Tell Them of Us

Welcome to High Wycombe Cemetery and to the Tell Them of Us cemetery tour which covers the First World War stories of some of the men buried or remembered here.

THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS


Introduction

In October 2013 the boys from John Hampden Grammar School were asked if they would be willing to assist me in my research on the 50 plus WWI names remembered at High Wycombe Cemetery. A number of boys from the Year 10 GCSE History class (including six Student Leaders of Excellence) and one Year 8 student volunteered for the task. Our aim was to discover the stories behind the names on the gravestones and to find out how and why they came to be buried or remembered in the cemetery.

Fifty men are listed on the WWI records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) for High Wycombe Cemetery but not all their next of kin chose to give them a CWGC headstone. Some decided to have grander memorials, some decided to have both. There are also many family gravestones which remember the loss of loved ones who are buried elsewhere and these are still coming to light as our research continues. (Eighty names have presently been found on gravestones or memorial plaques within the cemetery.)

 High Wycombe Cemetery, August 4th 2014 Staff and students from John Hampden Grammar School, June 22nd 2014
High Wycombe Cemetery, August 4th 2014
Staff and students from John Hampden Grammar School, June 22nd 2014

In addition to this huge task we really needed to find the detailed stories of approximately 12 to 15 men for our planned 'Tell Them of Us' costumed cemetery tour for the summer of 2014. Ideally these needed to be stories which covered the full range of the World War I conflict so the boys were allowed to select the men which they most wanted to research. By June the school had provided some excellent information including the tales of soldiers from Australia, Canada and Belgium. Fifteen graves were finally selected for the tour and the boys and their teachers were suitably kitted out for the big day. You can see them all in the picture above.

Following on from the success of our 2014 tour the John Hampden Grammar School (with special thanks to Assistant Head Mr Andrew Wright) put forward a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding to support a similar costumed tour to commemorate the centenary of the Somme in 2016. This time they were joined by the girls of Wycombe Abbey School, see photographs below. Twenty WW1 men were selected for research. These men have their graves in the cemetery, or are remembered on a family memorial, or have family members buried there.

In addition, members of various local history groups also took part as costumed guides for the tours. Each volunteer represented a member of the town during the Great War and had their own Home Front story to relate.

 John Hampden Grammar School and Wycombe Abbey soldiers, July 3rd 2016  Staff and students from Wycombe Abbey, July 3rd 2016
John Hampden Grammar School and Wycombe Abbey soldiers, July 3rd 2016
Staff and students from Wycombe Abbey, July 3rd 2016

To enter the site straight away, please click on the poppy below. Or scroll down to continue reading.



In 1914 High Wycombe cemetery was almost 60 years old. The graves along the central avenue of lime trees were already well established but the headstones of the Commonwealth war graves which you see today were not designed or delivered until after the armistice – several years after the first WWI burials took place. Originally, or so it is believed, these graves would have been marked with a wooden cross, similar to those used at the battlefields. When the Imperial War Graves Commission, as it was originally called, was founded in 1917 “it was ordained that what was done for one should be done for all, and that all, whatever their military rank or position in civil life, should have equal treatment in their graves”. So all CWGC headstones are of a similar size and construction. These CWGC headstones were provided free of charge but the inscription at the bottom was of your own choosing and cost three pence halfpenny per letter so many families were unable to afford more than a basic RIP, if anything at all.

The cemetery was established on land which was originally owned by Lord Carrington. The Carringtons, too, were not left unscathed by the Great War and Viscount Wendover, son of the next Lord and Lady Carrington, and their only son, was killed in France in 1915 and his coffin was brought back to the family burial ground at Moulsoe, north Bucks. His body was one of the last to be repatriated to this country before the government changed the rules.

So when war broke out what happened in Wycombe? Well, the Territorials had been at their annual training camp that weekend and had been requested to pack up early and return home as war was imminent – it was declared on Monday August 4th 1914. On the Tuesday evening, buglers were sent to every village to alert the Territorials to meet at the Wycombe Barracks within three hours. Only three failed to arrive because they were elsewhere at the time.

Amid scenes of cheering, flag waving and many sweethearts' tears they marched to Wycombe station and boarded a train which would eventually take them onto training in Portsmouth. It would all be over by Christmas so they said…. But by the end of 1915 it was still dragging on with little end in sight and 1916 began with more worrying news from Serbia, Salonica and Mesopotamia where men were fighting, dying and being taken prisoners of war.

In February the Battle of Verdun began but, despite the gloomy news from these areas of conflict on the Western Front, there was also an optimistic plan to send seed potatoes to France to help ruined farms begin crop production again.

At home the fear of aerial combat via the Zeppelin was a constant worry and the stipulations on lighting and early closing were adhered to. Shortages on paper and sugar were becoming apparent and households were urged to be frugal in their use. British Summer Time was enacted to maximize the day’s working hours especially in agriculture.

