Remembering the Manchester Solicitors who gave their lives in World War One

  • 07/08/2014


This year the world commemorates 100 years since the start of WWI. During the conflict there were 16 million deaths and 20 million wounded ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. Of these 1016 were solicitors and 716 were articled clerks. Julia Baskerville looks at the role of Manchester legal profession in the conflict…

I begin this article with an apology. I have gleaned information from a variety of sources, including old committee records held by Manchester Law Society and military records but there may be a number of ommissions. However I hope that this will serve as a tribute to those solicitors and articled clerks who lost their lives in the Great War.

At the beginning of 1914 the British Army had around 710,000 men including reserves, of which around 80,000 were regular troops ready for war. By the end of World War I almost 1 in 4 of the total male population of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland had joined up.

Many Manchester solicitors and articled clerks either volunteered or were conscripted. As the war progressed, with major losses on all sides the War Office made a call for more men to volunteer. Manchester Law Society held a Special Committee Meeting on 27th March 1917 to discuss a request from the War Recruitment Office. The minutes said …

“That the larger firms in the city had made less sacrifice in proportion than the smaller firms and that the solicitors had not done so well as ether the bankers or the accountants.”

The Committee then went on to select a number of solicitors and clerks from the larger firms who would enlist. Sadly many of these men never returned to practice.

The majority of Manchester solicitors went into the Manchester Regiment. The Regiment formed an extra 38 battalions in addition to the pre-war establishment of two Regular and two Militia and six Territorial Battalions, this was mainly due to the volume of volunteers, it was awarded 72 Battle Honours and 11 Victoria Crosses losing 13770 men during the course of the war. A number of solicitors were awarded medals for gallantry, one of whom was Myles Boddington. Myles, son of William Slater Boddington, Chairman of the Boddington’s brewery. He was articled to Alfred Whitworth and enlisted in September 1914 in the 5th Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry when he was just 23 years old. He served in Belgium and France and was awarded the Military Cross. He was killed in action near Ypres in 1916.

Lawson Coppock & Hart, a firm still in existence saw one of their founding partners enlisting. Alexander Lawson joined the 17th Lancers in 1915 and was promoted to Captain in the Reserve Regiment of the Cavalry. It is thought he was awarded the Victory Medal, also called the Inter Allied Victory Medal. This medal was awarded to all who received the 1914 Star or 1914-15 Star and, with certain exceptions, to those who received the British War Medal. It was never awarded alone. These three medals were sometimes referred to as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred.

Another solicitor who gave his life for his country was Robert Edgar, a young solicitor from Boote, Edgar, Grace & Rylands – a predecessor firm to Bootes. He served in the Manchester Regiment and saw action in both Eygypt and at Gallipolli. He was killed in the attack on Achi Baba in 1915.

A name that is synonymous with Manchester is “Cobbett”. Sir William Cobbett was a solicitor and was President of Manchester Law Society at some time between 1914-1918. His firm was Cobbett, Wheeler & Cobbett and at least two solicitors from the firm saw action. Richard Cobbett (relationship to William Cobbett not known), who was admitted as a solicitor in 1902 joined the Cheshire Yeomanry in 1915 and served at home. Another solicitor from the firm Harold Foster Hollinrake fought in Gallipolli, Eygypt and the Sinai Peninsula from 1915-1916 and in France from 1917 – 1918. He was killed in action at Herinnes-lez-Pecq, Belgium on 8th Nov. 1918, just three days before the end of the war.

A number of solicitors joined the Public Schools Battalions. This was one of the first “Pals” regiments, originally made up exclusively of former public schoolboys.

The Pals battalions of World War I were specially constituted battalions of the British Army comprising men who had enlisted together in local recruitment drives. It was thought that men would be more inclined to enlist if they knew they would serve alongside friends and colleagues.

The Public Schools Battalion began recruiting on 1 September 1914. Over 1,500 applications were received including from retired officers who wished to serve in its ranks. In April 1916, the 16th (Service) Battalion (Public Schools) joined the 86th Brigade of the 29th Division, a regular division that had served with distinction at Gallipoli. With the 29th Division, the Public Schools Battalion first saw action in the Battle of the Somme. On the first day on the Somme, 1 July, the battalion advanced on the Germans, but became trapped in no man’s land unable to return to the Allied trenches. That night they were rounded up and made prisoners of war. On that day alone the Public Schools Battalion suffered 522 casualties.

The battle on the Somme on 1st July marked the greatest single loss in Bristish military history, with 60,000 casualties, which included 20,000 deaths. A number of Manchester solicitors and articled clerks were involved in the offensive on the Somme, Percy G Haworth, Roland Minor and Donald Wright lost thier lives and George Parker Morris and Percy Thornley were wounded. Percy Haworth, Roland Minor and Donald Wright were just 21 years old. Another Manchester solicitor Herbert Fielding, a member of the 22nd Battalion survived the battle of the Somme, but was later killed in action in Croisilles, March 28, 1917.

Members of the Manchester Law Society Committee were not exempt from military service. At a Committee Meeting on 28th July 1916, the comments of the President, Mr Padmore were noted…

“The President had referred to the absence of several members on military service and expressed the hope that health, strength and success would attend their labours and that sooner or later they would return in safety to resume their part in the deliberations of the committee.”

Towards the end of the war, whilst Sir William Cobbett was President it was agreed that a War Memorial should be erected in memory of the solicitors and clerks who had lost their lives. The Manchester Law Society formed a committee which would liaise with the national Law Society and other provincial law societies to plan for the memorial.

The Committee took the decision to make a donation of £100 (in today’s money £3972) for the design and erection of the memorial which now stands in the Law Society Hall at Chancery Lane.

Listed alongside (possibly incomplete) is a list of solicitors and articled clerks who enlisted and saw action in WW1, and recipients of medals.

If any firm has any further information on any of the individuals named or details of other Manchester solicitors, please contact me and we can include this in future editions of The Messenger.

For the full story, printed in the August Messenger, please visit this link 

Julia Baskerville
Publisher, The Messenger
[email protected]