CALDERBANK, Henry Pte. 15845

Henry Calderbank

Henry Calderbank

Henry Calderbank was born in Chorley in 1884, the son of Thomas and Mary (nee Hindley). In 1891 Henry was living with his parents and sisters, Mary and Ellen at 4 Lyons Lane in Chorley and with his widowed mother, Ann, and his sisters at 138 Bolton Street in 1901.

Henry married Catherine Riley at Chorley in 1906 and was living at 17 Duke Street in the town with his family and sister-in-law, Mary Jane Riley in 1911. He worked as a Collier at Chorley Colliery and attended Sacred Heart Church, giving his address as Duke Street when enlisting in the Pals on the 15th September 1914. By this time his family had extended to five children – Thomas, Ann, Mary, Francis and Henry, although Henry (born in 1913) died less than a year after his birth. Henry’s youngest child, Kathleen, was born in Chorley in 1916.

As for his war service, Henry was wounded at Serre on the 1st July 1916, receiving injuries to the back of his head and to his right index finger; these needed treatment back in the U.K. and he spent time at Eastleigh Hospital in Hampshire and Pendlebury Hospital near Manchester. Instead of returning to the Chorley Pals, he was transferred to the 7th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment and his service number changed to 35446.

Henry was killed in action on the Ypres Salient on the 3rd August 1917. Officially he has no known grave, being commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres. However, his widow wrote to Fulwood Barracks in Preston on the 3rd and the 11th October 1917, enquiring how he died. She eventually received a letter from Fulwood Barracks in Preston, dated 31st December 1917, in which was enclosed some personal effects. These were listed as….  “2 Discs, Letters and Photographs, 1 Medallion, 1 Religious Book, 1 Rosary, 1 Post Card and 1 Bag”. More than likely his grave was lost in the ongoing fighting in the area.

Sister Francis speaking on North West Tonight

Sister Francis speaking on North West Tonight

At 7.35 a.m. on the 1st July 2006, his last surviving child, Kathleen (then aged 90), laid a wreath at the Accrington Pals memorial in the trenches at Serre – virtually 90 years to the minute when her father went over the top at the start of the Battle of the Somme. The simple ceremony was filmed by BBC Television News and went out, that night, back in the U.K. on the BBC North West Tonight programme; she was also interviewed by news reporter Peter Marshall and this was screened on the same programme the following evening. One of the most telling remarks in the interview was “How many times have I heard the words ‘What for?’. War only deprives families of someone they love”.

A few days later, she laid a wreath at the Menin Gate during the Last Post ceremony on the evening of the 3rd July; after the ceremony she stood under her father’s name on the wall of the Gate. Kathleen Calderbank never met her father and became a nun, Sister Francis, devoting her life to her faith and the care of others less fortunate than her. She had always believed that her father had been killed on the Pilkem Ridge, to the north-east of Ypres. However, research by Steve Williams in 2007 found that his Battalion attacked German trenches at Green Wood, near the village of Hollebeke, to the south of Ypres. On Saturday, 10th November 2007 she visited the site of those trenches whilst on a coach trip to Ypres. The following evening, on Remembrance Sunday, she laid a wreath at the Menin Gate during the Last Post ceremony; afterwards, she again stood under her father’s name on the Gate. Accompanied by her companion of many years, Sister Paschal, and some 40 others from Chorley and across Lancashire, the following poem was read by Steve Williams:

‘What are you guarding Man-At-Arms?
Why do you watch and wait?’
‘I guard the graves’, said the Man-At-Arms,
‘I guard the graves by Flanders Farms,
Where the dead will rise at my call to arms,
And march to the Menin Gate.’

‘When do they march then, Man-At-Arms?
Cold is the hour and late.’
‘They march tonight’, said the Man-At-Arms,
‘With the moon on the Menin Gate,
They march when the midnight bids them to,
With their rifles slung and pipes aglow,
Along the roads – the roads they know,
The roads to the Menin Gate.’

‘What are they singing, Man-At-Arms,
As they march to the Menin Gate?’
‘The marching songs’, said the Man-At-Arms,
‘That let them laugh at Fate;
No more will the night be cold for them,
For the last tattoo has rolled for them;
And their souls will sing of old, for them,
As they march to the Menin Gate.’

Sister Francis (Kathleen Calderbank) has visited the battlefields and the Menin Gate on numerous occasions during her lifetime and echoes the sentiments of Lord Plumer of Messines when he officially opened the Menin Gate in 1927…. “A memorial has been erected which, in its simple grandeur, fulfils this object, and now it can be said of each one in whose honour we are assembled here today: ‘He is not missing; he is here'”. When told by Steve Williams and Chorley M.P. Lindsay Hoyle in 2008 that money had been raised for a statue to the Chorley Pals, she simply wondered why the town of Chorley had taken so long to commemorate them; it is her wish to see the statue unveiled.

Other Information: The author of the poem about the Menin Gate has not been identified. It was first noticed by Steve Williams in a book Battlefields of the First World War, written by Toni & Valmie Holt; the use and copyright of same (if any) is duly acknowledged.

Henry Calderbank is the only Chorley Pal to be commemorated on the Menin Gate.