Sunday, 7 November 2010

Blackmore: War Memorial Recarved

Blackmore’s ninety year old War Memorial has recently been cleaned and re-engraved with the names of those who enlisted for King and Country during the First World War. In total there are 102 names recorded: 21 who died, plus a further 81 who served. The work was commissioned by the Parish Council, who is custodian of this edifice.

The War Memorial, which stands on The Green, was dedicated on 7th November 1920, four days before the second Anniversary of the Armistice when people would have gathered and paused for two minutes to remember. The Essex County Chronicle reported: “The unveiling of the war memorial took place on Sunday afternoon, a very large number of people being present. The ceremony began with the singing of “O God Our Help In Ages Past” followed by the lesson read by the Vicar (the Revd. W L Petrie) and prayers by Pastor Francis. At the request of Mr Edmund Marriage, Lieut. Col. Gibbons D.S.O. then unveiled the memorial congratulating Blackmore for having sent 103 men out of a population of 600. He mentioned that one in every five had paid the supreme sacrifice – Mr J H Hull then asked Mr E Marriage as Chairman of the Parish Council, to accept custody of the memorial. The names of the fallen are inscribed on the front face, and on the other faces the names of the men from the village who served are inscribed” [Essex County Chronicle. 12th November 1920].

The work was undertaken because the names carved had weathered over time and become difficult to read. The Parish Council did not however have a workable transcription so a small group of local historians got together and worked on a project to investigate the lives of those commemorated, and to decipher the faded letters ‘C’ and ‘G’ in particular. Was the person remembered Charles or George?

The war casualties turned out to be relatively easy to identify, because many of the names are also included on a window in the village church. Also, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has a lot of information on casualties, published on a website. As we looked at a number of sources we discovered the names of other men, not listed, who were said to be associated with Blackmore but died during the Great War, as it was known then. The Military Genealogy website gave a number of names of individuals who were either born in Blackmore, Essex or were resident in Blackmore, not to mention Blackmoor and other misspellings of the parish name. After discounting Blackmore End, which is near Wethersfield in Essex, we had compiled a list of 45 men, not 21, who had fallen. The task was to verify whether these had a Blackmore connection. With the survivors listed, this was to be a family history research project on an epic scale with a list approaching 125 names.

We decided early in the project to advise the Parish Council that the War Memorial should be faithfully re-carved and that names should not be added: we would not tinker with history.

Researching the survivors presented a more difficult problem, but we still found a surprising number of useful sources of information. The 1911 census told us who was living in the village just before the outbreak of war. In 1918, for the first time all men could vote, so that told us who was living in the village at the end of the war. Then there are records of the medals that were awarded to all in the Army at the end of the conflict, which confirm which regiment people fought in.

The early release of the 1911 census proved a godsend to our work. Personal possession of Blackmore’s 1910 Electoral Register proved useful too as did the 1918 roll available online. Many absent voters listed revealed the identity of some of the survivors, and sadly positive identification of one of the victims, Albert Edward Barker, as landlord of The Bull public house who had been killed a year earlier. We made several visits to the excellent Essex Record Office, making lists of Blackmore male baptisms and marriages, looking at the Sunday School Admissions Register, and numerous other documents including the Ongar and District War Memorial Hospital Roll of Honour, which we realised was the frequent source of errors in names of the fallen. The Vicar and churchwardens generously allowed us to make a transcript of the Burial Register dating after 1893, kept in the church safe and not housed in any archive anywhere. We ‘enlisted’ the help of the Essex branch of the Western Front Association and made regular contact with the curator at the recently reopened Essex Regiment Museum in Chelmsford. Above all we used the existing ‘Blackmore Area Local History’ website and partner blog to update the world on progress and encourage descendents to contact us – which they did in large numbers offering all kinds of useful information, and photographs of the people. We were able to share our work and help others fill in their family stories, which is always a pleasure to do. At the time of writing we have positively identified all but one name: S Ball.

War Memorials were, of course, erected because loved ones were either lost or buried in some foreign field. Very often the names inscribed are those who lived in the parish at the time. It came as no surprise to us to find names of those not remembered who were born in Blackmore but had moved away or were resident for only a short time in the village. These epitaphs are by no means then a definitive list of those who died in the Great War since there are errors of omission as well as commission. We find, for example, four names of the twenty-one commemorated also listed on the Doddinghurst War Memorial tablet inside All Saints’ Church.

The result of our work is now published online ( ) with work well in progress to reproduce a copy as a book running to around 150 pages for future reference by the Parish Council and researchers visiting the Essex Record Office. These will form a permanent record and the meagre contribution of our generation to their remembrance.

“We will remember them”.

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