Two Shirley war memorials

We’ve been delighted to have on loan to us for our ‘Solihull Remembers’ exhibition, a wooden memorial plaque, which was rescued by Mr G. Bragg from floods at St James’s Church, Shirley.

Image of Shirley War Memorial Plaque
Shirley War Memorial Plaque

It seemed a good idea to count up the names on the plaque and compare them with those on the war memorial that stands outside St James’s Church. We were quite surprised to find that there were 62 names on the wooden plaque and 61 names on the memorial in the churchyard, so we set about trying to identify who was missing.

This turned out to be Private Leslie William Lively, who died on 18th February 1921 and is actually buried in St James’s churchyard. He is listed on the wooden plaque, but not on the Shirley War Memorial, which has 20 names on two of the stone panels, with 21 names on the third panel.

The final name on the memorial in the churchyard is that of Captain Charles Murchison Bernays, who died on 6th January 1920, when he was working as a doctor in Dover. An obituary in The Times says his death was “due to haemorrhage, resulting from his having been badly gassed while on active service in 1917.”

It seems likely, therefore, that Private Lively’s name wasn’t added to the war memorial in the churchyard because there was no room on the final panel (engraving of which would have, presumably, already been underway by the time of his death, ready for the unveiling of the memorial in 1921). His burial in the churchyard, however, does mean that he is commemorated on a gravestone in his local parish.

The wooden plaque must have been completed after February 1921. A major advantage of the plaque for researchers is that the 62 names are clearly legible, which has helped in identifying names that are badly worn on the memorial that stands in the churchyard. In particular, the name of Private John Worrall is almost impossible to make out from the memorial but is quite clear on the plaque.

The plaque has been temporarily withdrawn from our ‘Solihull Exhibition’ for the period 29th July-5th August, so that it can be on view at a commemorative event in Shirley. It will be returned for the remaining month of the ‘Solihull Remembers’ exhibition, which is in the Heritage Gallery of Solihull Central Library until 13th September.

Tracey
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

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Boy soldiers

It is known that about 250,000 boys served on the front line during World War I, whilst being under the age of 19. This was the official age at which overseas service was permitted. This BBC guide gives a useful introduction to some of the reasons for a conspiracy of silence around the enlistment of boys, which was especially prevalent before the introduction of conscription in 1916.

The youngest authenticated combatant of the First World War is Sidney Lewis, from Tooting, South London, who was able to join up at the age of 12 years and 5 months, and saw active service on the Somme for six weeks. A letter to the War Office from his mother demanding his return resulted in his being withdrawn from the front line, discharged from the Army, and sent home.

William Edward Shilvock Wright

In an article in the Birmingham Post 22nd November 1918 reporting the death of his eldest brother, Second Lieutenant John Shilvock Wright, it is mentioned that W. E. S. Wright served at Loos and on the Somme at the age of 15, returning home after being gassed, and then rejoining on attaining military age. He was training for a commission at the time of his brother’s death.

Image of Billy Wright
William Edward Wright, aged 15, in his Royal Field Artillery uniform (courtesy of David Gimes)

Continue reading “Boy soldiers”

Paul Quinet, a former Belgian refugee

Paul Gustave Désiré Quinet (surname pronounced key-nay) was born in 1899 in Koekelberg, Brussels. At the age of four and a half, he moved with his parents to Persia but returned to Brussels in 1906 to go to boarding school, where he remained until 1914.

His mother died in childbirth in Persia in 1908 and his father remained working there until returning to Brussels in 1913.

In 1914, after Paul proudly told his father that he had seen German troops in nearby woods, the family quickly gathered together belongings and left Brussels for the Belgian coast, taking the last train to leave before the entry of the German troops into the city.

Continue reading “Paul Quinet, a former Belgian refugee”

Solihull Remembers

Our First World War exhibition is now on at the Heritage Gallery on the first floor at Solihull Central Library.

It’s on during library opening hours until 13th September 2014 so there’s plenty of time for you to come along and have a look round.

Image of Solihull Remembers exhibition
Solihull Remembers, Heritage Gallery, Solihull Central Library

If you want to remember anyone who died in the war, or who served and survived, do fill in one of our remembrance cards and let us add it to our ‘wall of memory’. It doesn’t matter if the person wasn’t from Solihull, we’re happy for you to remember anyone you wish to include.

image of memorial cards
Wall of memory in our Heritage Gallery exhibition, Solihull Central Library

You’re welcome to fill in one of the cards when you visit or, alternatively, fill in the PDF form below and email it to us (you may need to save the file first, and then edit it). If you have a photo you’d like to include, please attach that to your email as well, and send it to us at heritage@solihull.gov.uk. We’ll then add it to the wall for you.

 First World War memorial card

Tracey
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

Belgian refugees

The Solihull Parish Magazine of October 1914 contains an appeal for people to loan furniture or “articles for domestic comfort, or to give food of any kind” to help the Belgian refugees now housed within the district. Gifts or promises of money were also sought and “suitable books in French for men, women and children” would also be acceptable.

The magazine refers to the “honour and privilege of welcoming in our midst some of the sorrowful Belgians who have not only lost their ‘all’ but have been ruthlessly driven out of the land they love.” It promised that the community would do “all we can to cheer them in their exile”.

By October 1919, the parish magazine reported that during the four and a half years of war, Solihull had the privilege of providing refuge for 45 Belgian men, women and children who had been compelled to leave their country and their homes.

If you have any information about Belgian refugees in Solihull, please let us know (email heritage@solihull.gov.uk or phone 0121 704 6934).

Tracey
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

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