1918: Evenwood at War


The last year of the war brought no end to the intensity of the conflict.  The monthly toll continued at a high and steady level.  In January, Willie Longstaff, Arthur Brown of Gordon Bank and Ralph Smith of Gordon Lane were reported wounded.  So was Joe Robinson in hospital in Manchester, wounded and suffering from gas poisoning.  Captain A. Layton of Gordon Lane was in hospital at Nottingham having lost a foot.  Edmund Carrick was in hospital at Aberdeen, suffering from gas poisoning.  The death of Towers Cree in action was also reported.  In February, Stanley Alderson, a private in the 2nd West Yorks, was in hospital at Maidstone with a wound in the arm while wounds brought John Bird of Mill House home on leave from France.  News came that William Barnes was lying very ill in Durban, South Africa, with slender hope of his recovery.  In the same month, there were honours for T.H. Britton, a sergeant in the DLI who got a bar to his MM and Edmund Carrick, a sapper, won the MM too.

British arms achieved success in Palestine and in January it was possible to hail the capture of Jerusalem.  Second Lieutenant Brass wrote from the Holy Land:

“Christmas Day and in Palestine!  It is remarkable how we move along!  Our journey through France was quite pleasant.  We landed at the quant old town of [blank], we had a day and night in the town and then we entrained for [blank].  Here we went to a French Opera at the Opera House.  Then we had a 2 days train journey and eventually arrived at a very large town in France.  We started about this time to get the sun and got into drill uniforms.  Alas it was but for a day, as the next day we were on the Franco-Italian Frontier and were wearing our great coats.  Then into Italy.  The scenery was lovely crossing the Alps.  A day and a half’s journey brought us to a large Italian town and then over the Apennines to our next halt.  Here we stayed at an hotel and got our first taste of Italian cookery and were initiated into the mysteries of the language.  We then made our way along the coast of the Adriatic Sea until we reached a large and well-known seaport.  After a train journey from here to another well-known port, we embarked.  There were about 200 nurses on board and we had a jolly time.  We had deck games, sports etc. during the day and concerts at night.

On the third day of the journey we arrived at an Egyptian port.  Here we were free until the train left.  Naturally, I was anxious to see as much as possible of these historic places, so I with 2 friends who had been here before, hired a gharry, or 4 wheeled carriage and did the sights.  I then received marching orders and entrained for a port on the Suez Canal.  Then across the Sinai desert.  I have been all round Gaza and Beersheba and various historical places of the bible.  I have also motored up the mountain where Samson took the gates of Gaza and from there have travelled right up to Jaffa.  I have been in an aeroplane over the mountains of Judea and have also seen Bethlehem and Jerusalem from the air.  I may in conclusion mention that I have been in 2 bomb raids since I arrived here.”

Another front which in 1918 offered a mixture of happy impressions with images of war was the Italian.  William Gray, a gunner, wrote as follows:

“I am now doing a little campaigning under the blue skies of Italy, the country of Garibaldi and Mazzinin and speaking candidly, I am greatly pleased with the change from Flanders.  Of all the infernos that were ever created, yon beat everything.  I had experiences and saw sights which I shall never forget and the marvel is, not that so many were knocked out, but that any of us remained.  It has been well christened the “Flanders Iron Foundry”.  It wasn’t so much the shelling we minded as the incessant bombing night and day with aeroplanes which caused most of the trouble.  Besides this, except for the first day or two, we were up to our knees in mud for the 2 months we were in action there, yet everybody did their best to be cheerful and stick it out like heroes.  We were very glad however when we turned our backs to it.  The battery I am serving is now, one of the old units and has been in it since Mons and those of them who were left frankly vowed that this was the worst they had ever experienced.  When we came out of the action it soon became known that our destination was sunny Italy.  We got into the train on Nov.28th and crossed the frontier Dec.1st.  I never in all my life thought that there were such beautiful places in the world.  Of course I only got a passing glimpse of them, yet from what I was able to see I felt that I would give a great deal to visit them at my leisure.  I shall always remember my first day in Italy and the splendid reception we got.  We crossed the frontier in the early morning just as the sun was rising over the blue Mediterranean.  It was like a perfect midsummer morn in England.  I was astonished to see roses, carnations and numerous other flowers blooming in plenty and there in the open gardens, oranges in their thousands on the trees made your eyes dazzle as the train rushed along.

