Doncaster Times Issue 2 - November 2016


Doncaster Times is a biannual publication of articles and pieces researched and written by members of the public, volunteers and professionals. For its first four years, the magazine will feature articles about Doncaster during the First World War, to commemorate the centenary. The most recent publication is available in hard copy only, available to purchase from Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, Doncaster Central Library and the Tourist Information Centre.







Editorial and subscription 2

John William Oates: Remembered 3

‘Virtually invisible’: The Queen’s Own Yorkshire 5

Dragoons’ memorial project

Spotlight and update 6

Wyn’s Index: Her story 7

Loversall Hall Auxiliary Hospital 8

‘Just a postcard to let you know that I am alive and well’ 11

‘Battles are never the end of war’: 15

The Battle of the Somme: July - November 1916

Daughters of Doncaster: Mrs Alice Pickering 17

Barbara Euphan Todd: 20

Growing up in wartime Kirk Sandall

Belgian Refugees come to Doncaster 22




Uncover the past that shaped our future

1 •

-------------------------- Editorial --------------------------

I’d like to dedicate this second edition of

Doncaster Times to a colleague, friend and great

advocate of Doncaster’s heritage, Colin Joy,

who sadly passed away in June this year. Colin was

passionate about Doncaster’s rich history and when

he knew that we planned to produce Doncaster

Times he offered his whole-hearted support, as

he did for any project or event which would boost

our town’s rich history and heritage, but sadly he

died the weekend that edition one was launched.

He was a well-known and well-liked figure around

town, and in his role as Doncaster’s Tourism

Manager he raised the profile of the town as

a tourist destination, with events such as the

St Leger Festival and Doncaster Rail Week.

In this second edition we have a number of articles

that explore individuals’ experiences of the First

World War: from the author of Worzel Gummidge,

Barbara Euphan Todd, growing up in Kirk Sandall,

a family history search for a local soldier, John

William Oates, to the life of another ‘Daughter of

Doncaster’ Alice Mabel Pickering, amongst whose

achievements was the setting up and running of

the Arnold Auxiliary Hospital for wounded soldiers.

We also look at the women (and men) who ran and

worked at another wartime hospital at Loversall Hall.

We investigate the lessons learned at the Battle

of the Somme as the centenary of the end of the

battle on 18th November 2016 approaches. Whilst

the war raged on in Europe we look at the lives of

Belgian refugees who escaped the horrors of the

war as they arrived on Britain’s shores. Perhaps they

arrived on the same boats that brought beautiful

embroidered silk postcards from men at the Front to

their loved ones, waiting at home for news – cards

such as those mentioned in Pat Littlewood’s article.

The Doncaster and District Heritage Association

(DDHA), in partnership with Doncaster Minster, is

working on a grant application to Heritage Lottery

Fund (HLF) to restore the memorial to the men

of the Queen’s Own Yorkshire Dragoons, which is

located in the Minster. Updates on this project will

be included in future editions of Doncaster Times.

The journal rounds up with another Spotlight

query, an update on the images from the first

edition and more fascinating facts in the

‘Did you know?’ sections

I’d like to thank all our contributors, Jean Walker,

John Adam, Hazel Moffatt, Malcolm Johnson,

Pat Littlewood, Liz Astin, Andria Johns, Mark

Bond and Paul FitzPatrick. The assistance given

to the production of Doncaster Times by Jude,

Lynsey, Vicky and Victoria from the Doncaster

1914-18 Project and Charles from Doncaster

Archives is also greatly appreciated, especially

with the proof-reading and preparation work.

I’d like to say a big thank you to all of you who have

supported the Doncaster Times journal by buying a

copy of edition one. Its success can be seen in the

positive comments we have received and in the fact

that we now have very few copies of issue one left.

Helen Wallder

Local Studies Officer

By continuing to purchase copies of Doncaster Times, now and in the

future, you are ensuring the continuation of this journal. Why not take out

a subscription and receive your copy as soon as it is published?

Subscription to

Doncaster Times

If you would like to ensure you receive a copy of

Doncaster Times we have decided to offer a

subscription service, where your copy will be

posted out to you.

One year subscription

(two issues) inc UK p&p £9.50

One year subscription

(two issues) inc International p&p £15.00

Doncaster Times is available to buy at Doncaster

Local Studies Library, Doncaster Archives,

Doncaster Museum, Cusworth Hall and the

Tourist Information Centre, High Street.

Alternatively, if you would like a reminder email to keep

you informed of the publication of each new issue

please contact the Local Studies staff on:

01302 734307 or email: and we can add you

to an information distribution list.

The next edition of

Doncaster Times

will be published

in April 2017.

Please send any contributions to me

at: Doncaster Local Studies Library,

Waterdale, Doncaster DN1 3JE

or email me by 15 February 2017 at:

2 •

Various census returns were used in the search for

John William Oates and his family

John William


– Remembered –

‘At the going down of the sun

and in the morning

We will remember them.’

While researching my family tree, I started

to think about those family members

who may have served in the First

World War. In the beginning it wasn’t John I was

looking for but his older brother Arthur Oates.

The Oates family came from South Kirby. Frederick

was my maternal Great Grandmother’s brother, and

he married Clara Handley from Hooton Pagnell in

1884, their first five of eight children were all born

in South Kirby including Arthur in 1886. At this time

Frederick was a farm labourer. By 1891 the family

had moved to Askern, living first in High Street,

where Frederick was listed as being a groom, and

later in Church Street. In the 1911 census returns

Fredrick and Clara are recorded as living at 102

East Laith Gate, Doncaster, where Fredrick’s

occupation is now coachman to a medical doctor.

In 1901, Arthur, aged 14 was living away from home

as an agricultural labourer in the household of

farmer William Townend, of the Sun Inn, Bodles,

York Road. The next appearance of Arthur was his

marriage to Annie Flinders in July 1912 at Christ

Church; in 1913 their son Geoffrey was born in

Askern. As there were no more children recorded

I was 99% sure Arthur must have been killed in

the war. I discovered this information a while ago

when records were not as accessible or as up to

date as they are today, now that websites such

as Find My Past and Ancestry have emerged.

I searched for Arthur on the Commonwealth War

Graves Commission (CWGC) site and found a

record of his grave. I next looked for a Service

Record and found one matching his unit and

service number – but this Arthur Oates was born

in Halifax – it is so easy to assume you have

the right person! So I put Arthur to one side.

While searching on the CWGC site I found mention

of a J W Oates – was he John William (Willie),

Arthur’s youngest brother? When I viewed the

record it said “Son of Frederick and Clara Oates

of 102 East Laith Gate, Doncaster” so this time I

was 100% sure I had found John.

3 •

When I tried to find a service record for John,

I was stopped in my tracks when I found one for

Frederick George Oates, giving his address as

102 East Laith Gate – another brother! Frederick

George had been born in South Kirby in 1891.

Many of the First World War service records do

not exist as they were a victim of the Blitz during

the Second World War and so I wasn’t too surprised

not to be able to find John’s service record.

In Memory of


J W Oates

R/11863, 7th Bn., King's Royal Rifle Corps who died on 09 October 1915 Age 20

Son of Frederick and Clara Oates, of 102, East Laith Gate, Doncaster.

Remembered with Honour

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Frederick George enlisted in December 1915 and

survived the war, although he was wounded in

1917 and sent back to blighty on the hospital

ship Jan Breydel. He did not return to the front

but transferred to the Royal Defence Corps

and was demobbed in September 1919.

I thought at this point that I had all the information

I would be able to find. But I was wrong as during

this year (2016), while volunteering with the

Doncaster 1914-18 project and with the help of

Wyn’s Military Index to Doncaster Newspapers

1914-1919 (known by the short form of Wyn’s

Index) I discovered John Willie’s service record,

a newspaper article with photograph, and an ‘In

Memoriam’ article. It was a very moving experience

and I felt very close to my ancestor John.

John, who was born in 1895 in Askern, had been a

tailor’s assistant at Messrs. Wrights and Shires in

St Sepulchre Gate before he joined the Kings Royal

Rifles in April 1915. He was posted in July and was

killed in action in Ypres on 9th October 1915, aged

20. John is buried in the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery.

His few possessions were returned to his father:

a metal mirror in a case, cigarette case, prayer

book, a case containing a comb, a wallet,

correspondence and a fountain pen.

