The Military in Blackpool WW1

The Military Community in Blackpool WW1


At 9.45am on the 20th November 1914 in St Helen’s, Captain Dick led the local detachment of the 3rd West Lancashire Field Ambulance from their headquarters at Cropper’s Hill. The weather was poor, and there were few people to see them off as they marched in column through the streets to the railway station. They weren’t going off to war immediately, but rather they were marching towards the railway station to entrain for their winter training quarters at Blackpool.

At the outbreak of war on Aug 4th 1914, all units from the regulars to the Territorials had been mobilised. Britain had not only reacted militarily, but also the civilian population of every town had geared itself to the conflict. Blackpool, the ‘most popular watering place in the land’ was among the towns chosen for the training of the Lancashire regiments. It was to this training facility that that Captain Dick and his band were heading.

They were not the first to enter the town, and they were not the last. By March 1916, at an inspection of the troops by Lt General Pitcairn Campbell in the town, there were reportedly 20,000 soldiers on parade in full kit and looking the ‘ideal of health and fitness’.

The military presence in the town had been further emphasised in 1915 by the opening of the King’s Lancashire Convalescent Hospital at Squires Gate. The retreat from Mons in 1914 had consequences for Blackpool for, not only did it lose half of its Squire’s Gate golf course, but it would increase the military aspect of the town and the large convalescent hospital would be created. After the battle of Mons, the British Expeditionary Force had been pushed back towards the coast and was in retreat. The frailties of the overstretched medical provision had been exposed. The War was cranking up.

From the beginning of the War, the town had begun to take on its military appearance, and this mix of military, late summer holidaymakers and residents, was also naturally subject to the normal conflicts of human community. As well as the natural interaction of romance, love and sex, there was the conflict of social equality as women took on well paid jobs, drove vehicles and conducted on trams.  There was class struggle as the rank and file faced up to the perceived privileged both in military and civilian life, forever in an undercurrent of niggle, and exploding at the surface during the victory parade of 1919 at the Tower Ballroom. There was the unease of Anglo-American relationships after the euphoria of the arrival of the US in pomp and ceremony at North station, when the battle hardened soldier came face to face with the natural ebullience and over-confidence of the new arrival, the one ended up flying off the pier at the hand of the other. There was the welcoming and accommodating of the Belgian refugees, and the town football team playing in the national colours of Belgium. There was assault, theft, murder and suicide, and stake-outs on ‘disorderly’ houses. And amongst the pain of loss which left few people untouched, and which would last through several generations and still be identifiable over a hundred years later, there were the volunteers, led by the Red Cross and religious based organisations, who brought life, dignity, solace and hope back to men, broken in body and spirit.

In this regard, of all the horrors of the war, it nevertheless saw the expression of some of the most wonderfully brave and compassionate aspects of humanity, values which being so natural to those employing them, that in most cases they left no trace, no medals nor citations, to remember them by. It was a stark contrast to the destructive element of humanity represented most vividly in the trenches of any of the several theatres of War.

The nature of the vast numbers of horrific injuries handed out by the effect of modern, mechanised warfare necessitated a revolution in medicine and therapy, and this was channelled through the RAMC, at times over 10,000 strong in Blackpool. Organisational structures changed and, along with them, the personnel too. Medical practices improved and developed as knowledge and experience of the wounds of modern warfare, and the methods of treating them, were understood for the first time, necessitated by the horrific physical and psychological injuries suffered by the soldiers. Depots were amalgamated and new ones created.  Responsibilities were moved to Blackpool from Aldershot and London.

The Fylde Coast, summarised in the name of Blackpool, which was by far the largest town, was now a focal point for training, the Royal Corps of Signallers, the Royal Artillery in St Annes, the rifle range at Fleetwood at one time under the auspices of a certain 2nd Lieutenant Wilfrid Owen who liked Fleetwood but didn’t like Blackpool because it ‘didn’t speak his language’, (Will Owen, the musical hall comedian, not to  be confused  with the poet, did speak the language) and several depots of the RAMC, were gradually assembled in the town. Here, on the extensive beaches and foreshore, and with the generous availability of accommodation at which, for the most part, the soldiers would be billeted, before undergoing their training, and eventually receiving their drafts to the theatres of conflict.

The beaches would soon be the setting for large scale mock battles, and the flat land of inland Fylde ringing to the sound of boot crunching columns of soldiers in training for the miles upon miles of route marching that they would have to endure once they had disembarked into the conflict. (On February 3rd 1915 The Liverpool Rifles completed the approximately 60 mile route march from Blackpool to their barracks in Upper Warwick Street, Liverpool). As well as the infantry and artillery training battalions using the facilities of the town, there was an average of 10,000 RAMC personnel in residence. In 1917, it was stated in a court case in which the plaintiff was the Queens Hydro Cleveleys complaining about loss of earnings due to military occupation, there were 1,000 to 1,500 convalescent officers and 2 to 3,000 convalescent NCO’s and men as well 100 to 300 American officers. This was just a head count of the injured men.

