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1918: Ossett - Germany Fights Back then Defeat

Ossett: January 1918

At the beginning of the month, two Ossett army deserters were tried at the West Riding Quarter Sessions in Leeds. They were the brothers Joseph Edward Senior and Peter Senior who had committed a series of robberies in and around Ossett while they were on the run. Joseph was sentenced to six months hard labour and Peter to three months hard labour.

While the Seniors were starting their sentences, another Ossett man, 18 years old Victor Turner, left for military service. Before going, he was presented with a wristwatch and a pocket wallet by his fellow workers at the Northfield Mill army clothing depot in Church Street. Speaking on behalf of the staff, Mr R. Tuke, foreman, said he was sorry to lose his services but hoped he would do his duty to king and country.

Looking back over the previous year’s trade the "Yorkshire Observer" noted that the reclaimed wool industry, one of Ossett’s staple trades, had had an "exceedingly busy and prosperous year". Worryingly, there had been a continued decline in rag imports and it seemed that home collection would be unable to make good the decrease. Woollen manufacturers had only avoided disaster because they were almost completely devoted to military production which did not use as much reclaimed wool as the civilian trade.

As the cost of the war continued to mount, there was concern Ossett was not doing enough to raise money for war loans. The "Ossett Observer" reported that over a period of 16 weeks the town had subscribed only £19,790 to war bonds, far short of its target of £113,900. Both Dewsbury and Wakefield had subscribed more per head of population.

WAr Bonds 1918

Of greater concern to most people than war loans were the continuing food shortages. The Grammar School had to suspend school dinners, although children were allowed to bring food from their homes to be warmed or cooked. To ease the situation, voluntary rationing was still being urged. The Reverend Burnham, vicar of South Ossett, used his pulpit to tell his congregation to make do with less food if they did not want to go without completely. Voluntary restraint was not, however, enough. The Ossett Food Control Committee started rationing butter, margarine and tea as well as sugar.

As meat supplies dwindled, there were long queues at butchers’ shops. At the monthly meeting of the Borough Council the Mayor, Alderman Wilson, urged those who could afford fowl or game to buy them and to leave beef to the workers. Councillor Peace warned unless food supplies were improved there would be strikes in the town. His warning of strikes was repeated at the Trades and Labour Council, one member saying "men can not work in the mill or at the coal face without substantial food".

At the town’s churches the issues of war and peace were addressed. Speaking to the Green’s Congregational Church’s Brotherhood, Alderman Ben Turner of Batley argued the churches had failed as the same God was worshipped in both the Allied and Central Powers. There was no glory in war, but there was glory in peace. He did not believe this was the last of all wars, unless they obeyed the doctrine "thou shalt not covet". At Holy Trinity the Reverend Burlingham said that although the war was spoken of as a war to end war, war could not be stopped by war. If the Allies smashed Germany, there was no guarantee that it would be the end of war as this could only be guaranteed through the adoption of the motto, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done." At the Green Congregational Church J. Gomer Williams wished every blessing on the League of Nations, adding that it could not do without God.

February 1918

Standing in front of the Town Hall a crowd of 2,000-3,000 saw Lance Corporal G. E. Hardcastle presented with the Military Medal he had won in 1916 by the Mayor, Alderman Wilson. A brass band provided music and the ceremony was given a military air by the presence of the Volunteers and the special police.

At the Military Service Tribunal a difficult question was raised: was a 34 year old tram inspector who had been born in the U.S.A. but who had lived in Britain since the age of five liable to be called up? Told the American consul in Leeds was willing recognise the inspector’s U.S. citizenship by granting him a passport, the Tribunal avoided the issue by deciding he was not to be called up until an efficient substitute capable of driving a tram was available.

The new war bonds campaign started with a poorly attended meeting at the Town Hall addressed by two M.P.s. – Sir William Middlebrook and Gerald A. France. The Mayor said the Council would set an example by investing £5,000, but this was not enough to inspire the townspeople as the campaign raised only £44,000 for war bonds. The "Ossett Observer" consoled itself by noting that sales of war savings certificates in the town were exceptionally good and ‘the patriotism of the local people’ was "beyond question".

