Hard As Nails
by Harold Heys
replied the Dodger
added Charlie Bates
SURGERY - not many years ago - was often rough and ready, especially in and around the battlefields. In the early years of the last century standards were sometimes poor, even in hospitals.
This photograph is of an X-ray on the left leg of soldier John Albert Harwood of Darwen who was shot while serving in the 1914-18 war. And, yes, those are rusting joiner's nails pinning the bones together...
* The X-ray picture of Private Harwood's knee has not been digitally enhanced in any way.
John Albert enlisted in the East Lancashire Regiment and later transferred to the 1st Manchester Regiment. A ship he was on was machine-gunned and he was hit in the left knee.
Back in England a Canadian surgeon named Joyce carried out an experimental operation at a military hospital near Reading, cutting away shattered bone from above and below the knee and fitting the bones together with ordinary nails - a six inch round-headed nail and a four inch countersunk nail. Private Harwood had nearly 200 stitches in the leg and was in hospital for 18 months.
A professional strong man before the war, Mr Harwood set up as a shoe maker and clog repairer in Pitt Street, Darwen, and he and his wife Bertha had a fourth child. However, as the nails rusted away, blood poisoning set in.
John Albert Harwood was a brave and a hard man, but he was in agony in his final months and he died in Grangethorpe Military Hospital, Manchester, in April 1924.
Consultant surgeon Hugh Thomas, one of the foremost authorities on war wounds, examined the X-ray photograph a few years ago and described the attempted fusion as "extremely crude." His "uncomfortable conclusion" was that it would have caused "very considerable pain, suffering and continued infection."
Mr Thomas said he had attempted to discover whether the use of nails in this manner had ever been a feature in our military hospitals "but everyone was reluctant to admit this - very understandably." He said he had never come across a case quite like it.
It's perhaps not surprising that Authority, over the years, has chosen to turn something of a blind eye to the sad story of the experimental operation on Private Harwood's leg. It isn't the sort of image the Army is keen to promote, even now. The Imperial War Museum North in Trafford were very enthusiastic a few years ago but then, suddenly, they lost interest.
Private Harwood left his widow to bring up four children; two boys, Tom, aged 13 and Joe, aged 11 and two girls, Margaret, aged 7 and a baby, Mabel. He was 38 years old.
In his 90s, Tom remembers his father coming home for the first time in his hospital "blues". "On his left leg he wore a boot which was built up several inches and he had to use crutches to get about. We were in very poor circumstances. We didn't have any carpets or lino on the floor, just sand. We used to buy it in a loaf tin for a penny.
"Before he became really bad he managed to get my mother pregnant again. We didn't know, but one day we were sent to a neighbour's house and when we came back we found we had another member of the family.
"My father became seriously ill and he used to have kidney fits and thrash around on the bed. My mother used to run next door for help and two big lads called Hindle would come and sit on him to hold him down because he was so strong.
"We couldn't afford to go and see him when he was finally taken to hospital because his fits had become so bad. We phoned or telegraphed occasionally from the post office and one day I remember watching as the chap on the counter wrote out a note that my father had died that morning. I had to go and tell my mum”.
Tom remembers the funeral well. "It was quite a modern affair because instead of the usual horsedrawn hearse we had a motorcar. I remember all the men at the side of the road doffing their caps as we passed. It was a traditional courtesy in those days”.
John Albert Harwood died of nephritis - inflammation of the kidneys - and uraemia, a serious toxic condition caused by an accumulation in the blood of waste products. It is characterised by violent headaches, vomiting and, in its acute form, convulsions and coma.
His widow lived to be 90 and is buried in the same grave at Darwen Cemetery
Article by Harold Heys, grandson of John Albert Harwood.
Harold Heys is a semi-retired journalist who has always lived in his home town of Darwen. An old boy of Darwen Grammar school, he was a journalist with the Lancashire Evening Telegraph before joining the Sunday People where he became chief sports sub-editor and production editor. He retired as editorial systems manager of Newsquest in 2001. He has had a lifelong interest in Darwen and its history and is on the committee of the town's Civic Society. Among his other hobbies he includes horse racing and its history, DIY, snooker, painting, design, writing and computers. He says he is now, in his early 60s, "a professional grandfather."
