Village Life Then and Now: Lest We Forget

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Archive photo of the Derwent War memorial in its original location

A project I’m currently involved in, and shall be for quite some time yet, is a collaboration with members of the history group in my parents’ village to produce two books commemorating the roles played by villagers in World War One. One member of the group has already carried out intensive research into the stories behind each of the names on the War Memorials and War Graves, and our next steps are to consolidate that work into the first book, and to add to our knowledge on others from the village – those who came back from the war, and those who remained behind during the war. I have a lot of catching up to do on both halves of the project, but I’ve made a start by collecting background information on the War Graves and Memorials associated with the village and its inhabitants during and after the First World War.

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Bamford War Memorial, October 2016

Following the Great War of 1914 to 1918, Memorials were erected close to the Parish Churches of Bamford and Derwent, and Bamford also has four official War Graves associated with two church graveyards – three in the Church of England graveyard close to the War Memorial, and one in the graveyard of the Roman Catholic Church further up the hill. Matching names on graves to memorials and then to individuals can present a challenge for any WWI researcher; war memorials were generally funded by subscription, and decisions as to which memorial or memorials a particular name was included on tended to be made by surviving family members in consultation with the committee tasked with commissioning the memorial. So far as I can make out, only two of the four individuals buried in the village’s War Graves are also named on the War Memorials – one on the Bamford Memorial, and one on the Derwent Memorial.

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Derwent War Memorial October 2016

Incidentally, the Derwent Memorial originally stood close to the church in Derwent Village, but was moved prior to the flooding of the valley to stand around 200 metres due west of its original location. John Joseph Thorp, a Driver in the Royal Field Artillary buried in the Roman Catholic graveyard’s War Grave is a slightly later addition to the list of names for the men of Derwent Woodlands killed in the Great War, as his death occurred in 1920. As an aside, John Joseph is buried next to Joseph Tagg, another Derwent man, who died on the moors in the winter of 1953-4, and whose faithful dog Tip stayed with him until they were found in the spring.

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Grave of Private F Barker October 2016

By contrast to John Joseph Thorp, Private F Barker of the South Staffordshire Regiment, buried in one of the Church of England graveyard’s War Graves, and who also died in 1920, is mentioned on neither War Memorial. This seems as good a place as any to mention the form of marker that is common to all War Graves – giving name, rank, regiment and date of death, along with the Regimental emblem and a symbol of their faith – as laid out at the formation of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to ensure that all the fallen were treated equally in terms of their last resting places.

Private JPH Harlow of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, who died on the 7th of November 1914, has a War Grave in the Church of England churchyard, and is also mentioned on the adjacent War Memorial.Absent from the War Memorial, however, is Nellie Elizabeth Shayler of Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary, who died on the 3rd of November 1918 and who shares her grave with her sister, who died in 1919. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Nellie’s mother was listed as living in Blidworth near Mansfield (around 40 miles away), so I’ll be interested to learn what brought the sisters to the village.

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Derwent War Memorial October 2016

I’m also interested in the similarities and differences between the two War Memorials: the cross is of a commonly used design, although many groups favoured different ways to commemorate their dead, including cenotaphs, statues and obelisks. On the other hand, the cross in Bamford is carved from limestone, while Derwent’s is sandstone; while they both stand on level ground now, Derwent’s cross was originally on a grassy mound. The Memorial in Bamford lists only surnames and initials, so I’m impressed that my fellow researchers have identified all but one name in full; however the Derwent War Memorial gives first name, surname, rank and regiment – much more helpful for anyone carrying out research.

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Birchinlee Memorial October 2016

And finally, a memorial that doesn’t quite fit in this piece, although it’s also what I’d describe as a Celtic Cross, and my reference sources want to call a wheel cross: the Birchinlee Memorial. This stands in the churchyard, in sight of, though not quite in line with, the Bamford War Memorial, and commemorates the 58 inhabitants of ‘Tin Town’, men, women and children, who were originally buried in Derwent Churchyard, and who were moved, along with all those other bodies from marked graves, when the village was due to be flooded.

I’m looking forward to learning the stories behind each of the names we’ve collected as our research and writing progresses, and hope to have the work completed well in time for the centenary of the Armistice.

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