Tag Archives: war memorial

Portsmouth WW1 – total number of war dead revealed

Well, I’ve been working on it for over two years, but now I have finally finished inputting names into my Portsmouth World War One Dead Database.

I’ve taken names from the Cenotaph in Guildhall Square, and local school, church, business and other organistion memorials. I’ve then cross-referenced each of these against the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I also took names from the Portsmouth Section of the National Roll, and the Roll of Honour in Gates’s ‘Portsmouth in the Great War’. Then, as an extra sweep, I used Geoff’s WW1 search engine to search for any extra ‘strays’ from Portsmouth who might not appear on any other memorial.

The total number I have come up with, so far, is 5,824 men and women from Portsmouth who died between August 1914 and December 1921. Some of them do not appear on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but as there is sufficient evidence that they died of the effects of war service, I have included them.

My Database includes names sourced from the following:

  • 4,416 – Guildhall Square Cenotaph
  • 688- Geoff’s WW1 Search Engine
  • 287 – Parish Church Memorials
  • 280 – Gates ‘Portsmouth in the Great War’
  • 87 – National Roll
  • 44 – Portsmouth Grammar School Memorial
  • 7 – Handley’s Memorial
  • 5 – Royal Mail Memorial
  • 5 – City of Portsmouth Passenger Transport Depot Memorial
  • 3 – Portsmouth Gas Company Memorial
  • 2 – Southern Grammar School

That’s 1,408 men from Portsmouth who died during the Great War, who – for whatever reason – do not appear on the Cenotaph in Guildhall Square. Hopefully I can give them some recognition for their sacrifice.

Sadly, Great War Casualties are that much more difficult to identify than their descendants from the Second World War. There are so much more of them, and if, for example, you’re looking for an ‘A. Smith’, you have literally hundreds to search through. Considering that there are so few details for many of them, it does seem, sadly, that we will never be able to definitively identify all of them.

At present, I have been unable to positively identify 1,068 of the names on the Database. I will of course be trying to narrow down this number. I do have information about some of them – I know what service each of them served with, and in some cases other information such as a ship or Regiment, or a Parish Church Memorial. And there are ways I can try to find some of them – service records, directories, for example, or birth and marriage records.

I’ve found a multitude of problems in matching names on war memorials to names on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In most cases the War Memorial only gives a surname and initials. As I mentioned, there are few details on some entries, so matching, for example, a ‘B. Jones’ on the memorial is hard if there are 100+ ‘B. Jones’ on the CWGC. Another problem I have come up against is that of the humble spelling mistake or misheard transcription. Particularly in the case of complex surnames, they sometimes occur differently on memorials and on the CWGC.

Another problem that is by no means confined to the Great War period is that of the ‘nom de guerre’. We’ve all had a relative who, for whatever reason, is known by either their middle name, or a name that does not appear on their birth certificate. Thus – and this is hypothetical – somebody called Norman David Smith might be on the memorial as ‘D. Smith’, as his family might have called him David. Or, in some cases, his family and friends might have called him Frank, and he might have gone on the war memorial as that. Very confusing to the researcher!

In the next few week’s I’ll start to post some articles summarising the statistics that come from the Database, much as I did for my WW2 research a few years ago.

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Thoughts on War Memorials

Given my recent work researching names on War Memorials, I have been thinking about the history of War Memorials themselves.

Of course, they are important – anything that helps us remember the sacrifices of generations past cannot be a bad thing. But then again, are there aspects of the war memorial in popular culture that, in a non-intentional way, limit our remembrance? Are they a convenient way of shoeboxing remembrance? Are they a relic of Victorian and Edwardian fascination with grief?

Think about it. A certain place in a town is the place where we remember fallen heroes. Does that mean that we don’t remember them anywhere else? I guess its like Armistice Day – why should we only remember them one day a year out of 365? Does that mean that they don’t matter for the other 364?

In another sense, there is also something quite limiting about war memorials, in that very often they only show the name, or in some cases, only initials. And of course, unless you knew them, can lists of unknown names really be ‘remembered’? Does it encourage us to think ‘thats their names, they’re remembered’ and leave them there, when in actual fact, we can’t remember them if we know nothing about them in the first place?