You may freely reproduce this image and/or text provided you do not do so in the course of a business and state clearly that the image/text was provided by Harold Heys for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project: www.cottontown.org.
Percy Almond was a casualty in the Salonica campaign. He was invalided out and sent home with war wounds. According to the Memoriam he died on the 10th April, 1928. He was buried at New Row Chapel on the 14th April. He was the oldest son of Marion Frances and the late John W. Almond. The home address was 4 Railton Avenue, Green Lane, Blackburn.
Thomas Milton BARLOW
The posed photograph of Thomas reading a letter in a studio reveals the regiment in which Thomas served. Dominic Butler from the Lancashire Infantry Museum identified the badge on the left hand shoulder as “Army Service Corps”. Further research by Dominic revealed Thomas’ medal index card and regimental number M2/020756 indicating that Fred served in France.
Thomas Milton Barlow's shoulder markings
Early Blackburn Driving Licence belonging
to Thomas Milton Barlow
The driving licence issued by the County Borough of Blackburn in 1914 shows Thomas living at 73, Dickens Street. Dominic notes that Thomas, as a member of the Army Service Corps Motorised Transport 61 Company, Divisional Supply Column , would have been more than likely to have been deployed in moving ammunition, goods and equipment around and would have been in the thick of action. 61 Company was attached to 2nd Division which was one of the first British formations to move to France. The 2nd Division remained on the Western Front throughout the war.
Thomas Milton Barlow's Family
The group photograph depicts a family portrait showing Thomas, his wife Gertrude (nee Flintoff) and their children Millicent and Fred. Judging from the stripe on Fred’s left arm, he had attained the rank of Lance Corporal at this point. Gertrude and Thomas married in 1911 and Millicent (Milly) was born in 1912, followed by Fred in 1914.
With grateful thanks to Mr Brian Smart who donated the photographs and driving licence and provided information relating to Thomas’ family connections.
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(c) Fred Cumpstey - terms and conditions
My Grandfather, Fred Cumpstey, was born on 7 November 1883 in Blackburn, Lancashire. He married Clara Heyes at
St Philip’s Church in Blackburn on 27 September 1902. At the outbreak of the Great War he volunteered to join Kitchener’s 2nd Army and at the time of his Enlistment on 4 September 1914 he was 30 years of age and at that time had 4 young children, aged 8 years, 7 years, 4 years and 12 months old.
He joined the 12th Battalion Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own), which was formed in Winchester in September 1914. Subsequently, he underwent intensive training moving to Blackdown in February 1915, to Witley and then in April 1915 to Larkhill. On 21 July 1915, the Battalion arrived at Southampton Docks and in the evening embarked on SS Viper to sail to Havre, France. The following day they arrived in St Omer before marching into billets at Tatinghem.
My Grandfather was severely wounded in the fierce fighting which occurred on 25 September 1915 at Pietre in a Battle which was associated with the Battle of Loos. He survived, and was discharged from the Army on 16 May 1917 as a consequence of his wounds. Although disabled, his right leg was pinned at the knee and he suffered other injuries as a result of mortar fire and shrapnel, he lived an active and fulfilling life until his death in March 1963 in his 80th year.
He was a remarkable man.
Fred Cumpstey (Grandson) January 2014
Lieutenant George DUERDEN
Lieutenant George Duerden, R. F. C., who died of wounds, was the younger son of Mrs and the late Mr I Duerden, of Mearley Hall, Clitheroe. He joined the ranks in August 1914, and after a short period in France as an infantry officer, after gaining his commission, he transferred to the Flying Corps, and he had been on active service in that branch of the service for about two months. Twenty-five years of age, Lieut. Duerden was associated with his uncle, Mr Duerden, auctioneer and valuer, at Clitheroe.
Blackburn Weekly Telegraph 20th April 1918.
