Ever wondered about the stories behind the names listed in Chorleywood's Memorial Hall?
By Lisa Botwright
It’s the legacy of the unspeakable horror of the First World War that one hundred years later we still commemorate its Armistice every November. It was the ‘war to end all wars’ in which millions died fighting, and millions more – weakened by physical and mental trauma – succumbed to illness afterwards.
The fighting sent shockwaves throughout Europe, and it was rare that a community was left untouched by its impact. As soon as the war ended, families poured their grief and loss into setting up lasting memorials to their fallen loved ones.
In a quiet corner of Hertfordshire, residents of the relatively new neighbourhood of Chorley Wood (as it was known then) clubbed together to build a War Memorial Hall. The building – overlooking the village common – was finally erected in 1922.
Generations later – inspired by the centenary interest in some of the bloodiest battles of the war – a small group of a dozen or so members of the Chorleywood branch of the University of the Third Age (U3A), decide to find out more about the fifty men named on the board in the hall. Project Leader David Hiddleston says: “We felt it would be both interesting and fitting to find out who the fallen were, where they lived and worked, what was their family background, and where and how they died.”
Although the roll of honour lists 50 men, the U3A’s research uncovered another 28 fallen servicemen connected to the area. “The impact on a small community is hard to imagine. We found families who had lost more than one son, cousins and brother-in-law who had perished, and roads where several young men and their families were near-neighbours.”
The result of a great deal of painstaking research is a book containing their stories, named ‘Our Village in the Great War’. It’s a moving tribute to those who died, cleverly weaving historical fact uncovered from national archives, war records, census data and other sources, with locally sourced anecdotal evidence, to bring an illuminating insight into these brave individuals’ lives; or as, the U3A describe them: “ordinary folk who were sucked into the most unimaginable horrors and carried out what they saw as their duty.”
David continues: “We sincerely hope that our research in some small way helps to achieve what was being sought by the people of Chorleywood in those years immediately following the war: to perpetuate the memory of those whose lives were tragically cut short.”
The book – available to purchase from Chorleywood Bookshop – also offers a fascinating insight into the history of Chorleywood itself, and describes how the Metropolitan railway station, newly built in 1889, enticed city professionals, attracted by the ‘pure, fresh, invigorating air, and the pleasant surrounding country’ (as a 1912 guide to the development potential of the land attests).
By 1914 the community totalled around 2,000 and it’s estimated that around 300 men were of conscription age. The tragic loss of nearly one third of them puts the figure into bleak perspective. However, thanks to David Hiddleston and his team, the men’s names are no longer simply anonymous entries printed onto a stark wooden board.
Chorleywood U3A was formed in June 2010 and has more than 400 members who share their knowledge, experience and talents with others, or explore new topics together, in various interest groups. If you are interested in joining, see: http://u3asites.org.uk/chorleywood. To search for a U3A near you, go to www.u3a.org.uk