At every place where we stopped the people literally smothered us in flowers and fruit and for 2 days we travelled with our train decked from end to end with roses etc.  Altogether we were 6 days and nights on the train and no matter where we stopped day or night someone was always waiting with hot coffee and generally eatables.  When we had left the train and started marching (we were in the fighting area by now) on our way we passed hundreds of refugees, sad faced and weary, trudging along and pushing on barrows whatever their worldly goods they had been able to scrape together.  These people, old and young, men, women and children had been driven from their homes by the fortunes of war.  It was a pitiable sight.  I had the opportunity also of seeing inside a few of the Italian churches and though they looked plain from the outside, the decoration work within is simply marvellous.  Of the mountains, I can only say that they have to be seen to be realised.”          

Subsequently, Sergeant Nutter wrote to the vicar:

“I read with interest W. Gray’s letter.  It quite made me long to be with him, especially as I have had a good experience of that other region he mentions.  I can quite picture the refugees as he saw them.  Hardened as we are to sad sights, it touches one to see an aged couple trudging along the road, pushing all their worldly goods on a barrow or to see a cottage vacated perhaps only an hour previously, the fire still burning in the stove and a meal still cooking on it.  But as the French say, c’est la guerre.”

William Gray was indeed right to be pleased to have turned his back on Flanders.  In March there came the last great German attack which drove deeply into British lines and forced Haig to speak of “backs to the wall”.  Heavy casualties and many missing or taken prisoner were listed and the generals’ demands for new recruits were unabated.  Official news was received by Mr and Mrs Charles Welford of the Oaks of the death of their son Thomas W. Simpson in action.  A former miner at Randolph colliery and sergeant in the DLI, he had previously won the MM.  Two others from the Oaks who fell at this time were John Ellerker and John Luther Simpson.  J. Hewitt of Alexandra Terrace, a private in the DLI also fell in action.  Second Lieutenant Hobson and Jacob Hodgson were reported wounded.  So too was Thomas Braddick who was to return to the front and sustain a second wound in July.  In May, Reg Howard and Adam Cree were reported wounded for the second time and sergeant John Walton MM for the third time.  Next month, E. Wardle, Robert Crisp and Arol Howe were wounded.  Second Lieutenant T.W. Applegarth of the DLI was reported missing but shortly afterwards was reported to be a prisoner.  Joseph Hutchinson of Evenwood Gate was also missing.  Norman Dowson, son of grocer Joseph Dowson was posted as missing since 23rd April.  As recently as April 15th he had written giving some hint of the sustained ferocity of these final battles:

“I have not had my equipment or boots off for 14 days and there seems still no likelihood of being relieved so we may go on another 14 days.”

Fred Prudhoe wrote more cheerfully of the enemy advance:

“I nearly lost my tea the other day a shell bursting only 4 yards from the cook-house.  We all dived to the farthest corner and luckily I was bottom man.  The chap on top was slightly wounded.  No doubt the enemy’s advance appears great upon the map but what he has gained is a thousand times worse than the fells around Cockfield not even a barn within 30 miles.  His casualties have been enormous, his men have been hurled entirely at the mouths of our guns.”

In this period Fred Neasham, a corporal in the 3rd Dragoons won the MM.  At home the army demanded more and more bodies.  In May, 6 men were conscripted from Randolph colliery alone.  This was followed by a draw for 37 recruits when 97 names went into the hat.  Within 2 months another draw was held at Randolph colliery to provide 24 additional recruits.

There were those at this time who were having a quieter war.  Will Kipling wrote from Portsmouth:

“I have been for a week on HMS [blank] which is used as a training ship.  It last saw service in the Dardanelles where it was used as a transport.  It is obsolete now.  I saw the Zeebrugge heroes coming in.  The motor launches are clever little vessels.  What cheering of the men and hooting of the ships’ hooters there was when they came in.”

Wilfred Wren from Meerut in India described his journey through France and Italy overland and then the long sea journey:

“We passed the tome on board with concerts and boxing tournaments.  We had several good boxers on board and I took a turn myself in the ring.  I kept up the honour of the village by winning a 3 round middle weight contest and got first prize.”

And George Wright sent a colourful postcard from Buenos Aires.

On the home front, other effects included the coming into operation of the Daylight Saving (Summer) Bill.  Schools noticed more the usual unpunctuality because children were having to stand in food queues at various shops.  Attendance went down also because of the visit of the Tank Bank to Bishop Auckland in April.  There being a special children’s day at the event, the school was closed to allow them to make “investments” there.  In the last months of the war children were helping with food supplies.  The regular collection of eggs for dispatch to the Central Egg Depot in London was no doubt done in the children’s own time but in September 1918 it was the headmaster who led about 50 boys in standards 6 and 7 on blackberry picking, with 72lbs of the fruit sent to Newcastle.  In October a second excursion collected 80lbs.  Later in the month, as a result of an appeal from the district branch of the War Agricultural Committee, an additional holiday of 3 days was given for the gathering of the potato crop.

