Spenborough Forget-Me-Not- Fund - still remembered 90 years on

IN the First World War, a young Spenborough soldier fighting on the front line, had the idea for Scouts back home to send Christmas cards and a present to troops serving in France.

Little did he know that from this suggestion would grow a charity whose help is still called upon over 90 years later.

This week's Looking Back traces the history of the Spenborough Forget-Me-Not Fund.

WAR never seems to cease. Since the Second World War there has been a conflict somewhere in the world every year apart from 1967 - a startling fact.

The sad outcome is women become widows, children are without a parent and some of those who return from the battlefield are injured and unable to work.

Financial hardship is only one of the problems which beset those who stayed at home - the dependents.

This was realised during the First World War when, in this small area of Spenborough, an organisation was formed to help members and former members of the Royal Navy, the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Merchant Navy.

It was called the Spenborough Forget-Me-Not Fund. One condition was that recipients must live in Spenborough. Our forefathers would never have imagined that the organisation would still be needed today - over 90 years later.

But it is still very active and the 15 trustees - all local people - visit 60 beneficiaries, who are aged between 40 and 90.

The organisation is not one to blow its own trumpet, but goes quietly about its work helping ex-service people and their dependents from the Second World War and onwards.

The name for the fund came from a former Moorbottom Scout Master, Alfred Edison Hirst, who was serving in the front line in the Great War.

He encouraged the Scouts to start a fund to send Christmas cards to the troops serving in France, and sent a five franc note and a piece of shrapnel as an incentive to the Scouts.

Sadly Eddie was killed in action, but his brother, John Henry Hirst, who became the owner of the Guardian and Herald newspaper, was, at that time also serving in the front line.

The idea of the fund was welcomed by the Scouts who, under the guidance of the Scout leader George Arthur Coupland, raised money not only for cards but gift parcels for the Valley's serving soldiers.

There was a Forget-Me-Not Day in October 1915 when Scouts cycled round the streets with their bikes decorated with white paper and forget-me-nots. A sale of flags for the cause raised 200.

By the following year it had become too big a job for the Scouts and the adult volunteers, under the leadership of Herbert Hirst, took over.

On the outbreak of the Second World War, it was revived and fund-raising efforts included a dance, pantomime and a street piano; the general public knitted garments which could be sent to the serving soldiers.

For Christmas 1939, serving men and women received a parcel containing 50 cigarettes, two ounces of pipe tobacco, chocolate and sweets, a handkerchief, a packet of razor blades, stick of shaving soap, writing paper, envelopes and a pencil, a Penguin novel, a Christmas cake, a packet of dates, knitted garments, a Christmas card and a ten shilling note.

Inside each parcel was a message: "We are sending you a parcel and the enclosed ten shillings as a reminder that you are not forgotten at home and as an indication of the good wishes of your fellow citizens of Spenborough. We want you to know we appreciate all you are doing and look forward to the day when we can welcome you back again. Till that time we will endeavour to assist you in dealing with any difficulty you may submit to us."

A total of 832 Christmas parcels were sent and, by summer 1941, nearly 2,000 parcels had been sent out.

Over the war years the fund received over 20,000 'thank you' letters from the troops, who were the envy of other service people from different parts of Great Britain.

There had been fears of a shortage of cash but the people of Spenborough had rallied, raising money by holding pea and pie suppers, bring and buy sales etc, to ensure the parcels continued.

Funds were assured and it became important to invest the money.The first investment was 1,000 in a Spenborough Urban District Council loan and 1,000 in 3% Defence Bonds.

At the end of the war the fund was formed into a trust and some of those early trustees were well-known local businessmen.

The late Col Sir William C Fenton was appointed chairman. Serving on the committee were Col Frank T Sobey, Miss Grylls, Sir Bernard Sugden, Mrs Astle, Dr D G Ineson, Coun W E Tetley, Mr F Dransfield, J H Fitton, W Horsfall, H Pomfret, A E Riley and C Stead.

Some of the trustees of the fund today are related to those early trustees. The current chairman is Jane Gummer, whose brother, Frederick Smith, was a trustee.

There has always been a representative from Ineson's Solicitors, currently Paul T Normandale, and there is still a member of the Grylls family, Janet.

Michael Horsfall followed in the footsteps of his father, Wilfred Horsfall, and Margaret Cordingley is the niece of Eddie Hirst, who suggested the idea for the fund.

Over the years, money has been used towards providing Christmas parcels given out by the Spenborough Branch, The Royal British Legion and food vouchers. The fund helped towards furnishings at Mowat Court, Hightown, and a grant was given towards the building of the Scout and Guide training centre at Fan Wood, Gomersal.

Men, women and children are receiving help today and new cases are being brought before the trustees.

If you feel that you may qualify for assistance, or would like more information please contact the secretary, Marlene Wood, on 01274 873532.