Every year Blakeney, like many villages, towns and cities around the country, remembers the sacrifices made in both World Wars by men whose names are inscribed on village memorials. Who were they?
In this study an attempt has been made to collect the names of all who served in WW1, with greater attention being paid to the casualties and it is this group that are considered here. This has not been an easy exercise as the names on the memorials are surnames with initials; nationwide the majority of memorials provide Christian names which makes identification easier. Additional confusion has come from errors introduced during the preparation of the memorial inscription when initials were sometimes transcribed incorrectly. However, one surprising result of this study is the recognition that not all the names of casualties for Blakeney appear on the memorials, both on New Road and in St Nicholas Church.
Various accounts of the casualties have appeared over the past six years either in the Glaven Valley News or the BAHS Newsletters. At the same time display boards have appeared in the church with similar information plus photographs and details of the battles where individuals were killed.
By September 1914 out of a population of 708 for the village, newspaper accounts show that 80 men had volunteered, by January 1915 this number had risen to 145 and over the next four years it would rise even higher. So there could hardly have been a family or house in the village that emerged untouched from the war.
There are 39 known casualties for Blakeney and detailed records have been completed for 38 of them; these form the basis of the following account. The only absentee is H. Wright who has stubbornly eluded identification. In total 24 were born in Blakeney and 14 elsewhere, with H. Wright completing the list. 8 men are not recorded on the memorials. Casualties ranged in age from 5 teenagers to 20 in their 20s, 11 in their 30s and 2 in their 40s. 11 of these men, at least, were married and this included both 40 year olds who were in the Royal Navy.
The sheer number of casualties on the battle fields, changed forever Britain’s attitude to its war dead. In March 1915, the Government issued a ban on the exhumation and repatriation of the bodies of all Imperial soldiers. This decision became the principle which was at the core of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to treat equally every casualty irrespective of wealth, creed or nationality. Thus, for the first time, soldiers and officers were buried side by side and their names remembered together. The Royal Navy continued the tradition of consigning casualties, who died at sea, to the deep.
As a result of this policy, families no longer had a local place available to grieve or to show their remembrance. It was not long before war memorials started springing up. These memorials were a powerful response of those feelings, difficult to show, at a time when stiff upper lips prevailed. Consequently it was the next of kin – parents, wives and even grandparents – who had their loved ones remembered on the memorials. Then, rather tellingly, Blakeney was not even the principal abode for the Allen, Ash and Cooke families, rather it was their second home, a place for holidays or their future retirement. Finally after a 100 years it is now quite difficult for us to understand why some casualties were omitted from the memorials.
Numerous institutions and individuals have helped in many ways but special thanks and recognition are given here to Mary Ferroussat for her pioneering research in the field of WW1 casualties and her publications on the subject, all before the age of the internet. Sara Dobson and Jean Thompson, both History Centre Blakeney volunteers, for their support and contributions in the early days of this research and my husband, John Peake, for his generous collaboration with the Armistice Centenary Exhibition and unwavering patience, constant help and advice throughout the many years researching this project. Thank you everyone.
Last, but certainly not least, finding photographs of the casualties has been particularly difficult so I am grateful to the relatives of the casualties who came to my rescue and the BAHS History Centre and www.picture.norfolk.gov.uk for allowing use of their resources
The BAHS History Centre is a good starting point for researching families living in Blakeney in the early twentieth century. It has copies of all the local parish registers, censuses from 1841 till 1901, a copy of the Blakeney School Admissions Register as well as family history biographies and other useful information.
There is an extensive range of books, journals and websites that cover all aspects of the Great War. Some of those that I have found especially useful include the following;
A guide to researching First World War Military Family History. This is a guide to what you can find at Norfolk Library and Information Service, Norfolk Record Office and the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum
Norfolk War Memorials Project 1918-1998, The Glaven Historian No.1 1998
Norfolk War Memorials Project 1914-1918: Pt 2, The Glaven Historian No.2 1999
Loraine Petre, F.,
The History of the Norfolk Regiment. Vol 2 Jarrold & Sons Ltd 1918
World War 1 Dorling Kindersley 2008
Births, Marriages and Deaths www.freebmd.org.uk
Find My Past www.findmypast.co.uk
Norfolk Roll of Honour www.roll-of-honour.com
National Archives www.nationalarchives.gov.uk
Commonwealth War Graves Commission www.cwgc.org
The Long, Long Trail www.1914-1918.net
Naval History www.naval-history.net
The London Gazette www.thegazette.co.uk
Blakeney Area Historical Society www.bahs.uk