Part 1 - Pre-World War One (1634 to 1913)At a hearing in 1634 a man called Thomas Whitlower described Peasley Cross as being regularly used for the staging of military exercises using artillery. The earliest military newspaper cutting that I possess that concerns Sutton or Bold is a report in the Lancaster Gazette from June 4th 1808 about the Bold Volunteers. It describes how under the command of Captain Kitt they - along with the Warrington Volunteers - had been reviewed in Liverpool by Major-General Champagne. On the following day the lads marched to Bold Heath where they were 'most hospitably regaled with bread, cheese, and strong beer' by Mrs. Bold of Bold Hall. In 1860 the 47th (or St.Helens) battalion of the Lancashire Rifle Volunteers (LRV) was formed and Sutton volunteer riflemen were enrolled as the 2nd company or corps. The Liverpool Daily Post of January 14th 1860 stated that there were four corps and the 2nd comprised 74 members. These were all then employees of the St.Helens Canal and Railway Co. and it was generally known as the 'Sutton Corps'. In April 1860 John Fenwick Allen of Sutton Copperworks became Captain of no. 3 company. A 7th corps was also created for Sutton men later in the year and on December 9th 1860 the two companies attended their first service at Sutton Parish Church. The 47th LRV were under the command of Colonel David Gamble and they practised and were inspected in Sutton at either the Hoghton Road cricket field or the battery range and rifle butt that became known as the Battery Cob. Annual shooting matches were held at the St.Helens Junction range. In another Post report from November 11th 1867, they described how 80 men - ten from each 47th LRV company - had competed for cash prizes and a silver battalion bugle. They shot at targets 200, 500 and 600 yards away and it was the no. 7 company that won the bugle. In 1870 the 47th LRV became the 21st LRV. In a Liverpool Daily Post report from September 16th 1882, it was stated that Captain McTear was in charge of the 21st's 'B' Company based at Sutton Rolling Mills and Major White was in charge of 'F' Company based at Sutton Glass Works. Both of these places had their own armouries. In 1887 the 21st LRV became the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment. In 1908 after another reorganisation, the volunteers became the 5th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment. The first funeral of a member of the St.Helens Rifle Corps Volunteers took place at Sutton Parish Church on June 26th 1861. Forty members of no. 2 company, commanded by Ensign Houghton and Major Cross, attended Private Greenough's funeral and three volleys were fired by a party of twelve over his coffin. The 20-years-old was a turner at Sutton railway sheds. On July 22nd 1879, 28-year-old marksman Lance-Corporal George Taylor, who was a fitter at Bold Iron Works and member of the 47th LRV, won the prestigious Queen’s Prize that had been inaugurated by Queen Victoria in 1860. The annual shooting event was held on Wimbledon Common and organised by the National Rifle Association. Cpl. Taylor defeated over 2000 fellow contestants in very wet and windy conditions and achieved a record-breaking score of 83 points. His comrades carried him on their shoulders to the Victoria Camp headquarters’ tent, preceded by the Band of the Victorias, where he received a prize of £250, a gold medal and a rifle. Upon Taylor's triumphant return to St.Helens, a procession took him to the Volunteer Hall cheered on by more than 20,000 spectators (one report claimed 30-40,000), where a reception was held for the victorious rifleman. Longstanding Sutton National School headmaster James Plews of 2 Garnet Street was a Sergeant in the volunteers. He was said to have been a very good shot and competed competitively, participating at Wimbledon. On 15 April 1889 Peter Critchley from Marshalls Cross Road appeared in St.Helens Police Court charged with being a deserter from the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. Critchley had been apprehended two days earlier by PC Littler in Peasley Cross Lane and admitted the charge, with the Bench ordering him to be detained at Walton until the military authorities could collect him. Father and son Isaac and Robert Wilson both served in the 2nd Dragoons, Royal Scots Greys, a cavalry regiment of the British Army during the 19th century. Robert died in 1892 aged 36 and Isaac seven years later aged 68. Both are buried in Sutton Parish Graveyard. In October 1899, Edith Hughes of Sherdley Hall sent a telegram to St.Helens from Berlin where she was staying with her husband Captain Michael Hughes. It read: "Please inform all Army Reserve men, called out from Sutton and St.Helens, that their families will be my especial care during their absence." Mrs. Hughes provided coal and made a weekly maintenance payment to the wives of reservists who went to South Africa, while her husband gave £50 to a St.Helens fund that aided those who suffered through the war. Also see Boer War article: Captain Hughes's Homecoming On December 18th 1899, the Glasgow Herald reported the wounding of Private W. Lyons of 12 Station Road, Sutton of the Highland Light Infantry at the battle of Magersofntein. In the same edition they reported the capture of a certain war correspondent called Winston Churchill. Lance Corporal J. T. Nolan (service no. 5049) of 31 Junction Lane served in the mounted infantry of the South Lancashire Regiment (Prince Of Wales Volunteers) 1st Battalion and was wounded on January 24th 1900 in the Battle of Spion Kop. After being taken prisoner, Nolan was released on September 17th 1901 at Blood River Poort and promoted to sergeant. Pt. J. Appleton (service no. 3103) of Ellbess Lane in Sutton also served in the South Lancashire Regiment (Prince Of Wales Volunteers) 1st Battalion and died on April 1st 1900 at Tugela after being wounded in January at Venters Spruit, as part of the Relief of Ladysmith. Alan Tucker recalls that during the 1940s, his grandfather - who lived opposite the Wheatsheaf in Lionel Street - told him how the pub had originally had an external wooden gallery of sorts on its gable-end. This was used by new recruits to the Boer War for shooting practice, aiming at targets in front of the Battery Cob. Sutton labourer John Kelly served with some distinction in South Africa earning clasps for the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony campaigns. However Kelly seemed to have great difficulty readjusting to civilian life and on February 7th 1902 was sent to prison for one month for ill-treating his children and for three months for an an aggravated assault on his wife. The Bench said he had behaved in a very shocking manner but reduced his sentence because of his war service. They also granted a separation order with Kelly ordered to pay his wife 5s. per week.
