This article is from the Wigan Archives and Local Studies website. They have a number of First World War resources available online; including a searchable database of soldiers, newspaper cuttings and photographs. Also included is the fascinating story of the Leigh Prisoner of War camp; part of the story can be read below. For more information on this story and to view the collections please click here to visit the website.
Etherstone Street – Leigh POW Camp
In 1914 the shell of the Lilford Weaving Company’s new mill at the bottom of Etherstone Street was requisitioned by the War Office and converted into a camp to accommodate 2,000 German and Austrian 1st World War prisoners. The National Reservists soldiers guarding them were housed in cottages built for the mill workers. The field surrounding the mill was protected by an electrified barbed wire fence and patrolled by sentries with fixed bayonets.
The prisoners arrived at Leigh Station in February 1915 and drew large and curious crowds on their march to the camp. The camp itself was very well equipped with sleeping quarters, a canteen and a large exercise area. There were several unsuccessful escape attempts but on the 30th May 1915, Friedrich Wilhelm Karl Schmidt, aged 25 was shot on the roof of the camp. He and six other prisoners who died of illness were interred in Leigh Cemetery then later exhumed and transferred to the German War Cemetery at Cannock Chase.
The camp closed in 1919 and the building became known locally as Etherstone Mill. Most local people today are unaware that there even was a POW camp in Leigh.
This memorial was based on designs by pupils from Lowton West Primary School. Artist Emma Brown and pupils from Lowton West created the finished piece. The memorial includes archive images of the men from the camp as well as alluding to the land the prisoners once used for exercise now being the site where Leigh East play rugby. There is a list of names of POW’s and the English soldiers who worked at the camp on the website. Click here to view more details.