WW1 Camps and Hospitals Blackpool

Squires Gate and Weeton Camps

The Civilian Community

The Loos and Arras Trenches

The Americans Arrive


Squires Gate and Weeton Camps

The Military Camp at Squires Gate was established as a tented camp in 1915 and by 1916 the R.A.M.C. had centralised a number of units at Blackpool, and many of these were training battalions. There was also the R.A.M.C. School of Instruction at Lytham St Anne’s, an officers’ camp and training centre; and also a school of hygiene on Watson Road (the London school of Hygiene had relocated from the capital.)

Adjacent to the racecourse and the site of the military Convalescent Hospital, 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 visible wound stripes 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 had improved by 1918 as a 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 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.

The only place for a rifle in the camp, was in the construction of a makeshift splint. What could be re-used was re-used, and was. It was the military showing the civilian the way forward.

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. Inland by a few miles, the ground is firm enough here to be used as agricultural land.

Information on the camp at squires gate is included in a related article at http://cmronline.co.uk/the-military-in-blackpool-ww1/


 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)




A mobile unit annotated as Weeton (Alamy stock photo)


But a soldier didn’t need to be at the Front to suffer injury. He could be subject to bad luck or carelessness on the safety of home soil. 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 he RAMC just over the road.



The Civilian Community


In 1912 Blackpool had invited Princess Louise and husband the Duke of Argyll to formally open the new promenade which extended from South Shore to the Gynn at North Shore. The opening ceremony itself, performed after a procession along the three miles of finished marine parade, would take place at Princess Parade, close to the Town Hall, and somewhat ironically the future site of the cenotaph, war memorial to the fallen of Blackpool and those connected with the town. North Station, the point of their arrival, and which would bring in refugees and wounded soldiers in just a couple of years’ time, along with the town was bedecked with streamers and flowers, ‘en fete’ as the newspaper article described it. There were several bands playing, 2,500 schoolchildren, boy scouts, the lifeboat crew and mounted police to accompany the flamboyant affair. Over two days the royal couple were treated to accommodation, banquets and luncheons, teas and ‘conversazione’ at the Metropole Hotel, the Imperial Hydropathic Hotel, and the Empress Ballroom and Indian Lounge at the Winter Gardens.

This new promenade was to display the increasingly popular feature of Blackpool, the Illuminations, but that idea didn’t last long for, though the promenade would always feature the holiday maker, in just two years’ time it would feature the sound of marching columns of soldiers. In 1914, with Blackpool having spent £2,000 on the Illuminations, and not wanting to let its investors and expectant hoteliers down by not shining the lights, it was just a matter of waiting for the electric bulbs to arrive before the switch-on. They hadn’t arrived before the Defence of the Realm Act was passed shortly after the outbreak of War, restricting lights during the hours of darkness and Col J Aspinall Turner from across Morecambe bay, and in command of the troops at Barrow, quoting the Act, and informing the Chief Constable of Blackpool (Mr W J Pringle) that ‘no person shall light any fire or show any light on any hill or exposed position within fifty miles of Barrow’. The lights at Blackpool didn’t shine, but whether they may have done for a short while if the electric bulbs had arrived on time or not, or the Defence of the Realm Act hadn’t passed through Parliament so quickly, will never be known. The Illuminations didn’t shine again until 1925, the year after the war memorial had been opened on Princess Parade by General Topping, in another, much more solemn, ceremony, strewn with flowers and soaked with tears.

It might be said that the recruiting drive, as part of the Illuminations display at the Town Hall entrance, was reported to be shining on Sep 26, a week after the dictate from across the water at Barrow. It read in bright lights under the flags of the four allied nations of Belgium France and Russia, along with the Union Jack, ‘A Call to Arms. Your King and Country Need You.’

And the civilian still had to get up out of bed in the morning and get on with living, though a great part of the conversation and the atmosphere would be about the war and the experiences of living through the restrictions and the military influence that was so evident in the town. The war was evident all around. Life must go on and, when the soldiers received their wage packet, their earnings in Blackpool could be spent in many ways. Signing up also led to a wage rise, a much better rate of pay as a soldier than much of the work undertaken before. As well as being a patriotic statement, the lure of some very real money also had its influence.

There was a copious availability of entertainment in the town, of cinemas and theatres and public houses and sport. The RAMC had their own football team, and their own band which entertained at various venues including the Grand Theatre, and celebrated the arrival of the Americans in 1917.

In 1915 George Gorman met his future wife in the town, even though he was engaged to someone else back home. Sex and love were in the air as they are in any human community. George Reed, a surgeon in the RAMC at the battle of Loos, was given leave to return from Rouen to Blackpool Feb 16, in order to marry his landlady’s daughter Rachel Marsh, one of many relationships established by the billeted troops at the time.
In 1924 George Little of 15 York St was divorced from his wife in who, while he was away on active service, had run off to London with an RAMC officer. He had hoped to meet up with her when he arrived back home in 1919, but could not find her at her parents’ house at 40 Peter St. Her parents claimed that they didn’t know where she was.

The volunteer women visitors at the hospitals would comfort the soldiers when relatives couldn’t get, or when they had no-one to visit them. They would arrange entertainments and charity drives. They would write letters, for those with no use of their hands, or for those that were illiterate. Their comforts were welcomed by the soldiers and, in turn, the females admired the men, especially if they could make light of their wounds. It was a sexual chemistry that could on many occasions turn naturally to the physical. The women out of natural desire or need could use or succumb, by choice or helpless desire, to the natural, sexual incontinence of the male, for both love and profit.

And it was the women who it was convenient to accuse of ‘khaki fever’, that helpless drive towards sexual union, probably because it was alright for men to be naughty, but not women. It probably wasn’t because ’khaki fever’ was easier to say than ‘very long cotton underwear fever’ if it could have applied to men. The attitude to sexuality is always the mind-set of the era. Its construction is always to protect the community from slipping into the chaos produced by a freedom for all, however irrational it may seem. The War provided an opportunity for a popular change in attitude to sexual roles and the freedom of sexual expression, (previously denied to women but allowed for men). Listening to the whistle of sexual freedom was the call to go over the top and face the bullets and the shrapnel of physical or emotional relationship, if life was to be short. Do it while you can and face the consequences.

In February 1915 the Liverpool Daily Post records the attitude to women and sexuality from a clergyman point of view (all their fault!)

(Girls should look away now….)

Worse Than The Germans

Reckless Girls And their Khaki Companions

The ‘Liverpool Diocesan Gazette’ for the current month has this comment under the Bishop’s notes – ‘It behoves every clergyman and Bible class and Sunday school teacher, as well as every parent and employer to whom is entrusted the care of the girlhood and young womanhood of England, to impress upon them the duty of self-restraint, and modesty, and purity. It is as a rule with no evil intent, but from sheer curiosity and love of adventure and romance, that so many girls are attracted by the sight of a camp or of a uniform, and before they know it they find their ‘feet set in slippery places.’ The love of a pure and high minded woman is an unspeakable help and safeguard to a good soldier and is not to be discouraged. But the bold, immodest and reckless girl, as well as the heedless, and the stupid, bring shame upon themselves, ruin upon our brave soldiers, and are worse enemies to their country than the Germans.

Let every clergyman and every layman do their best to help our men by providing them with places of innocent recreation and retreat for their long hours of leisure, where they can read, smoke, see the newspapers, play games and debate, and obtain good food and non-alcoholic drinks at a moderate figure. In the last resource, it is the moral qualities of an army and of a nation that will secure victory; and the moral and religious condition in which our soldiers go out to fight for our safety and for our liberty depends in no slight degree upon the way in which they are treated by the people amongst whom they are billeted or encamped.’