When the camp at Squires Gate was established in 1915, there were eight RAMC training battalions here, each consisting of 1,000 recruits, and when the racecourse at Squires Gate next door was converted into a convalescent home with 2,500 beds, there was not only the full occupancy of injured servicemen, but also a host of administrators, doctors, nurses, masseuses, trainers and ancillaries, both paid and voluntary, and a host of visitors consisting of family and volunteers.

Before the military took hold of the town, the Red Cross and its volunteer ‘army’ staffed the auxiliary hospitals, often commissioned from private establishments and hotels, and the YMCA provided spiritual and practical support from their several hutments. Along with them were many training infantry units billeted in the towns, Belgian refugees, and munitions workers moving into the town. Further inland, the tented camp at Weeton, provided the summer quarters for both the RAMC and other Lancashire regiments in training.

It was not an evolved community, one created over a length of time of several generations, it was rather a community thrown together in a moment of time, and just like on the battlefield, there were winners as well as losers.

Elizabeth Bell came to Blackpool from Liverpool to live on Watson Rd with her husband William who had just signed up. As a raw recruit, William trained in Blackpool with the Kings Liverpool. They had a two year old daughter, Margaret, and Elizabeth was pregnant with their second child. Private William Bell was killed on the first day of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, March 10th 1915, and the day before Elizabeth’s 29th birthday. Blackpool took to heart the little village of Neuve Chapelle, and collected enough money to pay for the resupply of electricity to the shattered municipal buildings. It was a friendship that lasted in kind and memory at least until the second war, and then was forgotten. Elizabeth, for her part, along with other bereaved wives, was popularly celebrated as a war widow. With the death of her husband, she had lost the true love that she had cherished all too briefly, and, in a second attempt at happiness in a relationship in which she bore a daughter, she was never able to reprise this lost love in the long, and often difficult, life that was ahead of her.

The training for the RAMC was varied and included not only medical knowledge, but also military matters. They needed to fit in with the military, and be twice as fit as them, certainly as a stretcher bearer. RAMC men were trained to understand the fighting zone, of exploding shells and flying machine bullets, while carrying a stretcher through the trench systems or out in the open, in daylight and dark, through dense mud and the rotting corpses of friend and foe. To carry a man on the back without a stretcher was no mean feat even in the easiest of conditions. Sleep and food would be rare commodities, and not always available.

They needed to know how to march, to dig trenches and set up camps in all conditions. But they did not carry guns. The only time they might carry a gun was when a makeshift stretcher was made out of rifles and puttees. Their training extended from the extensive medical knowledge of amputations and diseases required in the field hospitals at home and behind the lines, to the acute dangers of the stretcher bearers in the thick of the action. Officers especially needed to be acutely knowledgeable of hygiene and sanitation and to be aware of a pure water supply.

But when mock battles were not being fought on the beaches at Blackpool, the foreshore would rarely be deserted. The extensive sands would also be used for open air religious services and ceremonies for the awarding of medals presented by high ranking officials and there were anti-war protests.

On the shore, the RAMC personnel trained for, and practised, the skills of saving lives in any of the commissioned buildings, used as drill halls, hospitals and training centres of the coastal towns, that gave up their civilian functions for the duration. The training here, including drills and, later, gas drills, also included sanitation, bacteriology, (there was a high rate of death due to part, or untreated, wounds caused by the high bacterial content of the rich, agricultural soil of the Western front), tropical diseases and how to identify, dress and treat injuries. A specialist school of Hygiene, transferred from Aldershot, was established on Watson Rd. There would eventually be several auxiliary hospitals on the coastal strip, centred on Blackpool, as well as the town’s Victoria Hospital on Whitegate Drive and the Cottage hospitals of Lytham and Fleetwood. The convalescent camp at Squires Gate was a later addition to these facilities.

Training didn’t stop for Christmas. On Christmas Day 1917 Sergeant Greenwood was drilling his men on the ‘Carriage Drive’, when an impatient driver called George Wood of Manchester drove through the ranks in a reckless manner wanting to get into Withnell Rd, shouting, ‘You people have no right to block the road!’ It is not explained why he thought the soldiers had no right to block his passage, but they might well have done had they caught him at the time. He was not present at the court in Blackpool in January 1918 to learn of his £3 fine.

