Author’s quest to uncover the First World War tales of 44 of Thorpe St Andrew’s fallen

Author John Balls, at the  River Green War Memorial, who is writing about Thorpe St Andrew soldiers who died in the First World War. Picture: Denise Bradley Author John Balls, at the River Green War Memorial, who is writing about Thorpe St Andrew soldiers who died in the First World War. Picture: Denise Bradley

Tuesday, March 4, 2014
3:17 PM

An author is appealing for help in compiling a book about the lives of the men from Thorpe St Andrew who died in the First World War.

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Among the 44 fallen are:

* Frank Haldinstein was the son of a shoe manufacturer, and who grew up at Thorpe Hall and went to Norwich Grammar School.

He was a scholar of Christ Church, Oxford, and was remembered in a book by his university friend Harold Laski, an early socialist thinker.

He was a captain in the Royal Engineers and was 22 when he was died on March 7, 1917, from wounds sustained at the Somme.

He is buried in Bray Military Cemetery, Bray-sur-Somme.

* Mr Balls was intrigued to know why a private from the Canadian New Brunswick Regiment was listed on Thorpe War Memorial and the tale behind Herbert Wicks’ links to Thorpe is an unusual one.

Herbert was just nine when he was shipped on the SS Dominion to Canada as part of the British Home Children child migration scheme.

While many of the children sent abroad are thought to have been illegitimate or orphans, Herbert had a mother, Agnes, but she was a widow and Mr Balls thinks it was likely that she was struggling to bring up her son on her own.

At the time of the 1901 census, Agnes and her two-year-old son were living in Angel Road, New Catton, but on the papers he signed upon joining the Canadian Army, Herbert lists her as his next of kin and as living in Hillside Road.

The same papers say that he was 5ft 2in, with blue eyes and blond hair. He was killed on April 25, 1918.

* Henry Scott-Pillow was a dental student at Guys Hospital who ended up as a second lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps. The 22-year-old went to war at the end of July 1917 and was killed within 10 days.

An officer wrote to his mother saying: “Your son had shown himself as a very promising and capable pilot, who always did his work well, and he endeared himself to all with whome he came in contact.”

* Thomas Dowse, a second lieutenant in the 34th divisional group of the Royal Engineers, was the son of the propietors of Thorpe House School. An art student, he died trying to repairing communication lines in 1916 when he was 23.

Before his death he was awarded the Military Cross “for conscipuous gallantry in entering alone a village before it was entirely in our hands in order to establish communications”. The citation continues: “On five occasions he went out under fire to repair his line which was cut by enemy shell fire.”

John Balls is researching the lives and deaths of 44 of the town’s sons, including those listed on the war memorial in Thorpe’s River Green, three buried in the local cemetery and one whose name is listed in the parish church.

Mr Balls, of Highfield Close, said he wanted to create the book to help people in the area connect with the centenary of the Great War.

The 78-year-old former head of English at Thorpe High School said: “Many people see it as a global conflict that happened far away but when you bring it down to individuals who live nearby and the details of their families and the jobs they did, it personalises it and makes it far more interesting.

“This to me brings it home to people much more and we are showing what the human cost was of something that’s hard to envisage.

“It’s about being able to write about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary history.”

Mr Balls, who has written books about the Titanic disaster, is chairman of the recently revived Thorpe History Group and said he would be collaborating with other members of the group on the book, with the support of the town council.

He hopes to secure Heritage Lottery Funding to support the project and make the book available to schools and other organisations.

Mr Balls is also planning to organise a five-day trip in May 2015 to visit the war graves and cemeteries of Thorpe’s fallen.

He is appealing for any of the families of the soldiers, or anyone who has information about them, to get in touch by calling 01603 433712 or by email at johnb1912@btinternet.com

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