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Ormsirk Men & The First Weeks Of The Battle Of The Somme

Ormsirk Men & The First Weeks Of The Battle Of The Somme

The Battle raged on after July 1st, a day which has gone down in history as the worst in British Military History for losses.

Isaac Allman's Gravestone on the Somme Battlefield

Isaac Allman’s Gravestone on the Somme Battlefield

Ormskirk District lost men on the first day of the battle like most other places. Isaac Allman and Clifford William Bales were both with the 18th Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment, they had both attended Ormskirk Grammar School and both were pack leaders with the 1st Ormskirk Scouts. They had signed up just a day apart in the first month of the war and no doubt they were pals during their first years of service. They are remembered on the Aughton Civic Memorial, the 1st Ormskirk Scouts Memorial, and the Ormskirk Comrades Roll of honour, both at buried in the Dantzig Alley British Cemetary at Mametz.

Isaac Allman had been born in St Kilda, Victoria, Australia in 1893, his parents had set out to Australia after marrying to start a new life and a new family, sadly his father, also Isaac, died and his mother Jane returned to England with her two children, settling at Trenchfield Cottages, Prescot Road after re-marrying.  Isaac worked at a local Hotel when he left school but then started work for Lever Brothers. He signed up the day after Clifford Bales, 1st Sept 1914 and he too joined the 18th Bn King’s Liverpool, the white collar Bn as it was termed.  Isaac is also remembered on the Lever Brothers Employees Memorial .

A news report following the death of Clifford Bales

A news report following the death of Clifford Bales. Click for larger view

Private Clifford William Bales. Clifford was born in Toxteth, 23rd Sept 1894, son of William Ellis and Alice Ann Bales. The family moved to Rockville, Altys Lane, Ormskirk before 1901. Clifford signed up in August 1914, prior to that he been working at the District Bank on the corner of Moor Street and Aughton Street, for 4 years. He joined the 18th Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment, one of Lord Derby’s battalions. The 18th Bn were amongst the first over the top at 7.30am on 1st July 1916, going over in four lines, their goal being to take the enemy line, the Glatz Redoubt and the village of Montauban, enemy machine-guns cut down many men, those who reached the enemy engaged in hand to hand combat, Clifford was lost here and buried in haste, in 1919 his remains, like hundreds of others, were reinterred in Dantzig Alley British Cemetary, Mametz. Clifford is also remembered Holy Trinity Church Bickrstaffe memorial.

The Ormskirk Post Office War Memorial

The Ormskirk Post Office War Memorial

Also lost on that first day was 8234 Lance Corporal Robert Francis Rogers, aged 31, 1st Bn Royal North Lancs., KIA 1st July 1916, Robert had worked for the waterworks since leaving school, then enlisted in the Territorials in 1904 for a number of years, His family lived at Moss Delph Lane, Aughton. He married Jeanie McConnachie Tromp in 1907 and they lived at Toxteth Villa, 16, Halsall Lane. He became a postman in the town in 1912. At the outbreak of war he re-enlisted in 1914. Wounded in 1915 twice, he was in the retreat at Mons, he returned in 1916. Robert was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and is remembered on the Thiepval memorial with no known grave. He is also remembered on the Aughton Civic Memorial and the Post Office Memorial. He left a widow and two children,

The Liverpool Town Hall Memorial

The Liverpool Town Hall Memorial

33193 Lance Corporal John Kirby, 21,17th Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment, was killed on the 3rd July 1916, born Liverpol Road, Bickerstaffe,Ormskirk. His father George worked at Bickerstaffe Colliery when John was born, then the family moved to Rock Lane, Melling but when John was killed, his widowed mother Jane nee Bradley had moved back to Ormskirk and was living at 71, Wigan Road. John is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial as having no known grave, he is also on the Memorials at St Thomas C of E Church, Melling and the Liverpool Town Hall Memorial.

The Aughton Civic Memorial

The Aughton Civic Memorial

29648 Private Peter Cave, 22, also serving with the 17th Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment with John Kirby, was also killed 3rd July 1916, born Long Lane, Aughton, his parents were John and Mary Cave nee Balmer and they lived next to the Dog & Gun, Mary’s father, John Balmer, who was from a local Quarrying family. Peter and his family moved to Johnson’s House Farm, Ulnes Walton before the war. Peter has no known grave and is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial and the Aughton Civic Memorial.

These men and the many others lost at the Battle of The Somme from July to November 1916, as well as all other local men lost during World War One are included in a display at The Civic on Thursday 7th July, 7 – 9pm, when in partnership with WLBC , we will be screening a film made by the Imperial War Museum which tells the story of the Somme and the men lost. The film last 1hr 13mins and is a cert PG.

Admission is free, a small donation to the cost of room hire is optional.

Arthur Fairbrother 1890-1916

Arthur Fairbrother 1890-1916

Arthur Fairbrother 1890-1916

Arthur Fairbrother 1890-1916

Arthur Fairbrother was born in Chorley in about 1890. The youngest son of Amos and Jane Fairbrother, he spent his early years growing up in Chorley, before moving to Wigan and eventually Skelmersdale, where both he and his father worked in middle management for the Orm Weaving Company.

Arthur answered the call of his country in July 1915, joining the Royal Field Artillery as one of the many volunteer soldiers inspired by the recruiting campaigns that were famously spearheaded by Lord Kitchener. Assigned to 151st (Howitzer) Brigade the office worker turned soldier left home for training on Salisbury Plain, where he would stay until 29th November 1915, when an early morning start signalled deployment overseas.

The unit left Larkhill Camp at 4am bound for Southampton, where they would board the SS Inventor for their journey to France. It was on this voyage that Arthur got both his first sense of the danger he would face and the first taste of rations that he would, for the foreseeable future, be living on.

