Heroes of Gamlingay 1914/18

by Peter Wright.

What sort of reaction would there be in the village today if war was declared and over 200 men from Gamlingay went off to fight? And what if around 35% of these were to be killed? Not easy questions to answer, but that’s what happened here in Gamlingay during the Great War of 1914 – 1918. These are the figures uncovered so far by an ongoing project by Gamlingay & District History Society that started in 2007.

This is the story of some of those men, their families, and the suffering bought on by the events of WW1 to the population of Gamlingay.

The period from the 1870’s to 1914 was a time of agricultural depression throughout Britain, and this adversely affected living standards in small agricultural communities like Gamlingay. In the 60 years from1871, the population of Gamlingay fell 30% from approximately 2,000 to 1,400. Times were hard, and one way for a young man to escape poverty was to join Britain’s standing army. Several Gamlingay men did this in the years before the Great War, including David Swannell, Fredrick Bruce, and Frank Swannell, so a few Gamlingay soldiers were already in the regular army before war was declared on August 14th, 1914.

The outbreak of war provoked a huge surge of patriotism and excitement across the country. Stories of German atrocities in the press following their invasion of Belgium made many keen for glory. Retired army officers were bought out of retirement to co-ordinate local recruitment into the army, and for Gamlingay, this was Major C.W.Stanley, assisted by Mr J. Fowler. At least two recruitment meetings were held in the late summer of 1914. The first was an open-air meeting at the Cross, in what is now the Jannah Indian Restaurant car park, where Major Stanley took names of prospective soldiers. This was followed by a crowded and enthusiastic meeting in the school, attended by many men aged 19 to 30. Mr Fowler took the chair, and said the country was fighting for it’s freedom, and it’s own existence as a nation. All who were able should join Lord Kitchener’s Army at once. Three more speakers followed in the same vein. At the close of the meeting, 10 names were given in, followed by 11 more the next day. Two days later, the 21 recruits assembled at the Cross, and were transported to Recruiting HQ at Cambridge in motorcars provided by eight local gentlemen, including Mr Orlebar, Mr Pym, and Major Stanley. A large crowd gave them an enthusiastic send off. Two days after that, the 21 men left for Bury St Edmunds to commence training.

Their training continued at Shorncliffe, from where the recruits wrote to Mr Fowler. Every morning they did an eight-mile route march before breakfast. They were practicing lots of drill, and playing football in their spare time. They were confident that once they got home, they would win the Cambs Junior League with ease! However, warm uniforms were not yet available. Later, the Cambridge Committee sent out extra clothing, and the boys wrote to say they were very thankful. Their names were printed weekly in the Cambridge Chronicle along with hundreds of other Cambridge recruits, under the banner headline, ‘Patriots All!’
Then on November 7th 1914, the first Gamlingay soldier was killed. This was David Swannell of 1st Bedfords, who was not a new recruit, but a professional soldier just returned from a tour of duty in India, and sent to France to join the British Expeditionary Force. He was 32, and has no known grave. It is not recorded how much this damped down enthusiasm in the village – it must have had some effect, but recruits kept coming forward. One was Charles Wright, from Church End. He signed up aged 16, and in common with many, informed the recruiting sergeant he was 19, the age required for foreign service. When his mother Jane found what he had done, she tried to get him out of the army – with no success. He joined the Royal Engineers, and survived the war.

Seven Gamlingay boys were killed in 1915. These were almost all over thirty years old, and were probably regular soldiers or reservists. The first of four soldiers buried in Gamlingay cemetery during the war years was laid to rest in May 1916. This was David Paine, of the 10th Suffolks, aged 32. David was training in England when he contracted pneumonia, and subsequently died. A local burial must have been salutary for the village, but if it wasn’t, then the Gamlingay casualties sustained in the First Battle of the Somme must have been. This bloody battle raged from July 1st to November 7th 1916 and claimed the lives of 13 Gamlingay men. Nine of these have no known grave, and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial on the old Somme battlefield. Two of these were David and William Darts, brothers from Church End, who were killed within a month of each other during the battle.

On April 9th 1917, the British attacked the German lines at Arras. This battle lasted until May 16th, and claimed the lives of five Gamlingay men, none of whom have known graves. The notorious Battle of Passchendaele, July 31st-November 6th, claimed four further victims, while the First Battle of Cambrai, November 20th-December 7th, added another four.

