The importance of newspapers as source material

To find out more, click on this picture.

To find out more, click on this picture.

Newspapers provide invaluable sources of information for historians seeking so present the Great War from varying positions. They also help place the reader into the story of the war rather than through the words of a historian. You can gain access to these newspapers by such organisations as Historic Newspapers.

The information provided by the newspapers are not necessarily historically accurate, not least because they were heavily censored by the government who were anxious to keep the people’s support throughout the war. It was they after all, who were providing the means by which to fight it.  The function newspapers can provide the scholar with contemporary words; they are their at the time and the imagination is fired up just as takes place when reading regimental and private daily diaries. This is the power of real time reporting on our desire to discover more about the events of the war.

Click on the above screen print to read more. Our thanks to Historic Newspapers.

Click on the above screen print to read more. Our thanks to Historic Newspapers.

Newspaper reports can provide additional importance to a story or article which is being presented on a particular subject. On this website we provide a biography of a family’s loss of their 16 year old son Frank Potter, who was lost on HMS Hampshire. On the same ship was Lord Kitchener and the front pages of a newspaper remind us of the enormity of the event. The relationship between the two stories are symbiotic; they are able to show the comparisons of national and private grief.

It is not only the front pages of newspapers which provide us with an insight into the Great War. Very often adverts appear on the same pages which show how commercial life carried on in a ‘business as usual’ format.

'War Illustrated' supplied a market which was rapacious in its thirst for information on the war.

‘War Illustrated’ supplied a market which was rapacious in its thirst for information on the war.

The use war itself is also a subject for which businesses were able to make money as this advert shows on selling pictures of the war. Making money from the war was certainly an opportunity. Richard Van Emden provides a harrowing story of the men who charged families vast sums of money to search for missing men who were clearly dead.

It is also in the classifieds, that we can find the very terrible side effects of the war. Many men found themselves unemployed when returning from the war and they describe their disabilities to potential employers in their attempts to use the classifieds to find work. They describe not only on the physical damage to their bodies, but also the mental scarring which has taken place. The words they use are simple and to the point and their desperation is clearly spelt out in the context of a newspaper advert. You simply cannot obtain such stark reality in anything other than a newspaper report.

work needed 68 - 75 work needed 59 - 67 work needed 76 - 80 work needed 49 - 58

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Where They Lived

Wescott Road, is a small street in the town and was built in the early 1900's. Wescott Infants school was opened in 1906. It is also the location for some of the greatest losses in the Great War.

Wescott Road, is a small street in the town and was built in the early 1900’s. Wescott Infants school was opened in 1906. It is also the location for some of the greatest losses in the Great War.

For me, this is possibly the most fascinating and the saddest part of the research. Once we discovered the stories of the men, we started pinning their addresses to a modern map of Wokingham. Although we suspected that they would be close to each other, I was surprised at the clusters around Havelock and Wescott Roads. Here is where the imagination really fires off. Can you imagine the fear the residents of these roads went through over four years? These are small roads and the agony they must have felt when their children were at war and knowing a neighbour’s son had just been killed; it must have been agony. It is astonishing. I walked my son to school along Wescott Road and it never once occurred to me just how much history is embedded along its paths.

Here is the map; it is at the foot of every page on the website. Click on the text at the bottom of the map to gain access to a larger version and use the zoom facility. 


View Where the Wokingham Fallen lived in a larger map

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Film of the Wokingham men we lost in 1914

What was the impact of World War One on Wokingham in 1914? Here is a short film which shows the losses from August to December 1914. There were far more from around the Borough, but these are taken from Wokingham’s War Memorial in the Town Hall:

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Review of Heritage Day – September 14th, 2014

The Mayor opens Wokingham's 2014 Heritage Day, dedicated to the Great War Cententary.

The Mayor opens Wokingham’s 2014 Heritage Day, dedicated to the Great War Cententary.

Research into Wokingham’s fallen started in 2011 and after three years, the information was presented to the people on Sunday 14th Septmeber, 2014. We had also invited the descendants of 20 of the fallen and were lucky enough to receive  14 acceptances. The Town Council had themselves been preparing for this day since about December 2013, having laid out a basic plan even earlier. They successfully applied for a grant from the Lottery fund and contacted the parishes around the borough to discuss a number of opportunities. One idea came back about creating a trail for 20 memorials around Wokingham borough, which included brochures, stories and informational banners.

Mother and son, Mr Mark Bosher and Mrs Bosher proudly present the Death Penny given to the family following Thomas Bosher’s death at Mons in 1918

Mother and son, Mr Mark Bosher and Mrs Bosher proudly present the Death Penny given to the family following Thomas Bosher’s death at Mons in 1918

Along came Sunday and when the doors opened a steady trail of visitors began to arrive including a number of descendants, some we knew and others we didn’t. The Hall began to fill and fill and we realised that this was because whilst there was a steady inward flow, no one was leaving! The common focus of the war and the information which surrounded them encouraged people who didn’t know each other to enter into lively conversations about their ancestral discoveries and visits to the Western Front. Other long term residents were bumping into old friends they hadn’t seen for years and were delightedly talking about bygone days. There were children in the middle of the room playing table games, local history books for sale and The British Legion showing a bewitched audience just how hard it was to make poppies ! There was a full screen of this website and the map at the bottom of this page came in very handy when showing the visitors just where the men lived before and during the war. Some visitors even pulled up a chair to watch a film of nearly 400 photographs of the men from Wokingham who had died or survived.