John’s service record included a statement of

names and address of next of kin. This information

led me further into the Oates story. Arthur was listed

as living in Station Road, Askern, and it referred to

five sisters, two of whose married names I had not

known. Annie had married George Henry Evison

in July 1915 at Christ Church. George had also

served with the Kings Royal Rifles, dying of shrapnel

wounds in March 1917 and being buried at Faubourg

d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras. They had no children.

Checking the 1939 Register on Find My Past,

I located Arthur, a miner, living with his wife Annie

and son Geoffrey in Hilton Street, Askern. Frederick

George was recorded as a caretaker living in

Dockin Hill Road with his wife Ethel (née Price)

and their two children Dennis, born in 1921,

and Ethel, born in 1922.

And finally…

I found family members buried in local cemeteries:

Hyde Park Cemetery:

Fredrick, who died in 1929, and Clara, who died in 1917

Lillian May Hesslewood, the daughter of Frederick

and Clara, who died in childbirth or soon after in 1926.

Also mentioned on the grave are John William and

George Henry Evison.

Askern Cemetery:

Arthur who died in 1958 and Annie in 1952

Jean Walker

Doncaster 1914-18 Project volunteer

I would like to thank Doncaster 1914-18 Project Team,

Doncaster Family History Society and the Friends of

Hyde Park Cemetery.

Doncaster Library Service have free access to

Find My Past and Ancestry available in all libraries

including Doncaster Local Studies Library, Waterdale,

Doncaster, DN1 3JE for more information please

contact the Local Studies staff on 01302 734307

or email:

4 •

‘Virtually invisible’:

The Queen’s Own

Yorkshire Dragoons

Memorial Project

On the west wall of Doncaster Minster is a

memorial to the men of the Queen’s Own

Yorkshire Dragoons (QOYD) that were

killed in the First World War. Over the years since

it was installed it has suffered from soiling and

degradation of the finely carved limestone to the

point that almost all of inscriptions are illegible.

As a consequence, even though it is over 2 metres

high and 1.8 metres wide it has become virtually

invisible in the sense that many visitors to the

church see it just part of the Minster building

but do not look at it with any form of interest.

In an effort to correct this situation the Doncaster

and District Heritage Association (DDHA) has

submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund

(HLF) to get the memorial restored to its former

condition, where the names of the men can be

easily read. It is intended that the restoration will

enable research to be carried out into the QOYD’s

connection to Doncaster, as well as research into

the lives of the soldiers and their families so that

this part of Doncaster’s First World War history

will be brought back into the public domain.

Queen’s Own Yorkshire Dragoons’ Memorial as it is now,

with names barely legible

If you would be interested in helping with this

research or indeed have any knowledge of the

QOYD in Doncaster before, during or after the

First World War, that you would be willing to share

please contact the DDHA Chairman, John Adam at or phone of 01302 868774

See the next issue to discover

the progress of this project.

Did you know Wyn’s Index

is international?

The index features Doncaster men fighting in

Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces

amongst others. The disc has also been sent

internationally to New Zealand!

What is a Thankful Village?

By the end of the Great War, most communities,

whether large or small, had seen a substantial

loss of life amongst their menfolk. Look in any

village or town and you will see a memorial with

the names of the men who gave their lives for

King and Country during the First World War, often

followed by those lost in the Second World War.

So what is a thankful village? A few communities

across the country were fortunate enough to see

the return of all their local men from the war and

these are what are known as ‘Thankful Villages’.

Do you know which village in the Doncaster

Borough was classed as a ‘Thankful Village’?

Find out in the next issue due out in April 2017!

5 •

S p otlight

This image shows nurses at the Arnold

Auxiliary Hospital during the First World War.

Can you identify any of the nurses?

Did one of your ancestors work at the

Arnold Hospital? If so please email or phone the

Local Studies Library staff on 01302 734307

We have had a good response

to the first spotlight feature in

edition one with information being

received for both photographs.

A suggestion has

been put forward that

this could be Bentley.

Soldiers outside

Simpson & Sons

Motors & Cycles

This has been identified as

Bennetthorpe; the site still

has a cycling connection

as it is Cycle Supreme Ltd

(Partially Sighted Society

to the left and Vivo Italian

Restaurant to the right).

If you can help further with additional information about any of the images shown, or if you

would like help identifying a photograph or item, please contact Helen Wallder at Doncaster

Local Studies Library on 01302 734307 or email on:

6 •

Wyn’s Index:

Her Story

Long before any mention of the

centenary of the First World War,

I became aware of a wealth of

information and images in the local

newspapers relating to men and women

who did their bit for King and Country.

Many national resources, on CD or online,

record men who died in the war. However,

the men who fought and returned from the

war including those wounded, missing in

action, taken POW, and receiving medals

for bravery were included in the reports

in the local newspapers. As such this

added considerable information to what

was in existence, the only problem being

how to find the information scattered

over the five years of newspapers.

The answer came in the form of ‘Wyn’s

Index’. When I first met Wyn Bulmer she was

a regular user of the Local Studies Library, indexing

family history resources for a local group. Wyn

enjoyed coming to Local Studies to carry out her

indexing work and when her project came to an

end she asked if we had any resources that she

could index for us. I asked if she would like to index

the 1914-1919 local newspapers for the reports of

all the military personnel; I knew she had military

connections, as her husband Jim had been based

at RAF Finningley and they had made annual visits

to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

cemeteries in France and Belgium. Wyn

accepted and very happily took this project on.

Over a period of approximately ten years, Wyn

spent almost every Saturday morning in the Local

Studies Library trawling the newspapers. The

result was an amazing index, which does exactly

what I hoped and opened up so many life stories

of the serving personnel and their families during

1914-1918. The index was only available on a staff

computer until the production of ‘Wyn’s Index’ on

CD Rom was made possible via the HLF funded

Doncaster 1914-18 project. The information is

now accessible to all. The names from the index

have formed the basis for a list of searchable

names on the Doncaster 1914-18 website, helping

people across Doncaster, and even overseas

to find their First World War ancestors.

So why is this called Wyn’s Index? Well over the

ten years it was being created staff in the Local

Studies library affectionately referred to the index

as Wyn’s Index and what other title could it have?

It seems a fitting tribute to the lady whose hard

work has given the people of Doncaster and indeed

those further afield, such a wonderful resource.

This disc covers the reports in the Doncaster

Gazette and Doncaster Chronicle but Wyn

has also indexed the Mexborough and

Swinton Times and this is due to be released

very soon as part two of Wyn’s Index.

Helen Wallder

Local Studies Officer

If you have an ancestor who fought in the First World War, you might

find them in Wyn’s Index. Copies of Wyn’s Index on CD cost £6.50

and are available from the Local Studies Library. Please contact:

01302 734307 or email:

7 •


Hall Auxiliary


Sophia Skipwith inherited Loversall Hall, three

miles south of Doncaster, from her stepmother

Esther Anne Cooke-Yarborough in

1894 and moved in with her husband Colonel

Gray Townsend Skipwith and their children the

following year. Sophia remained at the Hall

when her husband died in 1900 raising their twin

daughters and two sons. At the outbreak of the

First World War she determined to help in the war

effort by making the Hall available as an auxiliary

hospital with herself in charge as Commandant.

Sophia was one of the owners of over 3000

properties, across the country, who gave control

of their property to the Joint War Organisation

(JWO), consisting of the British Red Cross

Society and the Order of St John of Jerusalem,

to provide auxiliary hospitals for injured and

recovering service personnel. The JWO supplied

equipment such as beds and cookers as well as

bed linen, towels and bandages while the War

Office paid grants to hospitals for each patient,

the highest rate being £1/4/6 (£1. 23p) per week.

Loversall Hall Auxiliary Hospital, with wounded soldiers

and nursing staff

The auxiliary hospital at Loversall Hall opened in

December 1914 with 100 beds. Among the first to

arrive were ten wounded men brought from the

Sheffield Base Hospital on 28 December 1914.

Very probably some of the troops at Loversall Hall

were recovering from trench nephritis (a condition

which caused 35,000 British casualties during the

war) and other illnesses as well as injuries and

shell shock (about 25% of all discharges during

the war were described as ‘psychiatric casualties’).