Eat less bread for victory

Food supplies were still causing concern, particularly the amount of meat being allocated to the town’s butchers. Ignoring the fact many townspeople had bought meat in Dewsbury and Wakefield, Ossett’s official meat ration had been set at 50% of the pre-limitation supply. As these people now had to buy in Ossett, the town lost and Wakefield and Dewsbury gained.

The Borough Council secured more land for allotments with the intention of increasing the number of plots to over 100. To encourage gardeners the local Allotment Society organised a series of lectures in the Town Hall. The first "The Soil and its Cultivation", was given by Mr J.J. Green of the horticultural staff of Leeds University and attracted an audience of 100. Unluckily the allotment holders faced a shortage of animal manure and of basic slag, the cheapest of the phosphate fertilisers.

During the Chamber of Commerce’s discussion of post-war housing, Mr J. H. Glover argued that the provision of housing should be left to private enterprise: "successful businessmen ought to tackle the problem, by making proper provision for their employees, and forgetting all about the financial return". Mr Hyman disagreed. The housing shortage was so great, he said, it could not be met by private enterprise. The post-war world was also discussed at the annual meeting of the Conservative Club. Mr J. Ward, the President, was opposed to the country returning to free trade as it might lead to the country becoming dependent on cheap German imports. He was also against an immediate reconciliation with the Germans because of the way they had fought the war. He did, however, favour women having the vote. They, especially those who had lost sons or husbands, would never forgive the Germans and they were quite as fit as men to vote.

March 1918

Among the 14 representatives of the General Union of Textile Workers who visited the British front in France during the month were two Ossett men. They came back with a strong impression "of the awfulness of war, of its indescribable immensity and of the vital need of peace coming only through Allied victory over the enemy". Yet the prospect of victory probably seemed remote to the readers of the "Ossett Observer" as they read its headlines on March 23: "GERMAN OFFENSIVE BEGINS. BIGGEST ATTACK OF THE WAR. INFANTRY ASSAULTS ON A FIFTY MILE FRONT." Under this attack the British Fifth Army virtually collapsed and within a week the Germans had advanced 40 miles.

Spring Offensive

Just as the German offensive was about to begin, Ossett experienced a Zeppelin alert which brought an operetta performance in the Town Hall to an abrupt end. The special police were called out to enforce the lighting restrictions and found that many people were ignoring them. Most householders, however, were willing to follow police instructions to dim or extinguish lights, although there were some cases of what the police called "obstructive" behaviour.

There was good news about food. Following complaints about the town’s meat supply, the Food Controller agreed to a 10% increase in the amount allotted to the town. However, when the rationing of tea was temporarily suspended in Ossett, there was panic buying by residents and non-residents alike with the result that supplies ran out. Not surprisingly tea rationing was re-introduced. It was not only tea that was in short supply. The "Ossett Observer" was reduced to four pages because of the paper shortage.

At the Allotment Society’s well attended first annual meeting, it was reported it had over 200 share holding members and arrangements had been made to supply them with necessaries such as seeds, lime and feeding stuffs for poultry. The Mayor, Alderman Wilson, was elected President of the Society.

Ossett’s housing needs continued to be discussed. In a letter to the "Observer", "Honore and Labore" claimed some houses in the borough were so small there was "hardly the possibility of respectability, to say nothing of morality." The Chairman of the Council’s Building Committee, S. B. Stead, was also concerned about the size of houses: in future, he said, the Council wanted every house to have three bedrooms, a bathroom and a garden. The question of financing house building was raised again at the Chamber of Commerce. It was claimed most people thought private finance would be insufficient to build the houses the country needed, but if public funds were used would the money come from general taxation or the rates?

The Trades and Labour Council was also looking to the future as it passed a resolution of the League of Nations. Supporters of the League hoped it would foster open rather than the secret diplomacy and Mr France blamed the latter for what he called "this damnable and bloody war." Again looking to the future, the Council also passed a resolution in favour of women becoming solicitors.


