Historian Stuart pays tribute to war heroes

Stuart Clewlow at the war memorial at Astley Park
Stuart Clewlow at the war memorial at Astley Park
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Local historian Stuart Clewlow has more reason than most to commemorate the First World War.

The maternal side of his family was badly affected by the Great War, with 10 relatives losing their lives.

His five great-great uncles left their homes in Coppull to go to war.

Robert Naylor rose through the ranks, starting as private and reaching lieutenant, while his brother Percy earned a mention in dispatches - which recognised an act of bravery or something else worthy.

Raymond and Archie both served in the war and survived, returning home to their family.

But sadly, Austen was killed at the Battle of Festubert while serving with the Chorley Terriers.

He died on June 15, 1915 - the 13th birthday of his sister Madge, who was Stuart’s great-grandmother.

Stuart says Madge did not really talk about her brothers, but in her later years, she did start to call him Austen.

Stuart, 32, said: “Obviously he was killed when she was 13, so it’s funny that she went 84 years of not being with him and started referring to me as him.

“She obviously did have memories of him, but they only came out years later.”

It was not just the First World War that affected his family.

On the war memorial in Adlington are the names of 14 members of Stuart’s family who died serving their country during the two world wars.

Stuart said: “There are probably just over 200 names on Adlington war memorial for the two world wars and 14 are from my maternal family.”

Stuart, of Empress Way, Euxton, grew up with stories of war around him.

He says it was “instilled” in him to attend a Remembrance Day service, wear a poppy and observe a two-minute silence on Armistice Day.

His great-grandfather, Arthur Harper - Madge’s husband - served in both world wars.

He went on to set up the Adlington branch of the Royal British Legion with his brother-in-law, as well as becoming a councillor and mayor of Adlington.

Stuart said: “They were well-to-do with the British Legion and passed that to my granddad, Stanley, who was then heavily involved with it.

“I spent that much time with my granddad that I was brought up with that generation of people.

“The Second World War veterans used to tell me all sorts.

“Because it was always within the household - he was either talking about it or doing a display for someone or helping an old veteran - it became the norm to be involved with that kind of stuff.”

Stuart is now dedicated to doing his best to remember the past.

He said: “Generally I research all aspects of local history and military history.

“I collect and catalogue records that may otherwise disappear or get forgotten about.

“I’m involved with helping to put displays together or share the information with people who are looking for it.”

Stuart is also involved with several history groups around the borough.

He is chairman of Chorley And District Cultural Forum, trustee for Chorley Pals, committee member for Euxton War Memorial Group, chairman of Adlington And District Heritage Group, a regional volunteer for the War Memorial Trust and on a steering group of South Ribble Council to establish plans for centenary commemorations for the next four years.

It means Stuart has a busy life, as he fits in all the different groups around spending time with his wife and three children. He also has two jobs - as manager of Euxton Community Centre and medical records clerk at Euxton Hall Hospital - and plays hockey.

But he feels passionately about remembering previous generations.

Stuart said: “There is the cliche that we wouldn’t be enjoying the life that we all have now if it wasn’t for the sacrifice of that generation and the subsequent generation from the Second World War. I think that’s applicable.

“Mainly I think the humanitarian things - that they were people like you and I who just went off and a lot didn’t come back.

“Even the ones that did were still affected for the rest of their lives and probably scarred in some way or another.

“It’s as important to remember those that did come back as well as those that did go out for a week and probably didn’t really witness the horrors of war, but were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Some of those who served for years were mentally scarred forever.”

Stuart uncovers the stories of the soldiers who served during his research.

He said: “A lot of stories I come across by accident. I could be looking for one thing and my eye gets drawn to something or someone who pricked my curiosity.

“I go off on a tangent and find things I wasn’t looking for but they turn into something fascinating.”

And he enjoys being able to preserve these stories for the future.

Stuart said: “Four or five years ago I did the Chorley Spitfire book and Chorley Submarine book. Before that, nothing had been written about those aspects of the Second World War, but now they feature quite a lot in the Chorley Remembers exhibition and people are interested in it.

“I interviewed people who served on the Spitfire and the submarine who are now dead. If I had not done that, it would have been too late because that information has gone now.”

The interest in military and local history is thriving and is expected to grow even further during the centenary of the First World War.

Stuart said: “It does seem apparent that Chorley and probably South Ribble collectively has a real interest in local history.

“I think it shows in that there are so many groups each doing their own thing but then coming together. There are so many groups and there is such an interest.”

The next four years are set to be even busier for Stuart as he is involved with many commemoration events.

Among them is walking from the Drill Hall, on Devonshire Road, Chorley, to Fulwood Barracks tomorrow, following in the footsteps of the Chorley Terriers who did the same walk 100 years ago as they went off to war.

Stuart said: “Even if it’s just for the four year period, people will acknowledge it more than they have done and it might reignite or develop a bigger interest in that subject.”

And Stuart is determined to keep paying tribute to those who fought. He said: “I think the fact that 100 years after, we still remember them, even though we didn’t personally know them, shows how important it is.”