Capel St Mary’s dream of honouring its heroes
- Credit: Archant
After the guns fell silent on the Western Front, a Suffolk village decided not to build a big memorial. How it plans to turn back time.
Memorials popped up across England after the First World War – money from lords of the manor, and sums raised by public appeals, financing lasting symbols of gratitude to those who gave their lives in fighting aggression. A village south of Ipswich took a different tack, and with good reason.
Quite a few injured soldiers from Capel St Mary were cared for at the old hospital in the centre of Ipswich – it’s believed there was a special wing for wounded service personnel – so the village decided to send its money to Anglesea Road, rather than spend it on an inanimate object, however worthy.
It’s thought a plaque might have been put up in the hospital to highlight the sacrifices made by Capel men, and there’s certainly one inside the local church to honour a dozen who failed to return, but there was no stone monument. And that made the village unusual.
After the Second World War – Capel St Mary still a community of about 500 to 600 people, then, compared to 3,000-plus now – a local woman who lost her son in a flying accident organised a book of remembrance to honour 10 lost in the 1939-45 conflict. It’s in a glass case inside St Mary’s Church, beneath the First World War plaque.
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But there was still no traditional, unmistakable, cenotaph. As time passed, a lot of new residents asked “Where’s the war memorial?”
In the past two or three years, thoughts have galvanised. The parish council put out feelers to see if anyone was interested in getting one built. “That’s when I got approached,” says Griff Johns.
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The former Royal Marine now finds himself archivist of The Capel St Mary War Memorial Trust – a small group of villagers determined to unveil a permanent memorial on the 11th day of the 11th month, 2018: the 100th anniversary of the guns falling silent.
He’s been beavering away to find out as much as he can about the 33 men so far identified who did not see Suffolk again. They are all associated with the parish through school, family or birth.
“I think it’s important they are all remembered,” says Griff. “I come from a military family. Thirty-two different units they’ve served in, including six or seven in The Royal Artillery.”
His great-grandfather was in India during the reign of Victoria, his grandfather was in the First World War and his father in the Second. He had a brother in the Special Air Service, another in the Queen’s Regiment, and Griff himself was a Commando.
His work on this project, then, is a genuine labour of love.
The trust’s appealing for donations to raise the £15,000 or £20,000 needed for a monument and its upkeep. It is also applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund for money to be used in educational initiatives linked to the memorial.
“Please remember: these men could have been your grandfather, father, brother or neighbour,” it says.
The reality of The Great War was certainly painful for the Fallows family.
Edgar Fallows and Emily Pickess became man and wife in St Mary’s Church, Capel St Mary, on a winter’s day in 1877. They had four sons. All were soldiers during the First World War.
Their third boy was Edgar junior, who was born in the village in 1891. He went to the local school and became a bricklayer’s assistant.
Edgar joined the Territorial Army in 1911 and, enjoying the life, enlisted in the 2nd Battalion The Suffolk Regiment. Hearing the 1st Suffolks were bound for Egypt, he got a transfer and was there when war broke out.
The soldier went to the front and took part in some of the tough early fighting, on May 8, 1915, during the second battle of Ypres.
The 23-year-old has no known grave but is remembered on a panel at the Menin Gate memorial in Belgium.
Edgar was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, the 1914-19 War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Brother William, youngest of the four Fallows boys, was born in Capel in 1895. He too went to the local school, and then worked on a farm as a cowman.
William joined The Suffolk Regiment in December, 1914, and was sent to France. On October 3, 1915, he was posted as missing, killed in action, during the Battle of Loos. He was 20 years old.
Like Edgar, he has no known grave, but is honoured on the Loos Memorial. Like Edgar, he was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, the 1914-19 War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Griff has also gathered detailed information about the Fallows family.
Father Edgar senior was born in nearby Little Wenham in 1852 and worked as a general labourer. He lived until 1934. Wife Emily was born in Capel in 1855 and was a servant before marriage in 1877.
Emily died in 1923. The couple are buried in the grounds of St Mary’s Church.
Their first son, Charles, was born in 1881 and before the First World War worked in London as a lift boy. He served with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps as a private and survived the war. In fact, he died in Lewisham in 1955.
Brother George was born in 1887 and like Charles had moved to London. He was working as a valet before peace was shattered. George also joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and survived the fighting. He’d die in Chelsea in 1940.
Parents Edgar and Emily would have received memorial plaques and scrolls: one for fallen Edgar junior and another for William. The plaques carried the inscription “He died for freedom and honour” and were just two of the 1,355,000 issued.
Griff’s aim is to add substance to the bald facts about the dead servicemen and tell their stories as best he can. It’s not always easy.
Millions of First World War service records were, for instance, destroyed in a blaze in 1940 when a Nazi bombing raid hit the War Office repository in London.
And tracing merchant seamen is tricky. About 70% of the crew lists from 1863 to 1938 are held by The Maritime History Archive at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada!
Researchers such as Griff have to glean what they can from sources such as medal cards and Commonwealth War Graves Commission records. Then there are family history websites such as Ancestry.co.uk, which offers the chance to comb censuses; birth, marriage and death records; passenger lists; military and parish records, and other sources of information.
“You’re dancing all over the place just to try to pin one person down. And, of course, some of the information is usually missing!” says Griff, happy to take on this quest because of previous experience researching his own family history.
With the names on the plaque and within the book of remembrance in the church – along with other people found to be linked with Capel St Mary – Griff has about 33 folk to research. Some are commemorated on war memorials elsewhere, even though they have strong associations with Capel.
The intention is that all the stories uncovered, all the biographical information gleaned, will feature in a memorial book to honour those who died. Its educational value should be one of its strongest legacies.
There are indeed many stories to tell, if the details can be pulled from the mists of the past. Not everyone died in battle, for instance. One poor man collapsed on a route march. His appendix had burst and, after an operation, he developed septicaemia that proved fatal.
There is a rumour that one of the men associated with the village (though not on the church plaque) is related to the Lotts of Willy Lott’s cottage fame – the Flatford house featured in John Constable’s painting The Hay Wain. Griff’s trying to establish the truth of that one.
The details we already have remind us how the potential of so many young lives was snuffed out so cruelly. A number of the Capel casualties were barely into their 20s – such as sapper Harry Chiverton, of the Royal Engineers, who was born in the village in about 1894 and died in Belgium in 1915. Ernest Richardson, a gunner with the Royal Garrison Artillery, entered the world in Suffolk in about 1899 and left it in France in the spring of 1919.
If the fundraising appeal is successful, and planning permission is won, the granite memorial is due to go on the village green, near the Capel St Mary sign and close to the shops, library and village hall. It would be inscribed with the names of those who died during the world wars, any personnel who have died since, and any who die in future conflicts.
It’s likely to feature a cross on a base, with the names carved into the stone, and be perhaps 10 feet or so tall. “Any more would be overbearing,” reckons Griff.
There have already been donations from organisations and individuals in the village.
Griff is following every lead so he can paint as much of a background picture as he can. “I’ve got a pile of notes that high,” he laughs. “And I’m not a typist, just a one-finger button pusher!”
He came to Suffolk in 1992, from his native Surrey, because of his work with Eastern Electricity. Griff was an overhead linesman – out in all weathers, such as blizzards (he was once filmed for News at Ten) and during the great storm of 1987 – before moving into the control room.
Of the hours he’s devoting to the past, he says: “The story of each medal, the story of the battle, the stories of the regiment, the story of the man… what I’m trying to do is give the build-up and put some flesh on the bones of the stories of those men who didn’t come back.”
To donate to the appeal, visit www.capelmemorial.org.uk