In August 1917 Albert Wilby was summoned to the court in Blackpool for allowing his horses to stray from his field from where they had escaped from an open gate and onto the road. Albert blamed the ‘courters’ (courting couples) who consistently used his field. When advised he should put a lock on the gate if it was continually left open by a constant stream of these couples his defence was, ‘They will break locks off and iron bars as well, these soldiers and the girls. It is a terrible courting field; it’s full of ‘em.’ It caused laughter in the court, but he was nevertheless fined 6s (30p).
In September 1917, Mary Dransfield was fined £10 and Elizabeth Mooney bound over for twelve months for keeping a disorderly house at 64 Manor Rd.
At 126 Central Drive, Annie Solomon was charged with keeping a disorderly house. Nellie Whelan and Louisa Tarr were charged with aiding and abetting. After a stake-out, the police entered the house with a warrant. It was claimed the soldiers in the house had just been billeted there that day.  A £5 fine was issued to Anne Solomon and the other two bound over for twelve months.
In July 1918, Millie Stanley and Dolly Gaskell were each fined 40 shillings (£2) for soliciting. The prosecutors regretted that there were ‘far too many of that class of women in Blackpool.’ Alderman Mather, the chairman, assured the police that they would be served with a military order, banishing them from the town.
In July 1918 Selina Tattersall and Lilian Lucy Lees of 245 Central drive were fined £5 and £2 respectively for keeping a disorderly house.

Women, with greater status, and now as munitionettes and other working roles with greater wages who made up the visitors, had suddenly been able to enjoy a greater freedom, and their consort with the injured soldiers, attracted accusations of sexual promiscuity of epidemic proportions of this contemporary styled ‘khaki fever’, even to the concern of the spread of venereal disease. Across the spectrum, 400,000 cases of venereal disease were treated by the RAMC during the period of the War, as opposed to, as an example, 75,000 cases of trench foot.


If the War had provided a different angle from which sexuality could be expressed, it had not dictated it. The town and its inhabitants were subject to the defined rules of the civil laws and bye-laws of the local and national community and new ones covered the Defence of the Realm Act passed in August 1914. The civil laws had to be
maintained and respected. Scrimping and saving was advised and expected of the civilian population. As well as restrictions on food and water and paper wastage, which brought about a recycling drive which took nearly a hundred years before the practice was widely reprised after the end of the War.

These adverts from the the local and national presses tell the story.




… and a little more of a lighthearted viewpoint…. Food was becoming scarce and was increasing in value as a commodity. If you grew your own you could, as the cartoon implies, supply the larger suppliers! A wedding present of a pile of vegetables was perhaps not romantic but nevertheless high in value.


The Lights Order was included in the Defence of the Realm Act. It restricted the displaying of lights during the hours of darkness. Invasion from the sea has always been a concern and, more recently the land was becoming more vulnerable from attack from the air.

In 1916, the Lights Order was breached in Tyldesley Rd, Birley St, Clifton St., St Anthony’s Place, Albert Rd, Warbeck Rd, and by John Harrison the caretaker of the Adelaide Street Wesleyan Chapel. I each case the fine was 20 shillings (£1).

This Lights order is from Feb 1917. As daylight is increasing away from the winter solstice, the lighting times are adjusted accordingly. British Summer  (daylight saving) time had been introduced by Act of Parliament in 1916. In effect, though a day by definition, could not be extended beyond 24hrs, the day was made longer by creating more daylight at the end of the day.

In August 1918, with the Lights Order still in force and the police – or maybe a passing member of the public – vigilantly patrolling the streets and walkways of the town, those careless wrong doers were occasionally found out.  On this occasion John Murphy and Charles Henry Foulkes were fined 30 shillings (£1.50) each. They were staying at the Metropole Hotel (the only hotel in the town on the sea side of the tram tracks) and left the window open with the light shining out and over the sea. Someone, police or vigilant passer-by, had reported the incident. In the same court, Amy Milcrest of Bispham was fined 20 shillings for a similar offence.

They could perhaps consider themselves lucky. In Scotland in April 1916 fines of up to £15 were imposed for similar offences, and these were in the inland towns of Jedburgh and Kelso. No direct attacks from the sea here, but the justification given was the threat of Zeppelin attack.

May 1917 Company Housekeepers Margaret Williamson and Margaret Standish, 44 Warbreck Hill Rd were fined respectively 40s (£2) and £5 for ‘failing to obtain a signed statement from persons stopping at the house’.
In July 1918, the police were cracking down on fortune telling which had been a continuing nuisance in the town. For court purposes, 16 cases had been identified, twelve on the sands, two at an address in Albert Rd and two in the Big Wheel grounds  (on the corner of Albert Rd in the town, and long since demolished). All were female and some were of old established gypsy stock and had lived in tents for all of their lives, notably Kitty Boswell (grandaughter of Sarah) and Elizabeth Smith. There was some self-consciousness in the court as to whether it was actually immoral to offer ‘rubbishy stories’ in return for money and since the offenders were mostly gypsies who added an innocent colour to the town, ‘discretion’ was advised in dealing with cases which could otherwise appear as a witch hunt. Fines were nevertheless imposed, since their actions were technically illegal.
In August 1918 Frederick Gibbs had the misfortune to speed at a column of mounted RAMC men in his post van as took the mail at 10 to 15 mph to the Post Office from the Squires Gate camp. That was his explanation for doing the 35-40 mph alleged by the prosecution who claimed that he had missed the post train at North Station, and was thus trying to catch it  at Preston. He was fined a ‘lenient’ 20s (£1).
At the Squires gate camp, two officers, a typist and a printing firm were fined more for wasting paper than for the betting slips they were producing. John Barnes (alias Jack Thompson) was summoned under the Registration of Business Names Act (1916) and for making sporting bets along with Lawrence Tole which was contrary to Paper Restriction Consolidation Order 1917. Both officers were fined £10 each, the typist,Gladys Christina Menzies ordered to pay costs and the printing firm, Messrs King and Co, was also fined an undisclosed amount. Nothing particularly criminal. The soldiers were of good character with exemplary military service. Just  a bit naughty.
In August 1918. ‘the lead set by the Blackpool police in respect of the printing of football betting coupons, has been followed in other places, and the prosecutions are resulting in convictions, several of them of a salutary character’.
In February of 1919 while there were still large numbers of soldiers awaiting demobilisation or transfer to other hospitals, James Maxwell of Fleetwood stole a postal order from the Squires Gate Convalescent Camp where he was acting as postman in December 1918. The Camp, rather than the Hospital, was by Feb 1919 run by the ministry of pensions and not the Military.
At Fleetwood, again in February 1919, John Burke had his case dismissed against stealing a postal order value of 4s 11d (almost 25p) from the Squires Gate Camp where he was working as an assistant postman, when the signature on the order was not that of the accused.
In May 1918, Edith Higgins, a soldiers wife was charged with negelcting her children. With an income of £3.8s (£3.40) a week she had been under supervision since March. Her children had been continually neglected since then, and had to  be provided for. She asked to be given another chance, but was sent to prison for a month.
In May 1919, Ernest Sykes, a pianist and formerly of the Tank Corps shot himself and the woman he was with. It was convenient to go to the sandhills, out of the way and in the dark, not only for a bit of extra marital, but also if you wanted to commit a murder. They had been lovers for 18 months and his wife had found out. It was agreed that Ernest Sykes was not insane and the verdict was murder. The evidence given by his wife at the inquest was that he had been wounded and gassed and has also been court martialled. Before the War they had had a happy relationship.
In October 1919, Private Bold Wolstenholme was charged with stealing three wrist watches, £3.10s (£3.50) in silver and 240 1.1/2d stamps (a bit more than 1p) in breaking and entering the Post Offfice at Squires Gate. He was a military policeman. He had entered through the skylight.
In December 1919 Frederick Holt of Fairhaven, Lytham, an officer originally in the Territorials, and with service in France, stabbed Kathleen Breaks to death on the beach at St Annes.
Cornelies Nieuwerf, had been living in England for 36 years but classed as an alien and charged with living in a prohibited area (St Annes) and with failing to register as required by the Register of Aliens (Restriction) Order, 1914.
May 1917 Frederick Collinson living at a lodging house 124 Buchanan Street, was charged, under the Defence of the Realm Act with resisting arrest, giving a false name and address, and assaulting a police officer when stopped in the street. He had resented the reference to his ‘foreign appearance’ and being considered an alien for that reason.
In January 1915, James Hargreaves, a retired solicitor, living at 52 Osborne Rd, and identified as ‘insane,’ was sent to a criminal asylum for the murder of 20 yr old Frank Hinchcliffe, a solicitor’s clerk  employed by the firm, Mr C W Callis of Church St. He had called at his house to serve a writ.  He lived in Chapel St where his parents were grocers and provisions dealers. James Hargreaves suffered from a religious mania and had been behaving oddly for some time.
In January 1916 a man named Livesey committed suicide in a shed on his allotment on the Gynn estate, near uncle Tom’s Cabin, where he kept sheep and hens. He was 40 yrs old and, since conscription had not yet been introduced, was too old for call-up to the army. The Gynn estate was in Bispham, and outside the Blackpool boundary, so the Fleetwood police were called to deal with it. He left a wife and a child.
In March 1918, 49 yr old Ellen Foulkes was found drowned in a pond near her home at 47 Hawthorne Rd Blackpool. She had complained of pains in her head for some time.

