Tribute to those who went to war and never came back

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Many Yorkshire villages paid a very heavy price in the Grat War, while a handful escaped without any losses at all. Andrew Robinson reports.

ONLY five Yorkshire villages saw all their men return from the Great War.

These so-called Thankful or Blessed Villages - Catwick, Cundall, Helperthorpe, Norton-le-Clay and Scruton - are among just 53 civil parishes in England and Wales to record no fatalities.

The term was coined in the 1930s by writer Arthur Mee who wrote of one East Riding village: “Thirty men went from Catwick to the Great War and 30 came back, though one left an arm behind.” But for every village like Catwick there were hundreds of others which suffered catastrophic losses.

By the end of the first hour of the Somme offensive, 1,700 men from Bradford had been killed or injured.And in small villages like Thorner and Scarcroft, north of Leeds, the consequences were just as deadly but on a smaller scale.

Journalist David Miller, who has just written a history of Thorner’s Great War, says around one in four men from Thorner/Scarcroft were killed - far higher than the national average of one in nine. Of the 150 local men who went to war, 38 were killed.

“Why the First World War took a particularly deadly toll on our communities is not clear. The details of when and where our villagers died don’t appear to cast any light on the matter. Perhaps it was a statistical fluke - or perhaps we were just unlucky.” The first local man to be killed was Lieutenant Frank Ledgard, 23, of the Green Howards, who was hit by a shell while in charge of a machine gun detachment near Ypres in Belgium on October 23 1914, just two months after the war’s outbreak.

A photograph of Ledgard and 25 fellow officers in October 1914 provides some insight into the large numbers of professional soldiers who died, many before the end of 1914.

“Ten of them were dead by the end of the year, three more were killed subsequently, and 1o were wounded and/or taken prisoner. Only three appear to have survived the war unscathed.”

Mr Miller and three researchers have gathered details of all 38 who died.Mark Hollings was 20 and a private in the Royal Irish Lancers when he was killed in action in Flanders in October 1914. His older brother Joseph died from his wounds in June 1917, aged 26. Brothers Arthur, 22, a mason’s labourer, and Walter Nettleton, 29, a gardener, died in 1915 and 1918 respectively while serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Cheshire Regiment.

Around 20,000 British soldiers died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, among them Lance Corporal Edmund Foster, 25, of the West Yorkshire Regiment and formerly of Main Street, Thorner. One of the few married men to die, Alfred Briggs, was a private in the West Yorkshire Regiment.

In March 1915 he married Lillian Mitchell, of Main Street, Thorner. Soon afterwards, he went to war and may never have seen their daughter Phyllis who was born later that year and lived all her life in Thorner. Alfred Briggs was 25 when he died on August 18 1916. His younger brother Herbert, 19, also a private in the West Yorkshire Regiment, was to die a few weeks before the end of the war.

Harry Mitchell, 19, had been at the front line in France for about five weeks when he was killed. His younger brother, Herbert, was to die less than a month before the Armistice after being brought back wounded to a hospital in London.

“The names of the 38 local men who died have been on the Thorner war memorial since 1920 but as far as I know no one has ever researched their backgrounds.

“They were a handful of junior officers, but mostly they were young agricultural workers. Many families lost two sons.”

For copies of the book, priced £10, email thevictoryhall@btinternet