It was also the year that conscription was made compulsory for all men over 18. This put tremendous pressure on local firms and factories whose products were also needed to support the war effort. The findings of the exemption tribunals appear regularly within the South Bucks Free Press (now known as the Bucks Free Press) with little sympathy offered to the plight of the firm. Exemptions were given but only for a few weeks while the proprietor found an older substitute, or an alternative solution.

In March the Wycombe District branch of the British Red Cross proudly saw the result of their recent fundraising – an ambulance boat by the name of The Wycombe Swan – to be sent to Mesopotamia for use on the Tigris. It was one of three to be sent from the county that month.

On May 31st the Battle of Jutland saw heavy casualties but news of those who had been lost at sea took a while to reach families back at home. In July the Somme became the hot news of the day. The South Bucks Free Press, the pages of which had been filled all year with war related topics, was to become thick with battlefield losses.

The Bishop of Buckingham was to lose a third son to the war, and many Wycombe families were to lose at least two of their family members during this time, some of whom you will meet today. These men, who in peacetime were chairmakers, bakers, butchers, hairdressers, doctors and solicitors, had left families back at home who were now frantic with worry. As the casualties steadily mounted the newspaper articles tried to maintain an up-beat focus, highlighting the patriotism and courage of our brave men. Mothers were applauded for sending their sons to war and, in some cases, five or six sons were all serving for King and Country.

On the Home Front there were charity fundraising fetes, military cricket matches and sporting events. Newspaper articles on a woman’s role in wartime were read eagerly by all those who were campaigning for women’s suffrage. The war gave them ample opportunity for putting forward their views now that women were increasingly proving their value in factories, offices and shops.

In August, 200 wounded soldiers were entertained to tea in the Abbey grounds with local townsfolk contributing to the event. The cherries, for example, were supplied by Mr James Aldridge who was also a generous benefactor to the VAD hospital. And everyone was encouraged to harvest a good plum crop in order to overcome the sugar shortage.

In September Lloyd George, the secretary of state for war, concerned by the dispirited public mood, recommended that everyone went to see the film The Battle of the Somme at their local cinema and the Electroscope was packed out. Not to be outdone the Grand Cinema showed The Four Feathers.

There was now a blackout from 8pm and insurance companies were advertising cover for damage from the air. There was much excitement when a low flying aircraft (ours) made an impromptu landing in the fields at Micklefield Farm (behind the Rifle Butts pub) in late September and when a Zeppelin (theirs) was seen falling to earth over the darkened hills of Wooburn in early October.

By mid-November the Battle of the Somme was all but over but the list of local casualties, printed in the South Bucks Free Press, provided a disquieting insight into the progress of the war.

In December a newly formed theatre group, The Society Entertainers, put on their first show for Christmas to raise money for the new x-ray apparatus for the Cottage Hospital, the room to be paid for by the Town Clerk Mr Arthur Clarke and Mrs Clarke in memory of their son Donald who had been killed at the Somme in August.

Two long and gruelling years later the armistice was finally signed at 11am on November 11th 1918 and Wycombe received confirmation of this momentous event at 11.30 that morning. The town was jubilant. Flags and bunting soon decorated every street, wooden football rattles resounded everywhere (they had been made in quantity in High Wycombe for trench gas attack alerts), the Wycombe Furnishing band played in Church Street and fireworks could be heard that evening. A huge bonfire was lit in Frogmoor Gardens the following day. We were finally at peace.

Sadly many of the men who are buried or remembered here did not live to see it, and for those who did, it was, for them, all too short. So we invite you now to join our cemetery trail and be taken back in time to those dark days of the Great War. Please click on the poppy above to read the stories.

This is an ongoing research project and I hope to add more stories in due course. My thanks to the boys and staff of John Hampden Grammar School and the girls and staff of Wycombe Abbey who have taken part in this project both as researchers and/or performers. My thanks, also, to Derek Wingrove and Richard Ogden of Wycombe District Council who helped to find 'lost' family graves, Wycombe High School for the Benjamin Road Hospital archives, the Bucks Free Press for WW1 reports, Wycombe Museum for their support on the day, Clint's Roll of Honour and the casualty lists on Buckinghamshire Remembers and all the volunteers who helped as costumed guides - please see cast list below.
With special thanks to SWOP (Sharing Wycombe's Old Photographs) for the use of their images.


