Discovery prompts new book

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The chance discovery of a description in an old Lord Wharton Bible in 2013 has prompted local author, Peter Thomas, to write a book.

The inscription on the fly leaf dated from late 1918 consisted of a tribute from James Thomas to his younger brother, Robert Arnold Thomas.

Robert had died aged 21 in a Manchester hospital on November 16 1918, from injuries sustained near Albert on August 5 1918.

Peter wanted to find out more about these brothers who shared his surname.

His researches uncovered the facts that they lived at 24 Oak Street, Hebden Bridge, were involved in the clothing trade and seemingly were unrelated to the author’s family.

From such small beginnings the scope of his research widened, the ultimate result being the recent publication of a book, Hardship and Hope – Hebden Royd and Todmorden during the First World War from 1914 to 1918.

Peter said: “It seemed to me that the tragedy which struck the family of Robert Thomas was one which found an echo in many families in the Upper Calder Valley.

“One demand above all provided a major theme running through this book – the apparently insatiable need of the British army for more and more men.”

The great recruiting campaigns gave way to conscription, but nothing posed more of a threat to social unity than the suspicion that local Military Tribunals were guilty of favouritism in the granting of exemptions from conscription.

Other themes that provided a backcloth to the great conflict were the shortages of food and other consumer goods with the resultant rocketing prices, fear of zeppelin attacks; the imposition of blackouts and other lighting restrictions.

And last, but not least, the passing of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) which gave the government huge powers to interfere in all walks of life in the name of national security.

Not that it was all a negative picture. Wars can bring benefits. Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd, for example, enjoyed lucrative contracts for the production of khaki uniforms which kept the mills humming.

Women in general could enhance their status (and incomes) by taking over jobs that had previously been dominated by men who were now in uniform. Nevertheless it was the ever lengthening casualty lists which dominated the lives of those living on the hilltops and along the valley from Luddenden Foot to Todmorden.

If the press was censored, then the letters home from servicemen were not in terms of describing the terrible conditions under which they laboured at the fighting fronts.

Hardship and Hope is peppered with snippets from such letters which brought home the grim reality of war, and one of the grimmest ordeals was the struggle at Gallipoli in 1915. A full chapter is devoted to this because of its great resonance with the people of Todmorden.

In the end, despite all the strains which threatened to fracture social unity, at a local and national level one binding influence preserved this unity.

Peter added: “This was the conviction that this was a just war against unbridled German militarism.

“The hardship had been borne; now came the hope that all the sacrifices had not been in vain, that a better world lay ahead. Sadly people were not to know that the next two decades would merely be an interlude between two great wars.

“Hardship and Hope is peppered with snippets from such letters which brought home the grim reality of war, and one of the grimmest ordeals was the struggle at Gallipoli in 1915.”

“A full chapter is devoted to this because of its great resonance with the people of Todmorden.”

Hardship and Hope is available from local bookshops, tourist information centres and other retail outlets or direct from the author at plkthomas@hotmail.com