FEATURE: The lives behind the names on Drighlington War Memorial

Drighlington War Memorial.
Drighlington War Memorial.

The War Memorial in Whitehall Road, Drighlington was refurbished and rededicated in 2012. It was originally placed in Whitehall Road in 1933 and, as with other villages, ceremonies have taken place every year to remember the fallen from the village.

Two plaques with the names of the fallen now stand with the memorial cross. For World War One there are 62 names on the memorial, but perhaps there should be more, as some names were probably not notified, or families did not want their son’s name to be placed on the memorial.

Certainly there is a case for the name of James Lambert, who lies under a soldier’s headstone in Drighlington churchyard, to be added to the list of names. His story is included here amongst the stories of the other men who left Drighlington and went off to war.

Researching the stories of these men has been both fascinating and a privilege. I was brought up in Drighlington and my parents lived there in our family home in Fairfax Avenue until their deaths in the 1990s. Before that my family, the Wheelers and the Blakeys, were Drig residents for many years and many of my ancestors are today buried in St Paul’s churchyard, along with several of the soldiers whose stories are contained in this narrative.

The names on the memorial are names of men who were living in the village when they went off to war between 1914 and 1918. Some 20 or so of the men were not actually born and bred in the village, but came there from other parts of the county, and sometimes country, to gain employment, or more usually to marry a Drig lass!

There are some intriguing stories within the names here. Four pubs, The Spotted, The Waggon, The Malt and the Railway, sent sons to war who did not return.

Harry Benton, a foster son of the landlord of the Railway, was to go to his funeral with the French Croix de Guerre pinned to his chest. Harold Osborne, thrown out of the army in pre-war days for living off the earnings of prostitution in London, whilst serving with the Guards at the Tower, won the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Osborne was a case of hero turned villain and his story has many twists and turns in the telling.

Walter Metcalf was the first man to die from the village and Herbert Pape was the last. The latter not dying in France or Gallipoli, but in far off India and long after World War One had ended. However, he enlisted to fight the war in 1916 and so deserves his place on the memorial. Fred Speight was the youngest from the village to die at just 18.

My own grandfather, Joseph Wheeler, from Moorside Road, went to war with the 2nd Battalion of the Bradford Pals and was fortunate to survive the carnage of the Somme in July 1916. There were other dates that were to resonate despair in the village though. May 1917 was a dark month for Drighlington as five men died on May 3 and 4. The last three names on the memorial to die were Pape, Blackburn and Webster, all dying after the Armistice of November 11 1918.

Some of the stories, such as that of Harry Osborne, are hard to take in, such was the bravery of men from our village of Drighlington. During the research the medals of one of the soldiers, Walter Pells, were actually traced to the wall of an Australian police officer, living in Perth, The man is the son of English parents and they live close by in a suburb of Perth called...Morley. Such stories are intriguing and poignant.

Many stories have unfolded for this narrative account of the fallen. One pleasing aspect was the location of the grave of Ernest Frankland. The Frankland family have tried to locate his last resting place for many years but as a result of this research Ernest’s grave has been found in Prospect Hill Cemetery in France. Sadly he is under a headstone that says E. Franklin of the Northumberland Fusiliers. Ernest was indeed a Northumberland Fusilier but in the transferring of names to headstones Frankland has been changed to Frankin.

The Frankland family themselves suffered more than most from the war. Both grandparents of the family went to war and did not return. Harold Hainsworth was one of the men from the four pubs, in this case the Spotted Cow, who did not come back, but left a daughter, Iris, who married into the Frankland family.

Of course there were other soldiers who went from Drighlington to do their bit. Many of the men on this memorial had brothers who went to war and survived. Perhaps one day a historian of the village will have more time to do the research to honour those who went off to war and actually came back, because they also served and hopefully will one day be remembered for that service.

One anomaly on the memorial is that of the names of two H Lileys, who are denoted as jnr and snr, but who were actually uncle and nephew and not father and son as the memorial might suggest.

As well as the chairs and the panels and the desks in the church there is also a Book of Remembrance. Probably unknown to many the book is kept in the church as a memorial to those who fell. All 62 names on the memorial have their own page with details of their families and when they enlisted and died.

They are beautifully written pages that are a fitting memorial to the people they commemorate. In one or two cases this research shows that the book is mistaken in some of its points. For example the death of Harry Benton is noted as being on a ship off the coast of Belgium, but of course this would probably have been thought of as true by the composers of the book probably in the 1920s.

Harry was in fact a member of the Royal Naval Division, which fought on land and not at sea, but his title of Able Seaman would no doubt have confused the writers of the book into thinking he had died at sea, rather than on a shore based gun battery.