ONE of the most famous poems ever written was by World War One poet Rupert Brooke who died in 1915.
Within the war sonnet The Soldier is a line which will never be forgotten:
‘If I should die, think only this of me:
‘That there’s some corner of a foreign field
‘That is forever England.’
Well, in Upperthong there is a part of England that is forever Canada for St John’s churchyard is the final resting place for 22-year-old Canadian soldier Pte Clarence B Denman – and his story is told by John Rumsby in the Huddersfield Local History Society Journal which has just been published.
Pte Denman was badly wounded in France and was taken to Holmfirth Military Hospital where he died on May 25, 1915 – one of 64,751 Canadian troops to lose their lives during the four years of conflict.
The Military Cottage Hospital’s roots began in the summer of 1914 when war seemed inevitable and a Dr Williams gave a St John’s Ambulance Association course on First Aid To The Injured which was attended by about 100 people. Two women on the course, Mrs A H Roberts and her sister-in-law, Mrs J Roberts, suggested that a small military hospital should be set up in Holmfirth to help cope with the expected rush of wounded from the front.
Messrs T and J Tinker of Bottoms Mill provided a house on Lansdowne Terrace which opened as an auxiliary hospital with six beds on November 12, 1914 – 11 months before the large hospital at Royds Hall took in its first patients. Apart from a tiny sum of two shillings per patient per day given by the War Office from March 1916, the hospital was kept going by fundraising and support from businesses, the council and individuals.
As the war went on and the casualties mounted, the hospital expanded and prefabricated huts were set up in neighbouring fields so that by the end of the war it was caring for 76 patients.
The hospital closed in March 1919 and in all those years was overseen by formidable matron Mrs A H Roberts – the same lady who was so instrumental in setting it up in the first place. She had come over from Ireland to go into nursing and married Mr Roberts, a cloth manufacturer of Yew Tree Mills in Holmfirth.
As one staff member put it: “She ruled the hospital with extreme firmness and would not tolerate any slackness, indiscipline or excuses from any of her staff or patients.”
There were only three professional staff members – the matron, the medical officer and the cook. The nursing staff were members of that first aid class who did further training to become the St John’s Voluntary Aid Detachment. Many of these women had other jobs and some would work night shifts at the hospital after a full day working in a mill.
Pte Denman served with the 14th Battalion the Canadian Infantry and its first major battle was at Ypres in April 1915 when he was badly wounded in the lungs by shrapnel. His death the following month led to an extraordinary outpouring of mourning in Holmfirth and his funeral was one of the largest the town had ever seen.
Pte Denman was not the only Canadian soldier to die in Huddersfield during the First World War. Pte T Lawson and Pte T Shearman died at Royds Hall in 1917 and were buried with full military honours in Edgerton cemetery.
A moving little footnote is that Mrs Roberts received official recognition for her work in the form of the silver medal of the Royal Red Cross Second Class, presented to her by the King at Buckingham Palace on Armistice Day itself, November 11, 1918.