Lymm in the Great War
Young Harry Brookes was probably at work, gardening for Mr Champ at Foxley House on Higher Lane, when the news came through on Tuesday August 4th 1914 that Great Britain had declared work on Germany. Harry was just 24 years old and had married his sweetheart “Kit” – Catherine Griffiths at the Methodist Church on Eagle Brow just a few months earlier. Their thoughts would almost certainly have been turning toward the idea of starting a family.
But Harry was also a member of Lymm’s Territorial Battalion. They were sometimes referred to as the “Saturday night soldiers”. They were there to support to the fighting regulars and Harry, like so many others, knew where his duty lay. Three-quarters of the men in the group quickly volunteered for general service.
Harry went off for training reassuring his wife that “we are certain never to see any fighting… England will be on her last legs when she has to put her territorials to fight.”
Back in Lymm the local citizens rallied round to support the war effort in any way that they could. Almost every town in England had its own Red Cross hospital and Lymm was no exception. Brookfield House on Church Road was owned by Mr Thomas Grundy who donated it for use for the duration of the war. The hospital was largely staffed by local young female volunteers who had received only basic medical training. What they had to deal with must have given them a frightening glimpse of what the men were enduring at the front.
Two other large houses also found a new purpose during the war. Over 250,000 Belgian refugees had fled their country in the face of the German onslaught in the second half of 1914. Around 150 found new temporary homes at Beechwood House and Oughtrington Hall, the latter funded by American car magnate Henry Ford. Belgian children were born in Lymm and many had fond memories of their time in Lymm in spite of the traumatic circumstances.
By April 1915 Harry found himself in the thick of the action in Belgium as a stretcher-bearer. The gardener had become a soldier hero as he risked his own life to save others wounded in no-mans land. He came home briefly in June 1916 with the ribbons of the Russian Medal of St George that he was due to receive.
By the time of the Armistice close to one hundred Lymm men had perished in the conflict. There were forty-eight from Statham alone. The refugee settlements closed and the Belgians returned to their own country to discover what was left of their homes.
But Harry Brookes never did make it home with his medal. He died in action on June 18th 1916 and is buried at Le Treport cemetery on the French Normandy coast.
His name is just one of 139 names on the Royal British Legion Roll of Honour at Lymm Heritage Centre commemorating the fallen of both World Wars.
We will remember them.