The Great War – Week by Week
Neston, June 1914, five weeks before the Great War
At the end of June 1914 Neston people were aware that some Austrian arch-duke had been assassinated somewhere in the Balkans, but like most of the rest of the world, they would have had no idea of what that event would lead to within five short weeks.
Early June had seen the centenary of a certain Female Friendly Society, though the May Day celebrations a month earlier were just as popular. The May Day procession had included a cycle carnival and donkey parade, and with the aid of the enthusiastic Boys Brigade, a good sum had been raised for the Victoria Nursing Fund that supported district nursing.
The Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds, a male equivalent to the Ladies Club, was still very popular, and there was some disappointment when the magistrates refused a licence for the Red Lion to serve from a shed in a nearby field to relieve the pressure in the pub on the day of their annual walk.
Some of the local young men were (as ever) causing problems for the police. A couple of them (we will resist mentioning the still familiar names!) were charged with being drunk and disorderly after walking up Parkgate Road from the station singing comic songs and using bad language, and telling Sergeant Bee to mind his own business. This had become a regular Sunday night problem. Several men were also fined for playing football in Hinderton Road on a Sunday.
An enquiry concerning a Town Planning Scheme was under way at the end of June – “A fine thing for the district” claimed one councillor, as it was supposed to prevent any haphazard building to the detriment of others. There were plans to carry out some demolitions, and homes for the “working classes” were sorely needed. The Neston Cottage Company, a forerunner of the Neston and Parkgate Housing Society had already started building cottages on Cottage Close.
Hundreds of locals had flocked to Parks Field in early July to see the Daily Mail sponsored mono-plane, flown by Frenchman Henri Salmet- and he made dozens of trips taking brave souls for a flight to Eastham and back. Army Territorials were camping on the field at the same time – a regular event on Parks Field for many years.
Even before the tidings of war were noticed, first-aid ambulance classes were proving popular. There had been a men’s ambulance class earlier in the year taught by local GP Dr Grant, and Mrs Pemberton of The Mount (now Hinderton Mount Residential Home) had put a lot of energy into forming the detachment of the British Red Cross Society that flourished in Neston that summer. The Pembertons, like many others, were to feature regularly in the local news over the next few years because of their commitment to the war effort in various ways.
The town had a good selection of shops at that time; a popular fancy-goods and drapery store was run by Clarissa Tranter, on Parkgate Road (in the building recently given a smart new frontage and made residential). Mrs Tranter had been somewhat surprised one summer’s day by fifteen sheep crashing through her glass door, leaping over the counter and invading the shop, then showing some reluctance to leave!
- 2. Neston LIfe, 15th July 1914
- 3. Neston Life, 22nd July 1914
- 4. Just before the war
- 5. The Day War Broke Out
- 6. In the second week of war, 11th August
- 7. Week 3, 19th August
- 8. Week 4, 25th August
- 9. The end of August
- 10. Neston and the Wirral Battalion - 8th September
- 11. Week 6 of the war
- 12. Week 7
- 13. Week 8
- 14. Early October
- 15. 2nd week of October
- 16. 3rd week of October
- 17. Week 12
- 18. Week 13
- 19. Week 14
- 20. Week 15
- 21. Week 16
- 22. Week 17
- 23. Week 18
- 24. Week 19
- 25. Week 20
- 26. Week 21
- 27. Neston traditionally celebrated New Year around The Cross
- 28. Week 23
- 29. Week 24
- 30. Week 25
- 31. Week 26
- 32. Week 27
- 33. Week 28 & 29
- 34. Week 30
- 35. Week 31 of the Great War and a routine week in Neston
- 36. Weeks 32 & 33
- 37. Week 34
- 38. Weeks 35 & 36
- 39. Weeks 37 & 38
- 40. Week 39 & 40
- 41. Weeks 41 & 42
- 42. Week 43 & 44
- 43. Weeks 45 & 46
- 44.Weeks 47 & 48
- 45.Weeks 49 to 51
- 46.Weeks 52 & 53
- 47.Weeks 54 & 55
- 48. Weeks 56 & 57Weeks 56 and 57 of War in Neston and Life gets Harder
Many local men were with the 4th Cheshires and having a rough time in Gallipoli; Lance Corporal Willoughby Bennett, formerly of Cross Street, was in hospital in Malta having been shot in the thigh, and was now convalescing. He had been visited by some ‘lovely ladies’ and given cigarettes and chocolate, and was now awaiting a parcel of goodies and a mouth organ. He was known as a keen musician in Neston.
Jim Peters of Eldon Terrace, another of the 4th Cheshires was also in hospital in Malta with a shrapnel wound to his left arm. Private S. Smith from the Colliery, 4th Cheshires, was another local wounded at Gallipoli, as was Private Arthur Leighton, Royal Welch Fusiliers, from Smiths Cottages, another Colliery man; he had received a gunshot wound to his mouth.
Jack Henderson, of Sunset cottages in Ness, another of the 4th Cheshires over there, was reported missing since August 28th. His mother had received a letter from him dated 29th, but it was suggested that he might have written it before he went into action. He was one of a close group of friends from the choir at St Michael’s, Little Neston.
