Hyde's War Memorial honours 710 men of the Borough of Hyde, Cheshire who fell in WW1. The 710 names appear on panels in Hyde Town Hall, and there is a cenotaph in their honour on a hill overlooking the town.
How did our ancestors decide which names should appear on the Memorial?
The decisions on which names to remember were made by a committee comprising the Great and the Good of the Borough together with representatives of bereaved wives and parents.
Some of their decisions were not necessarily straightforward.
Powerful emotions were involved.
It is interesting to look at the information we have collected about the 710 men,
use it to examine the decisions made in the immediate aftermath of the war, and consider how those decisions would differ if made now.
You may have noticed the same name appearing on several War Memorials and wondered why. In the case of Fred SMITH the reason is obvious, but there can't have been many Wilfrith ELSTOBs. Wilfrith's name appears on six war memorials in the Macclesfield area. His story suggests why he is so well remembered. Lieutenant-Colonel Wilfrith ELSTOB V.C. D.S.O. M.C. won his Victoria Cross in a most heroic manner.
The village where he lived, the village where he once went to school, the church he attended, the parish where his father was the Vicar, the town where he worked, and the town where he socialised, all wanted to be associated with him. They each put his name on their War Memorial.
A quarter of the men were not resident here, and most probably also appear on War Memorials in places where they lived.
Of the non-residents:
About a third had been born in Hyde. They had moved away for work or other reasons, but their parents or other close relatives still lived here.
Another third had a variety of connections with Hyde. They had married in Hyde, died in Hyde, their mother was born in Hyde, siblings born in Hyde, parents had moved to Hyde, wife born in Hyde, etc.
Of the remaining third, half had come from nearby villages so they came from the Hyde area, but not from the Borough itself. For the other half we cannot find any connection with Hyde. They did not give a Hyde address when enlisting. Perhaps some were working here?, but chose to give their "home" address when enlisting, or had they run away from home to enlist? We can only speculate as we have no information about their connection with the town.
A few typical examples of the non-residents include:
In 2014 the writer of this web page attended a re-dedication ceremony after several names had been added to the war memorial at Sutton (a village two miles south of Macclesfield) nearly 100 years after the men were killed.
"I don't know why the names had originally been omitted, but one of the men was a distant relative and knowing something of his family history allowed me to speculate.
He came from an isolated farm high in the hills. Up before dawn every day of the year to milk the cows. Take the milk four miles to the railway station for the early morning milk train to Manchester. Back up the hill for breakfast and a day's work on the farm. One day a week they walked five miles to Macclesfield to sell produce and buy essential supplies.
Other than that they had little contact with the outside world. A harsh life makes harsh men. His father had a reputation for controlling his family, wife included, with his fists. Not really the sort of people one would want as neighbours, or on the village War Memorial?
I suspect the original war memorial committee did not make a conscious decision to exclude him. He did live within the parish, but no committee member mentioned his name, and everyone had been happy with that.
Short in stature, he had joined a Bantam Regiment and spend years in the Somme, underground, digging tunnels and laying mines. His body was never found."
At that time the UK had a big fleet of merchant vessels. Many were torpedoed while carrying war supplies. It is to be expected that some men from Hyde went down while crewing those vessels. Information about merchant seamen is not readily available, but we can look at one sinking that is well documented. The Lusitania was sunk by a German submarine on 7th May 1915. On board were two crew members from Hyde. One survived, the other, Victor McLeod, drowned. He is not mentioned on our War Memorial.
During WW1 there were few civilian casualties in this country. But at least two Hyde residents were killed as a direct result of the war. James and Albert EVANS, both of Old Road, Hyde, died when the explosives factory in Ashton-under-Lyne where they were working exploded on 13th June 1917. They are not mentioned on our War Memorial.
Many soldiers died of their injuries after a long struggle to survive. The War Memorial does include a few who died of injuries after the war had ended, but there is a cut-off point. The inscription "710 Men" was cut into stone before the Cenotaph was unveiled on 25th June 1921. It has not changed since. This contrasts with some local towns where names were added later as they came to light.
Not everyone mentioned on a war memorial died in the fighting. For example, George PORTER, named on our war memorial, died after falling off a wall at Wigan railway station while returning to his unit after home leave.
Looking at War Memorials in general (not specifically at the one in Hyde):
Some names were omitted through simple oversight. Names to be put on a Memorial were collected from several sources. This could lead to gaps in coverage. Relatives left behind were a powerful checking and correcting influence, but if no family member remained in town (they had died or moved away) then a resident could easily fall through the net.
A few names were deliberately omitted. When it came to collecting names for a Memorial it was sometimes tempting for the Great and the Good on the War Memorial Committee to turn a blind-eye. Some men had not led a blameless life before going to war. In the eyes of many inhabitants they were crooks, black sheep, outcasts. Often their families were unwilling or unable to fight their corner.
At the very bottom of the group of undesirables were those who had been Shot At Dawn for cowardice. All too often a family was expected to keep it's head down. Their son's name could not be mentioned in public.
It was not only outcasts, even the name of a well loved, well remembered, son could deliberately be omitted from the local war memorial. Many soldiers were posted "missing in action", their bodies not found. Some parents never gave up hope that one day their son would return. Even a year after the war had ended, to allow his name to be carved into the cold stone of a war memorial would have been to give up that hope.
There is no evidence that the above happened in Hyde, but little modern research has been done. The list of names has not been updated since 1921. There are certain to be stories that were hidden at the time but can now be told. In a town the size of Hyde it is likely that some relevant personal stories remain to be revealed.