On the Altar of Sacrifice: Remembering the Birchcliffe Chapel's First World War Heroes

Our volunteer Isha has been researching the 27 men remembered on the Birchcliffe Chapel war memorial. In this blog, Isha tells the stories of two of these men - William Albert Thomas and James Willie Barker.

"To the memory of the men from this church who gave their lives for us in the Great War, 1914-1919. They laid their richest gift – their lives – on the altar of sacrifice. Let their names be remembered." - Birchcliffe Chapel War Memorial

Today marks the 105th anniversary of the First World War coming to an end. 27 men from the Birchcliffe Chapel congregation were among those killed. In honour of them, a war memorial was unveiled on 12th November 1922. Below is a collection of information gathered in order to capture a glimpse into the lives of these men, including where they lived, whom they loved and in some cases what they looked like.


Image MCH00129 from the Pennine Horizons Digital Archive

Calderdale libraries have digitalized Halifax Weekly Couriers Newspapers from 1914 to 1918 on their Weaver to Web site. Naturally, I combed through every single one looking for any mentions of the Birchcliffe men. In fact, one week in particular stands out as being significant, as five Birchcliffe men signed up to serve their country at the same time.

Sadly, the same week that these five young men signed up, William Albert Thomas would be killed in Belgium, the first of the 27 to lose his life.


Prince Farrar, Alpha Jackson, George Booth, Wilfred Greenwood and David Stansfield were all featured as new recruits in the 8th May1915 Halifax Courier Newspaper.

William Albert Thomas

William Albert Thomas served as a private with the 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington and tragically lost his life on 5th May 1915 during the Battle of Hill 60.


Halifax Courrier, 5th June 1915, page 8.

Thomas’ story is one of the many tragedies that came out of World War I. He had only been serving at the front for two months before he was reported missing on 4th May, 1915. His comrade, Private A. Howarth, was the first to write home that Thomas was missing. However, fate dealt a cruel blow, and Howarth would be declared dead before Thomas. Seven days later, Thomas was officially declared dead. It is hard to imagine the pain and suffering that his family must have felt upon hearing this news.


The 1911 census, showing the Thomas family living at Birchfield Villas.

In 1901 census record places the family at 117 Eiffel Street, while the 1911 Census record (Listed above) places them at 6 Birchfield Villas , both in Hebden Bridge. A then 14-year-old William was still in school, unaware of the fact that he would lose his life in a war just four years later. William's father, Arthur Thomas, was a hard-working cotton merchant who provided for his family.
At the time of his death, Thomas’ brother John Thomas was just 15 years old. Despite the tragic loss of his brother, John would later go on to join the military with the Royal Engineers in April 1918, just four months before the end of the war. Records show he remained in the army well into 1920. It is clear that the impact of Thomas’ sacrifice was felt deeply by his family and those who knew him.


Plan of Divisional Cemetary, from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Thomas was buried at Divisional Cemetery, Belgium [C 18]. Among the 191 British men laid to rest there, 23 were from the 2nd Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, to which Thomas belonged. While each of these men may have come from different backgrounds and had different reasons for joining the war effort, they all shared a common goal: to fight for their country and protect the freedoms they held dear.

James Willie Barker


Halifax Courrier, 1st April 1916

Born in Todmorden in 1887, he was the son of Charles Barker. In his younger years, he worked as a cotton warehouseman and later as a cotton weaver for Richard Thomas & Sons in Hebden Bridge. He lived at 12 Edward Street, which means that some of his neighbours are now memorialised alongside him. For instance, Alpha Jackson from 11 Chapel Avenue and William Thomas, who lived on Eiffel Street in his youth. All a stone’s throw away from one another.
Barker was also a popular bass vocalist and was associated with the Todmorden and Hebden Bridge Male Voice Choirs, as well as the Roomfield Baptist Church in Todmorden. In 1911, he married Betsy Parker in Todmorden, but the couple did not have any children.

Barker enlisted in January 1915 and served as a Gunner with C Battery 87th Brigade Royal Field Artillery. He was killed by a shell on the 22nd of March 1916, at the age of 29.


Halifax Courrier, 1st April 1916

Barker was buried at St. Vaast Post Military Cemetery, Richebourg-L'Avoue, France, and is remembered on the Todmorden War Memorial, as well as on the Memorial at Birchcliffe Baptist Church in Hebden Bridge.

Though they may be gone, their memory lives on as a testament to their bravery and selflessness in the face of adversity.

For further information, please visit the Birchcliffe Centre.

The 27 men from Birchcliffe Chapel who died fighting in the First World War were:

Harold V. Baldwin

James William Barker

George Booth

Arthur Cockcroft

Charles Cotton

John Crowther

Harry Dewhirst

Prince Farrar

Walter Greenhalgh

Clarence Greenwood

Herbert Greenwood

Wilfred Greenwood

Harry Haigh

Fred Haigh

Edgar Helliwell

Alpha Jackson

Willie Lord

William Schofield

Fred Southwell

Willie Southwell

David A. Stansfield

William Stell

Edgar Sutcliffe

Harold Sutcliffe

Harold Tetlaw

John William Thomas

William Albert Thomas