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Special Cradley service to remember outbreak of WW1

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: July 22, 2014

  • The memorial in the hall of Cradley Church of England School with the names of former scholars who died in the war

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I AM leading a special centenary commemoration service at Overend Methodist Mission Banner's Lane on the eve of the anniversary of the outbreak of the war, Sunday, August 3 at 6pm.

Any Bugle readers who would like to attend are most welcome.

The names of 133 Cradley men who lost their lives will be projected on to a screen. The names of those whom people would like to remember who lived elsewhere will also be read out in an Act of Remembrance, led by Harry Sturman of the British Legion with bugler Stephen Bradley.

If you would like a name included, or further information, please phone me on 01384 567274.

If you have a photo of someone who served, but did not necessarily die, please bring that with you to hold up.

A candle will be lit by a member of the St John's Ambulance Brigade in recognition of the part played by women.

Another will be lit by a Quaker in acknowledgement of those who had a conscientious objection to the war.

A Sikh, a South African and a man from Jamaica will light a candle to recognise the contribution played by other countries in the British Empire.

Extracts from letters of Cradley servicemen will be read out by members of their families.

The young descendants of Gunner Bert Homer RA, who died of wounds in 1917 aged 23, will light a flame for peace.

Baroness Alicia Kennedy of Cradley and James Morris MP will read the Bible passages.

On August Bank Holiday Monday 1914 Cradley people were enjoying a welcome break from work. In those days the holiday was at the beginning of the month rather than at the end as it is now. The following day, August 4, the British Empire declared war on the German Empire, which had invaded neutral Belgium.

Three days later Lord Kitchener, Minister of War, put out an appeal for volunteers to fight and there was a huge popular response. Young men surged to enlist, in the belief that they would be home for Christmas.

For those who stayed at home, one of the immediate consequences was a rise in food prices. On August 8 about 1,000 'excitable and indignant working-class residents' of Cradley gathered in an open space near the parish church to air their concern at the distress that was being caused with breadwinners being taken away.

Collections were taken for a War Relief Fund to provide assistance to those in need.

Women members of the Queen Mary needlework guild gathered at Colley Lane school to make garments and bandages for sick and wounded soldiers, which were handed on to the Red Cross or sent to the military hospital at Wordsley. Parcels were made up to be sent to military personnel as appeals were made for small items, such as hankies, boot laces, antiseptic powder, boracic ointment for sore feet, pocket knives, pencils, cigarettes and dried fruits.

In addition to the Red Cross and Wordsley military hospital other causes that benefited from Cradley's fundraising efforts were the Belgian refugees accommodated at Lye and Stourbridge, the children of servicemen, the Star and Garter Homes for disabled soldiers, Blinded Heroes, and prisoners of war in Germany.

Letters from Cradley men mention their gratitude for the parcels containing home-made cakes, plum puddings, copies of the local newspaper, the County Express, and church magazines. Albert Grove wrote: "The monthly parcel has become a thing to which I look forward, not alone for the good things, but for the magazine and the news which it brings from the old place."

Philip Heath wrote: "I see you have included cigarettes this time so you have got to know that I have started smoking. I was persuaded by those who have been here longer that it would be best to do so, owing to the bad smells in the trenches and many places where we have to stay."

By Christmas six young men from Cradley had lost their lives on the Belgian battlefields at Ypres and Flanders.

The name of Ernest Best is one of the names on the Cradley war memorial. He came through Ypres in 1914 only to be struck by shrapnel, gassed and blinded with chlorine in 1915. He eventually had to be discharged as physically unfit.

Joseph Plant of Park Lane, who served in the Royal Artillery, found it so hard to take that he committed suicide when he came home on leave. He threw himself under a train at Maypole Fields, 'while temporarily insane', rather than return to war. I'm so glad that his name is recorded on the war memorial as he was a just as much a victim of war as the others.

The numbers of casualties rose steadily and the mood of excitement when war was declared was soon replaced by a harsh realisation of the horror and tragedy and sheer awfulness of battle. Cradley men weren't just involved in fighting on the Western Front. They also sailed out to Turkey and the Middle East. A number of them served at the Dardanelles in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. This was fought against the Ottoman Empire, which was an ally of Germany, and began on April 25, 1915, and lasted until January 9, 1916. Eighteen Cradley men died as a result, some in action and some from dysentery and pneumonia. The 4th Worcester Regiment was virtually annihilated as a fighting force.

The first Zeppelin raid over Cradley took place on Monday, January 31, 1916. Just before 8pm lights appeared to be falling from the sky in the direction of Tipton. Within minutes reports were received that a Zeppelin had been dropping bombs over Tipton and Walsall. After an hour everything went quiet and it was hoped that the airship had gone home, but at midnight the inhabitants of Cradley were woken up by a roar from the engines and the Zeppelin circled over Cradley and Netherton dropping bombs as it went. After this there was a general order to show no lights at night, apart from firms engaged in the manufacture of war material. There had been some discussion before this as to whether the street gas lamps should be put out for fear of Zeppelin raids, with the inhabitants saying that it was ridiculous because Cradley was off the map.

The following year Cradley Parish Council was able to balance its budget for the first time for years because of the amount of money that had been saved on lighting. An anti-aircraft gun was stationed in Beecher Road to afford protection.

No one had been prepared for the huge losses that were sustained and in May 1916 a Conscription Act had to be introduced to provide men to fight in the place of those who had been killed.

As the weeks and months went by the pubs in Cradley were closed early and food economies had to be made in the light of shortages. By 1917 obtaining enough food had become a very serious problem and some Cradley residents went to Hull to purchase Norwegian herrings. Food items could no longer be sent in the parcels to soldiers and postal orders were sent instead.

The letters home began to show a desperate longing for peace. Edward Richardson, grocer in Cradley Road, wrote in the summer of 1918: "I was thinking it is time I had done my bit overseas. I don't care how soon it is all over, so that we can come back to our old land." At the same time Joe Timmins wrote: "I often wonder how much we shall appreciate peace when it returns to its proper place again."

In total the Great War claimed the lives of at least 133 Cradley men.

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