If you have ever walked past the war memorial outside St Boniface Church in Hursley Road, you may have wondered about those named on it. Perhaps you wanted to know a bit more about them and how they died in the Great War. Or maybe a bit more about the Chandler’s Ford they left in 1914.
Margaret Doores, a long-time resident of our town, did just that and decided to do something about it. A keen family historian, she decided to put her research skills to use and investigate …
Margaret Doores has now published Love’s Greatest Gift – Remembrance
Margaret set out to research the lives and deaths of all those listed on the Chandler’s Ford war memoria and these are now published in a short book (more information below). The details of the 51 men and one woman (more about her in a minute) commemorated make fascinating reading.
They give us an insight into the families and home lives these men left behind; they tell us about their work, opening up a picture of Chandler’s Ford in the early years of the last century – a very different world to the one know now. It tells us about how they died and where they are buried or remembered.
The book is arranged thematically, which helps make sense of the wider picture. Chapters focus on families where two brothers died; those who died at sea; those killed in France, Belgium, the Balkans or the Middle East; and on particular campaigns or battles, notably the two Battles of the Somme.
Two families who each lost two sons
We read of two families who each lost two sons: the Wilsons, whose sons were an army officer and a naval officer, both killed in 1916; and the Mitchell boys, both in the army, whose dad worked in one of the many brickyards in the area.
In Pine Road cemetery we can see the graves of Pte John Dyke and Ordinary Seaman William Kelsey, both of whom were brought back to the UK suffering from wounds or disease, and died here.
Fathers and sons from the Railway Works
The Railway Works were a major employer in the area and several men, or their fathers, worked there. Pte Fred Whitmore’s father was a spring-maker for the railway (perhaps for the seating, as Eastleigh was a carriage works?). Fred was a milk boy and initially enlisted as a fireman in the merchant navy but later transferred to the army. He fought in the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign where he died. He is buried in Turkey.
Seven of our men died at sea
Seven of our men died at sea, some of whom have no known grave, only the deep. They are commemorated at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. Able seaman Fred Harfield’s father was the local police constable, although on retirement from the force, became a groundsman at a golf course, where his son also worked as a caddy. Fred died when his ship was attacked outside Dover. It broke in two and sank in eight minutes. Fred’s body was never recovered.
Who was Margaret Caswell?
The only woman whose name is on our memorial is Margaret Caswell who worked as a waitress at the Officer’s Club, Somme. She died in 1918 when a bomb fell, killing eight and wounding seven more.
The vicar’s boy
The Vicar of Chandler’s Ford at the time, Rev Rene Pierssene, had five children of whom the eldest, Andrew, was an officer serving in Egypt, Palestine and France. In September 1918 Andrew was admitted to hospital with wounds and fractures in both thighs and died the next day. He is buried in France and a memorial service to him and three others was held at St Boniface.
Only half our men were born in Hampshire
In appendices, Margaret helpfully shows the men’s places of birth, which was far-wider ranging than might be expected. Only half our men were born in Hampshire, the remainder coming from other parts of the UK and four from overseas. She looks at their (or their fathers’) places of work and finds, not so surprisingly, that several worked in the brickfields, more on the railway, others on farms. She has also gathered information regarding whereabouts in Chandler’s Ford they lived.
A glimpse at the school records and logs of the time shows how the war impacted on this side of life. One day in 1914, there was no school because of the route march of over 30,000 soldiers through the village, throughout the day. The same year four Belgian refugee children joined the school. In 1916 one of the teachers left to join the army. In 1917 the children collected 6 cwt 8 lb of horse chestnuts for munitions. In October 1918 the school closed for a month due to influenza. I wonder if this was an early stage of the Spanish flu that killed so many in the year after the war?
A tribute to the best and brightest of our young men
This book will be of great interest to anyone in our twenty-first century community who wants to take a look back to a time when the world was a very different place, to a time when the best and brightest of our young men went to fight for their country, many never to return. The book is a tribute to them and an acknowledgement of their sacrifice.
The book was launched at St Boniface Church on 21 October. Pictured is the author with the mayor, Cllr Bruce Tennent. Copies of the book, Love’s Greatest Gift – Remembrance, priced £5, can be obtained from the author. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.