Of course I’m not suggesting that we tear down war memorials. They are a part of our heritage. But in the modern world, with technology and no end of information at our fingertips, why limit remembrance to names in stone? We say ‘we will remember them’, and that they won’t be forgotten, but surely if all we know is someone’s name and thats about it, then they’re virtually forgotten anyway?

 

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Memorial plaques to Portsmouth’s Blitz dead stolen

I’ve just read something pretty disappointing on the Portsmouth News website. Apparently thieves have stolen plaques from a memorial in Kingston Cemetery, remembering victims of the Blitz in Portsmouth.

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/local/east-hampshire/i_hope_and_pray_the_thieves_see_the_error_of_their_ways_1_3005015

The memorial is granite, and around 1.5 metres high, with four plaques listing over 120 names, including many whose bodies could not be identified. The inscription reads:

“Erected to the memory of those men, women and children both known and unknown who died as a result of enemy bombing on this city and whose last resting place is near this spot.”

What really makes me sad about this is that either the thieves managed to prize the metal from the memorial in broad daylight (you can drive around the cemetery, so perhaps they took a van right up to it), or they did it at night when the Cemetery is closed. It is locked at dusk, because I have almost been locked in before (my Grandad was once years ago). I doubt very much whether people who are willing to go to those lengths will be too bothered about defacing a war memorial, sadly. Many of my family were in Portsmouth during the blitz, they could very easily have been killed and their names ended up on these plaques. A memorial is the same as a grave, and to steal a memorial is like grave-robbing.

It’s by no means the first time that metal has been robbed from a war memorial – perhaps the most high profile case is that of the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth, where one large bronze plaque was taken from the memorial on Plymouth Hoe. We are told that the price of scap metal is at an all-time high at the moment, and certainly there have been a lot of thefts of lead from School, museum and church roofs in the last couple of years. And then theres the theft of copper railway signal cabling.

One has to look at scrap metal dealers in this kind of situation. Someone, somewhere, will be no doubt receiving some big lumps of metal that are quite obviously from a war memorial. If scrap metal dealers had more scruples about what they accepted from dodgy characters out the back of vans, then people wouldn’t bother going out and nicking it in the first place. For me, it is time legislation got tough with the scrap metal industry.

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Researching First World War Soldiers

Vis en Artois British Cemetery and Memorial, F...

Vis en Artois Cemetery and Memorial (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve now entered over 2,000 names into my database of Portsmouth men killed serving in the Second World War. So far this covers 4 panels of the War Memorial in Guildhall Square, and these are only the men who fought with the Army. I have one more panel of Army names to enter and analyse. And then its on to the Navy, who have about the same number of names again!

The process goes like this – look up the names on the War Memorial (handily transcribed  by Tim Backhouse on Memorials in Portsmouth), enter the names onto my Access Database, then search for them on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Of course, when you start with just initials for forenames, its quite difficult – especially if all you have is ‘A. Smith’, which there are hundreds of – it would take days searching through that to find the right person. Fortunately, quite a few of the names on the CGWG have their house number, road name and area listed – which makes it much easier to find the right person – if you’re looking through a list of 20 or so names, its heartening to find one listed as ‘…Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw’, cos odds are you’ve found your man. But when there are 4 or 5 names, and none of them have any details, its so frustrating – its got to be one of them, surely? But sometimes the sheer number of names can be daunting.

Its going to take some serious research to track down the several hundred men who are remaining elusive – but by using Street Directories, Register Office Records, the 1901 and 1911 Census, and electoral registers, it should be possible to slowly but surely fill out the gaps.

Another problem can be when you enter the name into the CWGC and NOTHING comes up – they must have been a real person, surely? Otherwise why would their names have been put forward for the memorial? The only thing I can suggest is that mistakes were made in compiling the names for the memorial, or perhaps people had different given names – someone registed officially as Harry James, for example, might have been known as Jim, and thus entered on the Memorial as J., and not H.J… it takes a bit of imagination to ferret these things out.

