Lancaster nostalgia: innocent lives devastated by great war

Thomas and Alice Richardson with their children. Standing from left, are: Sarah Ann Richardson, Christopher Kelsall Richardson, Albert 'Bertie' Richardson, Thomas H Richardson (junior) and Alice Kelsall Richardson. Sitting in front of their parents are Joseph Kelsall Richardson (left) and Jack Kelsall Richardson.
Thomas and Alice Richardson with their children. Standing from left, are: Sarah Ann Richardson, Christopher Kelsall Richardson, Albert 'Bertie' Richardson, Thomas H Richardson (junior) and Alice Kelsall Richardson. Sitting in front of their parents are Joseph Kelsall Richardson (left) and Jack Kelsall Richardson.

In the run-up to Remembrance Sunday a new book on Garstang’s First World War heroes is set to tell the stories of the local men who went to war.

When this photograph of the Richardson family of Garstang was taken about 1906, parents Thomas and Alice Richardson had no inkling that in less than a decade their lives - along with the lives of millions of people around the world - would be turned upside down.

Bertie Richardson, whose health sufferred after the war as a result of a gas attack at the battle of Ypres.

Bertie Richardson, whose health sufferred after the war as a result of a gas attack at the battle of Ypres.

The couple’s five sons, so young and innocent-looking in the picture, were all to witness the horrors of war while serving King and Country during the Great War (1914 to 1918).

The stories of Thomas Hornby Richardson and his son Albert “Bertie” Richardson (pictured standing between his parents) are two of the many biographies featured in the book, Garstang’s Great War Heroes, due to be published this week.

Thomas, a postman turned pub landlord, had run The Horns and The Wheatsheaf in Garstang and was running town’s Eagle and Child pub when Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914.

For the first two years of the conflict Thomas took on the role of army recruiting officer for Garstang and district, encouraging young men to enlist for service against “the Hun.”

The initial patriotic fever which swept the country was mirrored in Garstang, with scores of men eager to join up. Thomas’s signature appears on the enlistment forms of many of them.

Those who Thomas encouraged to sign up are among the 19 Fallen whose names appear on Garstang’s Great War Memorial. They include George Ronson - one of only two Garstang men to be awarded the Military Medal - who died in the Second Battle of Arras in August 1918.

None of Thomas’s sons died in the war. But the devastating battle experiences of one of them, Bertie, was to cause lasting damage to his health. Bertie was one of thousands of soldiers to be hit by the notorious gas attacks at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. He married after being invalided out of the British Expeditionary Force, though later rejoined his regiment - The King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment - seeing front line action again. Bertie became the father of seven children ... but he did not live to see them reach their teenage years.

After the war Thomas Richardson became a leading campaigner in the efforts to see a war memorial to the Fallen servicemen of the Great War erected in Garstang. The story of the long and convoluted campaign for a war memorial in Garstang is another subject covered in the book Garstang’s Great War Heroes.

Thomas died in 1926, aged 67 a few years after retiring from running the Eagle and Child. Two years later Bertie died of pneumonia aged 35 - the gas attacks experienced during the Second Battle of Ypres having left him with severely weakened lungs.

l Thanks to author Paul G Smith for these details from the book, Garstang’s Great War Heroes.