Oscar Stockton Needham was born in Didsbury on November 30, 1892. His father, Herbert Needham, was a buyer of cotton and woolen for a shipping merchant. Oscar was the youngest of 3 children and he lived with his family and a domestic servant in Withington, Manchester. He was educated at Hulme Grammar School and later at Lycee d’Angoulême, France. By 1911 he was working as a clerk in the office of a shipping merchant while his brother, Herbert Sidney Needham, attended Manchester University.
In 1914 he joined the Officer Training Corps of Manchester University and was later commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment (Territorial Force) on October 12, 1914. He joined the 2/9th Battalion in training at Southport and moved with them to Pease Pottage in June 1915. He was made temporary Lieutenant on August 9, 1915. On October 13, 1915 he embarked for Gallipoli with 10 other Officers, arriving at Mudros on October 24th and joined the Battalion on Cape Helles on October 26, 1915. Upon arrival it was found that two Officers already serving at Gallipoli were of a junior rank and so he relinquished his temporary appointment.
He came through Gallipoli unscathed, serving as the Transport Officer, and sailed with the Battalion to Egypt, arriving on January 18, 1916. On February 26, 1916 he was made temporary Lieutenant and was promoted to Lieutenant on June 1, 1916. On July 23, 1916 he was awarded 35 days home leave in the UK. Two months after rejoining the Battalion he attended a course of instruction at Zeitoun for just over 3 weeks. On January 31, 1917 he left the Battalion for Port Said as part of the Advance Party, under Major R.B. Nowell, tasked with making all necessary preparations for the Battalion’s imminent departure to France.
He disembarked in France on February 10, 1917 and rejoined the Battalion a month later on March 17th. He left the Battalion to attend the 42nd Division Bombing School on May 30, 1917 and rejoined them 18 days later after spending an extra week sick in hospital. He attended a 2 months course of instruction at Nieuport from mid-July until early September and immediately upon rejoining the battalion was granted a short 11 days leave in the UK.
He was again granted two weeks leave in England from February 1-15, 1918 sailing from Boulogne on January 31 and arriving at Folkestone the same day. While on leave he contracted Impetigo and was treated at the 2nd Western General Hospital, Manchester. During his treatment he reported that he was suffering from insomnia, giddiness and a feeling of general nervousness. He was promptly diagnosed with Neurasthenia, granted 3 weeks leave after which he was attached to the 8th Reserve Battalion Manchester Regiment at Filey. The start of his illness was stated to have been September 1917 at Nieuport and it is likely that his leave in September was an attempt by the battalion to informally treat his nervousness through a short break.
He was medically assessed again on April 19th at Scarborough, pronounced still only fit for home service and directed to rejoin the 8th Reserve Battalion. A month later he was assessed again and pronounced for for General Service and directed to rejoin the 8th Reserve Battalion, now at Hunmanby, outside Filey.
Fully recovered, at least from the Army’s perspective, he attended No. 1 School of Instruction for Infantry Officers at Brocton in Staffordshire, May 18 – July 13, 1918. He received an excellent report where it was stated that he “should make a useful Company Commander”, (which of course would result in a promotion to Captain). After attending the course he took leave until August 17th and received orders to embark for France on the 18th.
British Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing Company, Ltd.
The British Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing Co. was formed in 1916 by Swiss brothers, Henri and Camille Dreyfus after the British Government invited the brothers to London to produce their recently developed cellulose acetate dope for varnishing aircraft canvas skins as an alternative to nitrocellulose dope, which was easily ignited by bullets.
But in August 1918, the report of the Select Committee on the Swiss Cellulose Company, which was registered as the British Cellulose and Chemical Manufacturing Company, Limited, revealed that there had been no supervision of the company, which received tax relief and got the state to agree to pay its capital expenditures although not an economical proposition. The company secured a monopoly of cellulose acetate and received a contract worth £3,000,000. The company’s capital was £160,000 in sixpenny shares and the shareholders subsequently received £14 10s for each sixpenny share. It became a scandal and questions were asked in the Houses of Parliament. Mr. Andrew Bonar Law, leader of the government, appointed a Select Committee to look into the matter. The committee was chaired by Lord Colwyn, otherwise known as Sir Frederick Henry Smith a prominent Mancunian businessman.
In a letter dated August 15, 1918 a representative of Lord Colwyn requested that Lt. Needham’s leave be extended for one month so that he could continue to assist the Select Committee investigating “the Cellulose case”. His embarkation orders for France were postponed for a month, his leave extension granted and notice was forwarded to the Imperial Hotel in Russell Square, London where Lt. Needham was staying. Upon receiving the news of the leave extension a further 3 months extension was requested which, although initially denied, was eventually granted on the basis that Lt. Needham held specialist knowledge and the committee work was of national importance. Unfortunately his leave was granted without pay but it was extended to December 15, 1918. Predictably, a further 3 months leave extension was requested and granted in mid December expiring on March 15, 1919.
His committee work done, Lt. Needham returned to the 8th Reserve battalion, Manchester Regiment and was demobilised on April 7, 1919. He resigned his commission, retaining the rank of Lieutenant, effective January 4, 1921.
After the war, in 1921, he sailed to South Africa with the intention to permanently reside there. While in South Africa he met and married Mary Barkley Denne, the daughter of a Major in the Royal Artillery who had emigrated to South Africa putting his knowledge of explosives to use in the mining industry. Oscar Needham lived in South Africa, with his wife, working as a salesman in the mining industry until his death in Johannesburg on July 22, 1965. Lt. Oscar Stockton Needham was 72 years old.