Harry Rutherford's
Festival of Britain Mural

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Hyde In War Time (1914-16) Page 33

Patriotism Of The Police Force
Splendid Loyalty Of The Police Force

We have already referred to the immediate calling up of two members of the Hyde Police Force, Constables Howland and Wilkinson, as Army  Reservists. On Monday, 9th November, 1914, eight members of the Force, having decided to enlist in a body were paraded before the Borough Magistrates in the new Court Room in  Corporation Street. 

The eight members were :

  1. Acting Sergeant Smith, who had put in eight years’ police service, and who had two brothers serving with the colours.
  2. Constable Wood, no less than 14 years’ police service, but in spite of this fact insisted on going.
  3. Constable Allen, three years’ police service.
  4. Constable Lilley, who had five brothers gone.
  5. Constable Lambert, who in the words of the Chief Constable, “thought his family ought to be represented.”
  6. Constable Dickenson, who was “in a similar position.”
  7. Constable Bradbury, who had two brothers gone.
  8. Constable Butler, who had one brother gone

It was intimated by Alderman Sherry Chairman of the Watch Committee, that the positions of the men in the Force would be kept open for them.

Hyde Policeman’s Stirring Story.

We have already stated that among the Hyde Reservists to be called up at the beginning of the war was Bombardier Wilkinson of the R.F.A., a member of the Hyde Police Force. Wilkinson was in some of the early severe fighting in Belgium and Northern France, and his description of what he saw, and of thrilling incidents in which he figured, are worth recording in permanent form. His story was contained in two letters addressed to the Chief of Hyde Police Force, Mr. J. W. Danby. The first was dated October 10th, the second October 23rd, 1914. In the first, Bombardier Wilkinson told of advancing over ground they had already fought on (presumably in the retreat from Marnes; of seeing heaps of dead  on every side; of tables spread out in a garden, with broken bottles and glasses littered about the ground in confusion. Every house had been looted by the Germans in their first onslaught, when attempting to reach Paris, an attempt that failed just at the moment it looked likely to succeed, when the Huns had got within a very few miles of the French capital. All the furniture, the Bombardier stated had been thrown on the streets. The Germans were retreating so rapidly that they did not have time to bury their dead, whose bodies were lying in ditches by the roadside, the French people burying hem after the British Forces had passed through. “We came across some of the graves of our men; one had a cross over the head, made out of a biscuit box, and bearing these words, “Eight English Artillerymen buried here.’ The grave was nicely arranged, with fresh flowers which had been placed there by peasants.”. The gallant Bombardier further related that the British had just taken a town which the Germans had held for three days. “We were  shelling it for a whole day, and covering the advance of the Yorkshire Regiment, who, at eleven p.m., had the order to take it at the point of the bayonet, which we did, without  a great number of casualties. When  we arrived in the town the people cried for joy, but the sight was terrible. All the windows were smashed, and doors had been burst open by shells. Dead and wounded were all over the place. Only one part of town was damaged; the other part was left after the enemy had demanded a very heavy ransom, which they were obliged to pay. We had a very good half-day in the town. The people give us jugs of beer, wine, biscuits, fruit, tobacco, and bread and butter in plenty.”

A Gruesome Discovery

In his second message dated October 23rd, Bombardier Wilkinson related how he and his comrades had had to stand to their guns under heavy rain of German missiles. What they dreaded most, he said, were the Krupp guns. Only the previous day the enemy located his Battery, and commenced firing shells weighing 120lbs. Apiece. One of these shells, he observed, “creates a hole large enough to hold a Maypole wagon.” Sixty shells were fired by the enemy, and one dropped only yards from Wilkinson, who was covered with dirt and smoke, but was not hit by a pieces of the shell. On another day, while the Bombardier was sitting in a ditch, resting and enjoying a smoke, close by a horse with a nose-bag on, he quite unsuspectingly commenced to pull at some straw under him, when he found his fingers on the face of a dead German. On further investigation, he discovered that the ditch was full of the enemy’s dead. 

Bombardier Wilkinson, with the exception of one or two brief  periods, has been in the zone of fire since Sir John French’s original Expeditionary Force set foot on French and Belgian soil, and at the end of 1915 he was still there.

No comments: