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Tameside’s Passchendaele sacrifice remembered on centenary
Thursday 3rd August 2017 @ 11:17 by Tom Greggan
Denton & Audenshaw News Stalybridge

Residents paid their respects to honour Tameside’s fallen as they marked the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele at the weekend.

One of the bloodiest battles of World War One, the conflict was epitomised by torrential rain and a frontline which became a deadly quagmire of mud.

In Denton, the community of Haughton Green paid their respects with a unique service on the village green, itself planted with 100 white crosses. Fifty crosses carry the names, addresses and ages of fifty of the men who died in World War One, researched by local historian Margaret Smethurst. The other fifty carried poems from locals, historians and soldiers.

A sombre, moving service was led by Rev David Gray of St. Mary’s Church. Chair of the Armoury Trust, Graham BraithwaiTe, spoke of the bloody history of the battle while David Harrop read out the famous poem, ‘In Flanders Field’. Local poet Albert Taylor read two original pieces, titled ‘Passchendaele’ and ‘Denton’s Unknown Soldier’.

The crosses on the green will remain in place all week, until a community day on Saturday from 12 noon until 5pm. Tameside Radio will be covering the event live.

Meanwhile, one soldier from Stalybridge, who died on the first day of the battle, was remembered as part of the televised commemorations screened on Monday. July 31st marked exactly 100 years since the start of the battle and also marked 100 years since William Rhodes, of Huddersfield Road, Millbrook, was killed in action at St Julien.

The 30-year-old left behind a wife and three children, the youngest just a few months old. He was one of three men from Millbrook killed on the first day of Passchendaele with eleven casualties from Stalybridge alone.

Warrant Officer William Rhodes appears on the BBC’s remembrance programme to talk about his great-great uncle, and namesake, who died on the first day of Passchendaele.

Sergeant William Rhodes

On Monday, William’s great-great nephew, and namesake, Warrant Officer William Rhodes, was at Tyne Cot in Belgium, where Sergeant Rhodes is buried, for the televised memorial service for those who fell in the battle. He told BBC presenter Dan Snow it was a trip he had been planning with his family for a decade.

William Rhodes was born in Millbrook in 1887 to Robert and Kitty Hauge Rhodes (nee Booth). He married Annie Dawson Thornley in 1908 and lived at 372 Huddersfield Road. He was a cotton cop carrier and was also involved in the Millbrook Wesleyan Church and Sunday School. A popular bass vocalist, he spent nine years with the Stalybridge Territorials before enlisting in the Army at the outbreak of war in 1914.

According to an article in the Stalybridge Reporter on September 1st 1917, he was first sent to France with the first draft in August 1914. Just before he was killed, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (CDM), the citation reading: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, he led his platoon with the utmost skill and fearlessness, doing his most valuable work and showing remarkable judgement and powers of leadership. He set a splendid example to all his men.”

His name is inscribed on the Stalybridge War Memorial as well as the memorial outside Millbrook Care Centre, which carries the names of fallen students from the old St James’ School.

Sergeant William Rhodes D.C.M., 265576, 1st/6th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment. Born 1887. Killed in action on 31st July 1917, aged 30. Buried in Tyne Cot cemetery in Belgium. Grave reference IX. E. 6.