Ormskirk Through Two World Wars

If you were asked to name a historical event that had a major impact on any village, town or city in the UK then both World Wars would surely be at the top of almost everybody’s list. These global conflicts combined claimed the lives of an estimated 117 million people, both soldiers and civilians. Nowhere in the UK was immune to the terrible loss that they inflicted.

Ormskirk is of course no exception to this and it played a prominent role in both conflicts, sending hundreds of men to fight on the front lines, becoming part of the manufacturing effort for arms, becoming a transport hub for war horses and supplying civilian volunteers by the hundred.

Significant numbers of the town’s men signed up to fight in both conflicts. Largely with the King’s Liverpool Regiment during WWI, whilst a large group joined the RAF during WWII, along of course with the other services. These men would serve around the world, in France, Belgium, the Middle East, Africa, the Pacific and Burma, as well as in the skies over Europe, the Atlantic Ocean and on the Arctic convoys.

Illustration: War Horse by Maxine Lee-Mackie

It is hard to imagine that even those lucky enough to survive and return to Ormskirk were not deeply affected by their experiences, something which in turn will have had an effect on the town’s history. Indeed, there is likely not a single family living in Ormskirk today who don’t have a relative that was involved in one or both of the two conflicts in question. If you know your family’s story or you are planning to research it we would love to hear from you as we look to create a digital archive for Ormskirk.

The names of 340 Ormskirk men who made the ultimate sacrifice are listed on the Comrades War Memorial in Coronation Park, although the true casualty figures for the town are higher, with many other men’s names appearing on other memorials at schools, work places and in churches.

When the soldiers, sailors and airmen left Ormskirk to fight, they left behind a civilian population keen to do their bit, supporting those on the front lines in any way they could.

Hattersley’s factory on Burscough Street was turned over to munitions production during both conflicts. It was even the potential target of a bombing raid during the Second World War, with bombs falling near by in November 1940. It is not clear if this was an intentional attack, a target of opportunity or merely a bomber lost looking for Liverpool that dumped its bombs before heading for home. No bombs struck the factory, but a house on Yew Tree Road was hit, leading tragically, to Ormskirk’s only civilian casualty of the war.

Research into civilian workers during both conflicts has yielded the names of hundreds of volunteers, they served the community as firefighters, air raid wardens, nurses, first aiders and more, giving generously of their time and effort during both conflicts. It is these unsung heroes who held the community together and their support, along with millions of others like them around the country kept soldiers in the field. Their contributions, no matter how small should never be underestimated.

During the First World War the War Office set up a remount depot for the training of horses in the borough. Officially entitled Ormskirk the depot, as many of you may know, was actually located on Lathom Park. However, this did not mean that Ormskirk had no role to play in the vital training of horses for the conflict. In the early months of the depot horses shipped in from the USA and Canada to Liverpool where transported to Ormskirk via the railway and were unloaded before being walked to the depot. Even later on when a railway had been constructed running to the depot directly,

Ormskirk station remained a busy transport hub and would have seen many of the estimated 350,000 horses trained at Lathom passing through.

Sadly all of those with a memory of the First World War have now passed away and the same will soon be true of the Second World War too. If you know a relative who lived in Ormskirk through the war we’d love to hear their story, perhaps you could interview them, photograph them or record their story. You can find out more on how to do this here.

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