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Thousands of people marched on Chester yesterday (Sunday, September 7) in a spectacular commemoration of a First World War battle, in which the Cheshire Regiment suffered heavy losses, and the contribution made by hundreds of volunteers from Port Sunlight.

The Lever Brothers employees were the largest number of volunteers to enlist from any works in the country when they signed up for the 13th battalion of the Cheshire Regiment on September 7, 1914.  Of the Port Sunlight men who went to war, around 100 were killed during the 1914-18 conflict.

Men, women and children, many of them in period costume, made the same journey from the village to Chester by train, where they joined with several hundred more people in the city commemorating the centenary of the Battle of Mons.

Cousins Andrew Ostle and Peter Cooper joined the parade to commemorate their grandfather William Henry Cooper, who worked at Port Sunlight and served with the 8th Cheshires at Gallipoli and in Mesopotamia, and later fought with the Royal Fusiliers in Salonika.

 

Andrew said: “He came home with malaria and my mum says she remembers him screaming in the night. But he never talked about the war.”

Peter added: “I remember when I was three he used to look after me. There was a man in a black beret and a great coat who sat outside Port Sunlight Station selling matches. He must have been gassed in the war. And my grandfather always made a point of buying a box of matches from him.”

In the morning the volunteers lined up in front of Lever Hall where Sir William Lever, played by Chester actor Will Wood from Theatre in the Quarter, was cheered as he reprised the rousing speech given to the enlisting men a century ago.

He said: “We are proud of you. This is the proudest moment in the life of Port Sunlight because the men of Port Sunlight have volunteered in this way to defend our countrymen and King in this time of stress and strain.

“I know you will give a good account of yourselves.”

Artistic director of Theatre in the Quarter Matt Baker led the volunteers in a sing song on their train journey to Chester and as they paraded through the city to be enlisted by Frodsham's Douglas Cashin, as General MacKinnon, of Western Command.

At 11am the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Rev Dr Peter Forster, led a service of commemoration for those who fought and lost their lives in the Battle of Mons at Chester Cathedral

In attendance were the Duke and Duchess of Westminster with their daughter Lady Tamara van Cutsem, Lord Mayor of Chester Bob Rudd, the Lord Lieutenant for Cheshire David Briggs and Brig Ian Cave, president of the Cheshire Regiment Association who is also the representative colonel for Cheshire of the Mercian Regiment. 

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of The Mercian Regiment, Army Cadets, Sea Cadets, Air Training Corps, the Combined Cadet Force and representatives from the Royal British Legion also joined the volunteers for the final stages of their walk to Chester Castle.

View a gallery of Theatre in the Quarter's role in the commemoration