THE Bus to Bradford tour of the Western Front this year included the new ‘Brothers in Arms’ memorial near Ypres.

In Undercliffe cemetery, 13 known sets of brothers, killed in the Great War 1914-18, are commemorated, and there are 273 other WW1 commemorations.

I recently covered the stories of two of these brothers, Godfrey and George Averdieck, in the Telegraph & Argus. However, these men were officers. For my next stories, the brothers are all of ‘other ranks’ - ordinary Bradford men.

Many people might expect them to have been in the Bradford Pals (16th and 18th West Yorkshire Regiment). But in these 13 sets of brothers commemorated at Undercliffe, only one such family includes a ‘Pal’. Furthermore, it might be expected that many of these soldiers joined up at the start of the war as young volunteers eager for action - fearing it all might be over by Christmas. But the majority were older men, many family men, enlisted as ‘conscripts’ in 1915 or later, sent to a war few had any enthusiasm for. It was these men who indeed would ‘win’ this war, with the Armistice in November 1918.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: David Whithorn, right, leading a recent WW1 tour of Undercliffe Cemetery David Whithorn, right, leading a recent WW1 tour of Undercliffe Cemetery (Image: Submitted)

Few of those who returned talked about their experiences to their families, they picked up the pieces of their lives and carried on as best they could in a city far from being a ‘home fit for heroes’.

Looking at civic and church war memorials listed through the years 1914 to 1918, it will surprise many that those fatalities listed from 1917 and 1918 exceed those from 1914-16 combined. After all, hadn’t 1916 included the infamous Battle of the Somme? In 1917 there was the lesser known Battles of Arras, Third Ypres and Cambrai, while 1918 is indeed a ‘forgotten’ year of the war. Few today have heard of battles of this year. But a majority of these ‘Brothers in Arms’ fell in 1917 and 1918 - some within days of the end.

These stories reflect the story of all our Bradford ancestors who served in the Great War 1914-18. Some reading them may recognise a family name. Attempts were made to locate photographs of the men, sadly without success.

Overall, it is hoped that these stories of brothers who went to war paint a picture for Bradford people today of a war now beyond living memory, of Bradford men long gone...but whose stories will live on for generations to come.

Among the brothers I researched were Robert and Edgar Preston - from a family that lost all they had.

Alexander Preston and Eliza Langstaff of Bradford were married at St Peter’s Church (Bradford Cathedral) in January 1895, both working in the textile industry. Later that year they had a son Edgar and in 1898 a second son, Robert. By 1911 the family was living at Maperton Road. After leaving school Edgar was a stuff warehouseman and Robert a worsted spinner.

In August 1914, the brothers would have been prime candidates to enlist as volunteers. However, neither did. Both then fell under the provisions of the Derby Act in November 1915, required to ‘attest’ to serve in the armed forces if required. Both were called up - Edgar on January 28 and Robert on May 6, 1916. Both joined the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment for training and it’s quite possible they were able to meet up during the following months.

It’s not known precisely when they were sent out to France. Edgar joined the 10th battalion and Robert the 2nd battalion. From what followed, it is probable that Robert had a key specialism, eg a Lewis gunner. It was for this reason that he was initially attached to the 23rd battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, which became permanent.

The 10th Dukes took part in the Battle of the Somme in July 1916, losing 419 casualties that month. It is probable that Edgar joined the battalion when they were pulled out of the line to rebuild and refit on August 11, 1916. They were moved to the quiet sector around Ploegsteert (‘Plug Street’). Here on August 20, the battalion received orders to dig a new 400 yard trench in No-Man’s Land the following night south from Prowse Point, bringing them much closer to the enemy front line. This they did, 12 officers and 350 ‘other ranks’ taking part - remarkably, without alerting the enemy. But stray bullets still caused casualties. Edgar was one of three men killed that night, within a fortnight of him joining his battalion. His body was buried at Berks Cemetery Extension. He was 21. This cemetery is visited today by many, not just to see the war graves but also the Memorial to the Missing there.

During June 1917 the 23rd Northumberland Fusiliers were taking regular tours of duty in trenches in the Gavrelle-Fampoux sector. The battalion took regular casualties due to shelling etc and on one such occasion Robert Preston was wounded. He was brought for treatment at Manchester General Hospital and sadly died here on June 20, 1917, aged 19. His body was brought to his family in Bradford for burial at Undercliffe cemetery.

Tragically, Edgar and Robert were Alexander and Eliza’s only children. Both lost within a year. The couple lived at Maperton Road for at least another 20 years - a house full of memories of their sons and shattered dreams of what might have been. Eliza died in March 1951 and Alexander, the last of his family, in March 1961, aged 90.

* For the first time in two years, a full Remembrance Service will take place at Undercliffe Cemetery on Friday from 10.45am. It will be attended by the Deputy Lord Mayor Of Bradford, Cllr Matt Edwards, and representatives from 16 local schools. Hot drinks are available in the cafe from 10am.

* David Whithorn is president of Bus to Bradford, which commemorates local men who served in the First World War. The group is named after Bus-les-Artois, a French village where Bradford soldiers were billeted. Bus to Bradford funded a Bradford Pals memorial in the village.