Stories from stone
Churches and schools have found a powerful way to commemorate the First World War – by taking the bare names on war memorials and discovering the life stories behind them
Is there a way to remember the momentous events of the First World War without glamorising, or falling into militarism or party politics? How about just telling stories? Schools and churches with a list of names of the fallen on their war memorials have taken on the task of researching the stories behind the names, and telling them in a way that makes history real and brings forgotten lives back into memory. On the following pages we bring you some of the stories they found.
In Silcoates School, Wakefield, the chaplain, the Revd Janet Lees, led students in finding out as much as possible about the 41 names on the school’s roll of honour, including Arnold Wynne. As a result, the children wrote and performed a play called The Silcoates Pals, bringing to life some of those stories. George Reid (pictured), the sixth former who played Arnold Wynne, said: “After one of the performances, a close friend of mine told me that my performance moved him extremely, mainly because his grandfather was a pacifist during the war and to witness what it must have been like for him was inspirational. That is why I love portraying roles such as Arnold Wynne: It puts a story behind a name.”
Eric Woodward’s name was picked at random by Andrew Adam, from the window at his church in Nottingham. He spent 18 months researching his story, tracing and meeting Eric’s nephew who lent him the scouting photos he had in the loft. Andrew was particularly touched by the scouting aspect to Eric’s story, being a scout leader himself – he had no idea of the scouting link when he picked Eric’s name, and discovered a local scout troop that even the National Scouting Archive had never heard of.
The story of Arthur Blogg and Kate Manby came to light when the congregation of Wanstead United Reformed Church decided to research the lives of the 15 young men whose names adorn their marble memorial. Families of several of them attended a First World War memorial service in August, and, with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the help of the church’s partner, Redbridge Museum, the project will result in several exhibition dates in the church over at least five weeks and a book, Our 15: Remembered lives.
Lucy Castledine’s story is part of the “Fifty Lives” project, led by the Revd Ian Lucraft at Christ Church, Stocksbridge, to research the 50 names on the memorials of three local churches. Local schools got involved, and the poet Ian McMillan ran workshops on the theme and recorded a poem for the project.* A single leather-bound book of the 50 lives is planned as a new, lasting memorial.
*You can watch the video online at http://bit.ly/1oXlzvj
Arnold Wynne was educated at Sidcot, a Quaker school in Somerset, and came to teach at Silcoates in 1902, where he was remembered for starting a popular natural history society. He moved to Cape Town and worked at the South African College, and in December 1912, became the editor of the South African Friend, the magazine of the Quaker community of the Cape.
In December 1914, he wrote in an editorial: “With the outbreak of the present war … throughout the Society minds of men and women have been shaken into new consideration of their personal beliefs”. Then he boarded the Beltana, bound for Britain, with volunteers for the Friends Ambulance Unit in Flanders.
In 1915 Wynne went to the Western Front as a volunteer with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). He described his experiences in a letter as “my baptism of fire”, although he wrote in the South African Friend: “We have most dully been far away from the fierce deeds recently at Ypres.” In 1916, he wrote to the Quakers in Cape Town about reaching the trenches “where we clamorously accepted the character of thieves or cowards”. RAMC volunteers were accused of cowardice for not bearing arms and of robbing the bodies they bought in from the field….
Janet Lees is chaplain of Silcoates school
Eric Woodward’s father, a Nottingham painter and decorator, died in 1907, when Eric was eight. Eric’s mother took up his father’s occupation to support him and his younger sister, Agnes.
In 1909 Eric joined the First Caledonian scout troop, founded in May of that year for boys of Scottish descent in Nottingham. (Eric’s mother was from Newton Mearns, Glasgow.) This was less than two years after Baden Powell had hosted the first scout camp on Brownsea island. Today, Eric’s elderly nephew living in Derby – who never knew his uncle but was named after him – has a large archive of Eric’s scouting photographs, including pictures of Eric with Baden Powell. Many show the boys in kilts.
By 1914, with older members enlisting in the army, First Caledonian scout troop disbanded. Eric then joined the 24th Nottingham troop, who took over the site, in Blackwood, and remain there to this day…
Andrew Adam is a scout leader in Southwell, Nottinghamshire
Kate Elizabeth Manby was born in Wanstead on 4 September 1891. Her father, James, a labourer, died when she was nine, leaving eight children, so her mother made a living by washing, while her brothers worked in carpentry, shunting trains, and telegraph messaging.
Kate got engaged to Arthur Ernest Blogg, but they were not yet married when Arthur enlisted as a private, and his battalion, the 14th (Service) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment was mobilised on 6 March 1916…
Maggie Brown is a librarian in Chingford, Essex
Lucy Castledine was born on 21 June 1893 in Stocksbridge, near Sheffield, the eldest of five children and only daughter to John and Hannah Castledine. As a teenager, she was “quiet and unassuming” according to the local Express newspaper, and worked as an umbrella rib maker at Samuel Fox’s steelworks – a major local employer. She sang in Stocksbridge Primitive Methodist Church choir and attended the women’s Bible class there.
In 1916, Lucy joined Fir Vale Military Hospital in Sheffield as a civilian nurse, and took charge of a ward of 40 patients. In April 1918, she heard that her brother Fred had been killed in action in France at the age of 23, where he had been working as a driver. She visited her parents on 24 October, and on returning to work she caught influenza within days from one of the soldiers she was nursing; she died on 29 October 1918 aged 25. The soldier under her care died hours later. Lucy “indeed met her death in action,” according to the Express. Her coffin was draped with the union jack, escorted by 30 wounded soldiers from the hospital and 40 members of the women’s Bible class.
The Revd Ian Lucraft is a Methodist minister serving in Stocksbridge
This is an extract from the November 2014 edition of Reform.