The story behind the Centenary Plaque
AWE has played an important role in our nation’s defence and in this local community for over 60 years. All of us at AWE care about the people who form part of this community. And each of us has a role to play to enrich it for the good of all and future generations. And this is why I was so honoured and privileged to be involved in this wonderful project.
This year, I offered to look into the part played by the nearby village of Aldermaston in the Great War. A little research and two days later I had uncovered a story that I knew could go way beyond any simple newspaper article and this would eventually lead to AWE commissioning this special ‘Centenary Plaque’.
In 1919, there had been a spontaneous reaction across the country to raise memorials to the war dead. But there were no official lists of local names to work with. Local vicars may have kept lists of bereaved families visited; invitations were placed in Parish magazines and newspapers for names to be supplied – ‘Best effort’ to commemorate all that could then be found. But what about the bereaved who had moved away? What about the bereaved who had recently arrived? What about those single men who had come here for work, had enlisted here and had been killed? The resulting memorials are beautiful, but they are rarely complete.
Since 2014, the nation has commemorated the centenaries of the events of the Great War. These events are now out of living memory, here, only names on memorials to the fallen remained. There was no knowledge of who these men were or what they had been part of.
Today, computerised databases of the fallen are used to construct family trees. You input a soldier’s name, and out come his ‘details’. I use these databases in reverse inputting ‘details’ to find soldiers. The keyword was ‘Aldermaston’, inputted into ‘birthplace’, ‘enlistment’, ‘residence’, ‘family details’. Out came a list of soldiers’ names, mostly on the existing memorials but 16 new ones with links to Aldermaston and Wasing. Further searches on other names on these existing memorials revealed many with no obvious connection to these villages.
A design for the plaque was needed. The materials and layout would be traditional. All names on the existing Aldermaston/Wasing memorials would be included. 16 names of the newly found would be added. I provided soldier’s rank, unit, date of death and the final order on the plaque for future passing ‘historians’ to appreciate. This plaque would be 21st century ‘best effort’.
The greatest asset of any community is its children as they represent the future. Taking part in such a community project helps bond their links with the past and encourages future responsibility. The schoolchildren of Aldermaston were invited to write out the names of all the soldiers to then be scanned and added. In years to come, these children can point to this plaque and say, ‘I wrote that name, he is my Great War soldier, he is not forgotten’.
The list now numbered 44 soldiers; I had traced all but one and would come to amass much information about them. There are too many names on the plaque to go through their individual stories here, however here are some:
1) Eight had joined the 8th Royal Berkshire in Aldermaston and crossed to France at the beginning of August 1915. A reorganisation of the Army meant they were fitted into 1st Brigade of 1st Division, an elite. After only days in the line, they attacked, alongside their more experienced comrades at the Battle of Loos, 100 years ago this morning. Despite enemy machine gun fire, incredibly they captured 3 lines of German trenches and almost a 4th before being forced to halt. Days later the remnants attacked again, and were mown down by machine-gun fire. The battalion lost 250 men killed at Loos and three times this number wounded – effectively all of them. Only one of the eight men who died on this day 100 year ago has a known grave.
2) Captain Francis Mount was killed possibly as a result of a tragic error in his first major attack. The Commanding Officer of the 7th Norfolks had just witnessed the destruction of his own battalion at Loos, and convinced his men must have at least taken the German front line; he called for assistance from his opposite number in the 5th Royal Berkshire. ‘A’ company was then despatched ‘over the top’ to a ‘friendly’ trench. Captain Mount led his platoon across No-Man’s Land only for them to be shot down by machine-gun fire from the enemy held trench – His body was never identified.
3) Ptes Hubert Iremonger and John Kersley born in Aldermaston, emigrated to Canada before the war. Both joined the Canadian Army and were killed in France. Hubert Iremonger died of a shrapnel wound to his head on a quiet day standing in the front line trench when only weeks later he would have been issued with a ‘tin hat’ that might have saved his life. John Kersley fought through many major Canadian actions including Vimy Ridge in 1917. He lost his life the day following his battalion’s capture of the village of Passchendaele – a victim to an air raid miles behind the lines.
4) Pte Roland Abbott was killed on the morning of 1st July 1916 at the start of the Battle of the Somme. He would never know his regiment’s story would become one of the most famous from that awful day. Their little ‘Devonshire cemetery’, in which Roland Abbott is buried, is visited by many thousands of people each year.
My folders contain similar information for each and every one of these men – Their military records, battalion war diary entries, contemporary and modern maps and photographs to show where these events took place as well other details. Each file concludes with the photograph of the soldier’s gravestone or his name on a Memorial to the Missing.
Please follow this link to see the 44 biographies: The Fallen of WW1
Their names and stories now recovered, these soldiers have now come home…
Our thanks to David Whithorn
David Whithorn presented the documentation on each of the 44 men for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the armistice on 11th November 2018. We are grateful that David has given permission to reproduce their stories on this website.
Below is a link to a PDF of David’s Worksheet that summarises the details of the 44 men of Aldermaston.