Oldham Stories


Dzhalilabad The following letters were sent home from soldiers from the front around 100 years ago.

Ramat HaSharon The first set of interesting letters were received by the Vicar and Curate of Shaw from the front.

http://kayadorper.com.au/archives/70 Dave Ward, B.E.F wrote: 

“I am still in the pink and keep smiling. We were in the attack, and our lads covered themselves with glory, capturing a village and hundreds of prisoners. My brother Jim got wounded in this attack, shot through the wrist.

Paddy Gibbons was seriously wounded. He lay on the battlefield for hours before he was picked up. All the other boys came out of it safely. I met Tom Hargreaves and Frank Mills the same morning, so they were safe too.

The enclosed postcard was given to me by a German soldier for bandaging his wounds. He had been hit with a bomb and left for dead. How are things going on in Shaw?

Best wishes to all my friends at home.”

http://advanceddentalmn.com/thank-you Hubert Abbott wrote: 

“A fellow only wants to do a bit of soldiering under war conditions – living in dug-outs and not daring to look over the top to see what things are like. – to know the value of a good home.

It will make a lot of lads into good men. We have had a very hot time this last week, fighting day and night. I daresay some from Shaw will have gone under, though I have not heard anything yet.”

Harold Simister wrote from hospital: 

“Just a few lines to tell you, although you will no doubt know, that I am lying in hospital wounded. I was wounded on September 3rd, 1916, in helping my Battalion to take Guillemont. My wound is on my left arm, just above the wrist.

The bones in my arm are broken, and I have large and very nasty wound indeed. I may say that while I have been out in France, I have gone through some terrible ordeals, and I can safely say that the prayers of myself and of my people and the Church have been answered or I should never have been here, for I have had so many narrow escapes and in so many hot engagements, yet I have come out safely until I received the wound I am now nursing.

When I got wounded I had to crawl along the round, puling myself forward with my one arm and pushing myself as best I could with my feet, for I dare not stand up, as bullets were going through the air like hailstones and shells were bursting everywhere. I crawled like this for two and a half hours to the dressing station. I may say I am progressing as well as can be expected, although it will take some time before my arm is anything like in working order.

I am quite comfortable here.”

Mrs Enos Platt, licensee of the Golden Fleece Hotel, Denshaw, received the news that her only son, Private Brandon Platt, of the 21 West Yorks, was killed in France. The first of the letters is from Private Tom Hilditch, of Barracks, Denshaw, a lifelong chum of the deceased soldier:  

July 9th, 1916

“Dear Mrs Platt, – I don’t know how to write and tell you that Brandon was hit by a shrapnel bullet last night, and died shortly afterwards in my arms. We were going to the trenches on night work, and as he was out the night before with the machine-gunners I tried hard to persuade him not to come. It was his wish because I was going, and he said he would please himself.

We were shoulder to shoulder when it occurred, the bullet going in the shoulder. He never regained consciousness, and died about 15 minutes later peacefully. All the boys who were in our hut at Skipton send you their deepest sympathy and as for myself I know I have lost the best and dearest pal in the world. Please excuse more, as it is pretty hard just now to think of.

Yours in deepest sympathy, Tom”

A second letter as follows was received at the same time by the sorrowing mother: 

“Dear Madam,

It is with feelings of deepest sympathy that I write you regarding the death of your son Brandon. As his platoon officer I came in touch with him almost every day in life, and I had many conversations with him, mainly about his friendship for Tom. In this way I got to know him perhaps better than any other man in my platoon, and to know there never was a better soldier donned the uniform. Only last night I had held him up to the platoon as an example of what a soldier should be.

As to the circumstances of his death, Tom has told you all. Needless to say, Tom was the first to render assistance. I have never seen such friendship as existed between these two. He was laid to rest yesterday (July 9th) in the presence of his company officer and comrades. I regret that I was unable to be present as I was hit the same night. Assuring you of the heartfelt sympathy of his officers and all here who knew him,

I am yours respectfully, James McGregor”

2nd Lieut. 21st West Yorks

Well-known footballer killed

Word has been received by the mother of Private John Boardman to say that he was killed on the 12th July, 1916. He enlisted in September, 1914 in the Grenadier Guards and had been wounded and home from France in June, 1915. He was 47 years of age and well-known as a Rugby football player, having played with the Failsworth Old Boys and Oldham Rugby Football Club. He was an ardent bowler, having won the Cawley cup at Failsworth Liberal Club and other handicaps. He had taken part in the Blackpool Tournament and he worked at Messrs. Ferranti when he enlisted. He was a married man and leaves a widow and children. His home was at 221 Ashton Road West, Failsworth.

His mother has received the following letter: 

“Machine Gun Company

1st Guards Brigade


July 13th, 1916

“Dear Mrs Boardman

I am extremely sorry to have to tell you that your son was killed yesterday. It is extremely painful for me to lose him. Although he had only been with me a short time I was much struck by his good character, intelligence, and general cheerfulness. If it is any relief to you to know it, your son died instantaneously without any suffering, a bullet having shot him in the head. Please remember when you think of him that he died a hero’s death, just such as he himself would have wished. I am retuning you all of his private effects. Please accept my deepest sympathy

H.P. MEAKIN, Capt.”

Oldham Soldiers Bravery

Lance-Corporal Harold Hobson, whose home is at 51 Chadderton Road, Oldham, has been awarded the military medal. In a letter to his father his company commanding officer G R Swaine, writes:-

“Dear Sir,

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I enclose Major General Shea’s congratulatory message to your son, Private (Lance-Corporal) Harold Hobson, and I am sure you will be glad to hear from me an account of your son’s bravery. He was out on patrol with one of my subaltern officers and two other men, and it had been arranged that the party should attempt to bomb a German sap head which was known to be occupied.

They approached with great caution and got into position. Pins were drawn from the bombs and two were thrown right into the sap where six Germans could be seen. Your son was in the act of throwing the bomb when a rifle bullet struck his raised wrist, causing the bomb to fall. Thus the lives of all were in danger from the released bomb, which would have exploded in about four seconds. However, Lce-corpl. Hobson quietly and coolly bent down in the darkness, picked up the bomb and threw it at the Germans. He was again wounded by a German bomb in the other hand, but all the party got safely away.

Not the least part of this bravery was his silence when wounded. If he had cried out the Germans must have known their exact position, but he showed great presence of mind and did his work coolly, quietly and composedly. I regret that he was wounded but we did all in our power to make him comfortable, and I do not think his wounds will prove dangerous ones. In any case wounds like his are scars of honour, and you must be proud to have such a boy as your son. May I add my congratulations with wishes for his speedy recovery.”

The note referred to reads:-

“No 1511 – Lance-Corporal H Hobson, Manchester Regiment. Awarded the Military Medal for gallantry in action. I wish to congratulate you most heartily on your well-deserved award of the Military Medal. 6-12-1916”


Mr Sydney Cheetham, Guardian for Mumps Ward, received the following letter from the Rev. Father Cedric Kean: – 25th July, 1916

“Dear Mr Cheetham,

I have often intended to write to you. Your kindness to me was always very great, and my admiration and appreciation of you, I hope, even greater. I wish to thank you for all you have done for me personally, and for your kind and valuable interest and labours on behalf of the Catholic children, and of the unfortunate and destitute who have come within the province of the Poor Law.

We have been in the thick of the battle. It was the lot of my brigade to take an early and important part in the great offensive – and a successful one too. I was attached to a field ambulance.

What a time I had! What sights I saw! How brave our men in action, how patient in suffering, how cheerful at all times. One fine young officer was brought in, a splendid fellow, one of magnificent physique. His legs were shattered by shrapnel; the both had to be taken off.

He never murmured. Recovering consciousness after the operation, he smiled and thanked the doctors for what they had done for him, and the poor fellow died a few hours afterwards. Some of the wounded in the broadest of Lancashire and Yorkshire dialect would create mirth even in the operating theatre, where their wounds were being dressed, by the recital of droll incidents either in connection with what they had gone through on the field of battle or by some witty remark regarding their prospective voyage to “Blighty” land.

I have seen men in most excruciating pain acting as stoically as to manifest almost an imperviousness to sufferings. What is the cause of this? How has it come about, for surely it is something superhuman. Is it that God gives a special aid in a special case – an auxiliary help to a particular vocation? But I must not go into metaphysical speculations, for all do not bear pain with the same Spartanlike temperament, and you are a much more advanced student of human nature than I am; you are profoundly a thinker, I not.

Well, we are pushing on; not swiftly, but surely. Every inch of ground we take is drenched with blood. As we must advance, and as against the Germans, with their scientific warfare, their organisation, their courage, and their resource, the price to be paid for our progress must be blood; that blood has flowed freely, copiously, and, alas! From the youngest, the purest, and the strongest veins of the nation’s manhood.

