Book tells fascinating Wigan wartime family history story
The volume covers the extraordinary tale of three brothers who went to fight for their country in World War One.
Christine Booth has penned Bends In The River, an account of the lives of her great-uncles Jimmy, Harry and Willie Eckersley and their extraordinary journeys from the mines of the borough to the front lines of the international conflict between 1914 and 1918.
They were born in Wigan, worked in the Garswood Hall pit at Ashton-in-Makerfield before volunteering to serve for their country in the armed forces, with two of them being killed in action and one surviving the war.
She worked on the manuscript after retiring from her work as a housing manager and then found lockdown provided the impetus she needed to complete the project.
Bends In The River, which refers to a common factor in the deaths of two of her great-uncles during the war, has now been put on the shelves thanks to a publishing company in Lancaster.
Christine, who has written the book under the pen name of Tina Haworth which is her mother’s maiden name, hopes the story will pay fitting tribute to that generation of young people who heard the call of their country and took up arms to fight in a war from which so many of them never returned.
She said: “When I retired from the housing association I had time to start writing and researching while running a little dog-walking business.
“It was something I had thought about for a while. I had looked into one campaign about 10 years ago but then thought why not do all three?
“In the centenary year of 2018 I went with my family to France and saw the Somme as well as travelling to Ypres and then lockdown gave me the drive to get it finished.
“The story starts with the innocence of their childhood before looking at their experiences of pit disasters and then going to the trenches.
“The book is really in praise of young soldiers and what they did. They went off on an adventure, got rather more than they bargained for but stuck with it and got the job done.
“They were disciplined and clever lads in a very practical way.
“I’m quite proud of my family and my past really.”
Christine has traced her family tree back to the early 1700s, with the Eckersleys starting out in the middle of Wigan and then moving across the borough for work, with many of them ending up either in roles in the mills or working in the coal industry.
Her three great-uncles were from the part of her family that went down the pit and Harry, the middle son, was the first to be called up as his hobby was shooting with the Volunteer Rifles based at Warrington.
He won the Military Medal at Givenchy but as a pioneer responsible for digging trenches served all over the Western Front, spending time at the Somme and in Flanders near Ypres.
Of the three brothers Harry was the one who survived the war.
Christine said: “I remember him as a girl. He was a funny, musical man.”
The eldest son, Jimmy, rode with the Lancashire Hussars, who helped keep order.
He served with the Kings Liverpool Regiment and was killed in the Battle of Rosières. He was shot during one of the many crossings of the Somme Valley which happened as land shifted from German to British control and back again.
He was the only one of the three to have married before war broke out and he left a wife and his son Fred behind.
The youngest of Christine’s great-uncles, Willie, was a pit pony boy and was recruited to head to the Middle East.
He served at Gallipoli and in Iraq and was responsible for driving the horses which carried ammunition, stores and other vital items for war.
He was killed crossing the Tigris River and Christine speaks about his training and his journey of thousands of miles away from home.
She said: “I talk quite a bit in the book about him, about his heavy training with the guns in Norfolk.
“He didn’t know it but he was saying goodbye to England and I contrast how green England is with the dry desert where he died.”
The brothers went to war despite being in the mining industry, which still had to be done even while the volunteer troops were away fighting in Europe.
At one point the Government realised they had let too many colliers go and had to bring some back from France.
The father of the three brothers stepped in and backfilled roles, ending up as a labourer.
Christine hopes the book will particularly strike a chord with people who will remember the generation who were involved in the war being alive and will recall how their experiences of conflict between 1914 and 1918 continued to affect them on their return to civilian life.
She said: “I think it’s a book which will appeal to those who will remember the effect of the war.
“I remember how it affected my grandma and my other grandad.
“People came back from that war gassed and injured and they didn’t have compensation like we do now.”
Bends In The River, by Christine Booth writing as Tina Haworth, is out now.
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