The men from St Helens, who had arrived in November 1914, were just one contingent of many, and were to be billeted in Clifford Rd in the North Shore area of Blackpool, and the officers were accommodated at the luxurious Imperial Hydro Hotel, a commanding hotel on the Promenade, and a stone’s throw away from the men.

The billeting of the rank and file in the company houses and the officers the plush hotels which put the landlady’s fare against the professional chef, and a class distinction which would clash in an impassioned and (mostly) peaceful revolution, (in Blackpool, anyway) during the victory celebrations of January 1919. These men were probably the lucky ones. They arrived in winter when the holiday season was over and the hotels and boarding houses were glad of the extra income from the military presence. On at least one occasion in summer, it had led to headaches for the billeting sergeant who had to find accommodation for his newly arrived contingent of men. In a reported incident on Hornby Rd, they were so fed up of waiting that they laid down their kit bags and blankets on the footpath and rested against the railings while matters were sorted. And when rooms had eventually been found, these boarding houses were all full of the noisy and excitable holidaymakers who didn’t have to be in by 10.30pm and didn’t have to rise early the following morning and, during the day, would not have to route march through the town and the countryside around, or conduct large scale mock battles upon the beaches, or put their heads down to study an array of medical subjects.

These men, and those that had arrived before them, and those that would arrive after them, would fill these billets, and later the tented accommodation at Squires Gate and, further inland, at Weeton.

1915 The 64th Field Ambulance Territorial, (probably outside the billet, 37 Cheltenham Rd Blackpool of brothers, George and Francis Ernest Reed, landlady Mrs Eleanor Marsh.) A bit of a Romeo and Juliette story, as George married the landlady’s daughter, Rachel, and Sergeant George, far right of the photograph, stands proudly before the window. Perhaps nineteen year old Rachel was looking out of the window or perhaps she was at work in Parkinson’s munitions factory with her sister on Devonshire Rd. George’s wage on attestation was 1/9d (less than 7p) a day.

37 Cheltenham Rd Blackpool. Mrs Eleanor Marsh, landlady, standing. Daughter Rachel seated. George Reed standing far right. FE Reed standing next to his brother George.

The landladies were paid fourpence per soldier per night for soft beds and all rations, and the billeting came as a boost for their winter takings, though it clashed with their summer profitability when they could charge much higher, regular prices to the many visitors to the busy holiday destination.

But the men were not in billets all the time, and it was never meant to be a holiday destination for the ordinary soldier. When the tented camp at Squires Gate was established next to the racecourse to accommodate the large numbers of RAMC soldiers in the town, it was not the holiday camp that was imagined by those allotted a tent there before they arrived, while knowing only of Blackpool’s joyous reputation, and not of its geography. A short distance in from the sea, the sandy ground was unprotected from the strong south westerly winds blowing in, sometimes violently, from the Irish Sea. Even a mild summer breeze would place sand in the clothing or in the sandwiches, or in body parts which would aggravate to distraction. It was the soldiers’ curse, and he claimed his right to complain about it. And the rain too, could fall down in torrents and, on one occasion at midnight on 21st September 1918, the soldiers, by now fed up of being expected to present themselves meekly to the slaughter, had had enough, broke camp and marched the couple of miles into the town demanding to be billeted in respectable conditions. Their first stop was the Town Hall in Talbot Square and, when the only person they could find there was the nightwatchman who couldn’t help them, they turned their direction to the mayor’s house on Royal Ave, another twenty minute’s march away. Eventually, on Whitegate Drive, the marching men were intercepted by acting Chief Constable Derham in a motor ambulance, and they were accommodated at the police station for the night. The following day, on the inspection of the camp, it was deemed necessary to find billets in the town for them.

The Camp at Squires Gate was established as a tented camp in 1915 and by 1916 the R.A.M.C. had centralised numerous units at Blackpool, including many training battalions; the R.A.M.C. School of Instruction at Lytham St Anne’s (which had re-located from Crookham Camp, Aldershot); an officers’ training centre; and a school of hygiene on Watson Road.

Both the Blackpool, and the contiguous St Anne’s golf courses were affected by the construction of the campsite. A keen golf correspondent rued that because, ‘the South Shore club’s course at Squire’s Gate is covered with RAMC tents that ten of the eighteen holes are out of play entirely.’ The St Anne’s club had ‘with true neighbourliness’ offered their facilities to the Blackpool members. North Shore golf club was also affected, being sown to hay and reverted to grass after the harvest, at an estimated loss of £400 to the club’s funds.