Local Historian Trevor Ottlewski takes visitors on a tour of Wokingham.

Local Historian Trevor Ottlewski takes visitors on a tour of Wokingham.

Downstairs, there was an exhibition of ‘Then and Now’ photographs, which was permanently full with people and another room upstairs was loaded with artefacts and memorabilia, which a number of people were studying with a mix of reverence and awe. Outside in Market Place was a nice mix of cafes, war memorabilia, the W.I. and some softly played music of the days of the Music Hall from pre war Britain.

An fantastically well attended day by the people of Wokingham, fully justifying the amount of work the team had put into it all and brilliantly capped off by a visit by Mr and Mrs John Walter VIth, whose ancestors were not only major patricians prior to the war and builders of Bearwood, but also owners of the London Times. Amazing Day!

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Today Sunday 14th September. Meet us at the Town Hall from 11am

Wokingham's Mayor and Mayoress read the story of the Hills Nicholson family. All four sons killed in two world wars.

Wokingham’s Mayor and Mayoress read the story of the Hills Nicholson family. All four sons killed in two world wars.

Today is Wokingham’s Heritage Day and this year we examine the research put together by many of Wokingham’s local history people. However, there is much more to the day, with a special focus on today’s children and lots for them to do.

In addition, we welcome a number of families whose ancestors are named on the Town Hall Memorial and they will be arriving from all over the country to be with us. They will be meeting at the Memorial at 1 pm in the Town Hall.

So bring your family and join in on a day where we are proud to remember those men of Wokingham who fought for their friends, family and future. It is also a time to enjoy our liberty have fun and appreciate the proud heritage of this community. Here is the programme for the day which has been organised by the Town Council:

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They remembered. What if we forget?

Anna Matthews is a member of The Potter family of Emmbrook, Wokingham

Anna Matthews is a member of The Potter family of Emmbrook, Wokingham

 Six brothers of Emmbrook’s Potter family joined the Great War. Only three returned home and two badly injured. Anna Matthews is the Great Grand Niece of the Potter brothers; her Great Grandmother was their sister Bertha. Anna share’s her thoughts of the impact on families then and now.  

“One hundred years ago, the world was on the brink of a war that would see over 10 million men lose their lives. Over 10 million – and every one of them someone’s son.

 I’m going to tell you the story of one family. In 1914, one hundred years ago, Charles and Fanny Potter, who lived in Wokingham, rural Berkshire, had a family of seven sons and three daughters when the First World War broke out. Over the course of the next two years, Jack, George, Tom, Reginald, Percy and Frank all signed up to fight in the war, just like millions of others, not just in this country but around the world. Only Arthur stayed behind with his sisters because he was too young to fight. Can you imagine how Charles and Fanny must have felt, six of their seven sons heading off to war? Pride, no doubt. But also fear and worry about what might happen to them, spread out all across Europe, not even able to look out for one another.

Frank Potter died !916. Frank was 16 years old

Frank Potter died !916. Frank was 16 years old

Gradually, Charles and Fanny began to receive news of their sons. First came news of Frank. Frank was ‘Boy First Class’ in the Royal Navy, serving on board HMS Hampshire alongside Lord Kitchener himself. In July 1916, HMS Hampshire sank off the coast of Orkney. Frank was lost at sea. He was only 16 years old.

Heartbroken, the family then received news only a few months later of the death of George. George had been serving in Italy as an engine stoker on board HMS Liverpool. Aged 29, he left behind his own wife and son.

A month later, in March 1917, Charles and Fanny heard that Reginald, who had been severely injured, was to have his leg amputated. He’s 23. And at the same time, 19-year-old Percy was also in hospital, badly wounded.*

To top it all off, at the end of this year – 1917 – they heard that Tom, aged 29 and a corporal in the Royal Berkshire Regiment, had been killed in the Battle of Poelcappelle in Belgium. His body was never found.potter brothers portrait

Five of the six fighting sons: casualties of the First World War in just 18 months. Six sons sent, three killed, two wounded. How does a family move on after that? And how do the young, wounded soldiers adjust to civilian life as disabled ex-servicemen? Their lives are absorbed with remembrance.

Mourners, crippled with loss visited the battlefield sites as early as 1919

Mourners, crippled with loss visited the battlefield sites as early as 1919

The war ended in 1918. In the 1920’s, Fanny participates in the unveiling of a memorial to her three dead sons in their local church. A decade later, Jack, the eldest son and the only one to have remained physically unscathed by the war, can be found helping to count the church donations on Armistice Day, no doubt remembering his brothers and all the friends that he lost.*

And what about the girls, whose role in life should have been to marry and settle down, when so many men had been killed and they had so much grief to bear? One of the Potter daughters, Bertha, did marry and had a son that she named Frank, in memory of her younger brother, lost at sea.

HMS Liverpool log report of George Potter's death in 1917

HMS Liverpool log report of George Potter’s death in 1917

This Frank grew up and fought in the Second World War. He survived to have a family of his own. This Frank is my grandfather. The Potter brothers were his uncles. The First World War is not so distant.

Over the next four years, you’ll hear a lot about the war, as Britain commemorates the centenary. There’ll be art exhibitions, documentaries and dramas on television, theatrical productions, services and ceremonies and no doubt the odd politician chipping in here and there as well. This national commemoration is important, and significant.

But as you hear of and experience these things, spare a thought for the Potter family. The boys who fought and never came home but also the boys who fought and survived, and Charles and Fanny and the other siblings who had, somehow, to live out the rest of their lives with so much lost. Remember the personal stories and the stories of other families not yet told. Because, as more than 10 million men died, the chances are that they are the stories of your families”.

Anna Matthews 20 May 2014

*with thanks to the following publication:

Bell, Jim (2013): Wokingham in the News: A Chronological History of Wokingham from the Reading Mercury, 1858-1938. pp.176, 204, 347. Accessed online at http://www.wokinghamsociety.org.uk/Boxsoft2/Wokingham_in_the_News.pdf

Follow me on Twitter @exeteranna and @GreatWarDiary

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Thoughts on the Great War. By John Redwood MP for Wokingham

John Redwood

Click on picture to read John Redwood’s diary

The mass slaughter on a new industrial scale in the 1914-18 war has haunted me from my childhood days. From an early age I was aware of the long shadow of all those deaths. As a young boy I skirted the remaining stark bomb sites of my home city of Canterbury and asked how they came about. I gradually discovered the dreadful truth that twice the UK had been plunged into long and terrible wars, the second in a way following on from the failures of the peace imposed after the first.

All our families have been scarred by these events. My family was relatively lucky. One grandfather survived army service on the western front unscathed, and the other came home after a bad wound and recovered. Many lost sons and brothers in the First World War as the carnage in Belgium went on for four years. All were promised that the First World War would be the war to end all wars. Instead it was the great European war that led inexorably to another.

Sir Edward Grey was Britain's Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916.

Sir Edward Grey was Britain’s Foreign Secretary from 1905 to 1916. (Click on picture to read more on this famous quote)

Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, famously said 100 years ago “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. It was a strange statement from a man participating in a mighty and fateful decision for our country. It was certainly true that Europe entered an era of darkness and mass killing. It was not true that the lamps would remain unlit for that generation. The advent of much new technology and private enterprise progress meant that the 1920s did put the lights on again.

Today is a day to remember all those who died in that long and brutal conflict, and to honour their memory. Now all the combatants are dead including all those spared unnatural slaughter, it is also time to ask was it the right thing to do? What can we learn about the conduct of diplomacy and the relationships of nations to nations that means we might benefit from their tragedies?

The UK declared war on Germany. She did so to protect the neutrality of Belgium. Germany responded to the UK’s ultimatum to Germany to leave Belgium alone by saying that Germany would send an army to France through Belgium but would not annex any Belgium territory. The UK government, instead of working on that weasel message, declared war in default of a complete promise not to send troops onto Belgium soil on any pretext.

The public face of Kitchener, who knew the war would last years and needed a huge army. (Click on picture to read more)

The public face of Kitchener, who knew the war would last years and needed a huge army. (Click on picture to read more)

The UK committed herself to huge land war without in the first instance having the army to fight it. She could bottle up the German surface fleet, but still had great difficulties at sea dealing with the submarine menace. It is difficult to see how it was in the UK’s national interest to put so much at risk when the UK could not protect Belgium. It took many months before the UK could recruit, train and develop enough men to have a chance of winning in conjunction with her allies.

I fear that the UK’s decision to go to war in 1914 was another example of the fatal attraction of the continent to UK politicians. That time it cost us so many lives, destroyed so much wealth and peaceful purpose, and left a Europe less capable of withstanding the ideological evils of Nazism and Soviet communism. The warning to us is surely to be more careful about our European involvements. The UK is a nation of islands, whose destiny lies in free trade, fair exchange and cultural involvement with the wider world, not just Europe. The UK has not in the past usually been able to remodel the map of Europe for the better.

28th August 1914. It was during the Retreat from Mons that Arthur Turner became Wokingham's first fatality of the Great War (click on picture to read his biography)

28th August 1914. It was during the Retreat from Mons that Arthur Turner became Wokingham’s first fatality of the Great War (click on picture to read his biography)

In the twentieth century the UK did not recruit, train and equip a mighty army to control the borders of Europe and the actions of other European powers. Her decision to fight two wars against German aggression forced her to expand, equip and train armies once the war had started, and to seek allies with more powerful land forces to enable eventual victory to be won. In 1914 the first battle of Mons was a difficult rearguard action for a small army outnumbered by its foes. In 1940 the British army had to retreat in haste from Dunkirk, as it was overwhelmed by massively stronger forces.

The UK did have the means to defend these islands, by basing her peacetime defence preparations on naval and air power. In 1914-18 these were so large that they were never directly tested. In the battle of Britain in the second world war the margin was uncomfortably small but just sufficient for victory.

Professor of War Studies Gary Sheffield, provides more views on the Great War.

Professor of War Studies, Gary Sheffield provides more views on the Great War. (click on picture)

These experiences should remind politicians that we should only expect our armed forces to carry out tasks away from home that they have a good chance of being able to do successfully, because they have the people, the equipment and the training to do so.

Our prime defence spending should be on ensuring our home islands are always safe from aggression. One of the many sadnesses about the conduct of the First World War is why the UK high command, who had been thinking about a war against for Germany for some time, had done so little to prepare and expand our army for the scale and nature of the conflict that lay ahead.

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A story of the unexpected: Wokingham’s Town Hall Memorial.

Wokingham's War Memorial is placed inside the Wokingham Town Hall

Wokingham’s War Memorial is placed inside the Wokingham Town Hall

The War Memorial in Wokingham’s Town Hall provides 217 names of men who fell during the Great War. It is natural to assume the names are made up of all the Fallen who came from around the Wokingham town area. The real story though is not so straight forward.

