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Covering the villages of Wilsden and Harecroft




25th October – On the Italian Front, German and Austrian forces began the 12th Battle of the Isonzo. For the first time on this front, the Germans took the initiative, beginning the attack with a four-hour artillery bombardment, including using gas, against which the Italians had no defence. Some Italian regiments, devastated by the gas, fell back as much as fourteen miles. One German platoon captured two mountain peaks in two days of fighting, and took over nine-thousand Italians prisoner, for a loss of just six men killed. The platoon was led by Lieutenant Rommel – the same Rommel who would command the German Panzers in the Western Desert during World War 2, earning the nickname ‘the Desert Fox’.

27th October – Sir Samuel Hoare, a British Military liaison officer in Milan, was so distressed by the defeatist, anti-war and pro-German sentiment in Italy that he sought out an influential Italian journalist, who, with financial backing from British Military Intelligence, continued his outspoken articles against the Italian pacifists. The journalist would be another key player in the Second World War – Benito Mussolini, later Fascist dictator of Italy. Mussolini’s only comment when an intermediary brought him the British money was – “Leave it to me”.


Keighley News Archive (accessed via Bradford Libraries website)

Gilbert, M. First World War


19th October – German plans for a huge zeppelin bombing raid on the industrial manufacturing areas of Northern England go badly wrong, due to gale force, 60mph winds. One zeppelin dropped its bombs on London, four were blown completely off course and ended up over German-occupied France, one was shot down by French anti-aircraft fire at 19,000 feet, one crash landed, one fell intact into French hands, and one disappeared without trace over the Mediterranean.

Keighley News Archive (accessed via Bradford Libraries website)

Gilbert, M. First World War

John Dunnett

Pte. Dunnett, John   33339   York and Lancaster Regt   1st/4th Bn.


John was born on 24 February 1898, the son of Scottish parents, Jessie and John ‘Bobby’ Dunnett, Wilsden’s Policeman. He was third of four children (Barbara, William, John and Ellen) and they lived at first at 144, Main Street but later moved to 24 Royd Terrace.

John junior was learning to be a Motor Mechanic and when he enlisted in June 1916 it was into the Royal Army Service Corps with a view to becoming a Motor Transport Driver. He passed to become a Ford Driver despite being put on a charge in February 1917 for ‘driving at an excessive speed down Hospital Hill in Aldershot’, but by the end of March he had been transferred to the Infantry and into the York & Lancaster Regt.

 The Third Battle of Ypres became known simply as ‘Passchendaele’. The name itself evokes a picture of flooded shell-holes, blasted trees and duckboard tracks. The battlefield was a vast muddy plain with no front line other than a series of linked shell-holes. Operations in that sector had started during the summer of 1917. General Haig had considered the risk that the low lying fields with their canal drainage system would soon become swamped when the artillery started to drop shells on it and destroy the system, but knew that the area had to be crossed to reach the well-fortified German lines on higher ground beyond. A quick and decisive action might secure a victory for the Allies. However, that August was the wettest on record and the rain kept on and on, right through into autumn. The British troops quickly became bogged down and still Haig was reluctant to call off the attack.

 On 8 October, ten days before John’s death,  Lieut. King of the East Lancs. Regt. was making his way to the front in the same sector.   “It was an absolute nightmare. Often we would have to stop and wait for up to half an hour, because all the time the duckboards were being blown up and men were being blown off the track or simply slipping off – because we were all in full marching order with gas-masks and rifles, and some were carrying machine-guns and extra ammunition. We were all carrying equipment of some kind, and all had empty sandbags tucked down our backs. We were loaded like Christmas trees, so of course an explosion nearby or just the slightest thing would knock a man off balance and he would go off the track and right down in the mud.”  

‘They called it Passchendaele’ by Lyn Macdonald

 John was killed in action 18 October 1917 aged 19 at Passchendaele, and was buried in Potijze Chateau Lawn cemetery  Grave No.  A.A.1

Fred Flesher

Pte.  Flesher, Fred   291786  Northumberland Fusiliers   25th (Tyneside Irish) Battalion.



Born in Burley-in –Wharfedale, son of Louisa and Edward Flesher, a stone mason, Fred was third of six children;  Harry, George, Fred, Emma, Herbert and Lena . His widowed mother moved the family  to 25, Lister Villa, Wilsden.

Fred enlisted into the Northumberland Fusiliers in Halifax.

In June 1917, he got a ‘Blighty’ wound and was sent home to England but he was soon back in Flanders at the Front.

Bradford Weekly Telegraph 1 June 1917;   “Pte. Fred Flesher, Northumberland Fusiliers, third son of Mrs Flesher, Lister Villas, Wilsden, wounded by shrapnel in the legs, has been at hospital in Bristol.”

