As we approach the centenary of the Armistice, we remember those who lost their lives during the First World War. This post is dedicated to the men whose names are recorded on the Lee Street War Memorial in Atherton.
The Lee Street Memorial appears to be in a strange location, on the junction of a main road and a side street. It was originally the focal point of the Baptist Chapel, which was built in 1903 and knocked down in c.1988 leaving only the memorial standing. The new church was built a short distance away, incorporating stained glass windows from its predecessor. There are various War Memorials in Atherton, the main one being the cenotaph on Hamilton Street. Each church in Atherton erected their own Roll of Honour for their congregation lost during the war. Sometimes it is easy to bypass these smaller memorials, here I hope to reveal more about the person behind the name etched in stone.
Thomas Davies (1900 – 1918)
Thomas Davies was the eldest child of Richard and Hannah Davies. He had four siblings and lived at 144 Mealhouse Lane, Atherton. Thomas joined the Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment in December 1917 and had only been in France for four months when he sadly died of gunshot wounds to the abdomen on the 24th October 1918. Thomas was just 18 years old. He is buried in Awoingt British Cemetery in France and his name is also recorded on the Howe Bridge Mills tablet, where he had previously worked.
Alfred Eames (1896 – 1918)
Alfred Eames was born in Rippondon, Yorkshire in 1896. By 1901 his family had moved to Atherton and lived at 14 Hamilton Street. Alfred’s father, John was a police constable. Alfred and three of his siblings worked at the Atherton Cotton Spinning Company Mills, he worked as a piecer. Alfred joined up in November 1914 in the King’s Own Royal Lancashire Regiment. As he joined the army close to the start of the war he saw a lot of action on the front line and had been wounded. On 13th April 1918 Alfred sent his family a postcard stating that he was well, but sadly he was killed in action just the next day aged 22.
John Farrimond (1895 – 1918)
John Farrimond was the son of William and Eliza Farrimond who lived at 30 Argyle Street with their other children, Frank and Eliza. John was a member of the temperance band and also the choir in the Baptist Church.
He enlisted in January 1916 in the Manchester Regiment, he spent 10 months in Italy. However, on 30th October 1918 he died aged 23. He had received wounds in his back and then developed influenza and pneumonia. John is buried in St. Severs Cemetery, Rouen in France and his name is also recorded on the Howe Bridge Mills tablet.
James Hunt (1893 – 1918)
James Hunt was the son of Thomas William and Amelia Alice Hunt. He was born in Astley and later lived at 13 Argyle Street, Atherton. James played for Tyldesley Celtic football club and worked at Fletcher Burrows Mining Company. He married Martha Charlson in 1916 and their daughter, Ethel was born in 1917.
He joined the King’s Own Royal Lancashire Regiment and had been in France since March 1918. He received a compound fracture to the skull in October 1918 and later passed away from this on 10th October aged 25. News of his death reached his family via a letter from the Red Cross Society (before an official statement). The letter read:
“We have just received a wire from our office at Rouen, and we deeply regret to say that Signaller Hunt died in No. 3 Stationary Hospital there on October 10th from head wounds.”
James is buried in St. Sever’s Cemetery, Rouen, his name is also recorded on the Hunt family headstone and the Charlson family headstone both in Atherton cemetery. It is worth noting here about the loss Martha Hunt suffered during the last two months of the First World War. She lost her husband, James on 10th October and then her brother, John Charlson died in Belgium on 28th October 1918. A month later on 28th November 1918 her older sister, Ethel Charlson died aged 28. Martha continued to live at 13 Argyle Street, doing paid domestic work. In 1945 her daughter Ethel married James Atherton and a year later, after 28 years as a widow, Martha married Samuel Marsh. Martha died in 1961 and is buried in Atherton cemetery.
Ernest Lynch (1896 – 1917)
Ernest Lynch lived at 25 Thomas Street with his parents, James and Mary. In 1911 he was working as a piecer in a cotton mill before changing jobs and working for the Astley and Tyldesley Collieries. Ernest joined the Manchester Regiment when war broke out. In October 1916 he was sent to France, where he was sadly killed in action on 23rd April 1917 aged 21. Ernest is buried at Cuckoo Passage Cemetery, Heninel.