It’s a question of perspective. Place yourself in that time and through the war you needed to move from one town to another. Now think about how you want to remember your loved one who was taken away by savage means. The name of that man is remembered by you in your new town. Therefore the men named on memorials are provided by those people who wanted them remembered, they are not necessarily a list of the local men who died.

Then there are those who were local, but do not appear on the memorial. If there was no one alive or in residence to remember their death, then they do not appear on a memorial. Conversely, if there was more than one person who remembered the same person and lived in a different part of the country, then that serviceman’s name would appear on more than one memorial. They were also post war lists, fraught with the possibility of mis-spellings and nicknames as people tried to remember the names of those who died without relatives. In this respect, Wokingham’s war memorial is no different from any other.

Although memorials are a normal part of today’s landscape, they exist almost entirely from the First World War. Very few were built before this time. So how did they come about? The answer starts from a decision made by the government at a very early point in the war.

The Memorial in the Baptist Church, Milton Road.

The Memorial in the Baptist Church, Milton Road.

History of the 20th century war memorials
The Great War was ground breaking in the sense that it included the whole population and not just a relatively small group of professional servicemen. To coin a phrase, it was a ‘People’s War’ and the numbers were vast, with over 6 million men on active duty from Britain alone. This meant an overwhelmingly large number of deaths and the government of the time quickly took the decision to bury the men where they fell and not bring them home. The consequence of this decision was that the families of the dead were unable to mourn their losses in traditions which had been followed for centuries. Naval families had suffered this type of loss for many years and were naturally prepared for the men to be buried at sea, but the Great War was significant because its losses came from families who had no experience of military and naval deaths. The families descended into shock; the youngest son could be a delivery boy one day, a soldier the next, dead within months and no presence of a body for the family to mourn the loss. The British government was not insensitive to this loss (they also needed to keep up morale) and the response was to create the magnificent Commonwealth War Graves we see spread around the world today. Immaculate though they were, war graves on foreign soil did not provide families with the physical presence needed help mourn their loved ones.

Memorials prior to the Great War were monuments of victory not symbols of loss. This one marks the victory at Waterloo.

Memorials prior to the Great War were monuments of victory not symbols of loss. This one marks the victory at Waterloo (click for source and info).

The possibility emerged that memorials could help in part to bridge the sense of loss, but these monuments traditionally represented victory and honourable battle. Following the end of the war, artists and stonemasons changed the face of memorials to reflect not the glory of victory, but the sense of mourning which had pervaded everyday life in post war Britain. Even today, memorials play an important role in mourning loss, remembrance and even hope for the future. For more information on the Story of Remembrance Day, we have posted an earlier story, which provides more detail.

How were the names collected?
Such is the enormity of the numbers of memorials across the country; it is often believed that some institution or government department was instrumental in their organisation and development. This in part was true (as in the Wokingham experience), but was also often a result of local people organising themselves to collect names and funds to build their own local memories of their fallen. Collection was often chaotic and not without objections. Wokingham took nearly six years after the war to finally unveil the Town Hall Memorial in 1924. Some councils feared that these organised groups would turn violent and become centres of revolution (Germany and Russia had already followed this route). luton riots 1919Luton’s Town Hall was even burned down during the festivities which followed Victory Day in 1919. Others argued about the composition of the lists, with objections to those being shot for cowardice being included. In one Lincolnshire example, a Private Charles Kirman had for nine years been a regular soldier and simply lost his nerve following years of fighting, subsequent wounds and malaria. He was executed in 1917 and as a result, was denied a listing on a proposed memorial for his home village of Fulstow in Lincolnshire. The villagers were so incensed at his omission, they refused to allow any other names to be included. Until 2005, Fulstow had no memorial to remember their dead.
Wokingham had none of these extreme issues; their indecision was one of philosophy and therefore provides an insight into the venerable nature of our town’s leaders.

Why did Wokingham take so long to unveil its memorial?
Wokingham’s Town Hall Memorial was not unveiled until 1924, nearly six years after the end of the war. Far from avoiding the responsibility of collecting for a war memorial, the local town council led from the outset. One would have expected with such experienced leadership, agreement would have been decisive. The delay didn’t come about with the difficulty of raising the money, (which it could have been, given the post war economy was in depression) it was an argument over the best way to remember Wokingham’s fallen. The arguments which abounded over the years were unquestionably honourable and carefully considered. For a time the Comrades Club (which joined the Royal British Legion) argued the need for a place where the veterans could meet for social gatherings. Those who returned were finding it hard to return to the mundanities of everyday life and it been recognised in the years following the end of war, that the veterans could only really find solace with other servicemen. This did not mean that the club would be to the exclusion of others; in fact they stressed their vision was as an opportunity for warm social gatherings which included children, women and people of all ages. Other arguments called for a monument, a permanent reminder of the loss and suffering experienced in the Wokingham community. Thousands of monuments had spread across the whole nation and there were calls for the Council to follow this lead. It was though, the idea of a hospital which eventually prevailed, but what type? It could be one to help repair the broken bodies of men who had returned from the war, or the elderly or children’s numerous diseases. The question which troubled the town’s elders was how to create a memorial which not only remembered the past, but could also look to the future. What had these men been fighting for, what way of life were they trying to protect and what future did they die for? Lloyd George had been unable to deliver a ‘land fit for heroes’, the post war economic depression had seen to that, but the Council were considering a memorial which made a statement, not just about the tragedy of the past, but an expression of hope for the future. The answer was just around the corner, literally.

