FORMER Warrington MP Mike Hall has published an untold story of World War One which has been 14 years in the making and inspired by his ” war hero” grandfather who miraculously survived the hostilities, including two postings at the Somme.
The former Warrington South MP, who went on to represent neighbouring Weaver Vale, started researching the book, which comes in two volumes due to its sheer size, after being “sacked” by former Prime Minister Tony Blair as a junior whip in 2001.
Mike, who still lives in Warrington at Whittle Hall, had always been intrigued how his Manchester born grandfather of Irish descent, who received the Military medal for bravery, had ended up doing active service with the “die hards” of the 18th Battalion Middlesex Regiment (1st Public Works) Pioneers of the 33rd Division.
Spending many long hours researching the national war archives Mike has now put together a detailed war diary of the day to day life of the battalion – a story which has not previously been told – and coincides with the 100th anniversary of his grandfather Thomas McBride, who died aged 52 in 1939, before Mike was born, going to war.
“My research soon told me that my grandfather, who had been working as a miner, enlisted with one of the special regiments which consisted mainly of miners and other tradesman,” said Mike, who thanks the former Prime Minister in his book for helping him find the time to carry out the research.
The 18th Battalion Middlesex Regiment were not infantry men whose primary job was to go ‘over the top’ at the start or during battle.
They had a different job – to build the infrastructure necessary to prosecute the war.
Mike said: “These ‘miners pals’ played a vital role in the war. They dug and drained trenches, wired No Man’s Land, mined under enemy lines, made and repaired roads, filled in craters, constructed dug-outs, stock piled ammunition, built and improved billets, fetched and carried, kept open communications with the front, made and repaired railways, built and demolished bridges, gased the enemy, picquetted rods and held the front line.
“If a job needed doing, they did it – no matter where, when or how dangerous.
“At times they fought back the Germans with only their picks and shovels, and in High Wood, at the height of the Battle of the Somme, they were deployed to fight the enemy at bayonet point. ”
By this, amongst other events, the 18th Battalion earned the right to use the Middlesex Regiment nickname ‘die-hards’.
A Miners Pals Battalion at War is written in diary form, based on the 18th Middlesex Battalion War Diary and the 33rd Division War Diary.
Volume 1 covers August 1914 – June 1917, with Volume 2 continuing the entries from July 1917 to January 1919.
There are many accounts of the bravery of members of the battalion, recording biographical details of each soldier, including the cemetery where they are buried or memorial where they are honoured.
Mike’s grandfather received the military medal for bravery after going into no man’s land under fire with his commanding officer to bring back the fallen.
During the war he also survived being gassed and even returned to the front after being sent home injured.
The book is a goldmine of information, laden with incidents from the war and facts that have been cross-checked and verified.
Mike admits the book became an “obsession” and has been proof read by his wife Lesley nine times!!!
The book is officially launched at Waterstones in Warrington on Thursday September 10th at 7pm.
It can also be purchased online from Amazon.