Hundreds of German prisoners have passed through our quarter. Many have been attended to by our ambulance. I buried one; he was brought in in a dying state. From accounts given by them and I interrogated dozens, their forces lost heavily. We had the Prussian Guards, Wurtemburgers and Saxons up against us. Not one seemed to regret having been taken, with the single exception of a young probation officer. Their suffering had been great. Many had been without food for four days, they said. They were at once supplied with hot tea of coffee and bread, and so great is the kindheartedness of our soldiers that they would give the prisoners even their own cigarettes. The young officer whom I referred to was expecting his commission or promotion this month.

He did not attempt to conceal his disappointment and disgust at having been taken. He had spent some time in England, probably as a spy, and was occupied in some engineering work in Birmingham. He had also passed some time in France. As I sat by his side I could easily perceive that in his being taken a proud bird had been captured, and one that would like to break the bayonet bars of his British cage. “A prisoner! A prisoner!” he muttered aloud, and then with an expression of satisfaction “Well, I have done my duty.” No doubt he had – by sending gas shells t poison those whom fair fight could not overcome.

Many of our poor fellows came in suffering from gas shells. I had as many as twenty three of the Munsters (Irish Regiment) lying around in the open-air at once, all poisoned. We are just having a few days’ respite before returning to action again, so I take occasion to write to you. In spite of all I love the army life. If I ever return to civil life it will be with reluctance. I want to see the thing through – I am, thank God, I the best of health – and all here have bright hopes. We are cheerful, even joyful. What shall we be when victory crowns our efforts?

Yours very sincerely

Godric Kean”


On 1 July 2016 at 6.30am Oldham Theatre Workshop performed their new show, ‘Sides of Silence’, an immersive drama experience, at Oldham Local Studies and Archives. Councillor Cath Ball attended the performance and has written about it here:

Getting up and going out at 6.30am is not something I normally do.

I am so glad I went, and as usual the performance was just brilliant. At the beginning we were given name (dog) tags and followed a group of three men from Oldham, together with their bossy Sgt Major, as they went through enlistment, training and eventually arriving in France.

We, alongside them, waited in a small room until 7.30am when they got the signal, from the Sgt Major, to go over the top. We then followed the men into a smoke filled area, filled with the sound of loud blasting gunfire.

Next we followed the soldiers as they walked through no man’s land. We were pushed forward by the bossy Sgt Major to follow the soldiers.

We then watched as three of the four soldiers ‘died’ – in front of us. Then our group were led outside to the daylight and the ringing of the Parish Church Bell. There we handed our dog tags, with our names on, only to be told that we were all dead.

I was Edward Holme, age 28 whose parents came from Plane Street.

Later we all settled down from the action and had a brew at Naked Bean where we could see pictures of the soldiers involved in the production. Hankies were in use and it was a very moving experience.

Thank you so much for everyone who attended and Oldham Theatre Workshop.

We’re continuing to commemorate the #Somme100 across the year. Join us for a three course commemorative dinner at Oldham Event Centre on Friday 15 July. It’s a chance for you to reflect on any relatives or friends who fought in the Battle of the Somme. Tickets are just £25 and can be purchased at www.oldham.gov.uk/battleofthesomme (booking fee will be changed for tickets purchased online) or by calling 0161 770 1566 or 0161 652 9464

Find out more information here: www.oldhamremembers.org.uk/events-2/


Oldham is set to host a number of events and activities to mark 100 years since the start of the one of bloodiest episodes in military history – the Battle of the Somme.

We’re encouraging residents to join in and help remember those service personnel who lost their lives.

The battle was fought between July 1 and November 1916 near the Somme River in France.

On the first day alone, the British suffered more than 57,000 casualties.

The famous Oldham Pals battalion took part in the battle. On July 14 its members were ordered to follow up an attack on the village of Bazentin-le-Petit.

Two platoons were commandeered to help clear the enemy from nearby woods, while another platoon had to down tools to repel the enemy with rifle fire from a cemetery they were turning into a strong point.

By the end of the campaign more than one million men from the Allies and Central Powers had been wounded or killed.

To mark the start of the battle a century ago the bell in Oldham Parish Church will toll for 15 minutes at 7.30am on Friday 1 July.

Watch this short video and find out more about the Battle of the Somme: 

Events across the borough which locals can take part in:

Candle Light Vigils, 9.30pm, Thursday 30 June, various war memorials

Vigils will be held across Britain and we’re asking community groups, families and friends to come together and organise their own vigils at their nearest War Memorial.

Oldhamers and the Battle of the Somme. Opens Friday, July 1

This display at Oldham Local Studies and Archives, 84 Union Street, Oldham, OL1 1DN shows how Oldham and its residents were affected by one of the defining moments in British history. Join us at the same venue on Wednesday, July 20 at 7pm for a talk by local historian, entitled, ‘A Tour of the Somme Battlefield Cemeteries’ and on Wednesday, September 21 at 7pm, we present a special showing of the 1916 documentary film ‘The Battle of the Somme’. Booking is essential, call 0161 770 4654 for tickets.

Sides of Silence: Remembering the Battle of the Somme. Friday, July 1 at 6.50am in Oldham Local Studies and Archives Centre.

An immersive theatre experience performed by members of Oldham Theatre Workshop – starting at the time hostilities commenced. Booking is essential, call 0161 770 4654 for tickets.

National Service of Remembrance: Manchester Cathedral. Friday, July 1 at 3pm.  Entry is by invitation only but Manchester Council will be putting large screens up outside for the public to watch. Also on that day there is a free concert in Heaton Park. Tickets can be ordered on www.quaytickets.com/sommeheatonpark

Service of Remembrance: Battle of the Somme, Sunday, July 3 from Oldham Civic Centre to Oldham Parish Church

We will be holding a Service of Remembrance at 2pm in Oldham Parish Church. We ask families and friends of people who fought at this battle, which lasted 141 days, to walk with us from the Civic Centre (meeting at the Rochdale Road entrance) to Oldham Parish Church from 1pm.

Battle of the Somme Dinner, Friday 15 July, Oldham Athletic Events Centre at 7.30pm.

We’re working with The British Legion to host a ‘Battle of the Somme Dinner’ at Oldham Event Centre. There will also be music, entertainment, and a raffle. Tickets are £25. Call 0161 652 9464 or visit www.oldham.gov.uk/battleofthesomme for tickets.

To mark 100 years since the start of World War One we’ve been asking local people to get in touch with photographs and stories that we can include on our Oldham Remembers website.

The website is being kept up-to-date with stories from the war, names of soldiers who fought in the war and images of Oldham’s past. It aims to bring people from across the borough together in remembrance and can be found at www.oldhamremembers.org.uk

Email oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk or call 0161 770 3297 if you want to get involved or have any information you would like to see on the website.

The Battle of the Somme (#Somme100)

The Battle of the Somme, also known as the Somme Offensive, was a battle during the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire.

The battle took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 near the River Somme, France. It was one of the largest battles of World War I, in which more than 1,000,000 men were wounded or killed, some of those from Oldham and Manchester.

The British 4th Army included a number of the Lancashire, Yorkshire West Riding and Manchester Battalions, all of which had attracted local volunteers. Amongst these was the 24th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and the ‘Oldham Comrades’, also known as the ‘Oldham Pals’.

(Find out more about the Oldham Pals here: http://www.oldhampals.co.uk/history/)

Oldham Pals member, Pals in the trenches and map.

Oldham Pals member, Pals in the trenches and map.

The British Army started a week-long continuous bombardment on the enemy lines in an attempt to destroy the German defences and troops within them.  At regular intervals along a line spanning nearly 14 miles long, heavy artillery kept up a constant barrage towards the enemy territory. Around 1,700,000 shells had rained down hard on the German lines after the week-long attack and it was thought only a small handful of enemies would have survived.

In addition, a total of 19 mines were detonated under the enemy. But the German soldiers had retreated into deep, reinforced dugouts and bunkers to wait-out the British bombardment.

The British battalions climbed out of their trenches just after 7.30am with orders to walk, in lines, towards the enemy trenches – confident that most of the opposition had been destroyed. While the British walked towards enemy lines, the Germans emerged from their hide-outs equipped with machine guns and sadly mowed down the troops in their thousands.

However, the toll of casualties wasn’t completely one-sided, not all the German sections were as strongly defended or as swift to take action, and these units paid a heavy price.

The next day the battle continued with attack and counter-attack and over the next few months the advantage would swing from side to side.

