Although we are still adding the names of the Wokingham Fallen to our website, we have already witnessed our first reunion of two members of the Hurdwell family who were introduced to each other via Wokingham Remembers. Heather White had read about the website in the Wokingham Times and made contact with us, sending some superb photos of her ancestor Alfred Hurdwell. Alfred was killed in action on the 22nd August 1917, during the Third Battle of Ypres; otherwise known as Paschendaele. Whilst we were building the family tree, Peter Hurdwell made contact informing us that he too was a descendant of Alfred. Peter lives in Sydney, Australia and was visiting the UK to meet up with some friends. We introduced Peter to Heather (a descendant of Alfred’s sister) and the result was a meeting of the two cousins at Wokingham’s War Memorial in the Town Hall.
Now this wasn’t two people meeting up and knocking on the door to have a look in the War Memorial Room. If the Town Council are informed beforehand, they will take a descendent visiting the memorial very seriously. The Council at this point becomes the voice of the community which expresses its appreciation of the servicemen’s gift of life. On this occasion the Town Clerk (Jan Nowecki) and Councillor Gwynneth Hewtson (also Chairman of The Cultural Partnership) were there to greet Heather and Peter and provided an appropriately warm reception. Trevor Ottlewski who is Chairman of The Wokingham History Society was also on hand to give the visitors a tour of the magnificent Victorian Town Hall, which is placed right in the middle of the town centre.
To cap it off and to add to the importance of the occasion, Lewis Rudd, reporter from the Wokingham Times came along to take an interview. I state that this is an important occasion because the whole event came about from a communal desire to remember a young 21 year old man from Wokingham who literally gave up his life to protect his family and ultimately our community. It is also an uplifting experience to learn of Heather’s and Peter’s desire to keep their ancestor’s memory close within their family. Heather’s own children have made the journey to the Tyne Cot Memorial in France, to mark their respect for Alfred’s memory. Peter too has made his own personal journey to the same Memorial, making the long trip from the other side of the world.
Keeping in mind the nature of the occasion, we all agreed it was an uplifting moment for us. The sun shone on the day, Wokingham was in flower and the town’s people were out in force, simply enjoying the unique atmosphere our town can provide on days such as this. And here we were, our small group, taking part in the simple act of remembering one of our fallen from the First World War and knowing Alfred would be as proud of his home town as much as we were of him.
Please take the time to look at Alfred’s page and also see him standing proudly by the side of his sweetheart Hetty Fisher, yet another person embroiled in this personal tragedy. If you would like to know more about the events leading up to the particular action read John Chapman’s excellent synopsis on http://www.purley.eu/H142P/P274-YPRE.pdf. John Chapman is a leading expert on the Royal Berkshire Regiment, otherwise know as the biscuit boys. To read of the Regiment’s experience in the war is in itself a highly rewarding journey.
In building up our knowledge of the 217 fallen of the First World War, we can only note that Alfred’s name being remembered by his family is something of a rarity. By twist of fate, the men who died for us, were too young to have their own offspring to recall their memory by a future generation. Also, any surviving brothers returning from the war, rarely recalled the appalling experience and so the names of their dead siblings are now often lost to history. It is therefore an ambition of this project to encourage the community to ‘adopt’ one of our Fallen. He may have lived in the same street as us, or went to the same school or maybe worked in the same business, trade or shop. We can bring their names back into our lives where they belong and make sure their names are remembered at the major centenary events of 2014 – marking also, the year the world changed. We hope also to involve the descendants who have also ready made their valuable contributions to our mission.
Sarah Huxford and Mike Churcher (Wokingham Remembers)
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