Recruitment in 1915

The Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel of January 9th 1915 reported that, “recruiting in Biddulph is far from brisk. A few men are attested each week, but up to the present the results from the War Office system of circularising householders have not been very encouraging.” However, the Sentinel continued by reporting that soldiers on leave had become “valuable adjuncts to the recruiting movement in a place like Biddulph.”

The Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel of April 17th 1915 reported, “Route March in Biddulph District: There will be at route march through to Black Bull, Biddulph Moor and Biddulph District today (Saturday) in support of recruiting for the Third Battalion of the 5th North Staffords. About 250 of the new recruits for the 3rd Battalion will be on parade along with the Biddulph District members of the 2nd Battalion who are coming from Harpenden under the command of Lieutenant Harding. The procession will start from Brindley Ford at 3.30pm. Dr. Craig will examine recruits at the public hall. There will be meeting at Biddulph Moor, Black Bull, and Biddulph. Speakers will be Colonel Bizzard, Mr. D.B. Wayne, Mr. Harding, Mr. John Cole, Mr. J.A. Leese. The procession will include the Tunstall boy scouts and a band.”

The route march, which Col. Blizzard hoped would draw 120 men of the 700 needed for the new 3rd Battalion of the 5th North Staffords. Over 300 men were on parade, all in uniform, arriving from Stoke on a special train. The recruitment parade was reported in the Sentinel the following week. “They brought with them their mascot, a little, long-haired white dog, which yaps excitedly round the room when there is anything unusual stirring. He goes by the name of ‘Corporal’, and round his neck hangs an Iron Cross, mounted on the two chevrons which denote his rank. ‘Corporal’ yapped himself hoarse on Saturday.

Before the procession started, a brief meeting was held in the Station Yard at Black Bull. Before the meeting, Mr. Cole was distributing cigarettes amongst the Biddulph men from Harpenden, and the Reverend W. Rowley, of Newchapel, was busy renewing his acquaintance with the many men he knows amongst the Biddulph detachment.

There was a large crowd of people and they gave the procession a hearty send off. Headed by the bands, the men marched along the Mill Hayes Road. At every crossroad little groups of people assembled to watch them pass. Along these quiet country lanes, breathing the freshness of spring, the sight of 350 uniformed men is unique and they created no end of excitement. The route was along the switchback road to Rock End, where the sandstone rocks planted there by some mysterious means, project gaunt against the sky. Marching along that hilly, sand strewn road was pretty good practice for some of the processionists, not the least for the double bass man in the band who trudged along with his giant instrument perched perpendicular on his shoulder. At Rock End there was at 10 minutes breather, and soon after we were at Biddulph Moor, overlooking the picturesque valley in which lies the town of Biddulph.

Opposite the Rose and Crown Hotel the meeting was held, Alderman Ball’s motor lurry serving as a platform.”

It was said, “Biddulph Moor had not done much in sending men to the colours, and he urged that there were many colliers who could go, and the breakdown of the industrial system could be prevented if the older men who remained would not be content with putting in four or five shifts a week, but put in a full week.

The procession left the Moor to call at Biddulph Grange, where Mr. Robert Heath entertained the processionists to refreshments. The officers had tea with Mr. Heath. Afterwards, the procession dropped down to the valley, a welcome change from the climb to the height of the Moor. It was after 7 o’clock when the procession reached Biddulph town. The town gave the soldiers a great reception. The high street - that long, straggling street, typical of North Staffordshire coal getting centres, is practically Biddulph - was crowded with people. Buildings round the public hall, where the meeting was held, were plastered with recruiting posters. From the steps of the Biddulph Gymnasium speeches were made by Mr. J.A. Lees, of the Moorhouse, Col. Blizzard, Mr. Robert Heath, and Mr. G.H. Rittner.

There were many girls and young women in the audience and after appealing to the men, Colonel Blizzard told his feminine hearers that if he were a girl, he would not look at a young man who was eligible and did not don a uniform. What sort of husband will a man make if he will not defend you in this critical hour, when the Germans have threatened to serve us far worse, if they ever get here, than they did the Belgians?

The meeting closed shortly before 8.30pm, and with it ended a day which will be long remembered in the Biddulph countryside.”

Although Col. Blizzard had hoped to attract 120 men - numbers attesting as a result of the recruitment march amounted to only a handful:
Fred Oultram, 26, Stringer Street
Edwin Moss, 10, Stringer Street
Henry Travis, 66 High Street, Newchapel
Joseph Hancock, Holly Lane, Harriseahead
Ernest Mayer, 4, Charles Street
Frank Brookes, Prospect Terrace, Mow Cop
Clarence George Hollinshead, 5 Fan Row, Brindley Ford.

