Sunday 17 April 2016

Making World War Casualties 'real' for non-historians - the CWGC Living Memory Initiative

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) announced their new initiative, the Living Memory project, earlier this week, which hopes to get community groups to visit the UK burial sites of WW1 & WW2 servicemen and women. There are apparently 300,000 burial sites in over 12,000 locations in the UK.  These vary from large cemeteries with many rows of gravestones, usually associated with a war time hospital or military base, to little local churchyards and cemeteries.

Being an active volunteer for the Barnsley War Memorials Project I know that there are 130 of these burials in Barnsley's main cemetery, and dozens more scattered across the borough.  But this weekend I am in North Nottinghamshire visiting my mum and I wondered if there were any in her local churchyard.

CWGC logo
It is amazingly difficult to explain to someone who has no background knowledge how the Commonwealth War Graves Commission came about and what it stands for today.  I was surprised (after all I've been wittering on about WW1 soldiers for five or six years now) that my mum didn't know who the CWGC were.  I did a quick explanation about Fabian Ware, the gravestones all being the same pattern and threw in Rudyard Kipling and Lutyens for good measure.  The CWGC has a fast facts page if you find yourself in the same situation!

After we'd sorted that out I explained that I was going to look to see if there were any CWGC burials in the her village.  She really did expect me to put my coat and boots on at that point and set off up the High Street - she didn't know I could just search the CWGC site online.  My mum has an ipad and she can Google (especially for Simon's Cat videos!) and she watches iPlayer and she can look up the weather forecast.  My mistake was to assume that because she could do these things that she understood all the things I do as a family historian. Of course she doesn't .... and if I don't bother to explain, why should I expect her to?
Lives of the First World war logo
There is one WW2 burial in the cemetery in the village in which my mum lives, but according to the documentation on the CWGC website it seems to be in a family plot and doesn't have the standard white stone.  I was really after one of those to show her as an example of the equality principle and so she'd recognise them if she saw some in the future.  So, still using the CWGC 'Find a Cemetery' search, I had a look around the surrounding villages and found an interesting man in Gringley on the Hill about three miles away.  Then I looked him up on the Lives of the First World War website (which I use rather a lot at the moment and have written some useful blog posts about using it to Remember your WW1 relatives); this was very easy to do as the CWGC site give his service number and regiment; no-one was remembering this soldier and only his medal card was attached as evidence.

Alfred Girken Marriott was 29 years old when he died on 23 February 1917; he was a Shoeing Smith in the Royal Field Artillery and his medal card (available to view free on Ancestry during the centenary period) indicates that he served from the beginning of the war as he was entitled to the 1914 Star was well as to the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  I did a bit more research and then persuaded the OH that we really needed to pop along the road for a walk around the cemetery to have a look for his gravestone.  After all it was a really lovely day ...
Gringley on the Hill village cemetery

Gringley on the Hill cemetery is on the edge of the village, on the main road, right next to the old windmill.  There is no car park or lane, but there is a wide bit of causeway (path) with dropped kerbs at either end that you can pull onto.  I would recommend a spotter for pulling out though as it is rather near a bend and the speed limit on the road is 50mph.
War Memorial at Gringley on the Hill

The village war memorial is in the cemetery, commemorating men from WW1 and WW2. 

I counted 24 WW1 casualties which seems a lot from a small village (note to self: nip up the road and count the ones on the memorial in mum's village after lunch for comparison) including A Marriott.

I spotted at least three war memorial gravestones, those are ones where the man is not actually buried in the plot but his family have had a memorial inscription added to the family stone.  These usually include the words 'Killed in Action', 'Died in France', 'Died of Wounds' or 'Interred in *name of some cemetery overseas*'.

There was a very new looking WW2 CWGC gravestone just a few yards from the war memorial.  It commemorated a young, 18 year old, airman who died in July 1947.  The cut off date for qualification for a WW2 CWGC stone is 31 December 1947 so he just qualified.   

Albert G Marriott's CWGC gravestone
We found Albert Marriott's CWGC gravestone on the other side of the cemetery, right next to the hedge.  There was an old Christmas style wreath resting up against the stone and two little wooden crosses, the sort the British Legion place on war graves every year.  So someone is remembering him. We did move the wreath to take a photo but the OH put it back carefully afterwards.

Unfortunately a little bit of the family citation at the bottom of Albert's stone has chipped off.  It reads, "Let Those Who Come After / See That His Name / Is Not Forgotten" and according to the documentation on the CWGC website would have cost his wife 14/- (at 3 pence ha'penny a letter or space).  Though I understand that families were frequently not billed for this.  

We did our bit today remembering Albert.  Even my mum was impressed that after a little bit of online research we had found a man locally who did his bit in WW1, visited his grave and taken some photos.  You can read what I discovered about Albert on his Lives of the First World War Life Story. I'll continue to add information today, including the photos we have taken. 

Why don't you have a go?  Information on the Living Memory project can be obtained from the CWGC here.  The man you visit might not be a relative, but I tell you, visiting one of these burial plots will not leave you unmoved.  Leave a poppy cross or a couple of flowers when you go ... or just take a photo of the gravestone and share it on CWGC's Living Memory Facebook page or via Twitter using the hashtag #LivingMemory.

Thank you for reading.  Lest We Forget.

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