James H. Morton | Hard as Nails: Private Harwood | Private George Willie | Volunteer William Dewhurst | 2nd Lt. Edward Deakin Ashton | Private Alex Done | Sam Wadsworth | Ambulance Service: Private Croft | POW: Charlie Skeels | Battle of Jutland | Capt. C. G. Eccles: Royal Flying Corp. | Stanley Webb Davies | Martha Emily Jenkins | Victor Servaes | Moss Side Tragedy | Private George W. S. Aspden | Sgt. Hubert Davies | Private Arthur Martin | Peace At Last

Stories of "Proud Darreners" Involved in the Great War

THE Great War ended with the Armistice which took effect on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918.

Villages, towns and cities throughout the United Kingdom celebrated, and in Darwen the occasion was marked by a long, sustained blast on the town's fire alarm and the pealing of church bells. Bunting and Union Jacks appeared as if by magic. Everyone was out in the street, the pubs and clubs were packed and, for the moment, the abject awfulness of more than four years of war were forgotten.

The expectancy that the war would be over by Christmas had finally been realised, although it was four years late; long years of a war of mechanised mayhem in which horse and lance gave way to tanks and heavy artillery and in which plumes and scarlet tunics gave way to steel helmets and khaki. A whole generation, the flower of British youth was wiped out.

Darwen was hit as much as anywhere. In excess of 8,000 local lads went off to fight; more than 1,300 never came home; others, badly wounded, came home to die. Others were wiped out by the Spanish flu' which struck Darwen from late summer 1918.

This feature is taken from a colourful exhibition at Darwen Library the mark the centenary of the Armistice. It was researched, written and designed by Harold Heys and Tony Foster. It highlights just a handful of Darreners whose stories are representative of those local lads – and a lass – who were involved.

James H. Morton

No 1: Artist killed days from the end
James H. Morton would have made a real name for himself

James H Morton.jpgJames Hargreaves Morton was beginning to make a name for himself as an artist when the Great War broke out. He had exhibited at important galleries in the North and at the Royal Academy after several years at the Royal College of Art in Kensington.

He was called up, in his 30s, and went off to France to fight. He didn’t come back. Just a few days before the Armistice, Sergeant Jim Morton was killed by machine-gun fire as the Germans retreated.
James was born at the bottom of Tockholes Road and was educated at Belgrave and the Higher Grade School (it became the “Tech”) and won a scholarship to the RCA. He had a short spell as an art teacher before his four sisters, who doted on him, decided to finance his budding artistic career.

When he left the family home at the top of steep Sudell Road to join the East Lancashire Regiment in 1916 he left behind a vast collection of his work which was not touched till the last sister died 50 years later at their house at the top of Barley Bank Street. It was all auctioned at King George’s Hall, Blackburn, in 1971 and raised over £10,000, a large sum for an unknown artist. Some of his pieces are on display in the Library.

JHM was buried close to where he fell at the town of Pont-sur-Sambre as his company was caught in withering fire from a rearguard position. He was one of the last of the East Lancs men to die in the conflict.

In 2013 the Friends of Darwen Library published a glossy biography: James Hargreaves Morton; a short, colourful life.

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No 2: Non-stop suffering by the wounded
Private Harwood: As hard as the nails that slowly poisoned him
Harwood H.jpgJohn Albert Harwood was a professional strong-man before the Great War. It toughened him up even more before his left knee was shattered. He was lucky he made it home but not as lucky with the rather rough and ready operation to fasten his femur and tibia together. The surgeon used a couple of carpenter’s nails – a 6 in round head and a 4 in oval which he hammered in cross-ways. There were more than 200 stitches in mangled flesh and 18 months in hospital before he knocked on his own front door.

Private Harwood, of Pitt Street, off Sudellside, counted himself lucky that he had made it back to his wife and children. Many of his pals were buried in France. But, as the nails rusted, he suffered severe blood poisoning and died in agony in a military hospital in Manchester in 1924.

He was just one of many thousands of battle-scarred soldiers whose lives were cut short. But in those days everyone just put on a brave face. In every town and village, grand houses were given over as hospitals. Moss Bridge at Darwen, for instance, where after the endless toll of destruction and death came the distress and despair of the dying.

