A family reunites for Alfred Hurdwell.

Peter Hurdwell and Heather White, visit their ancestor Alfred Hurdwell’s memorial in Wokingham Town Hall. 2011

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.

L to R: Mike Churcher (Wokingham Remembers), Peter Hurdwell (Alfred’s family), Heather White (Alfred’s family), Trevor Ottlewski (Wokingham History Group), Councillor Gwynneth Hewetson (Cultural Partnership) and Jan Nowecki (Town Clerk).

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.

Alfred Hurdwell. There is another picture of Alfred on his own page, with Hetty Fisher, his sweetheart.

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)

mrchurcher@gmail.com and huxfordfamily@gmail.com

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4 Responses to A family reunites for Alfred Hurdwell.

  1. admin says:

    Hi Mike,
    What a fantastic picture (photo above) taken by Lewis (Rudd, Wokingham Times) at the most memorable day of local and family history in my life! As you know everything was done at short notice and the welcome from the Town Clerk and Councillor was so good. How it was all put together in such limited time showed how efficient they are.
    I took Peter through Rose Street to All Saints Church and along Peach Street to look at the old part of Wokingham. When we met at Bagshot in the morning I was able to point out the family history of where his ancestors had worked at Swinley Forest and showed him the place where the fire had been earlier in the year. After a tea break at my home, we visited the St. Sebastians Memorial Hall to photograph the war memorial with Alfred’s name on. We then went down Honey Hill and walked down Red Lake Lane to where the old cottages (demolished in 1880’s) where the Hurdwell family had lived. Then it was into the Crooked Billet which featured in generations of the family.
    Peter and I parted in Camberley where he was going to see his grandparents house where he had spent some of his life.
    Thank you so much for starting the Wokingham Remembers site and generating this family contact and taking time out to meet us in person at the Town Hall.
    I am sure Peter will be e-mailing you when he has returned to Australia which will be in about 2 weeks time.
    I will continue to view the site to keep up to date with progress.
    Many thanks.
    Best regards,
    Heather.

  2. admin says:

    FROM Gwynneth Hewetson (Chair -The Cultural Partnership): Thanks to you for doing all the hard work that made it happen. Brilliant initiative. You and Sarah have a legacy.

  3. admin says:

    From Jan Nowecki, Town Clerk:
    “We were only to happy to be involved and hopefully add to Heather and Peter’s sense of family and community interest”.

  4. admin says:

    From Peter Hurdwell:
    I must say that I was overwhelmed by the wonderful hospitality shown by you all and I can’t thank you enough for making the day so memorable. It was truly a great privilege to have laid the wooden cross on the monument and it is very encouraging to know that interest in the First World War is increasing, particularly with young people. I have been attending the annual ANZAC Day ceremony at the local Returned Services League venue for many years and the number of people who attend has increased tremendously of late particularly with younger people, many of whom wear the medals which had been awarded to their grandparents or great grandparents.
    I wonder whether the interest in Wokingham will lead to organised trips to the Somme and Ypres (Ieper).

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