By Jean Abbott
A few years ago when the 100th anniversary of the First World War seemed, and probably was, a distant prospect, I decided to create some meaningful record of the people commemorated on our village war memorial. I had in mind particularly (probably at least 20 years too late!) that family recollections were in danger of being lost, and that was where my investigations started out, but local enquiries and a postcard in the village shop failed to identify more than a very few present day local connections. In the nature of things, many of those who died being young men had effectively lost their posterity (children and grandchildren who would have remembered them) as well as their lives. It seemed much too soon for them to be reduced to a bare list of names, “remembered” only in a rather abstract way when we commemorate them each November.
My plan was to put together some basic details about who they were, what happened to them and in each case what the local connection was. I intended to make very short work of this by reference to online sources (starting with the excellent Commonwealth War Graves website), and service records held mostly in the National Archives at Kew. The archives yielded a fascinating collection of delicate old War Office files on many of the commissioned officers, but a disappointing absence of paperwork on the vast majority of the ordinary soldiers and non-commissioned ranks, most of whose service records were destroyed in the bombing of London in September 1940. The quality of the lost information can be judged by the rare instances of soldiers whose records survived. Of the others, most can be found with reasonable certainty in censuses and birth/marriage records. A very few resist my continuing efforts to work exactly who they are.
The short task I thought I was embarking on has somewhat taken on a life of its own. I’m grateful to this newsletter for giving me an incentive to get it under control and keep at it, and delighted to have the opportunity to share some of the very interesting stories that have emerged so far.