At the time of the auction of the Camp April 14th 1919, where the address is given as the ‘Golf Course’ the entrance is described as being ‘between Military Hospital and Tram Shed’. The auction itself would commence at the Blackpool Golf Club House. There were wooden and corrugated buildings of the latrines, cook houses and drying rooms and 20,000 bricks which had provided the floors. Loose materials were fence posts, boards and iron sheets, doors, wooden staging, and railings.

This picture is of Orson Thompson (kneeling second left) with RAMC men. The writing on the reverse of the postcard states that it was taken in Blackpool. The tents would indicate that it was taken at the Squires Gate Camp next to the Convalescent Hospital.

The wound stripes (visible in the photo) were created July 6th 1916 for any soldier serving since 1914. They were worn vertically on the lower left sleeve. The number of stripes related the number of times wounded. They were made of braid or, later, brass (which could be cleaned more easily if soiled.) Upturned chevrons indicating ‘good conduct’ in service, were also worn on the sleeve.

Those who organised the construction of the camps, perhaps had an idealistic view, but those who lived in the tents perhaps viewed it from a slightly different angle

From the memories of Frank . Gearing

In 1917 Frank Gearing, RAMC, from Southwark, was called up on his eighteenth birthday, and he travelled to Blackpool from London. Expecting a Holiday camp, his contingent were first put into billets and then transferred to Squires Gate where they were put under canvas, where they had an ‘awful time’ there. The weather was bad and ‘we had sand in our blankets, sand in our hair, sand in our food; it was a terrible thing.’ On the daily drilling on the beach, the weather wouldn’t always be summer holiday stuff, but buttons went green and hats continually went missing in the strong winds.

Food was also something to grumble about. The soldiers felt they were underfed and had to be supplemented with food parcels from home. These parcels were stopped when word got round and then, instead of the army cooks, the men were fed at large restaurants in the town, where they were to report for breakfast, dinner and tea. After this things were organised and became much better.

‘Squire’s Gate was a camp just for the RAMC. All the RAMC had to go through Blackpool at that time. There was all categories there: some fit men of course, to be drafted into what they called the Field Ambulances. That was right in the front line; the same tough conditions as the infantryman so they had to be fit. There would be the A1 men – as they called them – the very fit, then there’d be the B1, the B2 and the B3. The B3 men well they were terrible, cripples absolutely.’

This may have improved by 1918 as the newspaper article explains…. A visitor to the Camp in August 1918 describes the provision of food, in a menu that was changed daily as, ‘as much porridge, liver and bacon, bread and tea for breakfast as one can eat; good beef or mutton, potatoes, French beans, bread and pudding for dinner; bread and jam or bread and sausage for tea’ – and a margarine that you couldn’t tell from butter. And there was no washing up, except to clean your own knife and fork, as it was all done for you.

Cleanliness and orderliness, tenets of RAMC training, prevented to a great degree the unwelcome little pests of flies and fleas which would want to become residents. A high level of sanitation was maintained, and baths and showers were available in wooden hutments, and expected to be routinely used. There was no noise, no riotous folk outside as the regulation and discipline of military life was all about sleep and being refreshed for the vigours of the following day.

When the lectures were sampled in the open air or in an open sided marquee, there was instruction on camp sanitation and the provision and estimation, and sterilisation of a water supply for the troops. Rubbish was burnt in incinerators as part of the sanitation and evident on the site, but what can be re-used, like some fats can be used to make explosives and some can be purified to be used as dripping. Washing up water and other waste water and latrines were all part of RAMC understanding of hygiene and the health and well-being of the soldiers.

As well as the land at Squires Gate for tented accommodation, there was also the encampment at Weeton just a few miles out of Blackpool. Weeton is some miles inland and the ground is firm enough here to be used as agricultural land.

 Weeton Camp Family pics. From the archive of FE Reed and G Reed 64th Field Ambulance Territorial 21st Division. FE Reed is standing 2nd from right as viewed.




Weeton Camp near Blackpool (Summer Quarters)






These following paintings are in the Imperial War Museum (and available to view online) with my own annotations from the diary of FE Reed RAMC the RAMC handbook published 1911 and contemporary newspaper articles.

Medical Inspection Tent

A soldier’s general practitioner’s surgery at Squires Gate.






C of E Religious Tent

The religion was predominately Christian. Chaplins varied as to personality. In the field, spirituality could be only about praying, or it could be about getting the hands dirty, giving respect and getting it back in return by putting the life on the line, sharing the dangers of the men, digging graves of fallen men on the battlefield in full view of enemy snipers. (‘Wounded’ by Emily Mayhew).
In May 1918, JW Moodie, the renowned ‘soldier Evangelist’, a Scotsman, with experience of many campaigns of the late 19th century and Boer wars, ‘paid a recent visit’ to the ‘great marquee’ at Squires Gate Camp. It was packed as his reputation had preceded him, and 525 War Roll Cards were signed.



