We might never have the chance of meeting our ancestors but sharing what they’ve left behind could be the next best thing…
This is the sentiment behind our new project which connects members of the community to their past by combining photographs, props and film footage in such a way that it brings their stories to life.
Our first participant is Betty Chapman, who along with her son, Ian, told us the story of their ancestor, Albert Carter.
Creative Historian, Scott Carter-Clavell, who has been assisting us with the project, has uncovered some facts whilst researching Albert’s military history:
The story starts years before when an old tin was found in the back of a cupboard by a family member. Within the tin were medals and a memorial plaque.
The name on the medals and plaque is inscribed Albert Carter, who was Betty’s maternal uncle. With this information and service number inscribed on the medals, Betty researched who this man was and what happened to him. A notebook kept by Albert, describing his departure from Bury and movements through France, years of research and perseverance saw more and more come to light culminating with a visit to the War graves in 2003.
Albert was born on 29th July 1896 to Isiah and Ellen Carter of Woolfold. On the 1911 census the Carters were living with Ellen’s mother and two siblings at 72 Crostons Rd (now demolished); Isiah being employed in a Papermill while Albert was listed on the census as a Croft Boy at a Cotton bleach works with his elder brother, Herbert. Following this, the family moved to 38 Livesy St, Elton and afterwards to 380 Rochdale Old Rd, Bury.
After the declaration of war on 4th August 1914, Albert Joined up the following month, one of the many from local businesses who volunteered during Kitchener’s drive for recruitment. At the time Albert had been employed at Messrs Horridge & Cornell at the Bolholt Works.
September 1914 saw a huge surge of recruitment; on 3rd September alone, 33,000 men joined the colours nationwide. In the industrial towns recruitment drives did the rounds of various industries with some companies publishing the monthly total of volunteers from amongst their workforces.
Albert had enlisted in the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers (No5 Platoon, X Company). After leaving for Southport on 11th November for training, moving on in the following April for Folkestone.
In his notebook Albert recorded:
…. We left Southport on 18/4/15 arrived at Boulogne at 1 o clock on 4/5/15, we then walked it to a rest camp at Boulogne and it was pouring down all the time we were wet. We arrived at 2:30 in the morning of 4/5/15, we left the rest at 4 in the afternoon and walked it to the station which was about 5 miles away and the sun was boiling all the time…
After another period of training at Arques lasting about two months, they were sent to the front line in July 1915. Albert also mentions a number of casualties suffered by his company in artillery bombardments of their trenches.
Less than a year later Albert was one of 56 Other Ranks and 4 officers selected for two weeks’ special training behind the line for raiding the German trenches.
Trench raiding was a brutal business – often conducted during the night – to grab prisoners for intelligence gathering, to take out machine gun posts and reconnoitre enemy positions. Silence being a necessity in such operations meant that many raiders left their rifles behind and used their own home-made weapons and later some were produced professionally on both sides. These were primitive looking clubs with spiked iron heads, though some were little more than wooden clubs with nails or studs hammered into the head.
In the prelude to the opening of the battle of the Somme a few miles to the south – further up the line – there were diversionary raids across no man’s land attacking enemy trenches and positions in an attempt to divert German eyes away from events to the south.
One of six such attacks was planned for the 28th June near Blaireville, south of Arras. For four days prior, the Royal Artillery had systematically shelled the enemy’s front and rear areas. Late afternoon, on the 28th, after much delay due to the wind, Royal Engineers opened the valves on the gas cylinders and the assault began. The Artillery opened on enemy frontline again before switching to the support trenches at 5:35pm.
At this time the Raiding parties went over the top. The 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers raiders were split into three detachments under the overall command of Captain Bloy. The sections were led by Capt. Hutchinson, Lieutenant Young and Second-Lieutenant Ainscow, all three groups suffered casualties crossing no man’s land.
The right-hand party got to the German trench and in bombing out two dugouts with hand grenades were themselves attacked with the same weapons from German Soldiers defending their positions. The party was then ordered to retire. The other two groups entered the enemy line but fared little better.
Lt Ainscow, in the central party, led five men up an enemy communication trench for forty yards until German troops began throwing hand grenades. Ainscow was wounded and later captured. His men were ordered to retire.
The party on the left led by 2nd Lt Young was reduced to nine men in the German trench and found the way barricaded, which did not hold them back for long as they climbed over and continued throwing hand grenades down dugouts. It was in this action that Pte. Hutchinson won the Victoria Cross for holding back the enemy whilst the other men evacuated the trench and returned across no man’s land.
Albert did not return and was reported missing.
A letter received by the family from Major J Barnsdale reads: You have now heard the bad news that Pte. Carter is reported missing. Some day you will learn the whole story of the magnificent work done the battalion on the day he did not return. It is my sincere hope that when you do hear the story it may be from Pte. Carter himself.…
It was at some point during the action that Pte Albert Carter, aged 20, lost his life. It is impossible to say whether this was in no man’s land or in enemy trenches as Albert has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras memorial.
Still remembered by his family a hundred years on, one of the missing who will never be forgotten.
To think, behind every memorial, behind every inscribed name there will be a story; a family like Albert’s who might never know of their forebears’ sacrifice. A sobering thought, especially when beneath the Menin Gate or the Thiepval memorial are the many thousands of others around the globe.
We will be displaying images from this very special photo shoot in our search room during the next few months. And a short film will be played on our open day event on Saturday 14th October 2pm – 4pm. All welcome!