A hundred years ago today, Todmorden’s Territorial Army volunteers marched out town on their way to the battlefields of Gallipoli, then later France and Belgium.
Following a service at St Mary’s Church, they went to the Dalton Street TA drill hall, and marched to their mustering point at Rochdale on their way to a conflict from which many never returned.
On Sunday, at the end of a week of commemoration in which the sacrifices made by local people during the Great War have been remembered, a group of Todmorden men will tread in their forebears’ footsteps in period army costume to mark the event.
Preceded by half an hour of role play, Todmorden Community Band will lead the marchers out of Dalton Street and Stansfield Road at 11am on August 10, en route to Rochdale, where they will be met by Rochdale Salvation Army Band at a special commemoration reception. They are expected to reach Rochdale Town Hall at around 2pm.
A year in the planning, the march pays tribute to the original soldiers, many of whom volunteered to fight abroad - Territorials were only forced to report for home country duty - and could not have imagined the horrors that awaited them, when alongside men from Middleton and Rochdale they formed the 1/6th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers and were sent “over the top” just a matter of hours after arriving at Gallipoli in 1915.
One of the 2014 volunteers, Darren Widdup, said wearing the uniforms was an emotional experience as they discovered when joining similarly dressed Manchester Regiment volunteers as a part of the City of Manchester service of comemmoration at Manchester Cathedral last Sunday - the hairs stood up on the backs of their neck as they marched out of Hell’s Gate near Victoria Station, so named because it was the route which took soldiers to the devastating first world war battlefields.
As well as some personal links - for example marcher Steve Wright’s great-beginnings uncle Ben Wright was one of the Territorials in 1914 and with other surviving veterans paraded again on the 50th anniversary of the conflict in 1964 - the daughter and other family members of Todmorden officer Captain Robert Barker, who also survived the war, will be in attendance at the event.
Darren said: “We are all nervous but looking forward to an event that has been a year in the planning, including working with two councils and dealing with road and safety aspects.
“We’d like to encourage people to come out and cheer us off, or welcome us home again when we return to the United Services Club at around 4pm.
“The visual connectivity of the uniforms adds another dimension to the commemoration events and it is very emotional.”
He thanked all those who had helped in the planning and First Bus, who are sponsoring a bus to bring the 2014 volunteers home at the end of the afternoon.
The idea for the march came after meeting Martin Purdy, author with Ian Dawson of The Gallipoli Oak, which tells the story of the men of the 1/6th. One casualty was young Lt Eric Duckworth, whose family had a string of grocery stores around Lancashire.
His parents later visited Gallipoli and planted a Lancashire oak tree which still flourishes there.
Martin believes the TA units like the 1/6th were in reality the first Pals battalions, though they did not bear the name, where men from the same communities joined, served and in many cases died alongside each other.