As part of our centenary commemorations, we have been looking through papers and diaries belonging to Bolton men and women who served in the First World War.
Sidney Ormrod Fawell, son of George, a wholesale Grocer and Eliza Fawell was born in 1891 and was from Bolton. He enlisted in Manchester on 9 November 1914 in the Royal Army Service Corps. Before the outbreak of war, he worked for John Haslam, Baker and Grocer, St George’s Road, Bolton. During the war he served in the army’s Stores and Provisions unit, reaching the rank of Sergeant.
Here we present highlights from his war diary. First entry is on Mon-Nov-9. The year is not stated but possibly 1914 as this was the date he enlisted. and refers to Fawell leaving Bolton and catching the train to Hulme Barracks to join up. The book Sidney used to write his diary was a small dark red leather-bound account book, with advert for ‘John Haslam, Baker and Grocer’ on front. ‘LANCE/CPL S.O. FAWELL S/1302 EAST LANCS Army Service Corps’ written at top. The book may have given him comfort and served as reminder of home.
The entries chosen, relate to Sidney’s experience of first joining up in 1914 and then first setting foot on French soil in 1917. There are references to his army life in 1917 and 1918 in note form at the back of the diary.
Left Bolton on the nine o’clock train arriving at the Hulme barracks about 9.30. Here found a crowd of men, anything up to 300; all waiting to be signed on. The crowd was terrible, language beastly. After waiting for about twenty minutes, & being treated like sausages pushed about, I was ushered into the office to [see] the doctor.
Here I was stripped naked, my height & chest measurements taken, eyesight tested. Two hops across the room, my heart sounded, & I was passed medically fit to serve his majesty. Next swearing in, twelve of us were told to hold one & the same bible with our left hand, hold up our right hand and swear by almighty God to serve our king.
Later entry in November
Routine for the day
Parade 7 o’clock to 7.50
Parade 9.30 – 12.30
Parade 2.30 – 5.30
Roll call 10 o’clock
Paraded 7.30 am. Raining, so dismissed. [Later] marched to St Paul’s. This was in use so we were marched to our surprise and delight to the Cheshire Lines Station right onto the platform. Murmurs of quick embarkation to France but no such luck.
7.30 am breakfast, & oh the excitement of the boys getting Xmas presents. They have been good to me, gave me a [packet] of cigs [and] 20 thin handkerchiefs.
[After an early morning parade Sidney is allowed some time off to visit his aunt Maria]. I was glad to have a chat with someone from home and so talked all the afternoon and eventually I stayed to tea. [At the day’s end] treated myself to a bath.
[Sidney appears to have spent much of 1915 and 1916 at camps around Britain. One entry from 8 September 1916 is particularly poignant: ‘Had a letter from home they say Frank Haslam has been accidentally shot whilst a chum was cleaning his rifle. Poor Frank!’ It is likely that Frank Haslam was the son of Sidney’s former employer, John Haslam. Early in 1917, Sidney finally crosses the Channel to France.]
25 February 1917
Tonight we entrain for France so this morning we had our final medical inspection and we are now confined to barracks.
We are to spend the night under canvas, 12 in a tent. Anyway anything is welcome. So we had our first sleep on French soil.
[Sidney is now working near the front line, supplying food to the men in the trenches.]
Staff and I had a walk around after tea to see the damage [from the bombardment of the British lines]. Round by the cinema they had dropped one in a road where an infantry brigade had passed along only eight minutes before. Good timing that I can tell you. Another [bomb] in the P.O. and another demolished a house.
Whilst making the issue we were treated to an air duel. German [plane] chased by 3 British planes. [The German pilot] attempted to get back to his own lines but was forced to descend and was taken prisoner.
Sunday 6 May
A hurricane has been blowing all night, and continually. Sunday again. How I wish I was at home for the old Sundays, will they ever return? [Sidney attends a mass for the troops.] To hear the good old service was really fine and all the time the guns were bombarding.
The attack opened last night and ever since the early hours walking wounded have been coming down the road.
[Sidney is probably referring here to a late stage of the Third Battle of Ypres, which took place between July and November 1917. Many thousands of the casualties on both the Allied and German sides were killed in the fighting during the battle.]
Diary continues in 4 further volumes.
Sidney was demobbed on 15 April 1919. However, his military achievements were later mentioned in Despatches in the London Gazette on 10 July 1919. He married in 1920 to Louie Vose and had two daughters.
In 1939 he was a Retail Grocer and Provision Dealer, eventually dying on 21 December 1942 in Bolton aged 51.
The diary and images of Sidney Ormrod Fawell
Bolton Museum Collection Ref BOLMG: 2005.391.14