Wigan family's life was torn apart by First World War

Reflections on World War One tend to dwell either on the sense of duty of those who went to the front line and the tragedy of their deaths.

Tuesday, 13th November 2018, 8:35 am
Updated Tuesday, 13th November 2018, 10:41 am
Brothers Joseph and Patrick Donnelly both died during the First World War

One Wigan family, though, experienced the darker side of wartime society and suffered decades of pain and trauma as a result.

Related: Wigan falls silent to remember fallen war heroesWhen Lancashire Fusilier Patrick Donnelly, of Higham Street, was killed in action just months after war broke out his relatives could have had no idea their ordeal was just beginning.

His grieving widow Katherine Donnelly, who had been left with five children ranging from a seven-year-old to a babe in arms, lost her house, suffered a mental breakdown and was institutionalised for decades.

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Teresa Ozenbrook with her grandson Harvey

The couple’s granddaughter Teresa Ozenbrook has now brought this disturbing tale to light as the country remembers 100 years since the Armistice in 1918 which brought four years of carnage in the trenches to a close.

Mrs Ozenbrook, 72, said: “My grandfather was injured right at the beginning of the war and died on October 30, 1914. Then they locked my grandmother away.

“We never got my grandfather’s medals. He should have had the Victoria Star and the British War Medal.

“Obviously my grandmother had to come out of the house and they said she was schizophrenic. They put her in Rainhill in Liverpool and then she was transferred to Whittingham Hospital near Preston. It took 40 years to get her out.

“It’s my grandmother’s story I want to speak about at the moment. There was a lot said about the institution when it closed down a few years ago. It just breaks my heart to think of what it was like for her to be in that place.

“My mother had a friend who was a male nurse working there and he told them what a place it was.”

Mrs Ozenbrook, who now lives in Oswaldtwistle in Lancashire, spoke of visiting her grandmother growing up and her memories of the borough.

She said: “When I visited Whittingham I remember there being a very long corridor. People were brought out to speak to visitors. We never went into the ward itself. I knew quite a bit about Wigan as a child because we used to go quite a lot visiting family. I remember we went to Darlington Street and that area.”

Mrs Donnelly’s health difficulties had a major effect on the family, with the five children who included Mrs Ozenbrook’s father being cared for by different relatives.

The family already had a double trauma to cope with as both Mrs Donnelly’s husband and his brother were killed in the war.

Mrs Ozenbrook’s research into her family revealed Pvt Donnelly was a reservist who had spent time in Malta before the outbreak of war in 1914.

The tribute published in the press after his death said he had fought in several battles and passed away in hospital at Boulogne in northern France. Pvt Donnelly is also remembered on the Wigan war memorial.

His brother Joseph Donnelly, who lived in Brook Street in Higher Ince, was also injured and killed in October 1918 and was buried in Belgium.

Mrs Ozenbrook has recently done a good deal of research into her father’s family, both at a museum in Bury where Pvt Donnelly signed up for the war and in the Museum of Wigan Life.