All Saints Memorial which outside of the main entrance

All Saints Memorial which outside of the main entrance

The Council make a plan 1922
The Red Cross had recently opened a small clinic in the Town Hall, but needed larger premises to cope with the increasing demand. What if the memorial money could be used to help them find a larger home? It was the perfect symbol; if there was hope for the future, then it would come through the development and health of the community’s children. The men fought in a war selflessly and so too did the teams of nurses and doctors who worked tirelessly to repair the local children’s sick and injured bodies. The symbols went even deeper; the sick and wounded men gave themselves to the doctors, nurses and surgeons who were then able to build a bank of knowledge and skills in the following years. What better way to use those skills than on helping Wokingham’s broken children to live better lives? The men of the council were inspired and the initial decision was to support both a ‘Comrades Club’ and a children’s clinic. However by 1922, Major General Sir Walter Cayley on behalf of the Comrades Club withdrew from the scheme, leaving sole funding for a larger clinic for the children’s Red Cross. 20140212_090629_Denmark St

A site had already been found, an old Methodist chapel at the bottom of Denmark Street and in July 1922, the deeds were duly presented at a ceremony in the Town Hall. Using materials donated by local tradespeople, the town’s skilled artisans volunteered to convert the chapel into a facility which would meet the demands of a modern Orthopaedic Clinic. With some pomp and undoubted pride, the Clinic was opened in April 1923 by the Marchioness of Downshire. A stone tablet was fixed to the front of the building, the inscription reflecting the sensitivities of the time:

The engraved stone is placed on the front of the old clinic in Denmark Street

The engraved stone is placed on the front of the old clinic in Denmark Street

The people of Wokingham have given
This building to be used as an Orthopaedic
Clinic in memory of the men who gave
Their lives for their country in the Great
War of 1914-1918 and in thankfulness
To Almighty God for those who came
Back in safety, confident that the memory
Of their service and sacrifice can best be
Honoured in the fight against disease and
Deformity.

Although the Orthopaedic Clinic’s work made a fine memoriam to those who fought and fell in the war, there was no single place to honour and name the individuals involved. Wokingham Town Hall also needed to think about how would remember the communities loss.

Wokingham Town Hall and its need to remember the loss.

 In all the time since the war, Wokingham’s local churches had been building their own memorials to their parishioners and in particular nearly 200 men had been remembered at the local All Saints, St Paul’s and Baptist churches. Indeed the Town Hall, as a centre piece of local civil life, could not allow the community’s greatest catastrophe pass without recognition. Admiral Eustace, heading up the War Memorial Committee decided on a solid oak named plaque which would be erected in the Town Hall and placed in the ante-room alongside the Great Hall.

A named tablet is placed inside of All Saints church

A named tablet is placed inside of All Saints church

Collecting the names for the Town Hall Memorial.
The memorial plaque was now agreed, as had the location of its placement, but exactly whose names should appear on the inscription? It had been nearly ten years since the first man had died, so how would they be able to gather all the names with accuracy and completeness? Admiral Eustace sensibly decided to bring together the names from the local churches of All Saints, St Paul’s and the Baptist church in Milton Road which had also constructed its own memorial. That was 184 men of Wokingham in total and bringing these together would prevent another long drawn out process of a new collection of names which was fraught with the possibilities of errors because of the length of time passed.

The light beauty of the stained glass memorial inside St Sebastian's Memorial Hall (built by the Palmer family after the war)

The light beauty of the stained glass memorial inside St Sebastian’s Memorial Hall (built by the Palmer family after the war)

A researchers nightmare: 33 names without a source
As researchers however, we discovered that the total number of names from the town’s churches would bring the total to only 184 and we know that 217 are on the town’s memorial. There were a further 33 names of which we did not know the source. Possibly it was a collection of new names which accounted for the additions. Or possibly there was another church nearby, maybe the memorials at Finchampstead or St Catherine’s church in Bearwood. On checking with both of these churches, the 33 names on the town memorial did not match. About a year after the website had been launched, we decided to have another attempt at discovering the source of the 33 men. At the start of the research, we began placing the names onto a map to show where the men had lived prior to and during the war. The main clusters were around Wokingham, but after a while we noticed that a number of them lived around Easthampstead and Crowthorne. The main church was St Sebastian’s on the Nine Mile Ride and this parish covered some of the addresses where the men lived. I had previously been to the church and knew that no memorial existed at St Sebastian’s; not all churches gathered the names for varying reasons. I decided to call back and speak to the office which looked after the grounds. It was confirmed that no memorial existed at the church, but the clerk told me they did have a list which was read out on Remembrance Day every year.

Click on map to enlarge. Map shows where the families once lived.

Click on map to enlarge. Map shows where the families once lived.

I received a photocopy and took it home. There were 33 names on the list and they matched exactly. So that was it; the names on the town hall memorial are drawn from four churches, not three. One mystery solved, but it is not completely clear why these names were used and not those of Finchampstead and St Catherine’s and possibly a number of others in the surrounding area. There is one theory though. The Palmer family (Huntley and Palmers biscuits) were a huge presence in Wokingham and they were known as generous benefactors as were others, including the Walter family in Bearwood. They had donated the funds necessary to build a Memorial Hall on the corner of Honey Hill and the Nine Mile Ride and designed a beautiful stained glass window as a central point of the commemoration. At a guess (and that is all it is) the Wokingham’s War Memorial Committee were only too pleased to combine the names of Crowthorne and Wokingham onto one memorial.

