The Nostalgia Column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

A GREAT deal has been written lately about the brave deeds of Dewsbury’s two VC heroes, Sgt John William Ormsby and Private Horace Waller, but there is still more to be told.

Not only about what happened to them on the battlefields of France during World War One, but what their lives were like before the war, and in the case of Sgt Ormsby what happened to him when he came home.

EQUINE PRESENTATION: Sgt John William Ormsby was given �500 to set up in business and a horse and cart in recognition of his deeds on the battlefield.

EQUINE PRESENTATION: Sgt John William Ormsby was given �500 to set up in business and a horse and cart in recognition of his deeds on the battlefield.

Sadly, Private Waller, a shy and quiet young man from Batley Carr, was killed in battle and so there was no hero’s welcome in Dewsbury for him.

But Sgt Ormsby, a professional soldier, did survive the war, so there is still much to be written about his life and the hero’s welcome he received.

In researching the lives of these two men over the last 50 years, I have discovered a great deal which people living today may not have known about but there was never enough space to tell their story.

But research into their lives has given me an insight into what towns like Dewsbury and Batley were like during the 1914-18 war, how local people reacted to the war and the patriotism they displayed.

When Sgt Ormsby returned home, local people gave him a tumultuous welcome, and presented him with a cheque for £500 to set up in business as a general carrier and marine store dealer, and also a horse and cart with which to do it.

The son of Irish immigrants, he was born in Westgate, an area of Dewsbury near to where the old public baths and library were built, but he was living in Firth Street, off Boothroyd Lane, when he went off to war.

He later moved to Victoria Road, Springfield, Dewsbury, where he set up his business.

The homecoming celebrations welcoming Sgt Ormsby home lasted for weeks and included civic receptions, military parades, church services, tea parties and concerts at the Empire Theatre.

On the day of his return, he was welcomed by a crowd of immense magnitude with people flocking into the town from all quarters, and flags being displayed outside every shop and business in the town.

A tremendous assembly gathered in the vicinity of the Great Northern Railway Station, awaiting his arrival which was expected at 9.04pm.

An open carriage, drawn by a pair of horses, waited for the gallant sergeant, and seated inside were his wife, Katherine, their two children, Willie and Lena, and Sgt Ormsby’s sister, Mrs Rocheford.

Precisely at 9.04pm, the London train steamed into the station, and this was the signal for a tremendous outburst of cheering.

Once Sgt Ormsby emerged from the station, khaki-clad, with his full kit on his back and his rifle in his hand, the cheering was renewed again and again. He was assisted into the open carriage where, to the delight of cheering onlookers, he embraced his wife and children.

The Voluntary Territorial Corps band (VTC) struck up a lively air, and a long procession moved off, headed by the police and followed by members of the VTC, the Catholic Boys’ Brigade, Dewsbury Boys’ Brigade, St Mark’s Boy Scouts, the Church Lads’ Brigade and various bugle bands associated with them.

Standing on the Town Hall steps to welcome the procession were the Mayor and Mayoress, Alderman and Mrs Walter France, members of the Town Council, and a large number of other prominent gentlemen.

Many speeches of welcome were made praising the gallantry of Sgt Ormsby, but the Mayor, showed great taste and consideration, by referring to the town’s other hero, Pte Waller.

He expressed great regret that this young hero from Batley Carr was not there to share the congratulations of such a tremendous crowd.

Father Mitchell, parish priest of St Paulinus, which Sgt Ormsby attended, said this hero had not only won the VC by his bravery, as many others had done, but by the tactical skill and military genius he showed in a great crisis, which had saved the men of his company.

The Vicar of Dewsbury, the Reverend F Wolds, said they all united that night with their whole hearts in honouring their brave fellow townsmen, and because of this, Dewsbury ought to rise higher than it had ever done before.

Following this speech, Sgt Ormsby stepped forward amidst a terrific outburst of cheering, and told the great crowd that no-one could have had a more hearty reception than he had that night.

He did not think there was a town throughout the United Kingdom that had responded more completely to the call for men for the Army than Dewsbury. Neither was there another town that had sent more good lads to the Front than they had from Dewsbury.

In his opinion, the war had become like a tug-of-war, but if they at home would help at the rope and put all their weight on it, a good strong final heave could pull the enemy clean over (tremendous cheers).

He wished that his “fallen” brother, Pte Waller, could be there to share the cheers of that great crowd, (hear hear), but he was at rest, and he had done his duty, and that was what was expected of every man. He concluded his speech by saying he wanted to give them all a tonic that night, and it was this:

“Don’t send any bad men out yonder. If you do, I can assure you it will take six good ones to look after every bad ‘un (loud laughter).

He added: “Send out good ones, and take this tonic to back you up – Your King and country needs you!”

In the coming weeks I will be writing more about Sgt Ormsby, includng the speeches made in Crow Nest Park when he was presented presented with the horse and cart.