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Six-year project to honour South Creake war heroes nears completion

An unknown South Creake ‘returner’ (centre) in a picture believed to have been taken in Sculthorpe. Identifying his companions might lead to the discovery of his name

An unknown South Creake ‘returner’ (centre) in a picture believed to have been taken in Sculthorpe. Identifying his companions might lead to the discovery of his name

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Research for an exhibition into the histories of the men of South Creake who fought in the First World War is proving to be a painstaking task for two women from the north Norfolk village.

Barbara Allen (left) examines the village's Roll of Honour book with Brenda Cooper Barbara Allen (left) examines the village's Roll of Honour book with Brenda Cooper

Barbara Allen and Brenda Cooper have already spent six years attempting to track down more than 100 men who either died or returned battle-scarred from the Great War.

They have managed to piece together the lives of the 26 men who died and the 87 who returned in an effort to prepare the exhibition in time for the 100th anniversary of the start of the war in August.

But collating material that was nearly 100 years old was difficult enough without an added problem - they discovered their efforts were also hampered by the Germans some 20 years after that war ended.

“Many service records stored in London were wholly or partially destroyed by the Germans during the Blitz,” said Mrs Allen. “It’s made our research very challenging,” added Mrs Cooper.

Barbara Allen (left) and Brenda Cooper with photographs of the South Creake men who survived the first world war Barbara Allen (left) and Brenda Cooper with photographs of the South Creake men who survived the first world war

Through ancestry websites they have obtained copies of military records – some charred – that survived the Blitz, War Graves Commission records and the 1911 Census. Those who were called to arms included the son of a rat catcher, a gypsy and members of the landed gentry.

They have compiled a book dedicated to those who died comprising individual biographies and facsimiles of various records called Roll of Honour - The Men of South Creake who died in the Great War 1914 -1919.

It includes photographs of all but one of the 26 men - the missing image is of a Solomon Frank Lewis who is known to have joined the Royal Navy before emigrating to Canada where he became a sergeant in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He died on November 9, 1917 and is buried in Belgium.

Mrs Allen said: “Although a huge amount is known about his family, none now live locally and most ended up in Canada so we haven’t been able to track down a photograph.”

Details of those who returned from war are more sketchy.

More than 90 years ago a framed pictorial record of the 87 was put together but the compiler never thought to include names on the backs of each of the small, mostly sepia-coloured photographs. It hung in the War Memorial Institute for many years but now, slightly faded, is in the parish church.

“We know the names of all those who returned and we’ve got an enormous amount of information on them but so far we have only been able to identify 30 of the photographs and we are hoping that people who visit the church might be able to help with the identification of more of them,” said Mrs Allen. They have a second photograph of one mystery ‘returner’ and their hope is that it might provide them with an answer. He is in the middle of a group of three men believed to have a connection with Sculthorpe. “If we can discover who the other two men are that might lead to his name,” she said.

Mrs Allen and Mrs Cooper know that their efforts will not be totally complete by the time of the 100th anniversary but they hope the increased interest shown in the First World War may speed up their work in filling in the blanks.

Their results will form an exhibition in St Mary’s parish church, opening on Sunday August 3, with a special commemorative service in the church followed by a walk to the War Memorial where flowers will be laid before going on to the shell of the under-construction pavilion on the playing fields for an initial blessing and dedication service.

Anyone with any useful information to help with their research can contact Barbara Allen on 01328 823269, or by email: morleysfarm@afiweb.net.

* Are you commemorating the start of the First World War? Email kim.briscoe@archant.co.uk

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