Sergeant William DUERDEN
Mrs. Duerden, of 59, Harwood-street, has received word that her son, Sergeant Duerden, has been wounded in action. Sergeant Duerden was with the Kut relief force, and was wounded during a charge on the Turkish trenches on April 5th. "You see", he writes to his mother, "we were trying to relieve General Townshend at Kut. We made the charge about five o'clock in the morning. My! You ought to have seen the Turks run. It was splendid. We cleared then out of the trenches at the point of the bayonet and got them in the open. Then our artillery opened fire with shrapnel. We were chasing them all day. It was pretty warm work under a hot sun. Then about seven o'clock at night we made another attack. We had almost got on the top of their trenches when I took the 'wallop'. But everything is merry and bright again here (the hospital). The only complaint one has to make is that the sun is terribly hot".
Blackburn Times 27th May 1916.
Corporal Walter SHORROCK
1/4 Battalion East Lancashire Regiment - Uncle Walt.
Walter Shorrock was my Great Uncle and my maternal Grandmother's brother. Walter was born in Blackburn Lancashire in 1885 and was a Weaver in the local Cotton industry. At the outbreak of War, he enlisted in the 1/4 East Lancashire Regiment and after a brief spell of training in England he sailed from Southampton on 10 September 1914 disembarking at Alexandria in Egypt on 25 September 1914. The Division was concentrated around Cairo for acclimatisation and further training. The purpose of the East Lancashire Division was to defend the Suez Canal from Turkish troops. Walter fought throughout 1914 to 1916 in Egypt and was involved in the reinforcement of the beleaguered Garrison in Gallipoli -it was during this time that Walter was promoted to Corporal.
He also saw active service at the Helles bridgehead and around the fierce fighting to capture the dominating heights at Krithia. During these Battles, the East Lancashire Division lost more than one third of its men. After a brief spell in Mudros, Walter returned to Alexandria. Walter was further involved in the Battle of Romani which involved hazardous trekking in loose sand and scorching conditions. At the beginning of March 1917, Walter moved with his Division to the Western Front which involved trench warfare under very different conditions to those he had experienced in Egypt and Gallipoli.
After arriving at Epehy, Walter moved to Havrincourt facing the severity of the German Hindenburg Line at Cambrai. Walter was then involved in the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele including an attack on the strong point of Sans Souci on 15 September 1917. Later that month he moved over to Belgium at Nieuport before on to Givenchy on the La Bassee Canal near Bethune.
Walter was wounded in action on 29 June 1917 and days later was gassed after heavy shelling. He battled on and after re-joining his Battalion he saw further action before succumbing to gastritis which eventually saw him discharged from the Army in October 1918 - after completing 4 years and 77 days in the Great War.
Walter survived the War and continued to live a contented life until his death in 1973 at the age of 88 years. I am proud to say I knew and met Walter on several occasions when he visited my Grandmother. He was a kindly, quiet and self-effacing man who belied the tortuous experiences he had been through in the service of his Country. He never married and lived with Grandma’s youngest sister, Elizabeth (Auntie Lizzie), who was a Spinster.
Fred Cumpstey, October 2014
Rifleman Frank LOWE
38360, 16th Ballion King's Royal Rifle Corps (K.R.R.C.)
Mr Philip Old of Darwen has very kindly given Cotton Town permission to share his Great Uncle's military service papers. The collection was given to Philip in 1972 by his uncle shortly before his death. Philip notes that Frank had carried all his documents in his battle dress throughout the war. It is rare to find such a complete set of documents. Apparently, the 16th Battalion K.R.R.C. were known as churchmen as they were all church lads brigade members. Philip notes that Frank who was his Grandmother's (Fanny Foster) younger brother informed him that Philip, at 12 years old, was too big for the trenches. Frank was only 5ft 4".
Certificate of Transfer to Reserve
Unit Register Card
Twice "blown up" at sea during the First World War
I suspect that relatively few mariners survived the traumatic experience of being twice “blown up at sea” during wartime, and yet, this is precisely what happened to my Great-uncle William “Billy” Shearer from the parish of Orphir, in the west Mainland of Orkney, a group of islands lying off the north-east tip of Scotland.
He was born on 18 March 1879 at the Cot of Roadside, a seven-acre holding in the district of Smoogro, which his grandfather, Andrew Groundwater, leased from Dr Charles Still of Burgar, a retired army surgeon. Later the same year the family moved to a small croft called Aikislay in the same parish, near the Loch of Kirbister (formerly Loch of Groundwater), where William’s parents, William Muir Shearer, a ploughman, and Mary Groundwater, were to have eleven more children, the second of which was Margaret, my paternal grandmother.
