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Past Lives

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Photo of Stanley in uniform printed in The Bury Guardian on 30th September 1916.

In this period of commemoration, I thought it would be fitting to start off with stories that recognize the sacrifice made in WW1 by two young men from my local area.

Lance Corporal Stanley Frears 2391 (1894 - 1916)

Stanley Burton Frears was born on 26th January 1894 at his grandparents' house in Bolton Street, Bury. He was the eldest child of Alice Ann and James Frears who had married the previous September at St Mary's Parish Church in Bury. At the time of Stanley's birth, his father was a house painter and their address was 12 Walshaw Road, Elton.

The family seem to have left the Elton area for a short time at least as younger brother, Leonard, was baptised on October 6th 1895 at St Paul's Church while they were living at 13, Church Street, Bury.

By the time of sister Bessie's birth on 1st February 1899, the family were back on Walshaw Road (albeit at number 10 this time). A second brother, William, was born on 9th December 1900.

The 1901 census gives us a snapshot of the family on Sunday 31st March. James was still working as a painter and decorator. No occupation was listed for Alice Ann, but she was probably busy looking after Stanley aged seven years, Leonard five years, Bessie two and William just three months old.

Just eighteen months later tragedy struck the family when Leonard died on 3rd October 1902. He was buried three days later on the very same date as his baptism in what must have been a painful reminder of that other happier day only seven years earlier.

Life continued for Stanley and more joyful times must have come with the birth of a new brother, Arthur, on 24th July 1903. With Leonard's burial at All Saints and the baptising of all three of the younger children there, a link was established between the family and the church that would continue for years to come.

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The photograph above shows Walshaw Road in 2014. The original row of houses where Stanley lived has been demolished. His house would have been somewhere between the grassed area and the new row, the end of which is just visible in this photograph.

Although I have been unable to locate any admission records to prove it conclusively, it seems likely that Stanley would have attended the local school in Elton. Until 1911, this was located in the stone building seen on the left of this image, which would have been almost opposite Stanley's house.

However, by the time of the 1911 census, Stanley was seventeen. He still lived with his parents on Walshaw Road, but had left school and was working as a dyer for the firm of Messrs. Smethurst and Sons in Woolfold. His three younger siblings were still at school.

We next catch a glimpse of Stanley in 1914 when he married Lillian Meadows. By 1914, the Frears had moved a short distance away from Walshaw Road to 92 Wood Street, but were still in Elton. I do not know how Stanley and Lillian met. She was not originally from the Bury area, but had been living and working as a weaver in Elton for a number of years. Perhaps she had also attended All Saints Church and they had met through church social activities? However long they had known each other, the young couple were married by certificate at All Saints on 6th June. Stanley was just twenty; Lillian was only eighteen - and four months' pregnant.

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All Saints Church, which Stanley attended and where he and Lillian were married, has now been converted into apartments.

Just three months after the wedding, Stanley enlisted in 2nd/5th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, a territorial force that had been formed in Bury on 9th September 1914.

A hundred years on, it is difficult for us to understand why a young man, recently married, with a steady job and his first child on the way would volunteer to leave everything he knew and loved to fight overseas. However, the outbreak of war was initially greeted with great enthusiasm and a huge outburst of patriotism. Young men were eager to teach the Germans a lesson, have a great adventure and expected to be home for Christmas. Indeed, local employers encouraged this fervour especially as trade took a downturn in the early months of the war. None of the men who volunteered from Bury in that September could have foreseen the horrors of the trench warfare to come.

Initially Stanley's battalion was in Mossborough and then billeted in Southport over the winter. On 8th February 1915, the 2nd/5th Battalion was attached to the 197th Brigade, followed by a transfer to the 3rd Highland Brigade at Bedford on 17th April.

In the meantime, Lillian had given birth on 5th November 1914 to their daughter, Alice. I wonder if Stanley was able to take any leave to visit his wife and new baby or whether he was present at Alice's baptism on 17th January 1915 at All Saints?

I hope so, because by 4th May, Stanley had landed in Boulogne, France. According to the Wartime Memories Project, the brigade, now called the 154th Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division, saw action almost immediately being involved in the defence of Ypres, the Battle of Festubert and the Second Action of Givenchy. By early 1916 the 2nd/5th Battalion had been transferred again to the 164th Brigade, 55th Division. The 2nd/5th's war diary for this period describes how the battalion alternated between the trenches and reserve billets at various locations, were occupied in working parties, drills and training and endured enemy sniper and mortar fire. It is possible that Stanley was involved in an attack in the Blairville Wood area on 28th June and a major attack on Guillemont on the night of 8th/9th August 1916 described in the diary. By this time he had also been promoted from Private to Lance-Corporal.

However, on 30th September 1916, a local Bury paper The Guardian reported that Alice Ann had received letters from a friend of her son's informing her unofficially of his death. The friend had not been with him when he died, but said that a shell had killed him. He tried to comfort her with the news that he had been given a decent burial and his grave marked by a wooden cross. Later it would be confirmed that Stanley had been killed in action on Thursday 10th August 1916. He was twenty-two years old.

As the wife of a soldier killed in action, Lillian would have been entitled to a small widow's pension for herself and an additional weekly payment for Alice, although I have not located any documentary evidence to confirm this. Even with the pension, the next few years must have been a struggle both financially and emotionally for Lillian and the rest of Stanley's family.

Stanley was awarded three medals for his service, the Victory and British War Medals and the 1914-15 Star. Because of his long association with All Saints, his name was also entered on their roll of honour. As the war raged on, many graves were lost forever including Stanley's. He now has no known resting place, but is remembered with honour on the Thiepval Memorial in France, where his name is inscribed.

Like so many of those men who paid the ultimate price, Stanley was lost for a second time. As the years passed, except perhaps for his immediate family, the memory of his sacrifice was lost like his grave. Stanley was my grandmother's cousin and I did not even know of his existence until I started to research my family history!

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The Thiepval Memorial and the face with Stanley's name inscribed upon it.


James Frears continued to live at 92 Wood Street until his death in 1936. Alice Ann outlived him by a few years dying in 1939. They were both buried at All Saints. Lillian eventually remarried in 1944. Alice grew up, married in 1940 and had four daughters.

The memorial plaque, which featured Stanley's name, was lost when All Saints was sold and converted into apartments.


Sources and Bibliography

The Guardian 30.09.1916 - On microfilm at Bury Archives
All Saints Transcriptions - Lancashire Family History & Heraldry Society
2/5 Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers [War Diary] - WO 95/2923 pgs 28 & 123: National Archives


I hope to add new stories on a regular basis, so visit my site again soon to read the next one.

If you would like more information on the people featured in these stories, you can email me at cathy@familyforbears.co.uk.