In the late 1990’s Janet Capon, a teacher at Saxlingham Nethergate Primary school, was asked by her head mistress to do a project with the children about the village war memorial. She soon realised that it was a fascinating subject but needed a greater depth of research than the primary school children were capable of.
She made a list of the names on the memorial and began asking people in the village of similar surnames about their relatives. Although she gathered a little information she recognised that the research was being done twenty years too late. Few people had any details about their grandfathers or great uncles and most had none.
At this stage I became involved and we started our search for information in the Norfolk Local Studies Library where we spent hours going through volumes of Soldiers who died in the Great War. We were given access to photographs which had been sent in by relatives which at that time seemed to be stored in a box similar to a shoe box. We went through dozens of photographs and found two references to men on our memorial but sadly the photograph of one of them was missing, it just listed it was there.(Luckily this photograph must have been found when the Library was putting the photographs on the internet and I have now been able to access the photograph of William Edwards.).
We also searched the 1881 and 1891 Census records manually as we could not access them at that time on the internet. We went through the school log books and the School Managers Book for any reference to the war. We searched Kelly’s and White’s directories and marriage and birth records.
In the Norfolk Record Office in papers that had come from the Church Chest there were lists of men who had served in the First World War and the names of their regiments. Some seemed to have been there for mention in prayers but one was a list of who should or should not be included on the war memorial. Some of those with ‘no’ by their name were later included on the Church Roll of Honour but not the village memorial. These lists were helpful when using the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site to decide if the person was the one we were looking for.
We spent days searching copies of the Eastern Daily Press from 1914 to 1919 for any references to Saxlingham Nethergate or the men we were researching. The newspaper was very useful as some weeks it had local news from the villages including Saxlingham. We found a lot of information about the village in war time and the men from the papers.
As time went on we visited every grave and memorial in France and Belgium which we could identify as belonging to the men and took photographs and video tapes of them.
At the same time as we were researching the men we looked into the history of the memorials themselves. We found information about the building of the memorial initially from a note and cutting from the Eastern Daily Press put in the minute book of the Nursing Charity. We also had access to photographs from an album belonging originally to Mrs Campbell Steward.
In July 2000 as part of the village millennium celebrations we did a display of what we had found so far, in the village hall. It generated a lot of interest and some more information became available from families in the village. At that time more information was becoming available on the internet including medal cards and in 2001 we were able to access the Census records for 1901.
We began to consider writing up the research but there were several men about whom we had no information, or we could not see how they came to be on either of the War memorials. The men who were on the church memorial but not the village memorial were particularly difficult as they had not been living in the village when war broke out. We knew they must have some connection to the village but could not find it. We were lucky that the granddaughter of one of the men we were trying to connect with the village had seen our names in the visitors’ book of one of the cemeteries we had visited and she contacted us via the parish council. She gave us lots of information about her grandfather but did not know why he should be remembered in our village. Likewise I contacted someone who had visited the church to remember their grandfather and had written in our church visitors’ book. Both families gave me photographs and information that was invaluable.
We began to collate the material we had, having decided we would just have to accept that there were some people we would not find out about. We were always just about to do it but also just wanting to find or verify one more detail before we did. Unfortunately Janet was diagnosed with breast cancer and died within a few months in 2008 before we had actually started writing any of it. After her death I could not contemplate writing it up and for many years the data just remained in the files.
In 2013 I decided that it was a waste of our energy and time not to use the data we had found and make the information available to other people. It was suggested to me that a website would be a good way of presenting it. I had no idea how to do this but was lucky that Storm Roberts who had set up a website for the village bell project agreed to help and advise me.
With the website set up I decided to add data to it as I wrote about each person, so that it was an ongoing project. I revisited the data on each person and as I did so I used the internet to find out more about them. So much more is now available via the internet and with some men I was able to access their service records and the war diaries of their regiments. I was able to contact people, libraries and archives in Canada, Australia and France for records and photographs. Through ancestry sites I made contact with relatives who had put their family trees on the web page. I have been amazed at the generosity and kindness of these people and of those in many colleges, schools and other institutions who have shared their information and taken time to help.
With my husband, I have revisited many of the cemeteries to take more photographs including a visit to Thessaloniki (Salonika) in Northern Greece. We have also visited places in England to obtain photographs of places where the men lived or are remembered on other war memorials.
With more information available I have been able to find out about all the men, even the ones who are only connected to the village. Some of the links are very tenuous but they are there. It must have been very difficult for the people at the time to decide whose name would go on the memorials. Some of it no doubt was tied up in the politics of the village. There are some men whose names are on a list that was in the Eastern Daily Press in 1915 as coming from Saxlingham who are not on either memorial. Two men who had emigrated to Canada and Australia are on the village memorial. It must have been fraught with problems. It is said that as Mrs Campbell Steward gave the surround for the Roll of Honour in the Church she had a greater influence as whose names went on the Roll. Two of her nephews are on the Roll though they never lived in Saxlingham.
Although the main body of the research is now completed, it is still an ongoing project and I would welcome any information or photographs that any one might be able to give me.
I am hoping to find information about the men from the village who fought in the war and returned safely.
Please contact Jan Fox Tel. 01508 499468 or email firstname.lastname@example.org