WW1 Project

Background - OHGS WW1 Project

When war was declared on 28th July 1914, the majority of the people of Britain, regardless of their circumstances, shared a common belief - they were prepared to do anything to protect their King and Country, and the British way of life.

The old-boys and old-girls of Oldham Hulme Grammar School shared this belief and reacted appropriately, with many of them volunteering their services in one way or another during the early months of the war.

The Oldham Hulme Grammar School Archive Team have researched the wartime activities of our old-boys and old-girls and the information we have gathered is now available on this website. We have also taken the opportunity, where possible, not only to research war related events, but also to find out what our boys and girls did when they left school, and also in later life.

We have looked into the lives of 819 old-boys who attended school between 1895 and 1918 and would become, during the war years, eligible to serve in the armed forces. Of these, 36 had died during childhood or young aduldhood prior to the war. Of the remainder we have found service details for 401, including the 71 old-boys and one member of staff who lost their lives to the war. Many of the remaining old-boys probably served in the forces or had been requested to remain at home to work in engineering but we have not yet been able to positively identify them from the available records.

The Old-Boys

The majority of boys had been born in Oldham and came to school for three to four years from the age of 11 or 12 before leaving to take up an apprenticeship. One hundred years ago, this was the standard route into what was often life-long employment with a single company. With Oldham's abundance of cotton mills, engineering firms and coal mines, engineers in particular were in demand. A boy would start an apprenticeship at 14 years of age, being taught the practical aspects by day by a master craftsman, and by night attending evening classes to enhance their academic knowledge of the subject. For some, this study might lead to a BSc degree.

Similarly, those boys who would eventually become secretaries of cotton mills or brokers in the cotton market started as junior clerks and over the years learnt about all aspects of cotton manufacturing. Many of those involved in engineering or cotton manufacturing went into the family firm. Accountants, banks and the civil service (notably the Post Office) took boys as juniors or 'learners'; they would then advance through a combination of practical experience and examination.

A number of boys, primarily but not exclusively those from professional families, remained at school until the age of 18 and then proceeded to university to study, in particular, medicine, law, chemistry, theology or the classics. Unlike nowadays, a degree was not an essential prerequisite for becoming a teacher although those boys who aimed to become schoolmasters in the grammar schools would need one. Elementary school teachers often required no more than a teacher training qualification.

A few boys used Hulme as a stepping-stone in preparation for their future education - after private tuition at home, they would come to Hulme for a year or two, often from the age of nine, before taking their secondary education at boarding school.

The Regiments

As those of you who have tried to research WW1 service records will know, it can be a frustrating process because so many records have not survived. 60% of WW1 service records were destroyed or damaged during WW2 and for these men often the only evidence of military service is the medal card which was issued for every man who served overseas. Prior to 1916 the medal card noted the date and place of first service overseas, but for men serving later in the war only name, rank and regiment (but often not the battalion) were included. As a result, for some of our old-boys we know only that they did serve overseas, but not when or where.

As expected, the Manchester Regiment was the first choice of many of the old-boys who still lived in the Oldham area, particularly the 10th Battalion (Oldham Territorials) and the 24th Battalion (Oldham Pioneers or Pals). A number of boys chose the Public School Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers from which most became officers. 146 old-boys were granted commissions to serve as officers. While the Royal Garrison Artillery, Royal Field Artillery, Royal Army Service Corps, Royal Army Medical Corps, and Royal Engineers are all well represented, there are more than 30 other regiments in which an old-boy served. Four served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, two with the Australian Imperial Force, one with the Indian Army and one with the South African Medical Corps.

While nearly all men who joined the army were destined for the front lines, a few were hand-picked for other war work. Two chemistry students were transferred to the Royal Engineers as 'anti-gas' officers - they were responsible for teaching troops in the use of anti-gas equipment, securing stocks of gas appliances captured from the enemy and, in some cases, researching the chemical components of the gas and designing means of protection. An engineer was transferred to the Royal Munitions Factory at Greenock to take charge of design, another to Cammell & Laird at Birkenhead, and a mechanic was transferred back to his home in Hollinwood to work in Park foundry and munitions factory.

Surprisingly, for a land-locked town, we have found 29 men who went to sea with the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy, Royal Marine Artillery, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and Royal Naval Air Service. From 1917 onwards 35 men either joined or transferred from the army to the Royal Flying Corps which, in 1918, became the Royal Air Force. While a few of these became pilots or squadron leaders, the majority served as mechanics.

From the old-boys whose records we have found, 32 were awarded medals for bravery; 26 received the military cross and six received the French or Belgian Croix de Guerre. One man received an award from the government of Serbia, while two received the MBE. 16 men from the army were captured as prisoners-of-war. Seven old-boys refused to take part in the war as conscientious objectors on religious grounds with at least two of them spending time in prison as a result.