Part 2 - World War One (1914 to 1919)
On October 27th 1914 the London Gazette announced that the County Borough of St.Helens was being made a prohibited area to aliens due to the war work that was taking place within the town. The relatives of John Palin of the South Lancashire Regiment were notified by the War Office in October 1914 that he had been killed in action. He lived in Appleton Street, Peasley Cross and they drew his insurance money of £18 and had memorial cards printed. However on November 9th they were shocked to receive a postcard from John saying he was alive and well. A recruitment meeting was held in Sutton (probably at Sutton National School) on January 4th 1915 in which Alderman Henry Bates of Sutton Hall presided. Rigby Swift, MP for St.Helens, addressed the meeting and stated that the town had so far raised over 10,000 men, adding "If every town in the country had done like St.Helens there would be no talk of conscription". On 14th January 1915, the Liverpool Echo published the contents of a postcard that had been mailed home from the front by Sutton Manor soldier J. O'Brien: "I am writing this about a mile from the firing line. We have just been relieved from the trenches, and are in a village close by. Our side are making a big attack this morning, which I hope will prove successful. While I was writing this card we got orders to go to the trenches again, so I left off writing. The attack proved pretty good; they took two machine-guns, some trenches and fifty-two prisoners. The section I am in nearly got left in the attack. We just managed to get out at daybreak. The artillery of our side was simply deafening, guns firing all day. The trenches we went in at night were new ones, so they were dry, but we had to start digging them deeper. At daybreak the German artillery opened fire on us and I can tell you we had a lucky escape, the shells bursting at both ends of the trench. I am writing the second part in a church."
Despite the privations of the 'Great War', King Albert of Belgium (1875 – 1934) found time to write to Sutton's Sam Ffouks, to thank him for sending a poem that sympathised with the Belgian people’s plight. In the letter described by the St.Helens Reporter on February 26th 1915, Albert's private secretary said his king was "très touchèe a mon temoignage de sympathie". The newspaper also commented that Ffouks had recently received the diploma of membership of the International Societé de Philogie, Science et Beaux Arts. Little seems known of Sam, although the Societé de Philogie, was a distinguished academic and scientific body run by Professor Haroon Mustapha Leon (1855-1932), an Islamic scholar and etymologist. Albert I of Belgium reigned for 24 years and during the war famously fought with his troops, while his wife, Queen Elisabeth, nursed soldiers at the front. Their son, Prince Leopold, enlisted in the Belgian army at the age of fourteen and fought as a private. James Henderson of Sutton Heath was awarded a special certificate from the King of Belgium during WW1 for helping to save his life. He was on mine clearing duty ahead of the monarch, who was set to travel on the Belgian road. At the very last minute James, who was born in 1889 in Scotland and later became a coach builder, spotted a mine which could have killed the monarch. A grateful Albert awarded James a large certificate, which is in the possession of his family in Sutton Manor.
During WW1 St.Helens was considered a 'prohibited area' (unlike Wigan). This was due to the large number of works engaged in war work and non-British nationals were not allowed to visit the town without permission. On April 27th 1915 an Austrian Pole named Michael Plecionka, who had previously lived at 84 Jubits Lane, was jailed for 6 months for being at Southport colliery in Parr. Then on February 15th 1916 American seaman Joseph Ellwood Anderson was fined 20 shillings for entering St.Helens. He'd fallen for a Sutton girl while in Manchester and came to St.Helens to see her. Anderson was advised to go to the Town Hall and register but having no passport was promptly locked up by the police. Lieutentant John F. Dixon Nuttall (pictured right) of the 1st Field Company of the West Lancashire Divisional Royal Engineers was shot through the heart and killed by a German sniper on May 20th 1915. The 23-years-old officer was the son of Alderman Frederick Dixon-Nuttall the proprietor of bottlemakers Nuttall & Co. Twice the Mayor of St.Helens, John's Dad had been a Liberal councillor for West Sutton during the 1890s. Forty-six young men who had attended the Independent Methodist Chapel of Herbert Street's Sunday School, served in the armed forces during WW1. Five lost their lives; these were W. Maddison, L. Sherwin, H.H. Langford, P. Baines and P. Rigby. The East Sutton Ward had a Relief Committee during WW1 and in September 1915 they called for a roll of honour of all St.Helens soldiers and sailors. This was favourably received but it was felt it was too early in the conflict to create such a permanent record of those who had responded to the country's call. Thomas Roberts of 19 Francis Street in Sutton contracted Trench fever in WW1. This is quite a serious disease transmitted by body lice and Thomas became a patient at the military hospital in Winwick. Having lost his 'dog' tags and suffering from amnesia, no one knew Thomas's name until he was recognised by another soldier. The army had reported him as lost to his family, so a message was sent to his relieved wife that her husband was not only alive but just a few miles away. The family came from Llamberis in Wales and Thomas Roberts had also served in the second Boer War with the Welsh Border Regiment.
There was no blackout in WW1 as there was in WW2, however street lighting in St.Helens was curtailed at night. A Town Council meeting of October 29th 1915 revealed many complaints from miners at Sutton Heath and Lea Green collieries who complained of it being dark when they went to work. It was stated that the gas lamps were being extinguished as a "matter of economy because of the shortage of labour." During WW1 men and women employed on Government work at munitions and engineering factories were legally obliged to turn up for work. On December 21st 1915, Samuel Evans of Berry's Lane and Edward Cole of 320 Watery Lane were sued by the Sutton Copper Rolling Mills for failing to show up for work. The men were each ordered to pay their employer £1 17s 6d damages and costs. Deserter Joseph Roberts was arrested by Sgt. Heaton on August 17th 1915. He had deserted from the 12th Battalion Sherwood Foresters and for nearly two months had been working at Sutton Manor Colliery under the name of Joseph Haslam. He had claimed to be the brother of fellow miner George Haslam of 5 Walkers Lane who received a fine of £3 12s. for concealing a deserter. In August 1916 a deserter was arrested by the police in a pig sty in the Sherdley Hall Farm stable yard. Another deserter called John Dingsdale was arrested in September 1916 hiding behind bushes in Sherdley Park wearing a disguise of a 'slouch' hat and eye patch. Then on March 5th 1917, Sgt. Heaton found two deserters Edward and John White in a room over the stables. Their widowed mother Emma White, who worked in the Sherdley gardens and was concealing them, was sent to prison for a month.
