As Pendle prepares to commemorate the centenary year of the First World War, REBECCA COHEN takes a look back at how the Colne and Nelson Times covered the news back in 1914...
“Hand gripped hand in silent sympathy, and a cheer rent the air as the train steamed out again. But there were some sorrowful hearts and tear-dimmed faces as wife, sweetheart, and mother wondered whether their loved ones would return or not.”
At once harrowing and poignant, this powerful description from the August 7th edition of the Colne and Nelson Times gives just a snippet of how Pendle residents felt as Britain declared war on Germany in 1914.
Eager crowds waited for “long, weary hours” outside the newspaper offices of Colne and Nelson to hear the fateful declaration - with some left cheering and others left grieving at the announcement.
Idealised posters with words including “Say you’d look good in khaki!” and more famously “Your country needs you!” were placed around the town, and according to local historian Geoff Crambie, many signed up to the Great War as an escape from working in the mills. Some would even go so far as to lie about their age to find themselves in recruitment.
“They had worked in the mills, gone through the daily grind, and wanted to try and escape”, Mr Crambie said. “Colne had 53 mills and Nelson had about 68, and I think workers thought this was their escape. It would have been horrendous working in the mills, but they didn’t realise that war would be even more horrendous.
“In Colne and Barnoldswick 634 died, and in Nelson it was even higher. In Colne, it works out at about one per street, but in Accrington every street lost about six soldiers.”
In our papers, reflections were made on how the war would have an impact on the cotton trade and the reasons why Britain was compelled to declare war.
“We may not suppose that the difficulties and trials of Lancashire are likely to vanish into thin air”, one article reads. “At the best we have a time of difficulty and trial before us, the severity and the duration of which we may not foresee.”
And another added: “The Government worked for peace as long as they could, but they had to abandon the effort. No other course was open.”
As well as focusing on those going off to fight in the war, attention was also paid to the ambulance men called upon for service. What is particularly striking is the difference in how Barrowford reacted to their departure, in comparison to in Colne and Trawden.
In Barrowford, the brass band played and “people cheered and doffed hats and caps and uttered encouragement as they passed”. And although “there was a deep undercurrent of sympathy”, it is clear that they were not quite prepared for the four-year horror story ahead of them.
In Trawden and Colne, however, while residents were not ready for one of the deadliest conflicts in history, neither were they ready to celebrate soldiers sacrificing their own comfort and safety.
For, as our paper reported: “In the presence of a realisation of the grim reality of war, all joking ceased, and the assembly gave all their thoughts to the men who were leaving home without knowing whether they would ever return.”
For more coverage on World War One see Leader Times Newspapers tomorrow.