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Lancashire prepares to commemorate the centenary of Armistice Day

PUBLISHED: 00:00 29 October 2018

The striking war memorial in the village of Slaidburn

The striking war memorial in the village of Slaidburn

Irene Amiet

As Lancashire prepares to join in the commemoration of the end of the First Wold War, we look at some unique projects inspiring our communities

Empty boots outside the parish church in WhalleyEmpty boots outside the parish church in Whalley

Rows of empty boots lining the street of a small Lancashire community will be one of the many poignant memorials to men who gave their lives for king and country during World War One.

Across the county, local groups are preparing to mark the centenary of Armistice Day at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of November.

In the Ribble Valley village of Whalley, locals are determined to keep memories from fading by taking on the huge task of identifying not just those who did not survive the trenches but the soldiers who made it home only to later died from their wounds.

‘Where to begin?’ asks Cliff Ball, Whalley councillor, churchwarden and now event coordinator for his town’s Remembrance Sunday Armistice commemorations. He smiles in disbelief when he considers the task he set himself – completing Whalley’s List of Honour from the Great War, tracking down their identities and gathering the stories of lives cut short.

Cliff Ball and Dave Bamber helping to ensure the village remembersCliff Ball and Dave Bamber helping to ensure the village remembers

Cliff has written extracts about the fallen of Whalley and its surrounding villages. This is typical: ‘Private Thomas Birtwell Morris, 310315 Reinforcement Depot, Tank Corps – died 6th November, 1918 aged 22. Thomas is buried at the Mont Huon Military Cemetery, Le Treport, Seine-Maritime, France. He was the son of Thomas and Ellen Anne who were married on the 30th July, 1891 at St. Mary and All Saints Parish Church, Whalley. His address is given as Nethertown, Whalley.’

He hopes to find as much information about each soldier and to share it with his community. Aiding Cliff is one of the region’s few collections of contemporary newspaper clippings, published by the late hobby historian George Hardman.

Calderstones, once an asylum for the mentally ill on the outskirts of Whalley, was turned into a hospital for the wounded soldiers and this had a considerable influence on village life. ‘When a train carrying the wounded arrived, the hospital’s siren would blow to scramble off-duty nursing staff,’ says Cliff.

Dave Bamber, of Whalley Scouts, is helping Cliff organise the parade for Remembrance Sunday. ‘The sacrifices made are hard to comprehend,’ he says. ‘It’s incredibly important Whalley makes a special effort, and that children get involved. They might not understand the whole history, but they will remember Whalley’s contribution.’

Margaret Brenchley at Slaidburn ArchiveMargaret Brenchley at Slaidburn Archive

With help from an NHS grant, banners have been erected stating “Whalley Remembers”. They are embroidered with poppies, the visual impact making passers-by reflect for a moment.

One unusual element of the day came about when the event committee decided to find as many old walking boots as they could and leave them throughout town for the Remembrance Sunday parade to symbolise the men who joined up but never returned. On November 11, the boots will be placed along the parade route, a gesture which means the fallen soldiers will accompany young and old.

On an evening in autumn, Whalley’s parish church is burnished by the setting sun. The pair of empty boots in front is evocative in an atmosphere of serenity.

The Whalley war memorial has 13 names but the graves of war dead in the village churchyard take some finding. They are mainly under the tall fir trees at the far end of the wall - a good place to start when trying to find out about local lads.

Poet William Michael Neary reflects on the warPoet William Michael Neary reflects on the war

Some of the inscriptions are weathered and faded but the people of Whalley are making sure their names will never be completely erased.

BOOK OF REMEMBRANCE

A window in the soldiers' chapel members Arthur Green killed on the SommeA window in the soldiers' chapel members Arthur Green killed on the Somme

Driving through the chocolate-box villages of the Hodder Valley, the cenotaphs add a touch of melancholy.

As the sun goes down over places like Slaidburn, the day visitors disappear, and the cenotaph’s shadow lengthens.

Margaret Brenchley at the Slaidburn Archive has spent the four years finding the stories behind every man from Whitewell to Tosside who served, recording names and trying to contact next of kin to assemble their back stories.

‘As a child, I knew some of the men who went to war from the Hodder Valley,’ she says. ‘But no one ever talked about it back then. It must have been too horrific to mention.’

From the 135 Hodder Valley men who went to war, 34 were killed in action. It is safe to say, the ones who came home were all in some way injured, physically or mentally.

On the upper floor of the crooked Slaidburn cottage housing the archive, Margaret guards the folders that hold answers collected after many phone calls with the families she found, postcards and letters from the front, age-stained and ink-faded, but still just legible.

During her research she came across a name missing from the Dale Head section on the Slaidburn cenotaph – Harry Peel. His name originally appeared on the memorial plaque of St James’s Church in Dale Head, which was demolished when Stocks Reservoir was built. Why his name was never transferred to the Slaidburn cenotaph with the other men is a mystery. The mistake will be rectified in form of a plaque added to the cenotaph this autumn.

Margaret’s work about the Hodder Valley soldiers will be published this November via the Slaidburn Archive’s website. A chapter will be dedicated to the women and their war efforts as well. Small details like these bring the past alive.

Poetry and emotion

William Michael Neary is Chipping born and bred, a poet and field worker also known as The Bowland Bard. The village cenotaph was part of his every day life, like the church or the pub, and he’d never thought too much about it. But his poem “Roll Call” demonstrates how his interest has been awakened.

Asked about the inspiration behind it, William’s eyes twinkle as he recalls meeting a man while out buying petrol for his car. They got chatting and he told William about how the news trickled into the Lancashire mill towns of horrific losses on the Somme. The workers were so distracted, the factories had to slow production and the released steam whistled as if the towns were screaming in agony.

‘The line came to me then - “The Pain was Felt in Lancashire”. I knew something was going to happen with that story and the poem started to assemble in my head,’ he says.

At Easter service in Whalley’s parish church, his attention was drawn to a window pane dedicated to the memory of a soldier. St. George stands stalwart above Arthur Green’s name, guarding the memory of a young man from Whalley who died on the Somme in 1918.

When the vicar subsequently spoke of a soldier whose dying vision entailed a ship bound for the clouds, the poem was as good as written.

HORSE POWER

Thousands of horses as well as men were trained at Lathom Park near Ormskirk to join the muddy hell of mainland Europe during the war. The vast majority were not used for the cavalry but for heavy work such as pulling gun carriages or supplies.

These horses arrived in West Lancashire from all over the world and now they form part of a commemoration by children at Burscough Village Primary School. The school’s ‘Kids’ Club’ members are finger knitting purple poppies to commemorate the 250,000 horses trained at Lathom. More knitted red poppies will decorate local businesses and churches.

Deirdre Sadgrove, who manages the club, is also taking part in the nation’s ‘thank you’ procession in London on Remembrance Sunday.

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