James Prescott of Irwin Road in Sutton spent the whole of WW1 in the middle east where the above photograph was taken in 1915. He was an ammunition driver and upon his return to civilian life worked at Cannington Shaw and later UGB as a distance driver. James retired in 1957 and died in 1967 at the aged of 75. On July 13th 1916, Ralph Ashcroft of 13 Manor Street, Peasley Cross, appeared at St.Helens Police Court for refusing to serve in the army. When arrested by D.S. Anders, Ashcroft had told him that he received no justice in this country, so was not going to fight for any king. The clerk to the justices told Ashcroft that he had better change his attitude or he would probably be shot or sent to penal servitude when he got into the army. The prisoner replied "I will be shot in cold blood before I will go and be a soldier." Ashcroft was fined five guineas and handed over to a military escort.
"Old Contemptible" John Coffey of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was facially disfigured at Armentières on the Somme in 1916 by a burst of shrapnel. He became a hospital 'guinea-pig' for the new technique of skin grafting and his shattered jaw was rebuilt from two of his own ribs. Jack, of 14 Grimshaw Street, was unable to return to his job as a fireman at a local pit and in 1925 became a night watchman at Sutton Oak Chemical Defence Research Establishment. In 1951, with his health failing and blind in one eye, 64-years-old Jack was forced to give up his job at the poison gas works. However, in November 1952, 'Lady Luck' finally smiled on Jack Coffey when he won £75,000 on Littlewoods football pools. That was the then maximum prize and the equivalent of about £1.3 million in today's money. He was due to receive his cheque from Gracie Fields in London but his doctor wouldn't allow him to travel. Jack and wife Elizabeth (who had been born in the Bowling Green pub in Watery Lane) bought a car and a new house in Eccleston. However, they were unable to move into their new home as within twelve months of winning the pools, John Coffey had died. John William Hesketh of 19 Garnet Street, Sutton joined the 10th Battalion of the King's (Liverpool Regiment). A member of the '2/10 Jocks', the twenty-three-year-old son of Ellen Hesketh lost his life on February 4th 1917 at Labourse in northern France as a result of enemy shelling. John is buried at the Houchin British Cemetery near Béthune in France.
Twenty-six-years-old Harry Johnson was a victim of the 1918 flu pandemic that is said to have claimed up to 70 million lives worldwide and 700 in St Helens. Harry lived in Sutton at 129 Robins Lane and before the war was a packing case maker. He was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Johnson of Sutton and served in both the Royal Field Artillery and the Royal Engineers. Harry survived the war but died from influenza four days after the signing of the armistice, probably in France. Sgt. R. Bridge of 9 Francis Street, Sutton was awarded the Italian Medal for bravery. He served in the 15th Cheshires and met the Mayor of St.Helens Alderman Henry Baker Bates on March 6th 1918 who complimented him on his heroic conduct. On March 5th 1918 the Mayor of St.Helens, Alderman Henry Baker Bates of Sutton Hall, had notices placed in local newspapers calling on citizens to raise £250,000 to pay for a Monitor War Vessel. This was part of a national effort to raise £100 million within a week by buying War Bonds. Bates commented how the town had responded generously as regards men for the army and producing munitions of war and is “well to the front in the purchase of War Savings Certificates, especially by the Workers. The purchase of War Bonds, however, is not up to the average of the country.” Businessmen were especially being targeted, with bonds available to purchase for £5 each from banks or the Post Office. The interest at maturity was 5¼ to 5½ per cent. On April 15th 1918 the Mayor of St.Helens, Alderman Bates of Sutton Hall, met the schoolteachers of the town to encourage children to write essays on tanks with prizes offered for the twelve best. This was in advance of St.Helens Tank Week in which an armoured vehicle was on show outside St.Helens Town Hall with the aim of raising a million pounds for war purposes. It was opened by the Mayor on April 22nd and in the event £507,297 was raised. The Mayor was also instrumental in the St.Helens War Weapons Week between July 20th to 27th 1918, which raised £84,431 9s 6d. Fundraising included the sale of war bonds and an aeroplane was given the name of 'St.Helens'.
Two of the Sutton Parish churches, St. Nicholas in New Street and All Saints in Ellamsbridge Road, have Great War memorials. St. Nicholas has a plaque commemorating the 27 members of Sutton Parish Young Men's Bible Class who died in the conflict. A total of 136 class members, attendees of both churches, served in the war of which 34 were wounded and three were taken prisoner. The memorial at All Saints is non-denominational and lists 129 Suttoners who died in the first world war.
One of the highest ranking casualties of war from Sutton was Captain Thomas Finney who was killed in action in France on March 21st 1918. Tom served in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, York & Lancaster Regiment. His father Thomas of 35 Ellamsbridge Road had been verger at All Saints and his 70-years-old mother Margaret was Sutton National School's caretaker. On August 21st 1918, Margaret was found drowned in the dam in Gerards Lane. Although Land Girls tend to be associated with WW2, a number worked on Sherdley Hall Farm from July 1918 when there was a great shortage of labour and a national campaign to boost agricultural production. Many males were at the Front and females preferred to work at the munitions plants as they offered higher wages. Colonel Hughes of Sherdley Hall requested that the girls be well fell and that an older woman should check every night that they were in their beds over the stables by 10pm.