Another difference with researching First World War soldiers, is that it is much harder to trace details of any medals that they won. With the Second World War, more often and not you can find their award listed in the London Gazette. But for the First World War there are just so many, its like trawling through a haystack. You have to use some cunning, such as typing in a mans service number in the search, rather than their name. The problem there, of course, is that prior to 1920ish the Army didnt have an Army-wide numbering system, so if you’re looking for a Military Medal awarded to Private Jones 14532, there might be scores of 14532′s in the Army. Also, whereas many Second World War medal citations have been made available online on the National Archives website, the only information we have for First World War soldiers are their medal cards – relatively spartan in detail.

But on the flipside, one other source we have readily available for the Western Front are the War Diaries. Select War Diaries have been made available on The National Archives, such as the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, which I have been serialising on Daly History for the past few months. Although these rarely mention individual soldiers – especially not other ranks – they do give you the wider picture of what was hapenning day to day. If you know that someone died on a particular day, you can look up what was happening – if they were in the front line undergoing heavy shelling, maybe the man was killed that way. Or if there was a raid and he is listed on a memorial to the missing, he might have been killed in no mans land. Alternatively, if he died somewhere away from where the Battalion was, or on a day when they were not in action, he probably died of wounds or illness in a hospital behind the lines.

Another useful source is the National Roll, a publication produced after the war, the lists not only men who died, but other men who survived. Its not comprehensive – men or their families put their details forward, meaning that only a percentage of men are listed – but none the less, for the men who are included, it is a gold mine of information. Most entries tell you when a man joined the Army, and whether he was a regular, mobilised with the territorial force, volunteered in 1914, attested under the Derby Scheme, or was conscripted. This fact on its own builds up a veritable social history of the manpower situation. Some men have more information than others – most entries tell us where a man fought, if he was wounded, or if he won medals. Some tell very interesting stories – such as the Hampshire Regiment soldier who was captured at Kut, fell ill with Dysentry and fell out of the march to captivity and was left to die on the side of the road; the Sergeant killed in a Grenade accident at a training school in the New Forest; or the Sapper serving with Grave Registration unit after the war who drowned in a Canal. Without these details, they would just be names. But with their stories, we are so much closer to knowing who they were and what they went through.

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Portsmouth WW2 Dead Project: completed!

This afternoon I finished inputting the last of the 2,548 names of Portsmouth men an women who died whilst serving in the Armed Forces, between 1939 and 1947. Of course, this kind of project is never truly ‘finished’, as you can be sure that new names will crop up from time to time. And now the work shift towards finding out as much about each of the names in my database, in order to be able to tell their stories.

The names primarily come from the Portsmouth City Council list, compiled for the planned Portsmouth WW2 memorial. I am very grateful to Tim Backhouse of memorials for providing me with a list of names that appear on local war memorials but not on te PCC list (126 names). I have also used Geoff’s WW2 search engine to find more names that do not appear on the PCC list (355 names). Some of the names on the PCC list also appear to have come from Portsmouth in Lancashire, and these names have been omitted frm my database.

In the coming weeks I will be looking in detail at the statistics that come from the list. But to begin with, here are a few facts:

  • 1291 Royal Navy (50.67%)
  • 674 Army (26.45%)
  • 410 Royal Air Force (16.09%)
  • 115 Royal Marines (4.51%)
  • 42 Merchant Navy (1.65%)
  • 13 NAAFI (0.51%)
  • 5 ATS (0.19%)
  • 1 Red Cross (0.04%)

They came from all over Portsmouth:

  • 588 from Southsea (23.08%)
  • 242 from North End (9.5%)
  • 231 from Copnor (9.07%)
  • 203 from Cosham (7.97%)
  • 113 from Fratton (4.43%)
  • 105 from Milton (4.12%)
  • 85 from Stamshaw (3.34%)
  • 71 from Buckland (2.79%)
  • 66 from Eastney (2.59%)
  • 44 from Hilsea (1.73%)
  • 36 from Landport (1.41%)
  • 33 from Drayton (1.3%)
  • 33 from Mile End (1.3%)
  • 24 from Farlington (0.94%)
  • 22 from Paulsgrove (0.86%)
  • 21 from Portsea (0.82%)
  • 17 from East Cosham (0.67%)
  • 11 from Wymering (0.43%)
  • 8 from Kingston (0.31%)
  • 2 from East Southsea (0.08%)

318 men – 12.48% – are listed as from simply ‘Portsmouth’, the rest are either unknown or appear to come from somewhere else in the country.  However, unless we know otherwise it is best to assume that they had some kind of Portsmouth connection for their names to be put forward to the memorial.

