Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Escaping war’s shadow

Jack Crumak, who fought in World War One (back row, second from right). He is pictured with team mates of the Albion Hotel Football Club in 1918 when he returned from the war.
Jack Crumak, who fought in World War One (back row, second from right). He is pictured with team mates of the Albion Hotel Football Club in 1918 when he returned from the war.

Many thousands of Dewsbury men answered the call to fight for their country in World War One but as we are all still too painfully aware, well over a thousand never came home.

Those who did rarely talked about it. Somehow they managed to put it all behind them, pick up where they'd left off and get on with life.

Two comrades in arms pose for this picture taken during WW1. Jack is pictured standing. The name of his comrade, seated,  is unknown. Perhaps he too came from Thornhill.

Two comrades in arms pose for this picture taken during WW1. Jack is pictured standing. The name of his comrade, seated, is unknown. Perhaps he too came from Thornhill.

One Dewsbury soldier who did exactly that was Jack Crumack, a coal miner from Thornhill, who had enlisted in the Northumberland Fusiliers in 1915.

He was aged around 18 when he went to fight, and like so many of those who went with him, never talked about it.

One of the first things he did on getting home in 1918 was to rejoin his old pub football team, The Albion in Thornhill, better known as The Flat Top.

He also went back to his old job down the pit, later marrying and raising five children – Harry, Eric, Joyce, Doreen and Kathleen – but he never even talked to them about the war.

His family still treasure the medals he received for his part in it and also his regimental swagger stick, but they know nothing of the part he played in it.

His son-in-law, David Whitelock, who married Jack's daughter Kathleen, said in all the years he'd known Jack he could only remember him once mentioning the war.

"He just said one day that him and all his mates had had to have their hair shaved off before going home on leave because they were infested with lice," recalled David.

"We were sitting in the garden and he just suddenly came out with it. I don't know why he said it but he must have been thinking of the war to suddenly come out with it like that.

"That was the first and last time I heard him say anything about the war. Now when I think of what those young men went through, it just doesn't bear thinking about.

"It is only now when everyone is talking about the war that people are beginning to realise just what was really going on."

Jack was 84 when he passed away nearly 30 years ago, but despite the horrors of what he had experienced, he managed to enjoy a good life, raising a family and playing with the Albion Football Club and, in later life, watching them.

Sadly, the club folded some four or five years ago, but there will be many in the village who remember the central role football played in village life.

David remembers when every lad in Thornhill seemed to want to play football in Overthorpe Park. So many that sometimes they had to form twenty-a-side teams.

He now looks at the photograph showing the team Jack played with and feels sure that some of them would have also gone to war with Jack.

The pressure being put on young men from Dewsbury to volunteer to fight shortly after World War One broke out can be seen in newspaper reports of the day.

In the early part of the war the only men fighting were professional serving soldiers and those who had volunteered to go.

Conscription had not become compulsory, but within months of the war breaking out it became obvious that many more men were needed.

Everyone had believed when war broke out in August 1914 that it would all be over by Christmas but it wasn't.

Early in 1915 pressure started being put on young unmarried men who had not already volunteered, and robust recruiting campaigns were set up throughout the country.

Here in Dewsbury, like in many other towns, there were still a large number of men who had not yet answered the call, and soon it became a competition as to which town would send the most.

Open air meetings were held throughout the district, leaflets distributed throughout the town, and employers urged to put pressure on young male workers to join the colours.

Young women were asked not to walk out with a young man who wouldn't go fight for his country, and mothers were asked not to stand in the way of their sons going to war.

Even the clergy preached from the pulpit that it was a young man's duty to go fight to protect his mother and sisters.

Midday meetings were held in mill yards throughout the town urging male workers to go and fight for king and country. A very large one was held at Wormald and Walker's Mill in Thornhill Lees.

One open air meeting in the Market Place was attended by many thousands of people and three platforms were set up to accommodate the great and the good of the town.

The Mayor, Major P B Walker, said as Mayor of this great and important borough of Dewsbury, he considered it a privilege to appear before them in His Majesty's uniform, to appeal to those able and fit men to come forward to do something to defend their homes.

He said it was repulsive to him to have to come and beg and pray and beseech men to defend their own country in a time of peril.

It was no good these young men hanging back and saying ‘We will wait until we're fetched’ because he could assure them that if ever conscription were put into force, the men who had to be "fetched" would not get the same terms as those who came willingly; and he hoped that they would not.

He was a great believer in the voluntary system, but it was most unfair that some men should have to leave their work, homes and families to go to the war, whilst others stopped at home and did nothing to go and help them.

During Dewsbury's recruiting campaign, a heartfelt and emotional appeal was made to Dewsbury mothers through the columns of the Reporter.

It was written by Mrs C H Chadwick, of Myrtle Bank, West Park Street. She was the mother of Capt Arthur Chadwick, who had recently been killed in the war.

She wrote:

Now that recruiting is being carried out in the town, may I be permitted to say a few words to the mothers of Dewsbury?

When my youngest son went into training, I was rather troubled, he wrote saying ‘When the tears are dry, mother, just do something', and that something was this – ‘Get as many mothers as you can to get their lads come over here, for we need them badly.’

At that time I felt it an impossible thing to ask, but now I can and must do it, because he asked me.

I have heard some mothers say ‘I am not going to let my lad go’, but I think no mother should refuse if it is possible and if her son or sons are willing to go.

It is a supreme sacrifice, I know, but now is the time for action, and England expects every woman, as well as every man, to do his duty.

Ask yourselves, mothers of Dewsbury, ‘Am I doing my duty?’ It is hard I know, I know too well, but it is a beautiful and noble sacrifice to make.

It is a piece of our very selves we give, but, believe me, and I say it firmly, we do not regret the gift we make. '

A soldier from the Front wrote this to me: ‘Under the shadow of your sorrow you will have a great joy.’ I have felt that already.

O mothers, rouse up to your opportunities, give your best, keep it not back. Listen for the sake of my son, who has been faithful unto death, and who, being dead, yet speaketh.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs C H Chadwick

• Do you have photographs of relatives who fought in WW1 and returned home? Please contact or ring the newsroom on 0113 238 8950 to pass on your details.