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The Royal British Legion are the national custodians of remembrance and as a tribute to them, we have published their biographies to help keep their glorious memory alive.  

Shortly after we commemorated the 100th Anniversary of the inauguration of our Harleston and Wortwell War Memorial, Terry Pegg of the Royal British Legion and Kate Chenneour thought it might be worthwhile to try and get a sense of the individuals whose families chose to have their names recorded in stark black on the hard grey stone of our Celtic War Memorial. We refer to our Harleston War Heroes as that is where the memorial stands but include the large number who came from our sister parish of Wortwell.

Some of the men’s links with the town were quite tenuous, one man almost certainly never lived in the town, some men married local lasses but had been born elsewhere, some men were born in the town but had long left, others were born, bred and raised in the town with links to many other families of similar ancient residence.  We also added the biographies of a few men whose names do not appear on the memorial but whose strong links with the town meant we felt their lives should also be marked; we are proud to claim them as Harleston’s War Heroes.

Harleston - Recruiting - Diss Express 20th Nov 1914:

Such was the closeness of many families, either by marriage, being neighbours or shared workplace that, when one of the sons of Harleston died, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, employers, neighbours, workmates, club members were also impacted. When another son of Harleston died, these circles of shared mourning would overlap the previous one.  There must have been months, particularly during the first world war when whole sections of Harleston were in almost constant mourning or waiting on tenterhooks for news of a loved one.

Our Harleston Heroes died all over the globe: not only in France or Flanders but in the Far and Middle East, one even off the coast of Africa.  Many died in the disastrous campaign in Gallipoli, one in the lost Sandringham unit whose fate has been dramatized in the film ‘The Kings Men’, three others of our men, all in the same unit died on the same day in battle in Gallipoli. One soldier died at sea when his troop carrier was sunk, some died in or plummeting from the air, for others we will never know the details of their last hours or minutes; many bodies still lie anonymous in the rich fields of France and Flanders or the dry dust of Turkey. Possibly the cruellest deaths were those of the men captured in the Far East; worked to death and brutalised they fell prey to untreated sickness in tragically high numbers whilst their families at home assumed them to be safe as Prisoners of War.

Others died of sickness; one of our Heroes within weeks of enlisting before he had really started his training, another in a German prisoner of war camp just a day or two before the Armistice. Whether as a prisoner, due to a minor but infected wound, from tuberculosis worsened by exposure to poison gas, in the heat of battle, the chill of the ocean or even by a lapse of attention in Middle Eastern traffic, we honour all those who gave their lives in service.

In this research into our Harleston Heroes, we have not focussed on their war records although this is of course part of their history, nor greatly upon how they met their various ends but instead on how they and their families fitted into the community of Harleston and villages to be commemorated on our war memorial. Hopefully in so doing we have contributed to bringing these men from the ranks of Initial and Surname to more solid flesh and blood members of their community with pasts and histories even if their futures were cruelly curtailed.

Whilst the survivors of World War 1 may not have returned to the land fit for heroes that they had been promised, their sons grew up in a world of many more opportunities than afforded to their parents.  A number of the men who died in World War 2 had attended Bungay Grammar School, a marked step up from the basic 3Rs (interrupted by working in the fields) that was offered to many of their fathers. The men who went off to fight in World War 1 were largely men who were either following paths their family had taken for generations or men from families who slowly, generation by generation, had by dint of hard work and education ‘bettered’ themselves.  In Victorian times, tradesmen had almost universally lived over the shop; by the time of that last Edwardian Summer, families like the Durrants, auctioneers, were sending their sons away to be privately educated and could aspire to live at the White House on Mendham Lane.  Harleston never really had ‘society’; the Hazards, up in Caltofts (which like the White House, also became a hospital for the troops) were, with the purchase of the Manor of Harleston, doing their best to slide into what passed for society in the area.

Harleston - Soldiers Club - Diss Express 18th June 1915

Local builder Arthur Rayner's wife Elizabeth and mother of one of our Harleston Heroes 'Leonard Rayner' who did not return was very involved in the soldiers club at King George's Hall.

The only really ‘posh chap’ on our memorial was Richard Pemberton, who served in the Navy in WW2, and he really only appeared there as his grandmother, who had made rather a ‘good’ marriage, chose to retire to her childhood home of Harleston, Dove House to be precise.