John Holland of Hallwood (the original Hallwood off Quarry Road in Hinderton) was in court, summoned for driving without lights; PC Leigh and Sergeant Bee had seen him and signalled him to stop by flashing a torch; Mr Holland’s explanation was that he had crashed into an unlit lamp up the road, and damaged his wiring and accumulators so his lights would not work. The accused was away on ‘Government work’ but his solicitor pointed out that he could have left the car where it crashed into the lamp or driven it home slowly; the bench agreed he had taken the sensible option, case dismissed.
Around sixty members of the Women’s Meeting of the Congregational Church had motor trips around the area on Tuesday, courtesy of Sir W.H. Lever. The weather was bad but the motors were of the covered type and everyone enjoyed it. The Sunday School children had a similar day out a couple of weeks ago. Lady Bates from Hinderton Hall treated local children to a tea-party on the afternoon of September 8th (Tuesday), so many of them took the afternoon off school.
A.G.Grenfell, head of Mostyn House, was still corresponding with the council about the steps he had installed from the sea-wall onto the shore opposite to the school, but the council were determined to have his steps removed and their own installed, wide enough to be used to slide a boat down. They were also considering regulating bathing off the Parade and Moorside, under a Public Health Amendment Act.
Government was taking a firm grip on some issues, a predictably unpopular move being a restriction in pub licensing hours to reduce drinking problems; this involved a ‘no-treating’ clause where one could not buy a round, or even, it appeared, a drink for one’s wife –every one had to buy their own. There was much speculation on how this would work.
The drive to produce more munitions meant that workers in vital industries could not refuse overtime, or go on strike, and several men from Cammell Lairds were summoned to the first sitting of the local Munitions Tribunal in Liverpool. They were heavily fined for refusing to work overtime.
A potential problem with the Dee was that it could make the area vulnerable to enemy attack by sea, so any light on land, be it street or domestic lights, that could be seen from the river, was forbidden. A woman in Heswall had already been in court for this misdemeanour. Neston council decreed that any street light likely to infringe the ruling was to be left unlit except when on a dangerous corner or in a busy area, in which case one side of the lantern had to be darkened.
Several vacancies advertised this month – a ploughman wanted in Hinderton, and he could have a cottage, a forehand baker at Corkill’s bakery on Liverpool Road, two experienced lady confectioners for machine mixing at J.R. Hughes, grocers where the HSBC now stands, a good horseman carter for Flemings builders (‘used to the country’), also bench hands, mechanic, general builders and navvies for Flemings, a kitchen maid and between maid at Mostyn House, and as usual several maids and cooks were wanted for local private households.
This article covers roughly the end of August to mid September 1915
- 49. Weeks 58 & 59Weeks 58 and 59 of Life in Neston in the Great War – and the Animals come to Town
There was no sign of peace, the prospects for the allies were showing no improvement at all, and many Neston men were in the thick of it in Gallipoli. Another of the injured from the 4th Cheshires was Lance Corporal Norman Hughes from Liverpool Road, lying in Highfield Hospital in Liverpool with a wound in his side, and dysentery, which was very common amongst the troops in Gallipoli. Norman Hughes was eventually awarded the Military Cross in 1918 as 2nd Lieutenant, but died in August that year.
The Battle of Loos, on the Western Front, starting on September 25th, saw the first use of chlorine gas by the allies; unfortunately the gas actually blew back and affected the British lines causing chaos. Amongst the thousands who died was 21 year-old 2nd Lieutenant William Porrit, a Mostyn House old boy. He was probably the 15th old Mostonian to die in the war to date, and the high proportion of officers being shot compared to the men they were leading was already obvious.
Ithiel Lloyd of Parkgate Parade, who lived in the premises now occupied by the Indian restaurant, had organized yet another concert, this time for the Blue Cross, an animal charity, in the Institute. The performers were called the Aeolians, not actually Neston locals this time. Mr Lloyd was said to excel in feminine rolls, and promised his audience that he would appear in ‘a new gown’ by Christmas.
The Wirral Foal Show (a general agricultural show in fact) was held at the Smithfield next to Hooton station by the Wirral Farmers Club, on Wedneday 22nd September. The chairman was Joseph Mealor of White House Farm, on The Green, Little Neston. There had been much debate whether to hold the show (the 28th such event) in the present climate of war, but it went ahead on the grounds that horses were needed by the Army and their breeding should be encouraged. Lots of produce and animals were sold for the Red Cross Fund. Neston prize winners included William Allen of Leighton Hall, A.E. Job of New Hall on the Chester High road, Charles Swift of Parkgate, William Hawkins of Willaston, and Walter Dodd and Joseph Mealor of Little Neston.
The ‘top’ school in Liverpool Road was closed for the afternoon of Wednesday 15th as Bostock and Wombwell’s Animal Show was visiting Neston, with lions, tigers, bears, leopards, hyenas, a wagonful of monkeys, and Jerry, the great red and blue faced Mandril gorilla – and every cage was illuminated with electric lighting. Most of the children had said they were going, so the school managers bowed to the inevitable and gave them a half-day holiday.
