Going to war: Mike’s book focuses on valley’s first world war soldiers - and the effect it had on their families

"Farewell", pictured by Hebden Bridge historian and author Mike Crawford
"Farewell", pictured by Hebden Bridge historian and author Mike Crawford

A new publication by Hebden Bridge Local History Society, author Mike Crawford will speak about his book Going To War at a special evening at a local bookshop early next month.

Mike will be giving his talk at The Book Case on Market Street, Hebden Bridge, on Thursday, October 10, at 7pm.

The book tells the story of the first few weeks of the First World War as experienced by people from the Calder Valley.

With the centenary of the outbreak of war in 1914 approaching, Mike will also be discussing with the audience how we should remember the Great War.

He explains: “The book, which I didn’t mean to write, is about the opening weeks of the Great War. At the outset I began reading about the topic simply to arrange a bike ride with a historical theme, ‘The Retreat from Mons’.

“Although I had heard of The Retreat, I did not know it and I came to feel that the men of 1914 were easily overlooked. Thousands died, who have no known grave, thousands ended up as prisoners of war - they never knew the mud and slaughter of the trenches, but were soldiers of the First World War.

“These were men too easily dismissed as going gaily to war. Who goes gaily to war? Only fools!

“These men were not inexperienced in war, and they were not fools.

“They were professionals and Reservists, men in their late twenties and thirties - family men trying to build a home and raise a family. Within three weeks of declaration, local men lay dead in Belgium or were on their way to prison camp in Germany.”

Mike says he then saw a bigger picture. “Families at home struggled to get on with their lives while husband, father, brother, son had gone to war.

“How did wives and families manage and did they know what might be happening to their loved ones?

“These were weeks of crisis in France and at home in the Calder Valley.

“How did local people respond to the crisis? Were voices raised against the war? These people lived through that time and in this valley. Hundreds of individual decisions to enlist were made against the background of the crisis of 1914 - would we have chosen otherwise?”

Mike can be contacted on mecrawford@btinternet.com

Signed copies of the book will be available on the night, priced at £9.99.

- Mike and local filmmaker Nick Wilding, together with Wolfgang Hombach from Germany compared the experience of their two communities on the eve of the First World War.

Wolfgang, who is the former director of Erich kastner Schule in Maintal has been conducting research with sixth form students in a similar area of Germany.

This international discussion took place at the Peace History Conference 2013 last Saturday at the Friends Meeting House, Mount Street, Manchester.

Entitled “The Anti-War Movement on the eve of the First World War – Lessons for Today”, the conference also included a question and answer panel discussion of how similar catastrophes might be avoided today.