The First World War in our local area
This feature is to remember the local people who served in the First World War given the hundred year anniversary coming around in 2014.
The First World War is a very wide subject area and immense amount of information in books and on the internet and local libraries.
This feature is to be developed over the next few months. It is not intended to be a detailed historical feature (the war is more than covered elsewhere) but rather a series of local points of interest about the First World War. For example interesting facts you might not be aware of or individual stories of local men who went to war. Or the stories of women who served in the war or munitions factories or simply of life back home.
If you wish to contribute the story of your relatives on this section of the website please do get in touch on “the how to get involved section” of the site.
The intention is to build a feature capturing some of the events and stories of that era for commemorative purposes building up to and including the centennial in 2014.
We do recognise this is a sensitive area and the tone will reflect the subject matter. The purpose is to remember the sacrifice made by our local communities at that very difficult time.
Victoria Cross – 2014 Paving Stone Commemoration
The design for a paving stone to commemorate First World War heroes in their own home towns has been unveiled by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles.
Stones all over the country will enshrine the names of 430 Britons who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the war, which lasted from July 1914 to November 1918.
Newton Le Willows will be one of those towns for Norman Harvey from Golborne Dale Road.
No. 42954 Pte. Norman Harvey, 1st Bn., R. Innis. Fus. (Newton-le-Willows).
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty near Ingoyghen on the 25th October, 1918, when his battalion was held up and suffered heavy casualties from enemy machine guns. On his own initiative he rushed forward and engaged the enemy single-handed, disposing of twenty enemy and capturing two guns. Later, when his company was checked by another enemy strong point, he again rushed forward alone and put the enemy to flight.
Subsequently, after dark, he voluntarily carried out, single-handed; an important reconnaissance and gained valuable information. Pte. Harvey throughout the day displayed the greatest valour, and his several actions enabled the line to advance, saved many casualties, and inspired all.
He served too in the second world war and was killed in Israel in 1942, aged 42.
Communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles and Johnson Beharry hold up one of the commemorative pavings to honour holders of the Victoria cross from World War One planned to be installed across towns in Britain in 2014. Lance corporal Beharry was awarded the Victoria Cross for outstanding bravery in Iraq in 2004.
Highfield Moss Firing Range
The army firing range opened on the moss in 1914 after some incidents in Golborne hollows where a stray bullet from the troops hit the wheel of a person’s cart.
A statement from that time now immortalised in print.
“Are yo chaps gooin a shooting to neet? Yes well as soon as yore flag goes up my spade goes deawn, aw m clearin eawt”
After several incidents the range was moved to the moss where two regiments practiced. The Lancashire Volunteer Corps and the Prince of Wales volunteers. It was also used in the Second World War by the home guard.
The Mark Five – Heavy Battle Tank used in the latter stages of the war by the British. Its unique feature was it only needed one man to steer it freeing the other crew. Photo Pete Astles – Bovington Tank Museam Dorset.
Les Capper from Lowton writes – my father Walter Capper served in the First World War, this is his story. He worked at the Vulcan and lived 141 Cherry Street off Crow Lane East.
He enlisted at the outbreak of the war in 1914 in the South Lancashire regiment.
He served in France and was injured in 1917 by shrapnel and he returned to England where a piece of shrapnel was removed along with half of his lung. He recuperated back in England at a midlands hospital where he was eventually sent back to France.
However this time he was transferred to the Royal Air Corps where he served until the end of the war.
Against miltary rules (of the time) he kept a diary two extracts we show below.
He suffered the rest of his life through respiratory disabilities due to his injury but did much work to help others with disabilities despite his own injuries.
He died in 1967 aged 69.
Postcard from the Somme Walter sent back to his family
The Campaign in Greece
Steve Tomlinson writes of his great uncle who was killed as a young teenager in the First World War in the little publicised campaign in Greece. Most of us think of the First World War in terms of France or Belgium but a brutal campaign was also fought in Salonika with the British and French providing two large brigades at the request of the Greek Government. Frederick Worsley was around 17 or 18 and in the field artillery and lived on Crow Lane. He was a fitter by trade and (we believe) worked in the Viaduct. He never returned.
Pete Astles writes:” Both my grandads were in the First World War. My grandad on my dad’s side, George Astles, was from Budworth Cheshire and my grandad on my mum’s side, William Fairclough, was from Earlestown. My grandad George joined up at about 30 years of age and he joined up shortly after war was declared in 1914. By all accounts he was like me, he liked nature, beer and sports.He was a very fit man and a keen runner. He had a few beers in the George and Dragon in Budworth and then walked to Northwich to enlist. They then trained on Salisbury Plain and travelled by train to London where my grandad went AWOL for a few nights out in London to see what London was like. Given what they were about to face in France over the next five years a decision I would concur with! He was reprimanded but went on to serve throughout the war in France. He survived the war and is buried in Budworth Churchyard.
On Remembrance Day 2013 I thought of the story of the men in Budworth village discussing whether to enlist as war was declared. “I’ll do it if you will” “I am up for it” “What will happen?” “How long do you think it will last?” As I walked through the lych-gate at Budworth, to the left of the gate are those who served and to the right is those who never came back. It’s hard not to think that but for the trajectory of a shell or bullet here or there we would not be looking at it this today, because we would not be here”.
About my Gran from Comberbach in Cheshire, Mildred Amanda Astles (Nee Maddock). She was in service from age 13. Service was one of the few occupations for girls in those days and life was hard. One bad reference and your work options were curtailed. She went to Canada aged 17 with her employer, a family from Manchester. She travelled on New Year’s Day 1914. However back in Europe the winds of war were blowing and in July of that year war was declared. She wanted to be back in the home country with family and friends and at some time travelled back in wartime. She travelled on Cunard and was lucky not to be on the Cunard Liner the Lusitania which was sunk off the coast of Ireland 7th May 1915 by a German U Boat with the loss of 1195 lives. She returned home to work on the Manchester trams in the war.
My grandad Bill Fairclough joined up also shortly after the war was declared aged about 24. Bill used to work at the Vulcan and received many commendations for the quality of his work which we still have. He served in the Royal Engineers and was sent to France wherehe was gassed. He survived this and returned back to Earlestown and resumed work at the Vulcan. However he never recovered from the gas attack and had to, on many occasions, be sent to Devon to convalesce. He was always looking for herbal cures from the harm from the poisoned gas. However he was able to enjoy many many years after the war following his passion – Wigan RLFC. He is buried at St Mary and Johns in Crow Lane.
My grandads and granny’s marriage certificate. Showing my nan worked in the munitions factories at that time. My nan was Margaret Fairclough (Nee Pimblett) orginally from Haydock. Not sure which munition factory she worked at. I believe there was one at Sutton in St Helens and another in Ashton in Makerfield.
Len Arnold writes – his grandfather Bill Lacey from Burtonwood was in WW1 and served as a corporal in the Royal Horse Artillery. He survived the war and returned to Burtonwood.