The first men from Portsmouth to die in the Second World War were killed on 10 September 1939 – Able Seaman John Banks and Leading Seaman Percy Farbrace of HM Submarine Oxley, and Able Seaman William Holt of HMS Hyperion.

Private George Rowntree, of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, died on 24 December 1947. Aged 43 and from Wymering, he was the last man from Portsmouth to die during the period regarded as the Second World War for war grave purposes.

The oldest Portsmouth serviceman to die between 1939 and 1947 was Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes GCB KCVO CMG DSO, who died of natural causes on 26 December 1945. He is buried in Dover. Keyes had been commander in chief at Portsmouth and also a local MP, as well as a former First Sea Lord and Chief of combined operations.

The youngest Portsmouth serviceman to die were Private Robert Johns of the Parachute Regiment, Boys 1st Class Gordon Ogden, Robert Spalding and Cecil Edwards of HMS Royal Oak, Ordinary Seaman Colin Duke of SS Irishman, Apprentice Tradesman L.H. Ward of the Army Technical School, Boy 1st Class Jack Lamb of HMS Dunedin, and Apprentice Electrical Artificer Raymond Whitehorn of HMS Raleigh. They were all 16.

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Urinating student avoids jail

Phil Laing, the student who urinated on Sheffield’s war memorial, avoided a jail sentence in court today. The Sheffield Hallam University student, who had been drinking heavily, had been warned he faced jail. He was told to complete 250 hours’ community service when he appeared at the city’s magistrates’ court.

District Judge Anthony Browne said “I have never seen anyone more contrite for what has happened nor one who regrets more the hurt and distress he has caused. You have understandably had the wrath and indignation of the public heaped upon you and your family”.

The sports technology student said he had no recollection of the events of the night until he was contacted by the university press office and shown the photograph which later appeared on the newspaper’s website.

The judge said: “No-one forced you to take all this drink, or forced it down you, or persuaded you to commit a criminal offence. You did that all by yourself and you must take responsibility. But all this is set against a backdrop, as your solicitor has said, of a culture of drinking far too much. In my view something does need to be done to change this culture. What you have done has outraged and offended many and has saddened most.”

Tim Hughes, defending, told the court of his client’s utter remorse. The court heard Laing had no recollection of the night’s events “Philip Laing has paid an extremely high price for one evening of complete and utter foolishness.” He said Laing had no idea where he was when he was urinating. “He could have been standing in the middle of Hillsborough football ground, frankly.” Mr Hughes said Laing had never been in trouble with the police and that prison would “utterly destroy what could otherwise be a good, hard-working, tax-paying life.” He added: “In terms of remorse – absolutely, it’s from every pore.”

A spokesman for Sheffield Hallam University said: “The university has already initiated disciplinary proceedings against this student. Now that the judicial process has been completed we will arrange a disciplinary hearing to decide appropriate sanctions.”

Now, I dont know what planet the judge lives on – answer that and you could probably find the meaning of life – but if thats contrition and remorse, then the Dictionary definition of both of those emotions needs to be changed to ‘a temporary state of mind, designed to dig ones self out of a hole for ones one sake’. It looks like the Defence team did a very good job. I would be very interested to know what exactly his community service will be doing, but whatever it is he got off pretty lightly.

To say that jailing him would ruin his future is slightly ridiculous. What future a sports science student has is open to debate anyway. Also, I personally disagree that because he didnt know what he was doing, then it is not so bad. If you let yourself get into that state, then you deserve to suffer the consequences as much as if you were stone cold sober. If you cant handle your drink, dont go out playing the big hard man.