Troops in the photographs at Loversall Hall,

such as the one shown above, have no visible

injuries. They were known as ‘Up patients’. Their

treatment included massages and occupational

therapy such as making toys, according to the

skills listed for the nursing staff. In contrast to a

photograph taken of patients at Loversall on 16

March 1915, the troops in this photograph from

June 1916 are not in military uniform but wearing

more comfortable jackets. Two men sitting on the

ground are in blue suits with white lapels, an outfit

issued to many patients in the early part of the war.

Apart from the treatment and meals the

men received, they had access to books and

newspapers. Patient George Watson of the 2nd

Black Watch, whose home was in Kirkcaldy,

thanked the staff of the Fifeshire Advertiser for

sending him copies and wrote from Loversall on

22 June 1915 ‘we get well looked after, and we

8 •

do not go hungry, like what we did in the trenches

often’. There were occasional outings such as

when nurses and Mrs Skipwith accompanied

their patients to a treat at the Mansion House on

28 December 1916 arranged by the Mayor and

Corporation. Following a ‘knife and fork’ tea, each

man was given a packet of cigarettes to smoke

during the subsequent musical entertainment.

From December 1914 to June 1917, the medical

officer for Loversall Hall was G.P. Dr George

Johnson Langley, born in 1882, who made daily

visits to the hospital from his home at The Mount,

Thorne Road, Doncaster. As well as tending to the

patients he ran many training courses for Voluntary

Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses from February 1916

and made a particular study of trench nephritis.

He received no pay for all this work but it was

recognised by the award of an M.B.E. (as gazetted

in March 1920). On leaving Loversall he served in

Mesopotamia before returning to work in hospitals

in the Manchester area until his retirement. Also

listed on the record cards completed by Sophia

Skipwith was Albert Stringe, who worked for

a Bradford firm of solicitors and who was the

auditor for the hospital, making quarterly visits.

There were three categories of nursing staff at

Loversall Hospital: local women from Loversall,

Wadworth and Tickhill, women from affluent

families and women who had received training as

nurses. Apart from basic duties often recorded

as ‘pantry’ and ‘ward’, three women were listed as

masseuses and one who ran toy making sessions.

Among the local women were Helen Ashton and

Annie Carr from Loversall who worked as night

nurses without pay throughout the war, Eva Dodds,

Lily Downing, Ada Green, Louisa Hanby and Mary

and Jane Tindall from Wadworth, all probationers

who also worked without pay, and Dallas Hewarth

from Tickhill who worked as a part-time probationer

from 1914 until December 1917, a total of 1,134

hours without pay. Alice Boshier from Loversall was

the full-time Head of Laundry receiving 3/- a week

for the first two years and 3/6 a week for the next

two years. Among the women from prosperous

families who worked without pay on the wards and

in the pantry were Margaret Banks of St Catherine’s

Hall, Lucy and Constance France-Hayhurst from

Wilsic Hall, Evangeline Ross of Wadworth Hall,

Albreda Bewick-Copley of Sprotborough Hall

and Grace Cooke-Yarborough of Campsmount.

Lucy and Grace were both V.A.D. trained. Trained

nurses, who were paid, travelled to Loversall from

many parts of the country including Arundel,

Darlington, Leeds, London, Nantwich and Southsea;

their attachment was often for a few weeks or

months rather than a permanent assignment.

Two nurses at Loversall Hospital received special

awards. Hilda Charlotte Marion Ross, daughter of

the Rev James Coulman Ross of Wadworth Hall

and Vicar of Loversall, was awarded the Royal

Red Cross, 2nd class in 1917 after working at the

hospital as Lady Superintendent for 2 years without

pay then Sister in Charge from 1917 when she

was paid £1/1/- per week. Flora Blanche Skipwith,

twin daughter of Sophia Skipwith received the

Royal Red Cross 1st class in 1919. After work as a

probationer she was quartermaster for the hospital,

responsible for the issue of all food, clothing, linen

and equipment. Queen Victoria had established

the Royal Red Cross with a single class in 1883 for

exceptional services in military nursing. A second

class was added in 1915. The medal, shown below,

hangs from a blue ribbon with a red border. The

second class medal had a silver border while the

first class had a gold border both around red panels.

After the war all auxiliary hospitals received a

beautifully illustrated scroll recording their ‘willing

and inestimable service’ along with a letter of

thanks from Winston Churchill, Secretary of State

for War. Mrs Skipwith’s work, however, was not

finished as she had to provide an accurate inventory

of all equipment and stores and recommend

which local hospital should receive the equipment

and perishable goods. She presented Doncaster

Royal Infirmary with a V.A.D. hut. She also had to

complete record cards for all the staff who had

worked at the hospital and send them to the Red

Cross. She was awarded the O.B.E. when all her war

work was completed and in 1919 she was elected

a life governor of Doncaster Royal Infirmary.

During the First World War Sophia Skipwith had

to cope with the news that her son, Lieutenant

Granville Arthur Skipwith, had been killed in action

on 16 June 1915 on the eve of his 22nd birthday.

9 •

Royal Red Cross medal

The marriage of her daughter Frances Helen to

Major George Kingston Sullivan took place on

18 September 1917. A newspaper report noted

that there was no house party and no reception

after the wedding. In 1923, Frances’s twin sister

Flora Blanche married Reginald Wellington Ross,

formerly of Wadworth Hall. Sophia’s remaining

child, Charles Gray Yule Skipwith, after serving

with the 17th Lancers in the Indian Army and

rising to the rank of Captain, married Althea

Kathleen Joyce Hunting on 20 February 1926

and they made Loversall Hall their home. Sophia

subsequently moved from the Hall leaving her

son and his wife in charge. She died in Salisbury

but was buried in Loversall churchyard on 23

December 1940. Obituaries noted both her

work during the First World War and the fact

that she was interested in all good works, was

prominent in church life, led the local movement

in favour of village institutes (being president

of Loversall Women’s Institute) and was never

lacking where work or sacrifice was involved.

Hazel Moffat

Sophia ‘Flora’ Skipwith of Loversall Hall

By kind permission of Joanna Skipwith

Explore First World War Doncaster and share your story, at our interactive website


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10 •

‘Just a postcard

to let you know

that I am alive

and well’

We are so used to instant modern

communications in the form of the

Internet, social media and 24 hour news

channels, that it is difficult to image a time when

the information that the general public was able to

receive and send was firmly controlled. With the

imposition of press and postal censorship in World

War One, the government sought to present the

conflict in a positive light and prevent the enemy

from gaining useful information. It is also reasonable

to assume that there was a strong element of selfcensorship

as the fighting men did their best to hide

the reality of war from their loved ones. However, the

morale of both the armed forces and their families

was also of vital importance and as a result of this

paradox between the need for censorship while

maintaining a semblance of normality, the humble

postcard came into its own in World War One.

Postcards with pictures had been permitted in

Great Britain since 1894 1 and as a cheap and

easy method of postal communication they were

firmly established by the early twentieth century.

People bought them to send messages but

also to collect and save in special albums and

as such they provided the perfect link between

the soldiers and their families. Many pre-war

publishers in Britain and France quickly produced

postcards to meet the needs of both the families

and the soldiers as these examples show.

The card on the left was sent in 1917 to Miss

Edith Robinson of Thorne Road, Doncaster

and contains the message ‘Are you among

this crush. I have picked you out behind the

wall’; there is a pencil mark above the couple

second to right at the back of the picture. Many

postcards would have been sent home from

the military training bases. We can imagine

that the humour shown here would mask the

tedium of training for the men and provide

some welcome relief to their anxious families.

The card in the centre was sent on December

28th 1914 to Mrs Annie Wilkinson of Masbro,

Rotherham. It has a red ‘censor’ stamp on it

and contains the following reference in the

message, ‘we all received a nice present from

Princess Mary & photo of herself also a card

from the King and Queen & photo. I am sending

them for Edith to take care of them for me.

I see Jack has not enlisted in Kitcheners Army

yet. The woollen is warm’. This card illustrates

perfectly the role that postcards played in the

war. The picture is patriotic and jingoistic and

therefore striking the right propaganda note,

while the message from a soldier on active

service in France is reassuringly chatty and

refers to his family members back home.

11 •

Although the production of all types of postcards

increased in order to meet the demand prompted by

the outbreak of war, the genre which saw the most

marked increase in popularity were silk embroidered

ones or ‘silks’. These had been available since the

early 1900s but production methods made them

expensive and so they had been produced as novelty

items, rather than for a mass market. However, in

the period from 1914-1920 it is estimated that over

10,000,000 ‘silks’ were produced in over 10,000 2

designs and it is not hard to understand why.

