Stories of the people, the place and the areas surrounding Formby. Formby is a coastal town with a beautiful beach, fabulous sand dunes, pine woods, red squirrels all managed by the National Trust. The town boasts an attractive village shopping centre where there's much to see, eat and drink. Because of its popularity, parking close to the beach is limited, often full and large queues form by noon at weekends and bank holidays.
I first wrote about Hector McLellan in August 2014, I had been looking through the early minutes of Formby Parish/Urban District Council and the story jumped off the page.
Mr Hector McLellan was a young housing officer working for Formby Urban District Council when World War I started. He promptly joined up to fight. As a result, local Council members met to consider the consequences.
Special meeting on Thursday 13th August 1914 at Council Office at 8 pm
The Council members met shortly afterwards to agree the following.
That the Council do pay each employee in their service on an actuarial basis the difference between the pay received from the Army and that received from the Council whilst on active service and that their position be open for them on their return from such service.
Moved by Cllr Bolton Sec by Cllr Porter And resolved unanimously:
That in the case of Mr H McLellan the assistant collector he be paid seven shillings (7/-) per week after the 25th instant and to Messrs Aindow and Brooks the difference between the amounts received through the Army and that of £1-1-0 per week paid by the Council.
(Source: Blog Entry August 8 2014)
The special reference to Hector McLellan arose out of the fact that his widowed Mother was utterly dependent on his salary and she was penalised because of his act of volunteering.
His name is on the War Memorial in the Formby Memorial garden and on the Roll of Honour Memorial in the Swimming Pool grounds Since then I have thought little about his story but entirely by accident, I stumbled on the final sad chapter to his life, while looking for a story for the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day blog post.
Ormskirk Advertiser - Thursday 14 November 1918
FORMBY COUNCIL OFFICIAL KILLED. -
The death in action is reported of Sergeant Hector McLellan, Royal Fusiliers, whilst engaged in one of the great battles in France on October 25th.
Prior to the war, Sergeant McLellan was assistant clerk of the Formby Urban District Council and had been in the employ of that authority since leaving school.
As a member of the 7th Liverpool Territorials, he was mobilised at the outbreak of war and was given his corporal's stripes on the first day of hostilities.
Subsequently transferred to the Royal Fusiliers, he proceeded to Italy, and was in General Plumer's command, seeing much fighting there, and later in Belgium.
Next time you're in the village take a minute or two to find his name. Now, you'll have a small glimpse into his personal life and public service and death in the service of the Nation so close to the end of hostilities.
Wilfred Owen perished 100 years ago today, just days before the Armistice was signed on 11 November.
A matter of only seven days.
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,— The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
And the connection with Formby?
During the war, Wilfred Owen met Seigfried Sassoon and they became friends and Owens was greatly influenced by him.
Eventually, Sassoon, while visiting Formby, threw his Military Cross Medal into the sea, presumably in a mixture of despair, rage and protest against the horrors of the so-called Great War.
The National Trust has published the following story about Captain John Basil Armitage.
Captain John Basil Armitage (28 May 1876 –17 May 1917)
John Armitage was born in Altrincham, Cheshire, eldest son of William, a justice of the peace, and Margaret Petrie Armitage. He was a boarder at Sedbergh School, Yorkshire, returning to work for his uncle, an architect and mayor of Altrincham. In 1903 he married Alice Kathleen O’Hanlan and set up home in Dunham Massey and later Bowden, Cheshire, with one son and two daughters.
A local newspaper reported that he enlisted in January 1915, training recruits until October 1916, when John was drafted into the 5th Battalion (Earl of Chester’s), Cheshire Regiment at Condé-Folie near the Somme. The unit’s companies were drawn from the city of Chester and towns across the county including his hometown, Knutsford, Sale, Cheadle and Runcorn.
John arrived during the final engagements that compromised the battle of the Somme, which the regiment were involved in from July until the attacks ground to a halt in the autumn. The next spring, his unit saw action during the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line and the battle of Arras, where John met his end, reportedly from what was described in local news as a “stray” shell. He is buried at Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines, France.
In the past, Halloween was preceded by an earlier tradition, which was known as Souling.
A visiting custom carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries mainly by children, but previously by adults, in the Shropshire, north Staffordshire, Cheshire, and Lancashire area, on All Saints Day (1 November) and All Souls Day (2 November).
The Soulers visited houses, sang a song, and collected money, food, drink, or whatever was given to them. The songs vary somewhat from place to place, but they all follow the same basic pattern:
Soul, soul for a souling cake I pray you, missis, for a souling cake Apple or pear, plum or cherry Anything good to make us merry Up with your kettles and down with your pans Give us an answer and we'll be gone Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate Crying for butter to butter his cake One for St. Peter, two for St. Paul Three for the man that made us all
Shropshire: By-Gones Relating to Wales & the Border Country (1889-1890, 25.3)
You can hear a longer version of this song below, which was recorded in 1965 by The Watersons.
I don't know what you think, but I'd welcome a return of this celebration instead of the highly commercialised Halloween of today.
I'm also pleased to report that there is still an example of the tradition kept alive at The Antrobus Arms, Cheshire.
The old English custom of souling or soulcaking dates back to the 10th Century.
A traditional Cheshire Souling play performed on All Soul’s Eve and the following 2 weekends.
The Antrobus Gang are well established with continuity a distinguishing feature. They are thought to have performed continuously for hundreds of years.
Soulcakers would go from house to house singing a begging song or a plea for prayers for the dead. They would put on a play for residents.
The plays were performed out of necessity when farm work was in short supply. Plays usually consist of a fight between St George and his adversaries resulting in one of the characters being killed and brought back to life by a ‘quack’ doctor. The Hooden Horse accompanies the soulcakers with its groom and a whip.
The Hooden Horse is a man covered with a blanket holding a horses head.
Soulcakes were small spiced fruit cakes similar to Hot Cross Buns and were given to performers as well as drink or money, helping to keep their families fed during lean times. It could be quite lucrative as 3 nights of mumming (acting out the play) often raised as much as month’s wages.
The tradition continues at the Antrobus Arms where money raised now goes to charity.