Private Harwood of the Manchester Regiment, was just one of those whose fight didn’t end till death mercifully took them, often years later. He died in agony from blood poisoning in 1924. He was 38. Click here in order to read more information about Private Harwood: Hard as Nails

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 Private George Willie

No 3: It took a year for him to get home
Vast hospital ship with just one casualty - Private George Willie

Hospital ships never attracted much excitement or fascination in major wars around the globe. But they played a vital role in the Great War, bringing many local lads home. HMHS Panama spent 45 years up and down the Med and probably took care of some 30,000 casualties in various wars.

But probably the most unusual evacuation the ship ever carried out was in January, 1917, when she left Salonika in northern Greece for Malta. She usually carried hundreds but this time, bizarrely, her complement of wounded soldiers and sailors was, for a variety of reasons, much reduced. Logistics are often unfathomable in wartime, but from records it appears that HMHS Panama left Salonica with just one patient – Private George William Snape, of the East Lancs Regt., who lived in Sarah Street, Darwen.

Five days later the ship’s log shows: “Berthed at Hamilton Wharf, Malta. Patient discharged.” It must have been a strange “Med. cruise” for George Willie, as he became known – looked after by several doctors and dozens of nurses. He spent six months in hospitals in Malta before he was well enough to be shipped on to Marseilles and a further four months before he made it back home.

George Willie.jpg
 

He was barely 5ft 2in and 7st 9lbs, but he volunteered in 1915, soon after he married Nancy Duxbury at Redearth Road Methodist Church, Darwen.

After the war, George Willie was Liberal Agent for Darwen and became Mayor of Darwen in 1963. He was a chirpy and popular little chap. He died in 1967 aged 78.

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Volunteer William Dewhurst

No 4: Volunteers rallied to the call
Returning home to join the fight – but he didn’t make it

When war broke out early in August, 1914 young British men working and travelling all over the world began making plans to return home to join up. Many urgently set off home from Europe; others, much further afield, were checking which boats might get them home quickly from far-flung corners of the globe. One of them was 21-year-old William Dewhurst who had left Bowling Green Mill and his terrace home on Bolton Road, across from the Top Con, to work in the vast cotton industry in the rapidly expanding Fall River north of New York.

He booked a one-way passage and, in spite of threats from German U-boats, he set off. It was unfortunate that the ship he was coming home on was the ill-fated Lusitania. As the ship passed by the Old Head of Kinsale, near Cork, on May 7, 1915, Captain William Turner slowed to catch the tide into Liverpool when U-20 struck. The Lusitania went down in minutes with the loss of hundreds of lives. William is remembered on the family grave in Darwen Old Cemetery.

Twelve years later, his widowed mother Alice took up an invitation to visit relatives in Fall River. As the mail ship Celtic neared Cork she asked an officer if they would pass close to Kinsale as she had lost her son when the Lusitania went down and she had brought a wreath with her.

He told the skipper who slowed, and held a service in memory of William and all those who had died in the tragedy. And the lad’s tearful mum cast her wreath into the sea to follow her son …


Image title. William Dewhurst – coming
home to fight, but went down with the Lusitania

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2nd. Lt. Edward Deakin Ashton

No 5: Don’t be disheartened if I am taken
Ashton’s courage didn’t falter as he led the way into hell

Edward Ashton Deakin.jpgNo one wanted to die in the Great War. No one wanted to be gassed, blinded, crippled or suffer from “shell shock.” But for the young officers there was a bigger fear – the fear of not showing courage and leadership in front of their men. None of them knew how they would react when they led the way into battle. Would their nerve hold? It was a fear that gnawed away at them and it was no different for 2nd Lt.Edward Deakin Ashton, of Ellerslie, educated at Sedbergh School and then at Balliol College, Oxford.

He was killed, probably in seconds, as he led A Company, spearhead of the 19th Bn. of the Lancashire Fusiliers over the top at Thiepval as the barrage stopped, the smoke cleared and the whistles blew on that fateful Saturday of July 1, 1916. It was the start of the five-month-long Battle of the Somme. Ashton might well have been the first of over a million men to die.

