Recalling the mill workers who heeded the call to arms

Corporal Sydney Uttley
Corporal Sydney Uttley
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The mill towns and villages of the West Riding suffered devastating losses of young men during the First World War. Andrew Robinson reports.

THE Great War was almost into its second year when news reached the Pennine village of Marsden that a local man had been killed.

Corporal Sydney Uttley, a weaver, had previously served in the Territorials before he joined up again as war was declared in August 1914.

It had already been reported that Corporal Uttley had survived a bizarre incident in which a German bullet had travelled down the barrel of his rifle just as he was about to fire.

In July 1915, he was badly hurt by a shell burst and died soon afterwards.

Following that first Marsden fatality, the Colne Valley village near Huddersfield watched helplessly as the death toll grew.

Research carried out following a £10,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant has uncovered stories of heroism and tragedy.

Families like the Goulders and Varleys were left mourning several sons.

The Goulder family’s sacrifice started in January 1916 when Jane Hirst (nee Goulder) lost her husband, Private Henry Hirst, who succumbed to pneumonia.

She was to lose three brothers over the next two-and-a-half years.

Private Sydney Goulder, a keen footballer and cricketer, died from gunshot wounds in France in April 1917. His brother George died in November 1917 and William died from shell wounds in August 1918.

Seven Marsden families lost two sons.

The Varley brothers, William and Joe, were excellent soldiers, both reaching the rank of sergeant.

Joe, a spinner in a local mill, was shot through the head while working in a trench in 1915, dying in the arms of his elder brother, James.

The military record for James Varley, who died in 1919 at home, records that he was a “good soldier - was awarded the Military Medal for good leadership and gallantry in action. A hard working and reliable NCO.”

May 3 1917 was one of the blackest days for the small Marsden community.

Ten men from the village, all serving with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, were killed, more than likely at the battle of Bullecourt.

Two local men taken prisoner at the time later died in camps and were buried in Germany.

Researcher Valerie France, who has helped co-ordinate the Marsden Remembers project, says that 147 Marsden lads never came home.

“For families like the Goulders, it must have been awful. What did their wives and children do? How did they eat?

“When I started the research I wanted these men to ‘live’ - to flesh them out - so that they weren’t just names on a memorial stone. I think we have achieved that.”

The project has created a beautiful book of remembrance which contains the 147 names along with a brief biography including occupation, family details and some photos.

For some descendents, reading the book a century on has been traumatic.

“One lady just burst into tears. She had never seen a photo of her great uncle. It has been very emotional. The research has been distressing at times, particularly reading about mothers who lost two sons.”

Although most of the 147 who died were single, 37 were married men with families.

Pat Burgess, who has also carried out research, said the project had involved local junior school students and Colne Valley High pupils, as well as Marsden History Group and scouts.

An exhibition has been put together at St Bartholomew’s Church in Marsden which includes a wallet which belonged to Corporal Tom France, 21, killed by a sniper’s bullet in April 1918.

The exhibition is open Friday and Saturday (10am-4pm) and Sunday (2pm-4pm) until September 14.