And despair could turn to ecstasy in a single moment as the parents of Corporal Reginald Rhodes, living at Durham Rd in the town had gone into mourning on receipt of news of his death but, three weeks later received contrary news that he had been taken prisoner and was alive, and presumably reasonably well, in a prison camp behind the lines. Tears of joy.

There were requests in the personal columns of the newspapers for news of the whereabouts of many a missing soldier by desperate parents, friends families, clinging on to the hope of a positive outcome.


Soldiers came to Blackpool and romance was in the air. Some arrived with their wives and families and sometimes they were single and married local girls. In this picture below of (37) Cheltenham Rd Blackpool, the soldier standing to the right of the picture married the landlady’s daughter (seated). The cooking of Mrs Marsh (standing rear), who, with her daughter Rachel, already had had some experience of the Boer War, was greatly admired by the billeted soldiers.



Visitors arriving in Blackpool Central Station 1917. Staggered holidays among the munitions workers had been arranged to limit the disruption to production. In August 1916, the Yorkshire Post, reporting from an area where many of the holidaymakers issued, noted the absence of men on the platforms leaving for Blackpool, stating that the higher wages earned by the men had sent the women and children away on holiday. Nearly a hundred trains had arrived in Blackpool for the bank holiday weekend.


But not everyone arrived by train. Many motored, but this means of travel was no yet ready to rival the railways. Nevertheless the arrivals had to be kept in check, and at the three main entry points into Blackpool, South Shore Hoo Hill and Marton, there were military road blocks to check on both driving and petrol licenses. Travelling military personnel were also questioned as to their reason for being on leave.

It’s well documented that, when the men went to war, the women took over much of the work that was traditionally male, a fact that was influential in their eventual enfranchisement. While female nurses were driving and repairing the vehicles in France, those at home were working as munitionettes and in public transport.

By August 1917 it was claimed in the Labour Gazette that over a quarter of a million men had been replaced in their occupations by women, and these had money to spend, many for the first time, too.


Mary (Polly) Marsh and her sister Rachel among a group of munitionettes at Parkinson’s on Devonshire Rd (Layton) Blackpool.







 Female tram conductresses –
There were a lot of people in Blackpool and a lot of tram rides undertaken. Strange now to believe that it was a surprise then to expect women to do that work.
 Munitionette Mary (Polly) Marsh outside her home at 37 Cheltenham Rd Blackpool. The cap badges of the billeted soldiers appear to be the Kings Own Royal Lancaster and possibly also the South Lancashire. These soldiers have seen action, as the one on the extreme right of the photograph (Kings Own) has the upturned chevron of good conduct and service on his left sleeve.



The Intercession services.

By 1918, the War was inits fourth year. As hard as the soldier could fight, and as hard as the civilian could work, there was no hope that the slaughter would end in the near future, if at all. Could the christian god intercede? If in reality it was only a dream, that idea did give a palliative hope to many.

In January 1918, the King’s Proclamation was issued, and set the first Sunday of the month as a national Day of Prayer and Intercession, of which Blackpool, filling all the churches, the grand theatre, and the Palace Picture house, eagerly took its part.

Woven in between the lines of the speeches of the king and the church people is intricately patterned, a morose war weariness, of guilt at the inexplicable slaughter, and the inevitability of its continuation. It was a rallying cry to do what had to be done against all the principles to which the main religion of Christianity subscribed. There was a God in there somewhere, looking after his flock … but doing what, precisely, to prevent the slaughter of all combatants?

And there were many who had been trying for the duration of the War, sprinkling a little sparkling, spiritual dust across the barren landscape of the hopelessness.

Anti-war protests.

The War itself had its critics right from the first bullet to be fired. There were those that objected but fought, those that objected and didn’t fight and those that objected but found, or were found, other useful non-combatant roles. There were padres, some whose religious convictions condemned the war as evil but nevertheless inevitable and their spiritual advice was, no doubt, an unconvincing idea of God to most of the soldiers apart from the spiritually numb or desperate. There were those padres who mucked in with the men, sharing their troubles and pain and danger and discomforts, and injuries and death. These religious men were more accessible with their spiritual advice and comforts. The YMCA huts, so valuable with practical assistance whether in the front line and suffering injury and death as a result, or back home in the safety of the homeland, were bravely and compassionately placed in as many places as thought needed.

Blackpool, its beach and its streets were the places where demonstrations and marches were conducted in the cause of peace, or at least, anti-war.

In August 1917, the ‘Labour Leader’, in its Women’s Peace Crusade column, reports a series of meetings held in Blackpool:-

‘On Blackpool sands, Mrs Louis Anderson Fenn, who is devoted to our work, speaking on Sunday for the Civil Liberties Society, and on Monday evening for the I.L.P. [Independent Labour Party], held a huge crowd for over two hours, and a Blackpool comrade, calling in at our office, described it as one of the most wonderful meetings of his life. “The people are eager for the message that women like Mrs Fenn bring them,” he said. “The crowd was made up of well-paid workers and soldiers, yet she carried them all with her. The Women’s Peace Crusade is just what is wanted.” He carried off a big parcel of our leaflets for distribution.’

(Mr Louis Anderson Fenn was a conscientious objector and imprisoned in Dartmoor for two years.)

Six soldiers at Blackpool wrote saying they would like to see ‘the establishment of a society on lines similar to those of the Council of Workmen and Soldiers in Russia, for we are quite convinced that the great majority of men in the army are in sympathy with Russian aims. There were strikes (turning to riots in Glasgow and London) among the civilian working population throughout the country, and mutinies within the army in the encampments in France as disaffection over the War, and the perception of the common people being put upon by the privileged minority as a ruling class, overflowed into direct action.

