Mayor of Chorley Magraret Lees’ grandfather died in the First World War during the infamous Battle of the Somme. As part of a series of articles around the centenary of Armistice Day, TOM EARNSHAW speaks to her about what it is like to represent her hometown and grandfather during this centenary year since the Great War ended
The role of mayor is a prestigious one.
They are the first citizen’ of their town, city or borough, and represent it throughout the community at civic and ceremonial occasions.
For Margaret Lees, the current mayor of Chorley, holding this role in this year of all years carries a lot of personal weight.
Margaret’s grandfather is Private John Lawrenson, one of the Chorley Pals - some 212 men and three officers that became C Company of the 11th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment.
“This year is particularly poignant for me as well as many others as it’s the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War. During which my grandfather was killed at the Battle of the Somme, ” Margaret explained.
“It’s quite poignant for me because in 2014 my husband Roy was mayor and that was the start of the First World War - and now we are commemorating the end.”
Private Lawrenson was one of 93 casualties out of an approximate 175 men from Chorley who went over the top’ on the first day of the Battle of the Somme at 7.30am on June 1, 1916.
In less than 20 minutes, 235 of the 720 men from the 11th Battalion were killed. Pte Lawrenson was injured and died three days later.
Margarate, a councillor of 16 years, added: “My dad William Lawrenson, who served in the Second World War, was born in 1910 but he recalls his dad going off to war. He remembers him going to Caernarfon for training.
“He had bad memories of Chapel Street - the place where the Pals marched off to the station.
“He also recalls his mum sitting by the fire with her head in her hands weeping.
“So the war was really hard for them, with my grandma as a single parent. We used to listen to him recall his dad and it really did affect him.” In 1985 Margaret and Roy took Margaret’s father and her grandmother, also Margaret, to Beauval Communal Cemetery - where John is buried.
“We told dad we were going to stay in Normandy but decided to do a detour as a surprise to dad, ” Margaret explained. “But we realised it wasn’t just a surprise, as it would be very emotional too, so we told dad not long before taking him.
“And my dad, as we were approaching the grave, started to sob and sob. We were all crying it was so emotional.”
For Margaret, the grief runs deep and still affects her to this day.
She feels that as mayor in this very poignant year she is a representative of every family that was similarly affected.
“I feel I am representing, as mayor, all the other families of the Pals, ” Coppull-native Margaret explained.
“And not just those killed but injured too. Men came back with physical and mental scars that stayed with them and their loved ones throughout their lives.”
To this day Margaret still visits the Chorley Pals memorial at 7.30am on July 1; the time and date the Pals went over the top on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
She also wears her grandad’s medals at as many public events as possible as she thinks it is “vital” we don’t forgot the sacrifices given by so many.
“I’m very thankful to be able to tell my family’s story, but everyone has a story to tell, ” she explained.
“I’m no different from anybody else; it’s just that I hold this position at this particular time. I just want to represent the other families.”
Steve Williams, cofounder of the Chorley Pals Memorial Trust, said: “I think it’s very poignant that Margaret is mayor this anniversary year.
“I first met Margaret when we unveiled the Pals memorial in 2010 and she was showing me all the medals of her grandfather.
“She wears them whenever she can. She is so proud of him. It has helped retain the link. The link is still here 100 years later. Chorley is very unique from this point of view.”