A former Cheshire MP has penned a chronicle of his hero grandfather and fellow soldiers on the frontline in the First World War, after tracing the family’s history.
Mike Hall’s 14 year labour of love, The Miner’s Pals Battalion, is about the battalion of coal miners in which his grandad, Thomas McBride, served on the Western Front – gaining a prestigious Military Medal for his actions under fire.
Mike, who was Labour MP for Warrington South from 1992-1997 and then Weaver Vale until 2010, said: “It all started with family research. I didn’t know a great deal about my grandfather other than he was of Irish descent and that he lived on the east side of Manchester.
“I knew he survived the First World War despite serving on the front line for much of the conflict. And I knew he was awarded the Military Medal.
“According to family legend he, and several other soldiers together with an officer, went over the top under machine gun fire to rescue an injured soldier and take him to safety.
“The story went that the soldiers received the Military Medal while the officer was awarded the Victoria Cross. That seemed very unfair to me but I knew officers were treated in a different way to lower ranks at that time.
“However, like lots of stories that trickle down through families over time, it turned out, through my research, that what happened was quite different although there was a grain of truth in the story.”
He added: “What actually happened was in 1917 during an attack on the Hindenburg Line they needed trenches digging up to the line. My grandfather, who was a private, volunteered along with sergeants called Till, Ward and Matthews.
“They went into bomb holes under heavy fire, along with Second Lieutenant Wight, ((corr)) and began digging the trench.
“They all survived and were awarded the Military Medal with the exception of the officer who received the Military Cross, which is one step down from the Victoria Cross.
“That was just a class thing and a recurring theme throughout the war.”
Mike says it took 14 years to research the book, and get it published, and saw him spend many hours studying old documents.
He said: “For instance the fact McBride, my grandfather, was awarded the Military Medal was reported in the London Gazette but only in the form of a list of names, there was no citation.
“I believed my grandfather was born in Ireland and concentrated my research there. However, I eventually discovered he was born in Manchester but his name was recorded a Bride, not McBride.
“The problem was records in those days were only as good and accurate as the person making the entry.”
He added: “I spent hours and hours going over paper documents and microfiche files. It’s so much easier now that the majority of records are on-line.
“For example, I also discovered my mum had a brother and sister who died before she was born, something she had never told me.
“It is amazing the sheer weight of information out there that can help open up family history.”
Mike says his research into his grandfather’s war records led to much more as he studied the Miners Pals Battalion in which he served.
He said: “I was fascinated by the fact the battalion was formed by Sir John Ward, a Stoke-on-Trent MP who had been a trade union official and was known as the Miner’s MP. The battalion’s job was all about digging trenches and putting in wood supports, laying mines, building bridges, repairing roads, fighting back the enemy with their picks and shovels, and much more.
“MPs were encouraged to recruit battalions and he recruited his from the coalfields of Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and beyond. Miners were in a reserved occupation so everyone who signed up did so purely as a volunteer, as my granddad did.
“It seems Sir John Ward was the only socialist to command a battalion on the Western Front.”
He added: “I learnt so much about my grandfather who was a hard man, an outdoor labourer, who survived the war despite being gassed at Passchendaele.
“In fact, he applied to be an air raid warden at the start of the Second World War in 1939 but died the day the letter came telling him he had been accepted.
“The Miner’s Pals Battalion is a book that will, I hope, interest anyone who wants to learn more about the First World War. I hope it will be considered a good reference book.”
The Military Medal was introduced in 1916 and awarded to non-commissioned soldiers for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire. The medal bears the legend ‘For bravery in the field’ on its reverse.