Reginald Knapper (pictured above) was in 1911 living at 37 Watery Lane but then moved to 21 Morris Street. Born c.1895, Reginald followed his father Reuben and elder brother Frederick down the pit. His sister Catherine (b. c.1901) was sent to work in a mill in Darwen as soon as she was old enough to leave school, where she unhappily lived with an order of nuns. Reginald said that he was going to save up enough money for her to return home but was reported missing in action in the war. However after the death of her mother, Catherine returned to Sutton to look after her siblings and she played football for Sutton Bond, a.k.a. St.Helens Glassworks.
Part 3 - World War 2 (1939 - 1945 & Post-War)On May 24th 1939 a special meeting of Bold Parish Council was held in the Bold School in Warrington Road to discuss the lack of ARP measures in the district. A strong protest was issued to the authorities, with complaints about the lack of shelters. During the meeting it was announced that a series of anti-gas instructional lectures would shortly begin in the school. Then on November 2nd at another meeting of Bold Parish Council, members expressed more concern with complaints that trenches and shelters had yet to be provided in Clock Face and Bold. However two shelters on Clock Face Road were in the course of preparation capable of accommodating 25 persons each. On September 1st 1939 a black-out was declared in St.Helens in anticipation of the declaration of war by Neville Chamberlain two days later. A number of accidents immediately occurred and probably the first victim was Patrick Coady of Forest Road, Sutton Manor. The 38-years-old labourer received a fractured skull after a trolley bus accident in Rainhill. One of the first prosecutions for breaching the black out was against William Whittaker of New Street. He was fined ten shillings after allowing a heap of rubbish in St.Nicholas’s Churchyard to be alight at 9.10pm. Whittaker claimed that the fire on September 16th 1939 had been extinguished but must have been rekindled by the wind. The St.Helens Reporter of October 20th 1939 reported how the ‘St.Helens Council of Social Service’ would be providing free advice on war problems for the people of Sutton Manor. Two rooms would be used in the Sutton Manor Colliery Institute on Tuesday and Saturday mornings for drop-in advice on war service, war pensions, civil liabilities etc. During October 1939 an air raid shelter was created in St.Anne’s Monastery capable of sheltering 400 people. The clergy and their students adapted existing rooms beneath the retreat with sandbags for the doors and windows, which were provided by St.Helens Corporation. The shelter had forms placed round the walls and its roof was strengthened to withstand the collapsing of the building above. Members of the Passionist community, schoolchildren and locals took advantage of the shelter when air raid sirens sounded and children from St.Anne’s schools underwent regular practice in getting quickly undercover. Soon after the start of WW2, the men who lived in houses in New Street dug an air raid shelter where Holbrook Close now stands. However it was never used because of flooding.
There were also said to be shelters in Sherdley Park; on the field known as 'Joe Doffs' on the corner of Monastery Lane and Robins Lane; off Taylor Street; by Sutton National School and behind the houses on Powell Street at the corner formed by Peckerhill Road and Station Road. Tom Williams writes that: "It was a dark smelly place". A large brick structure was also located on the land behind the Wheatsheaf pub, in between Leach Lane and the Sutton Brook. Families in Marshalls Cross used a tunnel under Chester Lane as a shelter, which was normally used to transport clay by 'bogie' to Roughdales brickworks. Jim Lamb remembers as a boy going down the tunnel whenever the air raid siren sounded:
All the families took down candles and food and drink and made their own seating. The workmen moved all their tools and cleaned the area used by the locals. I remember it was cold and damp the first time we went down but it was a different place on the next night as the men had put down forms and a table. I don't know what the mothers thought of it but the tunnel was a playground for us kids.Upon the outbreak of war, the people of Sutton and St.Helens were told that hand rattles would be used to warn them of a poison gas attack. The ringing of hand bells would signify that the gas danger had passed and they could now leave their shelters.
During the WW2 ‘digging for victory’ campaign, gardens and lawns, waste grounds, golf courses and sports fields were requisitioned for farming or growing vegetables. Allotments were created in Sutton Manor at the side of the King George V Playing Field. They were immediately behind the back gardens of residents in Jubits Lane and were about 20 yards long. For a few years during the war, the whole field on the other side of the allotments was ploughed over and crops grown. Local kids played hide and seek in the crops and a man wearing riding breeches and highly polished leather leggings used to look after the field and warn off the children. A report in the Daily Mirror from October 17th 1939 stated how 2000 head of poultry were being reared on a dump at Berry's Lane in Sutton and pigs were being reared there 'by the hundred'. Nearby at a Parr depot waste heap, a field 17 feet deep in cinders had been converted into allotments and nearly 200 men were growing food there. Frank Rodgers, of the Land Settlement Association, said: "What we have done at St. Helens can be done in other parts of the country." In November 1939 a ‘rallying canteen’ run by the Women’s Voluntary Services was established at the Evangelical Mission in Walkers Lane in Sutton Manor. Its purpose was to provide food, first-aid and shelter to those rendered homeless by an air raid. A similar canteen was created at the Independent Methodist Chapel in Herbert Street in Sutton. In total the Public Assistance Committee in St.Helens had arranged nine such canteens by December 1939. On November 18th 1939 the members of the St.Helens Twenty-one Club, meeting at the Glassmakers’ Arms in Sutton, sent a message of loyalty to the King, adding it was their intention to entertain the fighting forces to the best of their ability. A telegram was subsequent received from the King’s Private Secretary which read: ‘Please convey to all members of the Twenty-one Club assembled this evening the sincere thanks of the King for their message of loyal assurances’.