Otherwise, the majority of the men who went off to fight, but did not return, came from largely agricultural backgrounds, a surprising number were associated with brick making or brick laying or, not too surprisingly in this market town, either were, or were the sons of, shop keepers.  Some men, as had their predecessors for centuries past, had already swapped the ploughshare for the bayonet and were professional or reserve soldiers at the outbreak of war, others descended from fathers who had spent a spell in the military, many more of them were part of the active militia in the town.  This was a community (in the town and close by villages) with far more martial training than we would find today.  In the first world war a surprisingly large number joined the gunners, reflecting the presence of a very active artillery militia unit in the town; these were trained men.

We know very little of most of the men who went off to fight in WW1; this contrasts with those who went off to WW2.  The young men who were born or grew up in the interlude between the wars had a wealth of activities to choose from:  team lists appear for cricketers, football; lads and their sisters tip up in fund raising events; some of the chaps appear in musical or theatrical events; the badminton and tennis club have lively support; unlike their fathers who could select between cavalry militia or infantry militia, our second world war men could choose, when boys, between the scouts, the sea scouts, the Imps (Junior Imperialists!) or the air cadets!  Such leisure time activities had previously been the preserve of the middle classes, in the 20’s and 30’s all who could afford the boots and the subscriptions were welcome.

The youngest of our Heroes was only 16, the oldest were in their 40’s, many (as you would expect) in their 20’s.  The widow of a World War 1 Harleston Hero, became the mother of one in World War 2.  One family lost three brothers, several lost two, others lost their only son; in death all men are equal, in mourning the same can also be said. 

Research into the pasts of our Heroes’ families very much gave the lie to the image we have of the Victorian Countryside; rosy cheeked cherubs in the farm yard and honest sons of the soil trekking home to wife and family, waiting to welcome him into the warmth of his home.  Whilst many of our families were perfectly respectable, quietly getting by as best they could, other families fell into behaviours that become more understandable when you appreciate how precarious life was.  Some families were in and out of the workhouse over the generations; many were illiterate; a number of fathers balancing the relative attractions of warm pub and convivial masculine company against returning home to a house tumbling with children (we had families of 16 or more), draped with washing, noisy, crowded and chaotic chose to spend their time (and money) in the local pub or even to abandon their families entirely.

Against this background of poverty, lack of opportunity to escape from grinding hard work and lack of the diversions and entertainments we take for granted today, it is not surprising that sometimes emotions boiled over.  I was not surprised how many families included poachers or petty thieves; I was startled by just how many murders, attempted murders (and the odd suicide) featured in the background of our Harleston Heroes.  Poison occasionally featured but most murders were by the method of slitting of throats, country men would be proficient with knives and normally carried a sharp folding knife at all times for a multitude of purposes. There was very much an attitude of not interfering with what goes on behind closed doors, psychiatric illness was feared and denied to the point that one man, having attempted to murder his wife by slitting her throat, was (the magistrate more or less blaming the wife) returned to the family home and not many years later went on to kick his wife’s mother to death.

This son of this disturbed gentleman, however, went on to raise a happy family whilst his wife fostered disadvantaged children, a happy ending of sorts.

As for the image of buttoned up repressed Victorians, possibly in middle class parlours but not amongst the ordinary folks.  Sex everywhere: illegitimate children merrily scattered around the village; some children whose births preceded the marriage of their parents, some children who were one of many siblings whose parents just never got round to marrying, some children from pre-marital adventures.  We also had tales of obsessive passion; one ending gruesomely many years after the parties involved absconded from their respective spouses to set up home together.

It is not too surprising that people sometimes behaved a little wildly; life could be short and hard so why not make the most of it whilst you could? Religion for many was a bit of an optional extra – hatch, match and despatch is not a modern-phenomena!  Many parents or grandparents of our heroes died young leaving a surviving spouse to remarry and further tangle family links!  It was not just disease that led to early death: farms were dangerous places, shot guns were not regulated like today, several deaths arose from firearms accidents, one of our families was involved in the collapse of a marl pit leading to a worker being buried alive. Reports constantly appeared of men falling off cart shafts and being run over. Most of our heroes’ families were surprisingly good at raising large families in difficult circumstances (one mother of 15 siblings was herself one of 16 children) but at least two children met a terrible fate of dying from burns, this too often befell children unattended before fireguards were universally fitted.