 Incinerators were of various designs and were essential for camp hygiene, being used for the disposal of general rubbish and any potentially infectious material. Men needed to be aware of these needs and it was the officers’ responsibility to organise and supervise their construction and usage.





Officers’ Traning Camp

Officers’ training covered a wide variety of subjects from medical to military. From a simple understanding of hygiene, latrines and a source of fresh water, to the more complex arrangement of a Field Ambulance and its mobility along with the organisation of its personnel. For the more academic subject of medicine, anatomy and disease, to include tropical disease, there was a specialist School of Hygiene for officers on Watson Road, Blackpool.


A soldier didn’t need to be at the Front to suffer injury. Staff Sergeant Syd Smith DCM of the Liverpool Scottish was in charge of the bomb throwing school at Blackpool, and was injured when a grenade went off prematurely and severely wounded him. He had been an exhibition high diver in Bristol before the war. He spent some time at the Victoria Hospital Whitegate Drive, after a successful operation there.

The New Starr Inn, a short distance from the camp, was used a dressing station for the RAMC.

The RAMC had a large percentage of skilled personnel. When it was decided to devise a history of medicine, several artists and sculptors were drafted from the RAMC in Blackpool. It also provided an alternative for those who did not want to fight, and this included a number of conscientious objectors. By 1917, it seemed that every available man was needed for the infantry, and it was deemed necessary to transfer men from the RAMC to the infantry. An objection that was put before Parliament by the MP for Leeds, Edmund Harvey, claimed that, of 1,154 members of the RAMC in Blackpool, 92 had been wounded abroad and 75% had been sent home from the Front as either sick or wounded. Should these men ‘be transferred against their will from the branch of the service for which they enlisted and for which they had specialist training and qualifications?’ The answer was ‘Instructions have been issued to meet the point raised by my Hon. friend, so far as is compatible with the interests of the nation in the prosecution of the war, and in making the best use of its available resources of man power.’

It’s not sure whether this meant ‘sod off’ or, sympathetically, ‘we’ll see wat we can do.’

Hubert Baldwin had been rejected for military service on medical grounds in 1914, but in 1917 he was called up to the RAMC and arrived in Blackpool Squires Gate Camp at 6am, thus missing the first meal of the day. It took him a few weeks to get used to the food, but eventually could eat anything that was put his way. His wife and 3 children in Gloucester lived on an allowance of 28/- (£1.40) a week, and she took in boarders to supplement. His soldier’s wage was alternatively 4 and 5 shillings (20-25p) per week until he qualified as a laboratory attendant at 11/- (£0.55) per week. The winter gales at the camp, which was prone to waterlogging, sent him and the other soldiers into billets, crowded but dry and relatively more comfortable. Perhaps he was one of the men who had marched to the Town Hall in 1918.
Lead driver Arthur Chappell, Royal Field Artillery, was born in Blackpool in 1899 and lived on Regent Rd. At the recruiting office in the Town Hall in 1915 he gave his age as 19yrs. He enlisted for 7/6d (32p) and then 1/- (5p) a day from then on. There were many new recruits that day. The following day, May 21st, they reported to the barracks on York St., from where, the day after, they moved to Weeton camp.

The Royal Corps of Signallers. (King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment). Robert Marsh, son of Eleanor and brother to Rachel and Polly was killed Feb 1917. He had been in France two weeks and was the first of his battalion to die. He was killed by a shell fired randomly in between set battles. His mother and sisters had moved from Cheltenham Rd to live on Newcastle Avenue. His father from whom his mother was separated, was working on cable laying ships in the Mediterranean. He was an only son.
 James Gaskarth of the Royal Lancasters  missed the cooking of Mrs Marsh at Cheltenham Rd and in a letter from his final training camp at Gobowen wished also to be asked to be remembered to her two bubbly daughters. He was killed in France 0n the 30th April 1917. The King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment has a number of photographs of the regiment in Blackpool.

A photo from the King’s Own Royal Lancaster regiment museum site. These men looking like they are ready to dig the practice trenches and of which there were many in the town.

Of the thousands of men who trained in Blackpool, many would eventually come back injured, maimed, tired and broken in spirit. Those that could be mended would spend time at the Convalescent hospital on Squires Gate after their treatment at a specialist hospital had been concluded. From here they would return to the conflict once deemed fit enough.

Many buildings on the Fylde coast had been converted to hospitals. The auxiliary, Red Cross hospitals were the most favoured because they weren’t subject to the military discipline of the army hospitals, but a hospital, usually specialising in a specific wound, was allocated, not chosen.

