THE First World War of 1914-18, alias ‘The Great War’ and ‘The war to end all wars’, took a heavy toll of life from people in Leigh, Tyldesley and Atherton, both at home and away.
Twelve hundred servicemen were killed from the three towns while Leigh became home to hundreds of German prisoners of war.
In December 1914 a prison camp was set up in Lilford Mill weaving shed ready for the first influx of German prisoners in February 1915.
But one soldier, Fusilier Schmidt, wasn’t impressed with Leigh hospitality and in June attempted to escape. He was shot by a sentry and buried in Leigh Cemetery.
In May 1915 news came that the battle for Hill 60 had claimed the lives of many Tyldesley men from the sloping terraced rows of houses in the Jig area.
More tragedy for local families came when the troopship Royal Edward was sunk in the Aegean Sea.
In September 1916 women bus conductors, known as ‘clippies’, who collected fares and issued tickets, were introduced on local trams and 1917 brought the big squeeze of food supplies which increased the importance allotments brought to everyday life as food queues began to lengthen.
In 1918 food rationing was adopted yet Leigh was able to raise £100,000 for a submarine. Atherton businessmen set out to raise £52,000 for 21 aeroplanes and ended up with £59,000!
In Tyldesley War Weapons Week raised £94,000.
In June 1919 the German prisoners waved farewell to leigh, peace celebrations and a victory carnival were held at Atherton and in May 1919 local towns were presented with tanks.
When Leigh’s tank arrived there was a procession to Lilford Park which was to be its resting place.
Unfortunately the tank broke down and it was almost midnight when it eventually became a park attraction.