Darkness descends upon the UK on 4th August as part of the Lights Out Campaign by the British Legion to commemorate the centenary of WW1.

All individuals, households and companies have been invited to extinguish all lights, leaving just one candle aflame between 10 and 11pm. 

At the outbreak of the war nerves must have been shredded, families filled with dread and uncertainty, and torn apart by the need to fight for their country.

The Lights Out Campaign is a time for reflection, to remember and show respect for all those who lived through this terrible time and were injured or lost their lives – the ultimate sacrifice to Great Britain.

In last month’s edition of the Yorkshire Reporter we looked at the First World War and the medals awarded for service and valour, but what was life like in Leeds during these 4 dreadful years and how did the city contribute to the war effort? Here, Jacki and Bob Lawrence give us an insight into war torn Leeds:

Leeds and the War

The First World War remains a defining moment in the history of warfare, if only for the unexpected carnage and the massive numbers of dead on both sides. The combined mobilized forces during the conflict totalled over 65 million with the number of dead and wounded at the end of the war reaching well over 37 million, a staggering 55.5% of the original forces. The war which was supposed to “end by Christmas”, raged on for a further four years despite the terrible casualties, with little ground being gained by either side in a bloody and harrowing stalemate. Both sides would only settle for total victory and the price for this unwillingness to talk and negotiate was paid for by a generation of young people who knew little about what they were fighting for. Many would say the war was conducted with a large degree of incompetence on both sides, with scant regard to the human cost. This raises the question as to what preparations were made, both locally and nationally, and what expectations were there that these preparations would result in a successful outcome. In Leeds, thousands of young men volunteered immediately to the call to arms, with complete confidence in the authorities ability to organise the war effort, and totally unaware of what they were about to face.

Whilst there were many causes of apprehension amongst Leeds people, such as the fear of food shortages and mass unemployment, nonetheless the whole population was united in the belief that this war was being fought for a just cause. As a result of this belief the reaction of prominent Leeds figures was swift and patriotic. The city’s General Purpose committee, under its chairman Sir Charles Wilson was called to prepare for eventualities. And a special meeting of the council was convened at which the Lord Mayor, Sir Edward Brotherton declared “One half of my capital is at the disposal of my country, and one half, nay, all of my income shall be given up if required.”  Although it was not possible for business to continue as usual during the first week, since the banks had closed down, the major employers in the city met to discuss how to continue when most of their employees would be called up. The first major initiative the city undertook was the agreement to provide 2,000 beds for the wounded and the training college at Beckett’s park was requisitioned for this purpose. People all over the city offered their services including 2,000 women who responded to an appeal by the Lady Mayoress, Mrs Charles Ratcliffe. Even the boy scouts were pressed into service electing to guard water supplies at Headingley and Eccup. Huge numbers of young men besieged the recruiting office in Hanover Square and a Citizen’s League was also formed.  In less than a month after war was declared the city was actively engaged in support of the war, and political allegiances were put aside. It was agreed that there would be no more municipal elections for the duration.

The famous Leeds battalion the “Leeds Pals” was formed at the beginning of September, with many friends, neighbours and work colleagues banding together to join up.

By the end of September 5,000 Leeds recruits had joined Lord Kitchener’s army and 1.200 had joined the Leeds Pals. Not only were Leeds people rallying to the cause of the army, but they were not stinting with their money, with £40,000 having been contributed to the Prince of Wales’ National Relief Fund.  Leeds folk were also opening up their homes to provide accommodation for the many Belgian refugees who arrived in the city. Many more local battalions such as the Northern Signal Corps (Leeds Engineers) and the 6th and 7Th West Yorkshires (Leeds Rifles) came into being providing an outlet for the patriotic fervour of the city’s young men. As an aid to recruitment an illuminated tram crisscrossed the tram routes at night and appeals were made in theatres such as the Hippodrome and the Empire. The attack on Scarborough raised awareness of the possibility of a strike against Leeds, and encouraged many more men to join up. By late 1915 employers were releasing men from the factories and their roles were being taken by women on the trams, railways and in offices. This was also the time when munitions factories were established at Armley and Hunslet and the large shell filling factory was built at Barnbow in East Leeds.

These establishments were mostly staffed by women. In the summer of 1916 the Military Service Act was introduced which brought in conscription. This made 42,000 Leeds men eligible for call up.

As the war raged on, the population experienced increasing hardships.

Taxation rose and food and other materials were in short supply. “Meatless Days” had been introduced but this was followed by more organised rationing.  In spite of the hardships they were enduring, 10,000 Leeds women were engaged in the benevolent work of visiting and advising the families and dependants of the men away on war service. Many more were members of working parties, producing articles and comforts for use in hospitals, and to send to their men at the front.