September came, the weather darkened and it saw the appearance of the first tanks on the battlefield in the Battle of Flers Courcelette. Around 40 primitive tanks advanced over a mile into enemy lines but were too slow and lightly armed to hold their position during the German counterattack and were subject to mechanical breakdowns.

In late September/early October, heavy rains and dreadful weather turned the battlefield into a sea of mud. This led to commander, General Douglas Haig, to call off the Somme Offensive after more than four months of mass slaughter. The last battle of the Somme was Ancre, but this ended shortly and all battles ceased on 18 November.

What had stared out as a push to break through enemy lines and bring a fast end to the war, degenerated into a series of battles with both sides losing hundreds of thousands of men.

This was catastrophic to the ‘Pals’ Battalions – comprising of men from the same town – as they had enlisted together, to serve together. The battalions suffered catastrophic losses and whole units died together and for weeks after the assault, local newspapers were filled with lists of the dead, wounded and missing.

If you have a story about a relative or friend that was involved with the Battle of the Somme please get in touch.

Email the details to: oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk

Map of Area (Somme Battles)

A map of the battlefields.

Join us for a commemorative meal to remember the Battle of the Somme. Find out more: www.eventbrite.com/e/battle-of-the-somme-dinner-with-simon-wood-tickets-24284671105 (EventBrite standard booking fee will be charged.)

The Story of the HMS Warrior 

British Grand Fleet Ship, HMS Warrior

British Grand Fleet Ship, HMS Warrior

Warrior was ordered as part of the 1903–04 naval construction programme as the first of four armored cruisers. She was laid down on 5 November 1903 at Pembroke Dockyard, launched on 25 November 1905 and completed on 12 December 1906.

She was stationed in the Mediterranean when the First World War began and participated in the pursuit of the German battlecruiser SMS Goeben and light cruiser SMS Breslau.

Warrior was then transferred to the Grand Fleet in December 1914 and remained there for the rest of her career.

At the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916, Warrior was hit by at least 15 28-centimetre (11 in) and six 15-centimetre (5.9 in) shells, but was saved when the German ships switched their fire to the battleship HMS Warspite when it’s steering jammed.

Warrior was heavily damaged by the German shells, which caused large fires and heavy flooding. This didn’t stop her and the engines continued running for long enough to allow her to withdraw to the west. She was taken in tow by the seaplane tender HMS Engadine who took off her surviving crew of 743.

She was abandoned in a rising sea at 8.25 am on 1 June when her upper deck was only 4 feet (1.2 m) above the water,  and subsequently foundered.

   The Battle of Jutland

Jellicos Fleet

The Battle of Jutland was a naval battle, involving 250 ships and around 100,000 men, fought by the British Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet – under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe – and the Battlecruiser Force – under Admiral Sir David Beatty – against the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet during the First World War.

The battle was fought from 31 May to 1 June 1916 in the North Sea, near the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. It was the largest naval battle and only full-scale clash of battleships in the First World War.

German Admiral Reinhard Scheer planned to lure out both Admiral Sir David Beatty’s Battlecruiser Force and Admiral Sir John Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet. Scheer hoped to destroy Beatty’s force before Jellicoe’s arrived, but the British were warned by their codebreakers and put both forces to sea early.

Great Britain’s Royal Navy’s strategy was to engage and destroy the High Seas Fleet or keep the German forces contained and away from Britain’s own shipping lanes.

Early encounters between Beatty’s force and the German High Seas Fleet resulted in the loss of several ships. The Germans damaged Beatty’s flagship HMS Lion and sank both HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary – which exploded when German shells hit their ammunition magazines.

Beatty withdrew his men and ships and waited until Jellicoe arrived with the larger, main fleet. The Germans, now outgunned, turned for home when the fleet arrived. The British lost 14 ships and over 6,000 men, but were still ready for action again the next day.

The Germans, who had only lost 11 ships and over 2,500 men, avoided complete destruction but never again seriously challenged British control of the North Sea – which was good news.

One of Oldham’s most famous sons – Henry Taylor – was among the many sailors from the town who took part in the battle.

Henry was born on Maple Street in Hollinwood on 17 March 1885 and learnt to swim in Hollinwood Canal before going to Oldham Baths, where at the age of seven, he tasted his first victory, beating some older boys in a two length race.

He was the star of the Chadderton Swimming Club and went to take triple gold at the 1908 London Olympics. In 2008 Cyclist Chris Hoy became the first Briton in a century to complete such a feat.

The First World War saw the 1916 Olympics, due to be held in Germany, cancelled and Henry signed up for the navy.

Although there was no clear winner, the Battle of Jutland confirmed British naval dominance and secured its control of shipping lanes. This allowed Britain to implement the blockade that would contribute to Germany’s eventual defeat in 1918.

Join us on 31 May at 11am for a service around the Oldham Cenotaph to commemorate the Oldham soldiers that were lost in the battle.

Visit our gallery to find out more about the soldiers from Oldham that fought in the battle.

Unfortunately we couldn’t find images for all the local soldiers from the Battle of Jutland but we do have names. We have listed the names below so no one is missed out:

Able Seaman Jack Crawford, of 1 Spring Hill, Waterhead

He was 18 years of age and enlisted in 1915. Before joining he was a piecer at the Cairo Mill.

First Class Boy, Robert Bathom Parry, 48 Brunswick Street, Oldham

He was about 17 years of age, and had joined the navy around the outbreak of war in 1914

First Class Petty Officer, John J Pilley

He was 25 years of age, the eldest son of Mr and Mrs Pilley of Hillside Avenue, Clarksfield a native of Salford and married Miss Tallboys a well-known lady of Hey who is present at Portsmouth. He had been in the navy for eight years and during the present war had been in the Falkland Islands battle under Admiral Sturdoe and also in the Heligoland Bight encounter.

Private James Lee, Royal Marines, 5 Stanley Road, Holliwood

He enlisted in the Royal Marines in 1915. He was 19 years of age an before enlisting was a piecer at Magnet Mill. He was killed by an explosion on 31st May at 5pm, whilst he was supplying the ammunition to his gun. He was buried at the sea the same evening at about 8.30pm. He was buried in Scotland on 6 June 1916.

The Christmas Truce – An Oldham Soldier’s Experience 

Two Days’ Truce: Oldham Soldier Tells of Fraternising with the Germans

In December 1914 Private Harry Twidale of the 2nd Battalion the Border Regiment wrote to his parents at 11 Balfour Street, Clarksfield describing his experiences over the previous week including a two days’ truce:

I was in a charge last week, and it was terrible. We lost over 100 killed and wounded. One of those who joined with me in Oldham got shot through the eye and the other one was wounded and missing.

He then went on to describe his experience of what has since become known as the Christmas Truce:

I shall never forget Christmas Day in my life. About nine o’clock on Christmas morning, the Germans and ourselves declared peace for a couple of days and you can imagine what it was like. It seemed very funny to be able to walk about on the top of the trenches. The first job we had was to bury all our dead, and we had a lot to bury, who had been lying there since the charge. We buried about 70 men. While we were doing that the Germans buried theirs. After that, we had a good time the rest of the two days. We were talking with the Germans and exchanged souvenirs. The Gordon Highlanders were with us in the trenches, and they had bagpipes with them, so we had a bit of a Christmas concert. I got a helmet off one of the Germans, but I can’t carry it about with me. We got a Christmas present from the Princess Mary today, a small brass box engraved, containing cigarettes and tobacco and a pipe and Christmas card…..

Read the full story here: https://gm1914.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/the-christmas-truce-an-oldham-soldiers-experience/


Oldham Chronicle
Oldham Standard
Christmas Truce: The Western Front 1914 by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton

Sarah Hallam and the French Flag Nursing Corpse 

Sarah Hallam was a local nurse who went off to Belgium to work with the Red Cross in the French Flag Nursing Corpse from 1915 to 1918. She was awarded the ‘Croix de Guerre’ with bronze star by the French War Office

Below is an image of Sarah Hallam with an ambulance of French Red Cross. This was sent to her sister Mrs Mary (Molly) Sunderland.

In the margin she has written, "This building is a school being used now for a hospital, there is a large statue of Our Lady of Lourdes over the front door. It is just a mile from the Belgian frontier”.

In the margin she has written, “This building is a school being used now for a hospital, there is a large statue of Our Lady of Lourdes over the front door. It is just a mile from the Belgian frontier”.

Below is the reverse side of the postcard above:

Sarah has written, From Muddy Flanders: "Dear Mollie, I don't think I have sent you one of these PC taken outside the hospital where I was the only woman working there for five months all my patients and helpers being French soldiers. Everybody was very kind to me and I was very happy. Now I work with two English sisters.I am keeping quite well fairly busy, the days and weeks simply fly here. It is glorious work nursing back to health those to whom a chance of life is given and helping to comfort the difficult passing of those whose task is finished. Hope you are all well. Love to all at home. Still looking out for B&L Franks. Sarah. Notice the Oldham address.

