Making the best of the glorious autumn weather that we are having at the moment, we ventured again, yesterday, to the Sir Harold Hillier Arboretum – but also managed to squeeze in visits to two churches. On our way there, to Stoke Charity, the little church in the middle of a field...and on the way home, to Mottisfont Church, in the village which is more familiar to me from having often visited Mottisfont Abbey, a National Trust property and home of one of the National Rose collections.
My interest in the church, however, stems both from the fact that it IS a church, and for years I have been fascinated (obsessed?) with visiting them...but also that I have had, for ten or fifteen years now, an old photograph of a class of schoolchildren knocking around in my office, clearly labelled on the back ‘A.B. Crump – September – Mottisfont School’. I have intended for a while to discover a little more – and yesterday I was able to do so.
It is the way of things that not all is made immediately easy ...there is, frustratingly, no year date on the back of the photo – but there are names. The style of dress (often a good guide to date) is also quite difficult, in that the children in question would have been from rural/agricultural families – Mottisfont was, and still is, a small rural community and fashions would not have changed there very rapidly in the 19th century. I tentatively date this photograph at any time between about 1890 and 1910 (but if anyone can though a more enlightened guess I would be delighted to hear it!).
I entered the church to see several old photographs already there – but what caught my eye more – with the significance of yesterday’s date – between Armistice Day and today, Remembrance Sunday, were the War Memorials – both the ‘official’ brass plate, listing the names of The Fallen from the village, but also a hand written script, listing all those who had fought (not just the dead) during the 1914-1918 conflict.
I photographed both – but only when I came home and looked up the names on the back of the photograph did I feel a genuine shiver down my spine and sense of intense sadness. Suddenly, names on a brass plate suddenly had what may have been their own images. A list of names became real people.
There are only a few names on the back of the photograph...A.B. Crump...(The Teacher?) Percy, Fred and Frank Dale...Poor Tilly (Lilly?), Tommy Rogers. But if you look on the brass memorial, a Frank Dale is listed there. Is it the same child who looks out from the photograph? Depending on the date, it could be...or perhaps the child of the child in the picture? What relation was Tommy Rogers to another name on the plate, Frank Rogers...and (looking at the handwritten list), do you see the names of Percy, Frederick Dale, and a Maurice Rogers? How are they all connected? Because connected I think they must have been.
I am emphatically trying to make no assumptions. The Old School is now the Village Hall, so I will soon contact the Booking officer there to request access, and hopefully, a fruitful conversation with her. Until then, especially on this Remembrance Day, I am vividly left with the memory of another village, so very much like Mottisfont, where rural families once lived in peace until touched by War.
That village was Lark Rise, which, ‘stood on a gentle rise, in the flat, wheat growing north-east corner of Oxfordshire’ and was where Laura Timms (the author, Flora Timms/Thompson) lived in the last decades of the 19th century, with her family, including her baby brother, Edmund. ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’ begins with the description above....this is how it ends...
‘and all the time boys were being born or growing up in the parish, expecting to follow the plough all their lives, or at most to do a little mild soldiering or go to work in a town. Gallipoli? Kut? Vimy Ridge? Ypres? What did they know of such places? But they were to know them, and when the time came, they did not flinch. Eleven out of that tiny community never came back. A brass plate on the wall of the church, immediately over the old end house seat is engraved with their names. A double column, five names long, then, last and alone, the name of Edmund’.
For all those lists of names on all the War Memorials in villages, towns and cities all over the land, who were someone’s husbands, sons, wives, daughters... names which were each attached to a real human being; for all the war dead, and those who loved them, on this day, this Remembrance post is especially for you.
Your names liveth for evermore.