Several Nestonians were in Canada in this era, serving the colony, and at least one couple was keeping the home town up-to-date on their news. Dr Speechley, local doctor who in earlier times had tended Mostyn House pupils, had founded Neston Cricket Club in 1894 and married the daughter of the late Rev. Barrett who had been Head of Mostyn House for a while. Mary Barrett who had studied there had gained a scholarship to University College Liverpool in 1889 (as the University was then known), even now found time to ‘compete in knowledge with the finest brains in Canada’.
On 27th September, in the Parish Church, at 8 o’clock in the morning, a couple of well-known local families were united by the marriage of Martha Swift, whose father had the butchers shop where the late NatWest Bank now stands on the Cross, and Frederick Norman, son of Henry Norman, builder of Little Neston, Frank Norman being best man. They left for a few days in Blackpool.
- 50. October 1915October 1915, the War in Neston, and Cuts are Called For
A former Parkgate fisherman from Station Road, Private Charles Fewtrell, now in the Royal Marines, was the only boy in his family, with eight sisters. In a letter home from Gallipoli he spoke of some bitterness about the lads who had not signed up and what he would say to them when they ask what it was like out there. He had been bomb-throwing, and “an enormous lot of Turks” had been killed. In his letter, from hospital, he was pining for a few days at home, and betting that Parkgate would be in an uproar when he gets back. He sent his mother a flower from the trenches; he had bumped into Robert Bartley, wounded in the hand, and gave the news that Robert ‘Pusher’ Roscoe, a Little Neston fisherman, had been badly wounded; (Robert had in fact died on 22nd August, one of the many casualties from the Birkenhead based 4th Cheshires which a number of Neston men had joined.)
Neston Council had seen fit to reduce its (gas) street lighting, in the interests of economy and also so as not to provide a target for Germans on the Dee; consequently Lee the lamplighter had less work, so he was assigned to looking after the bacteria beds.
The church schools on Liverpool Road had been instructed to close earlier in the afternoon to economise on the cost of artificial lighting. The half-term holiday consisted of Friday and Monday off and back to school on Tuesday 12th, though attendance figures were down later in the week and it was said that some boys had gone potato picking.
Cheshire County Council sought to economise by drastically reducing the evening classes it provided. Neston’s allowance dropped from £1400 to £87, and the twelve classes previously held were reduced to one for economic cookery, which was now the only class in many areas of the county.
The first Sunday in the month saw the usual Harvest Festivals in the Parish Church, St Michael’s in Little Neston and St Thomas’ in Parkgate. Children walked from the Liverpool Road School to the Parish Church carrying flowers and singing, and Little Neston children processed to St Michael’s. The flowers were rapidly transported to London to be distributed in the slums by the Church Army Headquarters. St Thomas’ had the usual good attendance, and the Vicar preached on how much we had to be thankful for in England.
Neston Congregational Church, which was on the site of the present British Legion, was seriously discussing the suggestion by the Wirral Division of the Red Cross Society that the Institute, which the Church was leasing from Sir William Lever, could be used as a hospital. More accommodation for the wounded from the war was urgently needed. The church itself could be used for the various events that were currently held in the Institute and it would be useful financially as the Red Cross would pay all expenses for the Institute.
The Parish Church was also discussing its accommodation needs; with permission of the Town Hall Company they were using the Drill Hall (Town Hall basement) for the Sunday School and had to co-operate with the Volunteer Defence Force who wanted it on Sunday afternoons, Tuesday evenings, and Thursday evenings for recruits if necessary. Like counterparts a century later, the PCC discussed the date for the Christmas Sale of Work and who they could ask to open it.
A.G.Grenfell, the ever enterprising head of Mostyn House was still working on plans for accessing the river in front of the school; the council were intending to put steps down from the sea-wall, though of course they would be of no use for launching a boat. Mr Grenfell’s plan was to make an 8 feet wide gap in the sea wall with a 37 feet ramp to his landing stage. The council delayed a decision.
A young man from Birkenhead riding his motorcycle had the misfortune to encounter Neston’s Police Superintendent Ennion in his horse and trap, going in the opposite direction along the Chester High Road. With his face nearly touching the handle-bars, the man was doing 60mph and did not stop when the officer held up his hand, so he turned his horse and gave chase. There were no other vehicles on the road, and the young man was doing a ‘measured half mile’. He was fined £2 and advised to go to Brooklands.
Another motor-cyclist, this time with a side-car, was travelling between the Shrewsbury Arms and Five Lane Ends, doing between 15 and 20 mph, and collided with a four-wheeled van that had pulled onto the verge to let him pass. In a third accident this month a student from Heswall on a motor-cycle died from a fractured skull when he collided with Parkgate fisherman John Mealor’s horse and cart near The Runnell.