Sarah has written, From Muddy Flanders

“Dear Mollie, I don’t think I have sent you one of these PC taken outside the hospital where I was the only woman working there for five months all my patients and helpers being French soldiers. Everybody was very kind to me and I was very happy. Now I work with two English sisters.I am keeping quite well fairly busy, the days and weeks simply fly here. It is glorious work nursing back to health those to whom a chance of life is given and helping to comfort the difficult passing of those whose task is finished. Hope you are all well. Love to all at home. Still looking out for B&L Franks. Sarah.

Sadly Sarah died on 30 November 1961. Her grave is in Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Moston, Manchester.

We’re still trying to collate all information about Sarah Hallam. If you know anymore please email oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk

Sarah Hallam Grave

The Byl Family: Belgian Refugees in Royton

Refugees from Belgum.

Refugees from Belgum.

On the 2nd of August 1914 Germany declared its intention to march through Belgium to attack France. When the German army crossed the border into Belgium, Britain demanded the withdrawal of these troops. This demand went unheeded, and on the 4th of August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany.

The German attack through neutral Belgium shocked the British public. The attack was accompanied by widespread violence against civilians and private property. Several thousands of civilians were shot, many taken as hostages and many towns were ransacked and destroyed.

At first little thought was given to the evacuation of Belgian citizens in the event of German occupation. However, in September 1914 the British Government offered hospitality to Belgian nationals seeking sanctuary. The British Government accepted responsibility for the reception, registration and maintenance of Belgian refugees. They sought out assistance in housing these refugees from local authorities.

On the 19th September 1914, in response to a request from the Belgian Government, the Oldham Relief Committee was asked by the Local Government Board to form a Sub-Committee to seek out suitable accommodation. The Oldham Relief Committee had already received 50 to 60 offers from Oldham people to accept single children; however, the current request was for family accommodation – ‘man, wife and children without separation from one another’ – (Oldham Weekly Chronicle, 19 Sep 1914, p.4)

Within eight weeks a number of properties had been offered and accepted as suitable accommodation for Belgian refugee families. These properties, which were offered, rent free for 12 months, included Royton Hall, Greenacres Lodge, Broomhurst, Chadderton House, 146 Coppice Street, Oldham and 36 Oak Street, Shaw.

A Belgian Relief Fund was opened by the Mayor of Oldham, Alderman Herbert Wilde. The money raised was for the furnishing and upkeep of these properties. At a meeting of the Oldham Corporation Gasworks Committee it was agreed that gas fires and a cooker would be supplied to all the designated properties requesting them. It was also agreed that a reduced charge of 3d per 1000 cubic feet be made for the gas used.

The first Belgian refugees documented by the Oldham Weekly Chronicle were Mons. and Madame Byl and their five children, Albert, aged 20, their daughters Helene, aged 18, Juliette and Rachel, both aged 15 and Germaine aged 10. Hundreds of people lined the street to welcome them as they arrived by car from Manchester escorted by Rev. T. Cusack of St. Aiden’s and St. Oswald’s Church, Royton. The Byl family arrived at Royton Hall and were given ‘two large living rooms and three good sized bedrooms well furnished by the people of Royton’. (Oldham Weekly Chronicle, 17 Oct 1914, p.5)

The Byl family had fled from Ghent leaving behind their home and all their possessions because “all the young men in Ghent were being taken by the Germans and placed in the front ranks” to fight Germany’s enemies.

They had travel from Ghent to Ostend by train, a journey of 11 hours spent standing all the way with ‘people sitting on the racks and on the top of the carriage’.  They then travelled from Ostend to Dover on a boat ‘crowded with people all huddled together whilst many were left behind. It rained throughout the crossing to Dover and many refugees had no coats’. (Oldham Weekly Chronicle 24 Oct 1914, p.7)

Mons. Byl and his son were master builders and Mons Byl also kept a tobacconist shop in Ghent. His oldest daughter, Helene, who had been working as a cashier at a kinema theatre, had previously worked at the Ghent Exhibition of 1913, and had learned a few words of English there.

The Byl family were the first of many documented Belgian refugees coming to Oldham to escape the brutal conflict raging in their homeland. They were welcomed by a community that rallied to support them.

To submit a story about your family email us at oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk. 

VJ Day Events

We’d like to thank Housing and Care 21 for organising a commemorate VJ Day event. Residents of St Herberts Court came together to remember the end of World War Two on 14 August. Here’s some great pictures from the day.

If you’d like to organise an event, let us know and email: oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk

VJ Day Party VJ Day Party VJ Day Party VJ Day Party VJ Day Party

We’d like to thank Pauline Cooper for her story about her Great Uncle, Sutcliffe Bairstow, who was lost in action 4 June 1915.

Sutcliffe’s story:

Sutcliffe was born on the 8 July 1895 at 12 Throstle Walk, Chadderton, Lancashire.

Before enlisting in the war, he was a member of the TA’s who were based at Rifle Street, and lived at 4 Sarah Moor, Oldham.

Sutcliffe was a keen musician who played at Royton Band Club before being enlisted. He and was also a member of the regimental band while serving with the 1st Battalion/10th Manchester Regiment.

He left Oldham on the 8 August to travel to Egypt. From there, he was sent to Gallipoli on the 25 April 1915. Apparently, those who were in regimental bands were usually used as stretcher bearers in time of action, rather than being active fighters.

His obituary, displayed in the Oldham Chronicle, stated that he worked as a little piecer in a cotton mill at the time of enlisting.

Mr Bairstow lost his life on 4 June 1915 in the Third Battle of Krithia in Gallipoli. His body was never found but fortunately his name is listed on the Helles Memorial in Turkey.

An Oldham soilder who died at the Gallipoli Campaign, 1915.

Please send your stories to oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk 

Gallipoli Campaign: Oldham’s Brave Soldiers

This year marks the centenary of the Allied landings on the Gallipoli peninsula.

The landings have a particular resonance for Oldham, Bolton, Bury and Rochdale as the Lancashire Fusiliers and the 42nd East Lancashire Division, which played a prominent part in the campaign, were made up of men from these towns.

The Ottoman Empire had entered the war on the side of Germany in October 1914 and the aim of the campaign was to clear a passage through the Dardanelles and to capture the Ottoman capital of Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul.

The landings began on April 25 when the Anzacs, made up of troops from Australia and New Zealand landed on what later became known as ‘Anzac Cove’. Oldham was lucky that day and only lost three people but that low death toll did not continue.

The 29th Division, including the Lancashire Fusiliers, landed at Helles on five beaches named from east to west as ‘S’, ‘V’, ‘W’, ‘X’ and ‘Y’ Beaches.

During the landing at ‘W’ beach, six Victoria Crosses were awarded to the 1st Battalion Lancashire Volunteers and this landing spot subsequently became known as ‘Lancashire Landing’.

The 42nd Division, which included the 1/10th Battalion Manchester Regiment Oldham Territorials, arrived at Gallipoli from Egypt in May 1915.

June 4, 1915, is a date of great significance to Oldham as during the Third Battle of Krithia the 1/10th battalion (Oldham) took significant losses as almost a hundred men were killed and twice that number wounded during the attack. It was Oldham’s darkest day. Many of the men were in 1st 10th BN Manchester regiment, but others were in the 1st BN Lancashire Fusiliers.

The youngest among the soldiers located were three 17 year olds, Thomas Erwin Robinson, son to Charles and Mary Jane Robinson, who lived at 8 House, 2 Court, Hobson, St. James Clancy, son to James and Martha Ann Clancy of 63 Napier St West.

Also James Hubert Shaw, son of Firth and Harriet Shaw of 32 Springfield St Higginshaw Lane.

The failure of the attack on Krithia and a later landing at Suvla Bay led to a similar situation of stalemate and resultant trench warfare.

A decision to evacuate the peninsular was made in December 1915 and the final British troops departed from Lancashire Landing around 4am on 8 January, 1916.

The death toll of men from the battles was huge and many men, from across different countries, lost their lives. The British Empire had 198,000 wounded and missing and 22,000 troops killed, there were 18,500 men wounded and missing and 7,594 killed, from Australia, 5,150 were wounded and 2,431 killed, from New Zealand, along with other countries, which included France (23,000 wounded and missing – 27,000 killed), the Indian Subcontinent (3,500 wounded and 1,300 killed) and the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) (109,042 wounded and missing – 57,084 killed).

The sinking of the Lusitania 

On May 7, 1915 the steamship Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine, U-20, off the coast of Ireland. 

