In late 2007 Susan Halstead, Burnley's Reference Librarian, asked me to call and see Mr Bennie at his home in Padiham. Mr Bennie had brought a photographic album into the Reference library following an appeal by Susan for photographs and historical material for the local collection.
The album contained a marvellous collection of photographs and written material which was put together by Mrs Maud Starkie who together with her husband Mr Edmund Arthur Le Gendre Starkie had volunteered in 1914 the use of their house Huntoyde Hall near Padiham Burnley as an Auxiliary Hospital at the commencement of the First World War.
Mr Bennie had previously been employed by the Starkie Family and when Huntroyde Hall and its contents had been sold had saved this album and another slightily bigger album from destruction. Mr Bennie had donated the larger album to Towneley Hall.
Susan had decided that the contents of the album were too fragile for photocopying and asked me to take digital photographs of the contents of Mr Bennie's album.
As military history is my especial interest I was only too happy to undertake the task and asked Mike Townend the historian at Towneley Hall if I could also take digital pictures of their Huntroyde Album
The material from the two albums has provided a fantastic archive of photographs and related material which is now preserved for the future and is now available for use by any interested person. It provides a fantastic insight into many aspects of the First World War period.
I initially thought the task would not take very long but it grew on me and I have spent many happy hours preparing what I believe is a rare archive. I do not think that this is a complete record of the soldiers treated at Huntroyde Hall because there are too many unexplained gaps e.g. no evidence of patients between 9 June and 6 October 1915, 4 February to 4 April 1916, and 17 November 1916 to 4 May 1917. About 240 soldiers, most with a photograph and an individually written memo or form, can be found in the files. Some soldiers have only photos as their memos have been lost or are non-existent. I have been able to identify most soldiers through the National Archive's medal index cards found on the internet but in several cases this identification was not possible because of paucity of information.
My impression from reading the information given by the soldiers is that they almost all enjoyed their time at Hunroyde and regretted their time there could not be longer. Unfortunately at least 15 of the soldiers here returned to the war and were killed and many more were discharged as being unfit for further service. It can be seen from the photographs that the character of the men being treated changed as the older men of the regular army and reserves were replaced by volunteers and later conscripts.
In conclusion I have to say that I have enjoyed carrying out this project and have learnt a great deal both intellectually and in developing my I.T. skills!
Denis Otter, 28 August 2008.
Sadly Denis died on the 20 June 2012, I will however try and update this project when time permits.