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 from 1871, 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 that is difficult for the modern mind to comprehend. 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 Kitcheners 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 village war memorial was Arthur Jakes, who died of the effects of gas poisoning sustained during the war in January 1919. In many ways, his burial in Gamlingay cemetery marked the end of an era.
Or did it? 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 Ernie had his ‘Gallant Conduct place on record’ 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, two of the village boys learnt to fly. Henry (John) Hall, was a flying instructor, and during the war, landed his aircraft in a field near his home in Station Road (Manor Farm), 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. 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. Six 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, the first move was to create a ‘Roll of Honour’. This took the form of an oak framed illuminated list of 62 names of the fallen, and was dedicated in the Parish Church along with the memorial chapel on September 25, 1919. A similar plaque of bronze with 13 names was made for Gamlingay Heath & Tetworth, and probably was placed in the Iron Church, prior to its removal to St Marys Church, where both can still be seen today. Ten of the Heath & Tetworth names are duplicated on the main roll of 62 names.
The next move to commemorate the parish dead was to erect the war memorial we are all familiar with, standing outside the Village College. This 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 this memorial would be the only one 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.
One can only hope that the committee responsible for deciding which names were entered on the memorial were generous to anyone connected to the village. As far as I can determine, there were 72 dead with Gamlingay connections, which contrasts with the 65 WW1 names that are on the memorial. My figure of 72 is composed of names from both Rolls of Honour, the memorial itself, as well as individuals commemorated in Gamlingay cemetery who do not appear on either of the two Rolls or the main memorial.
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 memorials. This applies to Gamlingay’s George Webb, Reuben Waters, and Frederick Spriggs, who also appear on Sandy, Waresley, and Potton’s 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 28 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 this 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.
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.
|Eddie Baker||David Darts||Reginald Homan||John Norman||Herbert Stratton|
|Harry Bird||William Darts||Alfred Howe||Fred Norman||Frederick Starr|
|William Bird||Edward Dickerson||Fred Howe||David Paine||David Swannell|
|Albert Blain||Ernest Dickerson||Arthur Jakes||Herbert Paine||George Swannell|
|Arthur Busby||Joshua Dickerson||David Jarvis||Lawrence Palmer||Ralph Titmus|
|Harry Careless||Ralph Dickerson||Fred Jarvis||Albert Purser||William Todd|
|Charles Cartwright||Graham Farquharson||Cyril Jiggle||Hebert Ray||Reuben Waters|
|Frank Cooper||Cecil Gilbey||John Leader||Oscar Rainsford||Albert Webb|
|John Cross||Mark Hall||George Leader||Theodore Rathke||Charles Webb|
|Harry Cross||William Hare||William Leonard||Edward Richardson||George Webb|
|Alex Daisley||Frank Hibbitt||Horace Lowings||James Richardson||Arthur Whitbread|
|George Daisley||William Hills||David Macklin||Walter Rolfe||George Whitbread|
|Albert Darlow||Bertram Hinton||Thomas Meeks||Leslie Spear||John Whittet|
|Arthur Darlow||Walter Hodge||Robert Munns||Frederick Spriggs||William Wright|
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|
|Sidney Bruce||RFA. Enlisted 1917|
|A G Bruntlett||Wounded 1918|
|Tom Burrows||RFA. Wounded, & MiD|
|E 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 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|
|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|
|George Jakes||Enlisted 1914. Wounded & discharged|
|Harold Jakes||Suffolks. Enlisted 1914. Wounded 1916|
|Arthur M Jakes||Enlisted 1914|
|Walter Jakes||Enlisted 1916|
|Watkin Jakes||Hunts Cyclists. Enlists 1915|
|George Jarvis||Suffolk Rgt|
|William E. Jarvis||RN|
|Jack Jiggle||Wounded 1917|
|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|
|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|
|James Titmus||Suffolk & Hants Regiment. Wounded|
|Stanley Titmus||6th MGC. Wounded & POW|
|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|
Seven 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)|