Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Identity

The problem with war is people’s lives become numbers. For those who died in a battle like the Somme, which had as many as 19,000 killed on the first day alone, the sheer logistics of identifying and burying those who had died, was an overwhelming task. Those who were identified became a plot number, those who didn’t got an unmarked grave. The lives and stories behind those people become lost. For the young people from the Manchester and Salford Boys' and Girls' Refuges and Homes who enlisted in World War One it was yet another adjustment to their ever changing lives.



World War One Soldier 
Let’s take Arthur as a good example:
  • Arthur was born in Manchester in 1892. His father was a labourer working in the starch works. 
  • He was born into a family with 2 older brothers and 2 older sisters.
  • He was admitted into Prestwich Workhouse around 1905. 
  • He was admitted to the Manchester Refuges in 1906. 
  • In May of that year he emigrated to Canada. 
  • He worked on various farms around Ontario. 
  • In 1914 he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force
  • In 1916 he was transferred to France. He was wounded at the Somme in September of that year.
Growing up in Manchester at the turn of the century would often result in an inconsistent childhood. If parents couldn’t afford their bills or died, there was no welfare system in place to assist children. If no relative could take them in they often end up in the workhouse, as Arthur did. Prestwich Workhouse at this time was located in Crumpsall and like all others was a harsh place to spend part of your childhood. The Guardians however, had earmarked Arthur for yet more change and transferred him to the Refuges in order to be emigrated across to Canada.

Canada
Arthur had spent his first 14 years surrounded by the dark, soot stained buildings of Manchester. Here he likely played out in the narrow, crowded slums of the city. His last known residence before admittance to the workhouse was only streets away from where the Etihad Stadium can be found today. Then the area was densely packed and disease was rife. The change from this setting to the wide open landscape of Ontario, Canada must have been hugely unsettling to a small boy. Within a few weeks, he had left the only city he’d ever known, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and been placed on a farm with animals he’d never seen before and expected to do work he’d never partaken in.

But as years went by the new landscape would have become familiar, and despite movement to new farms, the work would been similar. The outbreak of War however, changed everything for the countries involved. Perhaps for an individual who had seen so many changes in his young life it was not quite so much of a shock that his life was being turned upside down again. He had learnt to deal with new ways of life, new sceneries, new countries.

Nothing however can prepare you for War.

In 1917 we see the return of Arthur to Marchmont Home, perhaps an area of refuge and comfort.
       

29 May 1917 – Marchmont Report
In a way, Arthur was lucky. Although injured, he survived the Somme to come back to Canada. The report above, found in the charity records, perhaps gives a semblance of identity back to one soldier from our homes. Once more, he had been faced with great change. Once more he had survived.

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