Thursday, 21 July 2016

Another story from Tony Goulding ....Lily Woodcock: (and six men) W.W. 2 Manchester Road Methodist’s Memorial.

During the present, focussing on the centenary of the Battle of the Somme I think it is only right to also recall that less than a quarter of a century after those horrors the world, in particular Europe was tearing itself apart again. 

War memorial at Manchester Road, Methodist’s Church Chorlton
As in the previous conflict Chorlton-cum-Hardy was to suffer its share in the losses similar to the many other communities throughout the United Kingdom.

This piece is offered as an attempt to shed light on the sacrifices made at that time. As I have already written about The Manchester Road Methodist’s memorial I decided to make its list of World War Two casualties the basis of this story.

The first name on the list is, to the best of my knowledge, the only female name recorded on a war memorial in Chorlton-cum-Hardy - Lily Woodcock.

My friend Linda, a fellow local history enthusiast, had remarked on this fact and it was that conversation which instigated this bit of research, thus making Lily’s story a doubly appropriate place to start.

Mrs. Lily Woodcock was killed in the “Christmas Blitz” of December, 1940. She died at the Dr. Rhodes Memorial Home, (1) Cavendish Road, West Didsbury on 23rd December, 1940, whilst serving as a British Red Cross Society nurse attached to a mobile first aid post. She was born Lily Head on 24th March, 1895 and had married Alfred Woodcock, a master plumber, at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Stockport Road, Levenshulme during the June quarter of 1929.

Mrs. Woodcock had been widowed the previous year. In what must have been her  own harrowing “annus horribilis” she suffered the tragic loss of her young 34 year old step-daughter-in-law (also a Lillian) on the 7th June and was widowed only a day later 8th June, 1939.(2)

Woodcock family grave L346 Non-conformist section
The family grave in Southern Cemetery records more of this family’s sad history. It shows that Lily was her husband Alfred’s second wife, his first wife, Louisa Ann, having passed away, aged 45, on 24th December, 1926.

Apparently Alfred and Louisa Ann had, had the misfortune of having to bear the loss in infancy of twin boys, Alfred and Cecil, whilst they were residing in Glossop, Derbyshire in October, 1907.

In 1933, Alfred and Lily were living at 72, Sandy Lane. One of their sons Frank, also a plumber was close by at 37, Whalley Avenue.   Another son, Vincent, an “Electro-constructional draughtsman”, his new bride Lillian and their new-born daughter, Ruth were living away in Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire. It seems that following Alfred’s death in 1939 Frank and Lily exchanged residences. By this time also, the recently bereaved; Vincent was living with his in-laws in Thornton Cleveleys. (3)

Of the other six names on the Manchester Road Methodist’s memorial four served in an air service. Three belonged to the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve, one a Flight Officer and two Sergeants: the fourth a Leading Airman with the Royal Navy’s Air Service. The two “odd men out” were Kenneth Hayward who was a Staff Sergeant with the Intelligence Corps and Geoffrey Norris Hobson, a gunner with the Royal Artillery.
Cecil George Alway: was a Sergeant in 115 sqd. R.A.F. volunteer reserve; who died over Germany on 15th August, 1941.

He was born in Bristol in 1921 to Rev. George William and Lorna May (née. Yelf)  Cecil’s father was a much travelled Methodist preacher who in 1939 was fulfilling his mission as the resident minister at Manchester Road Methodist Church. The Always’s occupied 14, Holland (now Zetland) Road during their stay in Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

Clifford Allan Bell: was the other sergeant of the R.A.F. volunteer reserve, who was killed on 20th May, 1942. Clifford’s body was never recovered and his is one of the 20,456 Commonwealth Air Force personnel who died during World War 2 and have no known grave.

 Runnymede Memorial (ex. C.W.G.C.Site)
Sergeant Bell was in 12 sqd.  R.A.F.V.R. and was only 20 when he was killed. His parents were Victor Allan, an incorporated accountant, and Elsie (née Barnes) who lived at 1, Ellesmere Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

Arthur Hawker: Is also one of those commemorated at Runnymede, a Flying Officer with the R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve 137 sqd. He was killed, aged 25, on 21st May, 1944. Arthur’s parents were Charles Henry and Jane Ann (née Lightburn). The family lived at 79, Great Stone Road, Stretford where his father kept a Fish and Chip shop.

Brian Lambert Rowntree:  was born, in Middlesbrough, in the September quarter of 1924 to Sydney Braithwaite and Lillie (née Richardson). The family settled in South Manchester in about 1930 and, in 1939, were residing at 67, Kensington Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Brian’s father being an engineering draughtsman.

A Leading Airman in the Royal Naval Air Service, Brian died on 1st May, 1944 while stationed at HMS Vulture a naval air station based at St. Merryn in Cornwall.  He is interred in Southern Cemetery S 5576 (C.of E. section) and his grave is marked by this quite unusual C.W.G.C. headstone;

 It reveals that he shares his final resting place with his brother-in law George Herbert Clough, (4) a driver with the army service corps who died on 11th October, 1940.

Geoffrey Norris Hobson: served as a Gunner with the 25th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery who was killed during the breakout from the Normandy landing areas on the 26th June, 1944. Geoffrey’s parents were Percy Norris and Eveline (née Hammerton) who lived at 20, Hillingdon Road, Stretford, from where his father worked as commercial traveller for a flour producer.

Gunner Hobson was born in Manchester in the June quarter of 1923. On 3rd March, 1917, Geoffrey’s brother, Neville, had been born at 78, Nicholas Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

Kenneth Hayward: died in Tunisia, North Africa on 25th February, 1943. He was a Staff Sergeant with The Intelligence Corps – 55 Field Security Section. S/Sergeant Hayward was born in Manchester in 1912 (June qtr.) and married Rene (née Leigh) in Hyde, Cheshire on 20th July, 1940  His father, William Dawson Hayward, was  a clerk in a tea warehouse – his mother was Gertrude (née Hartley) who was raised in Moss Side where her father, Thomas, was a “traveller in timber” on Moss Lane East. Gertrude’s elder brother,

Herbert Percy, became a successful merchant who in 1911 was living on Sidbury Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

© Tony Goulding 2016

Pictures; supplied by Tony Goulding


1) Dr. Rhodes Memorial Home was originally opened, in 1910, as a home for 150 children who would previously have been accommodated in the nearby Workhouse. The new building was named to honour the recently deceased Dr. John Milson Rhodes; a nationally important figure in the movement to reform workhouse conditions. Around 1937, it closed as a children’s home and was taken over by “Swinton House School” and for a time existed as the (now somewhat politically incorrect) “Manchester Residential Home for Crippled Children”. The building later housed the “Shawgrove Special School (for children with visual impairment;)” this school closed in August, 2004 and for the last decade Cavendish Road, primary School have been using the premises as an annexe.

2) Interestingly, in a co-incidence with a high potential for causing confusion, one of the other victims on the night of the Christmas Blitz on 23rd December, 1940 was also an Alfred Woodcock. He died at; 13, Lower Russell Street, Miles Platting with his wife Ellen Frances.

3) Vincent Woodcock’s life after provides a somewhat colourful sequel. In an infamous court case, during March and April, 1944 at the Old Bailey he appeared as a witness for the defence. This was trial of the medium Mrs. Helen Duncan, the last person to be tried and convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1735. Vincent Woodcock's later life."

Mrs. Duncan was arrested in Portsmouth on 19th January, 1944 and her 7 day trial later that year was a sensational one at which various defence witnesses claimed to have seen manifestation of among others Mary Queen of Scots and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Vincent gave evidence that he had attended 19 séances at which his deceased wife had appeared to him on one occasion removing the wedding ring from his finger, placing it on his sister-in-laws finger and informing him “this is what I want for the sake of our little girl Ruth.” At a separate reading he stated that his step-mother had appeared “complete with her head wounds sustained in the Manchester Blitz.” The final chapter of this sad story came with Vincent's death, less than a year after this court case, in March quarter,1945.

4) George Herbert Clough was married to Brian L. Rowntree’s oldest sister Elaine L. The wedding took place at St. Clement’s Chorlton-cum-Hardy in the summer of 1940. His widow was to re-marry, in the March quarter of 1946, a George Bell at St. Werburgh’s Church, Chorlton-cum-Hardy.

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