The Thurleigh War Dead

What follows is an attempt to add a little more detail to the lives of those who did not return home from the First World War. The names of most, and brief details of rank and regiment, are commemorated on the Thurleigh War Memorial, situated outside St Peter's churchyard. The details of an officer who served are contained in a plaque inside the church because he was not a resident of the village at the time, but his association goes back many years. The men whose names are listed on the War Memorial were residents of Thurleigh at the time that they went to war, although many were born in neighbouring villages and, some, in places farther afield. Most were working on the land as Farm Labourers when they either enlisted or were conscripted. Records do not exist to show whether the men volunteered or not, but each one gave their lives for their country.

 

Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, many of the service records relating to men who served in the Great War (over half) were destroyed in September 1940 when a German bombing raid struck the National Archives repository in Arnside Street, London. Some of those that survived were badly damaged by fire and/or water, so there is only a 40% chance of finding the records of someone who did serve.All that exists for a couple of the Thurleigh soldiers is their medal records, which provide scant information.

 

In most cases, it has only been possible to ascertain something of the men's lives from the census material of the time. The last census currently available for public scrutiny is, very helpfully, the 1911 census, which gives a snapshot of family life just before war broke out. There is also some evidence derived from birth, marriage and death records as well as the very comprehensive information that is provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

 

Much of the original information was gained from the Roll of Honour, complied by Brenda Asplin and Martin Edwards in 2002.An attempt has been made to build on that information, especially relating to the - often - brief lives that these young men had before they served and some details surrounding the circumstances of their deaths. For some this has been quite easy: we are all aware of the tragedy that was the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916. For others, there is a degree of assumption based on the unit with which they served, the date of their death and the site of their burial/commemoration.

 

Somewhat poignantly, the references to their resting places are very careful to mention either commemoration or burial.Where a soldier is commemorated, it is likely that their remains have never been found and probably still lie in the place where they fell. For others, there is a definite gravestone which marks the spot where their bodies were laid to rest. The majority of the Thurleigh soldiers were 'killed in action', but some 'died of their wounds', often in military hospitals sited in France.

 

There is no record of those who survived the war or returned injured, either physically or mentally, or indeed those who might have died as a result of their injuries sometime later. We pay tribute to all who served, not just those who fell.

 

Notes

For most of the men who are listed on the War Memorial, it has been possible to provide details about where they were born, their parentage, the nature of their occupation and information about any siblings. Where possible, details surrounding the nature of their death, the theatre in which served and the place where they are commemorated are also included.

 

This is not the definitive account of these men's lives and there may be those people who can add information about the lives of their ancestors. Where the information is incorrect, then it would be good to set the record straight.

 

The most difficult person to track down, but probably the most fascinating to read about in the end, was Harry Piggott, who fought in both the Boer War and the Great War, serving as a Prison Warder in between time.

 

In the case of Reginald Percy Lovell, an attempt is being made to ascertain why his remains are buried in a Cornish churchyard. For Andrew Trapp, mystery surrounds his birth in Russia and why his father, the son of the Vicar of Thurleigh, would have emigrated there in the first place. Francis Philpot was born in Jersey. We know that his father had his family roots in Thurleigh, but what caused the family to be based in the Channel Islands for a while.

 

For two of the families, it has been possible to conduct extended research and look at the people within them over the previous 100 years.These are the Trapp and Asplin families who came from different ends of the social spectrum, but whose paths would have crossed on several occasions within the walls of St Peter's Church.

 

Perhaps the most poignant account is of the three Lovell brothers who went to war, none of them returning home. One can only imagine the heartache that their family went through each time they learned of a loss.

 

In this special year of remembrance and commemoration, this is a small tribute to the men of Thurleigh who fought for King and Country and who made the ultimate sacrifice.

 

De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour.

In the early days of World War One, the enthusiastic patriotism with which young men queued up to join the army gave rise to the concept of a roll of honour war record, to be compiled by the Marquis de Ruvigny and published in honour of those soldiers who would give their lives for their country. It was originally thought that compiling a WW1 military record of names, biographies and photographs would be a relatively easy project to complete, given that most believed the war would be won swiftly and casualties would be small.

 

However, as the war dragged on and the number of dead increased throughout the remaining years on a scale never matched before or since, De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour became almost impossible to complete. Not only was the professional, regular British army (also known as the British Expeditionary Force) wiped out at Ypres during 1914, but also many of the willing volunteers of Kitchener's new armies were then destroyed during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, one of the largest battles of the First World War.

 

In its final published form, the Roll of Honour records the biographies of more than 25,000 men from the British army, navy and air force, with nearly 7000 of the entries being accompanied by a photograph. This is only a tiny fraction of the soldiers who died in the Great War, but nonetheless is a tribute to those who compiled it, and those who feature in it. It is also an insight into a time when the nation naively and confidently entered into the patriotic spirit of conflict, without any comprehension of the eventual scale of the disaster.

David Fraser
Copyright 2014