OUR BOROUGH fell silent on Sunday as we remembered service personnel killed during conflicts across the globe.
This year’s remembrance events were even more poignant, however, as it marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War One.
It is also 70 years since the D-Day landings and the year that Britain ended its role in Afghanistan after 13 years of fighting.
Repair works to war memorials across the borough had been undertaken to help mark the WWI centenary, but that has been just one part of what has been a really extensive local effort.
This week I’ve invited Councillor Cath Ball, Assistant Cabinet Member for World War One Centenary, to guest blog here and explain some of the fantastic work done – and some of the fascinating stories that local organisations have uncovered…
The commemoration of the start of the First World War has been treated with great respect by the people of Oldham.
To everyone who has organised or attended an event or service, we thank you all.
Our four year programme of commemorative activities began with a civic procession and a service at Oldham Parish Church in July, followed by the unveiling of a tree and a bench. These were in memory of not just those who died during the First World War, but also those who remained at home and supported the war effort. This was organised by the Oldham Liaison of Ex Service Associations.
We have just held the first commemoration of our three Oldham soldiers who won the Victoria Cross – the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of enemy”.
The opening event was for Sergeant John Hogan, who won his VC on October 29, 1914. One hundred years on – to the day – we held a service in Royton Memorial Park, which was attended by members of his family. His great grandson read a very moving poem, Spirit, by Geoffrey Kennedy, also known as Woodbine Willie.
Earlier this year Oldham Council received Heritage Lottery Funding to research and display the history of the Oldham Pals Battalion in the First World War.
An exhibition, town centre trail and ‘living history’ performance are the result of this funding and of several months’ research by local volunteers. The exhibition runs until April 2015 and special living history tours by youngsters from Oldham Theatre Workshop are taking place on Saturday, November 15 at 10am, 12noon and 2pm. Places are limited so please book on 0161 770 4654.
Last Friday evening saw the emotive Festival of Remembrance at the QE Hall, where the Standards were paraded and poppies fell.
On Remembrance Sunday at the War Memorial in Oldham crowds were bigger than last year and our two Chelsea pensioners again did us proud. They tour the town and this year even appeared on the pitch a day earlier at Oldham Athletic as the club and supporters held a moving ceremony and minutes’ silence before their FA Cup tie.
That evening I also went to a lovely service at St Thomas’ Church, Moorside, where soldiers’ letters were read, Abide with Me was played on hand bells, and there was a beautiful rendition of The Last Post.
One of our aims during this programme has been to try and put together a comprehensive list of people from Oldham who not only died but fought as well.
We also want to collect stories about the people who served their country – not only from the First World War but in later conflicts.
In 25 years’ time we will be commemorating the start of the Second World War and there will be no one around who will have been present to tell us about it, so we want to collect their stories now.
Many fascinating tales have already come to light.
There was Leonard Albinson, a 17-year-old from Royton, who enlisted in the Cycling Corps in the First World War. His mum spent months writing to his commanding officers, even sending his birth certificate, trying to convince them that he was underage. But by the time she got someone to listen, he had already been sent to the front. Tragically, Leonard was injured and died before he could be sent back home. Her letters can be found in his service records which are available online.
The relatives of Charles Frederick Kilroy brought in a collection of postcards and letters that he had sent back to his family whilst serving in Gallipoli. The family told us that they discovered his medals had been sold on the internet. They contacted the person who had bought them and he returned the medals to them.
I was also shown a lovely letter written by Captain Fred Hardman, who worked at Hardman and Ingham in Royton. His letter has been published in Joanna Lumley’s book, Forces Sweethearts.
Last week we heard the D Day memories of Captain John Cleverley, from Greenfield. These were read beautifully by Jabaz from Oldham Theatre Workshop. Councillor Riaz Ahmad also spoke at this event about how his father had escaped from the Japanese and spent three months making his way back home.
Sailor James Boon was 19 when he died in the Second World War. He was serving on SS Cerinthus when it was sunk on November 9, 1942. He was in one of the two lifeboats that were launched but died on January 12 – 64 days after the sinking. His lifeboat was later found on February 24 with one survivor on-board.
Maggie Hurley from Age UK Oldham is researching men who returned home injured from the First World War and died from their injuries, but whose names are not officially recognised.
Age UK are also holding a production of “Home for Christmas” on December 7 in conjunction with the Coliseum at the former Methodist George Street Chapel. Tickets cost just £5, which includes a donation to charities caring for both retired and injured service men and women, and you can find out more by clicking here.
Just before Christmas, on December 20, a plaque will be also unveiled that commemorates the V1 bombing on Abbeyhills Road on Christmas Eve 1944.
Please continue to join in our remembrance efforts and, if you know of someone who died or fought, do send us the details.
Councillor Cath Ball
Assistant Cabinet Member for World War One Centenary