The Golden Lady: Hilda Leyel


ACTRESS, political activist, herbalist and charity campaigner Hilda Leyel is one of the great unsung heroines of the First World War. Thankfully, her legacy lives on in Lancashire.

Hilda was to play a central role in the creation of the Westfield War Memorial Village for disabled veterans in Lancaster, but what is less well known is that her efforts on behalf of the war’s wounded would result in her arrest and ultimately conclude in the rewriting of the rulebook for future generations of charity fund-raisers.

Golden lady: Hilda Leyel

Golden lady: Hilda Leyel

Born Hilda Wauton in London in 1880, she was the daughter of a master at Uppingham School in Rutland. As a child she had been a keen collector of herbs and flowers and was to go on to study medicine. However, before the turn of the century – and while still at the tender age of 19 – she married a young Swedish nobleman called Carl Leyel.

She had met Carl courtesy of her role as an actress in the then well-known Benson troupe; an organisation for which he had been working as secretary. The couple would go on to have two sons, both of whom were too young to serve in the conflict that ripped the world apart between 1914 and 1918.

In the pre-war years Hilda had been an Honorary Treasurer of the Actresses Franchise League (AFL) established in 1908 to promote female enfranchisement and suffrage via education, the sale of literature and staging of plays. By the outbreak of the First World War, the AFL – which neither supported nor condemned militancy – could boast a membership of 900. During the war years it put its suffrage work on hold and formed an organisation called Women’s Theatre Camps Entertainments, which performed at camps and hospitals where troops were gathered. It is presumed that it was as a result of this work that Hilda became involved in the care of wounded servicemen.

At the end of the war she maintained her commitment to helping disabled veterans and their families; coming up with the idea of a ‘Golden Ballot’ in 1920. More than £250,000 was generated by what is thought to have been the first-ever charity lottery, and one in which the winners could receive a sum in the region of £25,000. The figure was so life-changing it resulted in Mrs Leyel being described as “a fairy godmother” in the popular press.

Among the beneficiaries of the first ballot was a new industrial settlement for disabled men at Preston Hall, in Kent, that had been purchased by an organisation called Industrial Settlements Ltd. This body of wealthy philanthropists had been set up to support the dream of a Lancashire landscape architect called Thomas H. Mawson. Mawson’s vision was to create bespoke villages in which disabled veterans could live in attractive and healing surroundings complete with employment opportunities that would enable them to be self-sufficient.

One of Hilda's books on herbalism

One of Hilda’s books on herbalism

What happened next, however, was quite incredible. As the organiser of the ballot, as well as the vice-chairman of the committee that ran it, Mrs Leyel found herself facing prosecution for the running of an illegal lottery under the rules of the Betting and Lottery Act. Summonses were issued and Hilda opted for a trial by jury in 1922. After successfully arguing that the ballot was purely run for charitable purposes, and that without it many former soldiers and their families would be suffering, the case against her was overthrown. The result ensured that ballots held solely to raise funds for charitable causes would, from this point forward, be deemed legal across the whole of the United Kingdom. Mrs Leyel was the heroine of the hour – and had changed the face of charitable fund-raising forever.

Sadly, the disabled settlement at Preston Hall would quickly fall into difficulties and ultimately be taken over by the British Legion, but in the meantime she had been persuaded to hold a second Golden Ballot to help fund another of Mawson’s disabled villages – this one on the Westfield Estate in Lancashire. The land at Westfield, as well as large house and associated out-buildings, had been donated free of charge for the project by the wealthy Storey family of Lancaster.

Such was the size of Mrs Leyel’s financial input into the Westfield project, Herbert Lushington Storey (the philanthropist and member of the Storey family most closely associated with the village’s inception) was to state in a formal public address in 1926: “If I may be so bold as to say so… I am afraid if it hadn’t been for the assistance of my friend Mrs Leyel we should not have got very far with the [Westfield] scheme.”

For Hilda Leyel’s second ballot had resulted in a cheque for £20,000 being presented to the Westfield committee – a sum so substantive that £14,000 of it paid for 21 new properties to be constructed on the Westfield settlement, along with associated infrastructure such as roads, drainage and gates. The remaining £6,000 of her donation was invested in War Stock; the interest of which would support ongoing work on the community for many years.

In the later stages of her life Hilda’s name would become synonymous with herbalism as the founder of the Society of Herbalists. She wrote numerous books on the subject and campaigned against synthetic fertilizers. Dying in London in 1957, her only formal honor (a Palmes Academiques) came courtesy of the French in 1924.

However, the Westfield War Memorial Village at Lancaster remains fully operative nearly 100 years later and is still committed to supporting disabled and necessitous veterans of war. On the village are six conjoined properties known as ‘Leyel Terrace’.

