As the clock struck eleven, town heard we were at war

Thornton Square - Peace Celebrations - 1919 - BW
Thornton Square - Peace Celebrations - 1919 - BW

As the clock struck eleven at night – twelve by German time – the ultimatum had now expired and was the signal for the war telegram to be sent out to the ships and establishments under the white ensign all over the world. It was August 4, 1914, and meant Great Britain had declared war on Germany and seen as the start of World War One.

The Echo wrote, which best described the mood the town felt at the time, ‘the struggle will continue until German pride has been humbled or British power has sustained a mortal blow’.

Already some local people who were abroad when war was declared experienced difficulty getting back home. Marion Pearson, the daughter of Joah Pearson (JP the great provider whose business premises were where the Pound shop in Market Street is today) described her journey home from Belgium where she had been attending school as ‘exciting’.

Conscription was not introduced straight away but recruiting was started in earnest with one of the earliest recruiting meetings being on September 1 at the Albert Theatre. This meeting proved to be so overcrowded that another room was opened at the Park Chapel (now The Richard Oastler - J.D. Wetherspoon’s) to take the overflow.

During the following month local people could hear at firsthand what had been happening in Belgium when the first group of refugees arrived.

They stayed at Longroyd House, which had been loaned by the Cheetham family. Father McMenamin organised the welcoming party.

The first party of Belgians arrived at Lightcliffe on October 17 with another 18 refugees arriving on the 21st and were greeted soundly by a large crowd of local people who welcomed them at Brighouse railway station, along with the Mayor Coun Robert Thornton JP.

Horses in Brighouse were becoming scarce with the need for more and more of them needed for the war effort. At the end of the war it was estimated that eight million horses, mules and donkeys died in the conflict. Readers may not be aware that at Brook Gate, Park Lane on the edge of Hyde Park, London there is the Animals in War memorial, which is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time.

By late September and early October details of the local casualties and those who were missing were appearing in the Echo.

Four years would pass before the so called Great War was finally over. It is staggering to try and comprehend the losses in those few years. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 37 million. There were more than 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history.

The war exacted a great and heavy toll on our own district. Whilst most lost their lives in France, many others were lost in Italy, Salonica, Mesopotamia, India, Egypt, Palestine, Africa and Russia. Foreign lands that none of these brave young men would have been to before.

In this photograph we see the Mayor Alderman John Wood JP addressing the crowd in Thornton Square - the war was finally over.