Craven's Part in the Great War
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Article Date: 13 November 1914

Courtesy of Craven's Part in the Great War

At the Wesleyan Church on Sunday afternoon a united memorial service for the 12 victims of the above wreck was held, in which all the non-conformist bodies of the town were represented. A crowded congregation assembled, so great being the demand upon the seating capacity that an overflow meeting was deemed necessary in the adjoining schoolroom, which was also crowded. The ministers taking part were the Rev. M. Hall (Wesleyan), Rev. E. Winnard (Baptist), Rev. J. E. Woodfield (Primitive Methodist), Rev. W. H. Lewis (Baptist), and the Rev. R. Anderson (Congregational). Perhaps the most poignant moment in a memorable service was when the roll-call of the dead was called by Mr. J. W. Thompson (Superintendent of the local Ambulance Brigade).

Prior to the service a procession, headed by the Barnoldswick Brass Band playing the Dead March, was formed opposite the Gas Works, composed of over 100 ambulance men and nursing sisters, in uniform, representing contingents from Barnoldswick, Colne, Nelson, Foulridge and Earby. The service was opened by the singing of the hymn, 'Oh God our help in ages past', followed by a prayer by the Rev. E. Winnard and the rending of a portion of Scripture by Mr. Thos. Lane (Independent Methodist).


The Rev. J. E. Woodfield, speaking under stress of emotion, said if ever he felt the paucity of words or the limitations of the vocabulary it was at that moment, when they were met to express their feelings and sympathy as fellow townsmen and women in the great disaster which had overwhelmed them. Yet their tongues were totally unable to express all that was in their hearts. Never in all its history, he thought, had their little town been staggered by such a blow, or such a gloom been cast upon it as was caused by the news of last Friday week. Its effect was visible upon the face of every man, woman and child in their midst; sorrow was seen in every eye, and those apparently most immobile were touched to the very core.

The shock seemed to be made even greater by the reassuring news received early on that practically all their loved ones from Barnoldswick were among the saved, and if ever they realised the meaning of the adage that 'hope deferred maketh the heart sick' they knew it now. The question that trembled on every lip during those anxious days was 'Is their any news?' Snatching at the slightest crumb of comfort, and trying to buoy each other up with hope, anxious hearts alternated every hour between the two extremes of hope and fear.


"We felt we would have given everything we possessed for good news; but our hopes have been shattered, our hearts saddened, and a darkness almost impenetrable has folded us in its embrace. I don't want to say anything that will harass the feelings, or tear the wounds deeper than they are, for God himself knows the wounds are deep enough and will take a long time to heal. Yet it is our duty to pay our tribute to those who are gone and our sympathy with those left behind. We have a duty to those who have passed within the veil and to those on this side of it. We want to assure them today of our deep and heartfelt sympathy. In bigger towns, perhaps, the shock would not have been felt so keenly because more distributed. But here we knew and loved them all. Our hearts ache today for the dwellers in those homes where the shock and the blow have fallen the heaviest. We never realised before how our lives were interwoven; how our interests were bound up together. We realise now that the race is not a mere mass of distinct separate units just bundled up together, but that we are bound together by the strong bond of nationality and the sweeter bonds of love and affection."


"We thought we knew something of the horrors of war, and our hearts have gone out in genuine sympathy to those who have suffered, but the horror and disaster of it had never come home to us in its awful significance as it has done since last Friday week. When the first paroxysm has passed away we shall know how to sympathise with those who have suffered." Referring to the cause of the disaster, Mr. Woodfield said we learnt on Friday last that a different theory had been put forward by the captain, who said that the ship struck a mine, that he ran her ashore, and that had he not done so everyone aboard would have been lost. If that was so the wonder was not that so many were lost, but that so many were saved. Although that was neither the time nor the place to discuss methods of warfare, he would say that the sowing of mines was the most terrible method of all. It was futile to express the hope that in future this heinous practice would be prohibited, because their hope went much further - that this would be the end of all wars. Though proportionately their loss was greater than any other place in the list, he believed that everything that human skill and courage could suggest was done to save them, and today with their united breath they tendered thanks to those brave lifeboat men who in their anxiety to save took risks that had never been ventured upon before.