Also on November 18th 1939 John ‘Jack’ Molyneux V.C. and John ‘Jack’ Davies V.C. took part in a special ceremony at the War Memorial in St.Helens. For a week hundreds of tiny wooden crosses had stood in the Field of Remembrance, adjacent to the Cenotaph. Local people had planted them after writing on each cross their thoughts for a loved one who’d died in the Great War. At 2pm on Saturday the 18th, a party of dignitaries led by the Mayor, Cllr. Nathaniel Birch, crossed from the Town Hall. The two Victoria Cross holders then removed all the crosses from the soil and placed them in a wooden box. This was to be transported to a war cemetery in France where the ashes of the crosses, along with many other emblems, would be scattered over the graves. On Sunday November 26th 1939 Leonard Street in Sutton featured in a large-scale A.R.P. exercise to test the resources of the rescue, fire-fighting and ambulance services. A cottage in the street was supposedly demolished and set on fire by high explosive bombs, with people trapped inside. Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) vehicles and personnel rushed to the scene, followed by rescue and first-aiders. On the day a total of nine incidents were simulated, which was part of a series of similar exercises. A cyclist in Ellamsbridge Road, Sutton, knocked down Thomas Fowles of Carnegie Street on November 14th 1939 while he was out walking in the blackout wearing dark clothing. The 71-year-old died in hospital three weeks later and at his inquest Assistant Deputy Coroner C. Bolton commented how inadvisable it was for elderly people to be out at night in the dark. On December 16th 1939 the members of the Sutton A.R.P. ‘C’ Group enjoyed a social evening at the Bull and Dog at Marshalls Cross. The Mayor of St.Helens and various dignitaries joined the so-called ‘Charlie’ group of wardens for a hot-pot supper and concert. The head warden, Cllr. R. O. Robertson, proposed the loyal toast and chief warden Major Lees proposed ‘The Services’. The Daily Herald awarded James Beard, of 77 Peasley Cross Lane, half-a-guinea on two occasions for his contributions to their humorous ‘War Stories’ section. In one, published on December 18th 1939, James wrote:
A neighbour’s small son wanted to know the meaning of the Government poster, ‘Don’t help the enemy! Careless talk may give away vital secrets’. “It means”, explained his father, “there may be valuable information about the war, even in things we think are of no importance, and perhaps a German spy may be listening who will tell Hitler what’s going on”. “Why, dad,” asked the surprised youngster, “doesn’t Hitler know there’s a war going on?”
The annual police report released on January 12th 1940 by Chief Constable Cust stated that St.Helens had 1,293 male ARP wardens and 99 women wardens. Of these 199 were full-time and paid. The police had 260 special constables and 55 men in the police war reserve. In 1940 a 500lb bomb was dropped onto a field in between Lea Green Road and Scots Avenue in Sutton Manor. In neighbouring Walkers Lane, incendiary bombs burned holes into the carriageway. Aircraft bullet holes also riddled the bridge of the old Lea Green railway station and the German plane had only narrowly missed a train that was passing underneath. In early May 1941 a bomb landed at the rear of 80 Jubits Lane but failed to explode. The street was cordoned off for six weeks until the unexploded device could be made safe. Children at the nearby St.Theresa's school had an unexpected holiday as it was closed until June. William Smith of Powell Street in Sutton was registered as a conscientious objector on September 5th 1940. The 27-year-old was then a railway porter but didn’t take too kindly to being told by Judge Edwin Cooper Burgis, chairman of the Liverpool tribunal for conscientious objectors, that his job was helping in the war effort: “That being so I will hand in my resignation”, he said. Smith told the tribunal that he would not put a ‘Reserved for troops’ notice on carriage windows but he would help a wounded man out of a train. He would send on a steel helmet or gas mask that had been left behind but not a rifle. Smith’s registration was conditional upon him finding work on the land. Five months earlier Judge Burgis had been attacked and serious wounded by Henry Ballantine Best who he had refused to excuse from war service. On March 5th 1942 19-year-old Foulk Williams of 132 Peckers Hill Road was registered by Judge Burgis as a conscientious objector, on condition that he took up land, civil defence or ambulance work. On January 9th 1941 Alfred and Nellie Burgess of 3 Pye Street in Sutton visited BBC North, along with a small group of other parents from the Merseyside region. They each recorded messages for their children, who had been evacuated to Canada, with the greetings going to be transmitted over the Canadian radio later in the month. Alf Burgess was an Aircraftman Second Class attached to no. 4 wing at RAF Padgate. In January 1941 Father Placid Stevens was a victim of the WW2 black-out when he fell down an embankment near St.Helens Junction station and died a week later. In June 1941 Mary Simm of Peckers Hill Road was another victim after falling whilst taking down her black-out curtains and later died. On the same front page that the St.Helens Newspaper of June 6th 1941 announced the death of three Sutton Nurses in the Manchester blitz, they also reported the death of sailor Enoch Fairhurst of Baxters Lane. The 2nd Class Stoker had been killed at sea by enemy action two days from his 21st birthday. They also reported how former Suttoner Norman Jeffs, a 22-year-old 1st Class Stoker, who was educated at Sutton National and Robins Lane schools and had attended the Emmanuel church, had been killed at sea. On the 24th June the Liverpool Evening Express reported that leading aircraft-man Harold Clover of New Street in Sutton had died at sea. The newspaper reported that Harold was well known in the dance band world and had had some of his compositions featured in New York.
On January 6th 1942 Annie Thompson presented an inscribed dummy shell to a Soviet trade union boss on behalf of ‘the workers of England’. The 23-year-old from 116 Gartons Lane in Sutton was a senior overlooker of an unnamed shell factory, which was being visited by Nikolay Shvernik. For reasons of security newspapers weren’t allowed to state the locations of munitions works, although the factory claimed to be the nation’s record producer of anti-aircraft shells. Shvernik was secretary of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions (the Russian equivalent to the TUC) and upon being handed the shell by Annie Thompson, Shvernik was reported to have raised it aloft and said: “Lets have more such shells; not dummy ones, live shells.” The shell was inscribed: ‘To the U.S.S.R., from the Workers of England’. In 1946 Nikolay Shvernik became President of the USSR. Major George H. J. Fenney of Catterall House, Mill Lane, Sutton was killed on January 22nd 1942 in the Middle East. Born in 1912, the ex-Cowley School pupil worked as an electrical engineer after graduating from Liverpool University. Major Fenney joined the Royal Engineers soon after the outbreak of war and served in France. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry during the heavy fighting and evacuation at St Valéry-en-Caux in June 1940 and was drafted to the Middle East some months later. James Emblem Johnson was largely responsible for the construction of a rifle range in Sherdley Park about 1942-43, when he served as a Sergeant in the C Company Home Guard at Sherdley Hall. He’d been born in 1888, the son of Edwin and Amelia Johnson and was brought up in Sutton at 5 Taylor’s Row and then at 6 Junction Lane, two doors from the Prince of Wales pub. The family ran a stationers and tobacconists shop at the latter address and in the 1901 census, twelve-years-old James is recorded as a part time worker at Sutton's Sheeting Sheds. The family later moved to 89 and 97 Junction Lane, the latter being James's recorded address during his period of military service.