Of the 1,962 passengers and crew onboard at the time of the sinking, 1,191 lost their lives. The incident caused outrage around the world and the episode has been mired in controversy ever since.

The Lusitania had left New York shortly after noon on May 1 despite a warning from the German embassy warning passengers not to travel. 

On board were 1,265 passengers with a crew of 694, of which only 45 were seamen. 

There were a number of people from the Oldham area aboard the ship. 

Among them were Mr and Mrs Cyrus Crossley who were on a visit to Mrs Crossley’s sister, the wife of police sergeant Jackson in Shaw.

Mr Arthur Dixon, an agent in New Zealand for Messrs Hirst Bros and Co Ltd, wholesale jewellers of Roscoe Street, Oldham. 

He was returning to Oldham for a five week visit together with his wife Bertha and son, Stanley.

Also on board was Handel Hawkins, a cello player in the ship’s orchestra, formerly a member of the orchestra at the Palace Theatre, Oldham.

Mrs Dixon was on deck when the torpedo struck at 2.10pm on May 7.

Although her husband managed to get her and Stanley, into one of the lifeboats there was nobody to let the boat down into the water. 

As they sat waiting the boat got so crowded they decided to get out. Mr Dixon then went below to get some lifebelts. 

There was then another explosion and the ship began to list until it was quite near to the water. 

Mrs Dixon’s husband then said: ‘When I say jump we must all jump together. It’s our only chance’ 

He called out ‘jump’ and they jumped into the water just as the ship was going down. Mr Dixon had hold of his son when they jumped – they were never seen again. 

Mrs Dixon then described what happened next: 

“I went down and down in the water but then after a while I began to come up and when I got to the surface I could not get my head out of the water on account of the quantity of wreckage of all sorts which was floating on the water. 

“I had a dreadful struggle before I could get my head free, but at last I managed to scrape the pieces of wood and so on away with my hands and I was able to get my head out, and when I did I looked around and the ship had absolutely gone. 

“There was not a sign to be seen of her. All around were hundreds of people struggling and screaming in the water…I was in the water for four hours. 

“I looked round for my husband and Stanley, but I could not see them. Something hard hit me on the arm, and I grabbed at it, and I found it was the top of a packing case, and I stuck to it and never left hold of it again until I was saved…”

Mrs Dixon was rescued by torpedo boat C25 and taken to Queenstown. She landed at 9.40pm and was taken to the Cunard office, and then to the Queens Hotel. 

The Hotel was completely full with up to four people sharing a bed. However a Major and his wife took her to their home. 

As she was leaving for Dublin an American doctor who attended her at Queenstown shook hands with her saying: ‘You are the bravest woman I ever met’.

Among those who died on the Lusitania were Miss Sarah Emma Woodcock of 189 Oldham Road, Royton who was returning from a visit to the United States, and Mrs Bishop of Turf Lane, Heyside.

For those wanting to know more about the Lusitania the Oldham Historical Research Group is hosting a talk ‘Oldhamers on the Luisitania’ on Wednesday, May 20 at 7pm at Oldham Local Studies and Archives, 84 Union St

‘Oldham Remembers’ Women in THE FIRST WORLD WAR

As part of Oldham’s World War One commemorations a new project has been launched looking at ‘Oldham Women in World War One’.

Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the initiative sees Oldham Library and Oldham Coliseum Theatre working with residents to unearth details from the past.

All those taking part will be learning how to use the research facilities at the library, Oldham Local Studies and Archives, and online research tools – including www.oldhamremembers.org.uk – to try and find out as much as possible about the role women played during 1914 to 1918.

Pupils from Hodge Clough Primary School have already investigated Oldham’s World War One War Memorial with visiting expert, Professor Alison Fell of Leeds University.

Members of Oldham Coliseum Theatre’s Full Circle group have also been scouring the local newspapers for clues at the archives centre.

A few years ago a similar project on World War Two led to the publishing of a book and hopes are high this could happen again.

Local theatre director Joyce Branagh will be leading workshops.

She said: “There has been a lot of talk of the First World War over the past few months, but most of it has centered on the men who went to war.

“This project is about finding out about local women and what they were doing during those years – trying to run a home, working in munitions factories, or as nurses locally or abroad.

“We also hope to find out if there were any women working in the local music halls – providing important morale boosting entertainment.

“So far we’ve found out about a nurse Sarah Hallam, who went off to Belgium to work with the Red Cross; a music hall singer, Sarah Rosebury, who was known as ‘The Lancashire Lass’ and we’re currently trying to find out more about Mabel Drinkwater, a young woman who is honoured on Oldham War Memorial – which is very unusual.”

At the end of the project in March there will be a free exhibition of the project’s findings in Oldham Library, as well as an event to share the research findings, accompanied by music from the period.

The results will be also be available to view online at www.oldhamremembers.org.uk and in the Local Studies and Archives Centre, at 84 Union Street, Oldham

If you think you may have something that would be of interest, or would like to be involved in the project in some way, please contact Joyce Branagh on OldhamWomen@yahoo.co.uk or keith.snape@oldham.gov.uk.

Alternatively, you can ring Keith on 0161 770 8037.

Email oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk or call 0161 770 3297 if you want to get involved or have any information you would like to see on the website.

The Story of the Abbey Hills Bombing, Oldham. 

During the early hours of Christmas Eve, 1944 a V1 flying bomb, otherwise known as a Doodlebug, struck the corner of Abbey Hills Road and Warren Lane in Oldham – destroying a number of homes.

The deadly incident, one of the last such attacks of the Second World War, sadly claimed the lives of 27 people and seriously injured another 49.

The V1, one of the largest explosive devices to land in Oldham, had been launched from beneath Heinkel He111 bomber, off the coast of Yorkshire. It is believed the original target of the raid was Manchester but the doodlebug had fallen short after running out of fuel.

The V1 bombs could not be guided with accuracy and this caused them to randomly come down on fields, towns and homes. It is said that the bombs would often turn round or spiral down out of control.

Of the 45 launched around only 30 bombs made it to target areas, with some landing harmlessly on the moors. Unfortunately, the one that struck Oldham did the most damage.

After the air raids (The Blitz) of 1940 and 1941, the North of England saw little of the Luftwaffe – the aerial warfare branch of the German Wehrmacht during World War II – following Hitler’s decision to go to war with the Soviet Union.

As a result, German bombers were pulled from attacking British cities for a while and although V1 Flying Bombs and V2 Rockets fell on London and the South East, they could not get as far north as Manchester from the launch ramps located in Europe.

From numerous testimonies, it is clear that although V1s were unheard of in the north of England, people quickly recognised the tell-tale sound of the Argus Pulsejet Engine from seeing newsreels of similar attacks on London.

Click here (http://timewitnesses.org/v1.wav) to listen to a sound file of two V1 bomb passing overhead.

This year, Oldham is commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Abbey Hills Bombings.

Two special events will be held over the coming weeks to remember those who lost their lives or were injured when the flying bomb hit Abbey Hills Road.

A commemorative plaque will be unveiled at the site on Saturday, December 20 at 12 noon.

Members of the public are invited to attend the unveiling ceremony at 145 Abbey Hills Road, Oldham OL4 1RE.

The plaque will be unveiled by Doreen Highland who was a young girl when the attack destroyed her home. She now lives in Wales.

Local historian John Fidler will also be giving a talk on the bombing at 7pm on Wednesday, December 17 at Oldham Local Studies and Archives Centre at 84 Union Street, Oldham, OL1 1DN.

Using local and national archives, as well as reminiscences from local people, John will explain the background to the attack and the experiences of those involved.

100 years ago, these stories appeared in the Oldham Chronicle:

Oldham Chronicle, 20 November 1914.

Letters of war:

Private J Whitworth of the Grenadier Guards, in a letter to his mum, who lives on 232 Lees Street, Oldham, Oldham Chronicle 20 November, 1914.

“We have been in the firing line for 5 weeks without a break. In the last 11 days we have never left, not even for a wash or rest, and we were waiting for reinforcements to come up.

We had a letter from General French in which he said how well we had done, that it was an honour to belong to such an army and that help would be coming in a few days, probably a few hours. The reinforcements came 8 days later.

We were absolutely blown out of our trenches for 3 days but still held on and then last night they made a charge on us. But we blocked it and our company officer Lord Bernard, was killed.

He was the only officer we had in our company. Two battalions, the Musters and the Welsh relieved us at 2am but we had just had breakfast when we had to go back again. The Germans had broken through and when we were driving them back I got a little lot (slight wound). But it is nothing to what I have seen.”

