WWI centenary: Remembrance services mark 100th anniversary of raft tragedy

Ceremony at Batley Cemetery, with Kevin Morley in WWI military attire.
Ceremony at Batley Cemetery, with Kevin Morley in WWI military attire.

Services of remembrance were held to honour the memory of seven soldiers who drowned in a training exercise that went tragically wrong.

The ceremonies in Batley, Dewsbury and Morley marked 100 years since the seven young men lost their lives during a raft-building exercise in Morton, near Gainsborough.

On February 19, 1915, 40 men piled onto a raft made of rope, straw and wood which was floating on a 32ft deep pool in Morton.

But the raft capsized and seven of the men were dragged under water and died after a struggle.

The commemoration events began with a ceremony at Batley Cemetery, during which eight wreaths were laid. Seven of those wreaths were later taken to the soldiers’ graves and the eighth was taken to St Peter’s Church in Morton.

Project Bugle organiser Tony Dunlop, who was heavily involved in planning the event, said: “So many people have come together to help. I have had emails from all over with people saying how much it has meant to remember those seven lads.

“Project Bugle is a four-year project and during and anything like this you have a number of special moments and I think that, as well as the launch, this has probably been the most special moment.”

Mr Dunlop is a leading figure in the Heritage Lottery-funded history scheme, which has marked and published information on soldiers from Batley and Birstall who died during the First World War.

A wreath ceremony was simultaneously held at Morley Cemetery.

Dennis Marshall, from the Morley branch of the Royal British Legion, said it was a “fitting tribute” to Morley solider William Dent, who died in the accident.

A service was held at Dewsbury Cemetery, which was attended by 40-50 people.

The Rev Kathy Robertson said: “It was an honour to be a part of it, to honour the life of people who gave their lives in service of their country.

“There was a good gathering and it was done with dignity.

“It was a bitterly cold day but lots of people attended.”

The wreaths were laid in remembrance of Pte Edmund Battye, from Batley; Pte John Myers, from Dewsbury; Pte William Dent, from Churwell; Pte Fred Cooke, from East Ardsley; Pte Alfred Bruce, from Harrogate, and Pte Ernest Cockell and Pte Wiliam Atheron, both from Wakefield.