After researching and locating where men from Brindle were either buried or commemorated on The Western Front in World War One, a six day coach trip was organised to the battlefields in France and Belgium.
Forty members of Brindle Historical Society, their partners and guests set off early on Saturday, 29th May 2004 heading for Dover and the ferry to Calais. The ultimate destination was the French town of Arras, conveniently situated to visit the battlefields of the Somme, Cambrai, the Hindenburg Line, Vimy Ridge and Arras itself.
Sunday saw a full day around the Somme, a thirty minute drive south from Arras. First stop was to the village of Serre where the Accrington Pals (11th Bn. East Lancashire Regiment) went over the top at 7.30 a.m. on the morning of the 1st July 1916, at the start of the battle.
Buried in Queens Cemetery in No Man’s Land, virtually where he fell, is Lt. James Hitchon of Y Co. in the Accrington Pals (comprising mainly of men from Chorley). Aged 20, he lived in Brindle prior to joining up in 1914. In light rain, ‘The Last Post’ was sounded over his grave by Brindle resident and Salvation Army musician, Grainger Rock. Elspeth Griffiths, the Librarian and Archivist of Sedbergh School in Cumbria (where James Hitchon was educated), laid a wreath of red poppies on behalf of the School. Passengers then spent time looking around the trenches at Serre, some still visible in the Sheffield Memorial Park; a memorial to the Accrington Pals (suitably made from Accrington brick) was erected here in 1991.
An hour was then spent on guided tour of the battlefield at Newfoundland Park, Beaumont-Hamel. Here, on the 1st July, most of the 1st Bn. Newfoundland Regiment (some 720 men) was wiped out by German machine guns as they crossed open ground.
A stop at the Ulster Tower – a memorial to the men from Ireland who were killed on the 1st July 1916 was followed by a visit to the Memorial to the Missing on the Somme at Thiepval. It records the names of 72,000 men who were killed on the battlefield and have no known grave – amongst them Private Samuel Hunt, who lived in Brindle, and Private James Wareing from Higher Walton who was born in Brindle in 1897.
A short stop at the village of Pozieres allowed Councillor Tom Sharratt, a member of Brindle Parish Council to pay respects to his Grandfather Pt. James Scholes who was killed in action on the 15th July 1916. His son, Tom Sharratt’s Uncle, Private William Scholes was gassed at Pozieres in August and died a few days later at a hospital in Rouen.
During the rest of the day the party visited the Lochanger Crater, created when a British mine exploded under the German positions close to La Boiselle on the 1st July 1916. Continuing along the British trench line, the Devonshire Trench (located overlooking the villages of Fricourt and Mametz) was visited. In the entrance is the famous sign with the phrase “The Devonshire held this trench – the Devonshire hold it still”, recording the sacrifice of 161 men from Devon on the morning of the 1st July 1916.
Last stop of the day was to Delville Wood where the South Africans suffered so badly during July 1916. Here, by the entrance to the wood and memorial, is the cemetery and the grave of Private John Park. His family moved to Brindle during the War, living at Marsh Lane Farm in the village; they are all buried in the graveyard at Brindle Parish Church.
On Monday, 31st May we started at the Arras Memorial where Lance Corporal John Riley MM is commemorated. Born in Brindle in 1894 he was killed out on the Arras battlefield on the 22nd March 1918 and has no known grave. Heading for the town of Cambrai, east of Arras we stopped off at a small cemetery close to the Canal du Nord on the Hindenburg Line – a heavily fortified German line of trenches. In the village of Sains-les-Marquion is the last resting place of Rifleman Richard Pearson. Born in Brindle, he emigrated to New Zealand in 1912, along with his brother. A few years later they enlisted in the New Zealand army and Robert was killed in August 1918.
Flesquires Hill Cemetery allowed a panoramic view over the Cambrai battlefield – famous for the use of tanks. Here in late 1917, tanks punched holes in the German lines for the infantry and eventually the cavalry to rush through. Buried in the cemetery is Private George Hunter, who was lived at Radburn Farm in Brindle; he was killed in action on the 27th September 1918, during the last stages of the War. A short stop at the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval allowed respects to be paid to Coldstream Guardsman Thomas Wilson from Grimes Farm in Brindle who was killed during the battle on the 27th November 1917, attacking Bourlon Wood.
The final stop of the day was at Vimy Ridge, the site of a memorial to the Canadians who were killed in the First World War. The site also has some restored trenches, as well as tunnels deep under the ridge.
We left Arras on Tuesday morning, heading for Belgium and the Ypres Salient. We called at the Ploegsteert Memorial before heading up the Messines Ridge to the village of Messines, to get a better view of the 1917 battlefield. We then arrived in the town of Ypres, in Belgium, for two nights.
The last day touring the battlefields was on Wednesday, 2nd June. A full day was spent around the Ypres Salient which saw three major battles in 1914, 1915 and 1917. Starting at the Brooding Soldier memorial at St. Juliaan where gas was first used on The Western Front in April 1915. A short drive found us at Poelcappelle Cemetery where Bugler Septimus Hunt, who lived in brindle, is buried. He acted as a stretcher bearer with the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) and was killed during the latter stages of the Third Battle of Ypres on the 13th October 1917. The village of Passchendaele became synonymous with the final Ypres battle; in the local Church are three stained glass window with the coats of arms of many Lancashire towns and cities – the 66th Division (mainly Lancastrians) fought close-by throughout the War.
Just a short drive down the Passchendaele ridge is Tyne Cot, the largest Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in the world. Here can be found over 11,000 graves, as well as memorial panels to a further 30,000 British soldiers. These include Albert Towler who was born in Brindle in 1891 but lived in Bradford and fought with the West Riding Regiment; he was killed in action on the 11th October 1917.
A visit to Polygon Wood near Zonnebeke, the location of where Private Levi Sharples from Silcocks Cottage in Brindle was wounded in September 19171. He succumbed to his wounds a few days later, behind the lines at a hospital in Rouen. Passengers walked around Hill 60 – no bigger than Trafalgar Square in London. Named because of it being just 60 metres above sea level (but overlooking the town of Ypres), it saw constant fighting over four years during the War.
The village of Zillebeke was visited to see the ‘Aristocrats Cemetery’ – named because of the high number of graves of well-to-do Officers, early casualties of the War in 1914. A short drive up the hill, out of the village, saw the last and probably the most poignant visit of the day visit to Perth (China Wall) Cemetery. Buried in the cemetery is Private Fred Berry from Top o’th’ Lane in Brindle. He joined up in 1915 and was killed near Zillebeke on the 6th June 1917. A year later his mother put a few lines in the Chorley Guardian and Brindle resident, Katie Cranshaw read them out over his grave – some 86 years on.
The trip ended with everyone attending The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate at 8.00 p.m. Afterwards, three Brindle Parish Councillors – Messrs. Cranshaw, Sharratt and Williams laid a wreath on the memorial steps for all the men from the village who died on The Western Front.
The tour party arrived back in the village the following day, presenting the tour leader with a book by WW1 Historian Richard Holmes.