People in Britain, across Europe and around the world are commemorating the tragedy that was WWI. As Armistice Day approaches in November, at Southam Heritage Collection we are continuing to develop the Centenary Archive, a permanent record for future generations of those who died and all who served.
Many people have assisted us to collect the details and we have sought to remedy the omissions from the memorials in the town. We have contributed to the Stratford District Council Roll of Honour, which will be a leather-bound volume initially on display in Elizabeth House, Stratford.
No formal list previously existed in Southam of those who served and survived – so far we have listed the stories of over 200 men. It seems likely from population statistics that between 300-400 men from the town enlisted. If you can add any detail of a man from Southam who is thought to have served or can show us a photograph (we have some photographs of men in uniform we cannot identify) we would be most pleased to talk to you.
It is gratifying to know that families who have moved away still keep contact with their roots in the town. Several have let us have copies of photographs and details of their relatives and others have travelled across the country to see the archive.
We have also researched the VAD Hospital at the Grange and identified more than thirty volunteer nurses. Pictures suggest that there were some 60 or more women from the town who volunteered as VADs. Again the search is still on for others – maybe you will find a photo in your family album?
During WWI, former Southam folk who had emigrated returned to Europe to serve. At least five such men serving with the Canadian and Anzac forces lost their lives. One woman, Ida Bull, whose brothers were killed, served in France as a qualified Canadian nurse. As a VAD, Daisy Chamberlayne nursed in France.
An even more difficult search is for the 250 men of the 29th Division who were billeted in Southam households during Spring 1915 before leaving for Gallipoli. We have pictures of a few of these men – Lowlanders relaxing and making music at the pub – but did they survive that disastrous campaign? Somebody may have great-grandma’s old diaries or other sources of information – let us know if you find anything.
And who are the patients on the VAD Grange Hospital photographs? Over 1,000 wounded soldiers were cared for by Southam’s VAD nurses. What were their names and stories? Did they send a card to thank their nurses? We have one card sent to Helen Stevens (pictured) wife of Billy Stevens the barber. We have heard from the descendants of one young patient, Alec Colbeck; his grandson and great grandchildren came to pay tribute to their late relative. Can we find more?
For more information visit http://www.southamheritage.org/southam-soldiers/ You can also call in to our new premises within Tithe Place (opposite the Library entrance), where the WW1 Centenary Archive exhibition will be open on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to-12 noon until 20th November.
If you would like to find out more about Southam Heritage Collection please telephone 01926 613503, email firstname.lastname@example.org or message us via Facebook: Southam Heritage Collection.