A PROJECT to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War has begun in memory of all men from Thame who fought and died in conflicts over the past 120 years.
Organisers of the Thame Remembers project are hoping people in the town will be part of the effort to lay a two-bar cross at the grave of each Thame soldier who died around the world before November 2018 – 100 years since the Armistice was signed.
Some will be easier than others. While some are buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Thame, and many are laid to rest in France and Belgium, other graves are in Denmark, Greece, Italy, Egypt, Iraq, India, New Zealand and Tanzania.
Others died at sea, but it is hoped memorials can be laid for them as well.
There are about 190 men who are listed on the seven war memorials and boards in the town. An exact number is hard to pin down as anomalies have been found, including one man who appears on the memorial but in fact returned home safely from war and lived the rest of his years in Gloucestershire.
All are men and they died in the Boer War, the First World War, Second World War, the Cyprus Emergency and the Korea War in the 1950s.
There have been no casualties from Thame in recent conflicts.
The Thame Remembers steering group was set up after David Bretherton, a former RAF aircraft engineer and Mayor of Thame, took a friend on a visit to the former battlefields of northern France.
He said: “When we were coming back he noticed that it would be 100 years since the start of the First World War this year and I wanted to do something to mark it. I know a lot of villages and towns across the country are researching the names on their war memorials, but I thought it would be good if we could visit each site and leave a memento.”
That memento will be a Thame Cross, made of two bars with a special significance for Thame dating back to medieval times after a hoard of rings was discovered in 1940 which showed the distinctive design.
It has been used as part of the logo for the town ever since.
Mr Bretherton has a list of the date and location of the death of each soldier (except for three where the details are unknown).
He said: “We are hoping this publicity will tease information out of people and the families will come forward. I have only heard positive things so far from people. We thought some would be really challenging but people are really up for getting involved.
“It has captured people’s imaginations, very much so. People have come up to me saying they want to help and have been crying, it’s become quite emotional as well.”
Mr Bretherton and a team of researchers have been searching military records, census records and absent voter records, and they are hoping people will come forward with more information about those in their families who died.
Initially the team are only following up information from family members of the soldiers who died to give them priority to plant the crosses, but that could be extended to anyone with a legitimate connection to Thame in the future.
People have already come forward to place crosses in Iraq, New Zealand and Singapore.
- David Bretherton, centre, with Thame Remembers steering group member Ian Jones, left, and project coordinator Mike Dyer, right, with the Thame Remembers symbol. Picture: OX68520 Cliff Hide
Those who died at sea will also be honoured as even though their names are inscribed on naval memorials in Chatham, Portsmouth, Plymouth and Tower Hill in London, the Thame Remembers project will go one step further.
Mr Bretherton hopes to lay wreaths on the waves where ships or submarines with men from Thame onboard sank.
Someone has already offered to help coordinate this with the use of a ship off the coast of Durban in South Africa.
He thinks the sites in Tanzania will be the hardest to place as one is in a cemetery in Dar es Salaam and the other in Dodoma in the centre of the country. The group is planning three coach trips to the Somme next spring, Ypres in April and Arras in September 2015.
The first cross will be laid at St Mary’s Churchyard on August 3, the day before Britain declared war on Germany in 1914.
JUNIOR OFFICER'S GALLANT SERVICE
ERIC William Rose was born in 1898 and died on April 5, 1918, in France, later being awarded the Military Cross.
He was the son of a farmer and was a former pupil of Lord Williams’s School in Thame and enlisted in Aylesbury in August 1916, aged 18.
Second Lieutenant Rose was in the 1st/8th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers,
and is remembered on the Arras Memorial, France.
- Second Lieutenant Eric William Rose
The London Gazette recorded on July 23, 1918, that he had been posthumously awarded the Military Cross.
The Gazette said it was: “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in action.
“Although a very junior officer, he commanded his company with great courage and ability, and his resolution in leading a counter-attack was worthy of the utmost praise.”
He died aged 19.
RESEARCH UNCOVERS VERY HUMAN STORIES
DAVID Bretherton has been uncovering stories about each of the men since the beginning of the year and he is still developing detailed histories.
One such soldier was Corporal Ernest House, who served in the Canadian Infantry and died on November 30, 1915.
He was killed when a shell hit his trench in Belgium and was buried in La Plus Douve Farm Cemetery near Ypres.
Corporal House lived in Chinnor Road, Thame, and in 1912 resigned as a porter at the local workhouse aged 20.
He sailed to Canada and started work as a decorator before joining the Canadian Infantry in December 1914.
He was killed less than a year later after volunteering in search of adventure in the war.
Mr Bretherton, a keen historian, also looked into the story behind Private Charles Boiling, who lies in an unmarked grave in St Mary’s Churchyard, Thame.
His father committed suicide when he was a young boy and he joined the Army at the outbreak of war in 1914.
- Corporal Ernest House
He was injured in 1916, invalided out of the Army in 1918, then died two years later.
It is thought he served in the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and is buried with his mother in the churchyard at St Mary’s, but Mr Bretherton is trying to contact the Boiling family members to find out more.
A local undertaker was so moved by the story he has offered to place a headstone out of goodwill for Private Boiling.
Mr Bretherton said: “We want to honour him with a cross. We asked the undertaker if we could put a small cross there and they offered to put in a full gravestone.”
So far no family members have come forward about him.
INSIGHT INTO LIFE DURING WARTIME
A SCENE of what life was like in the trenches in the First World War has been created for Thame Museum.
The work of two professional miniaturists from Thame – Celia Thomas and Robin Britton – is on display at the museum in High Street and shows the remains of an officer’s dugout with the trench and poppy fields above.
- Some of the names of The Fallen listed on the Thame War Memorial
The display is part of the First World War Centenary Exhibition which will run until Wednesday, August 20, and afterwards the model will go on sale to raise money for the Royal British Legion.
COUNTRIES WHERE THEY ARE BURIED
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED
AN exhibition at Thame Museum called Commemorating the First World War includes stories, medals, letters and other objects and information from the time.
If you have any information about a family member who you think died in the war or you have come across anything which may be of interest, please get in touch via thameremembers.org
Everyone is also welcome to attend the launch event on August 3 in St Mary’s Churchyard, Thame, when the first crosses will be laid.
The date marks 100 years since the evening before the First World War began.
Our top stories: