WW1 Leeds – a timeline

Stephanie Webb reveals key moments in Leeds’ First World War history.

During the centenary of World War One, the Leeds Museums & Galleries young curators group, the Preservative Party, have been committed to researching and commemorating the sacrifices made by the people of Leeds. We have created WW1 Leeds, an interactive Facebook timeline documenting the story of the city during the war.

Our research has revealed that Leeds and its people made a significant and varied contribution to the war effort both at home and overseas.

The WW1 Leeds timeline covers many different themes. One area is the military, covering recruitment and conscription and the experiences of the Leeds Rifles and Leeds Pals.

The Pals suffered terrible losses in the Battle of the Somme. On 1 July 1916, 24 officers of the Leeds Pals took their men into No Man’s Land. At the end of the first day of the battle, only 17 of 900 men answered a roll call. 750 men had lost their lives and the battalion was all but decimated. Across Leeds, hundreds of grieving families closed their curtains in mourning. It is said that after the Somme, every street in the city had at least one house with its curtains drawn.

Personal War Stories

One of the aims of WW1 Leeds is to reveal the individual war stories of people from Leeds. We want to bring out the personal experiences as well as the overall events and statistics. One of the stories we follow is that of George Sanders of the Leeds Rifles. Sanders received a Victoria Cross for courage and leadership shown during the Battle of the Somme. Later in the war, he also earned a Military Cross and spent some time as a prisoner of war.

A photograph of George Sanders of the Leeds Rifles
George Sanders of the Leeds Rifles

Leeds and wartime industry

The timeline also covers the contributions and sacrifices that were made on the home front. Leeds was a key industrial centre, manufacturing, for example, munitions, aeroplanes, blankets and uniforms.

One of the most notable factories in Leeds was the Barnbow munitions works. Over 3 years, 36 million cartridges and over 24 million shells were produced at Barnbow. Barnbow’s workforce of 16,000 people was 93% female. The so-called ‘Barnbow Lasses’ were well paid for their vital work, which was highly dangerous. Indeed, many of the women made the ultimate sacrifice.

During the night shift on 5 December 1916, the women in room 42 were filling 4.5 inch shells when a machine malfunctioned. A massive explosion killed 35 women. Such was the secrecy surrounding the work at Barnbow, the incident was covered up and the women were merely listed in the Yorkshire Evening Post as ‘killed by accident.’ It would be 6 years before the truth was revealed.

Lotherton Hall – convalescent hospital

Lotherton Hall as a convalescent hospital
Lotherton Hall as a convalescent hospital

Leeds also became home to many convalescing soldiers. Several military hospitals opened in the city, including at Beckett’s Park teacher training college, which was given over to the War Office and treated 57,200 soldiers between 1914 and 1918. Country houses also became hospitals, including 2 Leeds Museums & Galleries sites. Temple Newsam housed recovering officers, whilst Colonel Gascoigne of Lotherton Hall insisted upon his property providing for other ranks.

Given the city’s contribution to the war effort and its significant losses, it is little wonder that the announcement of the Armistice prompted mass celebrations. 40,000 people gathered at the Town Hall where fireworks were let off. Over the course of the war, of 82,000 Leeds soldiers, 10,000 men had lost their lives.

By Stephanie Webb, Preservative Party member

If you are aged between 13-24 and would like to become a youth curator, please email preservativeparty@gmail.com.

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