Concluding thoughts
This is as much as we know about the building of Wokingham Town Hall’s War Memorial and the story is not quite as we had expected. Some of the names are of men who never lived in the area. They are also composed from a group of people who have a link with the local churches of only one denomination. What of those who were Catholic or Jewish or even simply atheist? The men came from homes not always closely clustered around the town itself; they spread into some outer areas, but not into others. We have unsurprisingly discovered a number of local men who died in the fighting and are not named on the memorial. Although some of these observations might make uncomfortable reading, our town memorial shares these traits with thousands of other memorials from all over the nation. State departments holding databases with electoral rolls and national insurance numbers simply did not exist during this time and we are able to see just how difficult it was to collect the names of the local dead. What we see however, is a council taking leadership and a local community pulling together to build something for the future at a time when the rest of Europe of was tearing itself apart. The Orthopaedic Clinic in Denmark Street was a tremendous success and served the health of Wokingham people right up to the early 1970’s. It took a long time to deliver its own version of Remembrance, but by choosing a plaque and a clinic, Wokingham found the perfect balance between respecting its past and investing in the people of the future. Those people of the future? That’s us.

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Summary of The Great War

Wokingham was and still is, the UK's Everytown. Charles Rideout is the young man wearing the apron on the right hand side, circa 1912. He was killed during the Battle of Loos, 1915.

Peach Street, Wokingham. Charles Rideout is the young man wearing the apron on the right hand side. He was killed during the Battle of Loos, 1915.

Here is a short summary of the main events of The Great War and links have been added to explain them in greater detail.

1914. On the 28th June 1914, the Austria-Hungarian Empire’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was murdered by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb nationalist. Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the killing and because Europe was linked by a series of diplomatic alliances – Austria-Hungary/Germany/Italy (Central Powers) and Britain/France/Russia (Triple Entente/Allied forces) – the assassination escalated into full-scale war.

The German Army marched into Belgium with the intent of entering Paris before Russia was ready to engage its forces. With Belgium’s neutrality now compromised, Britain was forced to declare war on Germany on the 4th August 1914.

By September 1914, the Central Powers and Allied Forces were attempting to outflank each other, causing a series of defences and trenches which spread for 460 miles along southern Belgium and northern France. Vast numbers of men, heavy and light artillery and underground accommodation dug deep into the soft chalky soil, ensuring the war was to last for years.

Fred Fullbrook lived in Havelock Place, just at the back of Wokingham's railway station. The fact he was lost at sea, illustrated the treacherous nature of the Gallipoli campaign.

Fred Fullbrook lived in Havelock Place, just at the back of Wokingham’s railway station. The fact he was lost at sea, illustrated the treacherous nature of the Gallipoli campaign.

1915. Battles at Ypres in Belgium in October 1914 and April of 1915, were not enough to force a conclusion to the war, even by the introduction of chlorine gas. Germany was also fighting Russia on their eastern front, succeeding both militarily and choking supplies via the Black Sea. Churchill planned to open up the entrance to the Black Sea at the Dardanelles, but would need to break the resistance of the resident Turks first. After over 8 months in January 1916, the campaign ended on the peninsular of Gallipoli, inflicting losses of nearly 400,000 men from both sides.

Gallipoli represented a year of general failure for the Allies; 1915 also saw the professional army and the reserve forces virtually eliminated. The British war effort also was blighted by a lack of equipment and munitions, culminating in another failure at the Battle of Loos. At the end of 1915, Sir John French was replaced by Douglas Haig as Commander of the Armed Forces and along with the Government, the war effort began to be reorganised. Kitchener’s volunteer army was however, to face its greatest challenge on the River Somme.

Frank Potter, named on the Wokingham War Memorial, was drowned with Lord Kitchener on HMS Hampshire.

Frank Potter (bottom left), named on the Wokingham War Memorial, was drowned with Lord Kitchener on HMS Hampshire.

1916 After spending 1915 in defensive positions, Germany took the initiative with an attack on the French stronghold of Verdun.  From February to July 1916, the Battle of Verdun had cost the French forces 350,000 deaths and they were in desperate need of relief. On July 1st, the British attacked at the nearby River Somme. German troops were drawn away from Verdun to support their defences, thereby relieving the French lines. After months of British effort however, the Battle of the Somme came to an end in the November at a cost of 420,000 lives from the British Empire. Most of the losses came from Kitchener’s Volunteer Army.

Until June 1916, there had been no major battle between the two great navies of Britain and Germany. The British naval position in the Orkneys was perfect as it could lie in wait for a German fleet which ventured away from its Baltic ports. In the June of 1916, the two fleets met at Jutland and fought to an inconclusive end, but the damage to the German ships kept them in port until the end of the war.

By 1916, Britain had seen their army numbers depleted and were forced to introduce conscription, but had also seen the whole of the country in full war production. Germany also suffered losses, this time on both eastern and western fronts and they had also failed in their attempts to overcome Britain’s navy. Their U Boats were reducing Britain’s merchant supplies across the Atlantic Ocean, but were testing the patience of the world’s new industrial powerhouse. America was about to enter the war on the side of the Allies.