They were patriotic, brightly coloured and appealed

to soldiers wanting to show their feelings and

sentiments to loved ones back home. They were

also widely available in France from the beginning

of the war and although expensive, within the price

range of the ordinary soldier; a private in a GB

infantry regiment received 1/- (5p) a day in 1916,

while one of the silk postcards cost 7d (3p).

My own fascination with these beautiful mementoes

of war began when my Grandma showed me

her postcard album, and amongst a collection

of greetings cards were eight examples of ‘silks’

sent to her by my Grandfather. They caught

my attention then and when I was given them,

they formed the start of a fascination and a

collection which still continues to this day.

As well as the more general patriotic ‘silks’, many

were produced for specific regiments, some of

which are very rare because few of a particular

design were produced. These are sought after

by collectors and are also quite expensive; a card

carrying the emblem of a yeomanry regiment

in good condition could cost well over £100.

These two examples illustrate why ‘silks’ were

so popular. The bright colours and clever use of

imagery would have carried a reassuring message

from the sender to the recipients. Novelty cards

such as these had to be sent in an envelope to

meet the requirements of the postal service, so

they were bought with the brown translucent

envelope shown here. However, it is rare to find

one of these with an address on; these postcards

were too delicate and expensive to post and were

usually enclosed within another envelope.

The use of a butterfly to carry the flags of the

allies was a common design and this is an early

example of the sort of cards available. It was

sent by Sergeant Thomas Douglas of the Black

Watch, BEF in August 1915. Although most of his

message consists of the usual pleasantries

it does contain the following,

‘I am glad to tell you that we are billeted in

a nunnery that has been destroyed by shell,

we are glad to get out of the trenches’.

Although many ‘silks’ were produced by French

publishers, very few were bought by French

soldiers. Most were sent by GB and Dominion

soldiers from Australia and New Zealand. This

reflects the rates of pay received by the different

soldiers as it would have taken more than two

day’s pay for a French soldier to be able to buy one

of these cards. The two examples below illustrate

that patriotic and colourful themes were applied

to all designs and across the forces involved.

It was originally thought that these silk postcards

were hand embroidered by French peasant women

in their homes before being sent to the publisher

for the final stages of being cut and glued to a

backing and edged with embossed card. Recent

research 3 now indicates that machines, which were

able to produce panels of up to 400 embroidered

strips, were operating in France well before 1914.

So many of these cards were factory produced, but

also in the home, if there was a room large enough.

12 •

These two cards are examples of ‘silks’

that are more common and therefore less

expensive; the Royal Engineers (RE) and the

Royal Field Artillery (RFA) had thousands of

fighting men and we can imagine the pride

with which the men shared these regimental

symbols with their families in Britain.

The Royal Field Artillery card was sent by my

grandfather Harry to my grandma Ida and the

message is written in pencil, the usual medium

used by the soldiers. It has pleasantries about

the weather and people’s health, but one phrase

stands out to me as he says ‘things are keeping

quiet round here’. The card is dated May 1916

and I now know that at this time he was helping

to move artillery, in preparation for the

Battle of the Somme.

Originally it would have been a family enterprise

with the women and children sorting the threads

and the men setting up the pattern on the machine

and producing the embroidery. With the outbreak

of war, the men went off to fight and it is likely that

most of the production was done by women

operating the looms. The designs would have

originated with the production companies

in Paris and were sent to the embroiderers,

so if the pattern was incorrect, it would have

been duplicated by the embroiderer. This

accounts for the spelling mistakes and slightly

odd phrases that appear on some cards.

Many ‘silks’ fall into the category known as

‘hearts and flowers’, in which flowers and

birds are often used to carry messages and

every relationship and life event is covered.

As the war progressed and more cards were

produced, it is possible to see subtle changes in

the design and buyers of the cards. Many cards

produced in France had designs linked to places

and towns associated with the fighting, such as

the one for Poperinghe below. As British publishers

increased their production, cards from places

and towns other than ones near to military bases

were produced. There was also an increase in

the number of women apparently sending cards

which also indicates that they were becoming more

widely available in Britain. Some of these such as

the one from Doncaster below, were sent within

Great Britain but we can assume that the increase

in these home town cards was also in response to

families on the home front buying them to send

them to their absent men fighting overseas.

The card above left was sent from France in

September 1916 from Bill who clearly had a wry

sense of humour as the message reads ‘

Just a postcard to let you know that I

am still alive and well, never felt better in

fact. I think it is owing to outdoor life.’

The card showing the emblems of New Zealand

forces was in fact sent to Mrs Hawthornthwaite

in Lockwood, Huddersfield. Its message

illustrates the point that these cards were well

received by the soldiers and also that the links

with ‘normality’ back home were important.

‘My dear wife Kath. Here is one of the cards

I told you about. It is Sunday dinner time now

and I am line orderly and am sat in the harness

room where I shall have my dinner (stew I

expect), rather a change from last Sunday.’

13 •

This intricate design on the top right illustrates a

spelling mistake. It also shows how the history

of the conflict can be used to date the card. In

this case, the flags of Belgium, Italy, GB and

Russia appear behind the cockerel. This means

this card was produced after May 1915 when

Italy joined the Allies and before December 1917

when Russia signed an armistice with Germany.

The card from Poperinghe was sent to his family

by William and carries the intriguing information

that ‘I have given my stripe up on the 6th so don’t

forget to just put Pte when I write to you’. The

Doncaster card was sent from Elsie to Mr and

Mrs Jackson of Don Street, Wheatley, Doncaster.

As a collector, the poignancy of these cards lies in

their human story. They were bought and sent by

men living their daily lives in appalling conditions,

to families back home who must have breathed

a sigh of relief when they received these bright

and cheerful symbols of hope and love. So it is

with sadness that I read the messages and look

at the dates. The card on the left below was sent

on 19th April 1916 and inevitably I think did he

survive? In this case there is no way of knowing.

The card on the right, however, does give enough

information for the question to be answered. Using

the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

website 4 is was possible to find out that Corporal

Percy Pattemore died on 5th April 1918 and is

remembered on the Arras Memorial, along with

over 35,000 men of Great Britain, South Africa

and New Zealand who died between spring 1916

and 7th August 1918 and have no known grave.

The front and back of

the card sent by

Private, later Corporal

Percy Pattemore.

Pat Littlewood

1 An Illustrated History of the Embroidered Silk

Postcard, Dr Ian Collins ISBN 0954023501

2 An Illustrated History of the Embroidered Silk

Postcard, Dr Ian Collins ISBN 0954023501



14 •

‘Battles are

never the

end of war’

The Battle of the Somme

July – November 1916

‘We had to make war as

we must, and not as

we should like to.’

Field Marshal Lord Kitchener

- 20 August 1915 -

The Battle of the Somme is possibly the

most misunderstood battle of the First

World War. The reputations of those who

planned the battle have been tarnished by some

historians, politicians and writers of fiction. The

generals are vilified as ‘butchers and bunglers’

who had no interest in the fate of the men they

sent into action. It must be admitted that some

of the tragedies of the battle were made by, at

best, a lack of experience, and at worst sheer

incompetence, others through faulty guns and

ammunition and a lack of intelligence regarding

the enemy’s construction of their trench systems

etc. In an attempt to cast some light on these

problems, this article will examine four questions.

Why was the battle fought?

In December 1915 the allies, - Britain, France, Russia

and Italy, - agreed to mount simultaneous attacks

on Germany and Austria, thereby preventing them

moving their reserves from one front to another

to gain numerical superiority. The French would

attack on the Somme, the British in the Ypres

Salient, the Russians on the Eastern Front and

the Italians against the Austrians in northern Italy,

all to begin around July 1916. Seven days after

the British and French had agreed this strategy

the Germans attacked the French at Verdun. This

brought about a significant change to the newly

agreed plans. The French not only concentrated

their efforts on the defence of Verdun, but they

K.O.Y.L.I. soldier William Royle was killed in action on the

5th July 1916 and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.

argued forcibly for Sir Douglas Haig, Commanderin-Chief

of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF),

to launch his Somme attack as soon as possible

to relieve pressure on their troops at Verdun:

Haig knew he wanted as much time as possible

to allow his troops to train and for the necessary

guns and ammunition to be delivered. In his diary

he wrote, ‘I have not got an army in France really,

but a collection of divisions untrained for the field.