Meanwhile Miss Burlingham, daughter of the vicar of Ossett, was tackling a more immediate problem – the war time increase in venereal disease. To aid her work as honorary secretary of the Ladies’ Committee for Combating Venereal Disease, the Borough Council allowed her free use of a room in the Town Hall to hold lectures on the subject.

Ossett: April 1918

George JessopSam PadgettGladys Jessop received news that her 24 years old husband, Lieutenant George Jessop (pictured far left), had been killed in France. They had been married while George was on leave in March. Another Ossett casualty was Private Sam Padgett (pictured near left), also killed in action in France. He had been awarded the Military Medal and the Belgian Croix de Guerre. The two men were among the more than 30,000 casualties the British army was suffering on average each week at this point in the war.

The need to replace men such as George and Sam had led to the passage of a new Military Service Act which raised the age of military service to 50. However, a proposal to extend conscription to the clergy was withdrawn prompting the vicar of Gawthorpe, the Reverend G. L. H. Harvey, to ask the Bishop of Wakefield for permission to volunteer for combatant service in the army. As he had already served for a year as a military chaplain on the Western Front, he knew what he was volunteering for. Another result of the manpower crisis was the large-scale withdrawal of exemptions from military service in the woollen trade, particularly in the shoddy and mungo industries.

The Mayor of Ossett, Alderman Wilson, appealed for funds to provide an auxiliary military hospital to which convalescent soldiers from Staincliffe Hospital in Dewsbury could be transferred. Among the places suggested as locations for the new hospital were Heath Hall and Heath Old Hall near Wakefield.

Food shortages continued to cause problems and during one week practically no bacon was available in the town. However, the introduction of a new rationing scheme meant that overall Ossett was entitled to a bigger supply of meat. To increase the supply of vegetables, the borough council’s allotment committee decided to offer prizes for the best plots. The committee was particularly keen to have more potatoes grown. It was estimated that a 300 yards allotment, given an average crop, would produce a year’s supply of potatoes for a family of five.

Local temperance workers involved in the "Strength of Britain" campaign began to prepare for a local plebiscite on the question "Are you in favour of the suspension of the liquor traffic for the period of the war and demobilisation?" Supporters of prohibition argued drinking reduced military and civilian efficiency and wasted valuable cereals.

In his article about housing for the "Ossett Observer", Alderman Robinson pointed out there was plentiful building land in Ossett and luckily most of it was in the East Ward where the need for housing was greatest. He argued that if rents were set at the existing reasonable levels, the costs of the new housing would have to be subsidised out of public funds. Fortunately, the government had promised to contribute towards the cost of house building and this meant rents could be kept down. Robinson’s view was that building at least one hundred houses in Ossett would considerably ease pressure on the housing stock.

The Chamber of Commerce discussed the employment of demobilised soldiers. Mr B. P. Wilson wanted them to have their old jobs back with the government keeping them on full pay until they had been found work. He wanted, he said, no repetition of the disgraceful treatment of discharged soldiers which had followed the South African War. Another member of the Chamber, Mr H. Wade, wanted men who were unfit for the work they had done before the war to be provided with employment at the same wages.

As a result of February’s Representation of the People Act, Ossett’s Overseers of Poor prepared to draw up a new parliamentary electoral register for the borough including women among the voters for the first time.

Ossett: May 1918

Alderman G.F. WilsonThe Mayor, Alderman Wilson, (pictured left) resigned from the Ossett Military Service Tribunal. As the maximum age for military age had been raised to 50, the Mayor, who was in his 43rd year, felt he should not adjudicate on claims for exemption made by men who were older than himself. The Tribunal elected Councillor W. Moys as chairman in Wilson’s place.

A procession organised by the National Association of Discharged Soldiers and Sailors attracted a large number of spectators. It was followed by a well attended meeting in the Town Hall which was intended to raise public awareness of the plight of former servicemen.

The town’s supply of coal was threatened by the withdrawal of more men from the mines for military service. One forecast was that output would fall by 15-25% and plans for coal rationing were drawn up.