What was the message this disaster spoke to us - 'Be ye also ready.' "We dare not close our eyes to their message." (Mr. Woodfield went on.) "They have died heroes indeed. They have lost their lives whilst doing their duty. They have given their lives for their country and for us just as much as if they had been in the fighting line. Do not let us be unmindful of our duty. The path of duty is always the road to God, and they were treading it." We were not all called upon to fight, nor to face the same dangers as they faced, but there were dangers facing every one of us. The danger of slackness or indifference was, he thought, the one which caused most people to drift on to the rocks. Thank God there was one strong enough to uphold the weak - Christ, who had himself sailed the stormy sea of humanity, and if the example of the brothers whose loss they mourned led them to put their trust in the Great Pilot, they would not have died in vain.


Rev. W. H. Lewis said they had been drawn together by the one touch of nature which makes the whole world kin. Their little town had been called upon to take its place with others throughout the land from whom a heavy toll of death had been exacted by the warlords of Europe.

Along the far-flung battlefront the stories of refugees flying in fear from their dismantled homes were fast becoming a commonplace of our daily lives. It was the sense of distance that made it impossible for us to realise all that was happening, and beyond the memory that such records existed they left the majority of us without any sensible or adequate appreciation of the grim horrors which other nations were daily witnessing. But when news was flashed into the town that this good ship had gone ashore off our own coast, and that the lives of 15 of their own townsmen were at stake, then it was that their imagination awoke and they felt that the real horror of war had been brought to their own doors in its grim and terrible nakedness. It was then they began to realise something of the pitiable tragedy that was being enacted in thousands of homes throughout Europe, and made their hearts go out today in sympathy that ran too deep for words.


Those who were bound by the ties of kinship and affection would find consolation in the thought that their loved ones had secured for themselves an honourable place among the grand succession of those to whom the world must ever remain debtors, and who could in sure confidence await the dawning of that day when the Master would say 'In as much as ye did it unto one of the least of these ye did it also unto me.' And while they paid their tribute of homage to the memory of the heroic dead, let them not forget the rich legacy they had left behind in the witness they bore to the cultivation of the greatest Christian virtues. It was only a little while ago since some of those present were receiving messages from some of these men - communications which they would now treasure as amongst life's richest possessions. Today they were invited to stand and listen to the appeal they made to us from their nameless graves.


Witnesses to the homely virtue of mercy were doing their best to help to soothe, to heal and to comfort those who had been maimed in the far-flung battle line. Night and day they stood ready to answer the call to save those entrusted to their care; of them it could be truly said their mission was not to destroy but to save men's lives. They were exponents of the great virtue of unselfishness. They were called to an intimate acquaintance with grief, and to accept conditions of life from which the more ease-loving would naturally shrink. It was not without cost to themselves that these men tore themselves away from the sheltering associations of home-ties and accepted the rigorous conditions under which they were compelled to live. Even in weariness they were ready to take their place beside the couch of the sufferer through the tedious hours of the day and the long vigils of the night. Theirs was the ministry of unselfish lives that counted the cost and accepted it. Had these men died in vain? Were they to be content to offer that poor tribute of a passing hour, and seek to perpetuate their memory only in that memorial service? From their grave they summoned us to emulate the example of kindness and unselfishness which they had left us. Let the men of Barnoldswick answer the appeal, for their placed must be filled. 'Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend.'

Mr. J. W. Thompson then ascended the rostrum and the vast congregation soon rose while he called the roll of the departed. After the hymn 'Jesus lover of my Soul', and an earnest prayer from the Rev. R. Anderson, the organist gave an impressive rendering of the Dead March in 'Saul', and the service closed with the benediction, pronounced by the Rev. M. Hall.

Memorial services were also held on Sunday evening at the Primitive Methodist Church and at the Bethesda Baptist Church, with each of which several victims of the wreck were intimately connected. The former was conducted by the Rev. J. E. Woodfield, and the latter by Rev. W. H. Lewis. There were crowded congregations at both places of worship.


Mr. J. W. Thompson (Superintendent of the local Ambulance Brigade) has received the following from the Admiralty:-

November 4th 1914

Sir, - I desire on behalf of the Admiralty to express my deep regret at the loss of so many of your St. John Ambulance men in the wreck of the hospital ship 'Rohilla'. These men have proved themselves to be of great value to our medical department, and their death is doubly to be regretted on that account. Could you kindly communicate my sincere sympathy to any dependents they may have had; theirs is a great sorrow, but it should be lightened by the thought that the men died nobly for their country.

I am sir, your obedient servant,


Medical Director General

Staff Surgeon R. W. G. Stewart (Inspecting Medical Officer to the R.N. Auxiliary Sick Berth Reserve) wrote as follows:-

Medical Department, Admiralty.

4th Nov., 1914.

