I’m a volunteer at Tameside Local Studies and Archives and I am currently working with documents from the Manchester Regiment Archives in Ashton under Lyne. As I lift the lid on each box there is a sense of excitement, what will I find in here?
I was working my way through a box of correspondence when I found a copy of a letter written by a mother to her son in 1915. It was sent to him at the British Expeditionary Force, he was in the 1/9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.
My dear Leonard,
How is it you have not sent any letters it’s now over 4 weeks since I had one and that was wrote on the 26 October. I hope you are well I have sent 3 parcels and 2 letters and had no reply. I hope there is nothing wrong with you, they have all had letters round about 2 and 3, some of them. Mrs Fernley has had a telegram saying that Jim has been dangerously wounded, write back at once and let me know how you are, I am looking out for the post every day. Your father is in France. I am very sorry about Jim but you ought not to have gone out, you are both too young, and you are younger than him. Auntie and our Edie send their best love, Accept the same from me and God bless you and spare you is my fervent wish and bring you safely home soon. Your mother
I have had a postcard from J Smethurst asking how you was I told him I had had no letters for a long time and I told him about family. You see his father has stopped him from going out and he was willing to stop, you see he has more sense than you, it would be alright if you was old enough but you are so young, you see there are big men who won’t go until they are made and you throw yourself away at 15 years of age. But I hope you will get your discharge until you are 19 that will be soon enough. Write back as soon as you can and let me know how you are as I am very anxious to know so I think this will be all this time
With best love from
x x x Mother x x x
x x x God bless you x x x
I was tearful by the end of the letter. What had happened to him, had he died? How awful for his mother to be waiting at home to hear from a 15 year old, gone to fight for his country. I knew I had to find out more about him and his family.
I started to research him on military and family history records and soon found he was from my own town of Ashton under Lyne. He was an iron worker who lived on Warre Street with his father, mother and two sisters. He enlisted on 11th January 1915 just 3 days after his 15th birthday. He told them he was 19 and documents show his height as 5ft 7 ins. His mother’s letter was addressed to him as part of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, he was sent out in September 1915. He was listed among the soldiers of the 9th Battalion who landed at Gallipoli on 22 October 1915. Military documents show he was discovered to be under age in March 1916 and transferred to a Reserve Unit and shortly was returned to England
I was very pleased to find this information, what a relief. His mother would have been delighted to have him safely home. There was sad news as well, his sister Alice had died of appendicitis in August 1915 at the age of 12. His father James had enlisted in April 1915 and was still in France. He was wounded in the leg by a shell and discharged on medical grounds in August 1917 so father and son had survived the war.
I wondered about his friend Jim Fernley and what had happened to him. Jim lived on Tatton Street and had also enlisted in the 9th Battalion. He died of wounds on 4th December 1915 in Egypt and I managed to find a newspaper report of the time
Published in the Reporter 25th December 1915.
YOUTH’S SAD FATE.
“He seemed such a child to have given his life for his country; his mother has my deepest regret and my sincerest sympathy.” was the concluding sentence in a letter which Mrs. Clara Fernley, of 48, Tatton Street, Ashton, received from Nurse Clara E. Cherry, 21st General Hospital, Alexandria, writing breaking the news that Private 3281 JAMES FERNLEY had died from wounds. In last weeks issue of the Reporter it was stated that Private JAMES FERNLEY of the Ashton Territorials, had been reported very dangerously ill at Alexandria. Nurse Cherry wrote: – “Your little lad was admitted into my care on Wednesday, December 1st. He was very seriously ill indeed, having been shot through the lungs. He was quite conscious, gave me your address, and wanted me to send a postcard home. I think he realised that he was not going to get better. We did all we could for him. He suffered very little pain, only his breathing became weaker. His mother’s name was on his lips all the time. He passed quietly away at 11.50.” An official intimation of Private FERNLEY’S death has also been received. In a letter from Private H. FERNLEY, brother of Private JAMES FERNLEY, who is also with the Ashton Territorials in the Transport Section, further details are given of the way Private J. FERNLEY was injured. He says: – ” JIM has not much chance. They were having a bit of a rough time, and the Turks sent a grenade over their trench, and from what I am told it did a great deal of damage, wounding about ten, and killing one – AARON JONES. JIM was wounded.” Private FERNLEY worked as a piecer in Oldham, and was his mother’s main support. He could not bear to see other men in khaki and walk the streets himself, and accordingly he joined the Territorials. He was only 18 years of age. (James R Fernley is buried in Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery).
This is not the end of the story, Leonard Broadhurst enlisted again in 1918 when he was 18 and now 3 inches taller. He joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry and served until he was demobbed in June 1919. I felt quite proud of him by now, to have gone to war at fifteen was a very brave thing to do. He could have left at any time, just telling them he was under age would have meant an automatic discharge but he carried on.
His mother’s letter must have been passed to Tameside Archives by family members. The memories of the brave men who fought in the Great War are revived each time words are written of them. Every person reading these words honours and remembers them.