(Leigh Journal 01.06.1917)
Miles Robert Partington (1894 – 1918)
Miles was the son of David and Margaret Ellen Partington and he lived at 12 York Street with his brother, Albert and sister, Maria Alice. Miles had regular attendance at the Baptist Church before the war and he previously worked as a clerk at Fletcher Burrows Company. Miles joined the Royal Irish Fusiliers and suffered from a gas attack. Miles died on 2nd September 1918 aged 24 outside the village of Neuve Eglise in Belgium. He is buried in Wulvergem-Lindenhoek Road Military Cemetery and his name is also recorded on the family headstone in Atherton cemetery.
(Leigh Journal 20.09.1918)
Charles Sallabanks (1986 – 1918)
Charles Sallabanks was born in the town of March, Cambridgeshire in 1896. He was one of seven children of Harry and Jane Sallabanks. In 1901 the family were living at 8 Sumner Street in Atherton and by 1911 they had moved to 104 Weston Street.
Charles joined the Manchester Regiment and died on 27 March 1918 aged 22. His parents had moved to Southport by this time, but Charles’s name is recorded on the Lee Street Memorial and also on the Arras Memorial.
Caleb Smith (1892 – 1918)
Caleb Smith was born in 1892 in Atherton. In 1901 he was living with his two siblings, uncles, aunts and grandparents in Kay Street, Atherton. By the First World War he was living with his parents at 40 Elizabeth Street. He had worked at Chanters Pit before joining the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
He was captured as a POW at the Battle of Mons in October 1914. He died on 23rd December 1918, aged 26, whilst still in captivity. Caleb was one of the 50 – 100 million people who died as a result of the ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic in 1918/19. A letter written to his sister, Mrs Jackson, explains more:
“No doubt you have heard from official sources of your brother’s death while in captivity, but you may like to hear more of it from one who was with him. He had not been in Parchim long when he was attacked by ‘Spanish Flu’ and in Germany it is far more fatal than elsewhere. He was delirious and the end came quietly on December 23rd. He was buried just outside in the little cemetery just outside the camp with full English Military Honours.”
(Leigh Journal 14.02.1919)
Herbert Tonge (1893 – 1916)
Herbert Tonge was born in 1893, the son of John William and Alice Tonge. He had several siblings; including two brothers who also fought in the First World War (and both survived). The family lived at 36 Tyldesley Road and both Herbert and his brother Fred were keen footballers and they both played together in the Salter Cup final for Tyldesley Church House.
Herbert enlisted in January 1915 with the Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, however shortly after his arrival in France, his father died. In a letter sent home on 12 May 1915 he thanked those who offered condolences, sent his best wishes to the staff and pupils at the Baptist Sunday School and mentioned he had been in the trenches for twelve days straight without relief. Herbert was subsequently wounded later in May 1915.
A letter to the Tonge family follows up the story in 1916:
” It is with deepest regret that I write to tell you that Pte. H. Tonge is missing since 1st July. He took part in an attack on that day and with his comrades he advanced with great gallantry but at the end of the day he was missing and has not been found since. There is just a small chance he may have been taken prisoner, but I’m afraid it is remote.”
Sadly, Herbert died on 1st July 1916 aged 23. He was just one of 19,240 British men to die on that day, within the first 24 hours of the Battle of the Somme, a battle in which men were initially told to walk across no mans land. To put that scale of death into context, the amount of lives lost on that first day was almost identical to the entire population of Atherton in 1916. Sadly, Herbert’s family only officially learnt of his death in November 1916, too late for his mother Alice, who had passed away in the August. Herbert’s body, if found, was never identified, his name is recorded on the Thiepval memorial, the Howe Bridge Mills tablet (where he had previously worked) and on the family grave stone in Atherton Cemetery.
