A SEVEN hundred strong army of volunteers will today recreate the time hundreds of factory staff in Port Sunlight marched from their homes to enlist for service in the First World War.
On September 7, 1914, 700 Lever Brothers employees travelled from the village to Chester by train and walked the mile to the Cheshire Military Museum at the Castle to enlist in the 13th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment.
They were the largest group of volunteers from any works in the country to sign-up to fight in the First World War and many didn’t make it home.
To mark the event, Port Sunlight Village Trust launched a public appeal to bring 700 members of the local community and employees of Unilever together today.
Among those taking part is Wirral South MP Alison McGovern, who will be travelling with the Port Sunlight Volunteers to Chester.
She said: “I am happy to be taking part in this important event marking the commencement of the First World War that had a pronounced and significant impact on every community in our country.
“It is a testament to the importance of this commemoration that so many would want to take part.”
The event organisers are still encouraging people to take part.
Katherine Lynch, heritage manager for the trust, said: “Even though the 700 volunteers have now been recruited it doesn’t mean people can’t take part, far from it.
“We really need people in Port Sunlight and Chester to play an active part in the event and to help us create a fitting atmosphere and send off for the 700 just as their loved ones did all those years ago.”
Would-be spectators are being encouraged to line the route dressed in period costume, and to sing along with the 700 as they march through Chester city centre accompanied by the Port Sunlight Lyceum Brass Band and the Over by Christmas Chorus.
September 7 is also the centenary of the Battle of Mons for which a separate event is being staged in Chester.
However, for a short while, soldiers from the 2nd Battalion of The Mercian Regiment, representatives from many ex-Service organisations, and Army Cadets and Air Training Corps will join up with the 700 Port Sunlight Volunteers for the final stages of their walk to Chester Castle.
Major Eddie Pickering, curator of the Cheshire Military Museum and organiser of the association’s annual Battle of Mons commemoration service and parade, said: “This year will be particularly special. Not only does it mark the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Mons where the 1st Battalion of The 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment stood firm before an overwhelming enemy advance and suffered massive losses, but the two parades coming together, 1,000 people strong, really will be quite a spectacle and a very moving experience for all.”
Those wishing to come and watch the event in either Port Sunlight or Chester are advised to visit portsunlightvillage.com for more information about event timings and road closures.
An approximate time-line for today's event is as follows:
10.30 Great Send Off parade exits Unilever Port Sunlight gates
10.45 William Hesketh Lever’s speech to the ‘Port Sunlight Volunteers’
10.50 All sing God Save the King
11.00 Great Send Off parade boards train at Port Sunlight train station
11.30 Great Send Off parade arrives at Chester train station
12.00 Great Send Off parade begins walk to Chester Castle via Chester Cathedral
12.30 Great Send Off parade arrives at Chester Cathedral to join up with the Battle of Mons parade
12.45 Two parades depart Chester Castle
13.00 Parade arrives at The Castle Square
13.15 General Mackinnon’s speech to the ‘Port Sunlight Volunteers’
13.30 Enlistment of the ‘Port Sunlight Volunteers’
14.00 Event close
It will be free to enter the Cheshire Military Museum at Chester Castle on the day, and the Tame Valley Classic Car club will stage a static display of vintage and classic cars in Port Sunlight village.