However, a bloodless revolution took place in Blackpool June 1919 when an estimate of 100,000 Lancashire and Cheshire miners congregated for their annual conference, trains setting off as early as 1am from Wigan. With the Russian revolution still in the mindset, (and a British army contingent on the side of the tsarists, and George Roupell, the Irishman and VC recipient, educated at Rossall school, captured in the fighting there), the talk was belligerent, as the evolving ‘working class’ with only 52 labour representatives in Parliament, had a fight on their hands to change mining legislation to benefit the workers and Country alike. If their report, stated Frank Hodges secretary to the Miners Federation, submitted to the Government was successful, they would have achieved, by talk and discussion, a ‘bloodless revolution’.

In August 1917, questions were asked in Parliament via the Blackpool Trades and Labour Council about the condition of a Mr Pickles, a conscientious objector who, among other prisoners, in Shrewsbury prison and many others, was suffering due to a poor provision of food. The reply was that the Home Secretary had not received any complaints and that he had been assured by the Food Controller that the level of food quotas to the prisons was adequate.







Shortly after the outbreak of War there were streams of Belgian refugees, often homeless, seeking refuge in Britain and many towns rallied to the cause. 250,000 in fact arrived during the period of the war. It was a massive project to accommodate them all and Blackpool played its part along with the rest of the four nations. In September 1914 Blackpool with the better advantage of towns of a similar size or larger, with  greater availability of accommodation, and the main proposer of help was Mr Turral, headmaster of the secondary School at Raikes Parade. Boarding house keepers and company house keepers were appealed to, and gave their assurances. Those wives and children of the Belgian soldiers who have gone to the front were to receive accommodation on the easiest of terms. Between 4 and 5 thousand pounds had been collected in the town for the Prince of Wales fund for that purpose.


Belgian children awaiting removal to Calais  (and hence to refuge across the Channel and, even  possibly, some of these – to Blackpool.)



In the beginning, in October 1914 Blackpool played its part in collecting clothing and useful items for the Belgian refugees in London, a car touring the town for the purpose.

In October 1914 eleven Belgian refugees arrived in Blackpool, and in January 1915, the Mayor of Blackpool was asked if the town could help to further relieve the situation of the 30,000 Belgian refugees in London. In Feb 1915 a delegation from the town headed by the mayor, went down to London to discuss the matter of the refugees with Viscount Gladstone and Lord Lytton. Talks with the company housekeepers achieved an acceptable rate for their lodgings and the first train load of a projected 2,000 refugees was expected to arrive in Blackpool on February 4th 1915 for the Fylde Coast. 400 of these found permanent lodgings in Blackpool for the duration. They left their mark in various ways. The pulpit at the Alexandra Rd church had been carved by a Belgian refugee, and Flemish graves of the time are to be found in Layton cemetery. Blackpool was the first town in the United Kingdom to have accepted refugees under the central committee’s new scheme. A mayoral party would meet each group off the train at North Station.

Of course,  there was always a matter of language. Could a Belgian understand the English of the Lancashire accent? There are in fact two official languages in Belgium, French and Flemish. French being a diplomatic language of some age and popularity is more accessible than the less common Flemish. A Fylde farmer however, claimed that it had been easy to converse, albeit in a stunted way, with a Flemish speaking Belgian in Blackpool, thus adding substance to the lightearted claims that the Flemish speaking Belgian could understand the English in the Lancashire dialect better than the language of their French speaking neighbours.


Not everyone could survive the disruption of a lifetime and 86 yr old Mrs Eujoyanna Huggins, died of fatigue in her lodgings at 26, Bairstow Street, just a few days after arriving. A journey that lasted three weeks, would have included days of waiting in Belgium, and then probably in London before a final destination to a more permanent refuge in Blackpool.

In November 1915, Clara Damen, a rather feisty Belgian refugee was fined on two counts, 10s (50p) for assaulting Tom Richardson, the landlord of her former billet who, after an altercation, took off her shoe and attacked him. She was also find 20s (£1) for falsely declaring that the man she was living with was her husband, her defence being that she would not have been able to leave Belgium without a man to accompany her and her daughter.

Two more were in trouble at the same time when they had returned illegally back to Blackpool after being sent to Oldham to work. They had returned because their work at Oldham was too hard, thy claimed, and they had come back for some fresh air.

By March 1915 it was claimed there were nearly 3,000 Belgian refugees in Blackpool (‘in actual fact there were far fewer’) and 500 children were ‘rapidly learning the English language’ and mix with the English children on the sands.

In Feb 1916 Mr S Taylor reported that there were 1,285 Belgian refugees in the town and £413 12s 10d (£413.64) had been spent on their billeting during the year. The billeting scheme had begun Feb 3rd 1915. Blackpool, with its penchant for firsts and uniqueness could claim that the distinctive, Belgian, communal school was the only one of its kind under one committee in the country, and it was attended by 300 scholars.

In June 1916, a report up to the end of May states that the number of Belgian refugees in the town was 1,342 with no fewer than 675 under the age of 16. During the month, £2,347 was paid to Blackpool householders for billeting, the total to date being close on £60,000.

In July 1916 the monthly meeting of the refugees Committee reported that recent arrivals from the (Belgian) Congo suffering from malaria, were convalescing. There were also 215 children in Blackpool schools with attendance figures of 204. The number of Belgian refugees was now 1,375.

Mr Turral, headmaster of the Blackpool Secondary School (later named the grammar school in the 1930’s), received awards from both the Belgian and the French Governments. His fluency in French was a factor of his involvement with the Belgian refugees (there were Flemish Belgians, as indicated on the Layton cemetery gravestones, but most if not all would speak French). In 1920, Mr Turral received the ‘Ordre de la Couronne avec palmes en or’ from the king of Belgium. (Order of the Crown with golden palms).

In November 1916, John van Roder, a Belgian refugee, was sentenced to a month’s imprisonment for entering a prohibited area.

The Belgian themselves enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy. In parts of the country, they had their own townships and even money. In Blackpool they had their own school and in April 1915, not long after the large influx of personnel, they had met to discuss the terms of employment they would accept in the town.

In 1919 as the troops were preparing to leave the town, so were the Belgian refugees, and it was time for the Belgian authorities to appreciate all those who had looked after the interests of the refugees while in their care. The King of the Belgians conferred on Alderman Cartledge, president of the Belgian refugees Committee, and mayor of the town on the arrival of the first refugees, the Order of the Crown of Belgium, the highest civilian honour. It was in honour of his invaluable and untiring services to the refugees. Other decorations included Chevaliers to A J Howarth, Chairman of the Committee and F Howard, Secretary.

In August 1920 Mrs Frieda Huddlestone received the award as ‘Member of the Civil Division’ for services in connection with war refugees in Blackpool.

In February 1921 Chief Constable Derham and Detective Sergeant Leeson (the aliens officer) were the first officials in Blackpool to be honoured by the Belgian authorities ‘in recognition of the helpful service you have rendered to the Belgian cause during the War’ and, the Belgian ambassador’s letter in London continued, ‘I should like to add my personal thanks in the name of all my compatriots to whom you have given such devoted service.’ Each received the Medaille du Roi Albert, granted by the king.

The Blackpool town football team (in a necessarily curtailed and regional only football league) played some of the 1914/15 season in red, black and yellow hoops in support of the Belgians, before resorting to an all-white strip after the first game of the following season.



Sports, as human rivalry without the killing, continued and were positively encouraged at the Convalescent home and among the military not only in the billiard room, but also the more physical sports on the football and cricket pitches. With the increased population of the town, the local football team could rely on supplementary players from the RAMC, just as the RAMC could rely on the occasional professional player from the town to supplement its own team, though sometimes at 48 years of age, (as in the case of the pre-war footballer Edgar Chadwick – who had gone on to play for Everton), they would probably be past their heyday. There were RAMC men who played and went on to sign professional contracts, and men who never came back to play or, for those who came back, were too severely injured to play again.

