Our exhibition, Our Boys, Cockshutt Remembers the Fallen of the Great War, set out to tell the real-life stories, before conscription, of the men behind the names on the War Memorial.
It was a theme which evidently intrigued a great many people from both near and far, as evidenced by the contributions they made to the displays. As each artefact (each with its own story to tell) was brought forward and added to the exhibition, it helped with the building of the powerful story of how ordinary young men, quietly getting on with their lives in a quiet, rural back-water, became embroiled in one of the most terrible, barbaric conflicts ever known. Honourable and duty-bound, their hopes and aspirations were cruelly and swiftly snatched away as they each died a brutal, agonizing death, far from home.
It is testament to the willingness of Our Boys, to go that extra step in the pursuit of freedom, truth and justice, only too aware that death lurked all around them, that inspired so many of us to be a part of the telling of their stories.
As time moves on and we have chance to catch our breath and reflect upon how we paid homage to our WW1 fallen, the word that comes to mind is, quite simply, “inspirational.” So many people wanted to be involved, from the very young to the not quite so young!
We knitted, carved and baked; unearthed family heirlooms and borrowed bridles from our horses. Others lent military uniforms, academic caps and gowns and even an aeroplane propeller. The flower arrangements were amazing, as was the enormous hand-crafted poppy banner hanging from the tower. The music provided a calm and reflective ambiance.
The list is endless, but above all and in whatever capacity, everyone gave their time and support in loving remembrance of Our Boys.
In a poignant act of homage and remembrance, the community of Cockshutt and surrounding areas, together with descendants of the fallen, laid wreaths and crosses around the War Memorial, thinking perhaps of the words we had just heard:
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
At 11am, on 11th November 2018, the packed Parish Church of Ss Simon & Jude, Cockshutt joined the nation, as we fell silent in hushed tribute to all those who have died whilst serving our country, keeping us safe from harm.
Peacefully sitting amongst were the silhouettes. Ethereal, There, But Not There, they provided a channel for our thoughts and prayers as we tried to comprehend the debt we owe to all those who have fallen in the name of justice, peace and freedom.
As the names of our WW1 fallen were called out and our attention focused on the hundred years centenary of the 1918 Armistice, it really did feel as if we had finally brought Our Boys home.
On Remembrance Day 2018, in the peace and quiet of Ss Simon & Jude, candles were lit in commemoration of Our Boys. As our thoughts focused on each of their young and ordinary lives and how their hopes and aspirations were torn away from them by a brutal and vicious conflict, we were able to find some solace, as perhaps they had, by reflecting on the following:
Almighty and most Merciful Father, Forgive me my sins: Grant me Thy peace: Give me Thy power: Bless me in life and death, For Jesus Christ’s sake, Amen
A Soldier’s Prayer
Issued by the Chaplain General, August 1914
We all know the feeling; minding our own business, getting on with our lives, and there it is, one or more of our names has been incorrectly spelt on some correspondence. For the most part, we smile and move on, but after a while, the same mistake can be rather irksome, and we set about getting things corrected.
As with any historical research, unearthing the stories of “Our Boys” has been an adventure in overcoming numerous obstacles and dead-ends. Truth and accuracy are the finishing line; as stories unfold and new evidence comes to light, each new detail must be tested and proven beyond all reasonable doubt. A persistent, logical approach with a hint of creativity in pursuing the trail are essential; nothing can be assumed, however tempting!
As my work turned to John Edmund Rogers, all seemed well. He is clearly named on the Cockshutt War Memorial12 and The Roll of Honour32, which also tells us that he served with the Australian Imperial Force and that he died whilst on active service (RIP)32. He is clearly named as such on both the 1893 GRO Index Register for Births14, and on the 1911 Census3 (19012 only gives the initial E).
Inevitably, I reached a roadblock; as I turned to the CWGC43 website to find his Commemorative Certificate, I could only find a John Edward Rogers. Although confident that this was one of “Our Boys”, I had to set about proving it.
The Commission has clear rules on how to pursue correction of details, however minor and the evidence which must be submitted. For its part the CWGC then sets about thoroughly investigating the submissions, much of which I had already determined, together with John’s Australian Military Service Record. For now, it was my job to check each nugget of information very carefully.