Clatterbridge Workhouse was still the refuge of a few Neston people, most of them single. The ten week-old baby of one of them died there in October. Gifts of magazines and flowers were often sent from the town to the workhouse. A ‘motor’ was on order by the Guardians, to assist with the farming, and cattle and pigs were being bought and sold. The need to grow more food was dawning on the population, and the County Council had just set up a huge War Agricultural Committee mainly to address the shortage of labour on the land. Using women for agricultural work was high on the agenda…
- 51. November 1915Late November 1915, and More Men are Needed at the Front
Wintery weather had suddenly arrived in the town of Neston, there was snow on the Welsh hills, and bitterly cold winds. More men were urgently needed for the war which was not going well. The new Director General of Recruiting, Lord Derby, initiated a complex scheme involving a canvass of all men of military age, where they had to give details of their employment, marital status etc. Suitable men were signed on and sent back to their jobs until they were called up according to a complex timetable. A few, such as munitions workers and teachers were considered to be in essential employment and were to be exempted. Three of the council’s workmen had just left to go to a munitions factory, where they would be well-paid.
Neston was now to have its own recruiting office in the Town Hall, rather than the men having to report to Birkenhead to attest and have medicals. Secretaries were appointed to the three areas: Neston (H.F.Russell, civil engineer), Parkgate (A.G.Grenfell of Mostyn House) and Little Neston (W.Pownall of Windle Hill). A three-man local tribunal was also ready to consider appeals from individuals to delay their appointed date or give exemption from the obligation to fight, and such tribunals were kept very busy over coming months. Joseph Pemberton, council chairman and father of five serving officer sons was one of the three members.
Private Thomas Ellis, 17, son of a collier family from Sunset Cottage, Ness, was the latest local man to be killed in action; he was in France in the 13th Cheshires (the ‘Wirral Battalion’) and had featured in a newspaper photograph last year, still wearing the temporary blue uniforms, (see 21st October 2014 AMA). He had often helped at Laburnum Farm, attended St Michael’s mission church, and kept in touch, as did a lot of the Ness lads, with Joseph Wilde who ran the Grocer’s shop in that village.
We read last time of the death of Private William Lewis (8th Cheshires) in Gallipoli; he had been orderly to his superior office (Lieut. Gordon Miln of Chester who was himself killed later in the war) who had written a touching letter to his mother, and she also heard from the Lieutenant again, returning two letters that had just arrived in the camp for Private Lewis, and saying he had distributed William’s cigarettes amongst the men. They had, he said, laid him to rest in the cemetery and erected a wooden cross. William’s brother Lance-Corporal Albert Lewis was with the transport section in France, and arriving home on leave he had brought a piece of shell that had skimmed over his head when he was writing home one day.
Private Myles Smith (4th Cheshires), former stone-mason, was also in Gallipoli and wrote to his parents in Hinderton Road that the only food they had which did not go bad was tinned fruit, and the nearest civilised place was about a hundred miles away. He hoped to be home for Christmas dinner, even if he had to go back to the war afterwards.
Wirral Rural District Council, which covered the areas of Raby, Willaston, and Ness had a discussion on the problem of losing agricultural workers to the army- which men needed to be retained on the farms, and what could women do? One local farmer was reduced to four men from ten, and two of them were between 70 and 80 years of age. Cllr Turton, a Raby farmer, remarked that there was a lack of understanding of what women could do, they could pick potatoes or pick up the chaff, but couldn’t feed the fat-stock, nor handle sacks or straw.
A local man that we should have mentioned a couple of weeks ago was Joseph Albert Mellor, fisherman of High Street who rescued a boy who had got out of his depth in one of the gutters near the Parade. The water had been returning to Parkgate over recent months, and made the gutters dangerous, especially for strangers like this boy who was staying at the Scripture Readers Mission House, the former Custom House next to the Parade. Joseph Mellor, alerted to the situation by another child, jumped in and rescued the unconscious youngster, who luckily recovered.
Joseph Gray of the Mill House in Leighton Road was buried this week in 1915, well known throughout Cheshire and much of Wales as a haulage contractor, timber merchant and threshing machine proprietor. His father Wolton Gray had started the business, and his son Charles Gray would carry it on, from the Old Mill Yard on Leighton Road for many years. They also ran the business from the area of the old quarry at the rear of Cross Street and Leighton Road.
- 52. Mid December 1915Mid-December 1915, and a Quiet Christmas Lies Ahead.
Local farmers were having problems, with men going to war or to better paid jobs in munitions. But the Little Neston, Willaston and District Ploughing Society was looking ahead to the end of January for its next ploughing match to be held at Hanns Hall Farm, a very accessible place, within a mile of three stations. A feature was to be the introduction of a competition for female ‘ploughmen’. A surplus of £21 in the accounts was being handed to Mrs Pemberton, wife of Neston’s council chairman, and Red Cross leader, much of which would go towards the new Auxiliary Red Cross Hospital being installed in the Institute.
As Mr Maxwell’s Picturedrome Cinema was being displaced from the Institute, a licence to hold it in the Town Hall was issued. Gifts of games, wicker chairs, buffets, rugs, books and such like were being requested for the hospital at the Institute.
It would be a few more months before conscription, i.e. compulsory service, was introduced but Lord Derby’s scheme to get more men signed-up meant that Neston men could go along to the Town Hall, before the deadline of 15th December, rather than as previously to Chester, Birkenhead or indeed Flint, to ‘attest’ and commit themselves to being mobilized sometime in the next few months, according to a complex timetable of pre-arranged dates.