Norman R. Trafford (1898 – 1918)
Norman R. Trafford was born Reginald Norman Trafford in Chorley in 1898. He was the second child and first son of Walter and Maud Trafford. In 1911 the family were living at Newton-le-Willows but by the time of the First World War they were living at 63 Leigh Road in Atherton.
Norman was a Corporal in the Northampton Regiment. He sadly died on 22nd August 1918 aged only 19. He is buried at Roclincourt Military Cemetery.
James Westhead (1885 – 1918)
James Westhead was born in 1885 in Atherton, the son of James and Ann Westhead. He had worked as an underground hooker-on in a coal mine before changing occupation and becoming an agent for the Prudential Insurance Company. The Westhead family had previously lived at 333 Tyldesley Road, before moving just a few doors along to Number 269 Tyldesley Road.
James had been a popular singer, and sung with the Halle Choir and with the Baptist Church Choir in Atherton. James married Annie Barlow in 1911 and they moved to Guilford Road in Pendleton. James joined the Grenadier Guards but died on 8th October 1918 aged 33. A letter sent to Annie explained he died whilst carrying a wounded NCO. His name is also recorded on the Thievpal Memorial and also on the family headstone in Atherton Cemetery.
Gerard Woods (1894 – 1916)
Gerard Woods was born in February 1894 and he was the son of Richard and Mary Jane Woods. Gerard lived with his widowed father and five siblings at 106 Weston Street and he worked as a piecer at Laburnum Mills. He joined the Royal Field Artillery in March 1915 and was sent to the front line in November 1915. Gerard was killed by a shell in on 8th July 1916 aged 22. His name is recorded on the Thievpal Memorial. A letter to his father explains more:
“I am afraid this letter will come as a shock to you. I am sorry to have to tell you that your son fell in action yesterday. Of course, you know, he was a signaller, and perhaps they run more risk than any other men in the Battery. I am proud to be able to say that I have never known them to shirk any duty. Your son was the signaller under one of me subalterns at an observation point. This point was heavily shelled, and the officer went out to look for another one. As he was away some time your son thinking he was in some trouble went out to look for him. Shortly afterwards the officer returned and the other signaller then went out to look for your son, and found him killed by a shell. It may be some consolation for you to know that his death was probably instantaneous. In going out to find his officer he thought might be wounded, he showed great pluck and worthily upheld the standard of courage of his regiment. He is buried where he fell – in a wood which less than a week ago was in German hands. Before we left England I made a promise to all the Battery that if anything happened to any of them I would write and let their people know. All ranks join with me in expressing sympathy with you in your loss.”
Here we have just touched upon the lives of 12 men who died during the First World War. There are hundreds of more stories in Atherton alone, and hundreds of thousands across the country and former empire. Of the 12 men here, 10 of them were aged 25 and under; the youngest 18 and the oldest 33. The average age of the men on the memorial is just 23 years old. Only two of the men were married and one of these was a father. In March 1916 the Government introduced the Military Service Act, which introduced conscription for all fit, single men aged 19 – 41 (in May 1916 this was altered to include married man and the age range was lowered to 18). However, certain occupations deemed necessary for the war effort were exempt from military service, this included miners. One of the main industries in Atherton was mining and several of the men listed on the Lee Street Memorial worked in collieries. However, they either joined up before conscription was introduced or left their jobs to join the army because they felt they had to do their duty.
The number of Rolls of Honour and War Memorials in Atherton express the thoughts and feelings of those who had lived through the First World War. Never before had a war touched daily life in this way and shattered so many families. Moreover, it was quickly realised that it would be an impossible task to identify those who had died and move their remains back to Britain, which explains why these memorials and the inclusion of names on family headstones are so important, as for the loved ones left behind this was their only tangible link to the dead. It is worth noting that the Lee Street Memorial includes the dates “1914 – 1919”. This is not an error. At the time, the armistice of 11 November 1918 was simply a ceasefire. It was the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the Peace Treaty, on 28 June 1919 which officially ended the war.
Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath
- WWI Cutting at Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies (An invaluable resource for tracing any First World War soldier who lived in the Wigan Borough)
- Leigh Journal Articles mentioned above
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission https://www.cwgc.org/