Saturday, 14 May 2016

Mrs Emily Fisher asking for help from the Red Cross in 1916 .......... stories behind the book nu 24

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War*

The Red Cross post card. 1916
In the April of 1916 Mrs Emily Fisher received a postcard from the Red Cross.

She had written to the organisation asking for help to track her husband Private James Fisher who had gone missing in the July of the previous year.

He was in the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

They suggested she contacted the records office at Preston and also a fellow soldier in the “11th platoon of the 2nd Lancs [who] maybe able to tell you something about your husband.  

Private Fisher's 1914 Star
Meanwhile we are continuing our enquiries.”

The news when it came was not good. Private Fisher had died on July 7 1915.  The couple had been married for just eight years and she was left to bring up their adopted son.  Private Fisher was 29 years of age when he was killed, and Emily a year younger.

After the war she did remarry and continued to live in the old family home until 1967 when she moved in with her son.  She died in 73.  Private Fisher's name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres.

Nothing can gloss over both the tragic loss and the awful fact that while the Red Cross continued to search for him and Mrs Fisher continued to hold out hope he was still alive he was already dead.

But what followed was one of those remarkable twists which led from that Red Cross Card to a conversation with Mrs Fisher’s grandson and a link that took me to the collection which has made the book possible.

Their grandson is Ken Fisher who had come across both the card and his grandfather’s medals in an exhibition in the Central Reference Library and while reading the notes he “realised one of the medals belonged to my grandfather, James Fisher, who died at Ypres.

Mrs Emily Fisher & Elizabeth  Kennedy
I asked the staff and they put me in touch with David Harrop who I met a few days later, and he also had another medal belonging to my granddad’s brother who I knew nothing about.”

That chance visit and our subsequent conversation has opened up a rich source of history for both of us but  more than that it underlines that simple observation  that it is possible to call back those men and women who a century ago lived through the Great War.

Ken told me "my sister June had a letter from the army that was sent to my gran that said somebody had seen James and five other soldiers take shelter in a cottage when the shelling started but the cottage suffered a direct hit and they were all killed."

And so as the story of Private Fisher takes another turn I am reminded of that simple observation that by carefully using the letters, pictures and official records many of which are now online it is possible to rediscover something of the lives of those who otherwise are just names on a memorial.

Pictures; the Red Cross postcard sent to Mrs Fisher, 1916 and Private Fisher’s 1914 Star from the collection of David Harrop and the photograph of Mrs Fisher circa 1920s courtesy of Ken Fisher.

*A new book on Manchester and the Great War

**Private James Fisher lost in action on July 7 1915,

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