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Railwaymen’s Memorial

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.

London Road Memorial, Manchester Piccadilly (Authors own photo)

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)

London Euston War Memorial (Authors own photo)

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.

Original London Road Goods Dept Memorial ( Copyright Unknown)

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.

Unveiling of Memorial (Authors Collection)
Standard Bearers (Authors own collection)
Job well Done! Andy & Myself ( Authors own collection)

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

Sjt Joseph Daly (Photo Barbara Hurst)
Barbara & Margaret Hurst at their Grandfathers grave ( Photo Barbara Hurst)

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

Pvt Alfred Bearder, 19th Manchester (Family Collection)
LNWR Roll of Honour for Alfred Bearder (Family Collection)

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

Pvt 26999 William Birtwistle,Dantzig Alley ( Authors own Photo)
Original location of Pvt Birtwistle Grave, Mametz (Authors own Photo)

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

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Book Recommendations

When I first set up this blog I included a section on Book Reviews, it being my intention to well as it suggests review books that I’d read! But after careful consideration ( Well about 2 mins) Firstly, I think being a book reviewer is harder than I thought & Secondly , not sure how to diplomatically tell someone ” I thought your book was crap!”

So instead I’ll be listing books I’ve read and are mostly in my collection that I’ve found enjoying, informative, inspiring or one of those dip in & out of for reference books that many of us have and find totally invaluable. Hopefully it’ll inspire you to go out & buy one and therefore all the featured author’s can send me a nice chunk of commission as their book sales rocket!!

I’ll post some titles soon & will continue to update as I read & discover more little gems

*UPDATE* Some of my favourite books have now been shared. Hope you check them out & enjoy

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Strangers on a Train

My day job is working on the railways and one day in May 2018 will stick with me forever.

A lady of more mature years shall we say joined my train at Stockport one afternoon , and after chastising me for the train being the wrong way round I made sure she was settled in her First Class seat and promised to look in on her later in the journey.

An hour or so into the journey I returned & checked up on her and I noticed that she had some paperwork out & I spotted some WW2 medals! I asked her where she was going and she told me “I’m off to a garden party at Buckingham Palace as I’m a war widow” Well of course I wanted to know more, who wouldn’t! I mentioned that I was into history but mainly the Great War. She then introduced herself as Rita and began to tell me the story of her late husband Henry who had served in the Royal Engineers attached to the Parachute Regiment through North Africa and who had been injured & repatriated but in later years he succumbed to his injuries. Not being an expert on WW2 I thought I’d have to leave the conversation at that but then she said about her family never knowing what had happened to her Grandad in WW1.

Now I was in my absolute element, “Tell me all the details you have about him and the family” I said which she then scribbled on the back of a tatty old envelope. We exchanged contact details and I said I’d be in touch if I managed to find anything. If I’m honest I was wondering if I’d ever be able to find anything for her. We said our goodbyes on arrival in London & then the story began the day after..

It was my day off from work so I thought I’d take a quick look on that genealogy website that we all love & hate at the same time. Well straight away I saw something not quite right. Further investigation found that her Grandfather had most likely died well before the war but with 5 kids to feed her Grandmother had remarried to a chap called Thomas Bryan. This was the Grandfather who she’d been told about who had died in the war!

Thomas Bryan was the local Postman in the area of Manchester known as Ancoats. Often described as a poor, working class even slum area of Manchester surrounded by dozens of mills belching out obnoxious fumes life would have been tough for the family of 6 living in nearby Miles Platting. It’s possible that Thomas was a Territorial before the war and as war broke out Thomas joined up into the 2nd Bn Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry as Private 9213 heading over to France early on 29th November 1914.

On 15th May 1915 the battalion as part of 5th Brigade 2nd Division finds themselves south west of Richebourg-St-Vaast opposite the German Army with Ferme de Bois as their objective close to the cinder track and are the second wave after the 2nd Royal Inniskillings. Part of the Battle of Festubert the Ox & Bucks are to go over the top on the 18th May with the Garhwhal brigade of the Lahore Indian division on their left & 2nd South Staffs of 6th Brigade on their right. The war diary describes the unfavorable conditions “18th May 4.20pm The bombardment intensifies prior to the infantry attack- the enemy artillery responds. The infantry move out at 4.30pm but within minutes are cut down by machine gun”

At some point that day or the next Thomas is wounded & taken back to the 6th Field Ambulance ADS in a converted school in Béthune but is recorded as dying of his wounds on 19th May. He’s 45 years old and is laid to rest in Béthune Town Cemetery. A year after his death his wife & step daughter posted an In Memoriam in the local paper. From their words it’s evident that he was much loved & his death a great loss to his family

Family In Memoriam newspaper article (Manchester Evening News May 1916)

Of course I had all this to tell Rita and she couldn’t have took it better, of course she was surprised at it being Thomas but was over the moon at what I’d discovered. She always remembered as little girl her Grandmother taking her with her to a memorial on the end of a terrace house in Manchester and laying flowers at it. Now she knew why.

A few weeks later I was heading out to the Somme & so I called into Béthune Town on the way down on a gloriously hot summers day & found Thomas. I said a few words, assured him that he hadn’t been forgotten & I laid a cross at his graveside. I took a photo for Rita & sent it to her. She was that grateful she then contacted my employer telling them of all the events that had happened & singing my praises! But that wasn’t the end of it they then contacted the local press and both Rita & I were interviewed & appeared on Granada Reports on TV as well as in several local & national newspapers. For me I was totally out of my comfort zone with all this attention but I went along for Rita’s sake as to say she likes the limelight is an understatement Haha!

Grave of Thomas Bryan, Bethune( Authors Own Photo)

You’d think this was the end but Oh No! I then thought wouldn’t it be lovely to take Rita to see Thomas’s grave in Béthune so I approached my employer who agreed to fund the trip providing that Granada Reports came with us and filmed it for TV. Oh gosh not camera’s again I thought!! They then set about arranging it and a few months later myself, Rita, her Grandson & a TV presenter were heading on Eurostar to Lille for a rather hurried day trip to France.

But what happened that day was all worth it, seeing Rita say “Hello Grandad” and talking to him at his graveside got everyone of us bawling our eyes out and the ever wonderful CWGC even arranged for the head gardener (a Burnley Lad!) to be there to meet us and take Rita to Thomas. She was so grateful to him & his colleagues for looking after her Grandfather. As she laid her wreath & put her hand on her Grandfathers headstone she got us all crying again. It must have been a very dusty day is all I can say!

Rita at Thomas’s grave (Authors Own Photo)

When people ask me why I do what I do I simply point at that day and say “That’s why”