The actual fighting Army will evolve from them’.

Why was the first phase of the battle

such a spectacular failure?

The German front line in this part of the Somme

had been in German hands since October 1914,

and from that time onwards they had gradually

strengthened their positions. Haig and his

Fourth Army Commander, General Sir Henry

Rawlinson, devised the overall plan, but the

details of the attack were left to Division, Brigade

and Battalion commanders. From the Battle

of Mons in August 1914 to the end of 1915 a

huge proportion of Regular and Territorial Army

Staff officers had been killed and wounded.

As a consequence, on 1 July 1916, many of the

commanders at battalion, brigade, division, corps

and even army levels had little or no experience

of commanding such units in battle conditions.

15 •

The British began pounding the enemy front line

and artillery positions five days before the battle

began on 1 July. The artillery’s task of destroying

the German barbed wire defences was vitally

important, as was eliminating as many as possible

of the German front line troops and their positions.

It has been shown that the number of guns per

yard of front was important, but more so was the

weight of shells delivered. Two examples from the

Battle of the Somme show that, on 1 July some 132

lbs of shells were delivered on each yard of German

trench, which proved to be insufficient, but on 25

September, in the battle for Morval, 400 lbs were

delivered per yard and the action was successful.

Initially, the quality of some of the shells, many of

which were manufactured in the USA, proved to

be unsatisfactory with some failing to explode and

others losing the fuse in the nose of the shell before

it reached the target.

There was no standard method of attacking strongly

fortified trench positions and on 1 July many

attacks were unsuccessful, but during the course of

the battle some new methods were adopted based

upon incidents where success had been achieved.

New concepts were also being developed. The

battlefield had always had two dimensions, width

and depth, but the use of aircraft had introduced

a third dimension – height. Aircraft were used to

locate the enemy’s artillery positions and a whole

new style of warfare was developed with special

aircraft becoming ‘fighters’ trained to protect those

aircraft taking reconnaissance photographs of the

enemy’s positions. Communications were initially

quite primitive, the Signal Corps could no longer use

flags or lamps to transmit messages and battalion

runners soon became overworked.

Telephone wires were buried underground, but

were often broken by enemy shellfire. The newly

developed wireless became a useful tool and

by the end of the war it was indispensable.

Why did it cost so many lives?

The development of both infantry and artillery

weapons became focused on the need to kill the

maximum number of the enemy as possible.

New infantry weapons, such as the trench mortar

and the Lewis gun, were developed, the latter, along

with the Vickers machine gun, being capable of

firing 450-600 rounds per minute. As the war

progressed all armies reduced the numbers of

rifles and increased the number of machine-guns

per battalion. A similar process occurred with the

artillery where many medium sized guns were

capable of firing heavy shells to distances of

four to five miles, hence the use of aircraft to

identify targets.

The huge number of casualties inflicted by both

sides was a direct consequence of the increased

industrial capacity of the warring nations. Modern

road and rail transport, and the development of

huge munitions factories, meant that weapons of

war were being mass produced, and were used

to kill the participants on an industrial scale. The

development of telephones and wireless was

at a very early stage but both were put to use -

primarily to help artillery and infantry identify the

enemy and then strike them hard and kill as many

as possible. The transportation of the wounded

from the battlefield to casualty clearing stations

and then hospitals was far better than it had ever

been, but there were still many who died because

they could not be treated in time – or

the techniques to save them had yet

to be discovered. While the British

casualties on the first day were

tragic, the exact number of killed and

wounded on both sides throughout

the Battle of the Somme can never be

known, but they were roughly equal

at around 500,000 on both sides.

Were there any positive

gains from the battle?

K.O.Y.L.I. soldier William Royle prepares for the next assault

16 •

Even as the battle of the Somme

progressed lessons were being

learned by both sides. During the

tragedy of the first day there were

some British successes, mainly by

those troops fighting alongside the

French Sixth Army that was engaged

on the right flank of the main attack.

One such was the 18th Division which succeeded

in taking all its objectives on the first day with

relatively few casualties. The innovative techniques

used by its commander eventually resulted in

his taking charge of the BEF’s new schools of

training. As divisions, brigades and battalions

learned these tactics so the whole army began

to ‘learn its trade’. On 14 July, following a five

minute bombardment, a night attack was hugely

successful, and from such attacks lessons

were learned and then taught in the schools.

The second main offensive, the battle of Flers

Courcelette, 15-22 September, saw the introduction

of tanks, and 6th K.O.YL.I. becoming the first

infantry battalion of any army to attack alongside

tanks. The amount of ground gained was twice

that of 1 July and the cost in casualties about

half, yet no complete breakthrough was possible.

Other battles continued until November by which

time the Germans had been pushed back some

7 miles. After the battle, General Ludendorff

admitted that the German Army had been fought to

a standstill, while a German Captain described the

battle as ‘the muddy grave of the German Army’.

To prevent such another battle like the Somme,

in February 1917 the Germans retreated some 40

miles to their newly built Hindenburg defence line.

The battle of the Somme marked the beginning of

what some historians have called ‘the learning curve

of the British Army’. New methods of fighting were

introduced and schools set up to teach these new

techniques throughout the Army. The battles

of 1917 - Arras, Third Ypres and Cambrai, all

contributed more new ideas that were swiftly

incorporated into the new training curriculum.

In March 1918, the German Army launched its

final offensive and was initially successful, thanks

to the political interference of the Prime Minister,

David Lloyd George, who almost brought about

the defeat of the Allies by holding back troops

in England. Fortunately, the new methods of

fighting enabled the BEF to survive and on 8

August 1918 the Germans were hit by a huge

bombardment at the opening of the Battle of

Amiens. By this time the British Army was superior

in the technique of fighting an industrialised

war, having the munitions, transport facilities,

weapons, command and control, especially of the

air, and a sufficient number of high quality trained

troops to bring about the defeat of their enemy

who sued for peace on 11 November 1918.

Malcolm Johnson

Daughters of


Mrs Alice Mabel


Alice Mabel Simpson was born in Ledsham, Yorkshire

in 1860 to William Henry and Elizabeth Simpson.

Her father became the Vicar of Tow Law in County

Durham and her childhood years were spent in a

country vicarage.

Alice was a brilliant tennis player, winning county

tournaments for Yorkshire and Staffordshire. She

played at the Wimbledon Championships from 1895

to 1901 and in 1896 won the all-comers-competition

at Wimbledon. In the same year Alice won the doubles

competition at the Irish Championships partnering

Ruth Durlacher.

Right: Alice Mabel Pickering, tennis champion and district

commissioner for the Girl Guides movement

17 •

It is estimated she won over 300 prizes for

tennis and golf. Alice was also the president of

Doncaster Rugby Club, captain of Stafford Town

Hockey Club and one of Doncaster Hockey Club’s

founders. She is also believed to have been the

inventor of “The Pickering Bulger hockey stick”.

She married Mr Henry William Pickering in 1885,

who later became the Chief Inspector of Mines for

Yorkshire and North Midland districts. In July 1912

an explosion took place at Cadeby Main Colliery

killing many miners, Pickering led a rescue party

in the hope of finding and saving any survivors

but was killed in a second explosion during the

rescue attempt. He was due to meet the King

and Queen on that fateful day, but on hearing the

news of the first explosion he chose to try and

rescue his men. The Pickering family lived on

Lawn Road, Doncaster and had one son, Basil Henry.

After her husband’s death, Alice became a leading

figure and the Commandant in the Voluntary Aid

Detachment (VAD). She was in charge of nurses

in a “mock” battle at Doncaster in July 1914.

On the outbreak of war she formed the Doncaster

V.A.D. with her associates and they were given the

use of the Mansion House as a hospital by Doncaster

Corporation. However, a local builder, Mr Arnold,

offered them use of his house, Edenfield on Thorne

Road and they transferred there, becoming the

Arnold Auxiliary Hospital. On her VAD Red Cross card

Alice was engaged and served as a Commandant

for nursing services from April 1913 to January

1919, completing 10,176 hours. By December

1914 the Arnold had 25 patients and when the

accommodation was increased by the introduction

of outdoor shelters in the hospital grounds they

could accommodate 150 patients in total.

Soldiers and nursing staff at the

Arnold Auxiliary Hospital

Other charity events included a house to house

collection at Hexthorpe in August 1915 to endow

a cot in the hospital, known appropriately as “The

Hexthorpe cot”. A sum of £22 12s 6d was raised

and the collectors, Mrs Walker, Mrs Rotherham,

Mrs Lee and Miss Youdan received a letter of

thanks and congratulations from Mrs Pickering.

