WHY WE REMEMBER
11th November 2018
As we approach the centenary of end of the First World War, or what contemporaries often referred to as the Great War, we recall those young men from the parishes of the Leeds Diocese who were killed in action during the course of the conflict. They have been remembered every November since 1919 and never more so, perhaps, than on this occasion. However, there may be times when some of us wonder why we still commemorate and pause to reflect, after all these years. The story below, of lost youth and lost promise, provides a salutary reminder why we do, indeed, remember.
THE STORY OF GUNNER STANLEY SPILLANE OF BRADFORD
By Mgr John Dunne, Diocese of Leeds
Dawn on Bank Holiday Monday, 3 August 1914, promised a glorious summer’s day. It invited people to forget for a few hours the noise and incessant labour of the textile mill. For a while they could escape the overcrowded courts of back to back dwellings. Perhaps they might enjoy a visit to the seaside.
But Monday, 3 August 1914, was also the last day of peace. Those who had planned an outing to Scarborough found that the North Eastern Railway had cancelled all excursion trains so as to clear the way for the mobilisation of troops. As the following day, Tuesday 4 August 1914, drew to its close it was clear that the German armies would not withdraw from Belgium. The British ultimatum had been rejected and the country was at war. To avert panic the Government required banks to remain closed but this did not prevent prices rising as people rushed to lay in stocks of food.
Meanwhile mobilisation began quickly and the small British regular army, now known as the British Expeditionary Force, (the B.E.F.), set off for France. In due course they took up their assigned positions near the Belgian town of Mons, on the flank of the French army. Here they found themselves directly in the path of the advancing, (and greatly superior), German forces. The British formed a defensive position along the line of a canal which ran to the north of the town.
Among those serving in this action was Gunner Stanley Maurice Edward Spillane, a parishioner of St. Patrick’s, Bradford. The Census of 1911 shows Stanley living with his family in Elmsall Street, Manningham Lane, in Bradford. His father, Maurice Spillane and his mother, Frances Spillane were both from County Cork. Frances had been widowed and had married again. Stanley was the only son of her second marriage. The family in Elmsall Street also included three children of her first marriage, two daughters and one son.
Stanley was now a Gunner in the 124th Battery, 28th Artillery Brigade in the 5th Division of the Royal Field Artillery. The British forces however, (of which his unit was part), were unable to withstand the German attacks and a retreat was ordered. The group to which Stanley’s battery was attached moved south to Le Cateau, a small town about twenty kilometres south-east of Cambrai. Here they prepared to make a stand.
The battle began on the morning of the 26th August, 1914 and developed into a dual between British and German artillery. By mid afternoon the British right and then their left flanks began to give way until relieved by a French cavalry unit. That night the British and French forces at Le Cateau were able to effect a successful withdrawal from their now untenable position.
Some 40,000 allied troops had been involved in the engagement at Le Cateau. Of these 700 had been killed and 2,600 taken prisoner. Despite its high cost the engagement had delayed the German advance and enabled the main body of the B.E.F. to continue its retreat for the following few days without coming under further attack.
Stanley Spillane was one of those casualties suffered by the British that Wednesday 26 August 1914. Killed in action, he is buried in the Saint Souplet British Cemetery which is located only about six kilometres from the battlefield of Le Cateau. It is not a large cemetery. Triangular in form, it lies by the side of a road and is set against a far reaching background of open fields. Stanley’s headstone carries an inscription composed by his parents.
In memory ever dear.
Gone but not forgotten.
Mother and Dad.
Stanley Maurice Edward Spillane was sixteen years of age.
May He Rest In Peace