He had written to his father, cotton mill owner Henry Ashton on the eve of battle: “We are bound to have a few rather hot minutes … Don’t be disheartened if I am taken.”
Ashton had been at Gallipoli a few months earlier and had been invalided home with frostbite. He was back in action as the Somme build-up got under way. He had shown courage in the Dardanelles, and now he again faced the old fear. It took moments for him to discover his courage had not faltered as he bravely led his men into a vision of hell …

Ashton was just 26 when he died. He is remembered in Darwen Old Cemetery, on the impressive family vault, behind a verse from Ecclesiastes 12.7: Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.

Image Edward Deakin Ashton in his Oxford days.

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 Private Alex Done

No 6: First burial in the old cemetery
Private Done and the daughter he never knew who lived to 99

Done image.jpgPrivate Alex Done never knew his daughter. But he would have been so proud of her. Named Alexandra after him, she was born early in 1915 just a few weeks before his ravaged body was sent home for him to die. He was the first active soldier buried in Darwen old cemetery.

Alexandra grew into a fine young woman and she was almost 100 when she died, She married and brought up a fam­ily of her own. She en­joyed a full and active life – but for never hav­ing known her father … Alex, who was a reserv­ist, married Sarah Turner in June 1914, and the day after mobilisation he left their home in Lord Street and went off to Preston to join his regiment, the Loyal North Lancashires. A month later he was fighting in France; by early December he was dead. Sarah was pregnant and left to bring up her baby on her own.

Pte. Done was shot in early November and spent hours in no-man's land till he was found and taken back to England where he died from pneu­monia brought on by his wounds. His funeral was attended by hundreds of mourners.

Done daughter.jpg 

Alexandra arrived in the spring of 1915. She married Bob Youd at 18 and they had six children. She had been living in St James' House and died in hospital just weeks from making 100. She once said that she could never remember the family ever speaking of her gallant father and his death in the war. The stiff upper lip was the thing, you see …

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Sam Wadsworth

No 7: Great player and a gentleman
Rejected by the Rovers, Sam went on to captain England

Wadsworth Sam image.jpgSam Wadsworth was just making his breakthrough with Blackburn Rovers when the war came. He had scored on his debut with the Reserves against Manchester City’s reserves in front of 6,000 – and then everything changed.

He was just 17 when he tried to enlist, telling the recruiting sergeant he was 18. “Come back in a month and tell me you are 19,” he was told. So he did.
Sam survived four years with the Royal Garrison Artillery – they handled the really big guns – and when he got back home his nerves were shattered.

It took him six months before he plucked up courage to knock on the Ewood Park entrance to be told: “Sorry, Sam. We’ve nothing for you.” His dad stopped him throwing his one pair of boots on to the fire at their home in Hollins Row and arranged a trial for him with Nelson. Sam took his chance, was snapped up by Huddersfield Town, won league titles an FA Cup, played left back for England and captained the team several times.

When injury ended his great career, he went over to Holland to coach and he and his wife Gladys made it back on the last boat out when the Second World War came. He went back afterwards to manage PSV Eindhoven where he was very popular.  Before his death at the age of 64 he recorded several tapes in which his good nature and humility shone through. He extolled the virtues of team spirit and friend-ship, duty and fair play – qualities which saw him through the horrors of war. “I was taught not only how to live well, but how to lose well,” he said.

Darwen-born Sam Wadsworth was a great defensive player and a real gentleman.

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Ambulance Service: Private Croft

No 8: Ambulance men played vital role
Private Croft and prayers in the dark hours of midnight...

Croft image.jpgIt took just days for the first ambulance men from Darwen to sign up for service with the RAMC. They realised that their expertise would be invaluable – and they were quickly in the thick of it. Several were soon captured and would have been shot but for the intervention of a German officer who told his men: “We only shoot soldiers; these are gentlemen.”

One of the group who went to France was Albert Henry Farthing Croft of Argyle Street who often wrote home to the minister of Duckworth Street chapel with reflections on those dark days. One was published in the Darwen News in January 1915.

“We were knocked to pieces. Private Cockshoot and I stitched nearly 40 brave English soldiers in their blankets but I am pleased to say we placed them away with holy reverence. He read the burial service and I offered thanks to God for their splendid lives and asked for a blessing for those who were left at home who would never see them again ... I volunteered to help bury four men who were lying dead in a corner. I was accompanied by five other volunteers … I shall not soon forget the awful solemnity of it all. We stood there in the dark hours of midnight and with bared head I offered prayer … You are very near to God on occasions like this.”


