Ex-Harrogate librarian uncovers forgotten heroes of the Somme

The funeral of Pte Stanley Wildblood as reported in the Harrogate Advertiser edition of September 1916.
The funeral of Pte Stanley Wildblood as reported in the Harrogate Advertiser edition of September 1916.
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Forgotten Harrogate heroes of the First World War have been brought back into the spotlight in the build-up to this week’s centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme.

Tomorrow, Friday will be the 100th anniversary of the beginning of one of the bloodiest battles of The Great War.

Thanks to a great effort of research by a local Great War enthusiast, more than 20 soldiers from the town who lost their lives on the first day of the battle have now been traced.

This week Margaret Power, who was a librarian at Harrogate library for 42 years, met up with members of the Royal British Legion to commemorate three Harrogate soldiers buried in Harlow Hill cemetery in All Saints Church.

Margaret said: “I used to work in the reference department in Harrogate Library and have been able to help a lot of people track down information over the last years.

“I also travel to the battlefields on the Western Front at least once a year.

“The three men died of wounds received on the Somme. As a volunteer of the Harrogate Victory Branch of the Royal British Legion, we went up there to place a ‘Somme Cross’ on their graves.”

It is estimated that there were over one million casualties on all sides in the Battle of the Somme which began on July 1 and continued for five desperate months until its conclusion on November 18 after 141 days.

The three Harrogate men in Harlow Hill cemetery all died of wounds received at the Somme in northern France which was fought across a deadly 15-mile front.

They were: James Alexander Fairley, Stanley Wildblood and Charles Armytage Wooler.

Part of the former librarian’s research included searching through the Harrogate Advertiser archives from the days it was part of local firm Ackrill’s.

Margaret uncovered a report from the time of the funeral of one of them, Private Stanley Wildblood, which appeared in an original edition of the Harrogate Advertiser on September 23, 1916.

And she also came across photographs of the Harrogate soldiers in a copy of Ackrill’s Annual War Souvenir which can still be found at Harrogate Library.

Pte Stanley Wildblood, 10566 8th Bn. York and Lancs, was wounded on July 1, 1916 at the Somme, sustaining a fractured skull and a shell wound in his left thigh.

He was born in 1894, the son of Stanley and Sarah Wildblood of Barnsley.

He had married Mabel Beatrice Furness at St Mary’s Church in Harrogate on July 18, 1915 and lived with their daughter Barbara Joan (born December 18, 1915) at 17 Belmont Avenue, Harrogate.

He died of his wounds in 3rd West General Hospital in Cardiff on September 15, 1916, aged 21, and was buried at Harlow Hill cemetery in Harrogate.

(Acting) Capt Charles Armytage Wooler, West Yorks Regt, served with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from September 10, 1915.

He was born in 1895 at Wortley, the son of Ernest Octavious and Tabitha Louisa Wooler of Ashfield, Pannal Ash, Harrogate.

He took part in the Battle of Loos, was injured and later transferred to the 10th Bn, West Yorks. He returned to the Front and died in the Herbert Hospital, Woolwich on July 20, 1916 from wounds received in action on the first day of the Somme. He was buried at Harlow Hill cemetery in Harrogate.

Pte James Alexander Fairley, 1523911st Canadian Mounted Rifles Bn was educated at Western College in Harrogate.

He was born in 1894 in Edinburgh, the only son of Peter and Jane Fairley, formerly of the Adelphi Hotel, Harrogate.

He emigrated to Canada in 1911 and enlisted in the 79th Overseas Battalion in 1914 before transferring to the Canadian Mounted Rifles. He crossed to France in June 2016 and was wounded at the Somme.

He was sent to Netley Hospital where he died and was buried at Harlow Hill cemetery in Harrogate.

Such is Margaret Power’s interest in the First World War, her feat of historical research is not her first major contribution on the subject.

She also played a role to the return to Harrogate of a plaque dedicated to the people of Harrogate by the Belgian refugees stationed in the town during the First World War.

This weekend will see events in various parts of the UK and Europe to commemorate those who lost their lives at the Somme, a battle in which the British army alone suffered 60,000 casualties on the first day of the assault.

Tomorrow, Friday will see the Royal British Legion hold a ceremony at Thiepval in France, site of the largest monument built by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, at which 10,000 people are expected to attend.

Also tomorrow, the Knaresborough Branch of the Royal British Legion will mark the anniversary with a short ceremony at 7.30am at the town’s war memorial as part of the organisation’s national commemorations.

This Sunday sees a lunchtime commemorative service for the Somme at St James Parish Church in Wetherby.

Next Tuesday, 150 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment are to march through Harrogate at 10.30am led by their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Sam Humphris MBE.

The Freedom March will also include a short ceremony at approximately 11.15am marking the life of 2Lt DS Bell VC, Donald Bell, former full back with Starbeck FC, and the only professional footballer to win the VC in the First World War.