Inspired by the success of communal kitchens in other towns, the Ossett Food Control Committee drew up plans for a kitchen in the Town Hall which would provide 100 take-away meals a day. Until arrangements for a supply of meat had been made, dishes were going to be vegetarian, although it was expected bones would be available for soup. Not all members of the Borough Council supported the scheme. Councillor Marsden believed it was unnecessary and Alderman T. W. Bentley thought the Town Hall was an unsuitable venue because its kitchen was too small. However, the mayor was more optimistic, saying he would like to give the scheme a trial.

During a debate in the House of Commons it was suggested that the new register of voters would be ‘uncommonly incomplete’ because of a lack of qualified staff to help people fill in the registration forms. In Ossett, an assistant overseer with a gift for organisation overcame the difficulties. After the forms were distributed, trained enumerators made a house-to-house canvas to help house holders complete them. As a result, the work of compiling the register was finished by the overseers in early May.

When the results of the Ossett plebiscite on prohibition were published, supporters of the temperance movement were no doubt pleased: there were 4,576 votes for prohibition and 979 against, a majority of 3,957. 688 blank papers were handed back by those who preferred not to vote. No doubt the result would have been different if the men absent in the services had been able to take part. Unfortunately for the temperance movement Parliament did not introduce prohibition.

The men who were at a well-attended meeting of the Ossett Roundwood branch of the Yorkshire Miners’ Association were also disappointed. They voted in favour of abolishing the Poor Law, a measure Parliament did not support

The firm of Bentley Brothers, which was headed by Alderman T. W. Bentley, suffered a severe blow when its mill in Teall Street, together with its stock of rags and mungo, was almost completely destroyed by fire. The cost of the damage amounted to £10,000 and neither the stock nor the buildings were insured.

Ossett: June 1918

The Reverend G.L.H. Harvey, vicar of St Mary’s, Gawthorpe, left his parish to go into training for combatant service in the army. Another Gawthorpe clergyman, the Reverend T. C. Evans, pastor of the Zion Congregational Church, also left Ossett for four months service at the front with the Y.M.C.A.

At the meetings of the Military Service Tribunal most of the cases were reviews of exemptions requested by the Ministry of National Service. The remainder of the cases concerned men of the new military age, among them the Mayor, Alderman Wilson. He claimed exemption on business grounds, telling the Tribunal he had sole responsibility for a firm employing over 90 people which had a turnover of more than £100,000. He said if he was called up he would have no choice but to shut up the business. The Tribunal granted him exemption for six months.

Another case before the Tribunal concerned an 18 years old conscientious objector. He was a Methodist and his appeal was based on his Christian beliefs, war being in his opinion contrary to the teachings of Christ. Victory in war, he said, did not prove which side was right, but only which side was stronger. His testimonials included one from the Reverend J. Phillips and another from the Reverend E. Lacey, chaplain to the forces. He refused to take non-combatant service or to have anything whatever to do with the military. The Tribunal decided to refuse exemption.

Tribunal carttoon WW1

Two alleged army deserters, Arthur and Peter Senior of Flushdyke, were charged under the Larceny Act of being in possession at night of house breaking implements. They were committed for trial at the next Quarter Sessions.

Edmund Lund, the honorary secretary of Ossett War Savings Committee, was awarded the O.B.E. The "Ossett Observer", claimed that the success of the savings movement in the borough was due more than anything else to his initiative, effort and undoubted gift of organisation.

A new scale of salaries for teachers in Ossett was adopted by the Borough Council. As it was uniform with that approved by a conference of West Riding education authorities, the town would no longer be a low salary employer. The wages of workmen and staff employed by the Council was also raised.

The shortage of agricultural labour prompted a squad of eight Ossett Grammar School boys to offer their services for agricultural work during the summer holidays and the harvest with preference being given to local farmers who wanted their assistance.

The "Ossett Observer" published a letter from Fred Terry, County Organiser of the Department of the Controller of Paper. He wrote that the country was close to a 'Paper Famine' and called for the collection of waste paper and paper making materials such as shirts and window curtains. The Borough Council responded to the situation by making arrangements for the collection of paper making materials in Ossett.

The town was also threatened by a water shortage. Too little rain over the Pennines meant the reservoirs which supplied Ossett were running low.