The Blackpool town football team had to be made up from the loan market (in today’s terminology). The core of the team had to be filled up with soldiers stationed in the town and the occasional league players as guests to make up the numbers. The Royal Army Medical Corps could always be relied upon to provide players. From the RAMC came Albert Moorcroft and Edmund Berry, who eventually became professionals at the club, as did Thomas Hunter, later on.  As well as Edgar Chadwick who had made a couple of appearances, George Beal, a Burnley player, played several games. Fred Pagnam who had played for the club before the war, appeared in one Subsidiary Competition match. (Wikipedia).

In the middle of the 1917/18 season Blackpool still maintained a patched up team, taking on anyone available who was a footballer and was working or stationed in the town. There was not the £2000 available to reconstruct the west stand to take it as far as the railway line with a passage running beneath it. Most of the West stand, and everything within it including records, photographs and memorabilia of the club had been burnt in a fire on Jan 13th 1918, but, though the ground was in a sorry state, it was expected to be ready for Saturday’s match on the 18th. Even if the money had been available, the timber for its construction was not easily available due to the War.

Receipts were down and an away match with Burnley in early January brought in only £17 9s 1d (about £17.46).

In April 1918 one of the games was played in France behind the lines, between the Royal Lancashire Fusiliers and the Guernsey Light Infantry. Private J Kidd, the ex Blackpool goalkeeper had a fine game in net, and which the Royals won 7-1. But it wasn’t ‘off to the pub’ after the match, but into the trenches to meet the German offensive, and those that survived, lived to play again. (In this instance, there were no reported casualties among these footballers). At the same time, Eddie Mosscrop, the Burnley footballer, formerly stationed in Blackpool and at present in Salonika with the RAMC, had fractured a finger, but was otherwise ok.

Levy Thorpe the Burnley player and in Squires Gate Military Hospital in October 1918, waiting for his leg to repair and expecting to be put on electrical massage very soon, watched a match at Blackpool and rued the fact that he wasn’t able to play yet.

In 1918, in a Lancashire Combination match (the Blackpool town team had drawn 2-2 with Man Utd on the same day) the RAMC team beat Everton reserves 4-2 in a surprise result since Everton had resources in depth. Noble and White scored a brace each and the goalie, Astridge, had an excellent game.

In October 1918, the RAMC team, which included several Blackpool league players was easily beaten by Burnley in an uninteresting match at South Shore.

In November of 1918 Blackpool RAMC easily won a Lancashire Junior cup game against Caton at South Shore. Stimson and Myers scored in the first half, and with the game always in the soldiers’ favour, Jones added another two in the second half.

 The Good Friday match between Blackpool and Burnley in March 1918 took place on a bright but nippy day. Sadly, due to a lack of space on the train, some of the Burnley players couldn’t get to the ground at Blackpool and, as a consequence, the team was short of players and had to be supplied by a couple of Blackpool players, and the goalie was supplied by a volunteer soldier. More than that, the strip didn’t arrive either and boots and strip were generously donated by the RAMC team. Blackpool won 1-0.

The RAMC team itself, enjoyed quite an amount of success. They played in the auxiliary section of the Lancashire Combination. There were some subsidiary matches played but, in 1918 they almost won the Lancashire Combination Cup, losing only in the replay of the final to Runcorn at Everton.

When Blackpool played Burnley in a non-league game, the teams were different to the teams that offered a traditional rivalry before the war. Edwin (Eddie) Mosscrop, (originally a conscientious objector who opted for the RAMC) who was stationed at Blackpool was actually a Burnley player (he had lifted the 1914 FA Cup, the last to  be played at Crystal Palace) but it didn’t matter to a holiday crowd of 5,000, made up mostly of soldiers, on the first fine day after a snowy week that a Burnley player was on the Blackpool side. Burnley won 3-2 despite having a man sent off in a rather physical match.

While future and innovative Blackpool Football Club manager Major Frank Buckley was fighting in France as much as he fought on the pitch, the current secretary, Tom Barcroft in April 1917 was in court for ordering posters advertising the football, which were deemed oversize in respect of paper saving. Rev Hibbert of the Victoria Street Congregational Church was also in trouble for a similar offence, and the printers, Messrs Hargreaves and Wilson for printing them. On a technicality, they all had got away with paying only costs.

 In the Fylde football league of February 1919, The Preston Comrades of the Great War played a match against Whitegate Park of Blackpool. Football was beginning to pick up again as the world attempted to return to normality in those places where it was allowed to.

In August 1919, as the start of the season approached, there was a shuffle in the club personnel as players returned from the forces. It was appreciated that the war had favoured the Blackpool team’s fortunes due to the availability of stationed servicemen to fill the team, and the larger than average crowds of soldiers that would regularly fill the stadium. Any dream of promotion that the football club could have from now on, would have to be supported by the gate receipts from holidaymakers.

It was feared that the Convalescent Hospital, recently closed, would become a prisoner of war camp, and ‘nobody wants to see a Hun at a football match – he would not understand it or the spirit in which the game is played’. Those who subscribed to that view, and still living in 1966, would have enjoyed the result of that game.



An International charity match played between England and Scotland RAMC, at Bloomfield Rd Jan 2 1918 and the result was 1-1.



With the War drawing to a close and then ending in November 1918, the Lancashire Combination returned with Liverpool and Manchester sections being played, though not completed by all clubs, and in the 1919 season the town team didn’t have the same level of success.

In January 1918, ‘A S Owen, the old Blackpool and Leicester Fosse amateur forward, and former secretary of the Players’ Union, is now convalescing as a wounded lieutenant  – and watching football.’

William Cox played for Bury, Dundee, Heart of Midlothian, Leicester Fosse, Plymouth Argyle, Preston North End. Killed 6/11/15. Kings Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). Buried Blackpool Layton cemetery. Age 35. Service number 14035 (rank; Private). Husband of Lena Cox, 2 Bath St. S Shore Blackpool. Died of wounds received at Gallipoli. (cwcg).

George Elmore played for Blackpool, Glossop, Partick Thistle, St Mirren. West Bromwich Albion. Died 1/7/16. Royal Scots. Thiepval Memorial.

William Fiske played for Blackpool, Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, killed 27/5/18. Border Regiment. Soissons Memorial.

Benjamin Green played for Barnsley, Blackpool, Burnley, Preston North End, Small Heath. Killed 26/4/17. Royal Fusiliers. Arras Memorial.

In August 1917 Joseph Bainbridge a Blackpool football club player was injured in the arm by a shell in France. He had been in the army about five months having joined the Royal Garrison Artillery.

 In March 1918 Mitchell, the Blackpool soldier-keeper still wore spectacles during a game and is perhaps ‘the only modern example in good class football,’ and had recently had a good game against Everton.


In May 1918 Leyland cricket team played a team of officers from the King’s Military Hospital at Blackpool. Leyland reached 118 for 9 and the military were 101 for 8 in which Captain Livesey scored 33. Lieutenant Norbury, the ex East Lancs pro made only forty runs and took only a single wicket.

In July 1918 the RAMC team at Liverpool played the Lancashire Military Convalescent Hospital. Played at Aigburth, the match was drawn with the Hospital hanging on at the end. In this match, Norbury and Livesey were out cheaply, but Norbury took six wickets.

Private P.Wright was a keen sportsman who played cricket for Blackpool and also played football. In January 1917 he was awarded a DCM for ‘conspicuous gallantry in action’ and he had single handedly captured 20 of the enemy. He lived at 37 Peter St Blackpool and worked at the Union Printing works as a compositor before joining up.