The first soldier, named Catley, to occupy the cot

had served in the York and Lancaster regiment,

and appropriately lived in West Street, Hexthorpe.

Weekly concerts were held at the ‘Arnold’, along with

whist drives and dances to raise funds for the hospital

The Doncaster Gazette of 14th December 1917

states that Mrs Humble’s special event, a ‘Whist Drive

and Dance’ at the Danum Hotel, raised the splendid

amount of £159 8s for the Open-Air Ward and gives

a long list of donors. The article ends with “The

Commandant, Mrs Pickering, thanks all who in any

way helped to make the Whist Drive such a success”.

The Arnold Hospital received their first wounded

soldiers from the Gallopoli Peninsular in September

1915. The men were from the 1st & 7th Lancashire

Fusiliers, 7th North Staffordshire Regiment, 7th

Gloucesters, 9th Worcesters and 1st Royal Inniskilling

Fusiliers. They were brought home on the Italian

hospital ship “Brazile” from Malta to Southampton.

The Doncaster Chronicle records that “We have

the best of everything here” and they were all

highly appreciative of the care and attention given

them by the Commandant, Mrs Pickering, and

her highly-trained and capable nursing staff. The

soldiers were suffering from dysentery, malarial

fever as well as shrapnel and shell wounds.

At a charity football match for the hospital on

Saturday 30th October 1915 between the Army

Veterinary Corps and Maltby Football Club, Mrs

Pickering kicked off the match. A very good game

followed, with the soldiers winning 2 – 0.

18 •

After Christmas 1917 members of staff are quoted

as saying that “It has been the happiest Christmas

we have had at the Arnold”. The “boys in blue” as the

wounded men described themselves had helped

with the festive decorations. “The gramophone was

kept going all the time and the men were having

a merry time”. Mrs Pickering was presented with

a handsome silver ink stand, Dr Selby received a

silver cigarette case and the nurses were given a

liberal supply of chocolate. Corporal Everson, who

presented the gifts, declared that “Arnolds was the

best hospital he had ever been in”. Mrs Pickering

also received a handsome photo album containing

a photograph of every member of the staff as a

souvenir of her three years’ service at the hospital.

A new open-air ward was opened on 27th December

1917 by Viscountess Halifax in the presence of a large

number of visitors, many of whom were wounded

soldiers. Facilities included a bathroom, nurses’

oom, lavatory and electric light. The cost was £350,

the whole of which was raised by various events

including a flag day held in the summer months.

Lady Halfax, in declaring the ward open, expressed

a very lively interest in the Arnold Hospital from its

beginning, and the work her dear friend, Mrs Pickering,

had carried out before the Arnold Hospital

was established.

General Fortescue said that ‘The army owed the

greatest gratitude to the V.A.D. as it would have been

absolutely impossible for the army itself to have

attempted to deal with the enormous number of

casualties they had.’

Alice Pickering was awarded the M.B.E. (Member

of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in

March 1918 and became an associate of the Royal Red

Cross in June 1918 and was decorated by the King

at Buckingham Palace. The Royal Red Cross (R.R.C)

medal was introduced by Royal Warrant by Queen

Victoria on the 27th April 1883 and was awarded to

army nurses for exceptional services, devotion to

duty and professional competence in British military

nursing. In November 1915 a 2nd class of the R.R.C.

was introduced to extend the award to those engaged

in voluntarily establishing and running hospitals.

Pickering. Her funeral service was conducted at

Doncaster Parish Church by Dr L H Burrows, the

Bishop of Sheffield, assisted by Archdeacon F G

Sandford and Canon A Davies, Vicar of Doncaster.

A contingent of 110 ambulance sisters of the St

John Ambulance Brigade, from various divisions

in South Yorkshire were present, and the Girl Guide

movement was also represented in considerable

numbers. After the service they fell in behind the

cortege and accompanied it to the interment

at Doncaster Cemetery, where Archdeacon

Sandford conducted the committal service.

Mrs Pickering was in a league of her own, not only

with her sporting prowess and her dedication to

the war effort, but also in her continued support for

the people of Doncaster throughout her lifetime.

Liz Astin and Andria Johns

Below, Commandant Pickering with nurses from the Arnold

Hospital, Alice Mabel Pickering’s Red Cross service card and

Royal Red Cross medal

Her only son, Captain Basil Henry Pickering was a

Territorial officer and joined the West Yorkshire

regiment serving in France from December 1915.

In March 1918, he was wounded in the leg by

shrapnel and recovered in hospital. After the war

he became General Manager of the Maltby, Denaby

and Cadeby Collieries.

The Arnold Hospital closed in March 1919 after 4 ½

years to become a centre for discharged and

pensioned soldiers. During that time Mrs Pickering

and her band of nurses treated over 3,000 patients

and were looked on with great respect by the

people of Doncaster.

After the war, Alice took on many roles in public

life being appointed a magistrate for the Doncaster

Borough in 1925 and becoming heavily involved in

the Girl Guide movement, which owed much to her

enthusiasm and organising abilities. When she retired

in 1936 she was the District Commissioner with

over 12,000 guides to oversee. They affectionately

called her ‘the mother of the movement’, and she was

awarded their highest honour ‘the Silver Fish’ by The

Princess Royal. She was also the Commandant of the

local V.A.D. and Lady Superintendent of the Nursing

Division of the Doncaster St John Ambulance Corps.

Mrs Pickering died on the 18th February 1939 and

the Doncaster Gazette reported that ‘Doncaster

has sustained a great loss’ with the death of Mrs

19 •

Barbara Euphan

Todd: Growing up in

wartime Kirk Sandall

On the evening of Sunday, February 15th

1907 the parishioners of Arksey assembled

in the schoolroom to make a presentation

to their Vicar, the Rev. Thomas Todd, who had

resigned the living of Arksey on his preferment

to the Rectory of Kirk Sandall. Todd, a Londoner,

was born in Chelsea but had been residing in the

Doncaster area since 1890, when he was employed

at Christ Church, Doncaster, under Dr. Bourne and

later when appointed to the living at Arksey in 1892.

The testimonial consisted of a handsome

solid silver salver and a purse of gold. Upon

the salver was inscribed: ‘Presented with a

purse of gold by the parishioners of Arksey, to

the Rev. Thomas Todd, as a mark of esteem,

after being 14 years Vicar of the parish’.

A week later Rev. Todd was appointed rector of

Kirk Sandall, the living of which had been rendered

vacant by the death of the Rev. W. Johnston some

months earlier. With a gross income of £315, the

population of the parish in those days was just 208.

Rev. Todd, his wife Alice Maud Mary (née Bentham),

and nine-year-old daughter Barbara Euphan

moved into Kirk Sandall Rectory, with their two

domestic servants. The house was to be the

family home for more than fourteen years.

Barbara Euphan Todd was the only daughter of the

Anglican vicar and his wife. She was born at Arksey

on January 9th 1897. Her early years were spent

living with Uncle Alfred, a retired merchant, and

Aunt Flora Pearce at Bromley in Kent. Later she was

St. Oswald’s, Kirk Sandall

educated at the independent girls’ public school of

St Catherine’s School at Bramley, near Guildford

in Surrey, which she left when she was fourteen.

Life in Kirk Sandall at this time would have been

much different than today, with many of the

menfolk of the village being employed by the local

river and canal water authorities or on the Great

Central Railway. The major employers, though,

were respectable farmers for whom their farm

labourers worked the sandy loam soil of the

district, growing cereal crops including oats, barley,

with vegetables including turnips and mangolds.

Local farmer Mr. Cox of Sandall Grange would

often harvest over 5,000 sacks of peas in a single

week during the summer months. Undoubtedly

the village would have had it characters.

As the daughter of the local vicar, Barbara was

very much involved in village life. In the days

leading up to the outbreak of war her father’s

projects included raising funds to maintain

the fabric of St Oswald’s, or raising cash for

acetylene lamp lighting - the first to be used in

the 900-year old Norman church’s history.

Much-needed cash was raised by summer

bazaars, organised in the rectory garden, where

Barbara and her friends Mary Brightmore of

Sandall Grove and Hilda Sandford, daughter of

George Sandford, Archdeacon of Doncaster,

would always be responsible for the sweet stall.

