The year 1914 dawned like any other for the people of Dewsbury. Nothing untoward had been forecast, apart from a threatened strike by coal miners, which didn’t materialise, and so they got on with whatever was happening in their lives.
It would be another seven months before they realised that 1914 would be unlike any year they had ever known, as would the three years which followed.
For it was during those years that over 1,000 men from Dewsbury would perish in the Great War, and many, many thousands more suffer horrific injuries and physical disabilities, from which they would never recover.
Millions more throughout the world would also become casualties of a war which commenced on August 4 1914 and ended November 11 1918.
Now, in this year of 2014, we will be remembering these men and the sacrifices they made, as we embark on the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War 1.
In the coming weeks and months, the Reporter will be publishing a series of articles showing the part Dewsbury and its people played during this war, how they stood up to it, how they supported it, and the stoicism they showed when the shadow of death fell over their homes.
Many mothers lost sons, some lost two, and there was one mother from Dewsbury who lost three. Many of these young men had been fighting in the same battles with the same regiment, the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, a practice which would never again be allowed by the military.
We would be grateful to readers who have relatives who were killed in this war and who have mementoes or photographs relating to them, to contact us with a view to them being published at a future date.
The announcement that we were at war with Germany was made at a late hour on the Tuesday night of August 4 1914.
The headlines in the Reporter four days later on Saturday August 8, read - EIGHT NATIONS AT WAR - VIOLATION OF BELGUIM NEUTRALITY
The previous day the Territorials, who were on annual training at Whitby, were called back to Dewsbury with startling suddenness in order to be mobilised.
The Dewsbury Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade also received mobilisation orders and were ordered to go direct to Chatham Naval Hospital. At nine o’clock that evening the men paraded in full uniform at the ambulance rooms in Nelson Street and given an enthusiastic send off by local people.
Accompanied by the Dewsbury Borough Brass Band, they marched to the Dewsbury G.N Station, where a big crowd had assembled.
Here the men were addressed by Major P.B. Walker, who expressed pleasure that the men had accepted the call of duty to tend the sick and wounded,
He said they should be proud of the honour of being the first in Dewsbury called on for the service of their country.
He promised them they could go away content in the knowledge that their wives and families would be well cared for in their absence.
Several Royal Proclamations were posted in front of Dewsbury Town Hall on the day war was announced which were eagerly scanned by hundreds of people until darkness closed in.
There were stirring scenes in Dewsbury when it became known that the Territorials had returned from their summer training camp during the small hours of the morning.
Early that day the “Terriers”, as they were known, were in evidence in every part of the borough and by ten o’clock they were to be seen marching towards the Drill Shed with their rifles.
The men were requested to consult a blackboard on which the following appeared in chalk:
“The sum of £5 shall be paid to each man who has the following in his possession on mobilisation, and ten shillings will be deducted for each article deficient:
One pair of strong boots,
One great coat,
One mess tin and cover,
Two pair of drawers,
One pair of braces
One shaving brush and razor
Two flannel shirts,
Two towels and soap,
Spoon, knife and fork,
One toothbrush and comb,
One “housewife” containing buttons, needles and thread,
One clasp knife with tin opener.
The men, numbering 176, filed out of the Drill Shed at a quick pace en route to Dewsbury Railway Station
News of their departure became known in the town shortly before dinner, and soon people began to line both sides of Northgate, Corporation Street and Halifax Road.
In the vicinity of the Drill Shed the crowd was most dense, and many mothers and other relatives of the men mingled amongst the sightseers.
Handkerchiefs were waved in the air and words of encouragement shouted from the crowds. One man called out - “Keep ‘thi pecker up!”, but there were others who speculated solemnly that perhaps not all of them would return.
On their arrival at the station, the cheers gained in volume, and they were maintained until the last man had passed through the gates.
Earlier the Mayor of Dewsbury, Alderman J McCann, had told the men he was there on behalf of the inhabitants of Dewsbury to wish them God speed on the journey they were about to make.
“I am sure we have every reason to be proud of the manner in which you have responded to your country’s call,” he said.
“Dewsbury is extremely proud of what you have done. You have made yourselves, at your own cost and at a great deal of personal sacrifice, efficient to serve your country.
“It is our duty to see that your dependents shall be well looked after in your absence. I can say with the greatest confidence that the people of Dewsbury will look after them.
“We know that you will acquit yourself in the best possible manner and be a credit to Dewsbury.”
Within days of the commencement of war, the local textile trade was booming and workers in these industries were having to work longer than the statutory hours.
For not only were hundreds of thousands of soldiers and sailors requiring being “rigged out” with clothes immediately, but blanket manufacturers were being told that a million and a half blankets were also required.
Patriotism was running high and local men were being encouraged to sign up as soon as possible to fight for their country.
A call to arms was made by Alderman Sir Mark Oldroyd at Crown Flatt stadium where he appealed for the young men of Dewsbury to come forward to join Lord Kitchener’s New Army.
That week, three Dewsbury footballers, Billy Rhodes, J.H. Walker and J Waters enlisted, as did eight members of Dewsbury Celtic.
A large number of the employees of the Yorkshire Electric Transformer Company also offered their services to their country as recruits for the Army and were accepted.
These amounted to ten per cent of the total employees and more were expected to join the Army. The firm also set up a special staff war fund with each member of staff contributing his quota weekly.
The proceeds of the fund went to the dependents of the company’s servants who had gone on active service.
Dewsbury’s first war victim was reported some weeks later as being that of Lance Corporal Abraham Wolstenholme.
A memorial service in his memory was held in October that year at Moorlands Wesleyan Church, with which his family had long been connected. A large number of relatives and soldier friends in khaki were present.
Sadly, this was the first of many such services to be held in Dewsbury in succeeding months and years.
If there are any descendants of Abraham still living in Dewsbury, I would be pleased to hear from them. I can be contacted by e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org - or by ringing 01924 468282, or writing to Margaret Watson, at the Reporter Office, Wellington Road, Dewsbury WF13 1HQ.