  The Tower Circus continued to host boxing events which, (during booth Wars) could be raucous affairs with a largely military audience.

On March 8th 1916 Gus Platt and Sergeant A Northrope (Army Veterinary Corps) were to box 15 three minute rounds at catchweight at the Tower Circus, It was a display held for the benefit of the funding of the King’s Lancashire Convalescent Hospital.

In August 1918 there was a boxing carnival held at the Blackpool Football ground on behalf of the Kings Lancashire Military Hospital. A large number of soldiers attended and, though several bouts were successfully completed, the event was washed out as the rains came in.

On the 24th May 1917, Private Gus Platts of Sheffield was in action again against William Farrel of London. At a boxing carnival held at the Winter Gardens on behalf of the Mayor’s Prisoners of War in Germany Fund for a prize of £100, the match went the distance of 15 three minute rounds and Gus Platts declared the winner. In a packed house there was also a shorter match in which Young Gus of Sheffield beat Bombardier Poole of the RFA in the third round of a scheduled 10 two minute rounds.




The Talbot Hotel no longer exists, and the bowling green is now a service yard for the current property.






In August 1918 two Canadian teams played a game of baseball at Bloomfield Rd. It was billed as being between a Canadian and an American team but for ‘medical reasons’ (whatever these might have been), the Americans couldn’t be present.


Blackpool still provided entertainments in the theatres, on the promenade and the piers and the pleasure beach as well as ‘kinema’. In May 1918, the Grand Theatre premiered ‘Mr Manhatten’, a comedy play which subsequently became a success in the London theatres. Its song and dance included the modern feature of ragtime. In Blackpool, the principal character played by the comedian, Raymond Hitchcock, was earning £700 a week. Even with war going on, life had to be as near normal as possible.

In December 1918. King Edward Grammar School at Fairhaven was given the credit of bieng the first school in the country to install a ‘kinema’ for educational purposes.
In 1919 the Granger trade show came to Blackpool for the first time. The War was over but not very far from the experiences and memories of everybody. These trade shows, popular in London were cinema shows in select surroundings, a little like a club and two shows, shown at the Prince’s Cinema, South Shore, were ‘The White Lie’ and ‘The Echo of Youth.’
Doing the rounds in 1915 was ‘a novelty in picture form’ featuring the two clowns from Blackpool Circus, (August and September) and entitled ‘Fun on Blackpool Sands’. Clowns have never made me laugh and one chose to sit next to me once in a big top where there was a spare seat next me in the audience.

The cinema, sometimes spelt kinema, which is closer to its Greek origins, were referred to as ‘exhibitions’ and in February 1915 certain Councillors protested, no doubt representing a corpus of opinion, about these exhibitions being shown on a Sunday. Blackpool already had a plethora of entertainments available it was claimed. The Council, having granted the license to open on Sundays two years ago, declined to interfere and so Sundays remained cinema going days.














Professional footballers












The Loos and Arras Trenches


(George Reed , sergeant, RAMC, originally billeted at Cheltenham Rd and later living on Palatine Rd, was present at the battle of Loos, involved in amputations and other surgeries.)



This particular advert of 1916, states that every Englishman should see the trenches. It does not suggest the need for the Welsh, the Irish or the Scottish, or the allied European men, or the Commonwealth, or African or Indian soldiers, all fighting the same war on the same side to do so. And maybe the composer of the article thought that the women who were working in the hospitals or munitions, or in  host of other jobs, would take no advantage in visiting.



It was perhaps in an attempt to explain and justify the slaughter of the Western Front, that an idea to reconstruct an area of trenches, in order demonstrate the nature of the bloody modern warfare for public consumption, and to show why so many lives were being lost and why, in Blackpool and its environs, the numbers of maimed and crippled men of all disabled classifications were such a feature of the area.

It wasn’t the incompetence of the army, or the lack of bravery of the soldiers that should have won the war two Christmases ago, but purely the nature of the highly destructive and life-costly method of modern, mechanised warfare.

The trenches at Watson Rd, were dug by soldiers, many of who had not yet seen service, and it must have been relatively pleasant to dig while not under the threat of machine gun fire, exploding mortar shells or the high explosives of the powerful long range artillery fired from well behind the enemy lines.

The trenches were a practical and vital means of communication and, had Robert Webb Marsh, resident of Newcastle Avenue, and trained in Blackpool with the signallers, lived long enough, he would have used the real thing to good advantage. Flags and visuals were still used for signalling as radio equipment, when available, for communication, was cumbersome and with no wireless, cables had to be laid and were vulnerable. Having been only two weeks in France, Robert was the first casualty of his battalion, killed by a random, exploding enemy shell as he was in relative safety carrying ammunition to the front line. Having just passed his exams, from his training camp in Oswestry, he had written to his mother, shortly before he received his draft, and thanked her sending him some pairs of underpants and asked to be reminded to his sisters.  He was an only son.

So, here, in Blackpool, it was safe to dig trenches, and it was good practice for those of the RAMC who would be called upon to do just those things in between spells of action at the Front. If they weren’t digging a brand new trench then they would be excavating their buried comrades, dead or alive, from a shell hole or a collapsed machine gun post where every shovel-full emptied would be one more shovel-full towards saving a life.

Training trenches were dug in the various parts of the town, but these Loos trenches, (and later known as the Arras trenches to reflect an update on the battles fought), originally dug for training were then developed as display trenches.

The trenches themselves, for the sake of promoting them, were described as a ‘visit to the front without being in the firing line’. It was as real as it could get, without the bullets and the bombs, and its advert reached the promotional pages of many a provincial newspaper.




A guide book cost 1 penny (about a quarter of a 1p) and it was 6d (about 2.5p) to get in. The convalescent soldiers, as heroes or maimed curiosities, could make quite a bit of money out of tips from the large catchment area of holiday makers to Blackpool, seeking truths or sensations from a Bowdlerised version of the reality of the war.


Two convalescent soldier ‘blues’ seated in a dugout and a soldier in khaki, probably an officer, leaning casually on the side of the trench behind them. Officers were not required to wear the blue convalescent uniform and continued to wear their khaki.


A captured enemy field gun, and possibly the same two convalescent blues and an officer on a promotional photo-shoot.
Early trench digging in Blackpool




More promotional pictures of the trenchworks.




Even after a few months of the outbreak of war, trench digging was an essential part of military life, and practice trenches were dug into spare ground in several parts of the town.




Most of these pictures originally found (and copied from)…….



Blackpool Gazette and Herald prints

story of the trenches and much info;-



1917 The Americans Arrive


The Americans (actually the US Americans, since the Canadians were already fighting) ostensibly arrived in Europe to join the fray in 1917, however there had already been a less official American presence before that date, in the field of medicine in the Front). Three US Americans who had come over to fight were imprisoned at Blackpool for making false representations. Joseph Boyen, George Millet and Martin Burns had claimed to be British subjects in order to attest and join the fighting forces, but they were eventually found out, after joining the Liverpool Irish. They had been brought before the Commanding officer for insubordination, so it might seem that they had joined up just for the fighting rather than the nobler cause of the perceived freedom of democracy. There were two six months sentences imposed, and one for three months.

And so, Saturday May 19th, the Americans arrived, quietly at first, docking at Liverpool and Falmouth, and entraining for Blackpool and London. Most of the officers travelled to London while the men travelled to the training facilities at Blackpool. They had left the shores of the US in civilian clothes with no pomp and ceremony, but when the train arrived at Blackpool North Station, there was a civic reception waiting for them. The military band played, the flags waved and banners fluttered, as they were celebrated all the way down Talbot Rd to the Town Hall to the tune of and Yankee Doodle and the Star Spangled Banner and the noise of the cheering crowds by the roadside. They were friends indeed, come to give assistance in ending an interminable and bloody war. Almost 300 men and women, dressed in khaki and cowboy hats with 65 nurses in the ranks and, formed into four squares, they demonstrated the American marching style.

