Rememberance Sunday may have passed but tributes should remain for eternity
PUBLISHED: 14:38 22 November 2013 | UPDATED: 14:51 22 November 2013
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A tour of the internet leads editor Janice Raycroft down the road to her local war memorial and a conclusion that tributes to the fallen must be preserved for all time.
November, of course, is the month of remembrance. For some this will mean attending church services, perhaps even a parade, or at least buying a poppy. We ‘do our bit’.
Here in Twyford a daily walk to the shops means I pass the war memorial at St Mary’s Church and am always impressed by the way it is kept tidy throughout the year, with a poignant single rose or other flowers sometimes placed there in months outside November, when new poppy wreaths are added by village organisations.
Once, when overnight winds had blown the tributes in all directions, I nipped over the chain link fence to tidy them up on my way to Waitrose. But that’s been about it until this week when I found myself swamped with numbers while researching our county’s war memorials and how we remember those who lost their lives in both the World Wars and other conflicts. Yes, it was the enormity of the numbers that led me to take a closer look at the St Mary’s granite cross and the 38 names engraved on it.
Let me share some of those numbers with you, and turn them into people. Type ‘Royal Berkshire Regiment’ into the search section of the website run by the Maidenhead based Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and up come 8,332 names of war dead. Just one local regiment, a fraction of the Army’s casualties over the past century, and not including those in the Royal Navy, RAF or auxiliary services. Nor, for that matter, the Berkshire Yeomanry, now part of the Royal Corps of Signals. The Yeomanry, who were granted the Freedom of the Royal Borough of Windsor in 1994, lost 142 men in the Great War, honoured with graves and memorials around the world including Egypt and Israel, and particularly Turkey as a result of the Gallipoli campaign.
The Royal Berkshire Regiment’s names appear in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s list of 1,709,242 recorded on memorials at 23,000 locations, in 153 countries.
It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking resource. You can sort the list by age, rank, resting place, date of death, take your pick. And so we learn that the youngest lost member of the Royal Berkshires – nicknamed the Biscuit Boys because of their Reading connection – was one private AW Heath, at just 16. He fell in June 1915 and is one of 1,801 Commonwealth soldiers buried at the Sir Edwin Lutyens-designed Chocques Military Cemetery in France.
Poor Heath shared his fate with hundreds of teenagers then serving in the regiment. Many were local lads from our towns and villages, while others joined up from Middlesex and Hampshire. You can’t help but think that the 17-years-old recruits – at least that’s the age they claimed to be – were particularly vulnerable.
There’s privates Harold Fisher from Maidenhead and William Charles Marcham of Caversham. At just 17, the rank of Oscar Stanley Stevens of Slough is listed simply as ‘Boy’ and he now lies in the Tilehurst (St George) Burial Ground.
Cecil Briggs Allen, 17, was lost at The Somme in the summer of 1916 and is commemorated at Thiepval Memorial in France, far from his home in Field Road, Reading.
Then there is William Cordery, also 17, who left his family in South Ascot to become one of 13,400 British soldiers killed on the Western Front and recorded as having no known grave. He is honoured at Le Touret Memorial in France, as is Thomas Henry Lailey from Arborfield Road, Shinfield.
Percy Hatton of Shalbourne, Hungerford, made it into 1917 but was to die in the miserable Macedonian campaign where troops faced not only fierce fighting but rampant sickness culling their numbers. He is commemorated at the Dorian Memorial in the north of Greece.
The list goes on… and on. While saddened by the fate of teenagers nearly 100 years ago, you suddenly realise that these records of thousands also include older men who left behind sweethearts, wives and children (including offspring who would meet the same fate in the Second War).
At the other end of the scale are Berkshire men in their 50s and even 60s who died during the later conflict, often far away. Delhi War Cemetery, for instance, has 1,123 identified casualties. More than 25,000 of the forces of undivided India died during the Second World War. And while the First World War seemed to specialise in taking the youngest, you’ll also find casualties such as Serjeant Thomas Perkins, honoured on the Reading Cemetery memorial. He died in 1915 at the age of 61.
Many recruits didn’t make it through the opening weeks of the First World War. They include: Thomas Alfred Hatton of Whitley; Arthur Turner and Henry Brant of Wokingham; Roy Perry of Faringdon; Ernest Saunders and Francis Steele of Maidenhead; Thomas Sketton Benson of Lambourn; William Kinchin of Reading; George Carter of Cookham Dean; Alfred William King of Henley; James Wilkinson Gardiner of Earley; Thomas Binfield of Langley; Charles Holmes of Hungerford, and Arthur Hancock of Slough. Many are commemorated at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
Then there are the men who somehow survived past Armistice Day of November 11, 1918, but still succumbed to the war, perhaps never recovering from injuries sustained. And so we find James Henry Golding, who died at the start of 1919 and is remembered with honour at All Saints Boyne Hill Churchyard, Maidenhead.
Here’s another number. While most of their losses were in the First World War, the Royal Berkshire Regiment alone suffered 1,105 fatalities in the Second World War. Among them was Colin Turner, 24, of Sunningdale in 1940, and commemorated at Le Havre. Victor Miles, 21, lies in Clewer (St Andrew) Old Churchyard, while William Goodman, 23, is buried at St Mary’s churchyard, Shaw, Newbury. Boezinge Cemetery in Belgium is the resting place of Reading’s Ernest James Tigwell, who was 21 and married when he died in 1940. May of that year was a dreadful time for the Biscuit Boys. While the Dunkirk evacuation of 340,000 troops by June 3 saved thousands of lives, the Royal Berkshires alone lost some 180 men in the month leading up to it.
The losses continued throughout the war and many local men are now remembered at memorials across the world. They include William Albert Sillence of Newbury (St Mary’s Madras Cemetery, Chennai); Arnold William Hawkins of Reading (Chittagong, Bangladesh); Henry Frost of Reading (Rangoon, Myanmar); William Haines of Caversham (Catania, Sicily); Ernest Hall of Burchett’s Green (Tripoli); and Gordon Johnston of Windsor (Sai Wan, Hong Kong).
There was also the Air Transport Auxiliary, based at White Waltham during the Second World War. These men and women ferried military aircraft and sometimes service personnel to where ever they were needed. The CWGC has 167 records here, including Second Officer John Alexander Nathan, lost at the age of 25 in 1942 and buried in St Mary’s churchyard, Stratfield Mortimer.
There are 17 ATA graves at Maidenhead. They include those of First Officer John Bodinnar, son of Sir John and Lady Bodinnar; Stanley Herringshaw of Burnham; and six women pilots: Janice Margaret Harrington, Rosamund King Everard-Steenkamp, Jane Winstone, Joan Marshall, Dora Lang. and Eileen Betty Sayer.
Third officer Frederick Moseley now lies in St Mary’s churchyard, Farnham Royal. John Taverner Wilson Clark of Pinkneys Green lost his life in 1940 and was buried in Yorkshire. Most of the ATA losses were down to crashes in severe weather or mechanical failures.
So many numbers… and yet we have hardly scratched the surface, and not gone beyond the Second World War to later operations including The Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan. We must turn the dreadful numbers into names whenever we can, to remember the sacrifice of these people who once walked the same streets as we do, and their often very short lives.