Unearthing tragedy and heroism in Leeds cemetery

Lawnswood Cemetery.
Lawnswood Cemetery.
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What can a cemetery tell us about wwI? Andrew Robinson reports on a project in Leeds.

EVEN the most dispassionate historian couldn’t fail to be moved by the stories uncovered by researcher Andrea Hetherington.

For the last five years the criminal defence solicitor and part-time historian has devoted hundreds of hours uncovering the human stories behind the names at Lawnswood Cemetery in Leeds. She now knows virtually every inch of the 65-acre cemetery and holds guided walks on a variety of themes, including the First World War. Every November she leads a Remembrance Walk which focuses on the cemetery’s 250 Great War dead.

“The First World War has become something of a specialised subject for me over the last three years,” she says. “I used to go walking at Lawnswood regularly and researched some of the graves I saw. When some damage was done to a section of the cemetery a call went out via Leeds Civic Trust for interested parties to start a Friends group. We officially started in October 2011 and from five individuals we now have a membership of almost 100.”

Now her main role is the promotion of the cemetery’s history. The Friends obtained a Heritage Lottery grant for Lawnswood’s Great War Stories project which has uncovered tales of heroism and sacrifice on a scale that is difficult to comprehend.

On a bitterly cold January morning, I’m given a tour of the cemetery with Ms Hetherington as guide. Tucked away, beneath a leafless tree, stands the Ives family grave, a modest memorial topped with a cross in white stone. It is unique in Lawnswood as it commemorates three brothers who served in the three branches of the armed forces in the first war.

Alfred, the father of the family, was the owner of the Grand Restaurant on Boar Lane and by the time of the Great War the family was living at Greystones on Park Avenue in Roundhay. Tragedy dogged the Ives family. First son, Alfred James, died in 1893 aged just two. Kenneth and younger brother Derrick both died in the war, each in very different circumstances.

Kenneth, a solicitor when he joined up in September 1914, was a Second Lieutenant in the 8th West Yorkshire Regiment, the Leeds Rifles. He died of typhoid fever and pneumonia on December 9 1914, aged 22. “He had never even left Yorkshire, never mind served at the Front. His mother made an application to the Army for any medals due to her son - he was deemed ineligible for medals due to his short service and the fact he never went abroad.”

Derrick Ives is the only submariner commemorated at Lawnswood. His sub, the H10, failed to return from a patrol in the North Sea in January 1918 and was declared lost. He was 22, having joined up straight from school.

The third brother who served, Edward Leslie Ives, was in the Royal Flying Corps and survived the war. He went on to serve with the Royal Air Force in the Second World War and died in 1948, aged 51.

A short walk from the Ives memorial is the modest gravestone of Lance Corporal Francis Allman whose life story is as tragic as it is pathetic. Ms Hetherington, who has researched Allman’s story with help from his family, says: “Francis had TB as a child and as an adult was only seven stone. He could only expand his chest 22 inches. He had tried to join up in Leeds in 1916 but they would not have him.”

A few days after trying to enlist, young Francis was walking in Leeds city centre when a woman handed him a white feather, a symbol of cowardice. It spurred him to return to the recruitment office and he was eventually accepted as a clerk in the Royal Army Service Corps after lying about his medical history. He was posted to a job in Manchester but died soon after, aged 22, when the TB came back.

Researching such stories of lives cut short can be an emotional experience. “I have cried when reading letters home from the front; I am reading them and I already know the end result, the outcome,” says Ms Hetherington, who lives in Kirkstall, Leeds.

Walking around Lawnswood, the staggering extent of the Leeds war dead - almost 10,000 men - becomes more tangible. “When I walk around the cemetery it’s astonishing the number of people who were killed on the first day of the Somme.”

Yet it is the civilians buried at Lawnswood that gives visitors a different dimension on how “total war” affected everyone in Leeds.

Among them is Emmie Keyworth, who died in the huge explosion at Leeds’ Barnbow munitions factory, which claimed the lives of 35 women workers in 1916. “The unique element to Lawnswood is that it isn’t just about soldiers - we have munitions workers, doctors, politicians, industrialists and hundreds of uncelebrated individuals who were just trying to live their ordinary lives in extraordinary times,” says Ms Hetherington.

Edward Brotherton, an industrialist, and Berkerley Moynihan, a groundbreaking surgeon, are among the great and the good buried at Lawnswood. Brotherton is notable for paying for the raising and equipping of a “Pals” Battalion in Leeds. He became honorary colonel of the battalion and held a dinner in their honour at the end of the war, although by then there weren’t many left alive. His chemical firm made picric acid, an ingredient of explosives, and so he made a lot of money from the war as well as paying out for the Leeds Pals.

Sir Berkerley Moynihan’s contribution during the First World War was significant. He assisted in recruiting campaigns in Leeds and helped set up Beckett Park as a military hospital. He also served on the frontline, carrying out surgery in France and was instrumental in bringing over American doctors to assist the wounded in Leeds.

The stories are now being drawn together for a pamphlet to guide visitors around the cemetery. A play, Lawnswood’s Great War Stories, written by Ms Hetherington, will be performed in August to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the conflict.

A century may have passed but, says Ms Hetherington, what happened should be commemorated and studied.

“I think it’s important that these people’s stories are not forgotten, not for any bombastic, nationalistic reasons, but so that we remember them and their sacrifices.

“We are exploring the links between Lawnswood and the First World War, not just to uncover the lives of the soldiers but also the families who were affected. The war had a huge impact on everyone.”

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