While the Great War raged on in Europe troops were looking forward to an end to the fighting and a return to their homes in Blighty.
However judging from a newspaper article from the Eccles and Patricroft Journal from April 1916, the prospect of a cosy home life was far from reality.
Sergeant Downs, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corp, lived at Worsley Buildings in Pendlebury with his wife Sarah Ann and their four children aged, 5, 8, 10 and 12.
The paper reported how on a visit home from the battle lines he was shocked at what he found.
His wife was a habitual drunkard, his children were under-nourished and the house was in a filthy and squalid condition.
It emerged that a young girl aged 14 was staying at the house and was giving Sarah Ann nine shillings a week from her wages earned at a local mill.
On top of this Sarah Ann was receiving her husband’s army pay of 27 shillings a week. She was also asking her 12-year-old daughter for three shillings a week rent.
Sergeant Downs was so shocked by this state of affairs he took the 14-year-old girl to live with her aunt and reported his wife to the local authorities.
Detective Constable Falder and Inspector Rivers from the NSPCC paid the house a visit on a Monday evening after concern for the children grew.
When they called the children’s mother was out and the eldest was sent to fetch her from a nearby beerhouse.
An examination of the rooms that they lived in showed that they had only one chair in the house and that the only bed was filthy and verminous.
The children were found to be filthy, ragged and crawling with lice.
When Mrs Downs returned to the house she denied that she had been drinking in the beerhouse but had been ‘cleaning’ there.
Mrs Downs and the children were taken to a nearby police station for further examination by Inspector Munroe.
He found that the children were poorly nourished, their clothes were filthy and that they were all verminous about the head and body.
Mrs Downs smelled of alcohol but wasn’t deemed to be drunk, her clothing was said to be dirty and she was unwashed.
Further investigations revealed that she had been visited on at least three occasions by the NSPCC who have grave concerns for the children’s welfare and so she was committed to the Manchester Police Courts to face charges of child neglect.
The court heard further damning evidence against her including the fact that she had sold most of the furniture to buy alcohol and that the children were often fed by sympathetic neighbours.
The Chairman of the Court told Mrs Downs that this was about as bad a case as he had heard in his court and that he was going to make an example of her: chilling words indeed.
She was sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour whilst the poor children were taken to the workhouse.
In this sad tale the main losers are the poor children; at least they would be fed and clothed but the workhouse regime was known to be ferociously harsh and they would have to stay there until they were of an age where they could find full-time employment.
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