1918 saw fourteen further deaths. The last soldier to die and be given a place on the stone village war memorial was Arthur Jakes, who died of the effects of gas poisoning sustained during the war in January 1919.
Of all the survivors traced so far, 16 had wounds that no doubt plagued them for the rest of their lives. At least four were amputees. And the pain did not stop with the men themselves. It is impossible to imagine how Harry and Clara Whitbread of Church End felt after the war. Their son Arthur was killed on December 23rd, 1916, then another son George was killed on March 28th, 1918. Finally a third son, Ernest, returned to Gamlingay with both legs amputated. The fact that prior to injury Ernie had won the Military Medal for single-handedly digging out a machine gun team after they had been buried by shell fire probably did not help.

On a lighter note, three young men from the village learnt to fly. H. H. (John) Hall, was a flying instructor, and during the war, landed his aircraft in a field near his home, Manor Farm in Station Road, so he could take breakfast with his mother! The second pilot was Gus Orlebar, from Tetworth Hall, who saw fierce action as a fighter pilot, with seven victories to his name by the end of the war. Billy Knibbs was the third Gamlingay aviator, also serving on the western front. All three survived the war. Latterly, some ex soldiers injected a little colour into village life. One such was Lissy Norman, who into the 1960’s could still be seen about the village wearing the tropical pith helmet he had been issued while serving in Mesopotamia during WW1.

But the overall picture is one of great sadness. Seven village men had been taken Prisoner of War, including Stanley Titmus and Herbert Lowings. Stan received a note from Buckingham Palace wishing him well on his release. Several, including Herbert Lowings, had been gassed. Most returned to work the land, and those that couldn’t did what they could. Amputee Bill Theobalds had a cobblers shop in Church End, while another amputee, Ted Housden, ran a sweet shop near the church. Some, like Charlie Wright, eventually found they were unable to make a living from market gardening and left the village to find work. Others, like Arthur Swannell, who was wounded in 1916, remained working on the land.

Immediately after the war, there was public pressure for a network of memorials across the country to commemorate the 750,000 British dead. In Gamlingay, a memorial was constructed in the north transept of St Mary’s Church. This took the form of oak panelling carved with the names of the fallen. This panelling was dedicated as St Mary’s Church memorial on September 25, 1919, and was accompanied by a framed Roll of Honour which explained the context and also listed the names of the dead. A similar plaque of bronze with 13 names was made for Gamlingay Heath & Tetworth, and was probably placed within the ‘Iron Church’ on the Heath, until it’s closure. Ten of the Heath & Tetworth names are duplicated on the main roll of 62 names. All three memorials can still be seen within St Mary’s Church.

In early 1919 plans were made to erect a stone cross in a public place which would also commemorate Gamlingay’s dead. What we now refer to as the village war memorial was originally erected in Station Road, but now has a prominent place in St Mary’s cemetery. It was unveiled in a ceremony on December 19th, 1920, with practically all the village inhabitants in attendance. During this ceremony, a guard of honour consisting of ex-soldiers formed a large circle around the memorial. The memorial was concealed by a large Union Flag, which was ceremonially removed while a lone bugler sounded the ‘Last Post’. The hymn ‘Rock of Ages’ was sung with feeling, followed by prayers led by the Vicar. ‘Reveille’ was then sounded, and a large number of flowers and wreaths laid at the base of the memorial.

It should be remembered that these local memorials were the only ones friends and relations of the deceased had easy access to, as the remains of servicemen were not returned home for burial, and in any event, at least 31 of the 72 dead have no known grave.

The names on all the memorials vary, and the reasons for this are not fully understood. So one can only hope that committees responsible for including names were generous to the families involved. As far as I can determine, there were 72 dead with Gamlingay connections, which contrasts with the 65 WW1 names that are on the stone memorial, and 67 on the oak panel inside the Church. My figure of 72 is composed of names from both Rolls of Honour, the two memorials, as well as individuals commemorated in Gamlingay cemetery who do not appear on either of the two Rolls or the memorials.

As parents of soldiers passed away, they often had the names of their dead son inscribed on their gravestone. There are at least 17 instances of this in Gamlingay cemetery. Another point of interest is that several individuals are commemorated on more than one town or village war memorial. This applies to Gamlingay’s George Webb, Reuben Waters, and Frederick Spriggs, who also appear on Sandy, Waresley, and Potton memorials respectively. This occurred when the family had ties in both places. For instance, Fred Spriggs lived in Potton, but attended church in Gamlingay.

The average age of those who died from Gamlingay in WW1 was 26. The youngest to die was Walter Darlow at 18, and the oldest Fred Norman, at 46. As far as I can determine, only 29 that went to war from Gamlingay came back physically unhurt, and at least 30 of the dead have no known grave. And of course, less than 21 years later WW2 started, which added a further 14 names to our war memorial.

