Building a picture of the war years

Eileen Walsh and Eileen Bithell from Beta

Eileen Walsh and Eileen Bithell from Beta

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VOLUNTEER historians hope Wiganers will help them shed light on little-known aspects of life in the borough during World War One.

The Beta Project, which has previously run the popular English Civil War re-enactments in Wigan town centre, is marking 100 years since World War One began by researching some of the things the borough’s residents did to contribute to the war effort.

The project, run by volunteers Eileen Bithell and Eileen Walsh and helped by Beta’s students and an over 65s group, hopes to discover more about the three Red Cross Auxiliary hospitals which were set up in Haigh and Standish for servicemen injured in the horrors of the front line trench warfare.

The project also aims to find out about the Wigan women who worked in the borough’s munitions factories, about which tantalisingly little is currently known.

Eileen said: “There were three auxiliary hospitals in Wigan. One was at Haigh Hall, and Lord Crawford also made two houses available in Marylebone, while the other one was at The Beeches in Standish.

“We also want to find out more about the munitions factories. We know they existed, because there’s a picture of women workers sitting on the steps in Mesnes Park, but we don’t know where the factory was.

“What we would really like is for people to share their own family stories and memories, perhaps of grandparents who contributed to the war effort or great-uncles who served in the armed forces.

“It’s that personal angle and Wigan point of view we are looking to discover as it means so much more than a general overview.”

The research is taking place thanks to a small grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and Eileen hopes to amass the results in a montage of photographs and descriptive book which will be available in time for Remembrance Sunday.

The group of historians is also hoping to visit Haigh Hall to look at their records from the time, and wants to put on an exhibition of memorabilia which residents may have.

Eileen said: “We are finding things out all the time and hopefully we can stimulate some more interest. It’s amazing what people find in a drawer, old documents and photographs or a medal.”

Anyone with information about World War One or who would like to contribute to the project can get involved by ringing Eileen on 01942 829474 or emailing eileen@betanetcafe.co.uk