Research carried out into Worstead and Westwick war memorials in Norfolk, England

Posted on on 26 July 2013
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Centenary News contributor Steve Smith discusses his research into two war memorials in eastern England and the book based on his findings.

This year saw the release of my first book, which details the stories of the men mentioned on the Worstead and Westwick war memorials in Norfolk.

I came to Worstead in Norfolk in October 2000 and qualified as a battlefield guide with the International Guild of Battlefield Guides in 2004. 

In the process of becoming a guide I noticed two war graves in the churchyard in the village. These were the graves of private, 41030, Herbert Cary, 2nd Battalion Essex Regiment, who died at home of fever contracted on active service on 3 January 1917 and sergeant major, S/12784, Arthur Fairbairn, of the Army Service Corps (ASC), who died on 17 August 1918. 

I wanted to know more about these soldiers and also the 16 men whose names were listed on the war memorial in the church. 

In search of information

My initial research involved me collating information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and comparing it to the database known as Soldiers Died in the Great War (SDGW). 

All of this is accessible online, but searching for men who died in the First World War can be very hit and miss. If you are lucky you might be able to find a veteran’s service record. However, approximately 60 per cent of these were destroyed in 1940 when the War Office was bombed. In the ensuing fire most were lost, leaving what have become known as the ‘Burnt Documents’ which can still be viewed at the National Archives under the reference number of WO363. 

Because the surviving documents were damaged by fire and water they were preserved by way of microfilm. This happened in conjunction in what has become known as the ‘Unburnt Collection’ or ‘Pension Records’ these service records are held under the reference number WO364 and are also available to view at Kew. More recently both databases were digitally recorded and can now be accessed at Ancestry.

I found out there was at least one man who lived in Worstead whose name was missing from the memorial. Secondly, my research also brought up the fact that at least two brothers who served together were not recorded together on the Worstead war memorial. 

Corporal, 1424, Thomas Self was listed on the one in Worstead and sergeant, 434, Benjamin Self was listed on the Westwick memorial. Thomas’ grave is also in Westwick churchyard because he died at home in 1914. Both served in the 1/5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment. Geographically Westwick is half a mile away from Worstead. 

From there I started to dig up records that showed patterns emerging whereby men who worked and lived closely together on the Westwick Estate also joined up and fell together. This information mainly came from the 1901 and 1911 Census. 

A prime example of this was private, 1432, Cecil Ernest Bullimore, who also served in the 1/5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, who was killed in action on 12 August 1915. He died alongside Thomas Self when the 1/5th Norfolks attacked positions to the east of Kuchuk Anafarta Ova in Gallipoli. Thomas had endorsed Cecil’s service record and they worked together on the Westwick Estate.

This brought up an interesting problem, which led me to a new decision. I had to include those who fought and died from Westwick into my research as well.

Primary sources

I then had a few articles printed in regional papers and a number of people contacted me. It transpired that there were several original sources. A woman who lived in Mulbarton got in touch and was able to provide an original letter detailing how private, 16/5482, Frederick Cecil Leach was killed when his unit entered the French village of Venizel. An NCO in the 16th Lancers took the time to write to a lady called Miss Holt describing, in detail, how Frederick died. 

Private 17056 John Roper and private 17050 Herbert Cooper, who both served with the 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment and were good friends, died fighting on the Somme. I was able to obtain a copy of a letter written by Herbert, who wrote to his sister in Briggate just before he went into action on the 1 July 1916. This was like finding buried treasure, part of the letter stating,

‘You must excuse paper and bad writing as we are in the midst of a terrific bombardment, no doubt it’s heaven in Blighty.’

What John was writing about was the preliminary bombardment for the Somme. He ended the letter: ‘Well I must finish this letter rather quick as nearly impossible to write at all with so much explosion going on all around you everywhere, it’s enough to drive us all off our senses.’

John was killed in action on 1 July 1916. Herbert was wounded at Delville Wood on 19 July and died of wounds on 27 July 1916.

There are also some sources available at the National Archives that can be used to get an idea of what a battalion was doing in the line at any given time. The war diaries of the First World War are held under WO95, WO standing for War Office, these provided some excellent first-hand accounts about what some of the men’s units were doing on the day they died. 

One of the most interesting men on the war memorial was sergeant major Arthur Fairbairn of the ASC. He was born Bermondsey and resided in Croydon, but was buried in Worstead churchyard. He is not listed on the war memorial, he was not listed on the Norfolk Roll of Honour and yet he lies in Norfolk. The simple answer is that his wife was Ethel May Colman who is listed on the 1881 and 1891 Census as being the daughter of Samuel and Mary Colman of Worstead. 

Arthur Fairbairn was a pre-war regular, having seen active service in South Africa. He briefly went to France in 1915, but was sent back through ill health and spent the rest of the war in England. At the time of his death he had applied to go to Salonika, but before this could happen he died suddenly of a haemorrhage after a rupture of the pulmonary artery. His wife must have decided to bring his body back to Worstead. 

The war memorial’s story

So how did the war memorial come to be erected in the church in Worstead? Permission had to be sought from the church and records in the Norfolk Record Office show that an application, or ‘Faculty’, was initiated on 26 May 1920. The actual document stating on the front, ‘Worstead Faculty, to erect a marble memorial tablet in the church’. 

Inside the document it seeks the permission of the Bishop of Norwich to carry out this important task stating: ‘The Reverend Charles William Kershaw, clerk, the vicar and Mr Edmund Waters and Miss Maud E Chettleburgh the Church Wardens of Worstead in the County of Norfolk and Diocese of Norwich. That it is proposed to erect midway on the North wall of the Nave of the church a mural tablet of marble and alabaster to the memory of the men of the parish who fell in the Great War in accordance with the design then produced and since deposited in the registry of our said covet that at a vestry meeting held the proposal and design were approved.’
Source: Norfolk Records Office, Ref No PD 402/30/2

We know that Maude Elizabeth Chettleburgh was the church-warden for Worstead. Charles Kershaw was certainly the vicar at the time and had been so since 1912. 

Edmund Waters features in Worstead history in that he is listed as living there with his wife Mary in 1891, although he is listed as an Edward Waters in the 1901 and 1911 Census. But the funding came from others and Robert Tuck Cross was instrumental, with Mr G Buck, in obtaining the funds with Mr Cross donating £50 towards its cost.

There are no surviving records to show when the memorial was unveiled, but a private diary details that it was unveiled on 20 June 1920. Robert Tuck died prior to the memorial being dedicated so his wife Charlotte Mary Cross attended the dedication and the Dean of Norwich presided over the ceremony. Parish records then show that the church held an Armistice service from 11 November 1921 onwards.

Steve Smith’s book And They Loved Not Their Lives Unto Death: The History of Worstead and Westwick's War Memorial and War Dead is available from Tommies Guides, price £13.99.

© Centenary Digital Ltd & Author