James became a pre-war Yeomanry soldier in the 2nd South Lancashire Brigade where he was a bugler and during WW1 initially served in the Lancashire Hussars. From November 1917 to March 1919 he served in the 1/1st Queens Own Oxfordshire Hussars with the rank of Saddler. James Emblem Johnson died at the age of 64 from pulmonary tuberculosis on July 21st 1952 at 142 Mill Lane, the detached house next to the Mill House. He was still working for British Railways as a sheet repairer and Percy Griffiths, the Mayor of St.Helens, who was also a railway man, attended his funeral at St.Nicholas Church. A report in the Liverpool Daily Post of April 1st 1942 stated that Sgt. Robert Griffiths of 343 Clock Face Road was a prisoner of war. In May 1943 newspapers reported that a message had been received through a German source that POW Fusilier Thomas Carroll (14202870) of 235 Leach Lane was safe and well. In January 1944 newspapers reported that a message had been received through a German source that airman POW Sergeant Bertram McConnell of Mill Lane in Sutton was ‘Making good progress. Feeling quite well.’ In October 1942 Bert had married Julia Caulfield and in later years her brother Bernard would become a famous judge. See article here. During the weekend of June 27th and 28th 1942, an invasion exercise took place in Sutton and St.Helens, which involved troops, the Home Guard, the local defence services and the public. On August 25th 1942 ten Sutton boys appeared in St.Helens Juvenile Court charged with doing wilful damage to five ventilators in an air raid shelter off Taylor Street. The lads were aged between 14 and 16 and came from Station Road, Fisher Street, Edgeworth Street, Reginald Road, Taylor Street etc. The chairman W. G. Gentry criticised their attitude saying: “Not one of you has had the decency even to say you are sorry. We are going to shame you by publishing your names [in the newspapers] and we are going to make you pay for what you have done.” Each boy was fine £2 2s 6d., which could be paid in instalments of five shillings a week. If their fines were not paid off within 2 months, they would be sent to a remand home for 14 days. During the war years, with many fathers away or busy with war-related activities, there were many incidents of anti-social behaviour, as such incidents are now known. On the same day that the ten Sutton lads appeared in the Juvenile Court, ninety other youngsters were also scheduled to appear to face charges against them. A mound (which some call Choccy Hill) along with part of its supporting brickwork which was used by C Company Home Guard in Sherdley Park as a buttress for training exercises still exists. You can view details here. On January 25th 1943 the Manchester Evening News printed a short message from POW Gunner Bert Connah (1578147) of 8 Morris Street, Sutton Oak who was being held in Germany. It read “Dear Nan and Dad, Keep smiling. I am well. Bert”.
Petty Officer (Stoker) John Roger Fairclough of Sutton died on April 18th 1943 onboard submarine HMS P-615 when it was torpedoed by German U-Boat U-123. All hands were lost when the submarine was hit some 100 nautical miles south-west of Freetown in Sierra Leone. Reports stated that the sub sank within five seconds after being torpedoed. In November 1942 John had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal as an AB Stoker onboard HMS Utmost. He was the son of Hugh and Mary Fairclough, who in the 1911 census were living in Sutton in Webb Street and in the 1939 Register they are resident at 88A Baxters Lane. John's parents are buried in Sutton Parish Churchyard, his father dying within a year of his son's death at sea and his mother six years later. Their sailor son is remembered on the headstone of their grave but is not actually buried within. John is also remembered on the Plymouth Royal Naval memorial panel 81, column 3. (Research by Barry Riley) Process worker James McGovern of 35 Belvedere Avenue, Sutton, was fined 40 shillings in court on 13th August 1943 for failing to turn up for firewatch duties at his place of work (probably UGB). Anyone who volunteered for civil defence work during the war – including Home Guard and ARP duties – could be fined for absenteeism. McGovern said the reason he didn’t attend was that he was suffering from dermatitis. In late October 1943, Driver Frank Riddle of the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) was repatriated from Germany. Before the war Frank, who was born in 1917, had lived at 267 Mill Lane with widower father Albert and had driven a petrol tanker for a living. He was captured by the Germans at Dunkirk and had married bride Dorothy from Wrexham just before the war broke out. Able Seaman Frederick Ormiston of 6 Egerton Street in Sutton (off Sutton Road) was decorated with the Distinguished Service Medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace in February 1944. Peter Atherton had studied at St. Anne’s school in Sutton and then worked at Pilkington’s until joining the Navy in 1941. He was wounded and taken prisoner in North Africa and held in Italy for nine months until being released by the allies. However the 21-year-old Able Seaman, of Boscow Crescent in Sutton, was then killed in action in June 1944 when serving with the allied invasion forces.