Dear Mr. Thompson, - Will you please convey to the relatives of the members of the R.N. Auxiliary Sick Berth Reserve, who lost their lives through the wreck of the hospital ship 'Rohilla', my sincerest sympathy for the sad loss which they have sustained. I would also ask you to express to the members of the Barnoldswick Division St. John Ambulance Brigade my deep sorrow at the loss of so many brave fellows from this division. So far as I can learn at present I understand that only three of the members out of a total of 15 from your division who were serving in the ship have been saved.

Your men were a very great acquisition to the Reserve, well trained and disciplined, and knew their work and did it thoroughly. I have very pleasant recollections of the keenness of your men on the occasion of my annual inspection, and they will be a very great loss to the Navy. Might I ask you to let me know what temporary assistance the relatives and dependents are receiving until permanent arrangements are made.

With deepest sympathy.

Believe me, yours sincerely.


Other letters have been received from the Southport, Accrington, Keighley, Silsden and Read Ambulance Divisions.

The sympathy of the Barnoldswick men at Frensham Camp (Surrey) was expressed in the following terms:-

Dear Sir, - It is with profound regret that we have learnt the sad news of the death of several members (whom we consider comrades) of the local branch of the St. John Ambulance in the wreck of the ill-fated 'Rohilla', and we beg to tender to you on behalf of the relatives of the deceased men our deepest sympathy in this their great loss.

We are, dear sir, yours faithfully, T. PATRICK, T. LANG, J. DERBYSHIRE, T. METCALFE, R. HUNTER, G. A. BRIDGE, C. LEIGH. (Privates of the 10th Battalion West Riding Regiment) on behalf of all men from Barnoldswick at this camp.

"Sincere sympathy with relatives of 'Rohilla's victims" was the message contained in a telegram from Barnoldswick Boys, Wool Camp, Dorset.

Colne and Settle Ambulance Divisions, and the following Barnoldswick members of the Sick Berth Reserve, now on active service at the Royal Sailors' Home Hospital, Chatham:- W. A. Pearson, A. Starkie, J. D. Broughton, H. Holmes, B. H. Duxbury, H. Cobbold, J. Strickland and W. Lord.


Mr. Thompson informs us that of the three Barnoldswick men rescued, two (Eastwood and Riddiough) are still in hospital at Whitby, both making satisfactory progress, and the third (A. Waterworth) has come home on leave for a week.

Up to the time of writing none of the bodies of Barnoldswick men have been recovered from the wreck, diving operations being impracticable owing to the turbulent state of the sea. Two bodies were washed ashore on Sunday, however, but they were those of other victims.


A general meeting of the Barnoldswick Ambulance Brigade was held in the Drill Hall adjoining the gas works on Tuesday evening. Mr. J. W. Thompson (superintendent) presided. A vote of sympathy with the bereaved families was passed, and full acknowledgment made of the kind assistance rendered by the people of Whitby. It was also decided to send letters of acknowledgment to the several condolences received.

The question of making some provision for the bereaved families was discussed, but it was felt inopportune to take any definite steps until it had been ascertained what action the Admiralty were going to take. Mr. Thompson expressed the opinion that in the event of any public memorial being erected the most appropriate form it could take would be in the form of a drill hall, where the work could be continued under better conditions than hitherto. This view was fully endorsed. During the evening 49 new members were enrolled - 24 males and 25 females - making a total membership of 86. The number of names at present on the books as volunteers for active service is 39 - 25 males and 14 females.

The question of providing some suitable memorial to the dead heroes was also discussed at a joint meeting of the Barnoldswick Liberal Association and the Women's Liberal Association on Tuesday evening. Mr. Stephen Pickles, C.C. (who presided) said the meeting had been called to consider what could be done to assist the bereaved families. The victims had lost their lives while engaged in the beneficent work of succouring the wounded when the vessel was wrecked, and it was their bounden duty as citizens of Barnoldswick to see that their families did not suffer in consequence. In the discussion which followed some uncertainty was expressed as to Government pensions. Cr. Harper expressed the opinion that the local relief fund would be available if applications were made, as also the funds of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Families Association. He suggested, however, it would be better to wait until they had definite information as to what the Government were prepared to do.

The Chairman said the Member for the Division (Mr. Clough) might be able to render some assistance in that direction.

Mrs. Lever said there was another point. It was only right that the town should erect some memorial to the dead men, in order to show that they lost their lives whilst seeking to save the lives of others (hear, hear).

It was ultimately decided, on the motion of Mr. Waterworth, seconded by Mr. Heald, that the Urban Council be requested to take the initiative in organising a public fund for the relief of the needy families.

A vote of sympathy with the bereaved was unanimously adopted.

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