Two more American medical units numbering about 400 arrived on 23rd May. They were hastily put together units from Harvard and Columbia universities.

Bottom right hand photograph; Lt Col Hayes RAMC greets the officers of the US Base Hospital 4 in Blackpool.

U.S. Army Base Hospital #4 Receives Royal Greeting in England

One of the medics in the contingent was Dr Marion Blankenhorn. In his diary of May 2oth 1917 he writes somewhat critically of the lavishness of the mayoral reception and banquet, intimating that it was somewhat pompously British. From within the cartoon like richness of the official mayoral robes,  the mayor’s speech in the deep Lancashire accent did not impress him. Of all the speeches, his own Captain Tuttle’s was (with his own, innate patriotism) the best. But, in the end, such was the nature of the occasion, his overall opinion was that,  ‘War will have to be pretty impressive to obliterate all memories of Blackpool.’

On the 21st May he notes the shortage in numbers of men and the evident, greater numbers of women taking on the roles of he men who had left. ‘All the street cars have young women conductors and they seem very efficient — they have much braid, and many badges and buttons — very short skirts with heavy wool stockings and low shoes — some wear boots. I’ve seen lots of women ‘shoffers’ both private and taxi and they all dress alike – you can spot them a mile away.’ Within these ranks of working women, only the old or crippled men are evident.

At the beginning, it was an Anglo-American relationship at its most fervent, though human nature does not always allow goodwill to last, and an underlying resentment would creep into certain quarters after the euphoria of the occasion had ebbed out like the tide. The first contingent was from Harvard, educated, skilled but inexperienced. The base hospitals had only been recruited and mobilised weeks earlier, and they had arrived in a town streaming with veterans of nearly three years of slaughter on the battlefield.

For now, the military in Blackpool consisted largely of recycled soldiers, those who had, fought, suffered injuries, and were convalescing in order to be put out to fight once more. The fitter men of the RAMC had been redeployed as infantrymen and sent to the Front as the numbers of fighting men were daily depleted. All these men had seen the severity of the combat and were at loggerheads with the fresh face young and educated college kids of the American base hospitals, who could swagger about in full fitness and look down upon the decrepit men who had so far failed to win the war, and who had little chance of doing so without the necessity of American help. It was when things came to a head upon Central Pier, (as related in the autobiography of Alistair Cooke), when a misunderstanding between a convalescent blue jacket and a new arrival from America ended up with the blue jacket throwing the American over the side and into the sea, that the Americans were confined to their quarters for a week or so, until such a time that normal relations could be resumed.

These Americans that arrived Blackpool 18 May 1917 were the first contingent of six base hospitals. More arrived on June 3rd. The first Division of the US infantry, 14,000 strong, didn’t arrive in France until June 27th and it wasn’t until October that they were in action in the fighting zones. By then, in the British sectors, the US medics were already suffering injury and loss before their compatriot fighting soldiers had arrived. It was an American woman, a medic, who was the first to be seriously injured due to enemy action.

But there was already an unofficial American presence. In February 1915, Dr Hector Munroe’s ‘hospital’on the front line in Belgium, included Helen Gleason, an American woman. The  ‘hospital’ was in the basement of a house and received, as well as personally collected, the wounded from Ypres and the continuing fighting in the district. Always in the firing line, and overloaded with casualties, it was nevertheless forced to retreat behind the lines a little to Furnes. Ten minutes after it had been evacuated, the hospital received a direct hit from an enemy shell.

American troops in Blackpool 1/6/1917


This picture appears to be opposite the Metropole Hotel N. Shore.





Troops on the beach at S. Shore with the Tower and the (long since dismantled) Big Wheel in evidence.



At Blackpool ‘instruction was given in sanitation, gas defense, transportation of the sick and wounded, methods of caring for new diseases, such as trench fever, trench foot, etc.; work at Casualty Clearing Stations [CCS’s], trench sanitation,’ the RAMC training facility at Blackpool provided fundamental instruction to these newly arrived American officers.

On 14 July 1917, Captain Louis J. Genella was hit in the head and face by shell fire. Slightly injured but continued in his job. The first seriously injured American was a woman. On the 17th August 1917, Miss Beatrice M. McDonald, (New York resident but Canadian born), an Army nurse assigned to General Hospital No.1 (Presbyterian) was hit by a shell fragment in the face, when she had volunteered for duty at a casualty clearing station, and she eventually lost an eye. After being treated she opted to stay on working in Boulogne with one eye, and didn’t leave France till 1919. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.

Miss Parmalee had been on night duty at No.11 General Hospital during a bombing raid 4th September 1917. A night raiding bomb hit the hospital, (the American flag was flying above the hospital, inspiring an vengeful resentment in an enemy flyer) causing havoc and injuring several, the flying shrapnel penetrating her dress. She continued working amongst the chaos, and only reported for surgery the following morning to have a shell fragment removed from her eyelid. Her calm and collected actions later won honorary mention from General Pershing and she was the first American nurse to be awarded the Military Medal by His Majesty King George V.

On the same night, the Army’s first officer killed by enemy action was 1st LT William T. Fitzsimons, serving as adjutant of General Hospital No.11 (Harvard). He was in his tent on 4 September, 1917, when a bomb exploded at the foot of his tent and he died instantly.

A second American medical officer’s death occurred on 28 September 1917 when 1st LT George P. Howe was killed by artillery fire while he was serving with the British 37th Division on the front lines; he is thought to be the first American officer killed in a combat unit engaged with the enemy.






Victory Parade


‘How well I remember the morning of Nov 11th 1918 seeing all the flags go up on the hotels and other buildings as the Armistice was declared. Blackpool, and the masses of officers and men at Squires Gate Camp went mad, what a night, I got off home to my billet out of the way of some of the mad scenes of revelry’.

Hubert Baldwin RAMC, b 1879 and called up aged 38.


Though there were many visitors to Blackpool at Christmas six weeks after the Armistice, there were not as many as usual because of ‘the large hydros having been taken over for convalescent officers’. All the places of entertainment were open but transport was restricted due to a strike by tram workers. It had been originally intended to entertain a large number of Canadian and American servicemen but, due to the continuing demobilisation arrangements, it had been cancelled. However, quite a few arrived anyway ignorant of the cancellation, and they were put up in Tyldesley Terrace for the period of their holiday. The RAMC troops billeted in the town even had turkey for dinner, and the soldiers at Squires Gate were well provided for by Mr JP Dixon of Marton Mount, the chairman of the Blackpool Division of the Red Cross. All convalescing soldiers in the various hospitals around the town were well catered for.


Christmas Day services for the free churches were held at the Palace Theatre for their customary combined service.

The Victory Ball

There was quite a bit of confusion concerning the Victory Ball held on Friday January 17th 1919 at the Tower Ballroom, when it had been claimed that only uniforms would be allowed to attend, and this implied only officers and nurses. Though this was later explained away as a mistake, (and was published as such in the newspapers the day previously), the ordinary soldiers were incensed, as it was they who had fought the war in the trenches and the other fronts, and achieved the victory more than anybody. There was no placating the mood, and two or three thousand soldiers and civilians, according to one newspaper report, marched to the tower ballroom and stormed the entrance.

Outside the hall, the mayor attempted to restore order but his pleas were drowned out by the noisy protests of the crowd, as were those of the Assistant Provost Marshall, Major Troup. Eventually, the Chief Constable, Mr Derham, also at the ball, admitted the men and they entered in an orderly manner, filing onto the balcony singing ‘Me and My Gal’. The 500 hundred or so dancers on the ballroom floor cheered as they appeared.