Cot of Roadside, Smoogro, Orphir, Orkney, birthplace of William Shearer
(C) Peter G Russell
While still only 15 years of age an adventurous young William enlisted in the Royal Navy and joined HMS Caledonia (originally HMS Impregnable, built 1810), the boy cadet training ship, that was anchored off Queensferry in the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh. He served 11 years with the Fleet, three of these being spent patrolling the temperate waters of the Mediterranean. In 1901 he was stationed at HMS Wildfire, the RN Gunnery School at Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey, in Kent. The final period of his service in the Navy was spent in Chatham, Kent and, it was around the time of his honourable discharge that he wed 24 year-old Winifred 'Winnie' Ann Brooks, a cotton spinner, daughter of John Brooks, a blacksmith's striker, and Margaret Holden, from Preston. They were married in Bromley, also in Kent, in 1905 and moved to Leith, a suburb of Edinburgh. Initially William worked in the docks but when their first child, Winifred Ann (b. 1906), was born he found more secure employment as a postman with the GPO in the Scottish capital. Some twelve months later he was transferred to Blackburn, where Winifred had four more children - William (b. 1907, died in infancy); Victor (b. 1909); Ruby (b. 1913); and Elizabeth (b. 1918). The Census taken on the night of 2 April 1911 found the family living in 49 Scotland Road, Blackburn when William was recorded as a postman and Winifred a cotton weaver in a local mill..
At the outbreak of the First World War William Shearer was called up along with thousands of other reservists, and from the very beginning Fortune smiled on him. He joined the 12,000-ton cruiser HMS Cressy as a leading seaman but was almost immediately recalled to the depot. A few weeks later the Cressy and two other cruisers were sunk off the Belgian coast with heavy loss of life. His next ship was the Duchess of Devonshire, an armed boarding steamer working in the English Channel.
Leading Seaman William Shearer, Royal Navy, photograph taken from 'The Orkney Herald,' 1916.
Towards the end of 1916 William Shearer was posted to Scapa Flow, Orkney, where he joined HMS Negro, a 1,025-ton ‘M’ class destroyer; the vessel on which he was to have his most nerve-racking experience. In December that year Sir David Beatty, Commander-in-Chief Grand Fleet, decided to take the fleet out into the North Sea and the events that followed are best told in Shearer’s own words as reported in The Orkney Herald, 4 April 1934:
“We left the Fleet somewhere north of the Fair Isle to escort another vessel [the Hoste, a 1,666-ton flotilla leader] back to the [Scapa] Flow. It was a dark night, freezing cold and stormy. We were just off Fair Isle when it happened. The fellow we were escorting dropped a depth charge, whether through carelessness or otherwise nobody ever quite found out, but anyway we planted our bow on to it and it blew us up as completely as if we had been torpedoed. In fact we supposed it was a torpedo at the time.
“An attempt was made to launch the boats, but it was no use. It was evident that the Negro was done for, and we saw that the ship we were escorting had also received the benefit of the explosion and was sinking fast. She had her searchlight on and I saw her going down from the fo’c’sle of the Negro…………Our masts were broken and trailing overboard, and we were settling in the water. It was apparent we might go at any moment. I jumped just a few minutes before the Negro went down, and it looked as if I was out of the frying pan into the fire. The water was icy, and it was all I could do to hang on to the bits of wreckage that was floating about.
“It was half-an-hour before I was picked up by the Marmion (also an ‘M’ class destroyer), which came to our rescue. She was just in time. Another ten seconds would have finished me. Only thirty-four of us were saved out of a crew of eighty-five. The heart-rending sounds of drowning shipmates crying out for their mothers will haunt me for the rest of my days.”