One of the darkest weeks for Leeds occurred at the beginning of July 1916, when news began to filter through of the Battle of the Somme. This, the first major offensive against the German army, was hailed as a victory. But what was the human cost of this victory?  The Leeds Pals were one of the foremost battalions involved in the offensive. Their contribution to the battle was massive, but few survived to recount the story.

Since the most stringent censorship was in place the real horrors of life at the front, and other war related incidents were not known at home. A classic example of this was the explosion which occurred in December 1916 at the Barnbow shell filling factory causing 35 women and girls to lose their lives.

The true facts of this incident were not made known until years after the war and the girls who suffered were not really given the recognition they deserved.

The food shortage in 1917 led to many municipal parks and golf clubs being converted into allotment areas, and many lawns and private gardens were given over to the cultivation of foodstuffs.  Hotels, business premises and municipal buildings were given over to the military or the government, and shops were closed due to the owner’s absence.  The art gallery became the Food Control offices and many schools were used as canteens to serve the working population. The Soldiers field at Roundhay was used as a drill ground for volunteers and also a testing ground for aircraft. Shops were forbidden to have window displays designed to entice consumers and the sign “No chocolate” became common place in many confectioners.

Whilst thousands of Leeds men made the supreme sacrifice and thousands more were injured and unable to return to normal civilian life after the war, we must mention those who were awarded the highest honour of the Victoria Cross.

The first Leeds man to be awarded the Victoria Cross was Sergeant George Sanders of the 7th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. Sergeant Sanders,  having  become isolated with a small group of men,  successfully held his position for over 36 hours whilst staving off enemy attacks and rescuing prisoners taken by the Germans.  This heroic effort was the first of eight such incidents when ordinary Leeds men showed courage and valour above and beyond the call of duty.

Leeds was fortunate in that it was never the victim of a Zeppelin raid, although nearby Collingham and Harewood were not so lucky. They were lucky however in that although bombs were dropped on both these places they actually suffered no serious damage. It is interesting to note that the raid of September 5th 1916 which saw Harewood targeted, was reported in Berlin to have been a successful raid on Leeds, and the official German communiqué claimed that Leeds had been bombarded and destroyed.!

Leeds continued to support the war effort financially and this was shown by the city’s response to the Government’s War Loan appeals. Leeds Corporation invested nearly three million pounds in war securities and Leeds as a whole subscribed nearly ten million to the 1917 appeal, thus making Leeds 8th on the list of large town subscribers over the whole country.  Altogether up to the year 1920, Leeds subscribed over forty two million pounds to war loans and savings certificates.  Leeds was encouraged in its war work by two royal visits, King George V coming alone in 1915 and accompanied by his wife in May 1918. An important part of war work was the care of the wounded.

The transportation of the wounded arriving in Leeds by train was carried out entirely by volunteers and privately funded. Local industrialists donated or lent ambulances and many of the great houses in Leeds and the surrounding areas became VAD (Voluntary Aided Detachment) hospitals. Important amongst these were Harewood House, Lotherton Hall, Gledhow Hall and Temple Newsam House, although many smaller houses also volunteered their accommodation.

The whole of the south wing at Temple Newsam was used as a VAD hospital, having been opened in October 1914 originally to house wounded Belgian soldiers who were evacuated to Leeds.

Lady Dorothy, wife of Edward Frederick Lindley Wood (later Lord Halifax) taking on the duties of Commandant and Quartermaster. Since it had been recognised that leisure and entertainment could aid recovery the Leeds War Hospital Entertainment Scheme was established in 1914 by Mr Clifford Bowling, who raised the funds needed by the sale of his war cartoons and private subscriptions. Throughout the war over 400 artistes entertained in hospitals all over the city all giving their services freely and only claiming expenses.

When the Armistice was declared on November 11th 1918, Leeds, like the rest of the country, was war weary and heart sore. Factories and offices were closed and thousands thronged the city centre in jubilation. Victory was ours, but at what price.

More than 82,000 Leeds men answered their county’s call to arms. Over 9,500 did not survive and of those who returned many were broken in body and spirit and were to carry the scars of those four years for the rest of their lives.

Bibliography: Leeds in the Great War by William Herbert Scott.

For further information about the Leeds VC winners please see issues 11, 12 and 13 of the Leeds History Journal. For more information on the Barnbow Lasses please see issue 21 of the LHJ, or visit our displays in the Heritage Room of Cross Gates Library Leeds.

This massive contribution to the War by the people of Leeds has of course meant unfortunately a lot of war graves. As Jacki and Bob mentioned, one of the most well-known regiments from Leeds was the Leeds Pals, recruited after a newspaper campaign and copying the idea from Liverpool who already had a ‘Pals’ battalion. The Leeds Pals, along with many other regiments from Leeds are well represented in Cemeteries around the city, particularly Lawnswood.

Andrea Hetherington of The friends of Lawnswood Cemetery tells us more about the soldiers of Leeds and their gravestones in the cemetery:

Lawnswood Cemetery has a number of gravestones commemorating members of the Leeds Pals battalion. The Lord Mayor of Leeds at the time, Edward Brotherton, is also buried at Lawnswood. There was great enthusiasm for the concept of the Pals battalion and the Town Hall was overflowing with applicants on the first day of recruitment.

In the days before foreign travel was commonplace, families wanted somewhere local to commemorate their loved ones, and as a result there are many gravestones at Lawnswood which show the name of First World War casualties, including members of the Leeds Pals. There are also gravestones for those who survived the War for whom the Pals experience was important enough to be a part of their epitaph.

One of the Pals buried at Lawnswood is Albert Guttridge, a well-known cross country runner who was captain of the Leeds Athletic Club Harriers. He had risen to the rank of Sergeant in the Battalion and was wounded on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He was evacuated to a hospital in London where he died of the wounds he received on the battlefield.  His body was brought home by his family, who lived in Burley, and he was buried with full military honours.  He was only 25 years old.

All branches of the armed forces from the First World War are represented at Lawnswood Cemetery and it is important that we remember all of these individuals in this Centenary period and also reflect on the impact of the War on a local and national level.

The Friends of Lawnswood Cemetery have been in existence since October 2011.  Our aims are to improve the cemetery as a place to visit, to preserve the graves which exist there and to promote Lawnswood as an important historical resource for the city of Leeds.

We have a membership of around 80 people at the moment and put on guided walks at the cemetery and lectures elsewhere on a range of historical topics. We also meet on the first Saturday of every month for our Action Days, where we carry out gardening and basic maintenance tasks at the cemetery.

We are entirely dependent on donations and membership fees for our income.  Membership is £5 per person per year and includes a newsletter and free admission to any of our walks during the year. We can be contacted at friendsoflawnswoodcemetery@yahoo.co.uk

National Army Museum Launches ‘Interactive History’ of First World War

The National Army Museum (NAM) has launched a website offering a ‘one-stop-shop’ source of information about the First World War. The First World War in Focus portal charts the development of the War all over the world, enabling users to delve deep into the conflict’s history at the click of a button.

Set out in six clear sections, First World War in Focus is a unique research and learning tool. From fact-finding, to the personal accounts of soldiers on the ground, to videos exploring key themes of the conflict and listings highlighting local events of interest, the website is a mine of information to explore in the War’s centenary years.

Events of the War have been geotagged on an interactive world map, giving a truly 21st Century means of finding out where and when they took place. Whether looking at the famed Battle of the Somme to lesser-known campaigns in the Middle East, by zooming in on individual events users will find further information and links to related items from the NAM’s Collection.

The global map is also linked to an interactive timeline charting the War’s history. Users can search the timeline by theme, year and location for quick access to their area of interest; timeline entries will also link to the NAM’s extensive Online Collection, to highlight real objects related to the event.

Bringing to life the personal element of the War, First World War in Focus features a series of Soldiers’ Stories. These piece together the War’s development through unseen photos, diary entries and audio accounts from the NAM’s Collection.

Told from the Soldiers’ own point of view, an in-depth, individual Story will be released monthly, exactly one hundred years since the events they describe took place. And with each Soldiers’ Story originating from a different county, the tales will open up the NAM’s Collection to people all over the UK.

The first of these to feature is Indian Army officer, and Military Cross recipient, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Mosse. Originating from Sussex, Mosse was in London on the day War was declared, and his diary extract – accompanied by previously unseen photographs of Mosse from the NAM’s Collection – is a fascinating insight into the feelings of a local, ‘everyday’ soldier, reacting to the global events happening around him.

An In Focus section tackles key themes of the War. Starting with ‘Outbreak’, here short films explore elements such as uniform comparison across the years. Meanwhile the Learning Resources area takes inspiration from the Museum’s commemorative touring exhibitions to offer teaching tools and tips, and a ‘News’ section informs users about the latest from the NAM’s First World War commemorative activity.

Finally, First World War in Focus lists relevant exhibitions and events taking place around the country, to assist the public in finding out about commemorative activity near them.

Janice Murray, the Director General of the National Army Museum, said, “The launch of First World War in Focus is hugely exciting for the Museum, and will form a central pillar to our commemorative activity for the next four years. Offering an interactive history of the War at the click of a mouse, the website really is a ‘one-stop-shop’ for those looking to find out more about the conflict across the spectrum of themes and events. From academics, to schools and the general public, we’re thrilled to be able to offer such a comprehensive tool to mark the centenary.”

First World War in Focus is part of the National Army Museum’s exciting Building for the Future* project, which is supported by an £11.5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project will see the radical transformation of the Museum’s Chelsea site as well as an extensive programme of community projects, together with Regimental Museum collaborations, travelling exhibitions, loans and expert support.

Support from the Heritage Lottery Fund has also enabled the Museum to go on the road during its closure period, with a series of nationwide tours around the country to commemorate the First World War.


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