The story of the protest varies depending on who was telling it. Some reports made an item out of the event claiming that the soldiers invaded the Tower Ballroom en masse, breaking windows and overpowering the police guard to gain entry, and forcing their way on to the balconies and dance floor to the excitement, or concern, of the dancers. But through all this alleged violence, they didn’t sing an evocative, military marching tune, rather sticking to ‘Me and my Gal’, a recent, popular song of the day, a song that the people could relate to and identify with. It was a popular song, sung by popular soldiers who having fought gallantly towards the recent victory, and who had been maimed, mutilated and shattered in the process, and perhaps, because of this it was maybe tinged with a little bit of contempt.

The doors were thrown open, and the high prices that had been charged for entry were waived and which had, as well as class distinction, prevented the ordinary soldiers from entering in the first place, and the public entered for free.

On  May 26 1920, the actions of the common people at the Victory Ball were still fresh in the memory of the townsfolk and Thomas Salthouse, a blind man who had a grudge against the brewery company C & S, in reprising the actions of that day, smashed a leaded window of the Talbot Hotel. He didn’t have a grudge against the licensee Mr Hipkins, but it did’t prevent him from whacking him on the head with his stick, as part of his protest. The little man against the big bad company. He was remanded for reports and to be medically examined.’


‘For Me and My Gal’




The work of the RAMC did not finish at the end of the War, but would continue long after it as injured men still had to be looked after.

During the length of the War the RAMC had dealt with over 9 million sick and wounded men. Over two and a quarter million had been evacuated from France back to England. Over one and a half million of these had successfully convalesced and recovered to return to the action.  But the work of the RAMC did not finish with the armistice. As the soldiers moved back to the base camps to await orders to return home over the channel or wherever they stationed to whatever country was home to them, the Labour Corps, along with RAMC transport and personnel remained on the battlefields. Some of the remaining soldiers wanted to visit those areas where their comrades had fallen to pay their respects and to reflect upon the life that had not been denied.

If the soldier could hang up his gun, the medic could not for a long time hang up the medical bag.

For three months after the armistice, Francis Reed, general dog’s body and experienced RAMC stretcher bearer, trench digger, was a driver who took some of these men along the churned up roads and desolate landscapes where life trickled slowly back into the barely inhabited villages of decimated populations. The task of the Labour Corps, which he accompanied during these journeys, was to collect the scattered bits of body to put in bags, for the purpose of a respectful burial later. Unidentified body parts of several different individuals, of friend and foe alike, in peacefully unity in the same bag.

470 medical officers and over three and a half thousand other ranks were killed in action or later died of wounds.

Seven Victoria crosses were won by the RAMC,

Noel Chavasse RAMC was the only serviceman to receive two Victoria Cross medals for bravery during the Great War.  The remarkable fact is that he was a medic and not a combat soldier.

The most decorated soldier of the War was stretcher bearer William Coltman  who, in two years with the RAMC, won the Victoria Cross, the Military Medal twice and the Distinguished Conduct Medal twice.

A citation (retrieved from wikipedia).

‘For most conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty. During the operations at Mannequin Hill, north-east of Sequehart on the 3rd and 4th of Oct. 1918, L.-Corp. Coltman, a stretcher bearer, hearing that wounded had been left behind during a retirement, went forward alone in the face of fierce enfilade fire, found the casualties, dressed them and on three successive occasions, carried comrades on his back to safety, thus saving their lives. This very gallant NCO tended the wounded unceasingly for 48 hours’.

There was usually a particular technique and skill for carrying a man on the back, and, which ever method was adopted, it was always back-breaking stuff.

1,484 Military Crosses, 3 Albert Medals, 395 Distinguished Conduct Medals, 3,002 Military Medals and 1,111 Military Service Medals. Much of this training for the above duties was carried out at Blackpool, duties which earned the admiration of the King whose opinion was ‘that to carry a wounded man out of action justified the award of the Victoria Cross’. Throughout the War, many medals had been, and would continue to be presented on the beach or the military camp at Blackpool.

In September 1919 at a parade of the reserve battalion of the RAMC, Lieut Col JA Potter presented a 1914 Star and Military Medal to Sergeant AF Rauth, of 13 Bank road (presumably Red Bank Rd), Bispham. He had gone overseas with the original Expeditionary Force.

The end of four long and terrible years could not come quick enough for the men still in uniform. The disaffection was nationwide and it naturally manifested itself notably in Blackpool where there was a large concentration of military personnel itching to get back to their homes, families and jobs.

Even in 1918 there was dissatisfaction in the ranks. In July of that year, soldiers from the Convalescent Hospital broke camp and attacked the headquarters of the military police and demanded the release of the convalescent detainees. The windows in the building were smashed but eventually the police, (the hardworking, Acting Chief Constable Derham), persuaded them to return to Squires Gate.

The Lancashire Daily Post reports Feb 7 1919 that the town was losing its military appearance. ‘The Atlantic Hospital, Blackpool’ (formerly the Imperial Hotel before the war) ‘and the Imperial St Annes ‘will be vacated by the military tomorrow.’ Both were occupied by convalescent officers, and all inmates would be transferred to other hospitals in the district. The Convalescent Hospital at Squires Gate was reported to be emptying quickly and was expected to be closed earlier than expected. There had also been a great reduction in the numbers of troops billeted in the town and, even though the army claimed the men were being demobbed at the rate of 300 a day, there were still many thousands left in the khaki.

The men’s’ demands included the speeding up of demobilisation, better food, a voluntary church parade, no afternoon parade, the abolition of the school of instruction, including the gas course, (most had already done these in France), breakfast at eight, parade 9.30.The main objection was the fact that they still had to do drills including gas drills, but they also objected to the early release of men over 41, who had only been in the army a short time, and those younger, and who had been in the army much longer, who had families and work to go to had to wait.

Many of the soldiers were Expeditionary soldiers who had served throughout the War.

People power had worked before on two occasions. On the evening of Wednesday Jan 18th, several hundred (the Yorkshire Post has 4-5,000 men) had marched to Talbot Square, (the location of the Town Hall). Here, their deputations awaited a response, and an appeal was made to the men who then marched to their headquarters at the Coliseum*  where they were advised by their officers to form a delegation and the matter would be settled in the morning, to which they agreed.

However, there was reportedly a rowdier element to the proceedings concerning a few soldiers who attacked the guard room in Tyldesley Rd, broke a few windows but were unsuccessful in rescuing their comrades who were detained there. Despite the drama of the whole occasion, there were no arrests and the guard room incident was played down.



 ARMY MEDICAL SERVICE. R.A.M.C. — Maj. (actg. Lt.-Col.) Henry F. Shea, D.S.O., M.B., to be actg. Col. whilst specially employed. 26th Nov. 1918.



ROYAL ARMY’ MEDICAL CORPS. Lt.-Col. Henry F. Shea, D.S.O., M.B., is restd. to the estabt. 1st Sept. 1923



23rd Feb. 1923. Henry F. Shea, D.S.O., M.B., and to remain seed., vice Lt.-Col. F. P. Lauder, ret. Pay




https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=OLRGBAAAQBAJ&pg=PT267&lpg=PT267&dq=stanley+henry+parry+boughey.+vc&source=bl&ots=tfNrPhXwAt&sig=BIw5RSA2sxPPXiTDl0ffV-jGIfA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjb-OPpj87PAhVD0hoKHRvZDJ04ChDoAQgxMAQ#v=onepage&q=stanley%20henry%20parry%20boughey.%20vc&f=false Stanley Boughey