I’ve just returned from the Remembrance Sunday service in Didsbury where I live. My family have lived in Didsbury for several hundred years. Every street has a story. Every shop, every graveyard and every pub has the fingerprints of my ancestors all over them.
The pub I do most of my drinking in these days used to be called The Albert. It was renamed several years ago and is now called The Fletcher Moss. It’s changed a bit obviously, but it’ll always be the pub my Grandad and his mates marched off to war from.
I never knew my Grandad, but I know he didn’t like to talk about the war. He fought in North Africa and then spent the last couple of years of the war in the London ambulance service, pulling bodies and parts of bodies out of the crumbled remains of houses. I think it takes a special, brave, resilient kind of person to be able to do that job day in and day out. I never met him, but I’m bloody proud of him.
Today I remember two of my Great Uncles, (John) Robert Atherton (1886-1915) and Stanley Harold Atherton (1899-1918). Their names are on the Didsbury War Memorial and also on the plaque at Didsbury CofE School. John Robert is also commemorated on the memorial plaque at St James Church, Didsbury. They both died in the First World War; young boys who met their deaths hundreds and thousands of miles from home.
I can only imagine the horror these boys, these children were met with when they found themselves on the battlefield. They weren’t even cut down in their prime; they were years off their prime. These boys didn’t leave behind them wives or girlfriends or children. They were still young men themselves, doing their bit for King and country.
Robert Atherton joined the Manchester Regiment 11th (Service) Battalion based in Ashton-under-Lyne. On 3oth June 1915 they sailed from Liverpool on the Aquitania and Empress of Great Britain. on 6-7th August 1915 they landed at Suvla Bay, Gallaopli. It was there on 17th August 1915 that Private John Atherton, a former Coal Carter from Didsbury, lost his life. He is commemorated on the Helles Memorial on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey.
To my knowledge there are no pictures of Robert and Stanley in existence. As far as I’m aware their descendants locally boil down to me and my brother. No one remembers the boys who died in 1915 and 1918. The only thing we have to remember them are their names on a memorial. Theirs is not a unique story, but it’s a story most families have in their past. War touches everyone and continues to aftershock down through the generations.
I also remember William Henry Harrow (1917-1944), nephew of Robert and Stanley Atherton. William is my first cousin twice removed and he died in the Netherlands fighting in WW2. William was a Rifleman in the 6th Battalion of the Carmeronians (Scottish Rifles) and was born in Didsbury. He died of wounds and is buried at Bergen-Op-Zoom War Cemetery. I don’t know much about him and I’ve only recently discovered that he is related to me.
Today at the Remembrance Service at the Didsbury War Memorial there were a few veterans. Every year there are fewer of these proud, straight-backed men wiping away a tear, laying wreaths and saluting old pals. At the Remembrance Service today there were maybe 200 or more people, a great turn out and main roads were closed to accommodate the crowds.
People often ask who will remember when the veterans have gone. Well there were 200 or more people there today who will remember them, and that’s just in a small-ish village in South Manchester.
To me, maybe it’s because I’m a mother, I prefer to remember not just that whole swathes of youth died for their country and for our freedoms today. I prefer to remember them as individuals, each with a story, no matter how short. So tonight when I go to the pub, I’ll walk past the house where Robert and Stanley were born, order a pint at the bar where my Grandad ordered his pint, and I will remember them.