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When thousands returned to First World War battlefield

Members of the group gather on the battlefield among wartime equipment and debris still lying where they were left ten years earlier
Members of the group gather on the battlefield among wartime equipment and debris still lying where they were left ten years earlier
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Since 2014 and the start of the World War One centenary commemor-ations, the boroughs of Chorley and South Ribble have played their part honouring the occasion with a multitude of displays, exhibitions, parades and even a joint event in 2016 and the ‘Pals on Parade’ concert when Leyland Band took to the stage at Chorley Town Hall.

However, the concept of Chorley and Leyland coming together in their efforts to honour those who made the ultimate sacrifice isn’t something new – and actually stretches back nearly 90 years.

Nearly three thousand Leyland workers assemble next to the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing

Nearly three thousand Leyland workers assemble next to the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing

In 1929, employees from Leyland Motors travelled by railway to the battlefields of the western front as part of the largest continental trips ever organised in any industry.

What was described at the time as the “Leyland Invasion” saw nearly 3,000 workers from Leyland, Chorley, Farington and Kingston travel to Ostend in Belgium on board six special trains and three specially chartered turbine steamers.

The tour travelled to the sites of Weenduyne, Blankenburghe, Zeebrugge and Middlekerke, passing by the derelict remains of pillboxes and ruins of towns.

After all, these areas were scenes of battles and destruction a little more than 10 years earlier. The sites may have still been fresh in the minds of many of those on the pilgrimage.

At Essex Farm Cemetery, they paid their respects to the fallen

At Essex Farm Cemetery, they paid their respects to the fallen

On June 22, the group was met by the Mayor of Dixmunde and the market place flew a large banner which read “Dixmunde welcomes Leyland Motors Party.”

The Burgemeester toasted the group and bid them all a warm welcome. From there the “Leyland Army” visited the large Bard Cottage and Essex Farm cemeteries which were known to contain the graves of many of the groups relatives and comrades.

Later in the trip, the men poured out of nine hotels to congregate at Menin Gate, the cathedral like memorial which contains the names of more than 58,000 troops who were killed and whose bodies were never recovered from the salient.

Mr Spurrier and Mr Liardet lay a wreath on behalf of the group.

After the memorial service, the men enjoyed refreshments in the square before making a final whistle-stop tour of some of the nearby smaller cemeteries.

They even took a walk through some of the remaining trench systems which still contained wartime debris as if it was how they had been left on the day the guns fell silent in 1918.

The expedition was hailed a great success.

The men were able to reflect, mourn, reminisce, and even dare I say, indulge in the pleasures of a day trip with colleagues.

General Manager of Leyland Motors Mr A A Liardet was keen to inpart some wise words to the men before they left and the humour of this remained with them as a fond memory:

He said: “The general run of alcoholic refreshments in Belgium differs from that which is found in England, in the main it is less potent, but by its very difference it might betray you.

“If I may offer a word of advice I would say ‘If tha’ sticks to beer tha’s orl reet. But don’t stick to it too long or too often’.”