THE stories of two soldiers from Eccleshill contrast the fortunes of war. Thomas Simpson Firth was killed at the great battle of Le Cateau in Belgium on August 26, 1914.

Henry Boldy survived nearly three years on the Western Front, was reputedly awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and then after the war was knocked down and killed outside Bradford’s Theatre Royal at the age of 40.

Thomas Firth’s brief life and death featured in the Bradford Daily Telegraph on October 6, 1914. Reports of Henry Boldy’s acts of bravery were chronicled in the columns of the Shipley Times & Express.

“We are getting our full share of the firing line and have to be most careful because the German trenches are quite near,” he wrote in a letter to his former Sunday school teacher, which found its way into the columns of the newspaper.

“The officer in charge wanted four men to go in for bomb throwing and I was one who volunteered. It is a most risky job but I am willing to do my duty and am not afraid.

“I went down to the gun pits the other day and saw Henry Kendall. He is keeping pretty well and so is Fred Cordingley. I have also seen Private E Ramsbottom and several others from the Eccleshill district.”

Henry, born in 1893, was said to be one of 29 Eccleshill men to join up who had been a member of Eccleshill Congregational Sunday School. He volunteered to join the Army early in November, 1914. He served with b Company, 6th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment.

Bomb throwing was not an ad hoc private adventure. A bombing team consisted of nine men: An NCO, two carriers, two throwers, two bayonet-men and two spare men to take the place of those killed or seriously injured.

The job of a bombing team was to clear out enemy trenches by lobbing hand grenades into recessed or subterranean dugouts, either blowing the occupants to bits or flushing them out into the open where they were shot or stabbed.

The Germans had equivalent units of storm troops which first saw action at Verdun in 1916. They were specialist assault units armed with bags of grenades, machine pistols of one sort or another, flame-throwers and other ordnance.

On leave in 1915 Henry Boldy met a Shipley Express & Star reporter, telling him how he had detected a sniper at dusk by the flash from the muzzle of his rifle.

Evidently Henry’s bombing made an impact. In March 1916, the Shipley Times & Express told its readers that he had sent a letter to his parents at 411 Swing Gate Fold, idle Road, telling them about his Distinguished Conduct Medal.

He said: “I am now wearing on my coat the decoration which I have earned. When the ribbon was pinned on all the boys cheered.”

There is no reference to the DCM on Henry’s medal card, included here. His grandson Garry Boldy is aware of the discrepancy and wonders if the the record was among those lost during the Blitz when many records were destroyed.

Tricia Platts, secretary of the Bradford World War 1 Group said that on June 3, 1915, British troops attached to the 49th Division in France celebrated the birthday of King George V with a ripple of rifle fire from one end of the divisional front to the other. This was repeated three times.

Henry told the Shipley Times & Express that he actually shook hands with George V during the King’s visit to the Front.

The men of the 6th Battalion were in the battle of Neuve Chapelle in May 1915.

The Battalion history gives the following graphic account of life and death in the trenches: “Our men existed for ten days in a vast cemetery where no one had been buried. In front and behind the line, along communications trenches, everywhere putrescent bodies!

“The parapets were built up with them they served as directing points to dugout and sentry posts and even helped to give direction to patrols across no man’s land.

“The heavy sickly stench, which could be felt miles away, lay like a cloud over the trenches where the men ate and slept.

“The heat during May was terrific, men gasped and sweltered under it and the ration of tobacco and cigarettes soon gave out.

“Amazing that there were no cases of disease, but everyone was very fit and hardened. A peculiar callousness to the dead came over everybody. Their bodies were rifled for useful parts of equipment, matches, cigarettes...”

Henry was promoted to the rank of corporal in March 1916 and was shot in the foot the same year. He was discharged on July 24, 1917 and given a pension of 15 shillings a week for six months.

He returned home to Shipley. Henry Boldy had a wife, Emma Thornton and by 1920 there were two daughters, Doris and Mary. He became a local cricket umpire.

He also re-enlisted, twice, first with the Royal Field Artillery in October 1920 and then with the 6th Battalion the following month. He actually served for a few months before he was found out and discharged in April, 1921.

He was motivated by “ignorance not ill-intent”, officers of the 6th battalion concluded.

Thomas Simpson Firth, son of Mr and Mrs Peter Firth of 6 Moorside Road, Eccleshill, joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) on his 18th birthday.

He was stationed at Portobello Barracks, Ireland, when Britain declared war on Germany.

In August, 1914, Ireland was still a single entity under British rule.

According to the Bradford Daily Telegraph of October 8, 1914, Thomas Firth was the first man from Eccleshill to be killed in the war. The newspaper said he was among the first to be drafted to Belgium as part of the British Expeditionary Force to try to repel the advance of the Germans through that neutral territory.

He was killed at near Mons on August 26, 1914, during the brief but intense battle at Le Cateau in which two KOYLI men won the Victoria Cross: Major C A L Yate and Lance Corporal Frederick Holmes. Yate later cut his throat in captivity.

British casualties that day were 7,812. They were part of a rearguard action by an estimated 68,000 troops whose job it was to halt the advance of about 160,000 Germans. They did, for a while. Concentrated and accurate rifle fire over a range of anything up to 500 yards took a terrible toll of German soldiers.

The action took place from about noon to 5pm. After it was over, two KOYLI battalions mustered only eight officers and 320 other ranks. A battalion consisted of between 800 and 1,000 men.