Samuel Milner, a painter from New Street, Colliery, went to the Town Hall on 11th December to attest, was mobilized in February 1916 and went to France in September with the Cheshires, where he fell victim to gun-shot wounds on December 25th 1916. After a return to England he was sent out again, and suffered further gun-shot wounds to his arm and chest in one of the Somme actions, where he was taken prisoner and held for several months at Limberg. Finally discharged from the Cheshire Regiment in July 1919 he died less than six months later.
The 20 years-old blacksmith John Bell from Bridge Street, 5’11”, (tall for that time) went to attest on the 12th, though he was not actually called up till January 1917, as a learner driver at Kinmel Bay Camp, then went to Crosby for duty with the Mersey Garrison. He also served in France and Italy as a shoeing smith from October 1917 and suffered a leg injury from barbed wire.
James Heath, 22 years old butcher’s assistant from Mill Street also went to the Town Hall on 12th December and ended up in the 24th Squadron of the Machine Gun Corps in the 1st Indian Mounted Brigade, sailing to Bombay in December 1917, finally returning to UK in March 1919. Little did he know that someone would be sitting in that very same Mill Street house writing about him a century later.
Thomas Peters, assistant at the waterworks had joined the Royal Engineers, and a debate ensued in the council as to whether they should make up the difference in his wages. Seasonal issues also cropped up for discussion, like putting grit on the tarmacked icy roads to assist the horses. Wirral Rural District Council, responsible for the areas surrounding Neston, were also losing men to the Army, and their Highways Committee was asking about the possibility of employing women.
Meanwhile the ladies in Neston organized by the vicar’s wife Mrs Brooke Gwynne and her daughter, held their annual December sale of work, which as usual provided useful income of £70 for the Church, while the C of E school teachers ran a rummage sale in the drill hall (Town Hall basement).
Harry Woodhouse of Liverpool Road wrote to his mother from the hospital ship in Gallipoli, suffering with frostbitten feet; he had been in the trenches, it had been snowing and raining then freezing and he had to stand around in a trench half-full of water. He asked his mother not to be miserable over Christmas, but to make it happy for his children. Like some other letter writers, Harry mentions that he had not seen “Pusher” yet; this was Robert Roscoe who was missing and causing concern, and he had in fact been killed in August.
Lieutenant Foster, of Glenton House on Bull Hill was also in hospital with frost bitten feet, he had only just rejoined his battalion after an attack of jaundice.
At the end of the 1914-1915 season of the West Cheshire League, Neston Nomads were 7th out of 14 teams. However there were no local level matches this season, too many of the players were otherwise occupied. The gates were down at the F.A. matches which were featuring many unknown players. Matches were to be purely amateur, but the working man would get his weekly game to watch, even if Football League matches were to be 40 mins each way and many matches were late starting because of rail problems. Saturday 9th had seen viciously cold east winds and one F.A. player had refused to turn out. “Liverpool turn the Corner” said a local sports reporter at the beginning of December (a century ago…)
Thanks to Ian L. Norris for information on Samuel Milner.
- 53. A Treat for the Local ChildrenNeston, Christmas 1915 and a Mostyn House Treat for local Children
A Christmas Party was hosted at Mostyn House by A.G.Grenfell, the Rowlands of The Bungalow, and the Gamons of Leighton Banastre for the local children whose fathers were away at the Front. Cars were dispatched to pick up them up, and one two-seater was said to have returned with eighteen little ones in it. They had their tea in the school dining hall, and were reportedly very well behaved. The pulling of crackers caused huge excitement, and the party moved to the covered playground. Ice cream, a magician and a ventriloquist were next on the programme, followed by a sing-song of ‘Tipperary’, shared with the convalescing soldiers from the Red Cross hospital along the Parade.
Father Christmas, with scarlet-coated dog, arrived and distributed the 210 presents from the tree (which included carefully chosen useful clothes), a rallying speech was given by A.G.G. and they all sung the National Anthem. Sweets, oranges and apples with cakes for the mothers were given out. Dr Wilfred Grenfell, the missionary doctor, was there, with a paper hat on.
The numbers were down somewhat at the traditional New Years Eve gathering on the Cross following midnight services, though a good number of khaki-clad men mingled in the crowd. There were the usual whistles and sirens, but the crowd dispersed somewhat more sombrely than in previous years.
The annual tea for over one hundred mothers who attended the Congregational Church (where the Legion now stands) was held on Tuesday, and Mrs Hulme Lever (daughter-in-law of Sir William) presided, the Levers being great supporters of Congregationalism. Singing, dancing, games and a conjurer kept the ladies happy, with a hundred younger children having their party the following day, and a similar number of older ones the day after.
After working for William Fleming the Neston building company for twenty-eight years, 56 year-old John Maylor from Victoria Road, Little Neston, had a month ago gone to work at the large munitions plant in Queensferry, and collapsed and died suddenly at the factory. Many people were now working in munitions as the pay was very good.
The first week of the New Year also saw the death of John McLeavy, 39, licensee of the Brewers Arms. Like many other local men, he was a member of the Victoria Lodge of the Ancient Shepherds. Forty officers and members of the Lodge attended the funeral, carrying their crooks draped with crepe and forming an arch when the coffin reached the church.