 ‘Oldham Privates Narrow Escape’,

Private R Griffiths, of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers, writing home to his mum, said:

“I received your welcome letter in the trenches. Just now they are peppering us with shells, so I have to stop writing whilst they pass over. I think we are more than holding our own, although the Germans are putting up a stubborn resistance.

Occasionally they come out of their trenches and try to break our lines, but so far they have not been successful. “

Prior to the war he worked at Belgrave Mill and lived at 45 Lune St.

Mr E C Bloomer, a fireman at Platts,  received a letter from a workmate, Private A Hardy, of the Scottish Rifles.

“In the trenches for the 19th day and have had only one wash and shave. If you could see us you would hardly know us.

My company had 56 casualties the day we got to this trench. Two days later the Germans attacked us at night – we gave them something to go on with. Next morning when it was light we counted 56 dead in front of our trench and many wounded, some had crawled away. We have only got 5 prisoners and they were about 18 or 19 years old.

According to the papers things don’t look so bright but we are all hoping for the best and still, I don’t think it can last much longer as I believe they have been having enormous losses just recently. “

Prisoners of War: Oldham Chronicle, 14 November, 1914

100 years ago today, these stories appeared in the Oldham Chronicle:

Solider Private Rogers, of the 20th Hussars, who has been missing since August 26th – has sent a postcard saying that he is a Prisoner of War in Germany and has been for 2 weeks.

Lance Corporal Alfred Massey, brother of Mr and Mrs Massey of Drury Lane, has sent a postcard to say that he is in hospital in Germany with a leg wound

The Royton Boxer

Private Johnny Maloney (Royton) of the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment was captured at Ypres and is now a Prisoner of War in Germany.

“We are not allowed to smoke otherwise we are treated OK.”

He was captured at the same time as several hundred men from an Indian Regiment.

“A PC’s lucky escape”

This letter appeared in the Oldham Chronicle 12 November,1914

Wife of PC Jackson, Springhead, received a letter from her brother, 5th Royal Irish Lancers, serving with the expeditionary air force. He states that they have been on the go all the time, and if they did get a few seconds to rest it was for the purpose of having something to eat.

The nights he says are very cold especially when they have to sleep in a turnip field as they have done for the 2 or 3 nights. Anyway it has to be done and they have to make the best of it.

They took a house for a position in order to fire on the enemy. They had however only been there a few hours when they were discovered and the enemy commenced firing shells at the building. There were several of them in the house when the first shell hit the roof. They had just got downstairs when the second shell knocked the roof off. Luckily however they all got away safely.

Oldham Doctor in Serbia: A Lady’s Thrilling Experience 

Dr Catherine Payne

This story from Oldham is in the best tradition of wartime endeavour and adventure, showing just how much  women played their part. It’s a long post and a gripping story.

In February 1915 the Serbian Relief Fund asked Mrs St Clair Stobart to organise a hospital unit to work in the field with the Serbian army. For several years the Serbs had been engaged in military struggles with the Austro-Hungarian forces but during the early months of 1915 there was a lull in hostilities which the Serbs were using to try to rebuild and re-equip their battered army. Soldiers returning on leave to their families had spread the typhus virus and during the winter of 1914-1915 and on into the summer months, a deadly epidemic raged throughout the civilian population, killing thousands including doctors and medical staff.

Mrs St Clair Stobart gathered together a group of 89 volunteers including seven doctors, nursing sisters, orderlies, dispensers, cooks, chauffeurs, a treasurer, a chaplain, someone in charge of clothing and an interpreter. Ten of the group were men but, apart from one of the dispensers and the man in charge of x-rays, all the medical staff were women.

The seven doctors had all worked in northern hospitals and four had worked in Oldham. Dr Kate King-May Atkinson and Dr Mabel Eliza King-May were sisters born in London who had both trained in Manchester and had held brief posts at Oldham Infirmary. Dr Edith Maude Marsden was born in Rochdale, she too worked for a short time at the Infirmary and at a children’s hospital in Manchester.

Dr Catherine Payne came to Oldham in 1910 to take up the post of Senior Resident House Surgeon at Oldham Infirmary and moved in the spring of 1911 to take up a similar post at Oldham Poor Law Union, staying until she resigned to go to Serbia in 1915. She was born in Monks Eleigh, Suffolk in 1877 and completed her medical training in 1907 at Royal Free Hospital, London.

She went to Serbia with the best wishes of the Board of the Union

It was decided that the hospital unit would be housed completely under canvas to enable it to be fully mobile and also because it was thought living in the open air would render people safer from the typhus epidemic. The Serbian Relief Fund was able to raise the money needed from charitable donations and so sixty tents were specifically made for wards, x-ray, operating theatre, surgery, dispensary, bathrooms, kitchens, staff accommodation etc and furnished with camp beds, tables and folding chairs. The party left on 1st April 1915, some personnel sailed from Liverpool with the equipment and supplies and some travelled overland.

Other similar female hospital units had been raised around the same time and it was not until she arrived in Serbia that Mrs St Clair Stobart learned that her unit would be based at Kragujevatz which was the Serbian military headquarters. They were all pleased to be in such a central position. The equipment had to come overland from Salonica and it was April 23rd before the hospital was finally set up on the town race course. There was an avenue of staff tents, an avenue of ward tents and a third avenue for the kitchens, x-ray and dispensary.

There had been no fighting in the area for some time, so for the first few weeks the hospital cared for convalescent soldiers but soon found that civilians came begging to be treated. Years of hostilities had meant Serbian medical resources had been concentrated on the army and the typhus epidemic had taken its toll. The unit set aside some of its beds for non military patients, then it was decided to set up dispensaries for civilians. Seven were established in a twenty-mile radius around the main Kragujevatz hospital camp staffed by members of the Stobart hospital.

During the summer of 1915 fund raising continued at home. Dr King-May returned to England in June and spent three weeks giving lectures and attending events organised by some influential women in the north of England which raised several thousand pounds. Seven motor ambulances with stretchers – one for each dispensary – and some ox wagons were provided. The London department store Derry and Toms presented the unit with two wagons and supplies arrived for the dispensaries.

In September it was rumoured that the Bulgarian troops were massing on the Serbian frontier and that the Austrians and Germans were forming up on the Danube, the situation looked serious. The Serbian army began to mobilise and Mrs St Clair Stobart was asked to organise a group of her volunteers to accompany them to the front as a flying field hospital. To go to the front with the army, to tend to any casualties, had always been part of what was expected of them.

Two doctors were chosen for the front, Dr Catherine Payne and Dr Beatrice Coxon, one of the original seven doctors. She was a Northumbrian and had worked in Preston hospitals before going to Serbia. The others in the group were four women nurses, one woman cook, two women orderlies, a dispenser, six chauffeurs, two interpreters, one secretary and sixty Serbian soldiers who were to serve as ambulance men and drivers. They took with them six of the motor ambulances to transport the staff and their baggage, thirty oxen and horse wagons to transport hospital equipment, tents and stores. Their wheeled field kitchen had been taken from the Austrian army in 1914. The Serbian Colonel Dragitch put Mrs. St Clair Stobart in charge of the whole unit and said the soldiers were to follow any orders she gave them.

All the remaining personnel stayed in the field hospital at Kragujevatz with Dr King-May in charge. Six nurses were travelling overland to replace the staff leaving to go with army. The dispensaries had to close, so once again the civilians suffered to meet the needs of the military.

On Thursday September 30th marching orders were expected at any time. Early that morning German aeroplanes flew over the town of Kragujevatz and dropped bombs, killing five people and wounding many more. The next morning they came again, this time targeting the hospital but failing to hit anything important. Comment was made that white tents presented too clear a target and that in future green or khaki canvas would be better. Later that day, Friday 1st October, the hospital, known officially as The First Serbian-English Field Hospital (Front) – Commandant Madame Stobart and attached to the Schumadia Division of 25,000 men, left for the front.

The hospital, with all the personnel and equipment, including all the vehicles boarded a train and travelled north to Pirot. They disembarked and set up the hospital camp surrounded by soldiers in their bivouacs all expecting to march into Bulgaria. All was quiet and after a few days the convoy was ready to move by road to Stananitza and then on to Nish. Here they encountered wounded soldiers arriving by train from Belgrade and learned that the city had been taken by the German army. After spending a few days tending to casualties who arrived by train from Belgrade in the north, the hospital and all its equipment boarded a train bound for Belgrade but before they reached the city they had to disembark and that was the last time they travelled by train.

From this point the Serbian army was in retreat and initially moved south to Dobrido. Columns of refugees were also moving south from villages south of Belgrade which had been bombarded by the Germans, the hope was that the Allies would arrive to help but that did not happen.

