How the First World War affected Halifax

First World War Heritage Society, David Millichope, Alan Rhodes and Rob Hamilton.
First World War Heritage Society, David Millichope, Alan Rhodes and Rob Hamilton.

It was in their own words a quite daunting task sifting through four years of Couriers to piece together pivotal moments from the Great War as they affected Halifax.

“When we first went into the Central Library, all we could see was a sea of print,” admits former teacher David Millichope, one of the chief architects of a quite amazing project by the Halifax Great War Heritage Society which from July 4 they will share with the 21st century Courier.

Each week, throughout the centenary of the 1914-1918 conflict, David, of Hipperholme, and his colleagues Alan Rhodes, a retired civil servant from Boothtown, Rob Hamilton, a retired fireman from Greetland and retired teacher Elaine Beach, of Barkisland, will pick out stories making the headlines in the Courier of 100 years ago and explain their significance to give people greater understanding of what was happening in the town during that life-changing period of history.

I met with David, Alan and Rob at the Society HQ in Boothtown to discuss what had been their motivation and how, from an original idea to mark the centenary by setting up a number of walking trails concerned with the Great War (the first Walking Trail pamphlet will be released at the opening of the Bankfield Museum exhibition), this section of the Heritage Society branched out on a vast project that will keep them busy for years to come.

For this project, however, the group concerned itself more with the effect of the war as reflected in Halifax, rather than what was happening in the trenches of Northern France.

“Our focus was always on the home front and how events affected the local communities,” says Alan whose interest in the Great War began when he gave a speech on Royal Navy Dreadnought battleships to his school’s history society.

“As a manufacturing town Halifax was hugely involved in the war effort. Everybody was involved and it took over people’s lives in an astronomical way,” says David.

Adds Rob: “There was an attitude that we are in it, so we are in it to win it. It was also a huge period of change, a time when suddenly there was much more government involvement in people’s lives.

“The first licensing laws were introduced, for instance, there were food shortages to cope with and no NHS.

“There were staggering displays of solidarity which come through in the newspaper articles. Communities looked after their own - especially when casualties started mounting,” he says (it is believed as many as 5000 men from Halifax perished).

“However due to this solidarity there appeared to be very little destitution despite families suddenly being plunged into poverty because the bread winner had been sent off to war on a shilling a day.”

One interesting fact the group uncovered was the leading role the Courier played in support activities for the town. The paper set up a Courier Comforts Fund which organised parcels for wounded soldiers in hospitals, soldiers at the front and prinsoners of war.

“It appears this was one of the most successful schemes of its kind in the country. The Courier certainly played its part in the whole story,” says David .

Interestingly all three share one common belief that through a process of misinformation, perpetuated and exacerbated in recent times by shows like Blackadder, a whole generation now imagines the Great War as one run by incompetents who mindlessly presided over the slaughter of millions of men.

All three take an opposing view of this similar to that of former British soldier, historical writer and broadcaster Gordon Corrigan propounded in his book Mud, Blood and Poppycock.

“When you weigh it all up you begin to realise that all those myths about stupid generals and it all being a waste of time was simply not true,” says David.

“In fact we were a far more impressive outfit in the First World War than we were in the 1939-45 conflict.”

One thing is for certain, the implications of losing, which came close to happening on more than one occasion, would have had unimaginable consequences. It would have changed the whole course of history.

lThe Society is grateful to Calderdale Libraries and Information Service, Calderdale Museums Service and Pennine Horizons for support, advice, resources and generous use of premises and is appreciative of the financial assistance it has received from Calderdale Small Grants Scheme and the Bearder Charity.

lJuly 4: The Halifax Great War Heritage Society series begins. On June 28, 1914, the Courier, like the rest of the World’s media, learned of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.

lNEXT WEEK: Don’t miss the final eight page pullout of our First World War series.