Take a walk down Platform 10 at Manchester Piccadilly Rail Station and in the sunshine streaming through the Grade 2 listed station canopy you will encounter a grey, polished granite war memorial to those Manchester employees of the London & North Western Railway Company (LNWR) who served & those who gave their lives in the Great War.
What follows is the story of that memorial and of some of the men remembered on it.
Approximately 180,000 railway workers served in the Great War of which it’s estimated over 20,000 gave their lives and in the LNWR itself 3,719 were killed and are remembered by the memorial outside London Euston station which was unveiled by Field Marshal The Earl Haig on 21st October 1921 after funds were raised by the employees of the LNWR (Source: Jeremy Higgins Great War Railwaymen)
The LNWR covered the lines from London Euston up the West Coast Mainline to Glasgow Central with branches off to Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool & North Wales and also encompassed many other local branch line areas. At the time it wasn’t just passenger traffic but goods traffic as well with numerous warehouses & goods depots at various locations.
One of these goods departments was at Manchester London Road station now known as Piccadilly. The area where the taxi rank now stands as well as underneath the arches of the station & an adjoining warehouse was where those named on the memorial worked. Everything from stablemen, telephonists, clerks, capstanmen, checkers. 87 of these railwaymen were to give their lives in the Great War.
It was on one of our battlefield trips well over ten years ago that my friend Andy & I whilst having a cold beer after a day trodding around the Somme suddenly thought that we had never noticed a war memorial at Piccadilly station,where we both were based, despite there being an impressive one at Manchester Victoria station to those of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway.
Some digging around on the internet we managed to find an image of a memorial in a railway book about London Road ( Author pls forgive me as I can’t recall the name of it or find it since) and it was of a quality that we could fully read the inscription and the names inscribed on it! It was made of what appeared to be bronze & was originally located on the wall on part of the goods department at the junction of London Road & Fairfield Street. However this part of the station was demolished in the 1960s as part of the West Coast modernisation plan & the renaming of the station to Manchester Piccadilly. The memorial then seems to have vanished, whether put into storage & forgotten about or taken by some unknown person we shall probably never know.
So we set about researching the names to firstly see if we could identify any of those named on it. This led us to the LNWR roll of honour which listed those employees who had died, their station location & also amazingly their job title. Over several years and with the help of a wonderful volunteer Shelia Cross we managed to identify 76 out of the 87 men named using Ancestry & CWGC website.
We first met Shelia when she had posted on the Great War Forum asking for information about a friend’s relative who had been killed & it was either fate or luck that I found her post! More info later on who she was looking for.
So our next step was to try and get our employer to fund a replacement memorial as the centenary of the Great War was due in a few years. At first this fell on deaf ears as a business case couldn’t be put together & with it not being my employers station other factors were involved. Andy & I kept trying & trying and eventually I took it on myself to contact a company based in South Wales who specialised in war memorials ( They had been involved in the 38th Division memorial at Mametz Wood) to come up with some designs & costs. Meetings were held between ourselves, my company, the station’s owners & the Railway Heritage Trust who as the name suggests ensure that parts of the railways of our past are preserved for future generations & provide grants to help in this work.
Eventually but after several false starts funding was agreed between my company & the Railway Heritage trust ( These things don’t come cheap!) with permission being granted by the station’s owners to site it on Platform 10 at Manchester Piccadilly on the condition that it became their assest after it had been installed & they would look after it.
A date for the unveiling of the memorial was set for 4th May 2016 and my company wanted to make the most of the publicity so they decided that it should be unveiled by former MP Michael Portillo and feature on an episode of his BBC TV series Great Railway Journeys. I myself then set about contacting the Lord Lieutenant’s office, Lord Mayor of Manchester, Representatives of the Army, Navy & RAF, The Royal British Legion & several Regimental Associations as well most importantly the family members of those men who were named on the memorial who we had made contact with over the years. Many of them never even knew about their relative. The Manchester Regiment Living History group agreed to form a guard of honour wearing the uniforms of the Manchester Regiment that several of our men had belonged to.
If I’m honest the day of the unveiling was quite a blur, I was so nervous that everything would run smoothly & that everyone would turn up. Not to mention the fact that I had to appear on a TV programme as well as give interviews to local TV & newspapers! But I needn’t have worried it went brilliantly, speeches were made & the look on everyone’s faces , especially the families ,when Michael Portillo & Andy Savage of The Railway Heritage Trust unveiled the memorial made all the hard work & sleepless nights worthwhile. As the bugler sounded the Last Post I’ll admit all the emotion got to me and I was gushing tears.
Despite all the media attention it had attracted, for me it wasn’t about that at all and I was actually quite uncomfortable with a lot of it if I’m honest. The work Andy and I had done was all about the those names on the memorial & ensuring their service & sacrifice wasn’t forgotten
In our research we found that the men were aged between 17- 45, many served as would be expected in ‘local’ regiments such as Manchester Regiment, Kings Liverpool Regiment, Lancashire Fusiliers, Loyal North Lancs etc but there was still a wide range of regiments and corps served in as well as a couple in the Royal Navy.
As mentioned earlier we made contact with Shelia Cross who was after information for her close friends twins Barbara & Margaret Hurst who were researching their Grandfather a Sergeant Joseph Daly of 9th bn Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. They had his medals & Memorial Plaque ( Death Penny) & scroll. He’d been employed by the LNWR as a caller off dealing with the arrival of goods at the station. He’d enlisted in 1914 and went off to war where he was wounded in June 1917 & died at a CCS on 8th June and buried nearby at Ballieul Communal Cemetery Extension. Like many others on the memorial, over the years Andy & I visited his grave to pay our respects & we still remain friends with Barbara & Margaret to this day
Coincidentally Joseph is buried close to another of our men 19 year old Pvt 49703 Alfred Bearder of 19th bn Manchester Regiment. A native of Gorton he’d been employed as a Telephone Attendant by the railway. He died on 20th December 1917. His family still had the roll of honour entry given to them by the LNWR after the war
There are so many more stories, like that of Railway Clerk L/Cpl 1665 James Alfred Connolly 2nd Royal Irish Rifles killed 25th Sept 1915 Aged just 17 & remembered on Menin Gate,Ypres Belgium. Signalman Z/973 Richard Tetlock RNVR killed in the the explosion on HMS Vanguard on 9th July 1917. 1st of July 1916 casualties Clerk Corporal 17899 Frank Valentine Harrison 15th Royal Scots Aged 26 buried at Gordon Dump, Ovillers-La Boiselle & Private 17241 James Thomas 20th Manchester’s another Clerk Aged 30 his body found at Bois Francais & Private 26999 William Birtwistle 21st Manchester’s a Checker his grave found in a farm orchard in Mametz with only 2699 & W. B showing on his original grave marker, both are now buried in Dantzig Alley Cemetery, Mametz
But what I want to encourage is you to go out there yourselves and find their stories. One day I hope to compile a website or even a book about them all but that is a project for when I’m retired!!
Thank you for taking the time to read and I hope you’ve found it interesting & it inspires you learn more