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June and Early July 1916 - Two Neston Deaths in the Somme Battles

Author: Susan Chambers Published: 4th July 2016 09:37

Susan Chambers, local historian and co-editor of nestonpast.com, brings us another fascinating snapshot of life in Neston during the Great War. 

Cold northerly winds were a feature of the weather in June, and on the 18th a fierce gale with a high tide wrecked some of Mostyn House's rowing boats, and a canoe; much of the day after was spent in searching for the wreckage, and a Hoylake boat-builder was given the job of repairing them.

The enterprising A.G.Grenfell was still pursuing his ideas for launching boats from Parkgate as the gutter was (temporarily) filling up and moving nearer to the wall, and promising to provide improved facilities. He managed to persuade the council to allow him to remove the remains of the old landing stage, (to the annoyance of some residents) on the grounds that they were a hazard for fishing boats. The only cricket matches the school could manage this summer were with wounded soldiers from the Parkgate Hospital.

Neston 100 Years agoHappier days in Little Neston, the football team 1911-1912 in front of Little Neston Institute by the Green. See http://www.nestonpast.com/neston-football-the-early-years/

Private John Maylor whose family lived in Victoria Road, Little Neston had been in the (Wirral) 13th Battalion of the Cheshires since soon after the start of the war, and was writing home in mid-June with news of his brother Tom, former bricklayer who had joined up on the same day. The brothers were probably amongst the men on the platform at Neston Station on September 7th 1914. The Neston ‘contingent' of the new battalion, formed mainly from Port Sunlight men, was setting off to Chester Castle (see AMA of that week 2014). John revealed in his letter home that Tom was in hospital having had a foot amputated. But "We are all sticking it like the true Britisher" said John.

Ted Swift of the Royal Engineers, son of Swifts the butchers at the Cross had also written home with an account of the annoyance of living with noisy bursting German shells for days on end, but he was still in good health, no thanks to Fritz. Ted had been delighted to meet an old Nestonian, George Hunter, in a batch of reinforcements.
It's probable that no local men were lost in the grim opening day of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July. But on 5th July, Fred Gordon Jones formerly of Olive Road, 7th Battalion South Lancs Regiment, was killed by a sniper in the Battle of Albert, in the opening phase of the many months of the Somme battles. Like many other Neston men he had been in the employment of William Fleming and Co, the building company.

A member of the ‘Wirral' Battalion who had probably joined at the same time as the Maylor brothers (above) was killed on the Somme on 7th July. This was William Wallace of Raby Road, one of a large family of ten children. The notorious heavy rains had now started in the field of battle, which eventually added to the horror of this spell of the war.

The Wirral Tribunals were sitting regularly to hear the many pressing reasons that made going to war a difficult proposition for many men; a 33 year-old Neston baker and corn-dealer reckoned he would be of more use to the country in his present occupation than if he went into the army. He was given a temporary exemption but advised to make arrangements for his business. An electrical engineer from Thornton Hough was in charge of an electrical plant that supplied light to a house, farm buildings and the church. The nearest fire station was a good distance away, and the resulting fire risk in case of fusing meant that the house would have to be closed if the engineer was called-up; he too was given a temporary exemption.

A.G.Grenfell made a successful appeal on behalf of one of the few remaining male teachers at Mostyn House. He reported that 403 old boys were fighting and 33 had fallen. Four of his masters had left to join the Army and one had been killed. The rest of the staff were women ‘who were useless out of school'. "I maintain," said Mr Grenfell, "that we are merely a munitions factory if munitions include men". If they lost that particular master they would have to abandon the military drill and shooting lessons, so he was granted an exemption.

Teaching shooting at Mostyn House.Teaching shooting at Mostyn House.

The Neston Platoon of the Cheshire Volunteer Force (‘Home Guard') held their first monthly ‘spoon' competition on the evening of the 13th June, at their miniature range. The spoons apparently are traditional awards in shooting competitions. Colonel-Sergeant Major Coventry, Company Quarter Master Sergeant Mellor, Sub-Commandant Grundy, Platoon Commander Russell, Section-Commander Fleming and Transport Sergeant Bacon certainly held impressive ranks. At the meeting held in the Town Hall basement drill-hall, the Wirral commandant administered the oath of allegiance for the new regulations to the 30 members but said he was disappointed as 140 Neston men had originally agreed to sign-up.

The Platoon had an interesting evening a few days later on Parks Field at the invitation of the Lancashire Royal Engineers where a lecture on ‘Modern Field Fortifications' was illustrated on the ground with a maze of trenches including an underground cookhouse. (NB Must get some ground radar on Parks Field one day).  A demonstration of attack and defence of the trenches was given at another session where Volunteer officers from Thornton Hough, Heswall, Willaston, and the Neston Red Cross detachment men. 

A pleasant Thursday afternoon was spent at the start of June when the Girls' Friendly Society (nothing to do with the Females of that name, but an Anglican fellowship group for girls) had a sale in the grounds of A.G.Wood's Manor House down Moorside Lane. A miniature pageant followed the sale, produced by the daughters of the vicar, Rev. Brook Gwynne, one of them taking the role of Britannia, with thirty other girls as Empire Colonies, all in colourful outfits under a Union Jack.

Sunday June 18th was the Anniversary of the Presbyterian Church (now URC). In the afternoon the 1st Neston Boys Brigade, accompanied by the bugle band, did their annual church parade, as did the Neston Girls' Guild. In church several of the Neston youngsters performed solos, including Norah Hughes, daughter of grocer and musical director J.R.Hughes. Prize-winners in the Scripture examinations included Edwin Wright, Agnes Jellicoe and Edith Hall.

At the Birkenhead Hippodrome, first week in June was Marie Lloyd, ‘Queen of Comediennes', with Cicely Courtneidge and Jack Hulbert at the Argyle Theatre. Madame Clara Butt was at the Music Hall in Chester.

Many thanks to Ian Norris for information on our local Somme deaths.

Related content:

Neston - 100 Years Ago

Excellent website looking at Neston's history: http://www.nestonpast.com/

Neston in the Great War - Neston Villages Remember

Days Gone By - photos of Neston's past

Newspaper Clippings

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Paul Booth
At 10:52 on 6th July 2016, Paul Booth commented:
Another fascinating piece, from a real 'World we have lost'.

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