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The Great War 1914 -1918 Full Story
More often than not the first a family would know of the death of a loved one was the arrival of a telegram from the War Office followed, sometime later by any personal articles recovered and any medals the soldier had been awarded.  Occasionally the families would be notified by a friend of the fallen soldier before the official War Office telegram, and in some instances the families would be notified of a soldier missing in action, presumed dead but have to wait many months sometimes up to a year for official confirmation of the death. After the war the soldier’s next of kin would be sent a memorial plaque, made of bronze they were known as the Dead Man’s Penny because of their likeness to the penny coin. The plaques were issued at no charge to the next of kin in a pack with a commemorative scroll from King though sometimes the letter and scroll were sent first.
The first war memorial or shrine to be erected during the first world war was in 1918 in Weir. The social committee in connection with the Weir Liberal Club thought that something should be done to show appreciation of the lads who had gone from that district to fight for King and Country. Several “feelers” were sent out to various men in the district and the replies were favourable. The social committee then issued invitations to the Sunday Schools- Doals Baptist, Heald Wesleyan and the Catholics, and also to the committee of the club. When the social committee met again there was a unanimous feeling that something should be done to commemorate and perpetuate the services which the lads from that district had given in their behalf. The committee set about the task, and the result was the shrine and roll of honour erected in a recess at the gable end of the branch shop of the Co-operative store at Weir . Described at the time of its unveiling as being of “an arresting appearance, the floral embellishments lending a pretty and appreciative effect. The shrine, which is the work of Mr James W Sutcliffe (joiner) and has been artistically lettered and painted by Mr M L Foulds Junior, bears at the head the words “Weir and District Public Shrine and Roll of Honour they answered their King and Country’s Call.” Then follows the names of those who have joined the forces, enclosed in a glass panel, and allowing for further additions as time goes on, and at the foot the words, “Greater love hath no man than this-that he lay down his life for his friends.” At each side are pedestals for vases, which, it is intended, shall be the receptacles of complimentary gifts of flowers, etc.”  The shrine was unveiled in 1918 by the then Mayor Sir Henry Maden who along with other dignatries of the time began the ceremony by walking in procession from Northern School, the day oddly enough was pouring with torrential rain as would be the case when the Cenotaph in Bacup was unveiled ten years later in 1928. At the time of its unveiling there were 113 men, who had gone from that area which reached from Deerplay to Broadclough to fight for King and Country, and 10 had paid the supreme sacrifice, 13 had been discharged and 1 was reported missing. The full newspaper report and a list of those named on the memorial can be seen by click the following link.

Commonwealth War Graves

During the war thousands of soldiers were being buried by their comrades either in communal or individual graves often in the place where they fell or close to one of the many casualty clearing stations. With such a large number of deaths the military authorities knew they needed to initiate a system to record the deaths and place of burial. *Sir Fabian Ware was neither a soldier nor a politician; Ware was nevertheless well placed to respond to the public's reaction to the enormous losses in the war. At 45 he was too old to fight but he became the commander of a mobile unit of the British Red Cross. Saddened by the sheer number of casualties, he felt driven to find a way to ensure the final resting places of the dead would not be lost forever. His vision chimed with the times. Under his dynamic leadership, his unit began recording and caring for all the graves they could find. By 1915, their work was given official recognition by the War Office and incorporated into the British Army as the Graves Registration Commission. Ware was keen that the spirit of Imperial cooperation evident in the war was reflected in the work of his organisation. Encouraged by the Prince of Wales, he submitted a memorandum to the Imperial War Conference. In May 1917, the Imperial War Graves Commission was established by Royal Charter, with the Prince serving as President and Ware as Vice-Chairman. The Commission's work began in earnest after the Armistice. Once land for cemeteries and memorials had been guaranteed, the enormous task of recording the details of the dead began. By 1918, some 587,000 graves had been identified and a further 559,000 casualties were registered as having no known grave.