Our next Essex story comes from Deputy Town Mayor of Maldon and Independent Historical Consultant for the Maldon District, Stephen P. Nunn. Stephen is also the author of ‘Maldon, Heybridge and the Great War’.
I have been studying the history of my home town of Maldon for the past 40 or so years. Towards the end of 2006, the Maldon Archaeological and Historical Group published my long-term research about the part that the area played during the Second World War; ‘Maldon, the Dengie and Battles in the Skies (1939-1945)’. In many ways that work is a very personal study, for it contains a number of references to the involvement of my own family in events on the home front during that conflict.
However, my ancestors were in Maldon long before the 1940’s and during my own childhood I can remember hearing my maternal grandmother, Agnes Crozier (1907-1986), talking about her life in Church Street during an earlier time – the so-called Great War “to end all wars” of 1914-1918. I even have a picture of her and her friends posing on a 14lb gun which was on display at the Promenade – a tangible relic of that conflict. Her first husband, my grandfather, Charles Lavender, was killed in 1944. Years later, in 1956, Nan went on to re-marry and, although I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, her second husband was a quite remarkable man.
He was James Clement Last, the then owner of the Promenade Tea Rooms. I remember “Uncle Clem”, as I was encouraged to call him, as a very kind and loving man, but as a young child I was always intrigued by his strange appearance. His left arm was missing and, to my young eyes at least, it made him look like a pirate! Little did I know the real truth to his story. He had in fact suffered that terrible injury whilst fighting in the bloody, mud and water-filled trenches of France during the First World War. Each Armistice Day (the Sunday nearest to the 11th November) he used to polish his ammunition boots, don his very best black suit and clip on “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” (his three general service medals which I still own). Then off he would go to the stark white war memorial outside All Saints church.
On at least one occasion I noticed when he returned that he appeared to have been crying. I often wondered why he was so emotional and why he would “pop up the town” to stand and stare at the town’s memorial – it just seemed “silly” to me then. But since his own passing in 1969, I have come to realise what was going on in his mind.
Amongst the 146 Maldonians listed on the town memorial as having made the ultimate sacrifice for their country is one “William E. Last”. Just a name but one that was very special to Clem – it was in fact his younger brother, Ted. Years later and a bit more mature, in November 1977, whilst a Cadet Flight-Sergeant with number 1207 Squadron, Maldon Air Training Corps, I was privileged to lay a wreath at the memorial to Ted and to all his Maldon comrades in arms. It was then that I started to realise that there was nothing “silly” about this at all.
My aim ever since has been to re-tell the stories of Maldon and the Great War. The events on the Home Front and the human sacrifice made by what was in reality 248 Heybridge and Maldon men. It has resulted in a further book; ‘Maldon, Heybridge and the Great War (1914-1918)’ (2009) [ISBN 0 951 1948 8 7], the unveiling of additional plaques to missing names on the war memorial, lectures, newspaper features, radio and television productions, work with schools, battlefield tours and a current campaign to try to get the government to award a posthumous VC to one of our Maldon casualties.
You can find out more about the campaign by joining the Facebook group, Forgotten Hero Victoria Cross Medal For Benjamin Cobey