Not everyone wanted to fight. Quite understandable considering the choice available, which was death, injury, mental destruction or be considered a pariah to society, but the collective mind-set was that it was an obligation, and to object was either criminally stupid – or brave in the minds of those who would genuinely want to object on the grounds of conscience. Eddie Mosscrop, the popular Burnley footballer originally objected on the grounds of conscience but eventually joined the RAMC and served in the Middle East where he was slightly injured.

For those who might be considered slackers, the police were the equivalent of the press gang. In September 1916 the police in Blackpool committed themselves to rounding up all the eligible males. In 1916 the Military Service Bill had been passed, introducing conscription for the first time, so there was no excuse for slacking. There were plenty of folk about as the holiday season still had a way to go before slowing down for the winter. Superintendent Derham, – who was kept busy during the war years, eventually being promoted to Acting Chief Constable, and in 1919 becoming the Chief Constable, thus emulating his father who had been a long serving Chief Constable until his death in 1912- and the lesser known PC Pearson, went on a recce along North Pier. Documents were asked for from those men who appeared eligible for service and some explanations given and, as they proceeded they attracted a large crowd, mostly of women who no doubt, in a conflict of national patriotism and the loyalty of their kind to the children they had borne and who they had to accept to be sent to the slaughter house of Europe or beyond, were no doubt sympathetic towards the youths who legged it away from the questioning authority of the police.  That day, four civilians, young men of eligible age and fitness were rounded up as well as three Australian deserters. From the pier they were put in a cab and taken to the police station.

In May 1919, Otto Lampe, William Houldsworth and Albert Pearson were charged as being absentees from the army since Nov 29th, and were handed over to an escort.
In January 1916 the body of an unidentified man in uniform was washed up onto the beach at Bispham.
In January 1916, news of the death of 2nd Lieutenant E A Mount in France. He was former pupil and English master of Blackpool secondary school.
In January 1916, Thomas Caddick, previously of good character,  was bound over for six months for stealing some items from two other soldiers in his billet on Central Drive.
In February 1916 Private Morgan 3/7th King’s Liverpool Regiment was knocked down by a tram near Central Pier and died from his injuries at Victoria Hospital.
 In March 1916 Corporal Samuel Pilkington originally of Burnley died of wounds in Alexandria. While living in Blackpool he worked in business with his brother and was a bell ringer at Holy Trinity Church S. Shore.
In March 1916, official news of the death of 2nd Lieutenant Lionel White in France was received. He had been a pupil at Blackpool secondary school and had graduated from Cambridge university.
 Death lies in wait in many places and during many different disaffections and conflicts between human communities. A Blackpool soldier, Private Oscar Bentley was shot and killed by a sniper during the 1916 rebellion in Dublin. He had previously been on active service in France where he been wounded once and gassed twice and from where he was invalided home. He left a wife and three young children who lived at 13 Brunswick Street.
In August 1916, Sergeant Cecil Blackhurst, Royal Sussex Regiment was killed at the Front. He had been educated at Blackpool Secondary School and began a teaching career at Baines Endowed in Marton before taking up a post in Battle. For the short time he was there he became very popular and was an active member of the Scout troop.
Bill (General Sir William) Jackson was born in 1917 in Blackpool where his father, Colonel Albert Jackson, was in charge of the RAMC depot.
In 1917 Sergeant ‘Berd’ Fox RFA received the Military Medal. He is one of eight sons of Mr J Fox, headmaster of Thames Rd council schools. Mr Fox also has two daughters whose husbands are also on active service. Mr Fox’s brother is private secretary to Blackpool MP Mr W Ashley. Six sons are serving and two are awaiting approval of application (originally declined on medical grounds).
In July 1917 Private William Riley didn’t make it home to Liverpool. He hung himself from the pole of the hospital tent at Squires Gate.
In December 1917 William Fenn (or Finn) private, RAMC, Billeted in Wellington Terrace, admitted to the murder of a fifteen year old girl some months earlier in Hampshire.
Private Arthur Crump RAMC died of flu at Blackpool 25/10/1918, and buried in his home town of Millom.
May 21 1917, Private Rose fell from the window of his billet in Banks Street and died.
In June 1917, 19yr old Private Martin of the RAMC was drowned at Blackpool while bathing at Squires Gate.
In October 1917 Jonathan Richards RAMC was found on the railway track at Squires Gate, with serious injuries. He had apparently been knocked down by a train and was in a serious condition in Victoria Hospital.
In October 1917, the body of Private Keegan who was drowned while bathing at Squire’s Gate was found at Noth Shore. He had been at Squires Gate camp with a wound in the neck received in France. He had been in the sea with about 200 others from the camp but had swum out further than the rest. Perhaps he just wanted to swim far away from the horror of what he would have to go back to when he had recovered from his injuries.
In May 1918 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Wilson, King’s Liverpool, was summoned to Buckingham Palace. He had been a prisoner in Germany for two years but had successfully escaped after several abortive attempts. He was the son of the Reverend Henry Wilson (of the Congregational Church), South Bank, Empress Drive, Bispham.
In June 1918, Charles Henry Crust aged 37, Private RAMC hanged himself at his billet at 24 Lytham Rd. He had been home on leave and it was noted that he was quieter than usual. He was separated from his wife and complained about pains in his head. He had served in France for 3 and a half years and after injury had joined the RAMC.
In June 1918 a badly decomposed body was washed upon the shore. It was a male dressed in a grey striped suit and the verdict was ‘Found dead in the sea – probably drowned.’ A recent Admiralty Order proclaimed that all bodies brought or washed ashore were due to enemy action and, instead of being bured by the Poor Law Authorities, they should be handed over to the naval authority for interment instead.
In July 1918 Private Thomas Stanley, RAMC stationed at Squires Gate, and 44 yrs old, died shortly after reporting sick. He had suffered from acute bronchitis and death was due to heart failure.
Francis Percy Toplis, the ‘monocled mutineer’ was stationed with the RAMC in Blackpool in 1918. He deserted shortly after the death of his father, and his final, murderous story began to unravel from there.
 Private John O’Shea, Kings Liverpool and billeted at Blackpool was charged with attempting to commit suicide. He was found at his billet with his belt wrapped around his neck. He had been in the army only six weeks but previously had been on a torpedoed ship which had shattered his nerves. He was discharged into the treatment of a medical officer.

