Oldham Historical Research Group

The Narrative and Slides from
the September 2014 Talk at Oldham-HRG

Click on the the image to see a larger version.

[Book links are to the Internet Archive where they can be read, freely, on-line or downloaded as .pdf files.]

September 2014 Talk at Oldham-HRG


Just to refresh our memories ......

After war had been declared, on the 4th August 1914, regular soldiers had been re-deployed to France as the The British Expeditionary force.

Reservists had been re-called ... Territorials had been embodied ... and recruiting of civilian volunteers was in full swing by the end of August.

September 2014 Talk at Oldham-HRG


This talk is complete in itself but was designed to follow the earlier talk (August) that looked mainly at the role of men in the war .....
the Oldham battalions ... recruitment ... training ... their postings ...prisoners of war ... the 3 Oldham Victoria Crosses and u-boat attacks on passenger liners etc.

September 2014 Talk at Oldham-HRG


This will be more concerned with a brief look at some of what was happening at home ... and the role of women, both here and abroad ....

1916 the Military Service Act


In January 1916 the Military Service Act came into force.
It was an attempt to push the fit and able men, who were not already in uniform, into the armed forces. However, men were given the opportunity to appy for exemption ...

Military Tribunal Boards


Local Military Tribunal Boards were set up to consider applications for exemption and interview the applicant.
If the applicant was unhappy with the decision then they could appeal through County Appeal Tribunals.

Although there were many booklets and hundreds of pages of guidance issued ... with literally hundreds of possible examples for exemption ... a successful application often depended on the personal bias of the local board members, especially in the case of conscientious objectors.

Military Tribunal Boards

Pages from the
' Papers of the Disley Local Military Service Tribunal, 1915-1918'
Read assorted pages HERE -
uploaded by Manchester Archives+


There were 7 official 'grounds for Appeal' and put simply, they were.

  1. he is employed on work in the national Interest
  2. he SHOULD be ... and could be ... employed on work in the national Interest
  3. he is in education or training and it is in the national interest for him to continue doing so.
  4. serious hardship would ensue for his family owing to business
    obligations or domestic responsibilities,
  5. Ill health or infirmity.
  6. conscientious objection to combatant service.
  7. his principal occupation is on the list of certified exemptions.
Conscientious objectors were only around 2% of the appeals and, of those, only a small number were granted exemption.

Military Tribunal Boards


Most successful applicants, on conscientious grounds, were obliged to serve in non-combatant roles ... often at or near the Front.
If they also refused this, then they faced court martial and possible execution. This was usually commuted to a long term of imprisonment.
Only a very tiny number were actually executed.

As a further punishment in the 1918 Representation of the People Act they were denied the right to vote in the General Election that year and for the 5 years following the the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

Military Tribunal Boards

Pages from the
' Papers of the Middlesex County
Military Service Tribunal, 1915-1918'
Download and read them, from the
National Archives, HERE

In Oldham there are reports in the Oldham Chronicle of Tribunals held at Crompton, Chadderton, Lees, Springhead, Limehurst, Royton, Failsworth and Oldham itself.
They usually record the names of the officials on the Tribunal Board, details of the applicants, often with their names and the many and varied grounds for their appeal.
They included appeals by firms on behalf of those employees deemed irreplaceable ... for example one from the Magnet Spinning Company at Manor Mill and one from W. Taylor Ltd., at Vale Mill.

The reports also gave the decision and, sometimes, the verbal exchanges in the room are recorded in full, providing a sense of the feelings and opinions amongst the men.

There are a number of reports of conscientous objectors being arrested on the criminal charge of, 'Failing to Comply with the Military Service Act.' One such report was of 3 brothers called Hubert, Stanley and Hayden Greaves, of 1, Leach Street, Royton. They had had failed to attest after having appealed more than once and each time been rejected. When they appeared in court they were each fined 40/- (the minimum fine) and handed over to a military escort.

Everyone had an opinion and, in one letter, the Royton Tribunal was accused of being 'too lenient' and, " I am afraid that there is too much sentiment being shown by members of the tribunal ..." It finishes with, "It certainly seems that, next to going into munitions, one's best way to escape service is to live at Royton."



Britain had many reasons, mainly to do with self-interest, for entering the war against Germany in August 1914 but the publicly stated reason was that Belgium's neutrality had been violated.
Defence of the underdog, the weak and innocent, was sure to find favour with the majority ... and it did.



Belgium, which had been safeguarded by treaties for the past 75 years was no match for the power of the German army, as it swept across her borders, looting and destroying everything that stood in its path as the townsfolk and villagers fled before the advance.

When the Belgian Government appealed for aid Britain set up a War Refugees Committee and Local War Relief committees were asked to set up sub-committees to organise the relief and find suitable homes in their own areas.

Before the end of the war, over 250,000 Belgian refugees would have arrived in Britain, finding shelter and support.

Belgium-1914 refugees


In Oldham, Mr Nadin, the Secretary of the Oldham Relief Committee, had already received several dozen offers of homes for individual children but the more urgent need was for families to be accommodated together.
In mid September, the Oldham Evening Chronicle published an article headlined, "Belgian Refugees - an appeal to Oldham's Hospitality'. Within weeks offers of a number of houses, rent free, were received, including Royton Hall, Greenacres Lodge, Broomhurst, Chadderton House, 146, Coppice Street in Oldham and 36 Oak Street, in Shaw.


A Belgian Relief Fund was formed and set about raising the money to pay for the furnishing and upkeep of the properties. Offers of help flooded in.... One was from the Oldham Gasworks who agreed to the installation of gas fires and cookers in the Belgian homes and promised that gas would be supplied at a discounted rate.

Belgian refugees- Byl family in Royton


The Oldham Chronicle, in mid October, reported that hundreds of well-wishers had gathered to welcome the Byl family, on their arrival in Royton, where they were to be accommodated in 5 large rooms at Royton Hall.