Sally Scagell 2016

           

 Home Front volunteers, June 22nd 2014  Home Front volunteers, July 3rd 2016
Home Front volunteers, June 22nd 2014
Home Front volunteers, July 3rd 2016

Tell Them of Us - The Great War Tour, Sunday 22nd June 2014
The Cast

The Soldiers, John Hampden Grammar School:
Percy Wingrove (Matthew Crane, researched by Kristian Stavrou)
Alfred Montague (Alastair Sledge)
Joseph Walker Pooley (Jamie Plant)
William Quarterman (Alex Sutton)
William George Cartwright (Nick Pinn)
Richard Walters (Toby Johnston)
William George Youens (Max Woodroff)
Reginald Wisdom (Joe Hawley)
Alfred Hale (Toby Stilwell)
Arthur G Thurlow (Niall McCarthy)
The Bates brothers (Josh Matovu)
Reginald Hall (Sam Day, researched by Luke Brosse)
Arthur Gardham (Tom Demery)
The Augers brothers (Harry McHale)
Joseph Cyril Buttenaere (Mr Andrew Wright)
Last Post bugler (James Carr)

Members of the Home Front:
Mrs Minnie Clarke, fundraiser for the Wycombe War Memorial Hospital (Sally Scagell, Lost the Plot and Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Mr Ebenezer Gomme, chair manufacturer turned aircraft maker (Richard Ogden, Lost the Plot cemetery archivist)
Marchionesse of Lincolnshire, Lady Carrington, president of the Bucks Red Cross (Fi Bingham, Chesham Museum)
Mrs Eliza Wilks, mother of Vincent Wilks (Margaret Anderton, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Miss Rose, bereaved sister (Taryn Earley, Earley Days History for Teens)
Mrs Wane, hospital visitor (Jane Dunsterville, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Mrs Watkins, mother of CR Watkins (Sue Granshaw, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Mr James George Peace, tailor turned army outfitter (John Gurney, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Miss Irene Agnes Rose, VAD nurse (Rosemary Brereton, John Hampden Grammar School)
Mrs Ada Hart, mother of TE White (Jan Fanning, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Rev Baines, good causes (Tony Davies)
Edward Sweetland, photographer (Robin Scagell)
And Friends of Chesham Cemetery:
Mary Ann Smith, munitionette (Sharon McEwan, Friends of Chesham Cemetery)
Arthur Dix, stained glass maker (Michael Bannister, Friends of Chesham Cemetery)
Muriel Janes, schoolgirl (Rachel Rose, Friends of Chesham Cemetery)


And Tell Them of Us - Wycombe and the Somme Tour, Sunday 3rd July 2016
The Cast

The Soldiers for John Hampden Grammar School:
Joseph Worley (Cameron Spruzen)
Edward Carter (Dylan Thakker)
William Woodbridge (Eli McHale)
Edgar Frank Newman (Greg Kite)
Rupert Harrall (Luca Webb)
Donald Clarke (Max Armstrong)
John Barry (Sam Holmes)
Edwin Brazil (Thomas Uhlarik)
Alfred Edward King (James Sari)
Ralph Coltman (Max Phippen)
Frederick Bravington (Alex Heard)
Charles Hatton – soldier on leave (Mr Andrew Wright)

The soldiers for Wycombe Abbey:
Frederick Lance (Jade)
John Lawrence (Isolde)
FC Reynolds (Isabella)
Gilbert Bates (Celeste)
Rosetta Newman (Lotty)
Gilbert Stone (Isabel)
Arthur Joseph Bliss (Charlotte)
Charles William James Heath (Charlotte)
Joseph Eccles (Mr Neill George)

Members of the Home Front in 1916 :
Ellen Rackstraw - bereaved mother (Sally Scagell, Lost the Plot and Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Ebenezer Gomme – manufacturer of aircraft parts (Richard Ogden, Lost the Plot cemetery archivist)
Isabella Wilson - bereaved mother (Fiona Vincent, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
James George Peace – tailor for officers’ uniforms (John Gurney, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Ada, Munitionette - (Julia Bolden)
Henry Tranter - bereaved grandfather (Geoff Edwards, Buckinghamshire Family History Society)
Mary Ann Peddle - bereaved grandmother (Mary Edwards, Buckinghamshire Family History Society)
Eliza Fletcher - bereaved mother (Jan Caddie, Buckinghamshire Family History Society)
Charles Walter Raffety – benefactor of stained glass window (John Dunsterville)
Bertha Wheeler – charity worker (Jane Dunsterville, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Minnie Wilks - bereaved mother (Taryn Earley, Earley Days History for Teens)
Edward Sweetland - photographer (Robin Scagell)
Mary Ann Page - bereaved mother and grandmother (Margaret Anderton, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Thomas Harsant Butler - editor of the South Bucks Free Press (Mike Dewey, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Rev Thomas Charles Baines – St John’s Church, Desborough Road (Tony Davis)
Florence Wane – entertainer and hospital visitor (Alison Norris, Flackwell Local Area History Group)
Florence Irene Nicholson - nurse (Mrs Gill Evans, Wycombe Abbey)


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