This popular Friendly Society, the Shepherds, featured in another item of news: H. N. Gladstone, son of the late Prime Minister had been resident at Burton Manor for several years, with his wife, who was very involved with the Parkgate Red Cross Hospital. But now he had become ‘Squire of Hawarden’ after the death of his nephew W.G.C.Gladstone the previous April after less than a month at the Front, and so was now living at Hawarden Castle. In early January he was initiated as a member of the local Pride of Wales Shepherds (established 1817) and became Brother Gladstone, and made an interesting speech about Friendly Societies, pointing out that his father, when Prime Minister had launched an Act in 1875 giving them standing and recognition.
A case at the Petty Sessions early in the new year revolved around the evening of December 18th and the Chester Arms, Parkgate (near the site of the present Old Quay pub). PC Fryer noted lights on and men coming out at 9.15pm, fifteen minutes after closing time. Inside were nine men with glasses of mineral water. One of them, Thomas Robinson, fisherman, was allegedly unable to stand when he saw the officer, and slipped sideways into the next seat, then staggered into the hallway and fell full length on the floor. He was taken with some difficulty to the police station in Park Street where he was seen by Sergeant Bee and judged to be drunk as he was unable to walk properly.
Defence claimed that the police had knocked Robinson about which was why he appeared drunk. He had drunk a ‘shandy-gaff’(beer mixed with ginger-beer), a beer and two small gins according to witnesses and had merely stumbled on the steps in the hallway. Fred Birch, blacksmith said Robinson was not drunk though he might have been a little ‘sleepy’. Neston fishermen Edmund Murray (Mostyn Terrace by the Square) and John Norman backed up that story. Warning the landlord to be especially careful while the war was on, the bench fined him £2 on the charge of permitting drunkenness.
Job vacancies included three or four bricklayers wanted by Albert Fleming, builder of Leighton Road, for Thingwall Sanatorium, grocers Mann & Crosthwaite wanted a woman who could drive and groom horses, and a driver for the Chester to Neston mail van was needed.
Many local men were in the 4th Cheshires and had suffered at Gallipoli for several months; that disastrous campaign was now being abandoned and the various battalions being evacuated, the 4th Cheshires going to Egypt. The 13th Cheshires, the so-called Wirral Battalion were in France. Conscription was finally about to be launched to satisfy a desperate need for more men that was not being met by voluntary enlistment.
- 54. January 1916The End of January 1916 and Local Farmers Plough On.
Many of the local men had now ‘joined the colours’ and much of the news concerned what they were doing at the various Fronts, rather than events in Neston, which had been somewhat curtailed due to lack of men.
On Thursday 27th, PCs Leigh and Fryer (after a tip-off) called at a house in Gladstone Road in search of 21 year-old William Jellicoe; one constable went to the back door whilst the other ‘gained admission’ by the front door, and questioned William’s father. He denied his son was there and allowed them to search the place, and an outhouse fastened from the inside raised suspicions. When asked who was in there a voice replied “The lodger”, but was soon identified when he came out. Once at the police station he admitted he had been in Neston for three months, having deserted from the 4th Cheshires in August, but was sorry and wanted to go back to the Front to do his little bit, He had in his possession a pawn ticket for some false ‘army’ teeth.
William had in fact gone to work in the colliery after ‘leaving’ his unit, but had bolted when the police arrived there one day. PC Leigh had spotted him in a cart going up Hinderton Road with his father and sister in mid-December. A sad story emerged of four brothers in the Army, one at home seriously ill, a sister who had died after a short illness just before Christmas, and the mother of the family had also been seriously ill. He was in fact discharged from the army in April, as being unfit for service.
The Little Neston, Willaston and District Ploughing Society held its ninth annual match at Leech’s Hanns Hall Farm in Willaston on the 26th. (Yes, it is a year since the last one was held at White House Farm in Little Neston). There was reasonable weather, buds peeping out and birds twittering. Joseph Mealor and Sons, the Ness plough-makers, had presented a plough to the British Red Cross for auction, to fund equipment for the auxiliary hospital that was just about to open in the Institute. Lady Hill from the house at the bottom of the Runnell in Leighton made an apposite speech referring to ‘making swords into ploughshares’ soon.
Around a hundred of the Neston men serving at the moment had been in the Boys Brigade. Lance-Corporal Norman Hampson of the 1st Royal Scots wrote to the Boys Brigade’s Captain Coventry and said he had come across some Neston boys of the 4th Cheshires in Gallipoli, who were 20 minutes walk away from his own Regiment; he went up to Louis Walsh (from the old vicarage on the Cross), in a dug-out and kicked his foot, and had a good few hours with the Neston boys. Sapper H. Hough also wrote to Captain Coventry telling of meeting Neston lads out there, including Tom Bushell and Sam Webster who now had stripes.
John Maylor, whose death at the Queensferry Munitions Works we reported recently, had two sons in the Wirral Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, and they were home on leave from France. They revealed that Neston lads had named their dug-outs after local hostelries, and would be located by “He’s down at the Oak” or “Up at the Durham Ox”.
