Stockport Recruits in 1914
Britain declared war on Germany on 4th August 1914 after Germany failed to respond to Britain’s ultimatum demanding assurances that the neutrality of Belgium would be respected. At 6.20am on 9 August, the first batch of volunteers left Stockport railway station on a dull, rainy morning. According to the local press, men were “singing Auld Lang Syne in a lusty fashion” as they passed through the subway to reach the long train (which had a wagon full of officers’ horses at the rear). A second wave left at 8.00am; these were probably even more cheerful as they had had a hearty breakfast at the nearby Armoury!
On August 13th the Stockport Express reported that owners of horses suitable for military purposes residing on the Cheshire side of the River Mersey (no reference was made to arrangements for owners of suitable horses who lived on the Lancashire side!) were ordered to bring them to the Armoury for examination.
By 27th August the theatre on Wellington Road South was showing official “news from the front” films.
The Stockport Express of 3rd September carried a large advertisement for a mass public meeting to be held at the Armoury on 7th September. This, as the Prime Minister put it, was so the “justice of our cause should be made plain, and the duty of every man to do his part should be enforced”. In the same issue losses were reported under “War items”, a feature that would grow as the war continued.
So many men were coming forward to join up that the Churchgate recruiting depot was inadequate and space had to be found at the Armoury. The length of time taken to test and register each volunteer was provoking grumbles. Some volunteers went to Chester to enlist and a recruiting office opened at the Drill Hall in Stalybridge. At this time, dental tests were rigidly enforced which led to many being “turned away sorrowful”. Not surprisingly, things soon changed and plenty of Stockport lads with less than first class teeth went to fight. The newspaper proudly proclaimed that Stockport “is on the crest of the wave of patriotism”.
Although Stockport did not have its own Pals Battalion, the sportsmen of the town responded to the call to arms. It was thought that team mates would make good comrades in arms and such groups were earmarked for immediate overseas service. About 70 of the Stockport Lacrosse Club men were drafted into the East Lancashire Territorials.
It was reported in 10 September’s Stockport Express that hundreds of men who had been accepted were sent home as there was no accommodation in Chester for them. The great response all over the country had taken the War Office by surprise. Large numbers from Stockport had gone to Manchester to enlist. Men were sent in batches of 60 to Chester every 5 days.
Despite the constant striving to encourage enlistment, in the edition of 8th October it was admitted that there were complaints from recruits in training depots that they were waiting a long time to be fully equipped and some were a while without getting boots. As a result, new recruits were advised to take with them an overcoat, a suit of clothes and a pair of boots. If these were approved by the CO, they got 4s for the depreciation of the coat and 3s for the suit and boots.
Recruiting for the 6th Reserve Battalion of the Cheshire Territorial Regiment was reportedly brisk. It was expected the town would supply about 500 men with Hyde, Stalybridge and other areas sending in the remainder. Each day they marched through the town to Woodbank Park for drill and in the afternoons drill on the cricket and lacrosse grounds at Cale Green. Vigorous recruiting meetings going on in outside districts such as Romiley while recruiting took place at the Armoury at 11.00 a.m. any day.
Here are some of Stockport’s recruits drilling at Stockport Cricket Club’s ground.
There was a large advertisement by Henry Henshall (the Recruiting Agent) in the Stockport Express of 15th October– “The Country’s Call – recruits wanted quickly” – for the reserve battalion as a feeder for the 6th Cheshires. Open air meetings were held in Stalybridge, Marple Bridge and Mersey Square. A special rally at the Armoury would be held, enlivened with patriotic songs.
By this time physical requirements had been lowered to make men who measured 5ft 3ins in their shoes and had a 33” chest (another article said 5ft 5ins and 34”) eligible, providing they were physically fit.
From the moment of enlistment, men received pay of 3s per day, 7 days per week and were expected to be at home. They drilled at 8.15 a.m. each day for 6 hours until they left the town, then they received the usual soldier’s pay. Womenfolk were asked to encourage young men “who may need a little courage to take the step”.
Kitchener made another appeal for recruits in late October. By this time there had been 620,000 since the start of the conflict in August, but another 380,000 were still needed to meet the needs of the War Office. A massive recruiting rally was held at Stockport Armoury on 23 October. This aimed to win over waiverers and Henry Henshall played a prominent part in it. It was stated during the rally that Cheshire had sent a total of 10,855 men already. To help meet the War Office’s needs, the upper age limit was raised to 38 and to 45 for ex-soldiers.
Thanks to Linda Davies from Stockport Local Heritage Library for writing this great blog post.
Image 1: Recruiting Tram – Stockport Local Heritage Library – Stockport Express Annual, S/L 43 46596
Image 2: Recruits Drilling at Stockport Cricket Ground – Stockport Local Heritage Library, S/L 43 21718