Nancy Pelosi's gift to Chorley church celebrates the town’s links with American servicemen during the Second World War

The very special ceremony during the G7 Speakers Conference was a reflection of a wartime connection, as local historian Stuart Clewlow explains

Friday, 24th September 2021, 4:55 am
Sir Lindsay Hoyle with rector of St Laurence’s Church, Chorley, the Father Neil Kelley, receiving an American flag from Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives during the G7 Speakers Conference in Chorley.
Photo: Jessica Taylor
Sir Lindsay Hoyle with rector of St Laurence’s Church, Chorley, the Father Neil Kelley, receiving an American flag from Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives during the G7 Speakers Conference in Chorley. Photo: Jessica Taylor

During the G7 Speakers Conference in Chorley, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, presented St Laurence’s Church in Chorley with a new flag.

The new stars and stripes flew during President Biden’s inauguration in January of this year.

It is now destined to appear alongside an older flag which was presented to the church nearly 80 years ago.

The original US flag hanging in St Laurence’s Church Pictire courtesy of Stuart Clewlow

But how did that first flag arrive in Chorley?

When the Royal Ordnance Factory in Chorley was built planners estimated accommodation would be required for about 400 munition workers.

It was anticipated people would have to be drafted in from elsewhere to carry out the work and plans were made to house them.

However, it was soon discovered the centre would not be required for living workquarters due to the availability of a large workforce in the Lancashire area.

Washington Hall, in Chorley, when the US servicemen were based there in the 1940s during the Second World War. Picture courtesy of Stuart Clewlow

It was used for a short while as a feeding and amenities centre instead.

From August 5, 1942 it was taken over by the 127th Reinforcement Battalion of the United States Air Force, which further developed the buildings to suit their particular needs, adding a cinema, hospital block and baseball pitch, to name but a few amenities.

Generally speaking, Washington Hall – all such camps were named as being ‘Hall’ even though they were a complex of buildings – was a depot to hold reserves and replacements for active units and for those awaiting embarkation to America via the port of Liverpool.

It was during this time that the establishment was given the name Washington Hall. The lane leading to the site was at that time called German Lane, which was quickly changed to Washington Lane following a motion brought by Euxton Parish Council.

Original US flag is paraded through Chorley during the Second World War Picture: North West Film Archive at Manchester Metropolitan University

The Washington Hall camp was described as being ‘small and cosy’, where those stationed could take things easy and relax. Many of the men based there were veterans of 25 missions over Europe. In the American Air Force, this gave the airmen hero status and ‘bought them a ticket home’.

One such hero stationed at Washington Hall was B-17 (Flying Fortress Bomber) Captain Edward C. Piech (born May 26, 1920) from New Jersey. He arrived in Chorley in March 1944, which he described as being in Lancastershire County.

The troops were very popular in the area – particularly with the children – for their generosity in giving away chocolates and sweets.

Crowds would often gather to watch them play their unfamiliar baseball games held in Astley Park; Washington Hall Yankies vs Washington Hall Cubs.

US servicemen at Washington Hall, in Chorley, during the 1940s. Picture courtesy of Stuart Clewlow

They were integrated into the community to such a degree, that there was an American theme shop ‘Doughnut Dugout’ on St Thomas’s Road, Chorley.

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On VE Day 1945, the Americans celebrated the end of hostilities with massive bonfires throughout the Washington Hall estate; burning, among other things, their administration office furniture.

The Americans left on October 10, 1945 but not before a farewell party with buffet dinner and dancing, with around 350 US Forces staff, wives and friends was held at Washington Hall. They also took the opportunity to present a plaque to the people of the town to show their appreciation for how well they had been looked after.

From January 1946, the RAF took over Washington Hall so that repatriated troops from Japanese Prisoner of War camps could be accommodated there for the purpose of rehabilitation and recuperation.

The troops were well aware of the close relationship between America and Chorley, for St Laurence’s Church was the place of worship for the Standish family.

St Laurence's Church, Chorley

In 1620, Myles Standish sailed to America on the Mayflower as Military Advisor to the Pilgrim Fathers and later established the settlement of Duxbury, Massachusetts.

The Americans were allowed to hold their 1942 Thanksgiving Service in St Laurence’s Church, and for many Americans it would be their first away from home.

Poignantly, Myles Standish was, of course, in America for the first Thanksgiving.

The flag is still there to this day and hangs above the famous Standish Pew.

And now it has the new flag as company.

To enable the stars and stripes to again feature in local parades and as a symbolic gesture of friendship, Speaker Pelosi handed over the new flag in a beautiful presentation case to Fr Neil Kelley, rector of St Laurence’s, at a ceremony on Saturday.

Echoing the theme of friendship, in his sermon on Sunday Fr Neil thanked Speaker Pelosi for the gesture, saying: “Four hundred and one years ago, Myles Standish and others set sail for a New World.

“They were compelled by a new vision, a new way of living.

"We have celebrated the story of Myles Standish and the founding fathers again this weekend.

“The very special gift of a new American Flag to hang in this church is a symbol of friendship and unity.

"For us here in St Laurence’s it is a gift beyond price and we are truly indebted to Speaker Pelosi.”