But the judge is right to condemn companies that promote drinking to excess. This is just one case, there must be thousands of incidents that take place caused by cheep alcohol and kids who cant handle their drink. Laws need to be put in place that punish companies that ply students with cheap drink and then wash their hands of the consequences.

But what saddens me even more is that to a lot of young people, behaving like Phil Laing seems to be cool.

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Portsmouth Second World War Dead Project

Portsmouths WW2 memorial

Portsmouths WW2 memorial

After the end of the First World War, the people of Portsmouth raised funds to erect a Cenotaph in memory of all of Portsmouth’s sons and daughters who died in between 1914 and 1918. Every name is listed, from A to Z.

But after the Second World , people were tired of war, and the will to erect a new memorial was just not there. This is how it remained for almost 60 years. The almost 3,380 people of Portsmouth who died between 1939 and 1947 have not been memorialised in their home city.

Mrs Jean Louth, whose father Harry Short died at Dunkirk, was horrified to discover this, and set about raising funds and awareness. The centrepiece of the memorial itself has been unveiled, in Portland stone, bearing the arms of Portsmouth and the three armed services, and the inscription ‘IN MEMORY OF THE SERVICE MEN AND WOMEN AND THE CITIZENS OF PORTSMOUTH WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES IN DEFENCE OF THEIR COUNTRY DURING WORLD WAR II’.

This, however, is only the start. There are plans to erect a memorial wall surrounding the centrepiece, which will be engraved with the names of those who gave their lives. As each name costs £30 to engrave, this will cost a fair bit.

Portsmouth City Council have published a list of portsmouth people who died during the second world war. It is very much a work in progress, with a lot of details missing and possibly incorrect.

Looking at the list got me thinking. As well as possibly filling in the gaps, would it be possible to use a database to compute and analyse these details? If I can add in details such as those you find on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s website, the picture is even more detailed. It would be possible to produce reports on average ages, where in the city they came from, in what units they fought, where they died. Some interesting stories should come to light. And hopefully, I can just do something to raise awareness of these brave people when there is a risk that they might become forgotten.

So far I am up to halfway through the B surnames, around 180 people. Its going to take quite sometime, and im still tweaking with the database, but hopefully over time it will be an interesting project!

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people who urinate on war memorials…

No doubt by now you have all read or heard of the antics of Phil Laing, a 19-year-old Student who was photographed urinating on poppy wreathes laid on a war memorial in Sheffield.

The most important thing to remember, first and foremost, is that he does NOT represent his generation. Some of them, yes. A tiny minority. But not all. Plenty of people his age are serving in the forces, fighting overseas, raising money for charity, working as nurses, all manner of positive and good things. But as usual this lowlife gets the oxygen of publicity and lets everyone else down.

A serious example needs to be made of him, otherwise the message goes out that its OK to do this kind of thing. Maybe if people know they will suffer serious consequences, then they will think twice before behaving like this. A token fine or a slap on the wrist is not enough. I know the authorities wont make him scrub the memorial with a toothbrush, sadly.

But there are deeper problems here. How is it OK for an apparrently well adjusted young man who went to a ‘good’ school to do such a thing? How is it that a supposedly poor student can go out and get so rat arsed? How can it be right for companies to be allowed to organise events that cause such things? And how come his friends can even bear to defend him? Is this what public schools call ‘horseplay’, or ‘tomfoolery’? Its almost more disgusting that there are people out there who think it is funny.

I can’t help but think that if he was from a council estate, they would throw the book at him, no questions asked. But his parents will probably get him good lawyers, and talk about what a nice lad he is, and how it was just a silly mistake and how sorry he is. But, surely, if you do something that you know is wrong, then you pay the consequences. Sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind.

But if he is sorry, it will probably be for himself. He’s sorry that he might get kicked out of Uni, and it might affect his career. Is he sorry about the offence he has caused, or the people he has disgraced? I doubt it, because that takes decency and respect, things that I very much doubt Phil Laing possesses.

I’ll be following his court case closely.

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