Looking back at family tragedy 81 years ago

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MEMBERS of a Fylde coast family are this week quietly reflecting on how life might have turned out if fate had acted differently for the aunt they never knew.

Some 81 years ago yesterday, six-year-old Catherine Gallagher died from serious injuries to her head, arms and legs after being knocked down by a lorry opposite the laundry in Talbot Road, Blackpool.

It was a tragedy that showed the true strength of community with more than 1,000 mourners lining the route of the little girl’s funeral.

Her nephew John Hitchon says: “Our family recently came across a February 1930 cutting from The Gazette that our late mother Beatrice had kept safe in a drawer for many years, regarding the terrible death of her twin sister Catherine and I feel now is the time to share this memory with other Gazette readers who may just probably remember the occasion.”

John says: “Our aunt had been on her way home to Healey Street from Sacred Heart Catholic School with our mum and was crossing the road after getting off the bus when tragedy struck.

“Under the heading ‘Pathetic Funeral Scene’, The Gazette reported that the funeral procession passed over the spot where our aunt was killed and that nearly all who watched the procession wept as Catherine’s classmates filed past them.”

The article claimed: “Healey Street is one of those parts of Blackpool where life is often hard and sorrow present. It was stirred to such neighbourly sympathy this afternoon as is not often seen.

“It was a child’s funeral, and children played the biggest part in it.

“Many scholars from the Talbot Road Sacred Heart Catholic School were there, weeping for a loved chum. They sang a simple hymn full of calm and untroubled hope.

“The procession, which the Rev R F Moss met at the Layton Cemetery gates, was a long one. At the head were the bearer of a golden cross, a Thurifer, whose silver casket filled the cold air with the bitter sweet smell of incense, the acolytes, and the altar boys, all robed in white.”

The report continued: “Many of the children carried bunches of flowers, last tributes to their playmate. So did the Girl Guides from the Sacred Heart Church, some of whom carried the little white coffin. On its way down Talbot Road this pathetic little burden was borne on a wheeled bier, which was smothered with flowers.

“The service at the graveside was full of calm exaltation. The quiet assurance of the sonorous Latin prayers was echoed by the heartfelt Amen that came from the crowd of 1,000.”

John says: “It is so sad to read in the report that our grandad James (Jimmy) Gallagher and grandmother Frances had to be supported to the graveside to sprinkle earth on Catherine’s coffin, and that many men in the crowd sobbed.

“The article also said our mum, Catherine’s twin sister, was not at the funeral.”

The final line of the sombre account declared: “Thus little Catherine, who last week was one of Blackpool’s smiling rays of sunshine, was left to sleep in peace with the flowers.”

l John is hoping that some older readers might remember his late aunt or the funeral and, if so, he asks if they or their relatives would email him at gallagher.cathitch@yahoo.co.uk.