 

Private Croft was 33 when he enlisted. He was only a little chap, barely 5ft 5in and weighed less that 11st. He married Margaret Shaw in 1905 and they had one son, named after him.

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POW: Charlie Skeels


No 9: The Prisoner of War
Charlie’s wife crossed battle zone to be reunited with him

Skeels Charlie.jpgWhen blacksmith Charlie Skeels wed Lily Anne Claxton in 1907 they never thought that within a few years she would be travelling through a European battle zone to an elegant Swiss ski resort for a reunion after months apart.

The Great War threw up many strange circumstances but Mrs Skeels’ journey from her home in Junction Street, Darwen, in the late summer of 1916 across the war zone of crashing shells, death and destruction, was among the more unusual.

In the middle of the war, before things got really desperate, some wounded PoWs were moved to Switzerland in an exchange scheme and several hundred wives were allowed to meet up with them, briefly.

Charlie had fought with the 2nd Cheshire Regiment in the Boer War and when the European War broke out he immediately re-enlisted with his old regiment and was soon fighting in France and Belgium. He was captured at the Second Battle of Ypres after a heavy bombardment and a gas attack, followed by an assault by superior forces in May 1915.

After several tough months as a Prisoner Of War at Camp Glessen in Germany, he wasn’t in good shape and he was sent with others to the Swiss ski resort of Chateau d’Oex where his wife was reunited with him. In late 1917 he was discharged from the Army. He spent time in hospital before coming back to Darwen where he slowly recovered.

They also lived in Radford St., Alma St. and Cyprus St. Charlie packed plenty into an eventful life before his death at 60 on the eve of the Second World War.

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Battle of Jutland

No 10: Historian traces mystery donor
Darwen sailor killed at Jutland inspired a wonderful gift to town

Battle of Jutland.jpg 

It was a mystery that lasted for nearly 100 years. Who was the donor of the magnificent oil Battle of Jutland which broods over the main room at Darwen Library?
It was given to Darwen Corporation in 1922 by an anonymous donor in memory of the hundreds of local men lost in the Great War. His name was never revealed, but local historian Tony Foster got on the trail and has solved the puzzle.

Charles Dixon, an accomplished painter of seascapes, exhibited it in 1916 at the Royal Academy and then at a long established gallery in Old Bond Street where it was bought by Blackburn art dealer Richard Haworth, on behalf of local solicitors on instructions from our mystery man.

Tony said: “It wasn’t difficult. The donor had to have had a few bob, as we say, and he had to have lost a close relative at Jutland. I found three Darwen men who had died in the sea battle and one, torpedo operator William Reid Hunt, was the son of a cotton manufacturer, John Thomas Hunt, who ran Progress Mill and whose brother William Henry had also been lost at sea in the war. There were other pointers and I was sure we had our man.”

Marine Wm. Henry went down with the cruiser HMS Clan MacNaughton in February 1915 off North West Scotland; Wm. Reid died the following year at Jutland when the Queen Mary was sunk. The Hunt family lived at various addresses in Darwen including Essex St., and Perry St., before moving to Blackpool.

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Capt. C.G. Eccles: Royal Flying Corp. 

No 11: One of the ‘gung-ho’ boys
Brave pilot who was blasted out of the skies in a swirl of flames

RFC Gung Ho Eccles.jpgIt wasn't much fun  flying experimental bi-planes for the young Royal Flying Corps. They were little more than flying death traps; just an engine, fabric and flimsy slats of wood all glued together with a stiffening agent – and spurting fuel all over the place. Enemy planes, airships, anti-air-craft batteries and small arms’ fire added to the challenge.

One of them was Capt. Charley Gordon Eccles, son of Richard H. Eccles, a cotton spinner of Lower Darwen Mill, who lived in two grand houses in Darwen, both called Tullyallen. The first was in Hawkshaw Avenue and he built the second on Salisbury Road, off Earnsdale. It was a convalescent home during the war. Later it became an “open air” school and is now a special school for young people. Richard retired to Bentham in the Dales early in 1914.

Charley Eccles, born in 1888, was educated at Rossall School and King’s College School, Worcester. Before the war he worked on plantations in India and the Malay States. He quickly returned home as did so many young Brits and he got a commission with the Royal West Kent Regiment.

