World War One set to be marked across Cheshire

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 November 2013

Tony Davies in character as sgt George Riley of The Cheshire Regiment

Tony Davies in character as sgt George Riley of The Cheshire Regiment

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An historian from Tabley wants next year’s centenary of the outbreak of World War One to be marked across the county, as Paul Mackenzie reports

Everyone’s wedding day changes their life, but not everyone’s has quite the impact that Tony Davies’s had. As he stood in the church at Tabley waiting for his bride to arrive he spotted a memorial to nine men from the village who lost their lives in the First World War. The chance sighting meant that the man Jane Kenyon left the church with was very different to the one she had fallen in love with.

Since their wedding in 2009 Tony has been devoted to researching the lives of World War One soldiers and has made many visits to battlegrounds and cemeteries in France and Belgium.

‘I do bore Jane a little bit,’ he admitted. ‘And I will sometimes be in a dilemma thinking should I buy the new shoes I need or this piece of World War One uniform? The uniform always wins.

‘When I researched those first nine lads I found out where they were when they were killed and what had happened to them and managed to find pictures of them. I wrote a book about them and then thought “Well, that’s ok, but I could do more”. Now I go into schools and talk about life in the trenches and I’ve researched the lives of hundreds of soldiers.’

Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the war and Tony, who lives in Tabley opposite the Cheshire showground, is hoping the centenary will be marked by a resurgence of interest. Services and commemorations will be held at key sites in Europe and Tony, who is currently studying for an MA in World War One studies at Birmingham University, wants to see the occasion marked in Cheshire too.

‘I’m not saying we should celebrate war, or that it should be any kind of jingoistic celebration, but I do feel we should celebrate the bravery of these ordinary men and boys who went to do their bit.

‘There’s a lot to celebrate; it wasn’t just a war it was the catalyst for a lot of social change. It speeded up votes for women, there were advances made in medicine and it changed a lot about life in Britain, and elsewhere. Although there is now no-one left who fought, there are a few people still alive who can remember that time and lots more of us who knew those who were there.

‘I want people to be thinking about next year and preparing for it. It’s a matter of making people realise the importance and significance of the centenary. I have spoken to local councils because there is money available to them from central government to mark the centenary and I believe it’s important that we do mark it.’

Tony’s interest in the war was triggered by conversations he had when he was a young boy with grandfather. He had lied about his age to join up with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and fought in the battle of the Somme as a 16-year-old.

‘I was very lucky that he opened up to me,’ said Tony who spent 30 years as a policeman in North Wales before working the United Nations. ‘He didn’t speak to my grandma or my dad about it and he only spoke to me when we were alone but I would ask him lots of questions and he told me what it had been like to be in the trenches under bombardment. He was blown off his feet by a shell on one occasion and his sergeant major said he would mention him in dispatches because he didn’t spill a drop of the tea he was carrying.’

Among Tony’s large collection of World War One memorabilia are the letters his grandfather sent home to his then girlfriend which contained coded messages to let her know his whereabouts. ‘In one he wrote “All well here, save only my mate Ernest”, the initial letters s,o,m,m,e told my grandma he was at the Somme. He had a bit more difficulty at Passchendaele.’

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Brief lives

Here are the stories of three young lads who were killed during World War One

Sydney Leicester was born in Tabley, Cheshire in 1891, and lived in Green Lane, working as a horseman. He later moved to work on the railway at Trafford Park. He enlisted in the 12th battalion of the Manchester Regiment (one of the famous Pals Battalions) and became a sniper.

He was killed on July 7, 1916 on the Somme. He has no known grave but is remembered on the Thiepval memorial along with the names of over 72,000 other servicemen.

Just before he was killed he wrote home to say that a bullet had gone through his sleeve and hit his prayer book, he wrote: “The Huns are trying to steal my book”.

Harry Baird was born in Knutsford, and on marrying a Miss Barge, he went to live in Stafford.

He joined the Shropshire Light Infantry and rose to the rank of sergeant. He fought in Mesopotamia and was one of 12,678 soldiers who died not from enemy fire but from disease, usually dysentery or malaria. He is 
buried in Port Said Military Cemetery.

Arthur John Berry was born in Knutsford and joined the Manchester Regiment in 1915 and was sent first to fight in the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign, then to the Western front. It was here he was awarded the Military Medal for extreme courage when on an attack, seeing that all his officers had been killed he took command of the troops and led a successful attack.

He was returning to his trench after a successful ‘bombing raid’ on a German machine gun position when one of his men accidentally dropped a grenade which went off, killing Arthur instantly.

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