By Chris Bishop
Monday, July 7, 2014
In a corner of the church, the rusty rifle begs a morbid question: If a round hadn’t jammed in its breach, would the young man holding it have survived the battle?
The names of 47 who died in the First World War are carved on the memorial in Southery.
John William Reed
Albert Isaac Laud
Philip Easter Bennett
Samuel Henry Brown
Robert Victor Buckenham
George Edward Fincham
James William Rowell
Lawrence Aston Stanley
Herbert Henry Barber
Joe John Benson
Henry Augustus Feltwell
Frederick Charles Mennell
Charles Richard Osler
Alfred Charles Porter
Algar George Reed
Stanley William Washington
Goddard Willis Porter
Frederick George Lack
John Alfred Day
George William Osler
John William Butcher
George Henry Sparrow
An exhibition at St Mary’s Church in Southery traces the stories of 47 men from the village in the Fens, who went off to the First World War and never came home.
Among floral displays and tributes are memorabilia and letters home, along with weapons and munitions excavated from the battlefields.
Church warden Judith Legge has researched the fate of the fallen. They include Albert Laud who ran away to enlist and was killed in action in the Somme, aged just 16, in 1915.
Some, like Philip Easter and Henry Brown have no known grave. Both are commemorated on the Thievpal Memorial, on the Somme.
Men were encouraged to enlist with their friends and family members, in what were known as pals’ batallions. The practice could see small communities devastated, when regiments suffered heavy losses - like Sandringham, when its volunteer company was lost at Gallipoli.
Martin Moore, treasurer of the Victorian church, said: “What’s amazing about this is all the names there are from Southery. We read out the names of the deceased every year on Armistice Day, it’s moving to remember so many people from a small village.”
A brace of rusted Lee Enfield .303 rifles are on display, along with shell and grenade fragments and pieces of shrapnel recovered from what are now farmers’ fields.
Many items come from the collection of Southery farmer Chris Copsey, who regularly visits northern France to add to his collection.
Most poignant of all is a rifle with a bullet lodged in it - did the misfire cost its bearer his life, by giving the enemy time to draw a bead on him as he battled to clear its action?
Another exhibit shows all was not peaceful for those keeping the home fires burning. Southery was hit by devastating floods in 1915 and 16, when sections of the banks collapsed, allowing the Great Ouse to flood thousands of low-lying acres. The exhibition continues today.