The Reverend’s daughter was often given the

honour of presenting Viscountess Chetwynd

of Wyndthorpe Hall with a bouquet of flowers

as a thank you for opening the proceedings.

20 •

The onset of the war must have meant great

changes both to Barbara and the Rev. Todd’s

parishioners as the horrors of the war began to

unfold in many ways. Often open meetings were

arranged in fields of the parish, Lord Chetwynd

and other gentlemen and local clergy of the

district demanding a united action to encourage

the young men of the village to enlist; large

gatherings from the parish always responding

to the invitation, and the Rev. T. Todd opening

and closing these gatherings with prayers.

In the early days of the war, Doncaster resembled

a garrison town. A military presence was recorded

as being quartered in the vicinity of the village. Polly

Hickling, headmistress of Wood’s Free Grammar,

the parish school, recorded in her daily log book for

October 8th 1914 ‘that the children were given a long

play and taken to nearby Grove Park [Kirk Sandall] to

watch the manoeuvres of the soldiers.’ These were

Royal Engineers (Sheffield) who were invited by the

committee of Barnby Dun Working Men’s Club in

mid-November to an evening of entertainment.

The club steward, Mr. Tomlinson, delivered a

patriotic address, which, it can only be assumed,

was in honour of the men due to leave for the front.

Tragedy was never far away. On May 15th 1915,

the ocean liner R.M.S. Lusitania was torpedoed

with the loss of 1,198 lives near Kinsale, off the

southern coast of Ireland, by a German U-Boat.

A passenger on board that day was farmer,

Mr. George Somerton Rolfe, returning home from

Hamilton, Ontario in Canada. George was the

eldest son of Rev. Forster T. Rolfe, vicar of nearby

Kirk Bramwith, a very good friend and colleague

of Rev. Todd. George’s funeral took place at Kirk

Bramwith in early June and Barbara’s father

assisted Ven. Archdeacon Sandford at the service.

During the first week of the war the Government

had taken over the duty of guarding the country’s

railway bridges. A key bridge between Doncaster

and the east coast port of Hull crossed both the

River Don and Sheffield and South Yorkshire

Navigation Canal in close proximity to Long Sandall.

A guard room was constructed close to the railway

line and was put to use by reservists of the West

Yorkshire Regiment to protect the bridge. However,

on three separate occasions, soldiers were killed

in accidents after being hit by steam locomotives

on the Great Central Railway. Inquests into the

deaths of these soldiers were held at local farms

in the village. The concern and sadness brought

to the local area is too great to contemplate.

raise much-needed funds for the benefit of

Wheatley Military Hospital or to purchase wool

for mufflers and stockings for the lads serving on

the minesweepers and for other worthy causes.

As the farmhands of the parish enlisted, work in

the farms and fields required workers and Barbara

did her duty by joining the Women Land Army.

Later, on December 17th 1917, Barbara entered

service at Loversall Hall, which had been adapted

as an auxillary hospital at the outbreak of the war

under the supervision of Mrs. S.J. Skipworth, the

owner and commandant of the premises. At first

Barbara was employed in the pantry and then

progressed to nursing the wounded and injured

military. On February 15th 1919 her employment

was terminated as a VAD nurse and she returned

to her home at the rectory in Kirk Sandall.

Upon her return from serving in the war, Barbara

began her writing career, with much of her early

work being published in the Spectator and Punch

magazines using “Euphan” as her pseudonym. Her

poems about children were very reminiscent of

those of A.A. Milne, another great Punch contributor.

Soon life was to change again in the rural village,

as shortly after Peace Day celebrations in July

1919 the glass manufacturing giants, Messrs

Pilkington Brothers Ltd acquired land for the

purpose of a new glass works and much of

the farms and farmland was to disappear.

At the end of July 1921 Rev. Todd announced his

intention to retire. He had been contemplating

retiring for 12 months past. Much regret was

felt in the parish when Rev. Todd retired on

October 28th. A pleasing ceremony took

place in Wood’s Free Grammar School, which

included a farewell presentation consisting of

Kirk Sandall rectory

The villagers’ support and kindness were never

far away: whist drives were held in Rev. Todd’s

rectory and the farm houses of the parish to

21 •

a very handsome case of silver cutlery, with a

suitable inscription and also a case of pipes.

Todd with his wife Alice and daughter Barbara

quit Yorkshire for Droxford, Hampshire in the

sunny South of England. It was here in 1932

that Barbara married retired Naval Commander

John Graham Bower (1886-1940), an officer in

the Royal Navy. The couple moved to Blewbury

near Oxford. They had no children, but from a

previous marriage John had a daughter, Ursula

Graham Betts (1914-1988), who later became a

pioneer anthropologist and played her part in the

Second World War as a guerrilla fighter in Burma.

Barbara’s first Worzel Gummidge novel, Worzel

Gummidge or The Scarecrow of Scatterbrook,

was published in 1936 and became a very

popular children’s book at an early date,

probably because the characters were so

different from those of other 1930s children’s

fiction. Between 1936 and 1963 a further nine

Worzel Gummidge novels were published.

One can only imagine how the local characters she

encountered and the rural way of life in Kirk Sandall

in the early part of the 19th century influenced her

writing. Did it help to develop her ideas as regards

the kind-hearted, rude, reliable and sulky scarecrow

creation Worzel Gummidge and the characters of

Aunt Sally, Dolly Clothes-Peg and the Crowman?

The popularity of Barbara’s books continued in

popularity and in the 1950s she collaborated

with the author and actress Mabel Constanduros

on a series of radio plays about Worzel. In 1967

Worzel was the subject of five episodes of the BBC

children’s television series Jackanory, which were

narrated by the actor Gordon Rollings. From 1979–

1981 Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall adapted

four series of Worzel Gummidge for television,

starring John Pertwee, Una Stubbs and Lorriane

Chase. A second T.V. series, Worzel Goes Down

Under, in which the main characters moved to New

Zealand, ran for 22 episodes from 1987–1989.

Barbara Euphan Todd died aged 79 on February 2nd

1976 at a nursing home at Donnington in Berkshire.

Her step-daughter the anthropologist Ursula

Graham Betts remembered “her dry and sometimes

wry sense of humour which was always warm

and kind” - doubtless developed from her early life

living in the parish of Kirk Sandall, which remained

the hallmark of her Worzel Gummidge books.

Mark Bond


Refugees come

to Doncaster

During the course of the First World War,

some 250,000 Belgians became refugees

in Great Britain. Yet by 1919 the vast

majority had returned to Belgium, leaving few

traces and little public memorialisation. However,

contemporary newspaper reports from across

the country, including Doncaster, provide valuable

information about their reception and treatment.

Media coverage, both locally and nationally,

was broadly sympathetic, contrasting Belgian

victimhood and heroism with German atrocities.

As early as 4 September 1914, Mr R E MacDonald,

a Doncaster Quaker, appealed in the Doncaster

Chronicle to ‘Doncaster sympathisers’ to donate

money to a central Belgian Relief Fund. Mr

MacDonald, whose wife was Belgian, described the

Belgians as ‘brave little allies’ to whom the British

22 •

people owed a debt for their ‘heroic resistance’

against the Germans. In its editorial, the paper

identified the violation of Belgian neutrality as

the cause which had brought Britain into the war.

It called on its readers to defend the honour of

‘brave little Belgium’, who lies ‘crushed, bleeding,

ravaged, beneath the heel of the Prussian Huns’,

and to resist the imposition of German culture

on humanity by the power of the sword 1 . The

Belgian refugees functioned as vehicles for the

dissemination of images of brutality and suffering.

To begin with, the government seems to have

been content to leave the succour of the refugees

to private enterprise. Britain already had a

variety of philanthropic committees, of diverse

ideological positions, which readily channelled

efforts to the practical relief of those seeking

refuge – opening hostels, teaching English, finding

employment and raising money. As the numbers

of refugees increased, the task of coordination

was given to the Local Government Board, under

the direction of Herbert Samuel, who was given

a Cabinet-level position. He established an

official War Relief Committee, though most of

the work continued to be done by volunteers.

Catherine Street: Belgian refugees, Doncaster Gazette,

November 1914

By October, the local papers were reporting on

the arrival of Belgian refugees in Doncaster.

The Catholic Women’s League helped a family settle

at Burghwallis 2 . The Rotherham and District Golf

Club housed twenty refugees at Thrybergh Hall.