The opening of the new cinema show in the Town Hall had been delayed, until Saturday 22nd, due, reportedly to the problems in delivery of the generator for producing electric light for projecting. The town did not have a generally available power supply. Films would be shown on Fridays, Saturdays and Wednesdays. The hall was crowded for the first session, showing the drama ‘The Mystery of the Silver Skull’ and the humorous element included ‘Mabel’s Wilful Way’.
The Parkgate Entertainers under their leader Ithiel Lloyd from Parkgate (where the Indian restaurant stands) paid a visit to the Workhouse at Clatterbridge; the original troupe had now all gone to fight but non-eligible men had been found to fill the spaces, and Misses Fewtrell and Robinson were still contributing. Ithiel Lloyd was well-known as a female impersonator, nevertheless his Workhouse audience gasped with amazement when he removed his wig and revealed his true persona. (I wish we had a photograph of Ithiel.)
- 55. February 1916February 1916, and the War needs More Men and More Munitions.
The wife of Private William Healey from the sandstone cottages in Mill Street had been waiting over four months to hear news of her husband who was reported missing in France on October 3rd. Like many wives in this situation she was hoping he had become a prisoner-of-war, or was in a hospital somewhere. This week she finally heard that he had been killed in action. A former employee of both Albert Fleming and William Fleming building companies, the 39 years-old’s favourite relaxation had been bowls on the vicarage lawn. They had no children, but a friendly dog called Barney, just a puppy when William went to war. Barney’s task had been to pick up the mail posted through the letter box and he had of course had no inkling of the sad message from the War Office in one of the envelopes he brought to his mistress. William was with the 2nd Battalion of the Cheshires, who were moved to Egypt later in October after their spell in France.
Zeppelin air-raids killed dozens in the north Midlands at the end of January so councils were becoming more conscious of the risks. Should an attack occur, Wirral Rural District Council (which included Ness and Willaston) suggested using schools and churches for first-aid for the injured. Getting people off the street in the case of a warning was important. Advice included keeping a bucket of water upstairs in case of fire, and teachers were to be responsible for children in school. Complex rules about lights from property and vehicles were issued, which often necessitated a piece of tissue paper being put in front of a vehicle’s lamp. Neston Council agreed to recommend to the ‘military authorities’ that gas and electricity be cut off in Neston in case of a Zeppelin raid on Wirral.
March 1916 was set to see the first batches of men who had been conscripted (ie compulsorily signed up rather than enlisting voluntarily) being called up. There was a complex system depending on age, and at this stage of the war involved unmarried men only and some jobs were exempted. Many appeals against the orders were made and every town including Neston had a tribunal to make decisions, though most of the records nationally were destroyed post-war. A case was transferred from the Southport tribunal to Neston when police officer John Hulse asked for exemption on conscientious grounds, also he was about to manage his ailing father’s farm in Burton as they could not get men for the farm work. Hulses had been farming in Burton for decades.
Perhaps the most popular gift for serving soldiers, beating tobacco even, was SOCKS. These had been produced in great numbers in Neston by groups such as Mrs Richardson’s knitting group at her small private school, at Springvale down Moorside Lane. However the price of wool was steadily rising, so Mrs Rowlands from The Bungalow at the extreme south end of Parkgate Parade, approached A.G.Grenfell of Mostyn House, and he volunteered a special collection on Sunday evening in the chapel. This collection was usually given to the Labrador Mission, run by Wilfred Grenfell, A.G.’s brother. Reportedly some of the Mostyn House boys were keen knitters of goods for the troops.
A fair-sized audience in the Town Hall listened with great interest to a missionary speaker, Rev. A. Goodrich, from the CMS, with his limelight pictures to illustrate “Past and Present in Uganda”. Whilst introducing him, Neston’s vicar spoke of ‘a great giant emerging from its slumbers – China- with its teeming millions’ and noted that the future of that great power, good or bad, depended on our efforts to Christianise it.
Sam Mealor from the fish shop on High Street ran one of his popular whist drives and dances, also in the Town Hall, this time in aid of the new Red Cross hospital in the Institute. Plants were lent by Jamiesons from Church Lane, and dainty refreshments came from Youds on the Cross (Shand).
The staff at Neston Post Office were getting stressed by the mental and physical strain of the pressure of work of postal and telephone services, so a Wednesday afternoon closure, apart from dealing with telegrams, was planned.
William Whineray of Leighton Court established a small munitions factory in outhouses in his garden. The great shortage of weapons prompted the founding of small businesses like his and at the other end of the scale, the massive plant in Queensferry with thousands of employees, including some from Neston, as they were well-paid and protected from conscription.
The farmers were getting short of men; a cowman was wanted at Rake Farm in Burton, with the offer of a good cottage and large garden, top wages and the usual extras. Old Hall Farm in Puddington wanted a man for the team of horses, good wages and a cottage offered. Prentices shop opposite Neston church wanted a tinman to do general repairs. Neston & Parkgate Laundry was still wanting a driver for their Lacre van; a Matron was wanted in the home for feeble-minded girls in Parkgate, Ashton House. This was Balcony House and the girls were taught laundry skills.