On June 8th 1944 the Liverpool Evening Express described the adventures of Private Daisy Jones of the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), who had attended Sutton National School. In 1939 she decided to travel to France to become a children’s nurse and in October decided to see more of the world and went to Greece. For eight months she worked in a canteen for the troops in Athens until the city fell, when she managed to escape to Egypt. Daisy arrived in Cairo on Easter Monday 1941 where she remained until the Nazi offensive, known as the “big push”, when she went to Durban and volunteered for the ATS. After receiving basic training in what was then Palestine, Private Jones returned to Cairo where she worked as a clerk. At the time of the article’s publication, the 34-year-old was wearing the Africa Star ribbon and stationed at an ordnance depot in Western Command. The Liverpool Daily Post reported on August 25th 1944 that 32-year-old Gunner Jack Pye of 87 Peasley Cross Lane was a magician in a concert party, which had been entertaining thousands of resting troops every week in Normany. Their theatre was in Les Vaux de Vire, from where the word vaudeville is derived. In September 1944 Lance-Corporal Richard McCarthy of Ellen Street in Sutton was awarded the Military Medal by Field-Marshal Montgomery. The 29-year-old was one of five serving brothers. Sgt. J. Thompson of Clock Face Road was another winner of the MM. In November 1944, joiner Fred Smith of the Royal Navy from 12 Freda Avenue in Sutton, was decorated by the King at Buckingham Palace with the British Empire Medal. The Manchester Evening News published an article on November 23rd 1944 about the work of anti-aircraft gunner Sergeant E. Bevington of Leach Lane, Sutton. The article read: ‘Few jobs in the army impose more strain on the nerves than that of an A.A. gunner. He must be on the alert day and night to man his gun predictor, height finder, identification telescope or telephone within two minutes of the alarm signal being given. On such a job are Sergeant E. Bevington, of Leach Lane, Sutton, St. Helens, Lancashire, and Gunner G. A. Moss, of Rooklyn Avenue, Moston, Manchester. When Japanese aircraft raided our positions on the Chindwin, in Burma, they helped in the destruction of four. Sergeant Bevington told a Military Observer:
We had plenty of warning and when the Japanese came within our range on their way home we were ready for them. One of our Spitfires came in waggling its wings. We saw the Japanese fighter on its tail and engaged it. With our 9th round my [gun] layers saw a hit on the underside of the fuselage. We are all pleased to see their planes again; it livens things up.A Boulton Paul Defiant fighter equipped with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine crashed near Micklehead Green during WW2. It was found in a field at the side of Ansdell Wood, sunk deep into the ground but without its engine. George Houghton writes:
I well remember the plane crashing. It was in the field next to the wood and near to a pond called "The Marl Pit". It caused a huge crater and it is quite possible that parts of the plane are still buried there. Some of the men in the village ran to the site of the crash thinking it was a German plane only to see the RAF markings on the wreckage. I believe the pilot parachuted and landed safely at Rainhill.Railwayman and later founder of Sutton Historic Society, Eric Coffey, was involved with an unexploded incendiary bomb whose parachute had become entangled with the Dutch Barn Bridge on Baxters Lane. Geoff Bates was quoted in the Whalley's World column in the St.Helens Star commenting how bombs were dropped on Sherdley Park in WW2 killing two cows. Geoff also described incendiary bombs in Sutton and a profitable ruse:
...an incendiary bomb fell towards Green End Lane, burning itself out. The incendiary bombs came down by parachute. I got a silk cord off my sister's dressing gown and was selling it off at school as a German parachute cord. I made a pile!
The Kitts family were well-known in Sutton with Dick Kitts a keen sportsman who played for several Sutton clubs. During the Bert Trautmann era at St.Helens Town, Dick was a trainer and groundsman at Hoghton Road and his two sons Ken and Ernie served during WW2 in the navy and army, respectively. Richard Ken Kitts lived at 15 Thames Road near the Mill House pub and joined the Royal Navy in 1940, despite being in a reserved occupation as a coal miner. Ken served as a 2nd Class Stoker on HMS Neptune, a cruiser of 7,175 tons, as part of the 'Force K' that operated out of Malta. This attacked enemy convoys that took supplies to Libya in support of Rommel's army in North Africa. On the morning of December 19th 1941, Neptune, with 766 Officers and men aboard, hit the first of four mines and finally sank at about 4.20am. Ken died along with all of the rest of the crew, apart from one man who survived after five days in the water. His daughter Cynthia was born while he was at sea and Ken never saw her.
Ken's brother Ernie Kitts worked with the bomb disposal unit and is pictured above in London. After being 'demobbed', Ernie returned to his terraced cottage at the Peasley Cross end of Sutton Road (later Irwin Road) and his job as a painter for St Helens Council. He died a few days after a collision with a Sutton Transport vehicle while painting a road sign in Marshalls Cross Road by Sutton Park. His workmate Jackie Cooke was also killed and Ernie was cremated on November 12th 1969.
James 'Bud' Lamb of 7 Chester Lane served on HMS Warwick during World War 2. On February 20th 1944, while on submarine hunt in the Bristol Channel, the 1,100 tons destroyer was torpedoed by German boat U-413, some 15 miles off Trevose Head in Cornwall. The ship sank in minutes and sixty-seven men lost their lives. However, Bud Lamb survived and he was able to return to his Marshalls Cross home and resume work at Roughdales Brickworks and enjoy his nightly pint in the Bull & Dog Inn. He lived until the age of eighty-seven.
A nephew of Bud Lamb, Les Lamb, served on a Halifax Bomber during WW2 as a wireless operator / signaller and survived a crash when returning to base. Born at 12 Graces Square, Les attended Robins Lane School and joined the Air Training Corps.