Biddulph was astir with excitement early on the afternoon of Saturday April 17th as there was to be a recruiting march. A large crowd watched the ‘Terriers’ (who looked very fit) fall in before the Public Hall, and march to Black Bull, headed by the brass band where they joined about 300 more and proceeded to Biddulph Moor, and from there to the Biddulph Public Hall where they halted whilst Col. Blizzard thanked Mr. Robert Heath in the name of the men for his kindness in providing them with refreshments at the Grange. After three cheers for the King and the Prince of Wales they marched on to Biddulph Station where a special train awaited them.
[the May 1915 edition of the St. Lawrence Parish Magazine

Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel May 8th 1915: “Not much is doing in the way of recruiting. Biddulph men do not seem to be very keen on joining ‘Blizzard’s Battalion’, and those who have recently enlisted have preferred to go into the Navvies’ Battalion. The increased pay as compared with the Territorials would appear to be the chief inducement with the men of Biddulph, and they don’t care about being billeted at home and going ‘soldiering’ every day.”

Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel: June 12th 1915: “Recruiting : Several men have joined Captain John Ward’s Navvies Battalion, this scarcely appealing to the Biddulph colliers as ‘soldiering’, although they have to wear khaki. Harold Roberts, youngest son of Mr. Wm. Roberts, Well Street and James Bailey, a grandson of Mrs. Ryles, John Street joined the Manchester ‘pals’ last week.”

Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel: June 12th 1915: “Recruiting Slow: Recruiting remains at the same low level and there appears to be a strong impression in Biddulph that the district has contributed a very fair proportion of its men to the forces of His Majesty’s Army. It is also generally acknowledged that the removal of many more men will have a detrimental effect on the two staple industries of the district – coal and iron works. Up to the present, work has been exceptionally good, and there is also a decided improvement in the fustian cutting trade, all the Biddulph mills being now practically on full time.”

Recruitment meetings were still being held. In October 1915 the Sentinel reported, “Appeal to Young Men to Play the Game – a recruiting meeting was held in front of the Public Hall, Biddulph, on Saturday night. There was only a moderate attendance, and very little public enthusiasm was evinced in the proceedings.

Councillor J.H.Cole, who spoke from the steps of the Biddulph Gymnasium, said Biddulph had done very well so far, but he was very much afraid that in this quiet little corner of North Staffordshire they did not realise what war really was. He must remind them that they were not fighting for glorification or extension of territory, but for very existence.

No recruits were forthcoming at the close of the meeting.”

Recruitment 1915 – Letters from the Front

Letters frequently appeared in both the Chronicle and in the Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel calling for men back in Biddulph to join up.

Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel Jan 30th 1915: “Another interesting letter received by Councillor Shaw this week is from Gunner James Hambleton, Congleton Road. He is in the best of health, and with a British soldiers optimism, he says they must not grumble as they are well off for food and clothes. He concludes by saying how pleased he is to see that they keep on getting a few more recruits from the old town.”

Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel June 5th 1915: “Don’t be fetched: Be Men.” “Don’t wait until the time comes when they will call upon you, but do it now: be men!“

This passionate appeal to his comrades was sent by Private T. Hassall, 2nd Cheshires, a native of Gillow Heath, Biddulph, and it should rouse the patriotism of those laggards who are still waiting to be fetched. He writes, “I wonder how many are parading Coppice Road, The Clough, and various other little ‘spooning’ places round Biddulph. I guess there are a few and I think if they would only pull themselves together and think what the boys have to go through out here, they would slip down to the Drill Hall, Congleton and get the Sergeant to fix them up.”

Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel June 26th 1915: “Bombardier Nixon in a letter to a friend says he is afraid that ‘sleepy Biddulph’ does not realise the stupendous nature of the task Britain is engaged in, nor grasps the issues at stake.”

Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel September 25th 1915: “Leave Benches for Trenches

An interesting letter which ought to appeal to laggards as the outspoken opinion of the boys at the front was received this week by our Biddulph representative from Gunner W.E. Bailey, who enlisted with the first batch of recruits from Biddulph in Kitchener’s Army, and went to France with the Machine Gun section of the 57th Brigade. The letter which was dated September 13th runs as follows:

We have been in the trenches several times and have come out on top every time so far, while others have gone under. I have not seen any of the Biddulph lads that belong to the 1st-5th yet. I think they are on our left. I think the _____ know that we are out here. If not, they very soon will. We opened fire with our ‘Little Lizzie’ but we could not see what damage we did; it was too dark. I think we must have given them a few pellets, because everything went so quiet afterwards. Are you getting many recruits from Biddulph? Tell them to drop their tools and leave their benches, and follow us into the trenches. We are having it very hard out here but we don’t mind that so long as we pull through and get back to ‘Old Biddle’ once again.”