Searching for the ‘Lost Boys’ of Chadwell Heath

It’s interesting what you uncover when you start to research a subject or even people.  Nicky Scowen, a resident of Chadwell Heath, part of historic Essex, but now part of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, was asked to research the 97 men who were commemorated on a brass plaque in St Chad’s Church.

Her story is told in her own words:

One sunny Saturday afternoon I agreed to help someone out, not realising that a simple “yes” would change my life so dramatically.  I was at a local history fair when I got chatting to a lady who mentioned, in passing, that the local history society wanted to research the WW1 memorial in the church.

The intention was to look at the then newly-released 1911 census, see where all the men lived and learn a little bit about them.  Without a second thought, I said of course I would help; Family history has been my “thing” for a number of years and as a subscriber to various family history related websites it wouldn’t cost me anything.  One thing that seems to define all local history societies is a combination of genuine enthusiasm and lack of funds!

I wasn’t expecting to be sent a list of 97 names, but off I went to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists looking for likely candidates.  The CWGC, the 1911 census, 1901 census, 1891 census… after all, once you’ve started it seems rude not to do the job properly.  Then there are army records, medal cards and war diaries. Oh, and electoral registers and church records and local newspapers; these men were starting to take over my life!  In a couple of cases I had to go backwards forty or fifty years to find a starting point before I could come forwards again.

Once I had information on most of the 97, it seemed only right and proper that I should try to find where they were buried, pay my respects and add photographs of their final resting places to the other information I’d found.  We had visited the battlefields and cemeteries of the Western front on several previous occasions, but had never done a trip quite like this before.  The coach company we went with on our first mission didn’t really know what they had let themselves in for; as is normal practice on these tours, we were asked if we were taking the trip to visit a particular grave or memorial.  When I said I had a list, it caused a few raised eyebrows, but by the end of the trip, as I clambered back into my seat after yet another unofficial stop, there were cries of “Did you find another one?” and the whole coach wanted to know the story.

Grand Seraucourt

Grand Seraucourt

What I hadn’t been prepared for was the difference between the beautifully manicured war graves of France and Belgium and the appalling destruction I would find at home.  I wandered in circles around one East London cemetery in tears at the sight of broken headstones and ruined graves.

Chauny

Chauny

One name was high on the memorial at Tower Hill so I co-opted a taller colleague to come and help me take a picture.  Some men are named on more than one memorial, so I’ve visited stations, schools, cathedrals and churches (having managed to convince the local clergy that I’m not there to steal the plate!)

After three years the research decided (on its own) that it should become a book.  The Imperial War Museum have accepted a copy for their library so the research will be available to anyone.  It is important that we don’t forget.

More on this story can be found on the Barking and Dagenham Post website.

War Memorials: Where do you start?

How can you find out more about the men and women mentioned on War Memorials in Essex?

For many of us the search will begin with discussions with family members. If this is not possible then you might go to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. You are able to search by name or by the cemetery.

A comprehensive study of those men noted on the Chelmsford War Memorials has been carried out by Andy Begent, and can be found on his website, Chelmsford War Memorial.

Chelmsford War Memorial home page

Chelmsford War Memorial home page

The site includes a detailed biography of each of the 359 men commemorated in Chelmsford. There are also features on The South Primrose Hill Boys and the notable men who are remembered on the memorials, including young men who joined up under age.

There is much information on the internet and a quick search led to an interesting piece from the website Centenary News.

In addition, Paul Ruseicki offers the following advice:

For anyone researching the history of Essex war memorials a good start is the chapter in my book ‘The Impact of Catastrophe: The People of Essex and the First World War.’  It doesn’t deal with individuals who are recorded on memorials but it looks at how the war memorial movement began and developed, the mechanisms involved in producing a town/village war memorial, and the controversies which often arose, sometimes bedevilling the whole process and causing bad feelings.  It should provide you with the context for your study.

Have you visited your local First World War memorial?

Where is it? Is it in your local church or town hall?

We’d be very interested to hear if you have done any research on these men or women, and you’d be welcome to share their stories on this blog. The main aim of the project is to uncover stories of the Essex home-front, however many of these men and women came from Essex and had family and friends at home.