This card was sent by Private F. Hirst 187572, A Coy, 5 tent, 3 Training Batt, 2 camp R.A.M.C., Squire Gate, Blackpool, to an address in Barnsley, Yorkshire. There were many different postcards sent home in large numbers by the soldiers who were either training, working or convalescing  in the town.
 Berthold Elliott Cockerline did not serve overseas. He was sent to the R.A.M.C. training centre at Blackpool on 12th April 1917 where he joined “Z” training Company. Initially, the men were placed in billets and trained on the sea-shore or promenade of Blackpool.
Private S J Routledge, London Sanitary Co RAMC, Squires Gate Camp won a part share of a guinea (£1.05) in the ‘Under the Cat and Kettle’ joke competition in the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph. It was probably a much cleaner joke than that of the Camp or the trenches.
Wilfrid Owen – who despite his linguistic skills in poetic expression, nevertheless had difficulty with the Blackpool ‘language’. In 1916, whilst commanding the Gunnery Range at Fleetwood (where the Golf Club now stands), he was billetted at the North Euston Hotel  as a Second Lieutenant in The Manchester Regiment. He didn’t like to sojourn into Blackpool. (He is not to be confused with Will Owen, the music hall comedian and female impersonator who entertained the troops in the trenches!). 


There were thousands of military and military medical personal in the town in those four years (and a little longer since the demob of those numbers took some time). The community that was created by their presence, was as human as any other forced community. The band played, the football and cricket teams were successful. There were those who were driven to suicide and those who couldn’t resist a fight or the temptation to steal. There were medal ceremonies on the beach to celebrate the bravery of those home from the front, and a graveyard for those who didn’t make it through their injuries. There was also all the entertainments and distractions of the most popular holiday resort in Britain to relax from the rigours and discipline of military life. There were those who were tempted to leave the wives they had left behind, those who brought their wives with them. And there were girls who took advantage of the men in town either for love or profit.

On 30th March 1916 there was an inspection of the troops given by General Pitcairn Campbell who had recently taken over the Western Command from General Mackinnon. In full kit 20,000 soldiers paraded on the Promenade, and from 8.30 till noon the sea front south from Rigby Rd was closed to traffic and trams. The march past of infantry, artillery, signallers, cycle corps and transport, each with their own band playing, began at Squires Gate, returning to the town via Station Rd and Lytham Rd took a while to complete.

In July 1917, General Pitcairn Campbell, accompanied by Major General Sutton issued gallantry medals to several RAMC men. 3,000 men were gathered in a square on the beach south of central pier. The sands, promenade and pier were crowded with people as each soldier received his medal. All were for bravery in rescuing their fellow men under extremely difficult conditions. Among the medals and the subjects of the cheering crowds, were Sergeant A E Willis who lived for four days in a shell hole with wounded officers and men until he could bring them out safely. Sergeant D Fairman volunteered to go out and find a wounded Private. Under heavy shell and machine gun fire, and working all through the night, he found 27 other men in a collapsed enemy machine gun dug out.

