ISSUE 2: NOVEMBER 2016
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
AT HOME, AT WAR
ISSUE 2: NOVEMBER 2016
Uncover the past that shaped our future
-------------------------- 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.
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?
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:
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to an information distribution list.
The next edition of
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:
Various census returns were used in the search for
John William Oates and his family
– 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.
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.
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.
Arthur who died in 1958 and Annie in 1952
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Queen’s Own
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
email@example.com or phone of 01302 868774
See the next issue to discover
the progress of this project.
Did you know Wyn’s Index
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!
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
firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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: email@example.com
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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.
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.
Sophia ‘Flora’ Skipwith of Loversall Hall
By kind permission of Joanna Skipwith
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‘Just a postcard
to let you know
that I am alive
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.
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.
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.’
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Right: Alice Mabel Pickering, tennis champion and district
commissioner for the Girl Guides movement
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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: www.doncaster1914-18.org.uk
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.