Germany however carried on fighting tenaciously and bloodily.  In July A.F. Wilson of Rochdale Street was reported missing.  Sergeant Kirkup was seriously wounded and discharged.  W. Rutter was wounded in Mesopotamia, J.G. Handley and T. Braddick were wounded for the second time.  Fred Dunn of Randolph Terrace won the MM.

The numbers reported missing then found to be prisoners of war was markedly increased, reflecting the setback to British arms in the second quarter of 1918.  Sergeant F. Britton MM and Bar and privates F. Purvis, Reggie Howard and Norman Dowson, all previously missing were now in German hands.  Second Lieutenant T. Applegarth of Delaware Avenue died of wounds as a POW in Germany.  Privates Arkless and W.R. Storey were also reported missing but were soon officially notified as dead.  Gunner William Gray died in hospital from the effects of gas poisoning.  In September Private J. Baister was wounded and posted as missing which suggests that he had been left behind on some field of battle.

At this time Albert Bainbridge wrote:

“I am wounded but going on well.  I am very lucky to be alive today to tell the tale.  It was a most awful scene that I took part in.  I was sleeping in a tent by myself when Old Fritz dropped 6 bombs in succession and one of them fell against the tent I was in.  It blew the tent to rags and all my clothes to smithereens.”

At home, wounds took their toll after discharge.  Walter McConnell[1] of the Oaks who was attached to the 6th DLI was gassed and wounded and after being in hospital some time received his discharge.  He never regained his health sufficiently to follow any employment and died in the late summer of 1918.  Joseph Hunter, a discharged soldier who saw active service in France and for some time suffered from shell shock, had the happy experience of surviving to marry Annie Firby of Evenwood Gate in August.  The locality showed its pride in the returning heroes.  In August, Captain Angus Cambell MC was home on leave from France and was entertained by numerous friends in the Ramshaw Institute.  He was presented with a gold watch in appreciation of his valour.  Subsequently, as a local recognition for obtaining the MM, Sergeant Walton, Lance Corporal Fred Neasham were each presented with a gold watch by the Evenwood and Ramshaw War Fund.  The latter also received a silver teapot from the Workmen’s Club for his achievement.  Eric Haddock MC of the RFC was likewise honoured with a gold watch from the Hero Fund.

The war slew and maimed to its very end and after.  Henry Best[2] of Wackerfield who used to work in the Evenwood Co-op was killed on September 15th.  The manager of the Co-op, J. Metcalfe was notified at the same time that his son, Gunner A.T. Metcalfe had been admitted to a Canadian forces’ hospital with an injury sustained in France.  The Heavisides of the Oaks received an official telegram stating that their son Richard Heaviside was dangerously ill in a clearing station in France.  He was only 18 years old and had been in France only 8 weeks.  Harry Anderson’s wife, of Gordon Lane, received word that her husband had been wounded in the arm and was seriously ill in hospital in Brighton.  She and her father-in-law were able to visit him there.  George Hull of Evenwood Gate was admitted to hospital in Bradford, suffering from severe gunshot wounds.  Albert Nicholson of West View, a private in the West Yorks, was wounded in the hand and in hospital in England.  His brother Lance Corporal George Dowson of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, had been missing since August 16th 1917.  Mark Middlemas of Stones End of the DLI, was killed in Italy.  Three men ended their war service in Ireland where a state of civil war existed.

The end of the war brought great rejoicing all over the district.  By 10 o’clock on Monday morning, the news had reached the North.  On November 12th the school closed for the rest of the week to celebrate the armistice.  But the grave news of the fortunes and fate of local men took longer to filter through.  In April 1919, it was reported that J.J. Bolton of the Highland Light Infantry was awarded the DCM for holding up the enemy for 48 hours.  Sapper Arthur Kenneth Atkinson MM RE was reported to have been killed by a bomb explosion while clearing away debris.  Not until June, was Dr Campbell welcomed home after his 4 years war service, by which time he had been personally invested with the MC by the King.  It was also reported that Fred Purvis had died in hospital in Germany.

In August 1919 a peace festival was held.  There was a procession led by the village band and colliery banners in which probably 2,000 children and adults took part.  In October, there was a service in the church for the safe return of soldiers still to be demobilised.  Mr Bird the church organist, himself a soldier, played the “Dead March” for the brave comrades who did not return.  It was not until December that official notice was received that George Dowson was to be presumed dead.


[1] Also known as Walter Snowball, he is buried in Evenwood cemetery

[2] Commemorated on the War Memorial in Ingleton Church – see Other Servicemen Researched