The family had escaped from Ghent ... leaving everything behind.

Heights Church - Saddleworth


In the 'Saddleworth Historical Society Bulletin', of Autumn 2010, we can read a considerable amount about what was happening in that locality, most of which was probably being replicated all over the country.

Offers of help were immediately received by the Saddleworth Distress Committee and it was also suggested that the untenanted council houses should be made available for refugees.

Fund raising for initial expenses, such as furniture and basic necessities, was going to be a priority and was started immediately.



In the early months there was a great deal of press enthusiasm, with only a few voices of dissent or caution. So great was this enthusiasm that in some places, such as Saddleworth, the only shortage was of Belgian families to take up residence ... Offers were currently exceeding demand!

In November, at a meeting of the Distress Committee, it was suggested that, with 10 empty houses offered and ready for occupation but with, as yet, no families to put in them, that 2 of them should be made available for the use of convalescent soldiers. One, Oakdene, would later become the first Military Hospital in Saddleworth.

In December, the only refugees to have actually arrived were those of a family called Foreff, in Bleakhey Nook. The Foreff family had been discovered by a local businessman, Mr. Greenwood, whilst visiting Manchester. On hearing their sad story, he immediately offered them a cottage and settled them there at once.



In autumn 1914 another family was installed in a house and was being supported by the Delph Independent Methodists, This family, like the Foreffs, were originally from Malines which had been over-run by the German forces.

Perhaps, as yet, most people believed that these would only be temporary financial burdens, on both the individuals and the councils, and few were considering that this might be a commitment for an unknown and lengthy number of years.

In January 1915 the Distress Committee was supporting 45 refugees in Saddleworth. To raise funds they organised illustrated lectures, band and choral concerts, and welcomed cash donations.



In Oldham, the Orchestral Society staged a fund raising concert at the Empire Theatre, in December 1914. Attended by civic dignitaries, and with evening dress worn in the dress circle, it was a gala occasion.
One of the songs was, 'It's a long way to Tipperary', penned in Stalybridge in 1912. After someone heard it in pantomime, it went to France and was adopted as a popular marching song by the British Expeditionary Force.

In Saddleworth, as the months dragged on, the first hesitant voices of criticism began to be heard, in early 1915, when the refugees didn't like the locally baked bread and the Belgian diet was full of fish ... cheap enough in Belgium but much more expensive in villages such as Saddleworth.



How well did the refugees fit in with the English way of life...?

As the years went by, did the finances become a burden ... ?

In 1916, Belgian men were exempt from conscription under the 1916 Military Act.

Even today, many questions remain only partially answered.

1914 families


When their sons and brothers, husbands or lovers, marched off to war, the women left behind had a burning need to show their support; to offer help and comfort, in whatever ways they could.
It proved a vital link with home, for those servicemen who would receive the many 'War comforts' that were sent by the ladies.

Groups of women had organised themselves within weeks of the outbreak of war, to 'do their bit'.

'The Failsworth Sub Division, Red Cross Society, Failsworth Wesleyan Methodist Church, Comforts Section'


Formed by the women and girls, on September 26th, 1914, one of these groups was known as, 'The Failsworth Sub Division, Red Cross Society, Failsworth Wesleyan Methodist Church, Comforts Section' ... to give it its full title!

'The Failsworth Sub Division, Red Cross Society, Failsworth Wesleyan Methodist Church, Comforts Section'


The group raised funds for materials and knitted and sewed its way through many thousands of pairs of socks, gloves, shirts, slippers, scarves, caps, bandages, blankets and so on, whatever nwas needed.
During the next 4 years. There would also be gifts from individuals to be added to the list of extras sent off to the servicemen, such as stationery, cigarettes and books.

The money raised paid for an ambulance, stretchers, materials, treats and trips for convalescents.

1914 War comforts


In her book, 'A Volunteer Nurse on the Western Front', Olive Dent, devotes several pages to the praise of War Comforts, to the women who laboured over them at home and the recognition of just much they were appreciated by the men.

1914 War comforts-Failsworth


In February 1916, many of these local groups, including Failsworth Wesleyan, combined together in order to centralise their organisation for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
They took the title of 'Failsworth and Woodhouses War Comforts Society'.
Some of the items were sent tospecific servicemen but mostly they were sent to a collection point then distributed wherever the need was greatest.

Read more about them HERE

1914 War comforts-Failsworth


There were about a dozen groups within the Failsworth and Woodhouses Society but many dozens of subscribers listed as having donated money or goods.
Equally, there must have been hundreds, probably thousands, of other groups doing just the same work ... all over the borough, the adjoining towns and throughout the country.

Unfortunately, although we find passing references to their existence, the detailed reports that still exist are thin on the ground ...

Sylvia pankhurst


Women had been organising themselves, in action groups, for the past 50 years, as they campaigned for women's rights in both society and the workplace.

Not forgotten, but put to one side in the face of greater need, many of these organisations, especially the women's suffrage, now channeled their energies into support of war aid.
In London's desperately deprived East End, anti-war campaigner and suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, turned her attention to supporting the families left destitute, as their men enlisted.

Oldham Women's Suffrage Society


Here in Oldham, the Women's Suffrage Society, with Marjory Lees as its president, agreed with the NUWSS policy that, ".... we must show ourselves worthy of citizenship ... whether our claim to it be recognised ... or not."

As in the past, Marjory Lees and her mother, Dame Sarah Lees, were swift to offer their personal aid. Marjory paid for free milk, for expectant and nursing mothers, in 454 families. In the first 3 months of the scheme, in 1914, this amounted to 1594 pints of milk each week.

Women's Suffrage Society-Marjory Lees


The members of the Oldham Suffrage Society organised the milk distribution through their 'visitors'. These women also worked with the 'Oldham Committee for the Care of Women and Children', establishing clothing depots, throughout the town, to provide warm clothing for those in need.
In addition, it was recorded that Marjory donated £1,000 to the Allies Relief Fund.

