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Rediscovering service and sacrifice

by Michael Ford last modified 17 Apr, 2021 12:06 AM

Salisbury Plain, a significant training ground for 1000s of soldiers during WW1, has been quietly, meaningfully commemorating the centenaries of soldiers and medics who died.

Rediscovering service and sacrifice

Original photo courtesy Eleanor Rance on Twitter

Back in early 2014, Rector Eleanor Rance felt it would be a fitting tribute to those men and women to mark their 100th anniversary of death, either at their grave, or at the war memorial in their home village. Names were gathered, local people researched stories, the Royal British Legion and other veterans joined in the task.

She says:

"It is well known that Salisbury Plain served as a significant training ground for thousands of men before they set off to serve during the 1st World War. The 4 villages of our parish are set in the heart of the Plain and for this reason we not only have names on our war memorials of local men (and one woman) who died during that conflict, but we also have numerous graves for those who died before they even got to the Western Front.

"The first anniversary fell in September 2014 at the grave of Charles Smith. 70 commemorations followed, covering Canadians who died in training, or by accidents, men who had served at Gallipoli, in Mesopotamia, at Mons, Arras, The Somme, during 3rd Ypres, or from the flu.

"Nurse Dimmer died in November 1918 having contracted the flu during her service in Reading. We discovered 2 brothers’ memorial by chance as we polished candlesticks dedicated in their memory; others named on our memorials had family still living in the villages and stories were completed with poignant details of their life at home.

"Most moving was the story of 104 year old Ethel Towl, who could still remember the day her father received the telegram in early January 1919 to tell him his brother had died. Albert Chant had been a POW and had died just before the war ended. His brother, Ethel’s father, had been determined to keep the Christmas decorations up until he came home.

"One day we stood with a class from the village primary school in a chilly Tilshead churchyard in front of a CWGC war grave. Children began to nudge one another, turning to watch as one of their classmates realised the surname on the headstone was her name, that her relative was being commemorated there.

"For the 2018 anniversary of the ending of the First World War, a book of remembrance was created and dedicated to serve as a detailed reminder of the stories of these men, and one woman, who will be forever connected to this small part of Salisbury Plain.

"On 1st April 2021 we stood in a small group, carefully distanced, as we remembered the last person named on our list. Reginald Gilbert, injured and gassed during a sea battle in April 1918, came home to Shrewton. In January 1920 he tried to re-enlist but was only able to serve until October, his previous injuries proving too severe. He died on 1st April 1921, and his name was added to the village war memorial.

"It feels good to have rediscovered these stories and lives, to have acknowledged their place within our villages, to think of their families and give thanks for their service and sacrifice."

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