On Saturday 7th September the military historian, Tim Lynch, was the guest speaker. He opened by delivering some statistics about the kind of person and background the average Tommy Atkins came from. Housing was often poor and unsanitary. He would have probably have been unemployed or in low paid work. Conditions were often dangerous particularly in the coal mines, steelworks and railways. There was every chance he might die from some contagious disease such as scarlet fever. One in four of the population would not reach maturity. So, when he enlisted, he switched from one harsh environment to another in the trenches. Tim then introduced his son, who was dressed in the uniform of a WW1 soldier. From cap to khaki serge and from boots and puttees to an assortment of webbing pouches, bags and tools. The latter consisted of a gas mask, ammunition, a ‘French nail’ ie a knife attached to a knuckle duster and a metal implement that could be converted to a spade for ‘digging in’ for use in cooking or removing body waste! There was also his Lee Enfield rifle and bayonet and perhaps a hand grenade. The total amount carried could weigh as much as 60 lbs.
Her would spend no more than 10 days a month in a trench before he was relieved and retired to the rear for a period of rest. Here he might enjoy a French beverage such as vin blanc or as it became known as ‘plonk’ or his ration of rum!
Food rations were often better than he received at home. A bag made of sacking might contain bread, biscuits and tinned meat. Then to pass the time when not involved in action he might play different board games including bingo or even knit. Then there would be opportunities to send and receive mail from home. Home leave was sporadic and then perhaps only for 72 hours at a time.
Tim had on display an array of weapons and equipment such as bayonets, hand grenades, bullets and respirators. The latter to give protection from the various lethal gases employed by Germans. His chance of surviving death or injury might mean he returned home a fitter person than when he first entered the army due to exercise and better food received.
Tim’s talk was extremely informative and delivered in an entertaining manner. He certainly produced some aspects of a soldier’s life in the trenches which many in attendance had not heard of before.
An illustrated talk on 3rd August opened by Jane Ainsworth, author of several books based on her research of the Barnsley Pals and World War One. This was initially sparked off by discovering that a great uncle has died during the conflict and tracing her family tree had furthered her interest in in the part played by the Barnsley Pals during the war. Beginning with a memorial dedicated to the fallen that had once attended Barnsley Holgate Grammar School, Jane became interested at first with one particular family, the Potters. There were several reasons for this firstly Jane was born near Barnsley; she knew that there is a construction firm in the town named Potters; she discovered a wealth of archive material related to the Potters.
The Potters had been in business in Barnsley from the 1796. During WW1 the company was headed by Charles Dalton Potter. Two of his sons who joined the Barnsley Pals were subsequently killed while in action. Their names are inscribed on the Thiepval Monument in France along with over 73000 others whose bodies were never recovered.
Charles eldest daughter, Elsie, had kept all letters sent by her brothers, along with other army records that were collected and passed on through members of the family to the current holder, Ian Potter. This precious archive became the basis for Jane’s interest because of the wealth of detail of life at the Front. This, plus help from Ian Potter and access to records kept in the National Archives and School records etc. encouraged Jane to research further others who had attended the local grammar school and joined the Barnsley Pals and which led to the eventual publication of ‘ Keeping Their Beacons Alight,’ and ‘ The Barnsley Pals Colours.’
Ian continued with the family’s story mentioning also do that his father served during WW2 and that his mother was employed at Bletchley Park! Ian praised the work that Jane had meticulously researched.