Women's Suffrage Society


The annual report, in October 1915, for the Oldham Society states that, "While the Empire is losing thousands of its citizens on the battlefield, it is incumbent upon us women to rescue from death, through neglect, poverty, ignorance and disease, the babies of whom the future state will stand in such urgent need."
[Read a little about the beginning of the Society HERE]

WW1 Women in war


One of the few jobs considered acceptable, for a woman, was that of nursing and in 1914 many nurses volunteered to serve with the armed forces in military hospitals.
In September 1914 the Chronicle reported that, " .... Nine nurses at the Oldham Royal Infirmaryhave volunteered for hospital work in connection with the war ... and two or three of them have already gone for this service..."
but, within a very short time, not all the nurses volunteering for war work were sent overseas as, very quickly, a desperate need developed for nursing staff in army hospitals at home.

Ashway gap house


It was very quickly obvious that there were just not enough existing military hospitals to cope with the casualties.

One solution, was to requisition suitable buildings and convert them into temporary hospitals, such as that at Ashway Gap House, in Greenfield ...

Woodfield, Oldham


and another at Woodfield in Oldham.
Local hospitals also allocated a number of their own beds for the specific use of wounded servicemen.

In Oldham, in September 1914, the Chronicle reported that "... The governors of the infirmary have decided to place forty beds at the disposal of the military and naval authorities..."

Woodfield Military Hospital 1915


Seen here are convalescents at the gates of Woodfield in 1915.

To try and put the situation into context, in 1914,

  1. Medical care for the military was in the hands of the Royal Army Medical corps - the RAMC, who were service personnel with medical training. They included doctors and surgeons.
  2. They were supported, both in the field, and in military hospitals at home and overseas, by the 'Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service' (QAIMNS).
They in their turn were supplemented and supported by
  1. The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY)
  2. Voluntary Aid Detachment (VADs)
    Originally part of the Territorial force, the VADs included both men and women.
    They were volunteers drawn from the Red Cross and St John Ambulance organisations and trained in First Aid and Nursing.

boundary park, Oldham, 1916


in July 1916, after the Battle of the Somme began, Boundary Park Hospital, which was part of the Workhouse complex of buildings, was also taken for the care of wounded soldiers.

There were also numerous small, privately set up hospitals such as that near Altrincham, the Stamford Military Hospital, at Dunham Massey House.

Oldham Automobile Club 1915 WW1

Keen to help with the rehabilitation of wounded servicemen, on several occasions, the Oldham Automobile Club took nurses and convalescents, from Woodfield, Abbey Hills hospital and Oldham Infirmary, for a day's excursion in a convoy of cars.

Oldham Automobile Club 1915 WW1

In July 1915 the newspaper recorded that approx 100 nurses and patients went out for the day and had a picnic at Park Farm, Over Peover.

Oldham Automobile Club 1915 WW1

Some of the nursing staff who went with them.

Oldham Automobile Club 1915 WW1


And the car owners who took them:
On the back row, from the left (not including the man in uniform) Charles Fray, Oscar Heywood, Horace Marsland, Frank Rothwell, Herbert Holden, Captain Wolfenden, Ralph Eglin and James D. Wood.
In the middle row we see, O. Clayton, Lees Hall, Herbert Wood, and Frank Smith.
On the front row we see, Edwin Wilson, Firth Winterbottom, James E. Bailey, Arnold Bunting and Fred Rothwell

WW1 Casualty Clearing Station & hospitals


In theory, near the Front line, there were First Aid Posts which dealt with minor wounds and accidents.
The RAMC had a chain of action in place which was designed to get the wounded to the best place possible, for treatment, in the shortest possible time. It didn't always work out and the system was frequently overwhelmed by the sheer number of casualties.
The procedure, when men were wounded, was that they would (hopefully) be taken to a Casualty Clearing Station where they would have emergency care or surgery when necessary. Those deemed fit enough, after short term treatment, would return to their units and those needing longer term care would then be transfered to a base hospital, for example Etaples, for further treatment.

WW1 Casualty Clearing Station & hospitals


However, even the hospitals in Etaples, in 1918, could be dangerous places ... they were part of a vast military complex and became a target for German bombers.

WW1 Ambulance train


The more seriously wounded soldiers, those who had suffered a 'blighty', would be nursed until considered strong enough to survive the rigours of the journey back to England.

The casualties would make the journey to the coast in specially equipped hospital trains or even barges where appropriate.

WW1 Ambulance train


Inside the train were separate carriages for different purposes.

Here we see a ward car for those able to travel sitting up and another for stretcher patients.

A hospital ship would transport them across the channel to a hospital on home ground.

WW1 Hospital ship


The channel trip home could be almost as dangerous as the battlefield ... even hospital ships, clearly marked as such, became targets for German u-boats.

Dr. Elsie Inglis

Read more about her in:
'Dr. Esie Inglis' by
Lady Francis Balfour
Pub. 1918 HERE
and in
'Elsie Inglis:
The Woman with the Torch
by Eva Shaw Mclaren
Pub. 1920 HERE


In 1914, the few professionally qualified women, including those in medicine, were still finding it almost impossible to gain acceptance in the male dominated institutions.
Many of those early pioneering women, such as Dr. Elsie Inglis, had opened their own practices or small hospitals, often with the emhasis on maternal and child care.
However, when war broke out, they were amongst the first to volunteer their services.

Female Doctors offered their services to the Military and to the British Red Cross ... and were famously refused!
They then offered their expertise to foreign authorities and were welcomed with open arms.

Drs. Louisa Garrett Anderson & Flora Murray immediately founded the Women's Hospital Corps and, with the French Red Cross, set up hospitals firstly near Calais and then in Paris.
Their care and treatment of the wounded was so successful that they were asked to set up and run a Military Hospital in London - which they did.