* It wasn’t always possible to know what had happened to an individual due to the nature of the warfare taking place and the landscape on which it was taking place. Battlefields riddled by waterlogged shell holes in places such as Passchendaele meant certain death by drowning or suffocation in mud if a soldier should slip into one of these. It wasn’t uncommon for soldier’s injuries to be so severe they became unidentifiable. Soldiers involved in digging tunnels in which they would then place mines under enemy locations were often killed and buried by the tunnels collapsing. Many marked graves were often in areas that repeatedly came under shell fire thereby destroying the original markers and whilst the Germans would bury the remains of British soldiers they were often buried in mass graves with the identity tags removed by the Germans who would then send them onto the British Red Cross. Following the war, the battlefields were taped off into grids and each section searched at least six times. The search parties looked for clues to indicate that a body or bodies may be buried there. These could be anything from a rifle protruding from the ground to small pieces of bones or discoloration of the ground. If a body was found it was then exhumed and where possible the body and any personal effects with it were searched and in order to identify the dead soldier. The remains would then be taken to one of the cemeteries. Many of the small wartime burial plots were expanded with the post-war additions. Indeed many bodies were exhumed from small cemeteries and concentrated into larger ones. Those remains that could not be identified were buried as an unknown soldier. The families of those identified were notified of the place of burial of their loved one. The war time Graves Registration Units eventually developed into the Imperial War Graves Commission and then to today's Commonwealth War Graves Commission. It was only natural that families would want to visit the last resting place of their kin. For some this was relatively easy but for many working class families in Bacup and Stacksteads it was just an expense they simply couldn’t afford. In 1919 the Saint Barnabas Society was founded to allow the bereaved to visit the graves of their loved ones. The society organized group trips, which cost less than an individual trip. As a consequence it also enabled poorer families to travel to the continent. In France, from 1921 onwards, free trips were organized annually for the relatives of deceased soldiers. Another organization playing a major role at the time in helping families to visit the graves of their loved ones was the YMCA who erected wooden huts similar to those used by the troops at various locations throughout the war for rest and recuperation. These buildings were known as hostels and had been erected in several of the large towns of the battle areas shortly after the armistice for relatives of deceased soldiers visiting the cemeteries in the districts. The hostels were made up of six cubicles each holding two single beds, a dining room with a constant source of heat being providing by a coal stove, the stove being surrounded by deck chairs were visitors could sit and have a chat, and a smoke room with a piano; the building also contained two bathrooms. On November 18th 1922 an article appeared in the Bacup Times of a visit to the war graves of France in September of two brothers, one of whose son was buried in the military cemetery at Duisans, Etran about 10 kilometres from Arras. The article was titled “Rossendale Soldier’s Grave in France, Diary of a Seven Day Visit”.  On Wednesday 13th September the two brothers hired a car in order to visit the cemetery. The following is an extract of their visit to Duisans Cemetery near Arras. “It is a lovely spot for all the sorrow attached to it, out in the open country not a house to be seen, a small wood is near with the birds singing. The ground has a gentle rise from the entrance. The graves are set out in rows, marked by head crosses made of wood, with the name of the deceased soldier and all particulars stamped on strips of aluminium attached to the top part of this cross. Whilst talking to the gardener himself an ex-soldier, my brother showed a cutting from the Rossendale Free Press, with the photograph of Private Watson of Whitewell Bottom, near Newchurch and which stated that he had been killed and buried at Duisans. We did not know the deceased or anyone known to him, but thought the relatives may like to know about it if we found his grave. The man soon found it by the stamp of his regiment. It is a few rows from where my nephew is buried two Rossendale lads in one cemetery. I don’t know whether there are any others or not”. The gentleman would I am sure have been pleased to learn that a quick search of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site shows there are a further two Rossendale lads buried in Duisans, Private James Pill, 18th battalion Cheshire Regiment from Rochdale Road Britannia, who was killed on the 5th May 1917, and Private Ormerod, 8th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, Rochdale Road, Bacup who was killed the month before on the 17th April 1917. Even with the help of the various charities and organisations there were of course some battlefield cemeteries that were just too far away to visit and just too inaccessible such as those for casualties killed in the Salonika, Gallipoli, and East Africa campaigns.
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