Fred’s recovery unfortunately meant that he was back in Belgium in time for the Third Battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele. The conditions and the shelling were appalling. The front line was merely a succession of shell holes which were permanently flooded, men and horses drowned in the mud if they left the duckboard paths.

An ANZAC private described the scene during an unofficial armistice on 12 October to allow the dead and wounded on both sides to be brought in.

“...we saw that [the area around Waterloo Farm] was a mass of shell-holes full of water, and on the parts of firm ground between the holes there were scores, even hundreds, of wounded men lying there, brought in by mates. In front were long lines of Northumberland Fusiliers and Durham Light Infantry, lying dead almost in formation where they had been mown down like wheat as they tried to go across against machine-gun fire a few days before [on 9 October].”

‘They Called it Passchendaele’ by Lyn Macdonald

 Fred was severely wounded and on 17 October 1917 he died, aged 28. He was buried at Dozingham Military Cemetery.  Grave No. XG 8

preview   Photo: Heritage images/Getty Images

Mata Hari, the Dutch-born exotic dancer, was executed by firing squad on 15th October 1917 after being found guilty by a French court of passing secrets to the Germans.

Mata Hari’s real name was Margaretha  “Gretha” Macleod. She had married a hard-drinking officer in the East Indies Army who was 20 years her senior and they spent four years in the Dutch East Indies from where she would later take her inspiration for her character’s costume and dancing.
After their divorce she headed for Paris and became a sensation and the toast of Europe, but when war broke out she very quickly came under suspicion, being a foreigner of dubious respectability who was known to have had liaisons with men on both sides of the opposing armies. Her femme fatale image was considered to be evidence that she really was a spy and the French Secret Service had attempted to recruit her. She was arrested because they believed that she was a double agent feeding secrets to the German officers with whom she was undoubtedly having affairs.

The French court convicted Gretha McLeod of being “the greatest woman spy of the century” responsible for sending 20,000 Allied soldiers to their deaths. She was executed two days after her arrest. She refused a blindfold and is said to have blown a kiss to the soldiers of the firing squad.
The mythology of Mata Hari become synonymous with seduction and betrayal.


‘ Mother, dancer, wife, spy; the real Mata Hari’. Julie Wheelwright, The Guardian 5th December 2016

‘Englishness & Espionage: Edith Cavell as the good spy’. Rosie White, Heroines & Heroes: Symbolism, Embodiment, Narratives & Identity. Ed. Christopher Hart

J. Arthur Butler

Gunner Butler, Joseph Arthur   21183   Royal Field Artillery    ‘C’ Battery.  108th Brigade.


Arthur was born in Keighley, son of George and  Martha Butler, they came to live at 22 Flax Hall, Wilsden, where he grew up. He was one of two boys and two girls. His brother Fred Butler reached a century in age and will be remembered by many Wilsdeners for his great local knowledge. The two sisters were Annie and Maggie. 

Both brothers joined up, Arthur enlisted in Bradford into the Royal Field Artillery.

Driver J McPherson, also of ‘C’ Bty.  R.F.A. described taking shells up to the guns in the area around Passchendaele where Arthur and his fellow gunners fired them as fast as supplies allowed.

 “You couldn’t do anything about the dead, and there were so many bodies about that you got callous about it. All that time, before the push in September [1917], I was up and down the Menin Road, up and down, up and down, taking ammunition on the backs of horses and mules up to the dump. They had to keep the Menin Road open, because it was the only way you could get up to that sector with horses and limbers, and it was shelled day and night. The Germans had their guns registered on it to a T, and the engineers had to keep filling up the shell-holes. They filled them up with anything. If a limber got a shell and was blown to pieces they just shovelled everything into the crater and covered it over, dead horses, dead bodies, bits of limber – anything to fill it up and cover it over and keep the traffic going.

I was a driver in the artillery and it was our job to get the ammunition up. We could only take limbers so far because of the shell-holes, so we had to go up the rest of the way with a walking squad, leading the horses. Each horse carried four shells, two on each side – and they were the big heavy ones with brass cases. We used to go twenty of us together, leaving the wagon lines at about three o’clock, up to the dump to get our shells, and we reached the guns about seven o’clock at night – if we were lucky enough to reach the guns. We sometimes thought it was a complete waste of time. The gunners never saw half the shells. With the weight of them they were just sinking into the mud, and it was a complete waste of ammunition because they couldn’t find them.”

‘They Called it Passchendaele’ by Lyn Macdonald

Arthur was wounded in the battle for Polygon Wood and Broodseinde Ridge, part of the battle of Passchendaele and died of his wounds on 6th October 1917 aged 30. He was buried at Oxford Rd Cemetery, Coll. Grave  I.DD  1