1917 was a year of revolution, mutiny, invention and innovation. The British Empire forces had by now established a modern army and (with the French Army at the point of exhaustion) took on the leadership of the Allied campaign. The Germans resolved to unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic, which included USA merchant ships. Germany also proposes an alliance with Mexico to attack America in return for the southern states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Inevitably, America declared war on Germany.

At Cambrai, the British introduced a full attack with their new invention, the tank – with some success. At Arras, the Canadians took Vimy Ridge for the Allies. The British Army had learned the lessons of modern warfare and were fighting in smaller, responsive units and varied their methods of attack. The Russians and the French however, were exhausted from the war, having taken on most of the German firepower since 1914. The Russians fell into revolution and withdrew from the war. The French mutinied after another senseless attack at Chemin des Dames. The Germans were buoyed by the failure of the British assault at Passchendaele and saw an opportunity to win the war following the withdrawal of the Russians on their eastern front.

1918. With the withdrawal of Russia from the war, Germany could now move its additional forces to the Western Front and use them to end their defensive positions and take the war to the Allies. The German Army’s leader, Erich Ludendorf figured he would need to achieve victory before the Americans land in numbers. His ‘Spring Offensive’ almost achieved its objectives and even forced Haig to turn to his troops and tell them there would be no retreat, it would be ‘backs to the wall’ and a fight to the end. During these series of attacks, the British suffered some of their greatest losses of the war, but the German offensive petered out with the support units unable to keep up with the speed of the attack, as well as a lack of resources brought about by the success of Britain’s naval blockade. The Allies, with refreshed French support, a growing American presence and a skilled, well supplied British Army, bounced back on the counter attack. The attacks are irrepressible and the end finally comes on the 11th November 1918, when a German delegation signs the Amnesty which ends the war.

The Government of New South Wales also offers an interesting summary of the Great War.

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The Great War: “I just think of all the poor mothers”

Anna Jarvis, the 'mother' of Mother's Day saw it successfully introduced in 1914. She died unmarried, without children and penniless.

Anna Jarvis, the ‘mother’ of Mother’s Day saw it successfully introduced in 1914. She died unmarried, without children and penniless.

Mother’s Day: Thinking of Mothers Past.

Although we have posted over 200 biographies of the men of Wokingham on this website, many more names have been investigated and in truth, it has at times been hard going. After looking through thousands of photographs of World War servicemen, I admit I had passed the initial shock and was at times just trying the get ‘the job’ completed. I spoke to Sarah Huxford, my research partner, about this desensitisation, commenting that the story constantly repeats itself “it seems they just stood for weeks in a trench and then over the top and dead”. It became an endless tale, which always came out with the same result; researching memorials means you never find a happy ending. Sarah responded simply, “I just think of the poor mothers”. Yes, we concentrate on the stories of the dead and the injured of the Great War, but there were so many more who were involved in the horror. One of our objectives in building up the stories of the men, was to also find out about their family history and this meant we often ‘knew’ the parents as children themselves; they were mostly born in the 1860’s and 1870’s and therefore in their 40’s and 50’s by the time the First War came around. They were a mix of shopkeepers, servants and labourers and often their surnames had existed in the area for hundreds of years. Looking at the story from the point of view of the parents, as Sarah was doing, did indeed bring about another perspective.

Cards, flowers, lunch; Anna Jarvis, the creator of Mother's Day hated the inevitable commercialism.

Cards, flowers, lunch; Anna Jarvis, the creator of Mother’s Day hated the inevitable commercialism.

On this Mother’s Day of 2014, let us go through how the event came about. It was at the turn of the twentieth Century that a call was made for a recognised day to be put aside to value the contribution the mother makes to the lives of those around her. Although Anna Jarvis of West Virginia, USA started the campaign to create a Mother’s Day in 1908, success only came about in 1914; a date which was to be remembered for other reasons in Europe. Following this success, she became embittered at the commercialisation of the Day and focused her wrath mainly on the printed greeting card; citing such an object as the epitome of laziness. Ironically, for all her efforts to create a special day for mothers, Jarvis herself never married, had no children and died in poverty. The history of Mother’s Day and Mothering Sunday in Britain became fused into one day around Lent and only began to rise in popularity during the 1920’s. What I believe to be significant is that Anna Jarvis insisted on the Day being one of celebrating the individual contribution of each mother, rather than a general thanks to universal motherhood. This meant that each family would pay homage to their own mother. Hence the importance of the apostrophe in Mother’s Day, rather than the plural of Mothers Day.

Returning to the theme of the Great War, as is the main artery through which we tell the ‘Wokingham Remembers’ story, I wondered about the mothers of the men who made their way to war. I quickly began to realise that the mothers’ war time experience was only part of their story; they were coping with more deaths than just those from the war. I never believed my own family story to be particularly different to anyone else’s and my feeling is that we all have an unknown history, which needs to be discovered. I will not go into detail about my family line; there is nothing more boring than hearing about someone else’s uncles and aunts, but I will concentrate on the stories of what the mothers faced; not just in war, but how their individual lives reflect Britain’s general social history of the twentieth century.

Ada, with second husband Charles. Ada's first three sons were half German, not a good time in the context of the Great War.

Ada, with second husband Charles. Ada’s first three sons were half German, not a good time in the context of the Great War.