The medical officers and stretcher bearers had some idea of direction and terrain and sometimes had a sketchy map, but the trapped soldiers would have had little idea of where they were.  He brought them all in safely.

Private WC Branch worked tirelessly for four days and nights to bring in wounded as his allocated Division took Martinpuich and Flers.

Private J Bradley over two days in October 1916, continued to bring in the wounded. He was buried himself, but managed to extricate himself and continue to work.

Private W Sutclifffe accompanied two medical officers in an attempt to reach a ration party which had been cut off by enemy gun fire. Despite being under heavy machine gun and shell fire, the men were reached, and the thirteen of them were brought safely back. I remember being threatened with violence if I didn’t give up my spaghetti Bolognaise at one time while travelling alone. I hadn’t eaten for three days so no-one was going to take my food away from me. It was worth the risk of dying for. The rations would have been greatly received.

Private Crowcroft, despite being wounded himself, nevertheless continued to treat the wounded during an attack on the Somme.

In November 1917 the Promenade from the Tower to Manchester Square was packed with townsfolk and visitors to witness a medal award ceremony. The award took place at Manchester Square. General Pitcairn Campbell, accompanied Major General Bingham, officer commanding the billeted troops in Blackpool, and Lieutenant Colonel Barron of the King’s Lancashire Hospital were in attendance.

In February 1918, more than 20 medals were presented to RAMC personnel, and several to other regiments in Talbot Square. General Pitcairn Campbell stood aloft the tank-bank Julian, and each recipient mounted the tank to receive his medal. The cheers for the convalescents among the recipients invited a ‘heartier’ cheer from the assembled crowd in the packed square. After the ceremony in which the generous role of Blackpool was praised by the General as he stood on the tank to take the salute of the troops as they marched past.

Before this event, nearly 600 convalescent army officers marched to the Square to buy war bonds at the tank and nearly £5,000 was raised. On the Friday £127,648 was raised by Blackpool and District divided as follows; Blackpool £91,287; Fleetwood £14,453; Lytham £7,538; St Anne’s £7366; Thornton £3,918; and Poulton £988.

At a presentation on the beach Sep 18 1918 (Liverpool Echo) there were thirty two medals presented to RAMC non-commissioned officers and men by Major General Sutton. One of these medals, a DCM, was presented to Private W Hogarth, from Blackpool who had been discharged from King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. Sergeant Gettings of 28 St Walburga’s Rd received the DCM.

In a military pageant at the Kings Lancashire Hospital in June 1918, to which the public were invited, medals were dished out by General Sir William Pitcairn Campbell, KCB Commander-in-Chief of the Western Command. Two of the RAMC who were among the medals awarded were Private Edgell, the Military Medal and Sergeant Harper, the Meritorious Service Medal.

The Grand Theatre in the town was the crowded venue when members of the RAMC contributed to a variety programme, the proceedings being in aid of regimental funds. The depôt orchestra was present and all the items were contributed by the soldiers. March 30 1917, HR Rubinstein, who was to become a respected playwright on Broadway, produced his first play at the Palace. Wilfrid Owen came into Blackpool on a couple of occasions from his ‘billet’ in Fleetwood, (actually the North Euston Hotel) though it was a not a place that was to his liking, and he preferred Fleetwood. (Google books)

After their training the soldiers then went on to the real thing…. It got very serious because even the pubs in the town, by the order of the Commanding officer of the troops were on occasion closed from 5pm to 10.30am the following morning to prevent the ‘treating of soldiers’ who had to be on their way in a fully fit state. Drink, on these occasions might have been considered a legitimate escape from what the men knew, or understood from related stories, of the horrors of what they would find when they arrived at the fighting front. In April 1915, this was the dictate to the 4th Kings own Royal Lancaster the evening before they were due to leave. The Front, or the front line was where the biggest part of the fighting – and thus the slaughter- took place. The soldiers did the killing and were mutually killed in the process and the medics and their involvement in the physical healing or the padres with their version of spiritual healing, at the back of the front and often as a stretcher bearer, at the front of the front, preserved the lives of the dying and wounded, were in as much danger, and were equally killed, injured or psychologically destroyed in the process.

The cemeteries at Blackpool record the final resting place of a many a soldier who was not able to recover from his injuries at the hospitals or succumbed to illness.

Source and acknowledgements;-

My own family archive and history (myself and Mrs J Scott).

The British Library newspapers via findmypast