Some months ago, with every single genealogical site and publication talking about the upcoming centenary of the breakout of the First World War, I came up with the idea of researching the life of the men from my grandmother’s home town who perished during the war, as well as the circumstances that led to their sad and untimely ends.
To ensure my work was not in vain, I got in touch with John Atkin, of the Colwall Village Society, who confirmed that no such undertaking had ever been done before, and that they would be very interested in having a look at my work when it is completed. Thus, I set off in my quest for information.
Using the Internet as my primary tool, I first looked for photographs or a transcription of the names of the soldiers mentioned on the Colwall War Memorial. The memorial (above, right) was erected just outside the parish church of Saint James “the Great”, where so many of my ancestors were baptised, got married and were finally laid to rest. Sadly, the war memorial only mentions the soldiers by name, and therefore gives no hint as to the date when they lost their lives.
Thus, using the military records that are available on Ancestry.co.uk and the endless repository of information contained in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website (right), I started looking for each of the 49 individuals‘ background (parents’ names, age, profession before the war, marital status, etc.); Googling each soldier’s name has also permitted me to find additional information not contained in the other sources I have mentioned, such as newspaper cuttings, photographs, etc.
I soon noticed that some of the men listed on the memorial were not actually born in Colwall, but only lived there for varying amounts of time. Some only had a passing link with the place (in some instances it was where their wife came from and therefore it is possible that it was the women’s families who wished to honour their deceased in-law by engraving his name on the memorial). What really struck me, however, was the fact that some names had been left out. Although the war memorial mentions 49 names, I have so far found over 60 soldiers who either came from or lived in Colwall by the outbreak of war.
I then started to re-arrange the information onto an Excel sheet. I classified my findings according to surname, name, date of death, military rank, service number, age, regiment of service, country of service (for some Colwallians had emigrated by 1914 and therefore went to war in the Australian or Canadian forces), cemetery or memorial where their name is commemorated, whether actually born in Colwall or not, marital status and a space for comments. I then colour-coded each soldier according to the year they died.
This research has so far not only allowed me to understand the human loss of the war, but will also contribute, I hope, to the lasting memory of the 60-odd young men who gave their lives for King and Country.