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Keith Burton ‘Stokesley People in the Great War’

Keith Burton had a career in teaching for thirty years before he became involved in the Stokesley Society. He gave a very interesting but often sobering picture of life in Stokesley in the early part of the last century. Keith started a project on Stokesley people in the Great War based on the 43 names on the War Memorial. In Stokesley Parish Church, there is a plaque on the wall with 51 names. The Book of Remembrance in the church has 54 names in it. The reasons for the discrepancies are not clear, although some can be explained.

Stokesley at the time of the Great War was described as a market and union town and the head of a county court district. The shops were spacious and the streets paved and lighted with gas. There was a Work House in Springfield which housed people from as far away as Yarm. The best account of the development of Stokesley in the 20th century is the Hall Diary. It was written by Charles Hall and his sister Marion and published by the Stokesley Society.

Stokesley has been proud of its military tradition for a long time. Keith showed a photograph of the Stokesley Volunteers, who were forerunners of the Territorial Army. Many Stokesley men trained with the ¼th battalion Alexandra Princess of Wales Own Yorkshire Regiment.

The reality of war was soon brought home to the residents of Stokesley when they were able to hear the bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepools. The first 2 casualties from Stokesley died in 1914. In 1915, the number killed increased to 7. During this year, the Germans first used gas and a local man died 2 years later from this cause.

In 1916, the year of the Battle of the Somme, 12 local men fell. The following year which saw the Battle of Passchendaele and another 14 deaths, brought the total death toll to 37. 1918 may have brought the end of the war, but another 17 men lost their lives. Even the end of hostilities did not bring an end to the misery. It was followed by a major influenza epidemic.

All classes were touched by the war: the rich, poor and destitute: the doctor’s sons, trading and farm workers families and men from the workhouse.

The Manor House was converted into a Military Hospital and many local people from all strata of society and walks of life worked there. A copy of a photograph of the staff is in the Town Library. This shows the staff including the one State Registered Nurse.

Strong women took over jobs that done by men before the war. Although they lost these on the survivors return, the change in the status of women during the war was never reversed.

There were a number of self-help groups in the town. The strong sense of community is shown in the photograph of the Remembrance Day March in 1927. There were no spectators - everybody took part.

The website www.stokesleyheritage.wikidot.com contains details of all the fallen men as far as they are known. There is also extensive information on many other aspects of Stokesley life including later years of the century.

In reply to a question, Keith said that the population of the town was about 1400 at the outbreak of war. This of course included women, children and men too old to enlist. This shows the big loss the town suffered in the Great War.