Race against time for war memorial

War is a brutal business and most want to forget what happened when it is over. But for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and those who braved hardship and the loss of comrades but came through to return home, their history is important to their families and all those who knew them.

War is a brutal business and most want to forget what happened when it is over.

But for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, and those who braved hardship and the loss of comrades but came through to return home, their history is important to their families and all those who knew them.

In South Creake, keen amateur historian Barbara Allen is involved in a race against time to record for all time the part village residents played in the 1914-1918 war. The task is proving difficult because not only is everyone directly involved in her research now dead but so are most of their direct descendants, making it hard to fill in the gaps of what must have been a traumatic time for such a small and tight-knit community.

She is trying to collate a complete picture, together with individual biographies, of all those who left the village to go to the first world war.


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“It's the last chance to pull together the information that will soon be lost for ever,” said Mrs Allen.

She is attempting to marry together the names of the 113 residents, who volunteered or were conscripted, to photographs that exist of all but 13 of them. Yet after two years trawling through records, such as the 1901 census and births and deaths records, while many have been positively identified, for some she still only has a surname and initial.

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More frustratingly, only 22 of the names have been married to the right photographs, so there is still a long way to go.

“I have suggested names for some of the others but I need confirmation and, for example, to make it even more difficult we don't even know which 13 have no photograph. Linking names to photographs is my priority at present.”

What is known is that 26 died but, surprisingly, photographs of those who survived are harder to trace.

“The research should have been done long ago when more members of the families concerned were still alive. It is so much more difficult now but I am still hoping that we might find the missing 13 photographs.”

Had it not been for the decision to sell a little-used building known as the War Memorial Institute this dip into the village's history might not have happened until it was too late.

The institute, with charitable status, was opened in 1921 to commemorate those who took part in the first world war. Hanging on the walls were the dusty, time-worn photographs.

That was when Mrs Allen hit her first obstacle. “It was disappointing to find when the photographs were removed from their frames that the names of the men were not on the backs.”

Local craftsman Nick Haywood cleaned and restored the frames, and professional photographer and picture framer Deidre Grierson cleaned and reassembled the photographs in their frames. These now hang on a panelled backdrop constructed by Nick Haywood in St Mary's parish church.

Mrs Allen has been slowly filling a book with details of those who fought in the first world war and it has already thrown up odd bits of information including the part luck plays in life and death.

“For instance, five Clements went to war and five came back but nine Georges went and only four came back, showing the lottery of war,” she said.

Despite the complete lack of direct descendants, Mrs Allen eagerly awaits the publication of the 1911 census which may fill in some of the gaps.

She also has contact with a military historian who she hopes will identify the uniforms worn in the photographs from which the regiments can be identified and which could help match more of the photographs to particular names.

But she also hopes there are still undiscovered photographs and snippets of information that could still come to light. Some, perhaps, held by descendants who no longer live in South Creake.

Currently, her research is on display for all to see in the church, alongside the photographs, and she would welcome any morsel of information, however slight, that may help complete the picture of what happened to the village in which she lives when it sent it sons to a war that took away many of the lives of a whole generation.

Barbara Allen can be contacted by telephone (01328 823269) or by e-mail (morleysfarm@btconnect.com).

When the War Memorial Institute is sold, the plan is for the proceeds to be used to build a memorial pavilion on the village playing fields.

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