Burnley soldiers courageous exploits unearthed

IN PRINT: Stewart Binns, by the model of the Menin Gate, Belgium
IN PRINT: Stewart Binns, by the model of the Menin Gate, Belgium

A respected Burnley historical author has unearthed the courageous First World War exploits of his grandfather while researching his new book.

Stewart Binns, an award-winning documentary maker and former soldier himself, was studying the London Gazette for his new book “Shadow of War” when he discovered that his grandfather John Thomas Binns had won the Military Medal in September 1917, but never told anybody about it.

Burnley Grammar School old boy Stewart said: “My grandfather, who was a celebrated cricketer in Burnley, was a gunner in the Royal Artillery.

“At the age of 35 he volunteered in D (Burnley) Company 9th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, also known as the Accrington Pals.

“He served throughout the war and won the Military Medal, but never told anybody about it.”

Several chapters of Stewart’s new book are set in Burnley with many of the characters speaking in the old Lancashire dialect.

Stewart added: “I recently took a nostalgic journey to Ypres in Belgium, with my wife Lucy and 9-year old twin boys Charlie and Jack.

“After visiting equally awe-inspiring British and German cemeteries at Tyne Cot and Langemark and witnessing The Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate, one of my boys asked me a naive but compelling question, “why did those men have to kill one another – why couldn’t they decide the winner by a football match – like the one in the Christmas Truce?”

“It is the kind of question many of us ask ourselves, especially in the midst of a crisis like the current one in the Middle East.”

Published this month, “The Shadow of War – 1914” is the first of Stewart’s Great War quintet. It is an account from the first rumblings of war during the hot days of a glorious June in 1914 to the forlorn Christmas Truce on the Western Front in the appalling trenches of a freezing December.