Dr. Elsie Inglis turned to the Scottish Suffrage Society for financial aid and founded the 'Scottish Women's Hospitals' with the support of the NUWSS. (National Union of Women's Suffage Societies)

The first of the Scottish Women's Hospitals was established, by Dr. Inglis, in the Abbey of Royaumont, in France and was in operation by January 1915. It would care for 11,000 casualties before it closed in March 1919.

In total ... the 'Scottish Women's Hospitals' established 14 units in some of the worst conditions imaginable and raised £449,000 in fundraising for them.

NUWSS journal-common Cause-Royaumont

Read more about it, online, in:
'The Common Cause'
the NUWSS journal, HERE

There were other voluntary organisations operating, wherever there was fighting, and included:

  • Independent organisers of field hospitals such as:
    Mrs. Mabel Anne St. Clair Stobart and Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland
  • The Red Cross & St John's Ambulance which amalgamated …
    for purposes of war relief.
    Within days of war starting medical aid was on its way to France and Belgium.
  • In the independent organisations there was frequently a situation in which treatment was given to the suffering civilian population and refugees, alongside their primary objective which was the care of sick & wounded soldiers.
  • References to a 'Field Ambulance' mean that it is a mobile hospital unit and not a vehicle.
  • There was, of course, overlap between the different organisations and they frequently found themselves serving in the same areas of conflict.

Read more about it in:
'The Scottish Women's Hospital
at the French Abbey of Royaumont
by Antonio de Navarro
Pub. 1917 HERE
(opens in a new window)


One of the ways in which the NUWSS raised funds was to ask donors and suffrage societies to, 'name a bed' and donate the funds for its maintenance.
We can see, from the Oldham Suffrage Society's annual reports, that they were in full support of this initiative. The 1915 report tells us that the Society had sponsored a bed at Royaumont, and named it, 'Oldham Society for Women's Suffrage' and that their President, . Marjorie Lees, had sponsored another in Serbia.
Over the next reports the annual accounts show that up to 4 beds were maintained in the name of the society and the costs were covered mainly by donations from Marjorie Lees and her mother, Sarah. Two of the beds were at Royaumont ... and Two in Ajaccio in Corsica.

Germans entering Brussels 1914


One nurse who felt impelled to volunteer was Mrs. Hallam, the widow of John Hallam, an Oldham Estate Agent. We know, from a newspaper account in October 1915, that she went out to Brussels in early August along with 99 other volunteers. It was only a matter of days later, on the 20th of August, that Brussels was over-run by the Germans.
As the enemy army approached, the various hospital units had many thousands of casualties in their care, all of whom had to be evacuated. When the Germans marched into Brussels, all but a couple of hundred had been moved out of the city.
It was the 6th of October before the nurses were allowed to leave and they were escorted into neutral Denmark from where they made their way back to Britain.
Apparently undeterrred, Mrs. Hallam returned to France in early 1915 and worked in the military hospital at Lisieux.

French and Belgian Red Cross hospitals 1914


Impatient with the War Office's refusal to send women doctors to the battle zones, Mrs. St Clair Stobart, who had already organised a hospital and staff for both the French and Belgian Red Cross, responded to a plea for help from the Serbian authorities.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915


Serbia, having seen fierce fighting in the Balkan Wars of 1912 & 1913, was in desperate straits. With thousands of men dead or wounded, the country was also in the throes of a typhus epidemic and desperately in need of medical help.

Dr. Catherine Payne, Serbia 1915
(Read Dr. Paynes story HERE
opens in a new window)


Four of the doctors who joined Mrs. Stobart's unit going to Serbia had worked at Oldham Infirmary. Dr. Catherine Payne had come to Oldham in 1910 to take up a post firstly at the Infirmary and then as Medical Officer with the Poor Law Union. She was also a member of the 'Oldham Society for Women's Suffrage', and a Vice-President during 1916 and 1917.
The minutes of the Board of the Poor Law Union, in March 1915, record her resignation and a motion, proposed by Miss Lees, placed on record their regard and appreciation of Dr. Payne's services, and wished her well in Serbia.
Also going to Serbia were, Dr. Edith Maude Marsden who had been born in Rochdale and had worked at Oldham Infirmary for a short time, as had two sisters, Dr. King-May and Dr. King-May Atkinson, who would also join the group.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915


The volunteer staff for the unit was gathered together ...
We can see, starting from the left, with a yellow ring Dr King-May, Dr. Payne, Dr. Marsden, Mrs. Stobart and Dr. King-May Atkinson.
Money was raised through the Serbian Relief Fund for the 60 tents and equipment needed for the Field Hospital and the Admiralty arranged for their passage to Salonica.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

Read more in:
'My Diary in Serbia -
April 1, 1915 to Nov.1, 1915
Monica M. Stanley
Pub. 1916 HERE

On April 1st 1915, 19 members of the 45 strong unit sailed from Liverpool for Salonica, where they would meet up with the others. The four Oldham Doctors were amongst those sailing with Mrs Stobart.
We know it was not the most enjoyable experience, as Monica Stanley, a VAD with the party, wrote that ... "it was a horrid boat, not at all clean and the sanitary arrangements were terrible." and, to make matters worse, the weather became stormy ... and they were all given tickets for the lifeboats, in case of attack from submarines!

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915-map


Two weeks later they landed safely at Salonica and found that the final destination, for our Oldham Doctors and Mrs. Stobart, was to be Kragujevatz, about 60 miles south east of Belgrade.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915


By April 23rd they had reached Kragujevatz ... had found a suitable site for their tented hospital ... had pitched their tents ... and installed their equipment.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915


They were ready for business and the wounded started to arrive.

