From Todmorden to Brighouse, how did local people respond in these weeks of crisis? Not for them the comradeship and excitement of meeting up with old friends. Wives and families at home simply had to get on with life at a time of serious dislocation and anxiety. How much did they know of events in France and what was happening to fathers, husbands and sons?
Arthur Holmes celebrated his birthday in France, near coal mines at Boussu, hoping for a bath. It was 22nd August 1914, and 2/Dukes had time to recover from their 2 day march. Only a short time though. By the afternoon they were in action and the first men had been killed. Over the next two weeks they did some more marching - over 200 miles and more fighting.
Army life was not new to Pte Holmes. He had served in the South African War and was one of thousands of experienced reservists recalled in August 1914. He was thirty three years old, married with a young son, and he lived on Heptonstall Road, Hebden Bridge.
On Monday 26th October 1914. Mary Holmes had gone to visit relatives in Keighley. On arrival she learned of her husband's death in Flanders. It was a moment made tragic by kindness. Captain Barton had written to Arthur's brother forwarding a letter which had been found in Arthur's pocket when he was killed six days before. 'He was struck by a shell while carrying food in the trenches, and died almost at once without any suffering... He was one of the best men we had out here - always ready for anything.... No doubt the War Office will communicate with his relatives later on, but I thought you might be glad to know more particulars than they would give you.'
Holmes had written - 'You will be pleased to know that I am still in the land of the living. I can tell you that we who were at Mons are lucky to be here ... The explosion of German shells is terrifying and deafening, but their infantry is not up to much. The men won't come by themselves: they like to be shoulder to shoulder in a mob...... They did things in Belgium which we saw, and if I had my way with them I would tie them to the front of our guns......'
The whole story was reported in the local press at the end of the month. James Arthur Holmes has no known grave. His is one of 13,400 names inscribed on the Le Touret memorial to the north of Bethune, amongst those villages with familiar names - La Bassee, Festubert, Neuve-Chapelle. These men died in the twelve months after the British arrived in that area: up to September 1915.
One story of many from the Calder Valley which tell of the experience of local people at the outset of the Great War.
The purpose of the New book by former History teacher, Mike Crawford has been to review the opening weeks of the war and the response of local people to those events: their experience at home and in uniform. How far does this experience match the national picture of those weeks? Did they march off with bands playing - probably. Did they think it would be over by Christmas - doubtful. Letters, books and diaries, recorded interviews with local people recalling the start of the war; local newspapers and regimental war diaries. But - these sources will never provide the full picture. There will be many items of information kept privately, in church or club or family memories, which by the nature of things it is impossible to track down. Of especial help would be information about the experience of soldiers and families and businesses.
The book contains an index of local people mentioned. Appendices are provided including details of local men who were killed in 1914, and also men of 2nd Battalion the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment who were killed before Christmas 1914.
If you have information which can help to provide a more complete picture, and would like to share it, please contact me by e-mail at email@example.com
or by post at
Hebden Bridge Local History Society,
The Birchcliffe Centre
By sending information, you agree to its publication. A page on the Hebden Bridge Local History website will be updated regularly.
While this book is about the opening weeks of the war, the website will provide an opportunity to publish other materials - memories, written or pictorial - relating to life at home and abroad during the Great War, with a special focus on the experience of people from the Calder Valley.
Mike was born in Halifax and grew up in Midgley and Luddenden. For the past 30 years he has lived in Hebden Bridge, teaching History at local High Schools until 2001. He is a member of Hebden Bridge Local History Society.
The group runs a popular programme of workshops and drop-in sessions at the Birchcliffe Centre
Upper Calderdale's suitability for the preservation of local cultural tradition is nowhere shown as strongly as in its wealth of folk tales about places, many of which are still being passed on by word of mouth.
For some years now a small group of friends has been exploring the evidence for prehistoric activity in the South Pennines.