CELEBRATING YOUR PROJECTS
Alan Crosby discovers a First World War project in Cambridgeshire that devotes equal attention to the people left behind as it does to those who fought
The ‘Thriplow at War’ project
These days, the websites of our local and family history societies are full of sad stories concerning those who fell in the First World War. There has been a quite remarkable amount of research undertaken during the past few years, and so many people have helped recapture those tragedies and discover more about their village or town a century ago. Many of the projects have involved research into the names that appear on war memorials – who were these young men, and what were their circumstances?
That was the starting point for a project by the Thriplow Society. The small village of Thriplow lies a few miles south of Cambridge, and it has a very active history group that is affiliated to the Thriplow Society. The history group, of course, wanted to mark the centenary of the outbreak of war. Its archivist, Dr Shirley WWittering, says that: “AAt first, we tthought there wwould be little tto show – just tthe names oon the war memorial – but the longer we looked, the more we found, and with the help of villagers we put together an interesting story. Not so much about the fighting itself, but about the people and the village left behind.”
A moving story
That’s what makes ‘Thriplow at War’ a bit different. The group has been able to build up a really moving and evocative story that begins with an account of the village and parish before the First World War, to set the scene. It then moves on to consider army recruitment in the summer of 1914 and highlights the role of one man, Captain Croft Montague, who drummed up support for the enlistment drive.
The story on the website is beautifully illustrated and contains images of posters from the recruitment drive and the Home Front. A section that deals with the activities of people left at home includes extracts from the village school logbook. It tells us how the children knitted comforts for the troops, while some detective work by Shirley allowed her to identify a mystery picture of a wartime wedding. It shows a local girl who worked as a VAD nurse marrying an instructor from the Suffolk Regiment.
The final section of the website takes a look at the men themselves, including the ones who returned from France and those who fell. It is also illustrated with military records, newspaper cuttings, and photographs, as well as those stark but intensely moving summaries of military careers and subsequent deaths that are now so familiar.
Here’s a very moving example (and there’s hardly a village in Britain that did not experience something similar): “Private Allan Skillings, of the 2nd Suffolk (aged 31), the village blacksmith of Thriplow, was mortally wounded in the trenches on 22 April (1915), and died upon reaching the hospital. He had served in the South African War and was in the Reserves on the outbreak of war. He was a typical soldier, of fine physical proportions, and was sent in a few weeks to France. The Sergeant of his Company, in a letter to Mrs Skillings, said ‘We regret very much to lose such a good man out of the Company as he was respected and loved by everyone.’ His widow is left with five little children.”
The story ends with an account of the unveiling of the village war memorial in November 1922, the starting point for the journey of research that Shirley and her colleagues undertook 90 years later. A moving story – and one that tells the tale for every community in the land.
The group has been able to build up a really moving and evocative story that begins before the First World War
Above: Recruitment notices for the First World War
Who Do You Think You Are?
Above: Private Skillings, who was wounded in the trenches