COLLECTING names for the Bradford Roll of Honour began in September 1919 and was due to end in March 1921.

Already tens of thousands of names had been collected when in January 1921 the Lord Mayor of Bradford (Lieut-Colonel) A Gadie and the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Finance and General Purposes Committee proposed that the Freedom of Bradford should be conferred on a single Bradford ex-soldier from the ranks.

At a council meeting in February this was overwhelmingly agreed. It was also agreed that the name should be selected from the Bradford Roll of Honour card index. An advert was placed in the Bradford Daily Telegraph asking for names and particulars of any men not already included on the Roll of Honour.

The Roll of Honour was completed and displayed in the Central Library in January 1921, then the process of selecting a name began. Initially there were over 36,000 names, to be reduced to a final 10. The draw was started by the Lady Mayoress, selecting one name from every 100 and eventually the final 10 names. They were checked for eligibility and kept secret until two hours before the final draw, to select the Freedom of the City recipient.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: The candidates for the Freedom of the City awardThe candidates for the Freedom of the City award (Image: Ray Greenhough)

The date hit several problems. It was hoped to be done during the Prince of Wales’s visit to Bradford on July 22, 1921 but his schedule made this impracticable. The next plan was to have the draw in St George’s Hall. About two weeks before the Royal visit, the Lord Mayor was informed it had to be cancelled due to the Prince being ill.

The Lord Major then announced that entertainment arranged for the visit would continue because it involved schoolchildren and ex-servicemen. The occasion offered a splendid opportunity for the presentation of the Freedom of the City to our ex- serviceman hero.

The programme was a two-day affair and will a good opportunity to raise funds for the Earl Haig Fund. Both days were flag days, and badges in the shape of forget-me-nots were on sale. Official programmes for the fetes, together with the list of names of the final 10 men, were sold for 3d.

On day one, at 11am, the Lord Mayor, Lady Mayoress and party attended the Cenotaph to lay a wreath, followed by a service and a short silence. Stalls selling flowers, fruit and sweet meals were around the city. In the afternoon, at Lister Park, the Police Band played selections. The forecourt of Cartwright Memorial Hall was reserved for those ex -service men who had suffered loss of limbs or blindness in the war. They entered by the Princes Gate on North Park Road while other ex-service men were invited to the bandstand. The public were admitted to the remaining parts of the park where, from 4.30pm-6pm, there were sports for disabled men: a 50 yard egg and spoon race, a 25 yard race for one-legged men and a race for blind men, with a man ringing a bell. Prizes were presented by the Lord Mayor.

Then the Freedom of Bradford candidates accompanied the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress to Peel Park, where a great choir of Bradford schoolchildren sang patriotic songs.

On day two, there were band performances in Lister Park, with proceeds to the Earl Haig Fund. A report of the event states that during the afternoon of Friday, July 22 disabled ex-service men were entertained to tea in Cartwright Hall prior to ballot sports in which they acquitted themselves very creditably.

The draw ceremony took place on the bandstand. A large crowd attended to witness the proceedings in a joyful atmosphere.

At the bandstand, where the Bradford City Police Band had been playing, the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, a number of well known citizens, among them Sir William and Lady Hill, Sir William and Lady Priestley, the 10 candidates, Colonel Sir George Helme, Colonel R Clough, Colonel HL Anderton and Captain Grosvenor Clark, all stood shoulder to shoulder. The Lord Mayor handed gifts to disabled soldiers, pointing out that it was impossible to give 36,000 Freedoms of the City awards. He turned to look at the 10 men and said he was satisfied that whoever was successful would endeavour to live up to the honour. He added that he was sorry that the Prince of Wales couldn’t attend, but it was quite right that the Prince’s health should not be jeopardised. The ceremony began with 10 discs being spread face downwards on the balustrade of the bandstand. Each disc bore a number. Another set of discs bearing corresponding numbers were then placed in a red, churn-like container which was rotated, to applause from the spectators, by Alderman HH Tetley. The Lady Mayoress then put her hand through the open door in the churn and drew one of the discs. The number drawn was No 3 and the holder was James William Robertshaw. Mr Robertshaw, still in shock at being selected, then made a speech: “I must thank you all very much and wish you all good night,” received by the audience with applause. Mr Robertshaw had recently married and there were calls for the new Mrs Robertshaw to say a few words, but the blushing bride had taken the opportunity to disappear and the public, in good humour, had to wait until later in the day before they could express their congratulations.

There was entertainment in Peel Park from a massed choir of 2,700 schoolchildren singing patriotic songs. The Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, the new Freeman and his wife and the other chosen ex-servicemen thanked the children. Selections by the Hazley Memorial Band of Pipers and a Highland dance concluded the entertainment.

The ceremony to confer the Freedom Of the City upon James Robertshaw was on Tuesday, September 13, 1921 at the Town Hall. The councillors were in robes of scarlet and blue. The public, both civilian and military or ex-military, were well represented. The nine unsuccessful candidates sat in the centre of the chamber. Earl Haigh sent his apologies that he couldn’t attend as he was in Scotland. He sent the message: “As a Freeman of Bradford, give my hearty congratulations to Sergeant Robertshaw on the great honour which his fellow citizens have bestowed on him”.

After James signed the scroll the Lord Mayor presented him with the scroll which was framed in gilt. After speeches by the Mayor, Sergeant Robertshaw responded: “ I recognised as the Lord Mayor has said that this is the highest honour the City can give, and I realise that I hold it in trust for all the ex-servicemen in the city. It will be my constant endeavor to live up to such a standard that the other ex-servicemen will think the honour has worthily fallen on me.

"The address will always have the most conspicuous place in my home and it will be passed to my successors. I hope every ex-serviceman will feel he has a share in this honour.”

Each of the nine other candidates received a gold medal with a suitable inscription, paid for by Alderman HH Tetley and the Lord Mayor.

James Robertshaw was the son of Walter and Sarah Jane Robertshaw, born on February 5, 1894. His father was well known as a farmer, residing at Upper Swain Royd, Allerton, for several years. James started working on the farm and later became an electrical engineer, working for WD Wilsons Electrical Engineers of Booth Street.

He married Edith Ellison on July 12, 1921 in Cullingworth just 10 days before his selection to become a Freeman of the City. He had to cut his honeymoon in Scotland short to attend the final draw ceremony.

Prior to his marriage he lived at Clayton Road, Lidget Green. After he married he moved to Allerton Road.

He enlisted on March 15, 1915 into the Royal Engineers, attached to the 31st Divisional Signal Corps. He sailed to Egypt on December 23, 1915, and in April transferred to France. He remained there until January 1919. As a Corporal, he was invalided home on December 31, 1916 with wounds to his arms and legs. On his return he was promoted to Sergeant and was later awarded the Military Medal for signal services in May 1917. He was also mentioned in dispatches for acts of bravery. In his last years he lived at Whitby Road, Toller Lane.

The T& A reported Robertshaw’s death on May 18, 1964. he left a widow, son and daughter. His funeral was at Bradford Cathedral. Among the mourners were the Lord Mayor, civic heads, council members and officials, the MP for Bradford West, representatives of ex-servicemen’s organisation’s and local businesses. The Rev AC Carruthers conducted the service and said that James Robertshaw, who died suddenly, won a ballot of 1914-18 ex-servicemen to become a Freeman of Bradford. He never missed a single function to which he was invited. It was a tremendous record of devotion to duty in the service of the community. He was cremated at Scholemoor, Bradford.