Saving Private Ryan was fiction but for many Chorley families in World War One there was a very real risk of losing several loved ones in short period of time

Historian Stuart Clewlow reflects on some of the whole generations of families in Chorley and Leyland who enlisted together to serve in World War One.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 2:57 pm
Updated Thursday, 5th August 2021, 3:14 pm
The Harrison brothers as they appeared in an article in the Chorley Guardian. Picture courtesy of Stuart Clewlow
The Harrison brothers as they appeared in an article in the Chorley Guardian. Picture courtesy of Stuart Clewlow

As the Chorley Guardian reflects on the 150 years since it first published, we're telling the stories of people from our community who have touched peoples' lives in our Chorley 150 series. We continue to look back with local historian Stuart Clewlow.

Many of us will have seen the American film "Saving Private Ryan".

The World War Two story centres around the events and ensuing days of D-Day and then recalls the tale of a group of men tasked with locating an individual soldier with instructions that he is to be returned home.

The Naylor brothers of Coppull. Picture courtesy of Stuart Clewlow

The premise of the story was that the parents of this particular soldier had just received word that three of their other sons had been reported killed and so the Government wanted to ensure the safety of their fourth.

Whilst the story is fiction, it raises awareness that a whole generation of a family joined the forces in both world wars.

There were even many cases of fathers and sons enlisting together to serve.

During World War One many Chorley borough and Leyland families had many brothers and cousins serving in action abroad.

The O’Neill brothers mentioned on a family gravestone in Chorley. Picture courtesy of Stuart Clewlow

It should also be remembered that whilst many sons served, so too did many daughters.

Many young women from the area joined organisations such as the Voluntary Aid Detachment, British Red Cross, etc in order to do their bit, all of which had their dangers.

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It is hard to imagine that as a generation that had such large families at that time, there was a very real risk of losing all your loved ones within a short period of time and nothing remotely like the afore mentioned film could have been done about it.

The Sharples brothers' gravestones at St.Peters Church, Chorley. Picture courtesy of Stuart Clewlow

Chorley for example has two military graves side by side of the Sharples brothers who died during World War One.

In the Brinscall and Withnell area, three Miller brothers were killed, whilst three of the O'Neill brothers and three Carr brothers from Chorley were killed and similarly, in Adlington four Harper cousins lost their lives.

It is impossible to think how the family members who survived felt at such a great loss and for their loved ones back home.

The thought of losing further family members must have been a real constant torment.

The Miller brothers mentioned on a family gravestone in Withnell. Picture courtesy of Stuart Clewlow.

The Harper family for instance had a further six serving brothers and cousins and, similar to the family of “Saving Private Ryan”, the O'Neill family had a fourth son still serving in action.

There were of course many families who lost their only son and also some, albeit few, who made it through the war without any loss or injury to a close family member.

One of the lucky families was the Harrisons of Salisbury Street, Chorley.

On June 19, 1915 the Chorley Guardian reported that seven brothers were serving with the armed forces.

Only six were together at the time of the photograph and from left to right they were Cpl A Harrison ELR, Pte E Harrison ELR, L.Cpl H Harrison, Sig. F Harrison Medical, Sgt J Harrison Cheshires, Pte H Harrison South Lancs. The seventh son served with the Canadians.

Incredibly all the men survived the war.

The Carr brothers mentioned in the Chorley Guardian. Picture courtesy of Stuart Clewlow.

Chorley 150 countdown

The Chorley Guardian is featuring 150 stories about Chorley: Inspirational people, perhaps places that we love, or special moments in the life of the borough.

Email [email protected] with your suggestions of subjects you'd like to see included.

We're asking Chorley Guardian readers to nominate 150 reasons to celebrate Chorley to mark the Guardian's 150th birthday