As a contribution to the commemoration of the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War 1 on Sunday 11th November 2018, local author Rob Hann chronicles Wartime tragedies a century ago, which played out on adjoining streets in West Bridgford.
Sunday 11th November 2018 is, of course, the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.
The day the guns fell silent after 51 months of bloody trench conflict.
Cities, towns and villages across the UK will be solemnly commemorating the sacrifice made by so many over those four long years. The scale of such losses, over 700,000, is incompressible for those fortunate enough to have been born into more peaceful times.
In my hometown of West Bridgford, 504 white crosses have been laid out on a lawn in the town centre to visibly represent the men who were destined never to return to their homes in the Borough of Rushcliffe.
However, what brought World War 1 literally closer to home for me is the discovery, quite by chance, that on my road, Elm tree Avenue, West Bridgford – a cul-de-sac with 20 odd houses today (in 1918 there would have been far fewer dwellings) three of West Bridgford’s war dead hailed from here. Moreover, four more WW1 casualties left to fight the war from homes on adjoining Loughborough Road , less than 300 yards away.
I decided to find out what I could and here is what I have discovered:
The Hunt family who lived at number 9 Elm tree Avenue comprised George Hunt, his wife Lucy, and 8 children ranging in ages between 23 (a daughter Nellie) and 2(baby George). Arthur Hunt was 16 at the time of the 1911 census. It seems, however, that Arthur was not Mr and Mrs Hunt’s eldest son. Albert had an older brother – John – who wasn’t recorded as then living at 9 Elm Tree Avenue.
By the time War broke out three years later, Arthur was old enough to join up and do his bit for King and Country. His stated occupation on joining up with the 1stBattalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) was ‘motor mechanic’.
After basic training, Arthur was posted to France with his comrades in the 1stBattalion on 4 November 1914. The Battalion took part in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle – 10 to 13 March 1915. Despite a lack of artillery shells the battle initially went well. At 10 am on the morning of 11th, ‘C’ company advanced through an orchard on the left of the battalion line and occupied some derelict houses. The battalion was shelled throughout the day and at 4 pm, ‘D’ company charged the enemy but suffered heavy casualties from machine guns and had to retreat. At some point in the action, Arthur was killed. Like so many others, his body was never found. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial France.
For Arthur’s parents George and Lucy and his siblings, the pain and loss did not end there. Arthur’s elder brother John had joined up with the 1stBattalion of the Grenadier Guards. He was killed in action nearly a year later, on the 25thSeptember 1916 and is buried at the Serre Road Cemetery near the Somme, France. John was 27.
The third casualty of the war who lived on my road, at number 14 Elm Tree Avenue, was Corporal Stanley Goulder of the Lincolnshire regiment, son of William and Helen Goulder. He was killed on the 21stMarch 1918 aged just 19. I could find no other information about Stanley except that he is commemorated at the military cemetery at the Poziers memorial, the Somme, France.
Yards away, around the corner from Elm Tree Avenue on Loughborough Road immediately before the next cul-de-sac Chestnut Grove, was where the neighbouring Bush and Plunkett families lived at number 106 and 108 Loughborough Road.
Cecil Bush was originally from Portsmouth. His links to the sea, meant that he joined the Royal Navy when war broke out. Before he went away, Cecil proposed to his sweet heart, a Nottingham lass named Blanche who lived at number 106 Loughborough Road with her mother, father and six siblings. Blanche and Cecil married in 1914 and the newly-weds briefly moved in to the house next door, 108 Loughborough Road.
Blanche’s father, Reginald Plunkett worked as a clerk in Nottingham’s lace industry but at some stage, despite his large family of wife and 7 children, he too felt compelled to ‘do his duty’ and he enlisted to serve with “B” Company, 4th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Reg landed in France on the 12th May 1915.
Reg’s war lasted less than a fortnight. He was first reported missing but then confirmed killed in action on 25th May, aged 28. His body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial, Ypres, Belgium.
Blanche’s husband Cecil saw active service on HMS Violent, a ‘V’ Class destroyer launched in 1917. Though he survived nearly 4 years of naval service, Cecil didn’t made it home to Blanche. He contracted pneumonia and despite the best efforts of the medics who attended him, he passed away, literally days before the end of the war, on the 26thOctober 1918, aged 33. Perhaps it was some small comfort to Blanche that Cecil’s body was at least brought home to Nottingham for burial. He now lies in a Nottingham Church Cemetery. Blanche moved away from Nottingham and lived until the 1950’s but never remarried.
On the opposite side of Loughborough Road at number 115 lived the Wright family. Brothers Edward and HenryWright were the sons of Thomas, an architect, and Mary. The elder Wright brother, Edward was married to Ethel and was also an architect like his Dad, living in Mansfield at the outbreak of war. Edward volunteered for army service and joined an artillery company.
Younger brother Henry was a banker in civilian life but joined the territorials in 1910 and quickly rose up the ranks to become a Captain. Henry’s regiment, the Sherwood Foresters, were posted to France in 1915 where Henry served with distinction and was involved in a series of skirmishes at Kemmel near Ypres.
Captain Henry Wright was killed on June 6th, 1915, having been shot through the head by a sniper who managed to hit Henry through the double loophole plate (a metal shield which was supposed to protect Henry) from which he was firing. He was 30 at the time of his death and unmarried.
Edward, a driver with the 594th Mechanical Transport Company Army Service Corps, attached X Corps Heavy Artillery, was killed just over a year later on the 3rd July 1917 following wounds received earlier that day. He was 35.
Being a father of two boys myself who are now of military age it is impossible to comprehend how Henry and Edward’s parents would have coped with the news that both of their brave lads had perished on the Western Front. Sadly, as in the case of the neighbouring Hunt family (above), losing more than one son in this most wicked of conflicts was not uncommon.
This cluster of fatalities on (as it has now become) my doorstep, was not a consequence of the ill-fated policy of recruiting so called ‘Pals Brigades’. The men who left West Bridgford to fight on foreign soil joined at different times, died in different theatres of war and in some cases would not have known each other. This was a random misfortune – wrong place, wrong time. Co-incidence that those who died had once lived in close proximity.
For me, having researched the stories of the men who once lived on or near my road and who left to fight a war, never to return, I feel a connection that I didn’t have before. Sunday’s 100thanniversary commemoration of the end of the Great War will be a poignant and moving occasion and provides an opportunity for all to reflect and remember the sacrifice of a whole generation and to learn the lessons of history.
Rob Hann lives in West Bridgford and is the Author of SAS Operation Galia and several other books see www.hannbooks.com