Ithiel Lloyd and his Parkgate Performers were once more in action, this time contributing to entertainment arranged by Chester Girl Guides in Chester’s popular Holborn Restaurant (first floor of the building opposite to Marks and Spencer). Ithiel was a great success in his female impersonation role in an impressive outfit and his song “There’s nobody just like you” was loudly applauded. Other Parkgate people involved were Annie Fewtrell, Annie Robinson and Clem Bushell.
- 56. March 1916March 1916 and Deaths of Two of our Young Soldiers
Dr Lewis Grant, one of the GPs who had trained the local Red Cross volunteer nursing staff and ambulance men, had an accident in the early hours of Sunday morning at the end of the month, falling from his bicycle and breaking his femur. He was returning to his bungalow on Parkgate Road after seeing a patient in Ness, when his bag got caught in the front wheel when he was by the Presbyterian Church (URC). He was unconscious for a while, and then in a dazed condition crawled as far as the railway bridge in Moorside Lane, where he was found three hours later, suffering from exposure. A long convalescence ensued.
Plans were being drawn up for the local branch of the Red Cross to open a workroom in ‘Rathmines’ in Hinderton Road- later in the month changed to nearby ‘Ivanhoe’. This was one of the 1880s ‘villas’ in the area of what is now Hamilton Court apartments. Loans of sewing machines and furniture were requested, and donations of old linen would be gratefully received for padding purposes. Currently based in the Town Hall, the workshop had already produced a huge supply of hospital garments, splints and 3,000 bandages. Anyone was welcome to call in, socialise and be useful.
On Saturday 18th an accident in thick fog by Thornton Hough caused the death of the 15-year old driver of a post office horse-drawn mail van which had collided with a traction engine coming the other way. The deceased brought the mail from Chester at 4am, delivered till about 6am, then headed for Neston where the horse was stabled and he had lodgings till night-time when he would take mail back to Chester and go to his home there by about 11pm. The inquest jury heard that James Robinson from Little Neston was doing the ‘flagging’ about 25 yards in front of the traction engine, (though without a flag). He reckoned the mail cart was going at the same speed as a motor-car, about 9mph. John George Peters from Newtown, Little Neston was the engine driver, though he had recently lost an eye; his brother Daniel was the steerer. The inquest jury decided it was purely an accident.
Wirral Farmers’ Club met on 21st March, with Joseph Mealor of Whitehouse Farm on the Green in Little Neston, presiding. Farming was a difficult business and getting more so as men went off to war or to better paid jobs in munitions factories. The Government had requisitioned hay balers and presses and it was difficult to borrow or hire machines. Army horses were no longer being lent to famers, as the Army needed them, and rail transport of vital fertilisers was becoming a problem. Milk prices were dire – “was there anything cheaper than milk at 5d a quart?” Women needed to be encouraged to help on the farms, and to be accepted by the farmers. The members were reminded by the Chairman of Wirral Rural District Council that they were at war and must expect to have to put up with inconveniences.
The Derby scheme of conscription rather than voluntarily signing up, had been launched. Many men, often farm workers, were appealing to the local tribunals against having to go to war; a Willaston farm worked by four brothers, with thirty milking cows, 106 acres under plough, with three teams of horses, was to lose three of the brothers to the military, as only one appeal was granted.
News of the accidental death in Minia, Egypt, of Sapper Hugh Norman, 24, was met with profound shock in Little Neston. ‘Hughie’ was the fifth son of Henry Norman, builder and contracter. He had been shot through both thighs after a machine-gun that was being tested accidentally fired a residual bullet. Neston man Harry Hough was with him when he died; another Little Neston mate, ‘Wilf’ Pritchard had been waiting in the camp for them to return. Hugh was buried in the nearby little Greek cemetery, where one of the local civilians took a few photographs and sent them to the family.
Another death this month was that of 21 year-old Private William Pritchard of Mill Street; he had been training with the 3rd Cheshires in Birkenhead and developed pneumonia. He was taken to the military hospital in Blundellsands, but did not recover. In Neston he used to work for Mr Price at ‘Glanrhos’ (Moorside House). He was buried with full military honours in Kirkdale Cemetery.
Air-raid precautions were checked – the Neston Volunteer Company (Home-guard type unit) would go out in the case of a Zeppelin raid, making sure all lights were extinguished.
Despite general bad news, events carried on; at a social evening, Neston’s men’s Voluntary Aid Detachment of the Red Cross (trained by Dr Grant) received their certificates for sick nursing, and accompanied by their wives, had an enjoyable night out. Most of them were now qualified in sick nursing and first aid, and were busy in Neston’s auxiliary hospitals.
Another Whist Drive and dance organised by Sam Mealor, fishmonger of High Street to raise funds for the hospitals, attracted 120 people, with prizes provided by local traders. Convalescents from the Parkgate hospital played two billiard matches with the men from the Saughall Red Cross hospital, the Vernon Institute, and on the 15th a Concert was held in the recreation room in the Parkgate hospital with some visitors from Chester. The spirited ‘Band’consisted of members of the audience.