A special Wigan gathering to recall forgotten heroes

Military and history enthusiasts will gather on Remembrance Sunday to recall some of Wigan’s forgotten war stories.

Thursday, 7th November 2019, 2:46 pm
Billy Baldwin on the former site of the old Drill Hall, off Powell Street and Standishgate, Wigan, where Wigans WW1 soldiers will be remembered in a short service before the Remembrance Sunday service in Wigan

Billy Baldwin, from Whelley, is organising a short ceremony on the site of the old Wigan Drill Hall on Powell Street before the main parade through the town centre.

It will be the second year in a row that those wanting to remember the now-demolished venue and the men who fought in World War One having enlisted and trained there will meet.

The Drill Hall was the base for the 5th Battalion The Manchester Regiment, which had hundreds of Wigan men in the ranks serving between 1914 and 1918 and which fought at Gallipoli and Passchendaele.

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Mr Baldwin is very keen to do more to recall the Wigan Territorials and the hall, saying the town does not do as good a job as others in the North West at exploring and commemorating its local connections to the war.

Mr Baldwin said: “The site of the Drill Hall has an awful lot of history. We remember but unfortunately our town remembers its history in the abstract, with just the names of the men on the war memorial.

“Other towns have museums and memorials which tell the story of local regiments and local men.

“Bury has got the Lancashire Fusiliers Museum and they do all about Gallipoli and the six VCs before breakfast.

“People think Gallipoli was all about Australian soldiers but Wiganers were there.

Films make Passchendaele look like it was all Canadians but some of the Wiganers in the 5th Battalion were there and they got absolutely decimated.

“Most people in Wigan don’t know anything about that. We’ve got a lot of proud history and we were at these famous battles.

“When we do remembrance these are all the sorts of things we should be remembering.

“A lot of this stems from the Drill Hall. Five companies were all based there. It was a proud tradition of Wigan Territorials there which was carried on by the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry. I myself was an Army cadet and spent many hours training and shooting at the Drill Hall. It is a building which so many still remember fondly.”

The ceremony will be held at 9.15am on Sunday, with a recording of the Last Post expected to be played.

Mr Baldwin will be joined by other people wanting to remember the Wigan Territorials and is hoping the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry will come again after attending the inaugural ceremony last year.

The participants will then head into the town centre to join the main Remembrance commemorations.

Mr Baldwin also has longer-term plans to recall the Drill Hall, which stood on what is now a large patch of open grass next to the dual carriageway.

He said he would eventually like to see a memorial and tribute covering both the building and the local people involved in its years of service to the country.

Mr Baldwin has also been involved in efforts to save the Wigan Territorials’ colours, after the standard was found to be in a very poor state, and supports the creation of a Facebook page by Dave Myers dedicated to the battalion.

His lifelong interest in military matters and local history was sparked by meeting an ex-serviceman in Billinge Hospital when he went for an operation.

He also spoke about how many of those who risked their lives on the front line for their country were treated when they got home.

He said: “We also remember those who came back from war disabled, disfigured and mentally scarred to a life of unbearable hardship, not a land fit for heroes.

“My mum told me that when she was a child other kids would laugh and joke about disabled men in Wigan, and her mum explained to her that many of these poor men had been made that way because of the war.

“We remember those that were left behind. Everyone was affected in some way by the war, the miners, munitions and factory workers as well as the wives and children. Most families in Wigan lost someone.”

An earlier version of this article referred to Dave Myers as an "ex-serviceman." We would like to clarify that Mr Myers is not a military veteran nor has he ever claimed to be.