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Captain Eccles served till the summer of 1916 when he joined the “gung-ho” boys of the RFC. The average life expectancy was just weeks, but he managed to keep flying till the late spring of 1917. He was on board a Royal Aircraft Factory FE 8 and took a hit from an anti-aircraft postion. He crashed in flames close to the German trenches and was probably dead before he hit the ground.

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Stanley Webb Davies

No 12: The Conscientious Objector
Young Davies refused to fight but went out and did his bit ...

Stanley Webb Davies.jpg

 Stanley Webb Davies (left) was a member of a prominent family of Quakers who ran cotton mills and built Garden Village. It was they who invited Mahatma Gandhi to Darwen in 1931 to see the plight of textile workers who were suffering from the Indian boycott of our goods.

Stanley was at Oxford when war came and he was firm in refusing to fight. It was against Christ’s teachings, he said. But he was ready to do his bit and joined the Friends’ War Victims Relief team in building houses for the French peasants suffering with terrible hardships.

After the war Stanley decided not to join the family firm and instead he trained as a wood carver, becoming one of the country’s leading experts in arts and crafts furniture from his base in Windermere.

Members of his family steadily moved out of Darwen but he never forgot his roots. He lived as a young man at Heatherfield, Whitehall Road and paid an emotional visit in 1974.

He was in his 80s, and he waited outside for some minutes, too shy to knock on the door and introduce himself. But, of course, this was a Darwen house and he was at once invited in to enjoy a cup of tea. He was shown round the house where he used to live and it brought back many happy memories.

Stanley had married Emily in 1923 and they had a long and loving life together. Their ashes are buried together in the Friends’ burial ground at Height on the windswept Cartmel Fell.

• A book, Stanley Webb Davies: Family, Friends & Furniture, was published by the Friends of Darwen Library in 2016.

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Martha Emily Jenkins

No 13: Weaver joined Mercantile Marine
Emily was blasted by a U-boat – and sent to a watery grave

Emily Jenkins image.jpgMartha Emily Jenkins never thought war would come to her as she toiled as a volunteer nurse at Moss Bridge Hospital, off the main road and close to the Blackburn boundary, in the winter of 1914-15. But it did – in the shape of U-boat 28, captained by Baron von Forstner. Her young life and brief service as a stewardess with the Mercantile Marine ended in the icy waters of the Irish Sea off the coast of Pembrokeshire.

Emily was born in Liverpool but her family moved to Darwen where they lived in Epworth St. and then Punstock Rd. She was a weaver but spent much of  her spare time at Moss Bridge, given to the town by the Shorrock family as a hospital.

In February 1915 she decided to join the Mercantile Marine and her second voyage was on the steamer Aguila, out of Liverpool and bound for Lisbon and the Canaries. They didn’t get very far.

She was intercepted on March 27 by U28. Captain Bannerman bravely decided to run for it, but the ship was overhauled on the surface and blasted with shells, before being sunk with a torpedo. Little Emily, 41, made it to a lifeboat but it was hit by shrapnel and over-turned in a heavy sea. A second lifeboat was aided by the steam trawler Ottilie who took the survivors to Anglesey.

Miss Jenkins and several crew members were never seen again. She is remembered on Tower Hill Monument, which overlooks the Thames Basin. Martha was also remembered on St George's Memorial which is now in St Peter's Church, Darwen.

When she sailed, she took with her all her photos, leaving just the one you see on this page...

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Victor Servaes

No 14: Scout went back home to fight
Young Victor became the star of Darwen’s first War Horse saga

Victor Servaes.jpgBelgium was overrun by the invading German Army within days of the Great War breaking out. Thousands fled south and across the channel; wounded soldiers were evacuated here.

The lost and lonely, desperate and disabled were dispersed throughout Britain. Darwen took its share; injured soldiers were housed at Moss Bridge and Tullyallen; homes were opened up to refugees. 

This is the brief story of just one of them, a 15-year-old lad called Victor Servaes who lived with Mrs Alice Taylor of Earnsdale Road. He joined Duckworth Street Scouts and went to school. But his one aim was to get back across the Channel to join the fight against the Huns. And in the summer of 1915 he did just that. He joined a Belgian cavalry regiment, and wrote back to friends in Darwen to tell them how he loved his horse and how he hoped to take it back to the family farm when the war ended.