A family of five were at Hickleton 3 . Similar efforts

were recorded from Crowle to Denaby. The response

gradually became more formalised: Doncaster Town

Council appointed a committee, led by the Mayor,

to make arrangements for accommodating Belgian

refugees. It included two Catholic priests, Miss

Anne of Burghwallis, and a number of local Quakers.

These religious affiliations were not mentioned in

the local press , which was indeed critical of Quaker

pacifism 5 . Although the Committee was hampered

by a lack of suitable premises 6 , since many public

buildings had been converted into temporary

barracks, The Doncaster Chronicle reported that

a party of Belgian refugees were to be invited to

accept ‘the hospitality of the town’: fifty refugees

were to be accommodated in two large houses 7 .

4 Avenue Road was offered by Mr W. S. Arnold, a

local building contractor, and 97 Catherine Street by

Councillor E. Dowson. The tenancy of these houses

continued until 1 February 1918. The paper printed

a list of the fifty names, with their town of origin. It

also printed a welcome in Flemish 8 . To show their

acceptance, four of the group who were miners

went to work at Edlington Colliery 9 . The sight of the

refugees arriving at the railway station looking sad,

weary and forlorn provided tangible evidence of the

distress caused by the realities of modern warfare.

23 •

Throughout the following months, there were

regular reports in the local press of social events

across the region to raise funds to support the

refugees. Many of these were initiated by the local

gentry and reflected both their cultural tastes

and their endorsement of the war. Support for

Belgian refugees was defined in terms of patriotic

duty. Hickleton Hall housed 16 wounded Belgian

soldiers. A concert in Carcroft featuring the Belgian

harpist Huberta van Kerkhove was sponsored by

Major Anne of Burghwallis Hall and ended with ‘a

stirring appeal to young men to join the Army’ 10 .

The national anthems of the allies were sung

with great gusto in support of the Empire, the

Flag and the King. Alderman Tuby organised an

organ recital of sacred music in the Market Place

to raise funds for the refugees, ‘a remnant of the

sorrowing nation which had made such a splendid

stand against the overbearing Prussians’ 11 . No one

anticipated changes to the social order. Firbeck

Hall was opened for fifty refugees ‘of the peasant

class’. Access to some rooms in the Hall remained

‘verboten’ and the refugees were expected to

see to the cooking, cleaning and maintenance

themselves 12 . Yet the frequency of appeals in

the press at this period for more men to enlist

surely betrays an anxiety that not enough of the

working class were committed to the cause.

Individuals made donations of furniture, clothes

and food. The Doncaster Free Christian Church

provided hospitality for a family of refugees, taking

on a house on Beckett Road to be furnished by

the Church and using weekly subscriptions to

sustain the family. Workers at The Plant donated

money through departments to the Belgian Central

Fund. The firm’s employment records indicate

that on 16 February 1915, about ten individuals

with Belgian names commenced work there, and

continued in employment until 1916 or 1917.

However, the welcome extended to Belgians by no

means eliminated suspicion of ‘aliens’. All Belgian

refugees were required by a Home Office directive

to register with the police 13 . At the outbreak of

war, what was described as ‘the German Colliery’

at Harworth had workers from Italy, Hungary,

France and Germany. The German pit-sinkers

were paid off, but were said not to be anxious

to return to the Fatherland 14 . Nationally, concern

grew at the possibility of Germans posing as

refugees, and The Times reported on 20 October

that forty German spies had been arrested at

Dover disguised as refugees. Hostility to people

of German descent living in Britain reached a

head following the sinking of the Cunard liner the

RMS Lusitania by a German submarine off the

coast of Ireland on 7 May 1915. Locally, the most

serious disturbances took place in Goldthorpe.

Lynsey Slater noted that ‘as the conflict dragged

on and people realised the cost of caring for these

Belgians was growing, sympathy for them waned…

and the focus for fundraising moved to local

auxiliary hospitals, war relief funds and war bonds

schemes’ 15 . There were fewer mentions of them in

the local press after the end of 1915. Doncaster had

to deal with greater numbers of wounded soldiers.

Conscription was introduced in 1916. Although

strong support for the Belgian refugees came from

the local Establishment, there were also elements

of opposition. Bill Lawrence pointed out that there

were those locally who believed that the male

Belgian refugees should be fighting for their country

and not immune from the armed forces; and that

the employment of Belgian males in armaments

factories concerned the trade unions who feared

that the influx of Belgian refugees would saturate the

Labour market with cheap labour whom employers

would exploit at the expense of existing British

workers1 6 . When the war ended, the Belgian exodus

was swift. ‘The government offered free passage

to the refugees to return home. By 1921, 90% of

them had returned to their homeland. This suited

both sides. The British government wanted the

refugees out and the Belgian government wanted

them back to begin to rebuild their country’ 17 .

Some people in Doncaster clearly made real

efforts to be hospitable towards Belgian refugees.

From the start, support for the refugees was

closely integrated with support for the war

effort. However, the voice which is still absent

from the story of the Belgian refugees in

Doncaster is that of the refugees themselves.

Paul FitzPatrick

With thanks to the earlier researches of

Lynsey Slater and Bill Lawrence.


This latter theme was that of the following week’s editorial,

11 September 1914.

2 The Doncaster Chronicle, 23 October 1914

3 The Doncaster Chronicle, 16 October 1914 p12 p8

4 The records of the Doncaster Borough Belgian Refugees

Committee are preserved at the Doncaster Local Records

Office; reference AB 2/6/7/1. They cover the period from

4 December 1914 until 26 February 1919, with decreasing

frequency. One of the priests was Fr Ceslas Vermeulen,

himself a Belgian.

5 The Doncaster Gazette, 23 April 1915

6 As reported in The Doncaster Chronicle, 23 October 1914

7 The Doncaster Chronicle, 30 October 1914

8 The Doncaster Chronicle, 6 November 1914

9 The Doncaster Chronicle, 13 November 1914

10 The Doncaster Chronicle, 27 November 1914 p3

11 The Doncaster Chronicle, 20 November 1914, p2

12 The Doncaster Chronicle, 25 December 1914

13 The Doncaster Chronicle, 11 December 1914

14 The Doncaster Chronicle, 7 August 1914

15 Slater, Lynsey (2015) ‘Belgian Refugees in Doncaster

1914-18’ in A View from the Edge: The Newsletter of

the Doncaster Conversation Club No 7, June 2015 p2

16 Lawrence, Bill (2015) From Pit Town to Battlefields 1914-1916:

Mexborough and the Great War Liverpool: LEB Books p122

17 Slater ib

If you have a family story from the First World War to share, please visit

or contact the Doncaster 1914-18 project team at:

You can also browse many stories about local people and places on

the website, and find out more about a relative or place near you.

24 •

Doncaster 1914-18

forthcoming events

Doncaster in the Limelight,

a trip down memory lane

Saturday 19 November, 11am-3pm

Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, Chequer Road, DN1 2AE

Tel: 01302 734293 Free drop-in event

Drop-in to view star objects from Doncaster Heritage Services collections,

and share your memories of film, theatre and entertainment in Doncaster

through the years. A chance to view the original 1916 blockbuster documentary

‘The Battle of the Somme’ and bring your First World War memorabilia to be

scanned or photographed and added to the Doncaster 1914-18 website

Country House Christmas

Sunday 27 November, 1pm-4pm

Cusworth Hall, Back Lane, Doncaster DN5 7TU

Admission charges apply. Please call: 01302 782342 for more details.

Find out more about Doncaster’s country houses at war, and through the ages.

Try free hands-on activities or dress up as a soldier or nurse with the

Great War on Tour. Tours of the house, crafts, festive baking and much

more. Don’t miss the chance to see Doncaster 1914-18’s new temporary

exhibition, Estate of War, Doncaster Country Houses at War, 1914-18.

Lives on the Line: The King’s Own

Yorkshire Light Infantry at War, 1917

A new temporary exhibition opening Saturday 7 January 2017

Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Museum, Chequer Road, Doncaster DN1 2AE Tel: 01302 734293

Find out about the impact of new tactics and weapons on the

King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the aftermath of the Battle

of the Somme through personal stories and original objects

For a full list of upcoming events and to share your first world war

stories with the project, visit:

Doncaster Times is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The publication was also produced in conjunction with the

Doncaster and District Heritage Association, whose support

has been invaluable.

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