The Great War was the defining event of the 20th Century and cities, towns and rural areas of Britain confronted inconceivable loss and social change. There will always be a sense that the First World War was a uniquely awful tragedy in the nation’s history. Indeed, with the commemoration each year on Armistice Day around war memorials across Britain and the Commonwealth, the names of the fallen from the Great War vastly outnumber those of the Second. Additionally, the wearing of red poppies evoking the fields of churned-up Flanders mud reminds many Britons that the Great War speaks for all wars.
I was inspired to create this site following research into my own family history and in particular the
death of my Great-Grandfather, William Beckett. I had been told William died at
the Somme in 1916 however, my research revealed he was killed at Festubert in
May 1915. This discovery came in conjunction with the publication of a book
called "Ballymoney Heroes" by a local historian in Northern Ireland, Robert Thompson, in which he
detailed much more information relating to the life of my Great-Grandfather. I
was taken by the fact that so much information was available to tell the story
of the man my family knew very little about and that no-one living remembered. The book also
revealed that another of my Great-Grandfathers and three Great-Uncles were also killed in the Great War. It struck me that we often rely on misremembered family stories
about our ancestors or worse still, have no memory of them and the sacrifice that some made in times of conflict.
As the centenary of the start of the First World War approached I therefore determined to research and document the lives of the men on the Hemel Hempstead War Memorial. I discovered that more than 25,000 books and scholarly articles have been written on the First World War since 1918 so my intention was to record stories of the everyday lives of the men commemorated rather than their military service and battle experiences exclusively. During my reasearch I have tried, as much as possible, to focus on the social and local history of the time to create a biography of each man describing their family, school and work life, as well as their religous and sporting interests.
I hope that I have achieved these objectives for all the men commemorated although frustratingly, thirty-two of the 388 names on the memorial, still elude my best efforts to discover or verify their stories. I will however continue my research and hope that visitors to the site can supply the information needed to tell those stories as well.
Finally, any errors or omissions are entirley my own and I welcome any feedback to correct any that are discovered.
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