It became Darwen’s very own War Horse but, sadly, Victor didn’t make it home. In late 1917 he was wounded and died from his wounds. Mrs Taylor received a kindly letter from his captain in the Artillery to which he had been attached.
More than 60 Belgian refugees lived in Darwen during the war and dozens of wounded soldiers were treated here. Every one of them had reason to be grateful to our long tradition of helping the oppressed and the needy, as memorably recounted by the Italian leader Giuseppe Garibaldi some 150 years ago:
England is a great and powerful nation, foremost in human progress, enemy to despotism, the only safe refuge for the exile and friend of the oppressed.
— Giuseppe Garibaldi: French-born Italian  patriot and leader (1807- 1882) wrote this moving tribute to a friend living in England.

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Moss Side Tragedy

No 15: Tragedy – and then the war
His father had slit his mum’s throat – and then his own

Why did so many young men join up to fight in the Great War? It wasn’t for the money. It wasn’t for the prestige. And there was every chance they wouldn’t come back in one piece if indeed they came back at all.

Of course it would all be over by Christmas. So, come on boys – don’t miss the fun! There’s no doubt that a taste for adventure would have been a big attraction. Most young lads from East Lancashire had probably never been further than Blackpool or Manchester.

Off to France with a rifle over one arm and a pretty young mam’selle on the other had a lot going for it. Especially when most were in dead-end jobs in the factories, offices and shops, on the farms and down the pits. Some just wanted escape from a rotten childhood.

Albert Yates was one who didn’t have much of a life before an early death in the war.

Moss Side Farm.jpg 

He was barely seven in 1897 when he returned from Sunday School, happy and smiling, to find his father dead in the kitchen of their home at Moss Side Farm between the top of Cranberry Lane and Drummer Stoops. George had cut his own throat after killing his wife Ann by slashing her throat. The lad found her at the bottom of the stairs. There was blood everywhere. Something must have snapped, the neighbours reckoned.

Pte. Yates joined the Lancashire Fusiliers in his mid-20s and was killed in the last months of the Great War. He would have seen some terrible things in France and Belgium, but he had witnessed much worse as a little lad.

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 Private George W. S. Aspden

No 16: He knew where his duty lay
Brave George came home from Canada to fight:- and to die

soldier Canada Aspden.jpgAn earlier story told of a young Darwen lad coming home to join the the fight, only to drown when the Lusitania was sunk off Cork. This is the story of one of the many local lads who made it home from far-flung corners of the Globe to join the fighting.

George William Shepherd Aspden had joined his father Robert in the wilds of Canada when war broke out. He enlisted in the Canadian Infantry in Edmonton on January 5, 1915 when he was 19. He had probably gone to the city looking for work during the winter. He was soon in the thick of it in France and Belgium. He was in hospital in France and England but returned to the fray.  The Canadian Third Division were defending Mount Sorrel, Sanctuary Wood and Hill 62 and were under severe pressure.  George was cut to pieces and died of wounds to his back, hip and legs sustained in June 1916 and he is buried in Belgium with several thousand Canadian troops who were wiped out in the long battle.

His was sad, short life.  His mother Emma died a few days after giving birth to him when they were living on Albert Street, close to the old cemetery.  His father moved to Bentley Street soon afterwards.  George attended Culvert School and did well at the Secondary School before emigrating in his teens to join his father. 

He had been living with his aunt and uncle, Mary and Shepherd Shuttleworth in Willie Street, later Balmoral Road.

Before leaving to start a new life in Canada, he was an office clerk at Waterfield Mill, just across the road from home.  His father stayed on in Canada and became a post master.

WW1 Roll of HOnour.jpg
 

***George Aspden is remembered on the Spring Vale Methodist Church War Memorial.

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Sgt. Hubert Davies

No 17: 60 years in institutions
Sad stories of how the war affected the bravest hearts
• Sgt. Hubert Davies and the entrance to Whittingham Hospital for him …

Sgt Herbert Davies Image.jpgMany of the 8,000 and more Darwen lads who fought in the Great War thankfully came through the carnage. But scores were broken men.  Their stories still resonates today, a century on.

