Research into the World War One memorial that hangs in the Trust's Leeds office reveals the lives and stories lived and lost in war time.
Britain declared war on Germany and its allies on 4 August 1914 and when the fighting ended in November 1918, nearly a million British men had died in the armed services. The First World War affected every family and every community in the country. All over Britain memorials were erected by grieving communities and there is barely a town or village without one.
In the years after the war, the directors of the Aire & Calder Navigation chose to honour the men from their company who had served and died in the war. This memorial now hangs in the reception of the Trust’s office in Fearns Wharf, Leeds.
The war memorial names 286 men who served in the armed forces including 36 who were killed. Little was known of the men, the memorial gives alphabetically listed surnames with an initial; there are no details of rank, regiment, age or occupation. Research into Aire & Calder Navigation records, local papers, census returns, Commonwealth War Graves Commission and army records began creating a picture of these men’s lives before and during wartime. Their stories serve to remind us of that Great War and the work done by waterway staff.
When war was declared in August 1914, men responded enthusiastically to Kitchener’s call to arms. Amongst them was William Armstrong, he had joined the Aire & Calder Navigation in 1906 and worked for two years on the coal hoists in Goole Docks before moving on to work the Tom Pudding compartment boats.
In the three years before the war he was reprimanded five times for damaging the tugs, so it is easy to imagine the sense of release he may have felt when he volunteered at the outbreak of war in August 1914. He died in the Battle of Loos in October 1915, aged 28 and has no known grave.
Working for the Aire & Calder Navigation was often a family affair as the memorial demonstrates. It records men from the same family who joined up and many more who left family colleagues behind, including:
Guy Lister Crabtree who was apprenticed as a millwright in Goole before joining the Dragoon Guards in May 1917. He went to France in October 1917 and in May 1918 his parents were told that he had been missing since March. His father was also employed by the Aire & Calder Navigation as a lock keeper.
Harry Parker, killed in Italy in December 1917 aged 23. Prior to the war he was employed as an errand lad in the docks, where two of his brothers and his father also worked.
Three members of the Cowling family are listed on the memorial including WF Cowling, who was called up in May 1917 aged 24, he was killed within three weeks of being sent to France, leaving a wife and two children and is buried in La Clytte Military Cemetery in Belgium.
Amongst the dead, listed with no greater status than anyone else, is the former manager of Goole Docks AW Wright. Captain Wright had been released by the Aire & Calder Navigation in 1916 to organise transport in France for the Royal Engineers. In August 1917 he was taken seriously ill and was returned to London for emergency brain surgery. He died the following month aged 39.
Of the 286 names, 250 survived the war and many returned to work for the Aire & Calder Navigation including David Spink, who had worked in the cashiers’ office before the war, having joined the Aire & Calder in 1899 aged 14. He enlisted in the Yorkshire Light Infantry in December 1915 and served in Egypt. After the war he returned to the cashiers’ office and in 1925 is listed as earning £270 per year.
The above are only a few of the stories behind the names. All those listed had one thing in common with all their fellow service men: they were called to fight and die in a conflict which they barely understood but which they hoped would be the war to end all wars. Sadly this proved not to be the case.
The work carried out by the heritage team is extremely varied, covering all sorts of structures and a wide variety of projects. Not one week is the same and we keep learning all the time, meeting some fascinating people and visiting stunning places along the way. We are hoping that through our blogs we can share some of our passion for the amazing industrial heritage of the inland waterways.See more blogs from this author