32.42 – Fielden, Eva, Tom and Norah Nuttall

Tom’s story was told as part of our “Dead for the Holidays” 2023 tour.

As you’ll have heard me say before, sometimes our stories seem heavy on the tragedy.  This is for two reasons:  one, we are talking about people whose lives have ended, so there is always a sad ending; two, it is because most of the information we have beyond birth/marriage/death often comes from newspaper clippings.  And we all know, not much nice ever makes it into the papers.  However, in this case, we have input from the family, in particular Tom’s niece, including personal letters, in which we learn so much more about the man he really was.  Special thanks to the family for sharing these records with us.

Tom Nuttall was born on the 5th September 1893 at 17 Bar Street, Shade.  His parents are buried here as well:  Fielden Nuttall, who was a weaver, and Emma Howorth Nuttall.  Tom was the eldest of 9 children, although two of them, twin boys, died as infants.  It will have been a very busy household, and from Tom’s letters, it seems a very close one throughout their lives.

Tom attended Shade School and later became a weaver, like his dad. However, when the war started in 1914, Tom quickly asked his mother if he could enlist to fight for his country.  You had to be 21, or obtain parental permission at this point, and Mum refused.  I can hardly blame her.  Being a mother of an airman myself, it is a nail-biting experience.  I wonder if she thought this wave of patriotism would pass.  Or if they would be home before he could get involved in fighting (remembering that at this time most people thought the war would be over by Christmas). Or if she would eventually be able to talk him out of it.  Regardless, when Tom turned 21 in September of 1914 he joined the 1st Battalion 6th division Lancashire Fusiliers.  He was sent to Gallipolli, and was injured at some point, after which he became the section cook.  He talks about it being a ‘gradely job’ (Yorkshire for ‘not bad’) and said he was kept quite busy.  He describes cutting up fresh meat and how it was preferable to opening a few tins of bully beef—this was food that was eaten in the trenches and sounds vile to me—ground up corned beef in gelatin.  So yes, I imagine he didn’t mind the extra work of fresh meat!  We also learn that he was a born entertainer.  He talks about singing ‘The Spaniard that Blighted My Life, a song popularized by Al Jolson and quite a comedic song!  He talks about how their next door neighbour will hopefully hear ‘all the lastest comic pantomime sons through the walls again’, which had me laughing when I read it.

Another thing that comes through in many of his letters was his fondness for a magazine called ‘Macfaddens’, which told me a lot about his interests.  This was the WW1 equivalent of men’s health or a bodybuilding magazine, and Bernarr Macfadden was something of a health guru in the time period.  He advocated fasting, strength training and healthy eating—and was especially opposed to white bread.  I assume as a regular reader of the magazine, that our Tom was especially enthusiastic about health and fitness. Besides sending his magazines to him, his family sent regular letters and parcels, and he expresses a real fondness for these, especially those containing chocolate!

In December 1915 Tom was evacuated from Gallipolli with the rest of the Lancashire Fusiliers, and his next post was in Egypt.  This is apparently where he learned to have an all-over wash using only one ‘lading can’ (a tin jug) of water, and he continued to do this in his backyard for the rest of his life.  I’m picturing having a wash in my backyard on a day like this from a tin jug… and I can only say I admire the man’s fortitude.

By August 1916, Tom was in France and had been transferred to another regiment: The Royal Engineers.  I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I suspect Tom found it positive, as he definitely seems to have been an optimist in life.  He says that in his regiment they got paid more than twice as much as an ordinary Private, but his job was that of a lineman.  This was a dangerous, dirty job that involved laying cables between the trenches so that they could communicate with each other.  It is also a job that got him injured: a fragment from a shell went through his calf, a ‘clean through and through’ injury, and indeed it seems to have healed cleanly.  His optimistic and determined nature are shown in my favourite quote from his letter around this time, in which he says, “Of course some people make a practice of grousing periodically when they really ought to be feeling jolly thankful to be alive.”  Perhaps he was counting his blessings that this injury, which could have easily ended his life, in fact left him only briefly incapacitated.

After the war he came home and took up working once again, initially as a labourer at Ormerod Taylor, Drysalters (dealers in chemical products like glue, varnish, dye, etc), but by 1939 he was working as a weaver again.  He was often seen around town riding a tandem bike with his youngest sister Lily, and when he wasn’t doing that, he was singing bass in the church choir or in any number of local performances with his siblings.  He never married, and neither did 4 of his sisters, 2 of whom are buried here with Tom and their parents.  He died on the 1st January 1962 at 4 Bar Street, the street where he was born.  The boy who went to Turkey, Egypt and France, ended up right back where he started, and rests here in the bosom of his community.  I hope you will all remember the upbeat, singing young man when you walk past this grave, and maybe hum a few bars of ‘The Spaniard That Blighted My Life.”

One Comment

  1. Fran Healey

    If you’re not familiar with the song “The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life” there’s a cover version on Google by Lena Zavarone. I remember my Mum Annie singing it when I was a kid.

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