On 19th October news arrived that the tented hospital at Kragujevatz had received 180 wounded soldiers. The same day they also heard that the Germans were pressing south and were not far behind them and at 6 a.m. the next day they received marching orders once again. Things were serious, the Bulgarian and German armies were closing in and from now on the army was kept constantly on the move. Each night just some of the hospital tents were erected to allow the staff to do what they could for wounded soldiers, surgical operations became impossible. The terrain was difficult and muddy. On the road with the army were columns of civilians fleeing from towns and villages which had been overrun by the enemy. Instead of sleeping in tents the hospital staff were sometimes able to spend a night in houses abandoned by Serbian families in anticipation of the German army arriving.

By the end of October they arrived at Voliovtza, but now the only casualties were those who could walk into the hospital, it was too dangerous for men to go into the field to rescue the more seriously wounded. Mrs St Clair Stobart heard that their field hospital in Kragujevatz had been abandoned, they later found out that the staff managed to get back to England. When they reached Varvarin they had been driven further south than Kragujevatz and that town, with its army headquarters, had fallen to the Germans. The Schumadia Division was retreating at the rate of 20 miles on some days, the enemy were so close that any accident or delay would be catastrophic. On one occasion one of the motor vehicles broke down and four cows were commandeered from a farm to pull it.

The route south from Kupci to Blatzi was through a narrow pass and there was a great fear that the Germans would block off the northern end and the Bulgars would move from the south to cut them off at the southern end, leaving the Serbs trapped in the pass. The only hope was to get through as quickly as possible so they set off in the dark at 5 a.m. The pass was completely filled with the army, refugees and all kinds of vehicles. After 25 hours of continuous marching, with the sound of gunfire all around, they reached the mid point of the pass and were able to snatch a few hours’ rest but at 4 p.m. they set out again to complete the journey. There was still hope that the British or French armies were on the way from Salonika and once through the pass everyone would be safe. They knew, however that if help did not arrive the only escape was over the Montenegrin mountains to the coast of Albania.

On November 15th they arrived at Marzovatz, the hospital unit set up camp for a few hours to provide treatment, more for sickness among the army than for wounds. They managed to acquire more carts and oxen so all the animals could pull lighter loads but by now it was snowing and the animals were suffering from the cold. Many of the army officers had been on horseback but the horses had been worked so hard that a lot died of cold and exhaustion. They all crossed the plain of Kosovo in intense cold and arrived at Prishtina. Here Mrs St Clair Stobart received the order for the hospital unit to head for Kosovan town of Dresnik with the army.

About 200,000 people – soldiers, refugees with their animals, carts and supplies started on the trek all of them organised into columns. There were a few different routes through the mountains but it was essential for a column to stay together to retain access to their own food and other supplies and for about 80 people, with assorted animals and vehicles moving at different speeds, that was not easy. From Monday November 22nd the hospital unit marched for 81 hours with only brief stops during which the staff were often in demand. When they arrived at Dresnik they found a deserted farm where they ate round a campfire then pitched their tents and got some decent sleep in camp beds.

The way ahead was now on foot over the mountains and the members of the field hospital and their accompanying sixty soldiers made preparations. They sawed the ox carts in half to create two-wheeled vehicles which might be more suited to the terrain and lighter for the oxen to pull, they bought ponies to carry equipment in panniers and they bought food. They were only able to find maize flour, rice and beans so that was their staple diet for the mountain crossing. They gave most of the tents and some surgical supplies to a hospital in nearby Pec. Their five remaining cars were destroyed to avoid them falling into enemy hands.

They set out at daybreak on Friday December 3rd. After only one day they entered ravines which were only two or three feet wide in places, impassable for the carts. The retreating army was using several similar routes over the mountains but there was a danger that many people would be held up by jammed carts and so the order was given by the military high command forbidding from them going any further. The hospital unit had to abandon its field kitchen, tents, camp beds and most of its remaining medical equipment and supplies. It would now be difficult to help anyone in need.

Mrs St Clair Stobart wrote in A Flaming Sword page 245:

Each night they bivouacked where they could with thousands of others on sloping ground near a campfire for some warmth.

On Thursday December 9th they reached the village of Kalatchi and an Albanian offered the women the chance of a night in his house. They bought and cooked a sheep then gave the man some tea from their provisions. Soon they were back on the rough mountain tracks hoping to reach Yabuka where there was a military station which might have bread for them. They got there on Monday night, the women managed to cram into one room of a hotel and the soldiers slept in outhouses.

Thursday December 16th was the last day in the mountains, they arrived in Podgorica, capital of Montenegro. Everywhere was packed but they found space in a school. The next morning the women had the luxury of riding in lorries to Plevnitza. At this point Dr Catherine Payne and Dr Beatrice Coxon together with some of the other women took a boat to Scutari, the rest of the party went by road. The Stobart field hospital column was one of the few to reach their destination without losing any men or women.

Nine months after they had arrived in Serbia, the women set out for home by bullock cart to the Adriatic coast, boat to Brindisi, train through Italy to Paris and they arrived in London on December 23rd 1915.

On her return to Oldham Dr Payne was interviewed by a reporter from the Oldham Evening Chronicle:

“We left England on March 27th and arrived at Kragujevatz on May 1st. We went out to carry on a field hospital for wounded soldiers, but by the time we arrived the soldiers were practically all convalescents, as there had been no series fighting there for some months. Out hospital was entirely of tents, including operating theatre; we had no buildings whatever. We were dealing with the soldiers for a month or two, and then, as there was no fighting, we started dispensaries for the civilian population, one at Kragujevatz and five others round about at a distance of about 20 miles away; and we also had tents set apart for civilian in-patients.

“We did that until war broke out again, and then I went with Mrs Stobart to a small field hospital with the army. First of all we went to Pirot, south of Nish, and then as there was no fighting we went north again almost as far as Belgrade, and then began the retreat of the Serbian army. We did quite a lot of work in the way of first dressings, but we were not able to do any operations then as we had to keep moving owing to the army being gradually pushed back. At first we retreated about two or three miles a day but afterwards we had to go faster and cover ten or twelve miles a day. One time we were going through a mountain pass with the Germans behind us and threatening us on either side, and the Bulgars closing in from the east and threatening to cut us off, and we had to hurry and get through the pass as quickly as we could move. There was very heavy fighting for about 20 or 30 miles south of Belgrade, but after that the Serbians practically gave it up and simply retreated all the time.

“We had our motor ambulances part of the time and also bullock wagons as far as Prishtina and across to Ipek, but from there we had to walk the whole of the way. The footpaths over the mountains were too narrow for vehicles and only ponies could be used on them, so we left our motor ambulances at Ipek, where they were blown up. We were four days going over the mountains from Ipek to Andrievitza, and six days from there to Podgoritza. From there we able to ride. It was on a sort of lorry with our luggage in the bottom and us on top. We reached Plevinitza and crossed the lake in a motor boat to Scutari, and from there we rode in bullock wagons to San Giovanni, on the Adriatic coast, which we reached on December 19th. There we hot a steamer across to Brindisi, and train thought Italy to Paris, and we arrived in London on the 23rd.

“Although it was very hard, of course, I quite enjoyed the journey over the mountains. The difficulty of the journey was not so much the walking as the shortage of food. We had only bread and it was very coarse and indigestible, so much so that it made people ill and then they could not eat it and so they had to starve.

“It was awful seeing all the dead animals lying by the side of the road and to see the hungry people cutting the flesh off them – especially the Austrian prisoners who had been taken by the Serbians before and who had been let loose to take care of themselves.

“In the first part of the journey we saw many Serbian peasants retreating with their worldly possessions all packed on bullock wagons, with supplies of food for the journey, and the children tied on top, and the sheep, and so on, running by the side. But later on we did not see that. The Bulgars had come in from the east and cut them off, and the Germans and Austrians were coming southward and there was nowhere for them to go. So a great many of tem had to stay behind and they must be starving. There must be terrible distress in Serbia now, for their was no food, not even to buy. It had all been taken for the army. What will become of these people one cannot tell”. 

Shortly after her return to Oldham Dr Payne resumed her post with the Oldham Union but after a few months she fell ill with tuberculosis and was unable to work. All the staff of the Serbian Relief Fund field hospital were given a Serbian bravery award but when Catharine’s arrived she had lapsed into unconsciousness and was never aware of it. She died after a long illness on February 4th 1918 aged just 41 years. She was buried in Chadderton Cemetery.

Oldham Evening Chronicle, available at Oldham Local History and Archives

This letter appeared in the Oldham Chronicle, 7, November 1914.

