During this four year long anniversary of the First World War, few books have appeared that present the local history perspective of that terrible conflict in quite the way Oxenhope in the Great War does. Norma Mackrell (along with Catherine Snape) has produced a work that is both exhaustive in detail and yet highly poignant in the personal stories it relates – a great achievement. This is a book that does something extraordinary. In a nutshell, it presents in accessible form an entire overview of the First World War, from the Western Front to the Dardanelles to the war at sea, and recounts the exploits of each of Oxenhope’s men in those disparate theatres of war.
The book provides a lengthy pen portrait of each of these Oxenhope men – more than 370 of them, all with detailed family backgrounds and military records, with photographs accompanying many of them. Many of these are truly poignant – fifty-four of them died in the war, and others were horribly injured.
All of this information is presented in the context of an exhaustive portrait of the village itself during the war years. Everything is listed and explained: mills, trades, farmers, doctors, policemen, post offices, schools, clubs and associations. Rarely can a local history book conjure up such an authoritative picture of a place a century ago, at a time when woollen mills towered over parts of the village, giving it an almost urban feel. Over 400 photographs augment this – the author only decided on this venture because of her huge collection of local postcards and photos, built up over many years.
The prodigious day-by-day summary of Oxenhope life during the entirety of the war goes way beyond the scope of most local history. The maps – old OS ones showing every fold and lane – are marvellous. And the sense of pathos which pervades the every page sets this aside as special work. Norma Mackrell’s study of Oxenhope comes warmly recommended.