New book looks at Weston Favell’s ‘Great War’ past

John Buckell, photographed with his book
John Buckell, photographed with his book

George, Frank, Tom, Walter, Herbert, Ralph, Stanley... all ordinary, everyday names belonging to men who were called on to make extraordinary sacrifices in the name of their country.

The names are just a few of the 16 included in the memorial to Weston Favell’s First World War dead; a Celtic cross in the old village which has been featured in a new book on this area’s ‘Great War’ history.

Retired teacher, John Buckell, has entitled his recently published work, Sacrifice, Service & Survival: Weston Favell in the First World War.

Within it, John focuses not only on finding out a bit more about those 16 brave men who lost their lives in one of the bloodiest conflicts in military history, but also on the contributions made during that time within the Weston Favell community.

The 64-year-old explained: “I have always been interested in history and World War One. My grandfather was a soldier in that war and I wrote a book about his village in Suffolk, but I thought it would be nice to do something for where I live.

“I have lived in Weston Favell for 30 years and taught in a school here.”

John spent two years researching the book, using sources such as the county records office, old copies of the Northampton Independent and the National Archives, to find out more about the area, the 16 men who lost their lives and the stories of 76 other servicemen from Weston Favell.

John writes in his book: “Of the 92 servicemen identified in this history, 16 died during the war, at least five were wounded and two were taken prisoner. We know that at least 48 of them fought on the Western Front in France and/or Belgium...”

The men, as John describes in his book, came from all walks of life. They included farm labourers, dairymen, a plumber, a policeman, shoe trade workers, clergymen, solicitors and one doctor.

John said: “One very poignant story is of the Westley brothers. Ralph was 21 when he was killed and Stanley was 17. The younger brother was missing and no one knew what had happened to him.

“The older brother wrote to their parents in 1915 saying that he had heard his brother was still alive, but then he too was killed, so the family lost two sons.

“The Westley brothers were both in the absent voters list in 1918 which sounds like the family did not want to admit they had died.”

The book also contains the story of Neville Philip Manfield, who was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps and son of the well- known shoe firm businessman, James Manfield.

John describes in his book: “At 4pm on September 9, he took off from his aerodrome with a fellow scout and was last seen from the other plane at 5.15. He was reported missing and later confirmed killed. He was 22. In addition to the Weston Favell War Memorial, on which his name is misspelled as Mansfield, he is commemorated on the Arras Flying Services Memorial in Little Billing Church.”

Among the men mentioned in the book were two soldiers awarded for their gallantry in action. These were Anglican chaplain Arthur Swallow, who won the Military Cross, and Charles Haines, who was given the Military Medal.

Both had dramatic stories of bravery and, in Arthur’s case, John notes: “Anglican chaplains were actually forbidden by the Church to go into the front line. However, many of them ignored this order. Such chaplains won the respect of the men, and Arthur Swallow was one of them.”

As Arthur’s story goes, he was the Rector of Weston Favell when he went to France to serve on the front line. He won the Military Cross for going out five times under shell fire to collect the wounded. He was also known to have buried the dead in ‘No Man’s Land’ and erected crosses over their graves. One of his letters to his mother was printed in the Northampton Independent. It read: “We hadn’t got very far before the enemy spotted us. It was broad daylight and a rifle shot rang out unpleasantly near. I was carrying three big white crosses and immediately hoisted one high above my head and went straight on, literally under the shadow of the cross. We had no further trouble and were able to put up the crosses and come back safely.”

But John wanted his book to be about the wider community of Weston Favell as well as those who served abroad.

He said: “I did not want to just focus on the casualties; I wanted to write about the local life and the women of the area. There were more sources for the servicemen but I found in the county records office the accounts of St John’s Hospital and from that I got some interesting insights.”

Today, St John’s, in Wellingborough Road, is a care home but before World War One it was a convalescent home. In 1914, the hospital was handed over to the Northamptonshire Red Cross Committee so it could be used to care for sick and wounded soldiers, with the first convoy of patients arriving in November.

John records in his book the eye-witness account of W. H. Holloway, the editor of the Northampton Independent, who said: “The procession of cars conveying men in bandages or lying on stretchers with white drawn faces and wearing uniforms covered with the blood and mud of the trenches was watched in sympathetic silence by the crowds lining the streets. Most of the poor fellows were so unshaven and unkempt that their mothers might scarcely have known them.”

It is believed that by the end of the war, Northampton had cared for 22, 558 casualties, although most of these were sent to the War Hospital in Berrywood Road, Duston.

In the course of writing his book, John was only able to track down one relative, former Northamptonshire County Councillor Richard Church, whose grandfather Wilfred was a conscientious objector to the war. At this time of propaganda and nationalism, choosing to object to the conflict would have been a tough decision.

John said: “Those people who did not go to war had to have reasons. To appeal, they had to have a reason not to go to war or have a conscientious objection. Of the 13 or 14 Weston Favell men who went before the appeals tribunal, all bar two of them were granted exemption. And in Wilfred’s case, they accepted his appeal.”

Reflecting on his book, John believes the act of compiling these stories in one place has been an important one.

He said: “I do think it is important as otherwise these things are lost. These stories need to be told while they still can be told.”

The book, Sacrifice, Service & Survival, is available to purchase, priced £9.99 at the Northampton Museum & Art Gallery in Guildhall Road and at the libraries in Weston Favell and Abington Street.