Old-Boys who did not return from the War

71 old-boys and one member of staff lost their lives as a result of the war. This is at least 8% of those who may have served (and 18% of those we have managed to trace). The majority were killed in action, particularly at the Somme in 1916 and in 1918, and in the Pas de Calais area in 1918. However, as well as in France and Belgium, deaths also occurred in Turkey, Iraq, Greece and Egypt, and also at sea. A number of deaths also occurred in Britain - in the early years of the war two of our old-boys died from pneumonia whilst training, and deaths after the end of the war number eight, mainly from injuries received.

These old-boys are commemorated on a number of war memorials, not only within the school's catchment area, but also in many other parts of the country, and overseas. The parents and brother of George Hilton dedicated a stone tablet in Oldham Parish Church to their son and the other men from the church who had died in the war. On a sad note, the brother (and only surviving son) died in 1922. A memorial window in St Thomas' Church, Werneth, is dedicated to brothers George and Fred Halliwell who died within two months of each other as a result of the war, and their younger and only remaining brother who died in a climbing accident in 1921. In the Church of St Michael, in Stanton, Gloucestershire, an artistic screen and rood was dedicated to Philip Nicholson Stott by his family; he had been born in Oldham, the son of Sir Philip Sidney Stott, an architect and engineer who had designed over 100 mills, most of them in Lancashire.

In the early 1920s the Old-Boys Association erected a new pavilion and dressing rooms for games, in memory of those who gave their lives in the Great War. The original memorial board which hangs in our school hall was found, like many others around the country, to be incorrect; in particular many names were missing from it. On 11th November 1918 we dedicated a new memorial board to hang near the original one.

Memorial Tablet

The stone tablet in Oldham Parish Church, a memorial to George Hilton and other Oldham men.

The Old-Girls

By 1914, many of our old-girls were in their late twenties and early thirties, married and with a family of their own. While their husbands went away to war, they were left with sole responsibility for their children and had little spare time to devote to any type of war related work, although many knitted items such as scarves and socks which would be sent out to the troops.

It was the younger women, those not yet encumbered by children, that were targeted for war-work and the call went specifically to those of the middle classes who, under normal circumstances, would have expected to spend those years between finishing their education and getting married as ladies of leisure. Of the women appearing on lists of old-girls who joined Voluntary Aid Detachments or who took the place of a man in an office, the majority are shown on the 1911 census as living with their parents and of no occupation. However, when the call came, the old-girls of Oldham Hulme Grammar School responded; we have traced 68 who joined Voluntary Aid Detachments as nurses or cooks and a further 58 who took a job in an office that would not normally have been available to a woman.

A small proportion of our old-girls had chosen to have a career; they had studied at university to become doctors or grammar school teachers, or at college to become nurses or elementary school teachers. For some it turned into a life-long career but others were obliged to retire when they married. For example, our first head-mistress Miss Alice Foxall was appointed at the age of 26; she had an MA from London University, and experience as a lecturer in teacher training. However, she left three years later to be married. Her successor Miss Ada Bertha Clark remained with the school for 25 years.

Two old-girls who had qualified as surgeons at the start of the war volunteered to serve in France. A further eight volunteered for overseas service as qualified nurses or with Voluntary Aid Detachments. Their stories are included in the Old-Girls section.


Articles from the Oldham Chronicle have been transcribed from copies held on microfilm at Oldham Local Studies and Archives.

The Oldham and District Branch of the Manchester and Lancashire Family History Society have produced two data CDs which are extremely useful to anyone researching Oldham men. The first covers Oldham's Battalions of the Manchester Regiment - the 6th Volunteer Battalion, the 10th Territorial Battalion and the 24th Pals Battalion, and includes scanned copies of the books Amateur Soldiers by K W Mitchinson, The Oldham Battalion of Comrades by H Wilde, and Cotton Town Comrades by K W Mitchinson and I McInnes. The second disk has scanned copies of the 14 Oldham Chronicle Supplements which were issued in 1915 and 1916; these contain photographs and details of 927 local servicemen who lost their lives during the war. There is also an index to all service personnel who were mentioned in the Saturday editions of the paper during the war years.

Much of our research has been undertaken online; the following websites have been particularly useful:-

Ancestry (ancestry.co.uk) - bmd, census records, army service records, medal cards, Royal Navy records, probate records, family trees.

Find My Past (findmypast.co.uk) - bmd, census records, army service records, RAF records, teacher registrations, institutional records, newspaper reports.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (cwgc.org) - Details of WW1 deaths and of all cemeteries where casualties are commemorated. All photographs of cemeteries are from this website.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (grandeguerre.icrc.org) - Records of Prisoners of War.

The National Archives (nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/medal-index-cards-ww1.htm) - Medal Cards.

The Long, Long Trail (1914-1918.net) - Details of all army regiments, often with details of each battalion's movements, and a great deal of war-related information.

Manchester Libraries Service (manchester.gov.uk) - Access to the Guardian, Manchester Evening News and other newspaper archives.