Chorley Pals Memorial Trust receives early Christmas present in the shape of letters from First World War veteran

Letters, telegrams and other documents relating the late Lieutenant William Rigby from Chorley in the First World War have been found and donated to the Chorley Pals Memorial Trust.

Thursday, 23rd December 2021, 3:45 pm

Explaining how Chorley Pals obtained the documents, historian and Secretary of the Chorley Pals Memorial Trust Steve Williams said: "The items were found in a box of stamps purchased at an auction in North Yorkshire. The finder researched the documents and eventually contacted myself .

"The items are viewed as adding significant information not only about Lt. Rigby but about the Chorley Pals, as one letter back to his parents after his death highlighted the journey the local men had undertaken since they joined up two years previously."

Through various telegrams to his mother, Lieutenant Rigby details his time in the war.

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Lieutenant William Rigby from Chorley who served in WW1.

In one letter he comically explains that the fresh duck his mother had sent him as a Christmas present had gone off by the time he received it in January.

Dated Chorley 9th January 1916 from Hurdcott Camp on Salisbury Plain, the letter reads: “Dear Mother. I got my Christmas parcel three days ago. The duck was bad but all the other things were all right. I do wish it had come for Christmas day as it would have been lovely.

"I have been here with four men to look after some battalion property which has to be sent off but cannot be dispatched until authority is received from the Southern Commanders goodness knows when I shall leave here. A battalion of Royal Fusiliers are coming here tomorrow which will be a good thing for me as I shall live with them.

"I had a letter from Peggy it was awfully funny. Tell her I shall write tomorrow. It is awfully dull here everything is as still and lonely. I have got to know a gentleman farmer just near the lines who will lend me a splendid Irish mare. I go for a ride practically every day which breaks the monotony a little. Will write soon. Do write. Your loving son, Will.”

Sir Lindsay Hoyle paying his respects.

In another letter to his mother dated 14th March 1915 from The Royal Hotel, Carnarvon where he was billeted whilst the Chorley Pals Company (part of the 11th East Lancs. Bn., ‘Accrington Pals’) where training, he wrote: “Dear Mother. Thank you very much for the cigarette case and cake it is a lovely case. We seem to be working day and night here. The new Colonel [Lt. Col. Arthur Wilmot Rickman] can always find us something to do.

"You wanted to know of a good place to stay at I think Bangor would be a good place. It is quite near Carnarvon. Would you ask Maude to send me some khaki sock and handkerchiefs. She said she would send me some.

"I am sorry dad is so bad with gout he seems to be having a rough time just now. Would you give me John’s address in your next letter and I will write him. It is awfully stale on Sunday here. We all go to sleep until dinner then go out for a long walk. There is really nothing to say. Your loving son, Will. PS: Please send me dad’s white rubber shoes.”

Born in Chorley in October 1895, William was training to be a dentist when he joined the Army in September 1914.

Pictures retrieved from the war.

A month later he was granted a Commission in the Chorley Pals Company, part of the famous ‘Accrington Pals’ Battalion. He, like the rest of the unit, left the town in February 1915 to go off to war, seeing training at Caernarvon, Ripon, Cannock Chase and eventually on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire in December 1915.

Whilst the rest of the Chorley and Accrington men went overseas to Egypt he stayed behind at Hurdcott Camp on Salisbury Plain ready to join the newly formed Machine Gun Corps.

In May 1916 Lt. Rigby landed in France and was to die of wounds sustained at the Battle of the Somme on the 7th July. He was buried behind the lines at Heilly near Albert, the site of a large Casualty Clearing Station. Back home his parents received telegrams from the War Office and one from Buckingham Palace – his father was a well known local doctor and JP.

In a letter addressed to his father on 7th July 1916 from Canon K. A. Adderley * located at 36 CCS (Casualty Clearing station) at Heilly in northern France, the Canon notifies him of his son's passing.

Some of the documents given to Chorley Pals.

“Dear Dr. Rigby. I deeply regret to have to tell you that your son Lt. W.G. Rigby was admitted here last night suffering from wounds and died this morning. I was speaking to him just before he died and he was quite conscious that his end was near. I buried him tonight in Heilly-du Bois Haremp Military Cemetery. Please accept my sincere sympathy with you in your sad bereavement. Yours sincerely, RA Adderley CF, Canon.” [ * Rev. Canon Lt. Robert Archibald Adderley, Army Chaplains Dept., was recorded as landing in France on the 4th October 1915; born Ireland 1870, died 1946]."

A telegram from Buckingham Palace sent at 7.25 a.m. on the 17th July 1916 and received in Chorley at 11.49 am read: “7.25 OHMS BUCKINGHAM PALACE J.W. RIGBY ESQ 18 HALLIWELL ST CHORLEY LANCS. THE KING AND QUEEN DEEPLY REGRET THE LOSS YOU AND THE ARMY HAS SUSTAINED BY THE DEATH OF YOUR SON IN THE SERVICE OF HIS COUNTRY THEIR MAJESTIES TRULY SYMPATHISE WITH YOU IN SORROW. KEEPER OF THE PRIVVY PURSE.”

Over the years, Steve has visited the Somme battlefield to pay respects to Chorley Pals buried or commemorate there.

In September he was joined by Sir Lindsay Hoyle, MP for Chorley and Chairman of the Chorley Pals Memorial Trust who laid a simple Poppy Cross on Lieutenant Rigby’s grave.

Studying the one of the letters.
Historian Steve Williams, the Secretary of the Chorley Pals Memorial.
One of the letters Lieutenant Rigby sent his mother during the war.
The letter detailing Christmas day presents.
A school report on Lieutenant Rigby which detailed he was improving in Mathematics.