A Middleton War Story
Back in November 2010, Middletonia received an email from a lady in Austria, enquiring after names mentioned in an article on the site about Alkrington memories. As a result, Neil Tattersall, who wrote the article, discovered family members he never knew existed! Here follows his fascinating tale of what transpired from this initial contact, combined with a poignant war story of a Middleton family.
As above, the "two sisters" from the Tyrol made contact with the "Middletonia" as they were trying to find more about their paternal "Grandpa".
My grandfather, James Edmund Tattersall, had six sons and a daughter. His own father, John, was a cotton weaver who progressed to become an "overlooker" and James followed him also to become an overlooker and then secretary of the Weavers Overlookers Association. One of the sons died in infancy and soon after the 1st World War commenced, three of his sons volunteered and joined the Manchester "Pals" in 1914 and after training in Heaton Park, Morecambe , Lincolnshire and Wiltshire, they left for France in 1915. Early on, John, the eldest, was injured and was invalided home, though he did return to the front and was again wounded. However he was still at home convalescing when the battle of the Somme commenced on 1 July 1916. The other two brothers, Albert and Norman were together until 1st July and on the eve of the battle, Norman, the youngest, along with many hundreds of thousands of others wrote home and the joint letter on behalf of Albert and himself survived and reads as below. In about 1905 before the war commenced at the age of about 11, Norman won a scholarship worth £75 which enabled him to attend Manchester Grammar School which must have been quite something in those days for a family of modest means. He was obviously highly intelligent as having left school at 15, he had become profficient in both French and German. This enabled him to act as an interpreter and he was quickly recruited to assist the Quarter Master and became reponsible for finding billets for the company throughout their movements in France when they were not at the "Front". Albert, died on 3 July 1916, having been wounded on the 1st July. Over half of their platoon were also killed during the battle.
COPY OF LETTER SENT BY NORMAN TO HIS BROTHER FRED ON BEHALF OF HIS BROTHER ALBERT AND HIMSELF
Dear Fred, If you hear the worst of either of us please give the enclosed to Ma and Pa, and read same yourself.
Your loving brother,
June 30th 1916
Somewhere in France
30th June 1916
Dear Mother and Father,
I do hope you have received my last letter. I think I told you we were on a short rest. Well the rest was spent in preparing for making an attack and practicing same. And now we have returned and the long expected attack takes place tomorrow.
Our boys are jubilant, you would think we were bound for a football match. They are not quiet and thinking of the worst tomorrow.
We are confident we will give them a good hiding. We will sacrifice many of our lives, but it will be for the sake of those at home.
There will be much suffering but never mind it will be borne patiently. We go over to-morrow a fine Battalion of men. Our best will be given.
If Albert or myself go under, please comfort yourselves and all at home etc, that we shall die knowing that you have been the best of Parents that ever were and you have our profound thanks for a good upbringing. Remember us to all we know, John, Florrie, Fred, Joe Parkie, Charlie K, Albert Rad, and all at work.
But we feel confident of coming home again once more, although a poor chance. Our Battalion is first over the top and you will read of a grand success.
Your loving sons,
Norman and Albert.
Will write at first opportunity to-morrow July 1st.
N.B. Albert was wounded on 1st July 1916 and died on 3rd July 1916. Norman lived on into his 70s. The original of this letter which was typed by Norman is now in The Imperial War Museum with other letters.
After serving in France throughout 1916 and 1917, Norman was transferred with his company to Italy and after the war was over, he left his Company and was moved probably with the Royal Fusiliers to the Tyrol as part of the occupying forces, most likely because of his knowledge of the German language. He and some of his colleagues, we now know from the "two sisters" above, fraternised with the local girls and Norman had a 3-month love affair with "Maria" who was their grandmother. After Norman and his colleagues were "demobbed" in April 1919, he left Maria, sadly expecting their child, but continued to exchange letters with her until probably after his "son" was born in November 1919. From correspondence passed down to these ladies, it is obvious that eventually, Norman's father, my grandfather, James, discovered this liaison and he forbade Norman making any further contact with "the enemy". After contact from the Austrian authorities, my grandfather told them his son had committed several crimes after he left the army and was no longer in touch with the family having fled to India. This was a ruse as Norman had rejoined the CWS who he had joined as an office boy on leaving school. Only one of Norman's letters to his girlfriend now exists but it is clear their relationship was strong and I am told it is in perfect German. Apart from my uncle Norman and my grandfather, it is almost certain that no other members of the family knew of this liaison until 2010. My father certainly did not know that a photograph he took of Norman in 1919 was destined for Austria.
Norman's girlfriend, Maria, named their son "Norbert" (the local priest forbade Maria from naming her son after his father) and he is still alive and lives happily with his wife in Imst, Tyrol. The "two sisters" used several agencies in Austria in an attempt to contact their father's paternal family without success. In November 2010, they made contact with the "World War Forum" and after "surfing" the net, members of the Forum came across the article published in "Middletonia" in which I wrote about my early memories in Middleton. I had named my father, Harold, and in Norman's letter to Maria in 1919 he had also mentioned his brother, Harold, and the diligent World War Forum were able to make the family connection along with 1891, 1901 and 1911 censuses. I managed to celebrate Norbert's 91st birthday with him and most of his family only weeks after I heard from Colette at "Middletonia". The "two sisters" then travelled to England in July 2011 with other members of their family to help me celebrate my 70th birthday. I also made a 2nd trip to their homes in Imst, Tyrol, later in 2011 and earlier this year, Norman's grandson from England visited Norbert and not surprisingly, this was quite an emotional occasion.
In 1939, I was told Norbert was reluctantly recruited into the German army in World War 2 and was very seriously wounded at the battle of Stalingrad but survived to be able to become, along with his father, my Uncle Norman, the centre piece of my story. He refused to go back to the front after partially recovering and was fortunate that at the court, the local magistrate allowed him to join a well known architect to continue his studies rather than rejoin the army. Norbert eventually became Professor of Architecture at Innsbruck University and designed many municipal and private buildings. His father, Norman, was happily married a few years after the ill-fated romance with Maria and he had a son and daughter. He lived in Crow Hill North, Alkrington, until shortly before he retired when he moved to North Wales. He progressed with the CWS becoming a director and then in about 1950 their president. He was Captain of Blackley Golf Club in about 1946. Sadly Norman and Norbert never met and this story may never have been told of a father and son, who each fought in a World War but on opposite sides, except for a mention of my father, Harold, in a love letter from long ago.
Apart from the two sisters, Norbert has two sons and they and their sons are the only direct male connection to my paternal grandfather and great great grandfather except for my brother (who has four daughters) and myself (with three daughters). Norman's late English son had two daughters. I am pleased to say however that the Tattersall name is not entirley lost as one of Norbert's grandson's by one of his sons, uses the nom-de-plume, "Tatt".
I attach photographs of Norbert and myself, one of the three Tattersall brothers in 1914, left to right, Albert, John and Norman, a cutting of Norman's scholarship and on the left is the gravestone of my great grandfather, John, which is in Philip's Park, very close to the new "Manchester City" stadium. At the base of the stone is a memorial to the son, Albert, who never returned from France. I also attach a copy of Norbert with Norman's English grandson who visted Norbert in summer 2012.
Submitted by Neil Tattersall. December 2012.