0 You can find out more about the village at

0 Two short films made by British Pathe in 1920 show Mrs Leyel presenting cheques to winners of the first Golden Ballot:;

Gone but never forgotten…

The following is a small item that appeared in The Gallipoli Gazette, the journal of The Gallipoli Association, in the 1970s. It was written by Charles Watkins, a Rochdale youth who had served at the Dardanelles with the 1/6th Lancashire Fusiliers. By the time of writing this Charles was living in Bedfordshire. The picture shows him in the uniform of the Royal Air Force, as he transferred to the flying services after returning to the Western Front from Gallipoli in 1917. We thought this was a very moving item, and perhaps shows how the survivors lived with the constant presence of their fallen comrades…SixthWatkins

Our Ghostly Guests

by Charles Watkins (6th Lancashire Fusliers no.167)

They’re with us at every Annual Dinner. Even if we cannot see them, we k now they are there. No places have been laid for them, no menu cards, no numbered places to indicate their position ‘above or below the salt’. No name cards for them. In fact, no nothing.

But, as one of them was heard to remark to his pal, ‘Thank goodness we, at any rate, don’t need all this paraphanalia – we just crowd in and are happy being with them once again.’

They are a privileged crowd, these disembodied guests of ours. Even prohibitive rail fares don’t deter them from travelling – like it does so often with us earthbound mortals. Even the ticket collectors on the train turn a blind eye to their presence.

There’s a particular one of these ghostly guests I always cotton on to. I have a special affection for him. One of the earliest casualties of the Dardanelles campaign… his name? Well, these disembodied guests have a thing about name dropping. They don’t allow it.

Man Utd footballer time forgot…

As Manchester United continue to defend their position at the top of English football, the season that marks the centenary of the First World War is a good time to remember the efforts of a former soldier who helped forge the Old Trafford dynasty.

Anthony Donnelly in his Manchester United strip.

Anthony Donnelly in his Manchester United strip.

Anthony Donnelly was born in Middleton, north Manchester, in April 1886 and worked for a coal merchant on leaving school at the age of 11. Though making a name for himself as a decent full-back, ‘Tony’, as he was known to his mates, was keen for adventure and signed up for the Royal Garrison Artillery – for whom he rapidly established himself as a key player in the hard-fought military leagues.

On leaving the colours, Tony began playing in 1907 for Heywood Town in the Lancashire Combination League and won plaudits for helping turn the club’s season around. Perhaps unsurprisingly, less than 12 months later, in July 1908, Manchester United successfully stepped in for the 22 year old.

The Manchester Evening News recorded: “Negotiations have been completed for the transfer of Donnelly, the right full-back of the Heywood United club. The Manchester club was not the only league club which had been watching Donnelly, he played a splendid game for Heywood last season and was recognised as one of the best and most promising talents in the Lancashire Combination.

“Donnelly is a sturdily built young player, standing around 5ft 9ins. On leaving the Army he signed as an amateur for Heywood last season, before adding his signature to a professional form. He made his first appearances just before Christmas when the club was very low in the league and the defence was greatly strengthened by his inclusion. His displays were greatly admired… he plays with a good deal of ‘go’ and has a ‘kick’, while he is possessed of a good turn of speed. With the training he will get at Manchester United he should develop into an excellent defender.”

Despite such plaudits, Donnelly’s first start for United, against Sunderland in March 1909, was far from a success. The game was a 2-2 draw but he was singled out as being at blame for both of the Sunderland goals. Tony was dropped and only made another three appearances that season.

Nevertheless, with Manchester United now installed for their first season at their newly built home at Old Trafford, Donnelly was to become a regular fixture in the side, making 15 appearances in the “no.2” shirt and helping United to the First Division title.

He went on to play for another two seasons for the club before being transferred to the Belfast team Glentoran , who would go on to become the first British team to win a European trophy in the form of The Vienna Cup.

With the clouds of war now descending, Donnelly, who was still on the Army’s reserve list, was called back to service with the artillery. He wrote a number of letters from the front in the first year of the war, with one stating: “I have witnessed some awful sites. I saw one bayonet charge the Germans had the face to attempt – the trenches lay about 400 yards apart and our chaps saw them fixing bayonets. Up jumped the enemy in thick masses. Our infantry waited until they got within 30 yards of our trenches and up they jumped and rushed out to meet them. The first rush of our chaps and they turned on their heels… they did not all get away and left over 300 dead and wounded inside one hour and a half.”

Tony was to return home wounded in 1916, having torn the muscles in his leg while working with a gun team to extricate a large artillery piece from the Flanders’ mud. His injury ultimately resulted in him transferring to the Royal Army Medical Corp, with whom he served out the rest of the war.