If you are of the Baby Boomer generation; ie, born in the 20 years following WW2, your Great Grandparents would have been born around 1855 to 1875. This is the generation which gave birth to the boys who went to war; I will call them the Mothers of this story and will remember them on this Mother’s Day of 2014. The Mother on my maternal line married a Heinrich Bender and before dying in his thirties gave her three sons. Germany was not seen as an enemy in the 1880’s and as a country itself, it was not much more than ten years old. Of these three half German boys, only one was to fight in the war for the British; the other two having died early from Tuberculosis. The third boy, Ernest joined the Middlesex Regiment and was killed on July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. The Mother I refer to was named Ada and she had remarried (my Great Grandfather) and had a further three sons. The eldest ran away to join the army underage and the second (my Grandfather) also ran away underage to join the war. Her third son was thankfully too young for war. There is an irony here; this Mother had a reputation for being a real misery, a sour old lady. Ada had lost her three German sons; two with TB and one in the war fighting the Germans. Her next two sons ran away to join the army underage. Had Ada not married an Englishman, with two half German sons, she may have been subjected to the decisions of a paranoid government, which could have seen here even deported to Germany, even though she was a British citizen. I therefore have more than  a little respect for her demeanour in the ensuing years.

Even before the war, Rebecca had already lost three sons. By the end she had lost four and two more left with TB and Gas poisoning from the trenches.

Even before the war, Rebecca had already lost three sons. By the end she had lost four and two more left with TB and Gas poisoning from the trenches.

 

Another Mother, this time on my paternal side, was a lady called Rebecca (b 1858) and she always prayed for her nine children; except for years I could only find seven. After some time, I discovered Rebecca lost two boys in infancy, Wilfrid and James. Her eldest son joined the Navy and at the age of 18 was buried at sea, having died through blood poisoning in 1907. Antibiotics were not to be discovered until after World War One. By the start of the war, her fourth son was a Customs Officer with three children and in November 1914 was killed during the Bombing of West Hartlepool following a morning attack by the German Navy. Her fifth and sixth sons were to survive the war, but not without damage to their lungs via TB and gas poisoning. Rebecca was known as a warm hearted soul, who cared for the children of her son, even through much hardship. Four sons dead, two seriously ill.

What we see here is not, just loss from the war, but families that had already suffered more than their share of pain even before the war had started. Infant mortality, illness and accidents were already cutting deeply into the families well before 1914.

Robert's mother Sarah gradually watched four sons killed between 1915 and 1918. Robert returned injured from wounds in the shoulder and mouth.  An Old Contemptible from the Royal Berks.

Robert’s mother Sarah gradually watched four sons killed between 1915 and 1918. Robert returned injured from wounds in the shoulder and mouth. An Old Contemptible from the Royal Berks.

I wondered if my experience was particularly different from other families and asked my wife if it would be okay to look into her own. Her uncles were not really very familiar with their history, but were able to tell of their experiences in the Second World War – these stories were harrowing enough. Of their father’s experience in the First World War, their knowledge was understandably sketchy. Understandably, because Robert, their Dad refused to talk about it. I discovered why. He had signed up for the army before the war, as did his four brothers. His mother had been widowed in her thirties and the boys needed to find work as early as they could. He and youngest brother Arthur joined the Royal Berks Regiment and his brothers went into the Royal Artillery, the East Surreys and the Middlesex. Arthur was killed at 2nd Ypres in 1915 and Robert was shot through the shoulder and mouth on the first day of the Somme, July 1st 1916. His brother Charles was killed in 1917 after winning the Military Medal and his third brother John was killed at Passchendaele in 1917. His fourth and last brother Charles was killed during the final push against the German lines at the end of 1918. The Mother, Sarah, a widow now with only a daughter and a single badly wounded son, died not long after the war had ended.

Minnie lost her first husband in WW1 and her second in WW2. Her eight children all became fatherless.

Minnie lost her first husband in WW1 and her second in WW2. Her eight children all became fatherless.

The stories go on and on, but I will stop the detail. Another Mother on my wife’s side lost so many children, she committed suicide. From what I can make out, so far in my family, I am thankful that the older mothers (born 1860’s) had died before the second war and never went through the horror a second time. But the Mothers of the next generation did.  Minnie, who lost her husband (during the Bombardment of West Hartlepool) in the first war, lost her second husband in World War Two. From these two marriages, eight children lost a father to war.

This is just part of the story of my family; there is more to tell; more of the losses in the Second War, but it is probably time to bring this to a halt. I really wanted to tell this tale, because Mother’s Day isn’t just about today’s generation, but also spending a few moments thinking about those Mothers of our past, those we never knew, but nevertheless battled their way through horror and inequity in order to get us to where we are today. So to Ada, Rebecca, Sarah and all the Mothers we never knew, we give you our thanks. Happy Mothers Day.

Mike

Laurence was Rebecca's eldest; he died not in the war, but in service for the RN 1907.

Laurence was Rebecca’s eldest; he died not in the war, but in service for the RN 1907.

Rebecca's fourth son was killed during the infamous German Bombardment of West Hartlepool 1914

Rebecca’s fourth son was killed during the infamous German Bombardment of West Hartlepool 1914

Rebecca's fifth son, Henry  contracted TB in 1916. TB was often a killer during the first half of the 20th century.

Rebecca’s fifth son, Henry contracted TB in 1916. TB was often a killer during the first half of the 20th century. He survived.

Rebecca's sixth and last son, Bertie. Served Royal Field Artillery  1915 to 1918. Gassed, but survived.

Rebecca’s sixth and last son, Bertie. Served Royal Field Artillery 1915 to 1918. Gassed, but survived.

 

 

 

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