Letters of war: Pte A Kirkbridge C Company 10th Manchester Regiment wrote to his sister in Glodwick

“We are short of food, 2 slices of dry bread for breakfast. Sometimes we have a tin of sardines. Dinner is alright but it is all boiled stuff, no roast. We can buy bread at the canteen at 2 ½ d for a small loaf- buying extra runs away with our pay. We have not had any butter since we arrived in Egypt. We can always do without that. We are not starving, but all clear their plates, we are only drawing 6s 3d per week, but we expect drawing a lump when we break up.

How would you like to have wash days like they have here, you can wash a shirt, wring it out with your hands, hang it out in the sun and it is ready for putting on in half an hour.

I have been to Cairo and it is a sight of a lifetime as far as the buildings are concerned. They are all arches and pillars. The houses are built of white stone and look very pretty but it is no place for a parson’s son.

The Oldham Pals…


Two days after the declaration of war in 1914 Parliament gave permission for the army to be increased to 500,000, so Field Marshal Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, began raising a new army of volunteers. The Pals Battalions were a part of this new army – a chance for men to serve in the army with their friends, their ‘Pals’.

During August Oldham filled its Territorial Battalion, the 1/10 Manchester, and raised a second. However among the prominent men of the town there was a feeling that Oldham was not contributing its ‘fair share’ to the new armies and so in September the Mayor of Oldham applied to the War Office for permission to raise a third Battalion from the town, an Oldham’s Pals Battalion known locally as the Oldham Comrades.

Initially the War Office refused permission but soon reversed this decision. However, the town had to take responsibility for raising, accommodating and equipping the Battalion until it could be taken over by the War Office.

A large recruitment meeting was held at the Empire Theatre on the 5th November. Speeches were given by the Mayor, Mr Bartley Denniss, MP for Oldham, and Dr. T. J. Macnamara, Secretary to the Board of Admiralty. Each speech was rousing, playing on patriotism, Empire, the treatment of Belgium and civic pride. Dr Macnamara asked: Could they as Oldham lads… see themselves being booted up and down Yorkshire Street by the Kaiser and his crowd? The crowd responded with laughter and shouts of No!

See the legacy of Oldham’s First World War heroes in a new project. Commemorate the bravery of the 24th Manchester Battalion better known as the ‘Oldham Pals’.

For more information call 0161 770 4654 or email archives@oldham.gov.uk

View the trail here.

Visit www.oldhampals.org.uk for more information.

This letter appeared in the Oldham Chronicle, 31 October, 1914

Mr and Mrs Millward, of Branlees Street, Hollinwood, received a letter from their wounded son, Private Alfred Millward of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

“Do not trouble about me, a wound is nothing much, plenty of people have lost their lives, which is much worse. They had done their duty and we buried them as best we could. The Germans run like ………..(swear word) when we fix our bayonets, they don’t like cold steel.

The sights here are awful. The poor people’s homes are all smashed up and burnt, and those that are not burned have been pillaged from roof to the cellar. The Germans take everything they can get hold of and think nothing of killing cows. Sheep and pigs. “

Dealing with the time he was injured he said “At night rain poured down and I was like a drowned rat. On the Sunday we got shelled pretty heavily and men on all sides of me were dropping dead and about 5 o’clock I felt a stinging pain in my foot and on looking at it found blood flowing from it as is from a tap.

A friend bandaged it up and after struggling all Sunday night I reached the village where some other fellows carried me to a church where there was a hospital. I am quite happy although wounded. It is no use being sad as being down hearted makes things worse.”

John Hogan: Oldham’s First Victoria Cross 

The event for which John Hogan was awarded the Victoria Cross took place in Festubert, France on 29 October 1914. It involved John Hogan and Lieutenant James Leach, who also received the Victoria Cross.  Soon afterwards, in action at Messines, John Hogan received shrapnel wounds to his eyes and face and was repatriated for treatment in Macclesfield General Infirmary.  He was there when the award was announced and he gave this interview to a reporter from the Manchester Evening News:

‘In the early morning of October 29 the Germans paid us a surprise visit.  Fighting at such close quarters things like this frequently happens.  The result was that we were driven out.  Two of our men were captured by the Germans.  The position was an important one and after two attempts to retake the lost ground we decided at all costs to retake the trenches we had lost.  It was dangerous work and at the head of ten men Mr. Leach and I crawled on hands and knees towards the line which we desired to seize.  Traversing from trench to trench we covered 100 yards in semi-circular fashion and eventually came upon the Germans who had surprised us in the morning. We not only released the two prisoners they had taken from us but captured 16 of their men, who quietly surrendered.’

‘Was the incident much talked about?” asked our representative.

‘Not a great deal.  It did crop up now and then in conversation and the fellows said the men who took part in it would probably hear of it all again.  Apart from that nothing was said at all and I heard nothing, indeed I said very little about the matter and it was not until this morning that I received the news that the VC had been awarded to me.’

His Victoria Cross was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 20 February 1915.

So who was John Hogan?

John Hogan was born to Sarah Hogan in Royton, Oldham on 8 April 1884.  Four years later she married Matthew Creagan and they had five children, John’s half siblings.  In 1895, when John was 11 years old, the Creagans emigrated to America leaving John in Oldham with his maternal grandmother.  After Matthew’s death in 1898 Sarah and the children returned to Oldham.

John enlisted in the South Lancashire Regiment on 15 August 1902 but was discharged five weeks later: ‘Not likely to become an efficient soldier.’  On 5 December 1902 he joined the Manchester Regiment and served in South Africa and India before joining the Army Reserve in 1912.  For a couple of years he was a postman in Royton. He rejoined the Manchesters when war broke out and was promoted to sergeant.

On 2 January 1915, while he was still on invalidity leave, John married widow Margaret Taylor, née Hannan. John and Margaret had a son, also called John, born 2 October 1919 but sadly Margaret died in 1926.  John had difficulties making his way in peacetime and often struggled financially.  He died on 6 October 1943 aged 59 years and was buried in Chadderton Cemetery.  His Victoria Cross is on display in Oldham Civic Centre.

Luckiest Man in the war – three bullets in one minute and still not hurt.

This happened to Private W Hinton, from the 1st East Lancashire regiment, native of Oldham.

Bullets went through:

  • his cap
  • the magazines of his rifle
  • 5 rounds of ammunition in his belt

His nickname has since been “lucky” and is called it by the rest of his battalion.

18th September 1914

Letter from wounded Hollinwood Soldier – Corporal S Pearson of The Willows Hollinwood, who was wounded in the Battle of Mons, has written to his sister in Oldham.

“I suppose you will have seen the papers that the English wounded soldiers are arriving in England I have been sent to Netley Hospital (near Southampton). It is surprising how happy the troops are, although some have lost limbs.

There is no exaggeration in the reports of the barbarism , conduct of the Germans troops as I saw them myself turn over one of our soldiers, and who was wounded, and deliberately stab him. There were 175 more wounded brought in last night. The St John Ambulance men here are from Lancashire”.

10th August 1914

The Indian Troops: How the Territorials welcomed them – The following is an extract from a letter from Lieutenant Pochun 10th Battalion Regiment, now in Egypt.

Yesterday we see a sight that I do not suppose anyone of us will see again, or anyone else for the matter of that.  We were all sitting on the back deck when someone jumped up and said, “Look, there’s a large cruiser coming up over the horizon”.

Of course, we all jumped up at once and the first thought that struck me was that we had sighted a German man-of-war at least but in a few minutes, as far as the eye could see, more and more ships appeared. When we were informed by the captain that these boats contained troops from India there was huge excitement. Then in about half an hour, as the fleet started to pass one another, pandemonium was let loose.

The men from both fleets cheered and shouted for at least 10 minutes like men gone mad. Ghurkhas, Sikhs, and white troops -you could not hear yourself think. There must have been at least troops in a two-mile radius all trying to split their lings at once.

The First World War

The First World War was the first war which experienced the mobilisation of large sectors of the population and had an enormous impact on the lives of civilians, including the lives of Oldhamers. Large numbers of men joined the army either as reservists, volunteers or conscripts.

The two main Oldham battalions were the Oldham Territorials, the 1/10th Battalion Manchester Regiment which served in Egypt, Gallipoli and France; and the 24th Battalion Manchester Regiment, the Oldham Pals, which served in France and Italy. The consequence of their service can be seen in many war memorials erected around the Borough as well as in the local cemeteries.

The war also saw the large-scale employment of women, initially as doctors and nurses but as the war continued women began to be the recruited as tram drivers, railway clerks and munitions workers. From 1917 women could join the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps or the Women’s Royal Air Force.

Women also played a role in providing home comforts for servicemen such as socks, vests, gloves, body belts . Ordinary people’s daily lives were dramatically affected by rationing, the fear of Zeppelin raids, and as the war drew to a close the devastating impact of Spanish flu. The war was truly a ‘Great War’ but sadly not the ‘war to end all wars’.