Study revealing cost of conflict to Keighley area villages

Keighley News: Janet Smithies, left, and Gillian Wilson, who are organising an exhibition about Steeton and Eastburn during the First World War Janet Smithies, left, and Gillian Wilson, who are organising an exhibition about Steeton and Eastburn during the First World War

Research has provided a fascinating insight into neighbouring villages’ men who fought for their country in the First World War.

And now those findings are to form part of an exhibition this summer commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War.

Leading the research has been Gillian Wilson, a member of St Stephen’s Church in Steeton, which will host the exhibition.

The investigations have been a labour of love for the retired teacher.

“I have always been fascinated by the subject,” she said.

“Each year on Remembrance Sunday we read out all the names on the war memorial, and I think about those men and what they went through.

“Two years ago we visited some of the war graves in France, and I took a pebble from Steeton to lay there in tribute. A lot of families won’t even know where their ancestors fell.

“I’ve always had an interest in family history research, and when I retired and had a bit more time I began looking into the lives and service of those soldiers from Steeton and Eastburn.”

Mrs Wilson trawled through censuses for details about the families and gleaned information from the website, Craven’s Part In The Great War. Her research unearthed some surprising facts.

In 1914, Steeton and Eastburn had a population of about 2,300, and at least 330 men enlisted, with 69 killed.

About 50 men from a single road – Elmsley Street, which had 38 houses – were amongst those who signed up to fight, and at least 11 died.

More than half of those from the two villages who lost their lives worked in the local mills. The youngest to be killed was 18 and the oldest 44.

“A surprisingly large proportion of the population enlisted – whether that was down to some peer pressure or simply a sense of duty and pride is unclear,” said Mrs Wilson.

The exhibition, from July 18 to 20, will include displays of photos, memorabilia and information about what life was like in the villages during the period.

Anyone with information that could be used at the event is asked to come forward, and offers of help staging it are also sought.

The exhibition will open on the Friday evening with a talk by local historian Ian Dewhirst, who compiles the popular Memory Lane column in the Keighley News.

Steeton Flower Club will provide floral decorations.

Contact Mrs Wilson on 01535 653523 or gilwil33@yahoo.co.uk, or the Reverend Jenny Savage on revdjenny@aol.com, with any offers of information or help.

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