Albert Duxbury was born on 8th July 1882, the first of seventeen children born to John William and Alice Duxbury. Albert was remembered as saying "there was always one as couldnít bloody walk; as soon as one starts walking, thereís another as wants pushing in the bassinette!" Sadly, only nine of the children survived into adulthood. The family lived in the Bastwell area of Blackburn and were thrilled when they were able to move upmarket into a three-bedroomed terraced house on St. James's Road: all eleven of them!
In 1905, Albert married Elizabeth Malone and moved into 24 Joseph Street where the couple brought up their two children, John William and Mary Elizabeth. Albert had followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a shuttle-maker by profession, an occupation that would be taken up also by his own son.
Shortly before Christmas 1914, Albert volunteered for army service and was posted to the 8th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment. In the early hours of 1st August 1915, Albert disembarked with his battalion at Boulogne. Over the next 2½ years, he would see action in the battles of the Somme, Arras and Third Ypres. When the 8th Battalion was disbanded in February 1918, Albert was among 400 men transferred to the 11th Battalion (Accrington Pals): the action was unrelenting with engagements at Ayette, the Lys, and la Becque. Albert's luck finally ran out when he was taken prisoner during Z Company's attack at the River Warnave on 5th September. After first being told that Albert was missing, presumed dead, his family had an anxious time before learning that he was safe and well in a prisoner-of-war camp.
After the death of his wife, Elizabeth, in 1936 Albert went to live with his son's family. His granddaughter, Barbara, remembers how, when her parents were out of the house, Albert would send her to the "selling out" shop to buy two bottles of beer for him, and a bottle of pop for herself. After drinking his beer, he would start to reminisce and talk about his time during the war. These are the stories as Barbara remembers them:
My grandfather described in detail about the trenches, to the extent that when I was much older and saw a film with scenes of the First World War, the trenches were exactly as I had visualised them from his description.
He told me of one time, when there were so many soldiers in the trenches that they were standing three deep and shoulder to shoulder and, some time later, he could hardly see the next man down the line. He talked of two young brothers aged 17 and 18 (I thought he said they were Scottish) who asked if they could stand either side of him; they said they were very frightened and felt safe being next to him, as he was much older. One brother said he had never seen a German and would like to see what they looked like; my grandfather told him to keep his head down, as they would see him before he saw them. The young lad couldnít resist, peeped over the parapet and was shot and died at grandfatherís feet. He said it wasnít long before the other brother was also shot; he talked of the loss of these two young brothers with such sadness, and tears would come into his eyes.
My grandfather told me how they used to strip off, light a taper and run it up the seams of their clothes to kill off the lice.
My grandfather described in detail about the depth of the mud in the trenches and of how he saw injured men drown in the intense mud.
Christmas Day or Truce Day
My grandfather never mentioned about playing football, which I know is recorded, but he talked about swapping tobacco with the German soldiers and he said "and then they expected us to go back behind the lines and start shooting them again."
Shooting of three German soldiers
My grandfather told me of one day when three German soldiers came out of a forest (wherever that was, I have no idea), with their hands above their heads, surrendering. He said a sergeant shot all three dead and my grandfather said he didnít know what stopped him turning his gun on the sergeant and killing him. This incident troubled my grandfather very much.
Yes, he talked about seeing rats eating dead bodies.
Killing a dog
My grandfather told me a story that they were hungry and couldnít face eating any more "bully" beef (corned beef) so they shot a dog - no idea how they would have had facilities to try and cook this animal - however, it wasnít edible and they were glad of the "bully" beef!
Stripes and no stripes
My grandfather told me he was promoted to corporal or lance corporal two or three times, but then got demoted; he was a very outspoken man, who didnít suffer fools gladly. At the tender age of seven and a half, I remember him saying "you know lass, we were lions, ruled by bloody donkeys"; I didnít understand this quote until much older.
Prisoner of war
I have very little memories of what he might have told me about this time, apart from the fact that he said "the Germans were just like us; they didnít want to fight in this bloody war."
He said there wasnít much food in the camp, but when he asked the Germans for double rations for the young soldiers, as they were "growing lads", they got it.
British Empire Medal
My grandfather Albert Duxbury was a shuttle maker, as was his father and son, and, in 1952, when it was decided to award a British Empire Medal to someone in the textile trade, i.e. from Lancashire and Yorkshire, my grandfather was nominated to receive this. He was a Trade Unionist, who fought for the rights of the workers and was very fair and well respected by employers and employees. Sadly he died at 6am on New Years Day 1952, three hours before his name was read out on the radio at 9am, as they did in those days. He foretold the timing of his death some ten days before, saying "I will just about make it to the New Year, but not to hear my name read out"; I have never understood how he could have known this. I have this medal, which I treasure and which will be passed on to my son and my grandson. He was an amazing man, whom I loved dearly.
My grandfather strongly requested to be cremated, which wasnít common in 1952; the nearest crematorium was Carleton. When he was dying, he said to my mum and dad "Donít put me under the sods - it would be like putting me back in the bloody trenches!"