A page from the diary of Arthur Fairbrother written during 1915

A page from the diary of Arthur Fairbrother written during 1915. Click for a larger view

“Left Southampton at 4.30pm,” he writes in his diary. “All men had to wear lifebelts during the voyage as a precaution should the boat be sunk or damaged by hostile ships. We were escorted by two torpedo boat destroyers who never lost sight of the valuable cargo of men, horses and arms.”

“On this day we made our first acquaintance with Army biscuits, but as we were hungry, we got them down with the aid of some so called tea, which, in my opinion was good water spoiled.”

The 151st Brigade spent the next two weeks marching across France to St Ouen and making preparations to take their first active role in the war, by the 16th they were ready to move into the ‘firing line’ for the first time. The unit spent the first six days in the firing line making improvements to the unfinished gun pits that they had inherited, before, on the 22nd, “we fired our guns for the first time in France, giving the Germans 70 rounds of 4.5 shells on their frontline trenches.”

The unit spent Christmas 1915 at the front, an experience that was far from the family Christmases many of the men at home had been used to. “We had stew for dinner and biscuits and jam afterwards. I think the cook must have forgotten the time, for we did not get our Xmas pudding until 3pm. However I think we all enjoyed the little bit we got, and we thanked the senders (Daily News) for the only reminder of Xmas we had in the foodline.”

Arthur Fairbrother's sweetheart Wyn

Arthur Fairbrother’s sweetheart Wyn

On Boxing Day Arthur found the time to write to his sweetheart Wyn (Winifrede), who like many wives, girlfriends, mothers and fathers was anxiously awaiting news of loved ones from the front. His brief letter, written on what appears to be a blank receipt from a retailer in Paris, due apparently to a lack of writing materiel, can be seen pictured with this article.

The unit was pulled out of the front line on 28th December and enjoyed a relatively peaceful New Year, with the Officers putting on a show of sorts for the enlisted men. “At night we were ‘entertained’ by the Officers and had a good show under the circumstances,” writes Arthur. “Afterwards we adjourned to another room and held an impromptu concert and were handed oranges, cake, sweets, cigarettes and coffee. Under the circumstances it was a very good show.”

The letter written by Arthur Fairbrother to Wyn, Boxing Day 1915

The letter written by Arthur Fairbrother to Wyn, Boxing Day 1915. Click for a larger view

On 10th January 1916 the 151st were once again ordered to the firing line, with positions being occupied on the 12th and their arrival being greeted by immediate fire from the German artillery. “We began to feel ‘quaky’ as it was our first time under enemy shell fire,” says Arthur. “However we got into the gun pits at about 8pm. A few minutes later a salvo came very near to where our horses were stood, shrapnel killed two horses instantly and one man was hit in head and legs, two others were blown out of their saddles – shock resulting- and it left us with three men in hospital.”

The unit would spend the next few months moving in and out of these positions, sporadically exchanging fire with German artillery and shelling the enemies front line trenches, although as in most places on the Western Front a large portion of Arthur and his comrades time would be spent digging, sandbagging and otherwise improving or repairing their positions, with work parties an almost daily occurence, as a typical diary entry from 20th April indicates. “Built our dugouts up again, and later in the day fired 50 rounds on an enemy battery. At night the enemy shelled well over our position.”

A pre-war portrait of Arthur Fairbrother

A pre-war portrait of Arthur Fairbrother

Of course these periods of relative quiet were punctuated by periods of intense activity, with the unit being called into action for a number of large scale bombardments. On 16th January for example the unit came under heavy bombardment, which Arthur describes vividly in his diary.

They gave no mercy and we were like rats in a hole, some had not time to get to the ‘Bomb and shell proofs’ and took their chance in their dugouts, lying on the floor. I was in a dugout far away from the others which we used for writing. I got down against the thickest part of the side and lay with my blankets over my head. I was terrified, for no sooner did one shall burst, another burst nearer. lt was real agony, for shells were dropping 10 yds and nearer to the dugout. Shells kept coming over and renting the valley and any minute I was imagining one or two would catch me and I should have been no more.”

A newspaper article commemorating Arthur Fairbrother

A newspaper article commemorating Arthur Fairbrother. Click for a larger view

On more than one occasion over the first few months of 1916 the unit was called into action to help repel German attacks and it must have come as a considerable relief to Arthur to have been granted leave back to ‘Blighty’ on June 3rd 1916. “After a very weary journey ‘Blighty’ was reached and in my particular case, ‘lovely’ Wigan came into view at 6.45pm 4th June,” he writes.

At this point in the diary Winifrede has written, “Arrived in Gathurst Sunday 5th June 3pm – to spend first leave from France.”

By now the 151st Howitzer Brigade had been reorganised and Arthur’s Battery had been reassigned to the 149th Brigade and it was to this unit that he returned after his leave. Arthur was present in the Somme region of France during some of the darkest days for the British soldiers on the Western Front and it was at Delville Wood on 15th October 1916 that he was killed during an artillery barrage.

Arthur Fairbrother is buried at Guard Cemetery, Lesboeufs, France along with over 3000 other men from Britain and the other Allied nations.

Guards Cemetery at Lesbouefs, the final resiting place of Arthur Fairbrother

Guards Cemetery at Lesbouefs

A transcript of his War Diary was kindly donated to the Skelmersdale Heritage Society by Ann and Geoff Whalley, and it is with their kind permission that we have been able to retell Arthur’s story on the Ormskirk Bygone Times site, the original was donated to the National Archive and is held in their collections at Kew.

Ormskirk Bygone Times hold a considerable collection of information on many of the men, from Ormskirk and the surrounding area, who fought and died in both World Wars and we aim over the course of the coming months and years to tell the stories of as many of those men as possible.

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