After his demobilisation, Tony made cameo appearances for the likes of Chester City, but his war injury had put an end to any hopes of a return to a career as a fully professional footballer. Returning to the family home in Spring Vale, Middleton, he appears to have settled back into civilian life reasonably well and come to terms with the loss of his sporting career, fathering five children and serving as a special constable until his death in 1947.

Letter and sketch key to the Duckworth mission:

In The Gallipoli Oak we mention that the parents of Second Lieutenant Eric Duckworth, on receiving the news that their eldest child had been killed during the Battle of the Vinyard, began immediately writing letters to his fellow officers and comrades in a bid to get as much information as they could about the last minutes of their son’s life. We included in the book some of the contents of a letter that was sent to them by Private Norman A Howarth, who was in Eric’s platoon and close to the teenager when he fell. Here we provide the communication he had with the Duckworths in full – including a sketched map he draw for them in case they should ever decide to visit the Peninsula. It is this sketch, we believe, that they had pinned many of their hopes upon in their mission to plant the tree sapling in 1922. When we last went to Gallipoli we used this sketch ourselves and found it is still a great help in pinpointing the spot where Eric was last seen slumped amid the Turkish wire…


Private Norman A Howarth

Rodden Court

Red Cross Hospital



October 5, 1915

Dear Mr and Mrs Duckworth,

I am sorry that I have been so long in answering your letter but many things have interfered with the answering of your letter. I was brought to Rodden Court on October 1st, because room had to be made at the infirmary for the wounded from France and my wounds are healing.

I rode in a carriage for half and hour yesterday and I felt much improved. I am toddling about at last and I like this place very much. I hope you will excuse many things because this was written in bed, but if there is anything else you would like to know I shall only be too glad to answer you and help you anyway I can.

Hoping that my answers meet with your satisfaction,

I remain yours sincerely,

Norman A Howarth.

Dear Sir, I think I can answer your questions better if I tell my story from the beginning to the end.

It is rather difficult to describe the exact position where your son fell on August 7th because I had no map, but we went up to number eight communication trench and on reaching our firing line we turned to the left for about 200 yards. Your son fell about 300 yards in front of this position. If you wrote to Major Lees he would be able to tell you the exact position we were in on August 7th at 9.30am because he has the maps and details. I don’t think any building was in sight when we advanced but I just caught a glimpse of a little ridge to our right.

At 9.45am, our platoon charged for the second Turkish trench, each man was told beforehand that he was to jump over the first turkish trench and take the second trench, but many in our platoon were just out from home and they halted at the first Turkish trench and took up a firing position behind the parapet alongside the men of A Company who had charged the first trench at 9.30am whilst the men of the original 6th charged over the first line. I could only see about 20 men charging but we kept on but only three reached the parapet of the second Turkish line, these were your son, Private Porter and myself.

Private Porter was about 10 yards to my left and he and I were busy shooting any Turks who were near us. Private Porter crawled nearer to me and told me that Lieutenant Duckworth had been shot dead in the chest just as he reached the parapet of the second Turkish trench. When the smoke and dust lifted a little I saw your son about 30 to 40 yards to our left and he was sat on the parapet with his head on his chest and in a dead looking position. All the time the Turks were shelling us and things were looking bad for us.

We had not been at the trench very long before Porter and I saw a large force of Turks crawling down a communication trench intending to take our fellows in the rear. It was impossible for those holding the first captured line to see these Turks, so Porter and I determined to risk crossing the open again and warn them. We both ran towards the first trench but Porter had only gone 20 yards when he was killed, but I managed to be missed until within five yards of the first line, then I got hit in the abdomen and hip and fell into the trench. I thought our fellows were in this trench and was much surprised to find several Turks in the trench. One Turk clubbed me on the head with his rifle but a sand bag broke the blow, whilst some other Turk rammed his bayonet into my neck. All this seemed to happen in a few seconds.

When I recovered my senses I found that our fellows had jumped into the trench and killed the Turks. I told a Lance Corporal what I had seen and word was passed down to some officer. They had not been in the trench five minutes when word was passed down that they must leave the trench because it was mined, whilst the Turks were enfilading them from the left. I had to be left and the Turks came down the trench – at this time I was robbed and trodden on until my senses left me again. I was in this trench till 5.30pm, when the Turks rushed out of the trench – ten minutes afterwards the bomb throwing party belonging to the Eighth Lancashire Fusiliers came upon me and carried me to our original firing line. The Eighth Lancashire Fusiliers had sapped into this trench from our original firing line. I laid in the firing line till late at night and whilst lying there I received shrapnel wounds in the head and arm. A rescue party was sent for me and I was carried into the support trenches.

Lieutenant Duckworth could not be reached because he was in such a bad position and on the Turkish parapet. Our forces were only just able to keep the Turks back, but I think we kept the trench. I last saw your son at 9.55am and he was still in the same position as I have before described, but I cannot tell what happened to him after that time but he was right in the middle of the Turkish fire from machine guns and their big field guns. Nobody could live in such a position because he was a target due to his officer’s clothes.

Lieutenant Duckworth was well liked by his men in Egypt, but when we went on active service he became one of us because he thought a lot about his men and the men thought a lot about him. He proved himself on the battlefield as a brave officer and the men had the fullest confidence in his leadership. I am speaking for myself and for the men under his command when I say that your son was all that an English officer was expected to be and you have need to be proud of him as the men of the 6th are. His loss will be greatly felt by all, but he died like a man.

Private Norman A Howarth (October 4)

Additional information:

1.  When we charge a trench we always line the parapet first because of mines, then if all is clear we occupy the trench.

2.  No wounded man must be attended to by the men when advancing. This is a hard rule but it must be carried out.

3.  A&D Companies charged the first Turkish line at 9.30am and lined the parapet. B&C Companies charged the second line at 9.45am. No Eight platoon was on the left of B Company and Lietenant Duckworth was on the left of his platoon.

4.  The rough sketch will perhaps help you to understand my story better.

Notes for sketch:

A. Position of Lieutenant at 9.30am on august 7th

B. Position of Lieutenant at 9.50am

C. Position of Private Porter at 9.50am

D. Position of myself at 9.50am

E. Position of myself at 10am till 5.30pm

F. Position of myself from 5.40pm till late at night

G. Sap made by Eighth LF

T. Turkish communication trench

The Sketch by Private Howarth

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A view of the ground today from the 1/6th trenches: the vineyard would have been at the tree line in the picture


East Lancashire Commemoration during and after the Great War:

In our book The Gallipoli Oak we carry a picture of members of the survivors of Eric Duckworth’s platoon of the 1/6th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers at their annual reunion at Rochdale Town Hall in 1938.

The picture (below) shows the teenager’s mother, who is Mayor, along with the veterans.


Here we also include a list of names and addresses of the men who attended the event.


It is also interesting to note [see the newspaper articles below from the Rochdale Observer] that survivors of the 42nd East Lancashire Division’s actions at Gallipoli started holding commemorative services to mark their losses on the Peninsula while the First World War was still ongoing. Of course the town of Bury in Lancashire, the home of the Lancashire Fusiliers, continues to hold an annual Gallipoli Day every April: an event that is very well supported by both the Armed Services and the general public.

Rochdale Observer, Saturday, May 20th, 1916

2nd Krithia Remembrance: The Rev Dennis Fletcher, the former vicar at Rochdale Parish Church and Army Chaplain to the 1/6th Lancashire Fusiliers, wrote on May 7th to the local newspaper to say: “I think your readers would like to know that the anniversary of the day on which our Brigade [the Lancashire Fusiliers’ Brigade of the 42nd Division] first entered into action on the Gallipoli peninsula was observed here yesterday and today. The wish was expressed by several that some form of service should be held to mark the day, so the chaplains in the Brigade drew one up. The service was held in the open air yesterday morning at 11 o’clock (May 6) and some 250 officers and men were present. The divisional band played at the service, which took the form of a thanksgiving for the glorious deeds done by the Brigade a year ago. We also remembered in the special prayers those members of the Brigade who gave their lives on that occasion, and prayer was offered for the relatives of those who fell. Concerts were held in the various battalions in the evening, and the officers of the 6th battalion [Lancashire Fusiliers] visited the sergeants’ mess and Major Sampson presided and Sergeant Major Metcalfe proposed the health of the officers. In the absence of Colonel Lees, who is having a well-earned leave in England, Captain Lennard suitably replied.”

Rochdale Observer, Wednesday, June 7th, 1916

3rd Krithia Remembrance: “A number of local territorials, many of whom are recuperating at Heaton Park, took part in ‘Gallipoli Day’ in Manchester on Monday – held to mark the anniversary of the [3rd] battle of Krithia. The troops paraded at Belle Vue and there was a march past in Albert Square. The salute was taken by Lieutenant General Sir W.P Campbell, the GOC Western Command. The party at base included Lord Rochdale and The Mayor of Rochdale, Councillor Turner. Among the officers on parade were captains R.W Leach, J.S Lord and Second Lieutenant P.A Jones of the 1/6th Battalion [Lancashire Fusiliers].”