Former headteacher tells of the ordinary people's war

Philip Andrews talks about how mid Cheshire found out about war being declared.

Philip Andrews talks about how mid Cheshire found out about war being declared.

First published in News Northwich Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

OUTBREAK of earth-shattering conflict was seen through the eyes of ordinary mid Cheshire folk when a historian helped mark 100 years since the start of the First World War.

Philip Andrews described how news of the war broke in Northwich, Winsford and Middlewich and spoke of the fate of the Cheshire Regiment early in the Great War.

He said: “I don’t want to pretend this is anything like the history of the Great War but it’s a scene shot worthy of August 4.

“The day when all these people thought to themselves ‘what’s going on here, what’s this news, what does it mean?’ “Then suddenly old Harry Sproston is getting his pack out, he’s not had it out since he went to Rhyl training, and he’s off.

“His wife’s waved him off and said ‘see you next Thursday’ and then it’s January 1919 before he comes back.

“But he does come back, most of them did come back, but what they were like? What sort of trauma did they experience?

“We know some but we don’t know the half of it.”

Mr Andrews, a former headteacher of Middlewich High School, was talking specifically about 13 Middlewich men who answered that call to arms in August 1914.

He was giving a talk at the Rotary Club of Northwich’s Special Speakers Meeting on Monday, August 4, based on the research for his book called ‘The Middlewich 13’, which he plans to publish later this year.

He said that 100 years ago the escalating unease in Europe was a distant matter for mid Cheshire.

“This was a world still without wireless or television networks, let alone the opportunities for internet, forever tweeting, texting and keeping up to date,” he said.

“The only source was newspapers but how many ordinary people from Middlewich or Northwich read the Daily Mirror or the Daily Mail?

“I think they read the Northwich Guardian, which was published twice a week in those days.

“My thesis is that they didn’t know early on very much about what was going on.

“They had scant knowledge about the darkening political sky in Europe.

“In the preceding fortnight most Middlewich folk turned to the pages of the Northwich Guardian, not for world events but to read events locally.”

He read from the editions leading up to August 4, 1914, which featured only passing references to what was happening on the continent and focused instead on society weddings, obituaries and school prizegivings.

The Guardian was published on August 4 itself and finally featured a substantial reference to war and peace ‘hanging in the balance’.

Mr Andrews said: “This shook mid Cheshire out of a world of society weddings, funerals, charity concerts and holiday weather into the imminent possibility of terrible, earth-shattering conflict.”

His book follows the fate of David Maddock, Thomas McHugh, William Stoneley, Thomas Hulme, Patrick Hazell, William Latham, Reginald Holman, Harry Sproston, Frank Morris, Horace Bratherton, Joseph Higgins and James Robinson.

Each of these 13 men were soldiers on August 4 and went out to France on August 15.

On August 24 they fought their first battle with the Cheshire Regiment, the Battle of Mons, which was a resounding victory for the German forces.

These 13 men were captured at this battle, after just nine days at war, and spent 1,559 days as prisoners.

Mr Andrews plans to publish further books throughout the next five years focusing on other stories from Middlewich’s war, including the story of the Middlewich men who fought at Gallipolli and the Battle of the Somme, Middlewich battle honours in the trenches, casualties, victory celebrations and the Armistice.

Comments (1)

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1:23am Wed 6 Aug 14

albcro says...

Hi Gina,
I was wondering if the 'Harry Sproston' mentioned is the former headmaster at Rudheath Secondary when I attended there in 1942-44 and who also taught my mother at Great Budworth school in the early 1900's.
Best regards
Albert H. Cross
Laidley Qld Australia
Hi Gina, I was wondering if the 'Harry Sproston' mentioned is the former headmaster at Rudheath Secondary when I attended there in 1942-44 and who also taught my mother at Great Budworth school in the early 1900's. Best regards Albert H. Cross Laidley Qld Australia albcro
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