MAKING HISTORY: One local history group in Leeds has opened blank files on each of the 83 soldiers from the town who lost their lives in the great war. Neil Hudson reports
Three years ago Rawdon Library was facing closure as part of swinging council cuts. The community reacted and a group was formed in a bid to stave off the closure of what was deemed by many to be an essential community asset.
Since October the renamed Rawdon Community Library has been self-sustaining and although the transition has not been an easy one, it is now home to a number of projects which aim to ensure it remains at the heart of the community for a long time to come.
One such projects is being led by Rawdon Library History Group, which meets at the library on the last Thursday of the month.
To co-incide with the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the group has put together a project it hopes will shed more light on those soldiers who served during the conflict, many of whom never saw their homes again.
From August 4 - to co-incide with the British declaration of war in 1914 - members of the public will be able to visit the library and help ‘fill in the gaps’ as it were of the lives of those 83 men.
All of them set off with courage in their hearts and the hopes of a nation on their shoulders. But none returned. Indeed, some were never found at all, their bodies lost now to the great sweep of time.
Retired HR manager Graham Branston from the history group said: “Along with hundreds of others concerned about our national history, I have been involved in researching and putting together a display about the First World War on behalf of Rawdon Local History Group.
“It shows images and information about various aspects of the war and there are reprinted newspapers from a century ago and a ‘Book of Memories’ of all local men who fell in the war.
“If anyone has a memory of a relative or perhaps family friend who was killed, we would like to record it for posterity.
“We have opened 83 files, one for each soldier and we are inviting people to come in and fill them with whatever information they have - if they have details about the lives of these people or just stories handed down to them from other family members, or pictures. We want to be able to create a permanent record.”
One such file is that of Alfred Brady, a member of the 12 Battalion West Yorkshire Prince of Wales Own regiment, who died on August 17, 1916 and who is commemorated in Thiepval, Northern France. The monument which stands there is to remember the names of all the fallen whose bodies were never recovered. The names on that monument alone runs to over 72,000.
At present, the file on Mr Brady is empty but it is hoped there are still fragments of his life waiting to be pulled from the memories of the descendants of his friends and relatives so that perhaps, in the months and years to come, we may come to know a little bit more about the man and who he was, where he came from and what he was like. So that, in the end, he will not just be a name on a wall in a distant part of the world but that his memory will once again see the light of day.
Mr Branston, who is the author of seven books, five of which are on Rawdon, where he lives, said: “We’ve been working on the First World War project for about six months and we have uncovered some interesting stories. One of the most startling to come to light was that of a munitions factory near Kirkstall Forge called Newlay Shell Factory.
“It was a huge shell factory but something we were previously unaware of. It was a massive site on the Horsforth side, stretching over something like five acres.”
The people who worked at that site were given badges and permits to prevent harassment by zealous patriots and other individuals who may have considered that they were not doing their duty.
Both Kirkstall Forge and not far up the Aire Valley, the huge shell factory at Newlay, made a significant local contribution to the war effort, as did countless cloth mills. Prime Minister Lloyd George sent a letter of thanks to the Forge management.
A letter from the War Office dated September 8, 1914 and signed by Lord Kitchener commended workers at Kirkstall Forge for their efforts. It read: “I wish to impress upon those employed by your establishment the importance of the Government work upon which they are engaged.
“I fully appreciated the efforts which the employees are making and the quality of the work turned out . I trust that everything will be done to assist the military authorities by pushing on all order as rapidly as possible. I should like all engaged… to know it is fully recognised they, in carrying out the great work of supplying munitions, are doing their duty for King and Country, equally with those who have joined the Army for active service in the field.”
Rawdon Library History Group is also going to discuss ways of marking the national Lights Out campaign, which will be held on August 4.
Mr Branston added: “I do think [the Lights Out campaign] is a poignant idea and it’s something we will talk about. I dare say there will be some support for doing something.
“I think it’s a nice way to have an integrated approach to remembrance and in terms of making it accessible to a younger generation, it’s a good idea. The kind of sacrifice people at the time made is something which is difficult for the present generation to comprehend - we have to remember this was a war everyone thought would be over by December.
“All the information on the soldiers as well as those who lost their lives in the war, memories of those who survived and others who contributed to the war effort at home will be added to the Book of Memories and we hope it will become an enduring record for future generations.”
Rawdon Parish Council is also considering a number of interesting initiatives to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, among them erecting a commemorative memorial stone on Little Moor, Harrogate Road in November and staging a concert using music popular in 1914.
There are also plans to visit to schools to give informal talks about the First World War, together with a series of themed lectures, a concert with music which was popular 100 years ago and a period tea party.
The display can be seen from the beginning of August, to coincide with the declaration of war. The library is open from 10am to 6pm on Mondays, Wednesday and Thursdays and from 10am to 1pm on Saturdays.
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