It was only really after World War 1 that the working man suddenly became so much more respectable than his forefathers but somehow this is an image that we project far, further back than is true.

In brief, our Harleston Heroes were real men, with the mix of faults, failings, merits, feelings, hopes and dreams typical of their time.  They were prepared to do their duty and although they did not come back, as the descendants of those who did, we honour their memory and the contribution they made to shaping the world we live in today.

Also, thank you to author Ruth Walton for her kind permission to use some of the information from her book 'We Will Remember', The lives of the Harleston men who fought and died in two world wars.  This book is available to purchase from Redenhall with Harleston Town Council, Robinson's Traditional Stationers or from the Vice Chairman of Harleston Royal British Legion.

A – Z List of names of our war heroes.  Click on the name to take you to his biography.

Lest we forget:

Alfred Ablett VC

Herbert Arthur Alderton

Arthur James Bacon

Charles Russell Baldwin

Frederick Barber

Francis Edwin Barnes

Archibald Thomas Bentham

Robert Blake

Leonard Bond

Frederick Arthur Borrett

John Samuel Borrett

Stanley Frank Borrett

Percy George Brett

Allen Brown

Albert Brown

Arthur Louis Buck

Willmon Thomas Burnett

Frederick Arthur Bussey

William Henry Butcher

William Guy Cadman

Lionel Victor George Calver

Herbert Jesse Carey

Charles Henry Chamberlain

Herbert Samuel Chapman

Charles Cook

James Frederick Cook

George Clarence Cooper

Percy Banyard Cooper

Albert Frederick Daniels

Edward Bly Dalliston

Harold Dean

Allan Ives Denny

Robert George Dove

Dennis William Dowling

Harry John Drake

John Joseph Duffy

Lombe Atthill Durrant

Michael Francis Farley

Frederick Samuel Farrow

William Clacy Feaviour

John Alfred Flegg

George Henry Frost

William David Frost

Frank Cecil Gardiner

Frederick John Goffin

John Goldsmith

Austin Arthur Gower

James Ernest Hammond

Percival Frederick Hardy

William Noel Hazard

Ernest Frederick Hewitt

Sydney John Hewitt

William John Hines

Dennis Marshall Howard MC

Herbert Richard Howard

Leonard George Howard

Sydney Charles Hutton

George Ernest John James

Alfred Barham Johnson MM

Frank Walter Johnson

Thomas James Johnson

Charles Harold Kent

Frederick Kirk

John Frederick Lait

James Robert Loome

George Albert Love

Noel Lusher

Herbert Charles Markwell

Norman Frank Martin

Thomas Ivor 'TIM' Mathewson

Reginald James Mitchell

Edwin Walter Nuthall

Clare Davy Olley

William Dring Olley

Frederick Charles Osborne

James Edwin Oxborough

Richard Pallent

Oliver James Payne

Horace Edward Pearce

Samuel Albert Pearce & Harry George Pearce

William Henry Peck

Richard Herbert Stote Pemberton

Joseph Leo Phillips

Henry Preston

Arnold Randell

George Rayner

Harry Rayner MM

Herbert Edward Ray

Leonard Arthur Rayner

Sidney Joseph Rayner

Hector Donald Reeve

Henry George Riches

Harry Stanley Rouse

Robert Sadler

Roland Albert James Sadler

Herbert William Samson

Herbert Waller Saunders

James Edward Saunders

Thomas Edward Sayer

William Scarff

George Seaman

Charles Short

Leonard Albert Sillett

Percy Frank Sillett

Skinners of Wortwell

Philip Smith

Robert John Smith

Robert James Smith

Godfrey William Snelling

Reginald Staff

John William Stone

Arthur Thomas

Percy Robert Tidnam

William Charles Tidnam

Ernest William Turner

Lionel Lindsay Turner

Robert Joshua Turner

William Alfred Waller

Henry Ward VC

Reginald Herbert Ward

Edward Jack Warden

Donald George Warnes

Alfred Valiant Watson

Frederick Jonathan Webb

Horace Webb

William Websdale

Arthur William Whatling

Frederick William White

Bertie Wottell Whittaker

Arthur William Wiles

Walter Wisken

Ernest Robert Wooltorton

John Wright

“We Will Remember Them”