Appeal to descendants of Bolton’s forgotten army from vets on march

An appeal has gone out to the descendants of Bolton’s forgotten prisoners of war who had to make their own way home from Germany at the end of the First World War.

When the war ended the 928 men stranded in PoW camps near the city of Munster found the gates unlocked and their guards absent, so they set off on the 850-mile journey home to Lancashire.

Now over 100 years later four Bolton ex-servicemen are to recreate that epic journey through then war-torn Western Europe, and they would like to hear from the descendants of those original Tommies who travelled by train, ship, cart, bus and on foot to get home.

In June the intrepid quartet of Dave Carter, a Gunner in the Royal Artillery, RAF Junior Technician Stephen Kenworthy, Paul Burgess, a Lance-Corporal in the Royal Tank Regiment, and Warrant Officer Simon Cass, Royal Army Physical Training Corps, will set off for Germany.

They are flying from Manchester, courtesy of leading travel agent Hays Travel North West who have 46 stores across the North West and North Wales, including in Westhoughton, Bolton and Horwich, and who have paid for their airfares.

The four, all members of Moving Forces: Bolton, will fly out to Germany on June 11 and aim to return to Manchester on June 23 before walking from Manchester to Bolton on June 24 for the town’s Armed Forces Day Celebrations.

Dave, who now works as a Physician Associate at the Unsworth Group Practice in Westhoughton, said: “My great-grandad, James Carter, made the same journey in 1919 along with Paul’s great-grandad and over 920 Bolton men and we’re aiming to recreate that.

“Back then the German trains were still running on the Hindenburg Line, so we’ll travel by rail up to the Belgian border, but after that it’s a matter of finding the kind of transport my great-grandad and his mates would have had to look for.

“It could be a friendly farmer with a tractor and trailer or we could be walking.”

They called in to the Hays Travel store in Westhoughton to make enquiries about flights and came out with plane tickets courtesy of assistant manager Hollie Bates who said: “They came in to ask about one-way flights and it just seemed such a brilliant idea.

“So we agreed to sponsor them and have booked and paid for one-way flights for them out to Germany to start their journey and we look forward to hearing all about it when they get back.”

The four men hope to source and wear replica World War One tunics and carry a backpack similar to those used by the soldiers of the time and they are currently working to source a support vehicle and driver after a colleague could no longer make it and it is hoped this will carry their camping equipment.

The original soldiers at least received a warm welcome on their return to their home town with the local, paper, the Bolton Evening News, putting on Tea and Entertainment at the Drill Hall, in Silverwell Street, on Saturday, June 21, 1919.

On the menu were cold beef, ham and tongue with bread and butter, followed by pears and custard, cake and confectionery, all washed down with tea.

Dave added: “James Carter and his friends made it back to a holding camp near Dover where they had a choice of accepting £2, a new uniform and a train ticket home or if they were injured, they could stay behind and wait to be assessed.

“Most, like my great-grandad, opted to head for home but they didn’t realise by doing so they waived their rights to any compensation for their injuries in the future.

“James had been mustard-gassed and was never really well afterwards. He died of emphysema when he was only 49 but I didn’t know anything about him until one of his medals was found lost and forgotten under a bed at my grandma’s house.

He and the others made what must have been a really difficult journey despite having endured illness, hard labour in the PoW camps and malnutrition.

“We’d really like to hear from the descendants of other Bolton veterans because it would be great if they could join us on the final march into the town.”

Descendants of Bolton’s forgotten First World War army have been asked to post pictures of the men and their memorabilia on a special Facebook page set up by the four army veterans at

Any offers of support or donations towards the cause are also greatly appreciated.

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