The Friends of Darwen Library have published a book on the life and times of artist James Hargreaves Morton, who was killed five days before the end of the Great War.

The book, edited by journalist Harold Heys, covers his life as an artist and soldier, as well the growth of his home town.

James Hargreaves Morton: A short, colourful life will be launched for sale on Saturday, at a coffee morning at the library.

Here is an extract: “In those dark days, family and friends throughout the country were more than ready to pass on letters to their local newspapers and they, in turn, were happy to publish them.

“Censorship was careful rather than rigid. In the main they were stories of battles fought and hardships endured. Stories about comradeship and honour.

“Private Albert Croft went out to France ‘with the Darwen Ambulance men’ as the Darwen News put it, and in the middle of the first winter he wrote to the minister of the Baptist Church in Bolton Road, the Rev John Walker, with a rather different perspective on life – and death – at the Front.

“His letter was published in the newspaper on January 23, 1915 and in it he stated: ‘We were knocked to pieces. Private Cockshoot and myself stitched nearly 40 brave English soldiers up in their blankets, but I am pleased to say we placed them away with holy reverence. Private Cockshoot read the burial service and I offered thanks to God for their splendid lives and asked for a blessing for those who were left at home who would never see them again. I have had soldiers die in my arms with my hands and face streaming with blood. I volunteered to help bury four men who were lying dead in a corner. I went at midnight and was accompanied by four other volunteers and a corporal. We dug the grave, lapped the men up in their greatcoats and then committed their remains to the earth. I shall not soon forget the awful solemnity of it all. We stood there in the dark hours, before the challenge of the not-far-distant sentry and with bared head I offered prayer. You are very near to God on occasions like this; you don’t even notice a stray shell bursting, your mind, for the time being, is unmoved’.”

“We know quite a bit about Albert Henry Farthing Croft. He was 33 when he enlisted – ‘for one year’s service or the duration of the war’ said his papers – in the RAMC just four days after the war started and he made his way right through the carnage, being demobbed in March 1919.

“He had married Margaret Shaw in the summer of 1905 and they lived in Argyle Street and had one son who was named after him.

“Albert’s service record tells us that he had brown hair and grey eyes. What it doesn’t tell us is that, for a lad who probably didn’t have much of a start in life and who would have experienced little other than long hours in the local mills, where he was a humble cotton overlooker, he had such compassion, such pity and such humanity.”