Throughout Tuesday 4 August there were great scenes of excitement in Oldham as groups of people, sometimes swelling to crowds, hung around the Town Hall and the General Post Office. Following the proclamation for the mobilisation of the naval reserve and kindred forces, fourteen Oldham men, members of the Oldham Corps of the St. John Ambulance Brigade belonging to the Royal Naval Auxiliary Sick Berth Reserve, left that afternoon for service. Their destination was Devonport, after which they were to be detailed either for duty in a naval hospital or on warship. The men included James H Johnson, Herbert Wormald, Harry Winterbottom, Fred Halliwell, Charles Broadbent, James Heyes, Fred Williams, A J Gurney, J Jenkinson, Thomas Edward Rossiter, Edmund Butterworth, Isaiah Hall, Harry Smith and Walter Grimshaw.
People then continued to wait expectantly for the order mobilising all army reserves and embodying the Territorials. By nine o’clock in the evening the crowd had grown much larger, and a little later the expected proclamation came:
Owing to the rejection by the German Government of the request made by his Majesty’s Government for the assurance that the neutrality of Belgium will be respected. His Majesty’s Ambassador at Berlin has received his passports. His Majesty’s Government have declared to the German Government that a state of war exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11pm on August 4th.
The following day at 8am most of the army reservists left for their different stations:
The scenes at the local railway stations were remarkable. Throughout the morning the staffs of the different stations were extremely busy in despatching trains of reservists to their different regiments. Twenty, thirty, and even more travelled in every train that departed. They were seen off by their relatives. In many instances the partings were very pathetic. A weeping wife, a crying child, or a brother and sister, or in many cases parents, could be seen bidding their relatives good-bye. As the trains moved out of the station rousing cheers were given for the men who are going to fight for King and country.
A very touching incident happened at Royton Junction, where one of the pointsmen left on Wednesday. He kissed his wife and two children and bade them good-bye, and expressed a wish that he would soon return.
Ten members of the Oldham police force who were called up as reservists received a hearty send off at the Town Hall from the Mayor and Mayoress (Alderman and Mrs Wilde) and the Chief Constable (Mr D H Turner).
The Chief Constable briefly alluded to the object for which they were assembled. He said he felt sure that the men would do honour to their King and would be a credit to their country and the town to which they belonged and add to the reputation of the police force of which they were members. He expressed the belief that it would be a comfort ot the men to know that in the event of them returning to the town their positions would be open to them.
The Mayor and Alderman Cheetham also addressed the men, pointing out to them the importance of assisting in the defence of their country. Both expressed the wish that God would guide them, and that they would return safe and sound from their duties. The men were escorted to the station by Superintendent Pigott and a number of police officers, who gave them a hearty handshake and wished them Godspeed when they left.
The ten reservists were: Detective Smith, PCs Brown, Russell, Low, Grubb, Brierley, King, Mannion, Hankinson and Graham. Three of the men were also members of the fire brigade.
In addition to the Oldham policemen, a number of officers were called up from Shaw, Royton and Chadderton. These included County police constables 1,706 Robert Good, 1,767 Alfred Priestley, and 1,768 Albert Atkinson (all of whom were married men and stationed at Shaw); two Royton policemen (Detective Currie and a mounted constable named Callow); and PC Baron of Chadderton.
They were soldiers, every inch of them. They betrayed no fear, were not wild in any way, but went to their duty firmly and with a deadly surety which makes Englishmen the premier fighters the world over. All had served their country and were ready to serve her again in her hour of need.
This blog was written by Roger Ivens from Oldham Local Studies and Archives.
Oldham Evening Chronicle
Image 1: Proclamation by H. M. the King regarding the defence of the realm – Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Recruitment_in_Britain_during_the_First_World_War_Q42474.jpg?uselang=en-gb)