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Francis Collins Atherton was born in Preston to Hugh Thomas and Ellen Atherton (nee Richmond) and was one of five children the couple had although sadly one son died in infancy. Hugh and Ellen married in St. Walburges Roman Catholic Church in Preston in 1895, a daughter Elizabeth Philomena was born in 1896, Francis arrived in 1897 and he was followed by Hugh Thomas in 1899, John Edmund 1900-1901 and then another daughter Mary Isabella in 1902.

Hugh Thomas Atherton had previously supported his family by working as an overlooker in a cotton mill but by 1901 he was operating as a beer seller and the family was living at the Plumbers Arms public house in Fylde Street in Preston. Hugh, it would seem was not a very successful landlord and the family`s tenure at the Plumbers Arms did not last long and by October 1903 he was out of work and Ellen had summoned him to court because of neglect. The following article appeared in the Lancashire Evening Post;


“At Preston, this morning, Hugh Thomas Atherton, 50, was summoned by his wife Ellen Atherton of 11 Edward Street, for neglect. Mr. A Blackhurst, who represented plaintiff, stated that the parties were married in 1895 at St. Walburges Church and had four children. Defendant, who was an overlooker by trade, but who had latterly done a little gardening, had only given his wife 2s since Preston Guild – Complainant corroborated, and stated that they had kept the Plumbers Arms, Fylde Street and that she had lost over £100 of her money in the business – Defendant said he was willing to work and support his wife and children but he could not obtain employment – Mr Blackhurst – “Your wife and children are starving”. – Defendant; “yes and I`m starving” – the case was adjourned for a fortnight to give defendant an opportunity of getting work and Mr Walmsley, Police Court Commissioner, promised to give him 5s with which to obtain a pedlar`s licence. – Mr Blackhurst; “the Police Court Commissioner gives a lazy man 5s and the woman and children have to starve”.

By 1911 Ellen Atherton was living with Francis and his three siblings at 65 Fleetwood Street and they were all working as cotton weavers. Elizabeth filled in the census form and on it she confirms she is married. Meanwhile, her husband Hugh was lodging over in Darwen in East Lancashire and working as a weaver but his census entry states that he was a widower.

It is unclear exactly when Francis enlisted into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment as his service papers have not survived but he was allocated the service number 15619 and then sailed for France as a reinforcement for the 1st Battalion on the 30th September 1915 when he was only just 18 years old.

On the 25th September 1915 the Battle of Loos commenced and the losses incurred by the 1st Battalion amounted to 16 Officers and 489 other ranks, killed, wounded and missing and so they were in desperate need of reinforcements. The Battalion War History states that in the early days of October the Battalion was at Noeux Les Mines and it was while they were here that two hundred men joined in drafts so it`s likely Francis was part of this batch of reinforcements.

The Battle of Loos concluded on the 15th October 1915 and from then until the end of the year the 1st Battalion was engaged in holding the trenches in the neighbourhood of Loos which was varied by periods of rest, recuperation and training around Lillers. Sadly it was while they were in the trenches that Francis was killed in action on the 18th November 1915, he had only been on the front line for about six weeks and he was still only 18 years old.

The report of his death was published in the Preston Guardian a short while later;

15619 Private Francis Collins Atherton 1st Battalion

Sadly, the body of Francis Collins Atherton was never found and so his name was later recorded on the Loos Memorial to the Missing.

After the war Francis was awarded the 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals in recognition of his service and sacrifice for his country.

As a member of the congregation of the St. Walburges Roman Catholic Church in Preston his name was also recorded on their church war memorial. The Memorial itself has eight name panels, three of which record the names of men who served and died with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and who lived and worked in the terraced streets around the church of St. Walburges.

St. Walburges Roman Catholic Church 1 St. Walburges Roman Catholic Church 2

Rank: Private
Service No: 15619
Date of Death: 18/11/1915
Age: 18
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st Bn.

Janet Davis
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