Friday, 22 March 2013

Search for the Manchester music man!

Star of the show, Bob Ainscow!
Does the name 'Ainscow' ring a bell with anyone? In particular a Bob Ainscow from Manchester who was a playwright and musician during the First World War? If so, Australian family historian Debbie Gower would be delighted to hear from you.

The Bob Ainscow she would like to track down, a relative of hers, was an attraction at the Patricroft Picture House, near Manchester (right) where he was billed as a 'descriptive vocalist' who would 'render patriotics songs by request'. 

He was also the uncle of Ernest Ainscow, an Australian soldier whose letters Debbie has sent me for my book. Ernest was born in Manchester in 1899 and emigrated to Australia nine years later with his family: father Richard, mother Eliza, two sisters and a younger brother. Ernest was close to his sister Lucretia and wrote letters to her when he joined up. Like their uncle, it seems they both loved music.

Lucretia and Ernest Ainscow in 1916
'I have got some bonzer music here for you,' he wrote from Brisbane, shortly before departing for Europe. 'Miss Manwaring got it for me last week and she is going to play it for me before I sent it, so as to see if I like it.' A few months later in England he sent back more letters that were full of praise for the shows he saw locally while at army training camp at Hurdcott in Wiltshire. You'll be able to read them in my book.

While in England Ernest also paid a visit to Manchester and may even have called in on another relative Debbie wants to track down, a cousin called Hercules.

In June1917 Ernest finally landed in France but tragically he didn't last long. Within two months he had died of wounds sustained in battle. There is now a creek and a road named after him in his Australian home town of Cairns, in Queensland.

If anyone has any information about Bob Ainscow or Hercules, please get in touch with me at and I shall put you in touch with Debbie Gower.

Friday, 8 March 2013

'Our worst enemies at present are lice'

Trench life: not much to smile about
Vermin were part of everyday life on the Western Front, and so too were unspeakable tiredness and death. However, the following letter extracts show that although by 1916 these things were still worthy of comment, they were hardly a cause for concern. The letters were written by Manchester 'Pal' Private Stanley Goodhead, whose correspondence will feature in several chapters of my book.

'It is good to be alive, in fact I am very much alive, so much so that I dare not take my clothes off when in billets for fear of them walking away. I am sorry our worst enemies at present are lice which thrive on nearly every one of us.

'It is not our fault but the conditions under which we live make it impossible to be clean, for a bath is a luxury which we hope to have when we get back to England.

'We have just been relieved out of the trenches after being in occupation for 12 days and it will take more than livestock to keep me awake tonight for I am nearly dead for want of undisturbed rest.

'There is very little news to tell you this time except that the Allimans have been busy again and made a hole in our numbers which I expect will be replaced by more draft men in a day or so.'


'One of our lads after receiving his bread call last night humg it up on a beam so as to dodge the rats but they came in droves and made a raid on it and all that is left is the outside so we are sharing ours with him. When I was in bed last night quite a number walked over my head and body.'

Friday, 1 March 2013

Poignant, painful, precious mementoes

Cpl Butters and his mother Susan
(Thanks to Helen Lang for the photo)
Some of the most moving documents I have come across in my research are the official lists which accompanied the personal effects sent home to families of dead soldiers.

'Please confirm receipt of...' the families would have been asked, and on the form were listed those little bits and pieces that made life bearable for soldiers at the front, clothing, diaries, books, all still fresh enough to bear the smell or fingerprints of their owners.

It must have been a hearbeaking task to unpack such parcels and lay out all that was left of husbands and sons - men like Richard Butters of Victoria, Australia, whose family's story is told in my book.

Corporal Butters enlisted in January 1917, aged 23, and served in the Middle East with the 15th Light Horse Regiment. Tragically, he died of dysentery not long after the Armistice was signed in November 1918.

The following month his poor mother Susan received a package which contained not only the usual military acoutrements (shorts, shirts, pocket knife, spanner) but also more personal items like a volume of poems and an Arabic book. That was not the end to Mrs Butters' anguish for in March 1919 a second parcel arrived with yet more poignant posessions: nail clippers, a hat badge, a fountain pen (damaged), wallet and photos, a diary, and a lock of hair. These mementoes of her son must have been as painful as they were precious.

Cpl Butters' final resting place
(Photo: Helen Lang)