Les served in 158 Squadron and attained the rank of Sergeant. The story of his crew's exploits is told in Harry Lomas's book, 'One Wing High'. A joiner by trade, Les was a Sutton Harrier and has lived in Canada for many years. On August 17th 1944 the Liverpool Evening Express described an action by a section of South Staffordshire Battalion’s ‘B’ Company, that had been led by Corporal George Pumford from Clock Face. The battalion had been pressing on from Le Manoir towards Noyers in France, where the Germans were holding out with a stubborn infantry battalion. South of Le Manoir the company ran into an enemy position of about company strength, which through mortar and machine gun fire inflicted casualties on the South Staffords. The Germans were well concealed in dug outs within a narrow lane. Cpl. Pumford was instructed by his commander to lead a section of men and clear the German position at all costs. The 28-year-old, whose parents lived at 43 Clock Face Road, said:
Our objective was a narrow lane, and two buildings just north of Noyers. The enemy were well dug in, and fire from their machine-gun posts at first drove us back. One of our tanks came up to clear a way for us, but had a track blown off [by mines]. We re-grouped for another attack which we knew would be a very sticky business, but managed the job.As a boy George Pumford played football for Clock Face Colliery School and worked in Widnes before joining the Staffordshires. His brother Bill Pumford, a former Saints rugby league player, was in the Royal Navy and his brother Arthur served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. A third brother Stanley, who was in the Royal Navy, was presumed drowned at Anzio. Other World War 2 constructions (as well as air raid shelters) included road blocks and observation platforms. Inge Preston writes that there was an observation platform on the top of the ‘tip’ close to Walkers Lane in Sutton Manor and she played on it when she was a child. During WW2, members of the RAF were stationed in Sherdley Park where they had a barrack room measuring 54 feet by 18 feet. In 1949 it was removed in sections to Gartons Lane in Sutton Manor where it was reconstructed as the new community library. A contingent of WAAFs lived in Sherdley Hall and held monthly dances.
Joseph McCarthy is pictured above in 1945 having the Military Medal pinned on him by Field Marshal Montgomery in Normandy. The photograph is taken from the personal collection of John Duffy the longstanding headmaster of St.Anne's RC Boys' School who wrote over the picture "Well done St.Anne's". An ARP (Air Raid Precautions) station was located in Sutton Road during WWII. John Duffy, head of St.Anne's Boys' School, enrolled in the Wardens Service in 1939 and after a short period as deputy head, was appointed head warden of 'F' group covering Sutton Manor, Lea Green and Thatto Heath with the HQ at 'Freddiville' in Nutgrove. William Vose Spencer of the Sherdley Estate Office in Sherdley Park was South-West Lancashire Hon. Secretary of the Incorporated Soldiers, Sailors’, and Airmen’s Help Society during WW2. At the top of Grimshaw Street were 'Bevin Huts' that housed 'Bevin Boys', men who did their wartime service down the pits. After WWII they were used to house European refugees. In January 1945 a Lockheed Shooting Star crashed in Sutton Manor, close to where the Dream sculpture now stands. Father Michael O'Donoghue curate at St.Theresa's RC Church gave the pilot the last rites after a farm worker had unsuccessfully tried to revive him. A young George Houghton was also a witness to this plane crash:
It circled the area for some time. It was clearly in trouble and made an engine sound that was unfamiliar to us. Could it have been a Jet engine sound which was a new invention at that time? It left a vapour trail in the sky, presumably the pilot was using up fuel before attempting to land. Eventually it crashed in fields at Union Bank, between Sutton Manor & Bold Heath.The Liverpool Daily Post of August 15th 1945 reported that victory celebrations in St.Helens, to mark the defeat of Japan, would include a bonfire being lit on Robins Lane school playground. Leading Aircraftman William Nee of Sutton was profiled in the Liverpool Evening Express on November 7th 1945. They described how he was the holder of three swimming awards “which are the envy of many thousands of British soldiers serving in North Africa”. William was educated at St. Anne’s Boys School and at the time of the article had served five years in the RAF as a telephone operator. Before the war he had been a bus conductor living at 23 Junction Lane. In September 1945 Flight Lieutenant Douglas Twist of Neill’s Road in Bold was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Douglas was born in 1920 to master builder father Joseph and mother Martha in Auckland, New Zealand. The family moved to England and Douglas studied at Robins Lane School and then Pannal Ash College in Harrogate. He served in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve before being commissioned in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Frank Heyes, who lived on the corner of Marina Avenue and Sandringham Drive in Sutton, was a prisoner of war in Japanese camps, which very badly affected his health. However Frank still assisted in the building of the new Parish Hall by St. Nicholas. German and Italian prisoners of war worked on Home Farm in Hall Lane, Bold for the owner Alan Ashton. Seventy-seven young men and women who had attended the Independent Methodist Chapel's Sunday School, served in the armed forces during WW2. Six lost their lives; these were Alec Bryce, John Darlington, Wilfred Jones, James Platt, Edward Wakefield and William Whalley. On September 21st 1946, a welcome home for the returning service personnel was held and on the following day a roll of honour was unveiled in the chapel. In February 1955, 18-year-old assistant cook Harry Exley from Irwin Road was probably the youngest member of H.M.S. Ark Royal when it set sail on its maiden voyage. Harry was one of over 50 cooks on the great ship.
Thanks to military historian Richard Houghton for his contributions to these pages
War-Related Articles On Other Sutton Beauty & Heritage Pages:
Three Heroic Sutton Nurses in Sutton Tragedy Part 1; Dad's Army Tragedy in Sutton Tragedy Part 1; A Letter from the King of Belgium to Sutton in Sutton Trivia & True Facts!; What 'Lord Haw Haw' Said About Sutton in Sutton Trivia & True Facts!; A Sutton Schoolboy's Memories of WW2 by Bill Bate in Memories of Sutton Part 2; Growing Up in Sutton Manor by Alan Pugh in Memories of Sutton Part 16; Memories of Sutton Part 11 Sutton Oak CDRE recollections
Other War-Related Articles:
Three Heroic Sutton Nurses in Sutton Tragedy Part 1; Dad's Army Tragedy in Sutton Tragedy Part 1; A Letter from the King of Belgium to Sutton in Sutton Trivia & True Facts!; What 'Lord Haw Haw' Said About Sutton in Sutton Trivia & True Facts!; A Sutton Schoolboy's Memories of WW2 by Bill Bate in Memories of Sutton Part 2; Growing Up in Sutton Manor by Alan Pugh in Memories of Sutton Part 16; Memories of Sutton Part 11 Sutton Oak CDRE recollections
Copyright Notice / Factual Accuracy Statement
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW