Personal memories of people we have been remembering in our church – imaginatively re-created from the facts that we have.
Imaginative accounts of some men from New North Road Baptist Church who died in the Great War, as told by their families and friends.
All the basic facts are historically correct, though some details are constructed.
The story of Harland Field, as told by his sister Ada
Harland, oh, yeah… fine young man he was. I still miss him.
I’m Ada, his sister. Well, one of his sisters. There were ten of us in all. There were six of us girls: me and Gertie and Doris and Mary Ann, then Fanny and Edie. And four boys: our Jimmy and Bill and Hubert and, yes, our Harland, our happy-go-lucky Harland.
We’d lived out in Knottingley, you know, by Pontefract, until we upped sticks and came to Huddersfield. It was to do with Dad finding work here or something. Anyway, we moved to Huddersfield and we lived in Portland Street – just up the road off Trinity Street – nice house with a big back yard, but still a bit crowed for all of us to stay there when all the young ‘uns were at home.
Anyway, New North Road Church was just on our doorstep, so to speak, so we all came here, all of us who lived at home, and they made us really welcome, we felt at home as soon as we moved in. Lovely people.
So when the war came, Harland went to be a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. He saw some sights, I know he did, fighting on the Western Front, operating those howitzers, lobbing shells across the enemy lines and having them trying to take you out day after day.
Our Mam, Edith, she was so proud when they heard that Harland had been awarded the Military Medal. They didn’t give that to just anyone, you know. It says on the back “for bravery in the field” and he was brave, was Harland, sticking at post while all those shells were flying back and forth. I like to think he was saying his prayers while it was all going on around him.
He was meant to come home on leave. He was due his leave and we were all looking forward to seeing him. But then we got this letter – I’ve got it here. It says:
“Leave has been stopped on account of this latest affair, but waiting, waiting with a smile is far better than saying anything”.
Waiting with a smile, that sums up our Harland, wouldn’t complain, just smiled through it.
They got him in the end. Just 23 he was, when he got hit. He tried to carry on but they dragged him away and did what they could to patch him up. But he was too badly injured, they said, and he died out there, far from home, on 17 April 1918.
You can see his grave, out in somewhere called Etaples. Just over the channel, near Boulogne. I’ve never been there though, couldn’t bring myself to do it. I prefer to remember our Harland with that smile on his face.
The story of Frank Harrison, as told by his father, Harry
I was in the army myself, way back. My name’s Harry Harrison, pleased to meet you. Yes, I was a corporal in the 20th Hussars, fought the Boers in South Africa. I served from when I was eighteen until I was thirty. Back in Civvy Street I joined the police, the West Riding Constabulary. Not quite the same as the army, but still serving in uniform.
We lived in Merton Street, right by The Grove. That was my local, though the missus didn’t like me drinking too much. And they always said in church that we should stay away from the drink. It’s always been good to us, that church up at New North Road, especially when Frank… was taken from us.
Frank was my pride and joy, my first child and my only son. I was nearly thirty years old when Frank was born. I didn’t think I ever have nippers, but it happened, first Frank, then his sisters Winnie and Louie. Frank didn’t want to go into the army or the police like his dad. No, he loved working with hands and he served his time as a joiner. He got a steady job at the Huddersfield Club. We’d moved out to Kirkburton by then, living in a bigger place on Ellis Square, just on North Road.
Then when the war started they came round asking men to sign up. Well Frank decided it was his duty to sign up, and I told him the army was good life for a man. Of course we didn’t know then what it would be like for them. He joined the Dukes – the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. All the Huddersfield lads signed up for the Dukes. All pals together, they said, that way they’d all look after each other.
Well, they spent a year and more in training and didn’t go out to France until the start of 1917. But our Frank saw some things in those four months. His battalion were trying to break through the Hindenburg Line. They called it the Battle of Bullecourt but it was more like mass slaughter. It was like nothing we’d seen in Africa – just carnage. All those Huddersfield boys were held up in front of the enemy’s front line trenches. Just small groups of them holding out in shell holes until after dark when they ran back to the embankment. And all the time the heavy shelling, rifle and machine gun fire everywhere.
That day, 3rd May 1917 it was, more Huddersfield lads died that day than any other day in the war. Any other day in history, I suppose. And my Frank had to be one of them.
Yes, I love my daughters, but Frank was my boy. He was supposed to carry on the Harrison name. Who’s going to remember us now?
The story of Stewart Young, as told by his mother, Rose
Yes, I suppose I’m a born organiser, always wanting to sort things out and sort people out. So after the war it was me who got that concert together here at New North Road Church, the week before Christmas in 1918. It was a fine concert and raised lots of money for the Soldiers Comforts Fund. But really it was for Stewart, my fine son, my boy, who died in the war. I know he’d been dead more than year by then and the war was over and people were happy and relieved. But for me it was all about Stewart.
I suppose people at New North Road think of us as a grand family. My husband Andrew has made some money from importing glass and china and selling it to furnish some rather smart houses. He’s made quite a reputation as a man who can be trusted. We started living over the shop in King Street, and yes, we do have a very nice house now on Gledholt Road. We’ve done well for ourselves, but it’s down to Andrew’s hard work and industry.
Andrew’s family are from Cambridge and mine are from Glasgow, which is where Stewart was born. That’s why he joined up with the Seaforth Highlanders, the most Scottish of all the regiments. I’ve got three other children. My eldest son, Herbert, he survived the war and he’s working in Andrew’s business and the girls Edna and Daisy are doing well for themselves.
Stewart was a fine boy. He was part of the Sunday School at New North Road, here every Sunday afternoon, rain or shine. He worked in Andrew’s business before the war and joined up in 1916. He did well at first, got promoted to lance-corporal, he was a good and conscientious soldier.
Then his regiment got sent to Ypres in Flanders – “Wipers”, the men always called it. That place was, excuse my language, it was hell on earth. The last ridge east of Ypres they called Passchendaele. It was there that the German supplies came through and taking that land while the weather was still good was vital to the outcome of the war. That’s what the Generals said, anyway.
So on 31st July 1917, I’ll never forget that date, at ten to four in the morning, the Battle of Passchendaele began. My Stewart and his Highlanders regiment, along with many, many others were sent out to fight and gain the ridge. But then the rain started and it didn’t stop. That day, the first day of Passchendaele, my Stewart gave his life. They said he was killed by a German sniper in first round of shooting in the front trenches.
Over those three days, six hundred thousand young men died, British, French and German.
They buried my Stewart in Belgium, just outside Ypres.
Yes, we had a fine concert here at church, that Christmas after it was all over. But for some of us, it will never be over.
The story of Benjamin Siswick, as told by his mother, Jane
I’m Jane from the Tam. You know the Tam, the Tam O’Shanter pub down in Paddock. I’m sure you know the Tam, best pub in town – on Brow Road, just a stone’s throw from the river. I could tell you some stories about that river and certain patrons who have ended up in there after imbibing too much on a Friday night. But that’s another story.
My husband Ben isn’t much of a church-goer, but my son, Ben junior, always walked up to New North Road Church with me and my three girls, Emily, Lucy and Martha and their big brother James.
This war, they’re calling it the Great War these days, well, it just about tore our family apart and my Ben still can’t talk about it. Our eldest was invalided out at the start of 1917 and he’ll never be the same again. And the other, named after his Dad, he never came back, and why? Don’t get me started on that.
My boy Ben enlisted in August back in 1915 when the fighting started getting serious. He signed up to join the Dukes, with all his mates. The Dukes went through some terrible days. He was one of the lucky ones at Bullecourt in May ’17 when so many of them died. He was a Corporal by then, first a Lance-Corporal, then a full Corporal.
He got mentioned in dispatches for being quite a hero in that campaign. They said he was on sentry duty, in charge of a group of men and under shell fire, when this raiding party came up on them. Our Ben did some quick thinking and moved their group to a safe place then drove the enemy away before going back to their posts. I like what they said about him: “His work has been consistently good throughout”, they said. I was so proud.
Later that year, they promoted him to Sergeant, and him still only 19.
Then, less than four months before the war ended, Ben was shot providing his company with ammunition. I don’t know how many lives he saved, but when the men ran out of ammo, he ran three times across enemy lines to get the company what they needed to defend themselves. They gave him the DCM for that – the Distinguished Conduct Medal. That’s second only to the Victoria Cross as an award for bravery.
He never did survive that attack, though, and he died in the military hospital in Rouen not long after. Give me all DCMs and promotions in the world and I’d rather have my Ben back. Just once I’d love to see him behind the bar in the Tam with his dad and his brother. But such is life and death and the cruelty of war.
The story of Stanley Wright, as told by his sister, Annie
Me and our Stanley, we really fell on his feet when he got taken in by Mum and Dad. James and Jane Barraclough they were called. He worked as a plasterer. They never had children of their own but they were a good Christian couple who saw it as their duty to take in orphaned children. They took us in – I’m Annie by the way, Stanley was my brother. Stanley were just a baby and I was about ten when we went to live with Mum and Dad. There were never two happier little orphans than me and our Stan.
We lived in Prospect Street, just an ordinary two up two down off Manchester Road. Well, in time I got married – Mrs Neatis they call me now – and I’m now living up in Lindley, Union Street, so not so far from New North Road Church. That’s something else Mum and Dad gave us when they adopted us, a love for the Lord Jesus and for this church.
Stan got work as a butcher’s boy as soon as he left school at 13. He might have been a butcher by now if it hadn’t been for the war. He got his call up papers in 1916. Stan was 18, just old enough to serve. He went into the Royal Navy, oh and didn’t he look good in that uniform!? He did well to get into the Navy – the Senior Service, you know.
He travelled the world in those two years, and ended up on an old Russian cruiser that the Admiralty was using for supplies in the Russian Civil War. The navy called her the HMS Glory IV, but the lads all called her the Packet of Woodbines, cause she looked just like the sailors’ favourite smokes, with five big thin funnels. It was supposed to be a safe posting… but it wasn’t. He’d only been on the ship a few weeks. They told us that the Glory got fired on by the Bolsheviks while she was right up north of Russia in the Arctic waters. Our Stanley was killed outright. Gone.
20 years old, he was. Six weeks short of his 21st. Just a boy, and a lovely boy, one I was proud to call my brother, the only natural family I had. God rest your soul, Stanley.