The hospital staff were virtually all women but there were about 40 Austrian POWs who did the heavy work around the unit.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915


By the beginning of May, although their primary objective was the treatment of wounded soldiers, it was realised that a Dispensary for the civilian population, was also needed desperately.

Many of the Serbian doctors had either died in the typhus epidemic or were serving with the army.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915


Mrs Stobart wrote...
"We immediately pitched a bell tent at the outer edge of the hospital encampment on the roadside, improvised a notice board from an old packing case and, with the help of an interpreter, wrote, in Serbian, words to the effect, that if folks would bring their own bottles, medicine and medical advice would be given gratis. A doctor, a nurse, and an interpreter took charge of the tent dispensary and we waited with eager curiosity to see what happened. The result was that within a few weeks 12,000 people, men, women, and children .came to this roadside dispensary either in ox-wagons or walking, from distances of fifty, sixty, even seventy miles, ill with typhus, diphtheria, typhoid, smallpox, tuberculosis and every conceivable and inconceivable form of disease."

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915


So successful was it that it was decided to establish a ring of the dispensaries within a 30 mile radius.

Money was again raised by the Serbian relief fund and extra staff and equipment were sent out. A total of 6 dispensaries were set up.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915


As autumn arrived the threat of enemy action grew greater. Rumours about the enemy armies massing on the frontiers were rife and the Serbian army was also mobilising.
Mrs. Stobart was asked to take a part of the hospital unit to the Bulgarian front as a flying field ambulance. Oldham's Dr. Payne was selected as one of the doctors to go with her.

The rest of the unit remained in Kragujevatz and a few months later were evacuated safely and returned to England.

Meanwhile on the 1st of October Mrs. Stobart's flying field ambulance, packed into 6 motor ambulances, and over 30 ox wagons, was loaded onto the train.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

Their destination was Pirot ... on the Bulgarian border.

By the 4th of October they'd arrived ... and the hospital tents were pitched and operational.

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

Within days the Serbian army was overwhelmed by the enemy ...

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

Then the order came to move. Tents were struck and all packed back into the wagons.

The retreat had begun ... from Austrians & Germans advancing from the north and Bulgarians from the East.


Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

It was to be a long trek that would last 3 months ... through horrific conditions ... the sound of gunfire never far behind them ... and a constant stream of sick and wounded to care for.


Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

It's impossible to tell the full story of the retreat in a few short sentences or convey any idea of the conditions endured ...


Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

The hospital unit retreated, as part of the military convoy, through mountains and along rocky roads that were choked with refugees fleeing from the advancing enemy armies.


Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

Day by day they waited for orders ... whether to pitch camp, whether to move to the next destination .... all the time treating the sick and wounded along the way.


Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

Added to the horrors was the constant need to find food for themselves and for the horses and oxen.
Along the roadside were broken carts, and wagons with discarded possessions too difficult to transport further ...


Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

The dead and dying ... both human and animal, were on all sides.


Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

Winter came to add to their miseries ... with snow, frostbite and soaking rain ...

Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915

Finally, they reached the coast at Scutari and, eventually, but with great difficulty, found a boat to take them to Brindisi, in Italy .. and then it was a train to Paris ... and home in London by New Year, 1916.


Mrs. St. Clair Stobart in Serbia 1915
Read the book:
'The Flaming Sword'
in Serbia and Eslewhere
by Mrs.St. Clair Stobart
Pub. 1916 HERE

Dr. Payne returned to Oldham but sadly, within months was seriously ill.
She, like the other staff at the Field Hospital, was given a Serbian Bravery Award but, by that time, she was too ill to know of it.

She died on February 4th 1918 and is buried in Chadderton Cemetery.

threat of invasion ... and civil war ...


Over the centuries England had endured invasion ... threat of invasion ... and civil war ...
but what people were about to experience, in their own homes, was unprecedented in this country.



Without warning, death came from above with bombs dropped by Zeppelin airships flying high above the earth and searching for targets of strategic importance ... but often only destroying homes and families.

Scarborough 1915


In Scarborough it came whistling through the air .... massive shells bringing death and destruction ...
On the morning of 16th December 1914, Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby were shelled by German Battleships cruising just off the east coast shore.
There were Oldhamers, living in or visiting the towns at the time, and they sent home graphic reports to family, friends and the newspaper.

Scarborough 1915


Mr W.T. Hirst, an employee of Hirst Bros, Wholesale jewellers, was in Scarborough on business and wrote that he was just getting up, in his hotel bedroom, when he heard the first sounds of firing.
The next thing he knew was that the building opposite had its roof blown off and, as he went to the door to see what was happening, another shell exploded up the street and knocked himself and others to the ground.

Scarborough 1915


In Hartlepool, Mrs. Jane Whitehead, from Delph, lived at one of the hotels with her family. She wrote that, she'd already sent her daughter off to school and, when she heard the first sounds, assumed that it was gunners at the fort, practising.
Going out to investigate, she was told what was happening and that the gasworks was on fire. At that same moment another shell exploded and a woman nearby was killed by flying fragments, as were children in a nearby street.

Scarborough 1915


An Oldham man, working in Hartlepool, sent an account of events to the Oldham Chronicle. In it, he mentions ... the gasworks blazing, the railway station damaged, the deaths of a woman and his friend's child.
He writes of people fleeing from the sea front streets, of the wounded being carried past on stretchers, of damage to homes, boats in the harbour and the shipyards.

Remember Scarborough 1915


He ends his narrative with the words,
"...If this does not stimulate recruitment nothing will. It makes one able to picture - though very faintly - the dire distress of our Belgian comrades...."

He was right ... 'Remember Scarborough' became a popular slogan in the recruitment campaign.

In all, 137 people were killed and 592 injured in the attack.

