A book which lists as much detail as I could find in my research on the two hundred and fifty-five listed on the local war memorial in our small town must, by its nature, be a niche offering, and yet, if you read through it, you would, in an oblique way, be absorbing a universal story - of the effects of war on any community. There were those who died of battle wounds, certainly, but also others who died in accidents while training or on active service, of influenza, or of drowning. Many left families behind to struggle with grief and poverty, some hadn’t had time to outgrow their teens, and there were those who died after the war’s end as a result of their experiences.
I have a page on my website for those not commemorated, and for those wounded. Of course, the wounds of war are not always visible, and we know that there were many who were irrevocably affected by war trauma, tucked away in mental hospitals, out of sight, to end their days.
This book is a small contribution to recording the effects of war; it was a labour of love that brought it to fruition, and I am personally happy it is no longer out of print. I was recently contacted by the grandson of a First World War casualty, whose descendants are planning to gather at his grave on the one hundredth anniversary of his death. My hope is that public commemorations taking place this year of deaths which occurred a century ago will, for many of us, serve not as jingoistic celebrations of Britain’s long-past empire, but for the opportunity to reflect on those suffering in wars both in 1918, 2018, and every season in between.
I believe there is a Chinese proverb that goes something like ‘May you not have sons in times of war’. Indeed. Though today of course this may extend to daughters.
The father of Harold Dowdell (commemorated on Southborough War Memorial and on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme) wrote in his diary on hearing of his son’s death in 1916:
Echoes and shadows in the home. I am not stunned but overwhelmed. My dear brave loving cheerful, thoughtful boy.
and two years later, when he lost a second son, Ernie, at Arras in April 1918:
With aching heart I reached home in afternoon. My desolate home.