Lives of heroes named on war memorials revealed - April 29, 2013
TODAY all that remains of their sacrifice is a list of names on three Oxfordshire war memorials. But the painstaking efforts of one amateur historian have now unveiled the human tragedies behind the stone etchings.
Four years ago Jeff Clements started trying to uncover the stories behind the names on the West Oxfordshire war memorials in Witney, Crawley and Hailey. His research has uncovered 160 individual biographies, starting with the story of labourer Harry Hooper, the first Witney man to die in the First World War – killed in an artillery barrage in the trenches.
He was inspired by a trip to the battlefields of Belgium and northern France. The 44-year-old prison officer at HMP Grendon, who was raised in Witney but now lives in Carterton, started work on his book in 2009. A year later he put an appeal in the Oxford Mail to help with his research, which he said “sparked a flurry of activity”.
Mr Clements said: “I would spend three or four hours a day trawling through the old Witney Gazettes in the library and transcribed every mention on the war memorial from 1914-1921. “I tied that in with information from the internet and books.
“After that I was waiting on enquiries and I also put the appeal in the Oxford Mail.” The book was originally intended to cover both world wars but when Mr Clements realised the scale of the task he decided to split it into two volumes. The first, called Remembered – the Men on the War Memorials of Witney, Crawley and Hailey: 1914-1919 Volume 1, is due out on Wednesday. It contains individual biographies of the 142 men of Witney, 12 of Hailey and six of Crawley. It also tells the story of the various schemes of remembrance proposed after the war and the movement to build suitable, permanent memorials to the local men who never returned.
Mr Clements said: “You assume anyone listed on the memorial was from the town, but I found people who had emigrated to Canada, South Africa and New Zealand, who re-enlisted. “Some took it as a free ticket home, others out of a sense of duty. They didn’t all serve with local regiments. They served with innumerable regiments all over the place. I’ve tried to give each man some sort of background.”
The book also includes a biography of Lucy Harris, the only Witney woman to die in the First World War. She signed up for the WRAF and was due to report for duty at RAF Kidbrooke when she died of influenza. Because she did not die on active service, her name is not on the memorial, but her grave is in St Mary’s Church, Cogges, near Witney.
Mr Clements was relieved to have finished the book. He said: “I’ve pieced together the details of their lives. It was like a huge jigsaw puzzle.”
Mr Clements has already started researching the second volume on the Second World War. He is keen to hear from anyone who can provide more information for either volume and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The first volume is published by Wendy House Books Ltd and is available from Waterstones in Witney and www.amazon.co.uk from May 1, priced at £9.99
Source: Oxford Mail