Mrs. Bradbury-letter 1915

In 1915, an elderly Oldham couple, Mr and Mrs. Bradbury, were living in Broadstairs, Kent. Richard Bradbury was a dental surgeon. Before they went to live in Kent they had lived firstly on Lees Road, then on Church Terrace, in the centre of Oldham, from which address Hannah ran her dressmaking business.

Mrs. Bradbury

(Read one of her letters, in full, HERE)

In 1915, she wrote to her friend in Failsworth about the happenings in Broadstairs since the beginning of the war...

She wrote, "August 1914, a telegram came for the military band that was here ... to join their regiment at once ..."

Grand Fleet

The Royal Review of the Grand Fleet had taken place only days before war was declared and, further on in the letter, she writes about it ...

"Battleships and destoyers were on either side of us ... 50 big battleships sailed gloriously past ..... like so many guardian angels ... Then another lot of 19 ... with a Dreadnought in front ... looking for all the world as if they were playing 'follow my leader'. "

Mrs. Bradbury-letter 1915

She wrote of seeing the first hospital ship arrive with the wounded soldiers and Belgian refugees...

Mrs. Bradbury-letter 1915

And another time she mentions Zeppelins appearing overhead, " ... guns were firing, rockets shooting up and flash lights going." ...

A later letter from her refers to the wounded, and she writes, "Isn't it wonderful how the boys keep up the spirits ... and yet what pitiful sights we see ... "

Mrs. Bradbury-letter 1915

She writes of more attacks by the Zeppelins ... one bomb missing a hospital but hitting a girl's school before being chased away by fighter planes, and just a couple of weeks later, she tells of a bomb being dropped, killing a group of children on their way to Sunday School.

Mrs. Bradbury-letter 1915


Another day, she writes of watching an aerial battle ...
"It is a sight to see, our airmen dashing through the air and looping ... one's heart almost stands still ... when the planes are almost straight up and down ...
The searchlights are very beautiful ... think of them in numbers, searching all over the sky for the Zepps. We can hear but not see 'til all at once one is located and, with the searchlights on it, it looks like a huge piece of bright silver ... sailing steadily on ...then the big guns talk ... star shells burst all around ... you feel that it is awful, yes, and solemn too, for you do not know what is going to happen."



Even before 1914, the Germans had realised the potential of the airship in war. They were capable of a speed of 85 miles per hour and could carry 2 tons of bombs.
The first raid was on Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn, in January 1915.

Initially unprepared, the east coast was particularly vulnerable to attacks from the airships coming across the North Sea and considerable damage, with civilian casualties, was suffered.

cleethorpes - zeppelin attack 1916

Oldham itself never actually suffered a bombing raid, although Zeppelins passed overhead and bombs were dropped not so many miles away, as in Bolton. However, a group of Oldham soldiers was killed in an airship attack on another town. They were in the Regular Army's 3rd Battalion (Reserve) of the Manchester Regiment.

In March 1916, a number of the regiment were sent to Cleethorpes, on the East Coast, to strengthen the Humber Defences in that locality. On arrival, and unaware that danger was already approaching through the air, the men unpacked their kit and settled down for the night in their billet in a church hall.

cleethorpes - zeppelin attack 1916

The approaching Zeppelins were intending to bomb London and East Anglia but one, finding it had engine trouble, decided to make the best of a bad job and bomb Grimsby. Catastrophically, it mistook the seaside town of Cleethorpes for the port of Grimsby.
Its first bombing run missed the target but on its second run, despite anti-aircraft gunfire, it dropped 3 more bombs.
This time, the result was devastating ...two bombs fell into local streets but the third fell directly onto the sleeping soldiers in their billet.

cleethorpes - zeppelin attack 1916


According to reports, of the 84 men in the building, 32 died immediately or as a result of their injuries (at a later date), and 48 were injured. Just 4 men, playing a game of cards in the cellar, were unharmed.
13 of the dead soldiers were Oldham men.
Some men were taken home, to be buried by family but, for the others, there was a full military funeral in Cleethorpes.

Two years later, this Special Memorial to the men was unveiled in the Cleethorpes cemetery.

On the CWGC website HERE, can be found 28 names of those in the 3rd Battalion of the Manchester Regt. who died on that date. Of these, 9 are identified as being from the immediate Oldham area.
(Search on CWGC with, 'Commemorated in the United Kingdom';
Served with 'United Kingdom forces';
with the 'Army';
Dates from and to 1st April 1916;
Regiment 'Manchester'.)

women's suffrage


As we know, the oubreak of war saw a turning point in the battle for women's rights. In the years before 1914 many professions and occupations were virtually closed to women. However, in the workplace. women workers had begun to make their voices heard, as they came together in unions and campaigned for better pay and working conditions.

women's suffrage


From 1914, as the demand for men, materials and armaments grew ever more urgent, and more and more men enlisted or were conscripted, the only people left to fill the gaps were WOMEN ...

It was the opportunity to prove that they could do any job that a man could do ...

women in WW1


They stepped forward in their hundreds of thousands, to do just that!
Even when indispensible, women weren't welcomed with open arms, or received equal pay, when they entered the previously male dominated spheres of industry or service.

Many men maintained that women weren't physically or mentally capable of the work or esponsibilities ...

But women proved the critics wrong.

women in WW1


They weren't just given the jobs behind counters or in offices ...
Women were employed in dirty jobs ... in difficult jobs ... in physically dangerous ... or exhausting jobs.

women in WW1

Read it in full HERE

The 1915 National Registration Act had identified numbers of men and women who had skills that could be 'used' more effectively for the war effort.
Using this information, in September 1916, the government published a handbook entitled, "Women's War Work".

women in WW1


In the booklet, there were 28 pages indexing trades in which women could be employed along with the specific processes involved.