So if you want something to do on Remembrance Sunday, remember these men and their families, and think how lucky we all are to be living here and now, in relatively settled times.
For more information on the War Memorial click here.

72 Gamlingay Servicemen died in WWI

The following list of names is made up from the Rolls of Honour, the War Memorial, and private memorials in Gamlingay Cemetery. Where ages can be found, the youngest to die was 18, the oldest, 46. The average age of those from the village who died was 25 years, 9 months.

W Hodge

Mark Hall

Fred Howe

Arthur Whitbread

F Norman

David Macklin

C Cartwright

A Howe


Eddie Baker David Darts
Alfred Howe David Paine
George Swannell Harry Bird
William Darts Fred Howe
Herbert Paine Ralph Titmus
William Bird Edward Dickerson
Arthur Jakes Lawrence Palmer
William Todd Albert Blain
Ernest Dickerson David Jarvis
Albert Purser Reuben Waters
Arthur Busby Joshua Dickerson
Fred Jarvis Hebert Ray
Rainsford Charles Watson Harry Careless
Ralph Dickerson Cyril Jiggle
Oscar Rainsford Albert Webb
Charles Cartwright Graham Farquharson
John Leader Theodore Rathke
Charles Webb Cecil Gilbey
Frank Cooper George Leader
Edward Richardson George Webb
John Cross Mark Hall
William Leonard James Richardson
Arthur Whitbread Harry Cross
William Hare Horace Lowings
Walter Rolfe George Whitbread
Alex Daisley Frank Hibbitt
David Macklin Leslie Spear
John Whittet George Daisley
William Hills Thomas Meeks
Frederick Spriggs William Wright
Albert Darlow Bertram Hinton
Robert Munns Herbert Stratton
Arthur Darlow Walter Hodge
John Norman. Frederick Starr
Walter Darlow Reginald Homan
Fred Norman David Swannell

