By Jackie Hollis, of Newtown Road, Worcester





My father, whose name was Daniel Barnett, had a stark beginning. 

Whilst only three (1917), he and his siblings were taken from the house in Leek in Staffordshire, to the Railway Station in town and then on to Worcester.

It was a grim sight in the Autumn of 1917 as they boarded the pony and trap taking them to their destination.

The days were growing shorter and the sunshine had begun to fade.  Danny (3 years) laid his head in the billowing skirts of Doris, aged 15. Sat at their sides, were Elsie, aged 11, John, referred to as Jack, aged 8, James (Jim) 6, Mary (5).

My great grandfather, (their father), had joined the army at outbreak of the 1st World War and was sent to the Suffolk Regiment, 11th Battalion, as Private 41210 and he was killed in action on the 8th June 1917, France and Flanders. 

He is buried at the Arras Memorial, Bay 4 1693 in the Faubourg-Amiens Cemetery France. 

The number of identified casualties amount to 34,718.  I believe he was at the Battle of Messines on the western front.  It was launched on the 7th June 1917 near the village of Mesen (Messines) by the British Second Army under the command of General Herbert Plummer. 

One of the key features of the battle was the detonation of 19 mines immediately prior to the infantry assault, a tactic which disrupted German defences allowing the advancing troops to secure their objectives in rapid fashion. 

The attack was also a prelude to the much larger Third Battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele, beginning on the 31 July 1917.

My grandfather Alfred Barnett was born in 1876 which makes him 38 when joining the 1st World War in 1914, quite old to be at war, and with a wife and six children to care for. 

His job in the 1911 Census was a Boat Labourer born in Cheddleton Staffordshire.   He married his wife, Charlotte in 1905 aged 28, at All Saints Church Leek.  She was born in Leekfrith, Staffordshire on the 26 September 1883.

Upon the stark news of the death of her husband, Alfred, she sank into desperate despair.  There was no Social Service at the beginning of the 20th century.

  Her children were found wandering the streets at night so they took her away to St Edwards Asylum Cheddleton Staffs on the 16th October 1917, as it was then all too obvious that she couldn't cope with looking after the children. 

No money to buy anything and a husband savagely killed in the 1st World War, leaving her in a desperate situation.  She had a mental breakdown.

She remained at St Edwards Asylum until the 30 July 1926.  Aged 43, she was discharged and admitted to Storthes Hall Hospital, West Riding of Yorkshire.

After a period of some three years, on the 17 October 1929, she was  discharged and readmitted to Storthes Hall on the same day! 

Further she was taken a year later, on the 1st September 1930, back to Staffordshire County Asylum, Cheddleton with others.  Her medical notes stated she had dementia.  

Her siblings were, Hannah aged 46, Mathew aged 38, Elijah aged 35, James aged 31, John aged 29, Edith aged 25.  She died on the 14 December 1936, aged 52 in St Edwards Asylum Cheddleton Staffordshire. 

Today she would have been treated for depression and released and help given by Social Services, but in those dark days after the 1st World War, the circumstances were very different.

When Charlotte was taken from the family home, her children were taken as mentioned by pony and trap firstly, to the railway station in Leek, Staffordshire, to board a train to Worcester in Worcestershire. 

On arrival at Shrub Hill Station they were dispersed amongst a group of people who had come forward to foster them. 

Bewildered and frightened, they were taken to another family to nurture and mend their broken lives.  They were never as close again as they were when they left the train station.

They saw each other occasionally as one of the little ones was my father, Danny, who was three at the time.  He did not disclose this story until much later in his life.  The hurt was too grim to bear. 

Later on in World War II, he was amongst those who suffered at Dunkirk.  Again, it was not until much later did he describe the horrors that took place on the beaches, as they waded out guns held in the air to the waiting boats that rescued many from the air raids above.