There were 70 photographs of women actually employed in those jobs and, just so there could be no excuse, it included the addresses of the local labour exchanges where women could, 'do their duty and volunteer'.

women in WW1

There was work on the Railways ...
in the chemical ... clothing ... and food trades...

women in WW1

in the shipyards ...
textile manufacture ... woodworking ... and numerous other industries such as leather ... pottery ... brickmaking ... and glass.

women in WW1

Women were employed to labour in engineering workshops ...

women in WW1

In this photograph we see Oldham women working in an engineering works.

women in WW1

And there were also 'non-industrial' occupations, such as,
window cleaning ... clerical .. the post office ... driving and street cleaning ... etc.

women in WW1

And, of course, farm work ...
with the Land Army producing food and looking after the animals.

women in WW1

And last, but definitely not least, work in the giant munitions industry meeting the incessant demand for bullets, bombs and shells ..

women in WW1-Oldham


In this newspaper photo, from January 1916, we are shown a group of local munition workers.
From left to right on the Back row we see the Misses,
M Turner, M Haynes, J Holmes, J Coine, E Parkinson and A Borrows
and on the Front row are,
N Farrington, A French, L Wood, D Cocker, and D Humphries

women in WW1-Oldham

Read 'Women of the War'
by Barbara McLaren
Pub. 1917 HERE

The official photos usually show us smiling faces ... women glad to 'do their bit' ... but the reality was frequently different.
The hours in the workplace were long and hard;
there was often a danger to health, from contact with poisonous substances or fumes...
and there was always the fear of accidents ...

women in WW1


In Ashton, on July 13th 1917, there was an explosion in the munitions works manufacturing TNT for bombs, at Hooley Hill.
It was reported in newspapers as far away as Australia.
More than forty people lost their lives ... including a number of children in nearby streets and some on their way home from school.
Hundreds more were injured ...
and hundreds of families lost their homes when they were destroyed in the blast.



As we look back we can see that the fighting was happening overseas ... industry was geared up to supply the needs of a nation at war and people left at home turned to any activity which would support and comfort the servicemen.

WW1 fund-raising


However, only time and labour were truly 'free' so virtually everything that was done carried a cost. Consequently, much of the work at home, was the often thankless task of fund-raising.

WW1 fund-raising - ambulances

One of these was for the provision of motor ambulances and wheeled stretchers for use in front-line areas.

WW1 fund-raising - x-ray unit

And this is a mobile X-ray unit ... privately donated and in use at Verdun.


By August 1915, Failsworth & Woodhouses War Comforts Society, had organised a collection amounting to £860 ... enough to buy not only an ambulance but also 10 'Field, Hand Ambulances'.

This must have been a daunting sum of money, for any group to raise, but raise it they did.

WW1 fund-raising - ambulances


The money for this ambulance was raised by donations in Shaw and Crompton ...

and the wish was expressed that it would be driven by local man, Driver H. Coupe, and be used in the area of Dunkirk.


WW1 fund-raising - ambulances


Dame Sarah Lees presented the Oldham Branch of the St. John Ambulance Society with a fully equipped ambulance, which she named, 'The Oldham Suffragist.

It's seen here before setting off for France in December 1915.

WW1 fund-raising - ambulances


This one, presented in January 1916, was bought with funds raised by Oldham & District Trades and Labour Council.

A serious concern of the TLC was that of an ever growing realisation that manufacturers and large investors were making fortunes from the war and, after it was over, the working man would bear the financial burden of higher taxation to pay off what would become a massive National Debt.

One of the more immediate concerns was that food prices had increased whilst the purchasing power of the pound was dropping.
In 1900 it had a value of 20/- (20shillings)
in 1914 it had dropped to 17/5 (17 shillings and 5 pence)
and by 1915 to 14/2. (14 shillings and 2 pence)
by 1920 it would have dropped to just 7/- (7 shillings)

Another serious and pressing issue was the increase in rent charges. Consequently the Rent Restriction Act was brought in, in 1916. When it was largel;y ignored, a later ammendment to it froze rents at their 1914 level, if they had been below 10/- (10 shillings).
Tthe ammendment allowed for rebates to be claimed.



DORA was the acronym by which the Defence of the Realm Act was known. It was introduced on the 8th August, 1914, and new restrictions ... were added as and when the need was recognised.

The Act was designed to give the government far ranging powers enabling it to subordinate all activities to the needs of War. Government was given the right to requistion buildings or land and the output of factories needed for war work.
It imposed censorship to keep morale at home higher and it was also implemented to prevent sensitive information from falling into enemy hands. It also had the effect of 'gagging' social rights activists, preventing them from voicing their demands and criticisms more publicly.
Soldiers' letters home were strictly censored and anything too informative or 'unpleasant' would be blocked out.
Beer was watered down ... customers in pubs were not allowed to buy a round of drinks ... and opening hours in pubs were cut. These restrictions were designed to prevent thousands of working hours being lost when people had too much to drink.
British summertime was introduced in May 1916, giving a longer working day.


Waterhead Brass Band


By August 1916, and 2 years of conflict, a war weary population had to be kept on-side. There could be no wavering ...
This Anniversary meeting, on the 4th August, with speakers and a concert by the Waterhead Brass Band, was promoted as, an "... opportunity to record the inflexible determination of the British People to continue the War to a victorious end."

WW1 tanks


By September 1916 the tank, up to recently a closely guarded secret, had put in a welcome appearance on the battlefields of the Somme.

WW1 tank-Egbert-Oldham-War savings promotion

In February 1918, Oldham found itself with a tank, called 'Egbert', on Yorkshire Street, near the Town Hall. 'Egbert' had been in the Battle of Cambrai, in November 1917 and it became part of a national investment campaign ... raising money to pay for the war by urging people to buy War Bonds and War Savings Certificates.

WW1 tank-Egbert-Oldham-War savings promotion

There was a grand opening of the Oldham 'Tank Bank' on the 9th February, by the mayor, who ceremoniously invested £100,000 for the council.

The target investment for the town was £1,000,000.

