In the late spring of 2014 I read with interest of the national plans to commemorate the fallen of WW1. It was accepted that these commemorations would not in any way be an attempt to glorify war but were to be an acknowledgment of the great sacrifice made by so many.
It was also decided that these commemorations would continue until November 2018. It was suggested that researching the names on local war memorials could be an appropriate way of doing this.
I’d often walked past war memorials or looked at head stones in cemeteries and felt I wanted to find out more about these people other than their names and their dates. This is what prompted me to research the lives of those whose names appear on the war memorial here in Chandler’s Ford.
My research on the lives of those whose names appear on the war memorial in Chandler’s Ford
It seems amazing and somehow rather fitting that I began my research in the late summer of 2014 and as we now approach Remembrance Sunday 2018 it is finished. Four years. The length of the war.
As I look back over these last four years so much has happened both in my life and the world around me and I ask myself, how the world had changed for our ancestors over the years 1914 – 1918?
The dashes between the dates on headstones
I was listening to radio recently. Chris Evans’s breakfast show and he was saying something about dates on headstones and that dash between the dates. You know – In loving memory of Joe Bloggs 1895 – 1995 he was reflecting. What did that dash represent? – the bit in between their birth and their death – and he concluded it was their life!
So I guess that’s what I wanted to do in my research to tell something about the dash, the life in between!!! Some of these dashes for those whose name appear on our War Memorial are sadly far too short.
But how did I do this?
The journey of my research
I began by looking at the information on the memorial its self. Fortunately full names and ranks are included. Many war memorials only use initials. Also included are the serial numbers, and the regiments or the names of the ships upon which they served – all very helpful.
I then consulted the roll of honour for Chandler’s Ford compiled by Martin Edwards on behalf of the Royal British Legion. I found that there is quite a bit of additional information here. This included dates of birth, when and where they were killed and buried. But it was all still very factual. I wanted to tell more about their lives than these basic facts, so we can remember the person not simply the name.
Were they married – did they have children? Were they members of large families, some shared the same surnames so were they brothers? What sort of work did they do before joining up or were they career soldiers?
Ancestry, Find My Past, the 1911 census, war diaries
I then looked at other sources using Ancestry and Find My Past. I consulted census returns, birth records, and military records. The 1911 census was particularly useful. It’s the 1st census that householders filled in themselves and includes information regarding length of marriage and number of children. As well as more details of work experience, in terms of positions held employer /employee. And of course it is the nearest to the outbreak of war.
War diaries gave me useful information regarding battles, All men entering active service were encouraged to make a will – many of these survive. Other sources I used were newspaper reports, school logs, parish mags and parish records.
There are 48 names on our war memorial, with an additional 4 names on the plaque inside the church.
Have you noticed that one name looks different from all the others? I of course refer to Margaret Caswell. It is unusual, I think, for women’s names to be included on memorials. Margaret worked as a waitress in the Officers’ Club on the Somme. She was killed in May 1918 when a bomb dropped on the canteen.
The link with North Stoneham
Andrew Pierssene was the son of Chandler’s Ford’s vicar. Andrew died from wounds in September 1918. His father, Rev Rene Pierssene, I discovered was the curate of North Stoneham in the late 1880s.
On a personal level I found this so interesting as 100 years later the curate of North Stoneham was my husband Peter! And a couple of years ago the Assistant Priest here in Chandler’s Ford Sheena became vicar there!! It’s a small world!
Researching the lives of 52 people
It’s been a challenge researching the lives of 52 people, but a privilege and an honour to find out more about our men and Margaret of course. At times I have felt like a detective sorting though piles of evidence. I’ve travelled down blind alleys.
There is only one person who I have not been able to find: FA Martin, whose name appears on the plaque. I do feel that I have got to know them and in some ways they almost feel like old friends.
What would I call my research and ultimately my booklet? I tried different titles. We will remember them, Lest we forget etc, but they did not feel right. When I saw Private John Dyke’s grave in Pine Road and read the inscription Loves Greatest Gift – Remembrance . I knew I had found my title.
Private Bert Hillier
Some of my early research was posted here on Chandler’s Ford Today and I’ve been so excited to have been contacted by family members who have shared with me more about the loved ones lives. Some of them came along to my book launch in October.
It was such a joy and privilege to meet them and to be able to give them a copy of my booklet. Private Bert Hillier’s great niece Barbara who many of you will know was there and she shared with us her uncle’s story and his memorial plaque.
Where to buy Love’s Greatest Gift – Remembrance?
You can, if you would like, get a copy of my booklet Love’s Greatest Gift – Remembrance. They cost £5 from St Boniface Parish Office, open Mondays – Fridays 9am-1pm or from me at firstname.lastname@example.org.