

Austin’s brother Tom subsequently enlisted, in late 1916/early 1917.14 Like his brother, he too served with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. In October 1917 his mother was informed he had suffered serious wounds to his left arm and thigh. However, subsequent news proved better – a further communication from a hospital in Canterbury confirmed he was no longer seriously ill.15 He did survive the war.

Tom is recorded in the 1939 Register, taken on the 29 September shortly after the start of our involvement in the 2nd World War. He is living with his mother, married sister Cissie Hampshire, and widowed sister Annie Barron.16 They are at the same Talbot Street address that their brother’s coffin left on its final journey a little over 25 years earlier, just after the outbreak of the Great War – that supposed war to end all wars. In brackets next to Ellen’s name is the word “ill”. She died days later, in October 1939, and is buried alongside Austin in Batley cemetery.

Austin Nolan’s Headstone in Batley Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

1. Noland in the military and CWGC records;
2. Patrick in some records, and Parke on the CWGC records;
3. His death was registered, and burial took place, under the name his birth was registered, Patrick;
4. Her age is incorrectly recorded in the Batley cemetery burial register. Neither does it match the GRO indexes age of 16;
5. Age at death incorrectly given as 21;
6. OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence.;
7. Register of Soldiers’ Effects, National Army Museum, Accession Number 1991-02-333, Record Number Ranges 133001-134500, Reference 45;
8. The Nottinghamshire Daily Express, 21 August 1914. The Sheffield Evening Telegraph of 22 August 1914 stated he was caught by an open passenger door.
9. This is the term for the space between the rails;
10. The fireman, Isaac Mumby, said he could see no more than five yards in front of the engine; and the driver, William Hulme, said he could see 15 yards;
11. Batley News, 29 August 1914;
12. The same Sergeant Hodgson as was with Austin at the time of his death;
13. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 28 August 1914, and the Batley News, 29 August 1914;
14. 18th General Hospital medical notes from October 1917 state he had one year’s completed service, and had served 10 months in the field. This is at odds with the newspaper reports which indicate he enlisted in January 1917, and had been in France for five months;
15. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 26 October 1917;
16. 1939 Register, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/36070/005/10 Letter Code KMER

Other Sources:
1. Batley Borough Court Records;
2. Batley Cemetery Records;
3. Batley News, 22 January 1892;
4. Batley Reporter and Batley News – various editions in March 1908;
5. CWGC Database;
6. Dewsbury Reporter, 29 July 1882;
7. GRO Indexes – births, marriages and deaths;
8. Various military sources including National Army Museum Soldiers Effects Registers and Western Front Association Pension Ledgers and Cards

This is an updated biography from the version written in 2012 for the St Mary’s booklet.