But how had this confusion come about? The usual explanation is that in the carnage of the battlefield, specifics regarding identity had either been lost or damaged, but in this instance, this scenario didn’t ring true; a solid trail showing how a photograph and his personal effects had been returned31 to his Father, Edward Rogers2 already existed.
The clue was in his name; as I studied John’s Service Records31, I realized that the old tradition for abbreviating names had been used. Thus, Edmund had been shortened to Edd and the ‘assumption’ seems to have been that his middle name was the more common Edward.
To test this theory, I applied for and received the Certified Copy of John’s Birth Certificate10.
Despite being ‘grainy’, it clearly tells us that John’s middle name is indeed Edmund; when compared with his Father’s name, the letter formation and spelling is quite different. I now had my penultimate piece of the jigsaw. What I needed now was the magnus opus, which I found in John’s Service Records; his signature:
Armed with my full quota of evidence, I submitted it to the Enquiries Section, Commonwealth Graves Commission, as follows:
After a few weeks, I received a reply from the Records Team, stating that in addition to amending John Edmund Roger’s details, they were able to use the additional evidence to up-date their records.
In the great scheme of things, addressing the misspelling of a middle name is a tiny thing. However, John Edmund Rogers is one of “Our Boys” and his own war was vicious; giving him the dignity of correct personal details is, I believe, the least we can do.
On the day he set sail for Australia, for ‘pastures new’, no one could have foreseen the brutality or violence of his death exactly four years later, as he laid down his life for us.
By now, many of you will know that prior to enlisting, two of “Our Boys” were living abroad, namely John Edmund Rogers and James Donald. In an age before the advent of air-travel, these two intrepid young men embarked on long, often perilous sea voyages, in pursuit of their dreams for better lives and prospects abroad.
The Passenger Lists (where available) provide considerable and valuable information regarding an individual: date of embarkation, travelling companions (if any) and occupation. They also tell us the names of the Ships and the Shipping Lines they belonged to.
Fleetingly curious about the ships, I spent a while investigating them; whilst the following doesn’t in any way add to the life-stories of John and James, I would nevertheless like to share with you the sad fate of two of the ships concerned.
The SS Omrah
When John Edmund Rogers emigrated to Australia he departed from the Port of London, bound for Sydney, on the ocean liner, SS Omrah, one of the Orient Steamship Line. The date of departure was 16th August 1912.
During WW1, the SS Omrah was commandeered for use as a troopship. On 12th May 1918, it was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine UB52, whilst heading from Marseilles to Alexandria. One person died as a result of the attack34.
(References: see main References for John Edmund Rogers)
The SS Matheran
James Donald is recorded as sailing for Calcutta, India, on board the SS Matheran of the Brocklebank Line on 2nd June 19073. This would suggest that he had visited Cockshutt to attend the Licensing of his brother, the Rev. John Rowley Donald4, who had recently begun his incumbency as Parish Vicar of Ss Simon & Jude, Cockshutt2.
On 26th January 1917 the SS Matheran was sunk off the Cape of Good Hope following a collison with a mine which had been laid by the infamous German ship, SMS Wolf. One man died1.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of the sixteen men from Cockshutt who fell in the Great War.
One hundred years on from the 1918 Armistice, for many people alive today, the names on the War Memorial are just names; people they never met, people they never knew. Yet they were real men, ordinary men, with their own dreams and aspirations for whatever life may have held for them. Through circumstances far beyond their control they were flung into the most catastrophic and brutal conflict ever known to man. For many, it would have been far beyond their means to travel to France or Belgium, but there they were, struggling to stay alive in the mud of the battlefield.
As I have researched the lives of these young men, I still find it difficult to comprehend the conditions they found themselves in and the extent of their courage to keep going, knowing that they could die at any moment, facing a merciless enemy that used any means it could to try and break the deadlock of the trenches. Some of them suffered gas attacks or flame thrower attacks, all will have experienced heavy bombardments that sometimes went on for days. We now know that they died brutal deaths, whether there on the battlefield or subsequently as a result of their wounds.
Whilst investigating their early lives, I began to refer to this group of young men as “My Boys”. Now, as the Armistice Centenary draws closer, I have to let them go. They are “Our Boys”. I hope that you will take the time to read their biographies and perhaps appreciate the Real Lives behind the names.