About the Project
War Memorial Research
The aim of the project is to research as many of the men recorded on the local war memorial as is possible and to upload the results on this site. Most of the men have now been traced and identified, although there are still a handful proving elusive. Hundreds of documents have been amassed, including census records, medal cards, war pension records and soldier's war records to provide as much detail as possible to put together short, informative biographies about each man. There has also been a systematic programme to trace their final resting place in Belgium or France, and photograph and record the war grave or memorial. A number of men were buried in the UK, or are on home based memorials.
Not all are uploaded as the process is time consuming, but biographies are being continuously added to the 'Soldier's of the Memorial' page. There is a great deal of information that has been researched, but yet to be added.
Several local men were taken prisoner during the war and served their time in prison camps behind German lines. As most of the men survived the war, they do not appear on the war memorial, but their stories have also been researched and are also included on the website. One notable prisoner was Joe Mercer who was playing top flight football when war broke out. He joined the footballer's regiment in December 1914, but was wounded and later taken prisoner. Numerous primary sources have been researched to reveal what Joe and other men of the Port endured at the hands of their captors.
Research has revealed that there are numerous men who were not recorded on the war memorial. Occasionally, new items appear in the local press drawing attention to the fact that a name has been missed off, and that the local authorities are being contacted with a view to putting the anomaly right. However, this is actually nothing unusual, although of course it is perfectly understandable that descendants wish to see the name of their family member added in due course.
Although the national memorials had been organised by central government, the decision of how to remember those from local communities who had given their lives were largely left to local town and parish councils. There was also the problem of who to include, as there was no central body from which a list could be obtained. Instead, the collation of names for inclusion on the memorial was carried out by the committee responsible for the memorial's erection by a variety of ways, which included door-to-door enquiries, leaflets through letter boxes, church announcements, articles in the local press, or by word of mouth. The committee usually defined the criteria for who could be added. In some cases, there were strict geographic boundaries, whilst others were a little more flexible. Because there was no centralised organisation, much of the information regarding how local committees proceeded no longer exists. Some minutes have been preserved, whilst information can also be gleaned from local newspapers or parochial histories, especially those mentioning unveiling ceremonies.
There was often controversy, ranging from a number of Catholics who objected to the siting of memorials in front of, or within, the bounds of Anglican parish churches, to those who couldn't agree on the what form the memorial should take. Then there was often much discussion on whether certain names should be left off - especially deserters and those shot for cowardice.
The omission of names, therefore, was not uncommon, especially when the onus may have been with the bereaved family to notify the committee to include their soldier's name. Sometimes, families wanted to move on, and life's priorities were elsewhere. Other families moved away from the area to find work. Frequently, for those who were missing on the battlefield, inscribing the name on a memorial was final acceptance by the family that their loved one would not be coming home, and for some who still held out hope, this was more than they could bear. Private Pemberton, pictured, was just such a man, whose family believed he was a prisoner of war, until finally accepting he would not be coming home. He lived at 31 Oldfield Road in the Port, but was not recorded on the memorial.
In Ellesmere Port, numerous men had been living in the swiftly expanding town only a short time, and in many cases their names appeared both on the local memorial, and also the memorial erected in the area where they had come from, especially those from the Black Country villages.
Whatever the reason for omission, it is also intended to gradually add such local men to the website. Maybe they too can be added to the actual memorial in the future.
Coach parties of pupils from The Whitby High School are taken over to the Battlefields on a regular basis, for a comprehensive four day trip. The author of this site has been one of the leaders for the past decade or more, and is the guide for all the battlefield tours. Many of the students have previously carried out research on the soldiers's of the memorial, and follow this up by trying to discover their soldiers's resting place or memorial in Belgium or France.
Student's Own Ancestral Research
Some of the pupils visiting the Battlefields are also keen to find their own ancestors, and we have successfully traced numerous family members, in addition to carrying out preparation work on the family tree and the soldiers's war record before leaving the UK. We have also traced several ancestors of staff too. On our final evening in Belgium we have had the honour each time to lead the ceremony at the Menin Gate, with pupils reciting the eulogy, and laying down the first wreath, in memory, of course, of the the men of the Ellesmere Port War Memorial (see the menu link, left).
In 1914 Ellesmere Port was a very small place, little more than a village, contained within the working dock and small industrial area centered around where the modern Boat Museum is today, plus the compact terrace housing of the Netherpool area. The small village of Whitby was a mile away on the Chester Road, with agricultural fields between the two settlements. The population of Ellesmere Port was around 10,000 at the outbreak of the war, but unemployment was high due to the local Iron Works, the main employer, laying off the full workforce in 1914. Hundreds consequently volunteered when the call came in August, with the initial group of men joining the Cheshire Regiment appearing to have been named the 'Glorious 514' - the local equivalent of a Pals Battalion. Some of the men signed on locally, others in Birkenhead or Chester, resulting in them being split across the Cheshire, Wirral and Liverpool Regiments. Others had recently migrated to the Port from the Wolverhampton area when the Iron and Steel Works was relocated, and many of them were drawn back to their roots to join regiments there. Nevertheless, this was effectively still an expanding village. There would be few houses in this tight-knit community which would be untouched by the losses, be they relatives, friends, neighbours or workmates.
A study, therefore, has also be made of Ellesmere Port during the war and provided the basis for the book The Home Front During the First World War - Canal Port at War by Mike Royden(2014). Short extracts are available on the website.
Cemeteries and Memorials
Some of the men were never found, and they are recorded on memorials such as the Menin Gate in Belgium, or the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme in France. Those with known graves lie in immaculate cemeteries maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Their care for graves is not confined to those which are scattered throughout the Battlefields, but for all 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars. It may come as a surprise to know that there are over 20 such war graves in the Christchurch graveyard, which was then the local parish church for Ellesmere Port.
Alan Gregson, who has spent a number of years researching World War One history, including the War Memorial in Stoak village, has supplied us with numerous photographs of some of the soldiers on the war memorial, taken from the local press articles of obituary notices during the war, plus the photograph of the Bousfield brothers. His research about the origin of the original war memorial can be found by clicking here.
Web site author
The site is researched, written and designed by Mike Royden. He has been a History teacher for 25 years and a lecturer in Local History in the University of Liverpool Centre for Continuing Education for a similar period. He has numerous publications to his name (see here) and has recently completed a book on 'The Home Front During the First World War', extracts of which can be found on this site. His World War One research can also be seen in the history of the men of Farndon War Memorial and Halewood War Memorial, plus an online history of his own family's experiences in Liverpool (A Family at War - The Effects of the First World War on the family of John and Elizabeth Royden of Liverpool(1872-1920)). Much of this work is augumented and supported by numerous visits to Battlefields of France and Belgium, where he also acts as a guide.