The shining bronze statue of a soldier in battle dress stands high on its pedestal outside St Paul’s Church on Heaton Moor Road. Its bronze panels record the names of those from The Heatons who died in the greatest conflict in human history.
The statue was designed by Manchester sculptor John Cassidy, with the original estimate of cost being between £1800 and £2000. The completed memorial was unveiled in January 1922 and Cassidy agreed not to use the same model for any other memorial within a thirty-mile radius. His work was described in the press as a statue which ‘suggested great ideals…. something of the infinite….heroic endurance and sustained fortitude and triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.’
Many Heatonians however did return, often on casualty trains which carried the injured back from the front to be looked after in the safety of their home town. The sheer volume of casualties meant that the existing hospitals simply could not cope, so temporary Red Cross hospitals were set up to support the existing medical services. The Heatons had two such temporary hospitals, ready to receive its wounded heroes: one was in the Reform Club, on Heaton Moor Road and the other in the Methodist Church Hall on Cavendish Road. They were organised by the local committee of the Red Cross but the key player in The Heatons’ organisation was an ex-teacher named Walter Brownsword.
Walter was well-known in The Heatons and whilst he was too old to enlist he was keen to help with the war effort. He had connections with St Paul’s Church and the first Red Cross working party was set up in the church under his direction.
Each night the male volunteers would travel to the train stations at Stockport or Heaton Mersey to meet the injured soldiers and load the stretcher cases into waiting ambulances. When the patients were safely settled in the hospitals the volunteers busied themselves cleaning the wards, making tea and helping the nurses. They often stayed all night, leaving at 6.00 in the morning to catch just an hour’s rest before getting the train to their regular jobs in Manchester.
The vast majority of the work in the wards was done by the female volunteers who rolled bandages, made shirts, knitted clothes and helped to run the hospital canteens. They cleaned and washed the bright blue hospital uniforms and wheeled the men out into the sunshine on bright days to recover in the clean, fresh air of the village.
The frontline nursing was carried out by VADs (Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses) who ran the wards and supported doctors in administering treatment to wounds as well as implementing recuperation programmes. Walter was a great believer in the power of recreational activities to help recovery and raised money to have billiard tables and pianos installed in the wards for those men who were close to regaining their health.
There are officially 53 ‘Thankful Villages’ in the UK; settlements in both England and Wales (none in Scotland or Ireland) from which all local members of the armed forces survived World War I. They have no memorials to The Great War and no losses to mourn as all their men came home again. Sadly it was not so in The Heatons, and Cassidy’s memorial contains the names of 126 men and one woman who lost their lives in the conflict, a symbol of how, in the majority of cities, towns and villages, all members of the community were in some way touched by the unforgettable events unfolding in those foreign fields.