Gamlingay Servicemen who survived The Great War

Harry Arnold. Enlisted 1914
Jonathan Arnold. (1)203 Field Co. RE, Enlisted 1915
Jonathan Arnold. (2)Emigrated 1910. Canadian Forces
A. Beard. Beds Yeomanry. Enlisted 1915
Terah Bennett. Royal West Kents
Ralph Bird. 11th Suffolks. Enlisted 1915
Percy Brown. Hospitalised 1915
Fred Bruce. Served in India before 1914
Harry Bruce. 2nd Suffolks
Horace Bruce. Suffolks. Enlisted 1914
Leslie Bruce
Sidney Bruce. RFA. Enlisted 1917
A. G. Bruntlett. Wounded 1918
Tom Burrows. RFA. Wounded, & MiDE
W. Burrows. 8th Beds. Enlisted 1914
E. Cade. Lancs. Fusiliers, POW
Mark Cade. 203 Field Co, RE. Enlisted 1915
Robert Cade. Hunts Cyclists. Enlisted 1915
W. Burrows. 8th Beds. Enlisted 1914
W. Careless. Beds Yeomanry
G. Clayton. Beds Yeomanry. Enlisted 1914
Sidney Cole. Enlisted 1914
Arthur Cook. Served in India before 1914
L. C. Cooper. 1st Herts. POW
James Croot. Enlisted 1914
Ebin Croot. 3rd Beds. Enlisted 1916, wounded
George Daisley. Enlisted 1916
Harry Daisley. Beds Rgt. Enlisted 1915
James Daisley. Enlisted 1914
Lionel Daisley. Royal Marines
E. Daniels. Norfolks. Enlisted 1916
Harry Dickerson. Gassed. Two brothers killed
Mark Dickerson. The Buffs. 1918-1919
Walter Dickerson. RFA. Enlisted 1916
L. Dove. Beds Yeomanry. Serving before 1914
Bert Earle. Enlisted 1915
Fred Emery. Enlisted 1914
T. Emery. KRR. POW
Bill Empson. Royal Naval Air Service. Enlisted 1915
George Frost. Enlisted 1915
George Gilbert. Serving in India in 1918
Claude Gilby. Enlisted 1914
William Gurney. Serving in 1917
J. Hailey. Enlisted 1915
Henry (John) Hall. RFC. Enlisted 1917. 1 brother killed
Len Hardy. 8th Beds. Serving in 1916
Herbert Hibbert. Cambs Rgt. Enlisted 1915
G. Hibbert. Beds Rgt. Serving before 1914
Albert Hills. Gassed
Harvey Hill. RN. Serving before 1914
A Houghton. Suffolks. Serving before 1914
Ted Housden. Severely wounded IN 1917
George Housden. Enlisted 1915
Harry Howe RASC. Serving in 1915
F. Hutchison. Beds Yeomanry. Serving before 1914
Albert Hutchinson. Wounded
George Jakes. Enlisted 1914. Wounded & discharged
Harold Jakes. Suffolks. Enlisted 1914. Wounded 1916
Reg Jakes
Arthur M. Jakes. Enlisted 1914
Walter Jakes. Enlisted 1916
Watkin Jakes. Hunts Cyclists. Enlists 1915
George Jarvis. Suffolk Rgt
John Jarvis
William E. Jarvis. RN
Jack Jiggle. Wounded 1917
Billy Knibbs. RFC. enlisted 14.03.1917
Charles Larkins
Frank Larkins. Beds Rgt. Serving before 1914. Wounded
Selas Larkins. Enlisted 1914
Percy Leader. Cambs Rgt. Enlisted 1914. Wounded twice
Herbert Lowings. Enlisted 1915. Wounded, gassed & POW
Samuel Lowings. Wounded. 1915
George Meeks. Enlisted 1914
Harry Meeks. Enlisted 1915
Joe Meeks. Wounded 1917
Stanley Meeks.
Albert Norman. Special Reserve
Alfred Norman. Suffolks. Enlisted 1915
Arthur Norman. (1) RN. Serving before 1914
Arthur Norman. (2) RGA
Aubrey Norman. Wounded. 1917
Henry R Norman. Enlisted 1915
Reuben Norman. Either RGA or RFA
Walter Norman. 8th Suffolks. Enlisted 1914. Wounded
Ulysses Norman. Served in Mesopotamia
A. H. Orlebar. 5th Beds & RFC. Twice wounded
A. Peacock. RN. Serving before 1914
Clifford Peacock. RN. Serving before 1914
Harry Peacock. RFA. Serving before 1914. Wounded
Sidney Peacock. Enlisted 1914
William Peacock. 2nd Suffolks. Wounded & POW in 1915
W. Peacock. RN. Serving before 1914
Edward Herbert Peters. RGA. Enlisted 1915
Leet Gray Peters. RGA. Enlisted Gamlingay. Dec 1915
Emlyn Powell. Enlisted 1915
Ebin G Payne. RN. Serving before 1914
G. M. Radwell. 203 Field Co. RE. Enlisted 1915. Wounded
William Ridgeley. Wounded. 1917
Reg Roberts. Severely wounded
R. A. Russell. RN. Serving before 1914
Percy Sanders. Enlisted 1917
C. W. Stanley. Enlisted 1914
William Stratton. 8th Beds. Enlisted 1914. Wounded 1915
Arthur Swannell. (1)8th Suffolks. Enlisted 1914. Wounded
Arthur Swannell. (2)Royal Fusiliers. Wounded
Frank Swannell. RE. Enlisted 1911. Wounded 3 times
Bill Theobalds. Wounded
James Titmus. Suffolk & Hants Regiment. Wounded
Stanley Titmus. 6th MGC. Wounded & POW
Walter Titmus
James Wale. RFA. Enlisted 1914. Wounded 1915
J Wale. RN. Serving before 1914
J B Walker. Beds Yeomanry. Serving before 1914
Oliver Watson. Enlisted 1915
Charles S Webb. RN. Serving before 1914
Joseph Webb. RASC. Enlisted 1915
Thomas Webb. Royal Fusiliers. Enlisted 1914
Robert Webb. RN. Serving before 1914
William Webb. RN. serving before 1914
Ernie Whitbread. MGC. Wounded & MiD
F Whitbread. Beds Yeomanry. Serving before 1914
S Whitbread. Enlisted 1914
William Worboys. Beds Yeomanry. enlisted 1915
H. Wray. Enlisted 1914
Charles Wright. 203 Field Co. RE. Enlisted 1914
Henry Wright. Enlisted 1915
J. Wright. RFA or RGA
Horace Young.  MiD. 1918

Eight sets of brothers from Gamlingay who died in WW1

David & William Darts. Aged 28 & 32. Dutter End (Church End)
Edward & Ralph Dickerson. Aged 35 & 24. The Cross
David & Fred Jarvis. Aged 28 & 21. Dutter End (Church End)
John & George Leader. Aged 30 & 25. Waresley Rd
John & Fred Norman. Aged 19 & 46. Address unknown
Charles & George Webb. Aged 23 & 27. The Heath
Arthur & George Whitbread. Aged 22 & ?. Dutter End (Church End)
Harry & John Cross. Aged ? & 23. Dutter End (Church End)


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