Brothers brought home Great War horrors

Richard Morton Hird
Richard Morton Hird
Share this article

Two brothers who went to war returned home to Burnley with haunting tales from the front.

William Henry Hird and Richard Morton Hird volunteered at the outbreak of war in 1914 and left their home in Pickup Croft to fight for King and Country.

William Henry Hird in 1914

William Henry Hird in 1914

But while both brothers were lucky enough to survive, their experiences in different theatres of war left their mark, physical and psychological.

William Hird, who was born near Barnsley in 1875, joined the King’s Loyal Regiment at the relatively old age of 39, and went on to serve among the mud and blood of Passchendaele.

The Belgian village marked the farthest point in the Allied advance during the Ypres Offensive of 1917.

It was here, according to his grandson Steve Hird, that William was involved in the fight for the infamous Hill 60.

Steve, of Hollingreave Road, said: “Two months of heavy rain made for a heavy loss of life for men and horses.

“My grandson used to question why they fought over a rubbish dump. It was here that he was badly gassed.

“I have visited the area with my brother Michael and son Peter. It was a very moving experience. We laid a wreath at the Hill 60 bunker for all the Burnley lads who laid down their lives.”

After the war, Billy as he was known, was not able to follow his trade as a brickmaker and instead became a bookmaker.

“Betting was technically illegal but Billy ‘stood’ the bets. My father John was a runner for him. Bets were paid out on Saturday night before grandad went to the Devonshire pub in Boot Street for a pint or two.”

Sadly, he was also left to bring up John and five other children on his own when wife Annie died during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1919.

When John joined the Army in 1938 he did so without the blessing of his father who died at the end of the Second World War from the effects of his own war service.

Billy’s older brother Richard was a time-served professional soldier and veteran of the Boer War when he enlisted to serve his country again in 1914.

Richard had fought at the famous battles of Ladysmith and Spion Kop in South Africa, but even this would not prepare him for the horrors of the First World War.

He suffered from shell shock and was involved in the bloodbath that became known as the Gallipoli Landings fighting the Turks.

Steve said: “Richard had no respect for the Turks, although he respected the German soldiers.

“One story he used to relate was how all the horses and donkeys would scream with fear just before the actual combat. They could smell the fear in the air, he used to say.

“After the war he went to work down the coal mines near Barnsley. He was a good man who suffered flashbacks for years after.”