The Blackmore Vale’s railway workers and residents who died during the Great War are being remembered through a series of three books and six memorials at local train stations.
The Blackmore Vale Line Community Rail Partnership is behind the imitative. Today they published their first book in the series, The Fallen of the First World War. ThisIsAlfred spoke with author Caroline Rowland.
The Blackmore Vale Line Community Rail Partnership was set up in 2016, following a franchise pledge by South West Trains. When the new franchise holders, South Western Railway, took on the route recently, they endorsed the partnership’s work at stations along the 80-mile stretch of line between Tisbury and Crewkerne. “The core aim of the Rail Partnership is community involvement in the stations. It’s also about promoting the stations, towns and villages to potential rail users,” said Caroline Rowland, manager of the partnership.
Caroline is a keen historian and is the author of the first book. “It’s a reference book, so any genealogists can look at it and look up where their relatives may be remembered,” said Caroline. “There are just under 1,000 names on war memorials in those twelve villages and towns and there are just under 930 other names who aren’t commemorated at all. Those are staggering figures.”
She’s been trying to understand why so many names are not recorded on memorials. “My theories are that people possibly moved away or couldn’t bear to see the names of their loved ones on the memorials. Or they may be on other village memorials a few miles away. Others may have been forgotten,” said Caroline. “I managed to find a lot of people who died in the earlier part of the war, before 1916 when conscription came in. A lot of people from 1914 and 1915 were missed off.”
As soon as Caroline had collected the names from local war memorials she began to research the lives of the fallen. “We’ve built up the biographies by collecting the names, researching their army records and then finding out more about where they died,” she said.
Caroline found the Commonwealth War Graves records a rich research resource. “There is a tribute in the front of the book to Sir Fabian Ware, who started the Commonwealth War Graves,” said Caroline. “He set off on a mission on a sunny day in 1914, hoping to care for people who had died or who were wounded on the battlefield, and said ‘hang on a minute, there’s another job here to be done. We need to make sure that we know who these people are’.”
Caroline’s first book features separate chapters about every community with a station on the train line. It includes Gillingham and Tisbury. Shaftesbury’s nearest station was in Semley. That station closed in 1966 but Caroline has devoted a chapter to the sixteen villagers mentioned on their war memorial, including a railway worker, porter Bertram Bowles. He died in Mesopotamia aged 24 and he was buried in Baghdad.
Some records have been difficult to research. It took fifteen years to track down information about William Charles Mason. His death is recorded on the memorial at Cann. Caroline discovered that he was an entomologist who died of black water fever in Nyasaland.
In addition to the books, The Railway Partnership hopes to mark the railway workers’ lives on or around June 28th. “To coincide with the hundred years of signing of the Treaty of Versailles, we will launch six memorials at six stations. Semley will be included with Gillingham or possibly Tisbury,” said Caroline.
She’s keen to hear from anyone with knowledge of local railway workers who died during WW1, in case nobody has recorded their connection with the railway line. “So far I have found thirty names and that doesn’t seem a lot out of the 2,000 names but there’s nowhere to go,” said Caroline. “You’re starting from scratch. You’re building up these biographies. You’re looking for any clues you can find anywhere, newspapers, any sorts of documentation. I would love anyone who has got a railway ancestor to please get in touch. We would like to make sure that they are remembered and honoured.”
Caroline has found details of some railway workers killed in the war by looking through newspaper obituaries, where reference has been made to the employment of the deceased. “Any little scrap of information helps,” Caroline said.
The memorial at London’s Waterloo station has inspired the project team. “It has 570 names on it, but I still maintain that we will find a lot of people not on that board either. So any help, we’d welcome you get in touch,” said Caroline.
You can contact Caroline through at BlackmoreValeTrains.com.