Out of all the tales we have told over the past few years, a couple in particular still strike a chill. One is a simple story of a Darwen home-coming. We don't know the soldier's name, but he came home to a roaring fire, just before Christmas 1918.

He stepped inside his tearraced house, for a moment unable to speak to his wife and children.  He stood in front of the fire and slowly and with great care, took off each item of clothing and placed them into the flames.  In a few minutes he was naked, tears faling "as the gentle rain from Heaven".

His war was finally over and only then, with the spell broken, did he stoop to embrace his wife and children.  He never once spoke of the suffering he had seen and endured.

Whittingham Hospital.jpg 

Perhaps the saddest story of the war was that of Sgt. Hubert Davies of Marsh House Lane.  He won the Military Medal for digging out, under heavy shell-fire, two of his pals who survived the ordeal.  The experience shattered Hubert's nerves and by the end of the war he was in Whittingham mental hospital near Longridge.

He was allowed out to be presented with his Military Medal in Darwen Council chamber where he made a short speech about courage and comradeship to loud applause.  And then he was taken back to hospital.

He spent nearly 60 years in institutions till Death, mercifully, came for him.

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Private Arthur Martin

No 18: I’m taking you back with me
Darwen lad saved sergeant who’d lost an arm and a leg                                              

Pt Arthur Martin.jpg
Arthur Martin (left) didn’t win a medal for gallantry in the Great War. But he should have done. It didn’t bother him. He was just content that he had saved the life of one of his sergeants – another Darwen lad – in the hell that was Gallipoli.

He went on to serve in France and after the war he returned to his job as a truck-driver. He later became a gravedigger. He never once spoke about the war and his five children and five grandchildren grew up without any inkling as to his bravery.

Until now, a century after the Armistice. Researchers found the story of Sgt. John Edwin Sprague, of Snape Street, who had been lying gravely injured in no-man’s land in the summer of 1915. 

Sgt Sprague.jpgSgt. Sprague had taken a bullet in the left thigh in a charge on the Turkish lines and shells shattered his right leg. Another shell blew off his right arm and part of the shoulder. After several hours, along came Pte. Martin, hobbling slowly with a bloodied knee and chest.

‘Go lad, look after yourself,’ John Sprague recalled telling him in a letter home months later. ‘I’m taking you back with me,’ he was told – and Arthur – a little chap, barely 5ft 3in – lifted him, slowly and painfully, over a shoulder and edged him back to the safety of the East Lancs trenches over 200 yards away as bullets whistled past them.

Arthur Martin, about 24 at the time of the rescue, lived in Maitland Street till 1954.
What was left of John Edwin’s torn body was patched up and he lived till 1937 when he died aged 48 in Blackpool.

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Peace At Last

Finale: War memorial is unveiled

Peace at last, but hope of a Land Fit For Heroes fade

Several memorials give the date of the Great War as 1914-1919. Odd? Well, although hostilities ended officially with the Amnesty of 100 years ago in November 1918, the final peace treaty wasn’t signed till seven months later in June 1919 at Versailles.

No one was happy with the final treaty; Germany thought the reparations were too harsh; the French, in particular, thought that Germany had been let off lightly. Into the mix came the aftermath of the Russian Revolution and a powder keg of suspicion was left to smoulder before breaking out into the Second World War in September 1939.

However, throughout Britain the end of the European War as it was known, was celebrated and memorials to the fallen sprang up everywhere. The wild euphoria didn’t last as the hope of a Land Fit For Heroes soon lost its gloss.

Darwen’s war memorial in Bold Venture Park was unveiled on September 27, 1921 to follow the Boer War memorial at the Circus. Mrs D W Chadwick, of Radford St., who had lost three sons, performed the ceremony and Pte. Wm, Allen, of Exchange St., who had been blinded and lost a hand at Gallipoli, was helped up the five steps – one for each year of the war – to lay the first wreath beneath the impressive statue of Winged Victory.

We hope you have all learned something of Darwen’s proud history in this exhibition, staged at Darwen Library and at the Heritage Centre to mark the Centenary of the Great War Armistice in 1918 – at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month …

Wreath laying Darwen.jpg 

As was the custom, a civic wreath is laid on the war memorial in 1936 by the Mayoress Mrs W R Preston

With grateful thanks to Harold Heys and Tony Foster.

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