WW1 tank-Egbert-Oldham-War savings promotion

That target had been reached within a week, after 6 days of virtually non-stop activities ... bands playing, medal presentations, a procession led by an illuminated tram and 4,000 children, brought from their classrooms to view it and then asled to write their essays.

WW1-Illumintaed tram-Oldham-War savings promotion

A final tour of Oldham, Crompton, Shaw, Royton and Lees, by the illuminated tram on the 15th brought the investment figure up to its target £1,000,000.

Altogether, Oldham and the townships, invested over one and a half million pounds in that week.

WW1 tank-Egbert-Oldham-War savings promotion

WW1 tank-Egbert-Oldham-War savings promotion


'Egbert' moved on to other towns but, at the end of the war, both Crompton and Oldham were given tanks of their own, and Oldham's found a home in Alexandra Park.

Vesta Tilley


In November 1914, Vesta Tilley, the famous music hall male impersonator, visited Oldham and gave a performance at the Palace Theatre.
Many of her acts included performances where, dressed as a soldier, she sang songs encouraging the men in her audience to go out and 'sign up'.
The soldier songs were amongst her most popular, for example, 'There's Tommy, Tommy Atkins' .... and one about a new recruit called, 'I joined the army yesterday ... so the army's alright today.' So good was she, at doing this, that she was nick-named 'Britian's Best Recruiting Sergeant'

WW1 greetings cards


Although the servicemen were never far from the thoughts of family and friends they'd left behind, the men, in their turn, thought constantly of home. Letters and cards were precious to everyone ...

WW1 souvenirs from Front


In France, particularly, there was a thriving 'cottage industry' in souvenirs which were often made from exploded shell casings and the like, for instance, letter openers, ash trays and other similar souvenirs were all offered for sale, bought by the soldiers and sent home. Even 'souvenir' bullets, removed from a wound in hospital,. would be sent home with pride ... all would be treasured by family and passed down the generations.

Fund rasing - Failsworth

At home, there was no let-up in fund raising ... the list is endless ...

Fund rasing - Failsworth

concerts ...

dances, whist drives and garden parties ...

Fund rasing - Failsworth

bazaars ...

sales of garden flowers, decorated cards and hand made craft items ...

Fund rasing - Failsworth


and Gift auctions ...

with donated items ranging from expensive jewellery to half a dozen cups and saucers ...

and no amount was considered too trivial to add to the 'pot'

missing in action


But, for someone, every day there was heartache ... a death confirmed or the anguish of a loved one 'missing in action'.

One such was this notice in the newspaper, pleading for news of a missing son.
William Tetlow, of Grendon Avenue, was reported missing on April 24th, 1918 and was known to have been gassed.

The family hopes would be crushed .... on the Commonwealth War Graves commission website can be found this record of his death in that month and on that date.



After over 4 long years of war, the armistice was signed with Germany on the 11th November 1918.

The hardest part, now, was for the families waiting for their men to come home, and for the servicemen, wanting nothing more than to get home and get on with their lives.

For the majority, this would drag on well into 1919.

WW1 aftermath


For most, there would be medals to recognise their service in the different theatres of war and for the years in which they served.

Sometimes, there would be the medals recognising courage and valour ...

WW1 aftermath


But, for hundreds of thousands of families, there was no celebration ... just a memorial plaque and certificate, to mark their sacrifice, and place alongside the medals.

montage-women's suffrage 1918


Life would never be the same, again, for anyone.
Especially for Women, the years of war had provided opportunities and opened doors that could never again be completely closed to them.
For Women, after over 50 years of continous campaigning for women's suffrage, the dream was about to become reality.

In 1918, Parliament, compelled to extend the franchise to all men over the age of 21, now found it virtually impossible to refuse to include women.
However, three quarters of a million men were dead and the main Political parties didn't want the electorate to be swamped by women, particularly 'working class' women, so the franchise was limited to:

  • women over the age of thirty
  • a householder, and owning or occupying land or premises to the value of £5 or more annually.
  • the wife of a man so registered.
Although this gave the vote to over 8 million women, it was still denied to all women over 30 and to approximately 22% of women over 30 (frequently those unmarried and living in lodgings)

women's suffrage 1928


10 years later and, although there was still considerable resistance, the vote was finally extended to all women on the same conditions as men.

(Read about Women's Suffrage HERE)

1919 peace celebrations Oldham


Back to 1919, and there were celebrations to mark the end of war ...
peace, and a new beginning ...

1919 peace celebrations Oldham-Victory Car

In July 1919 Oldham had a decorated 'Victory Car', as part of the 'Peace Celebrations ...
There were 'Welcome Home' entertainments ...
flag waving and parades were the order of the day for the returning heroes ...

But not all the men coming back felt like heroes ...
hundreds of thousands of them were physically and emotionally maimed ...
a legacy they would carry for the rest of their lives.

1919 peace celebrations Oldham

1919 peace celebrations Oldham

1919 peace celebrations Oldham

war cemeteries - tours 1920s

war cemeteries - tours 1920s

In the 1920s, visits to the war began cemeteries and memorials began to be organised ...

offering a chance for relatives to visit graves and see memorials such as the Menin Gate ...


But time moved on and, in the years that followed, virtually every town and village, raised money for public war memorials.

Thousands of churches, schools, institutions, factories and offices installed their own memorial boards, books, and scrolls ...

War memorials
War memorials
War memorials
War memorials
War memorials
War memorials

War memorials


In 1914, when being urged to enlist, the men were promised that their sacrifices would never be forgotten ...

but now, 100 years later, can there be anyone left whose memory reaches back to those years?

Our responsibility, in this centenary year, is to remind ourselves of the horrors that touched our own and virtually every family in the land ... and remember those men and women who served, suffered and sacrificed ...

and to try and keep faith with that early promise.


Grateful Acknowledgements



Contributed by Sheila Goodyear

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