After this traumatic experience Shearer was given ten days survivor’s leave. His next posting was on the P.20, a 613-ton armed patrol boat, which was engaged on escort duty with the Dover Patrol. Early in 1918 he joined the crew of HMS Scott, a 1,801-ton Scott class flotilla leader, one of the most modern and largest vessels of her class that saw service in the First World War. She was commanded by the Hon. William Spencer Leveson-Gower (pronounce ‘Loosen-Gore’), who curiously enough, had been captain of the Marmion. It was while he was on the Scott, as a gunlayer, that Shearer was ‘blown up’ for the second time.
On 15 August 1918, while on patrol off the Hook of Holland, the Scott and the Ulleswater (a 921- ton ‘R’ class destroyer) were both torpedoed by a German submarine. The Scott was in the act of rescuing survivors from the Ulleswater when she herself was hit and actually sank before the ship she was attending.
HMS Scott launched 18 October 1917, sunk 15 August 1918.
“This was a picnic compared with the Negro affair,” said Shearer. “Only twenty-nine of the Scott’s 164-strong crew were lost. The rest of us were picked up quite easily, as it was a fine day and the sea was calm. The tragedy of the Scott, as far as I was concerned, was that I lost my bagpipes, but the captain heard of my loss, and presented me with a new set, which I still possess.” Captain Leveson-Gower was married to Lady Rose Bowes-Lyon, daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore, which made him an uncle of the Queen! He died in 1953, the year of her coronation.
Shearer had learned to play the bagpipes during his first spell in the Navy and his skill as a piper was a byword in the Blackburn area, where over a period spanning more than forty years he performed the time-honoured ceremony of “Piping in the Haggis” at Burns Suppers. He always took great pride in his appearance and looked resplendent in the full highland dress of Clan Gunn, whose motto, “Either peace or war,” seemed especially appropriate.
A young William Shearer in full highland dress - date unknown.
After the cessation of hostilities he returned to work as a postman in Blackburn with the GPO and remained in its employ until reaching the age of fifty-five, when he elected to take early retirement. It had long been his dream to return to live in Orkney. “It has always been my intention to permanently reside in my native islands when I retired,” he told a reporter on the Orkney Herald, 31 March 1934. “I am returning to Orkney because I am, and have always been, an Orkney lover. I have frequently visited the county during holidays from my work, and have many friends in my native parish and throughout the isles.”
William and Winifred rented a four-roomed wooden hut, grandly named 'Cornesquoy', that had originally served as officers’ quarters at the nearby Houton army camp during the First World War. Cornesquoy is situated in the remote district of Clestrain in Orphir and lies some six miles from the port of Stromness and twice as far from the county town of Kirkwall. It is not entirely surprising therefore to learn that city-born Winnie was unable to adapt to living in such a 'godforsaken place'. Apparently she would spend many a lonely hour gazing out of the window, not at the majestic grandeur of the hills of Hoy but in the oft-forlorn hope of seeing the postman making his way up the rough track leading from the distant Stromness-Kirkwall road to deliver a much-awaited letter from her family and friends in faraway Blackburn. Almost inevitably, William Shearer’s lifelong dream of being back in Orkney was soon shattered and in less than eighteen months of their arrival in the islands, the disenchanted couple gathered up their belongings and returned south to Blackburn.
A much-modernised Cornesquoy Cottage, Orphir, Orkney, overlooking Scapa Flow..
(C) Peter G Russell
(c) Peter G Russell
He devoted the rest of his life to his children, grandchildren, the local Presbyterian Church and passing on his piping skills to a younger generation. The old salt finally 'crossed the bar' at the age of 77 on 22 April 1956. Although he had spent the greater part of his life in Blackburn, and his mortal remains were laid to rest among 'the dark, Satanic Mills' of industrial Lancashire, I believe that Great-uncle Billy's spirit will dwell forever in his beloved Orkney Isles.
Piper William Shearer in later life - date unknown.
William Shearer was a talented artist and his fine watercolour of the ill-fated HMS Scott was given pride of place in the Pleckgate Road home of his daughter, Elizabeth "Betty" Brown, until her death a dozen or so years ago. It was a poignant reminder of a brave, unassuming man who served his God, his country and his local community with such distinction.
Winifred Ann Shearer (née Brooks), died aged 81, in 1962, in the nearby registration district of Clitheroe.
Article and images by kind permission of Peter Groundwater Russell, Bexleyheath, Kent, April 2016