The Stories of the Men of Stoke who died in the Great War

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The Stories of the Men of Stoke

Fourteen years ago, the Stoke History Group played their part in the Millennium celebrations by staging a local history exhibition in the Working Men’s Club. My contribution towards this was to research the men whose names are inscribed on the monument on Ham Hill. After the excitement of the exhibition was over, the folders of research sat gathering dust on a shelf in my house. In 2014, the Centenary of the 1st World War prompted me to bring my files out again and download the information onto the Stoke village website so that everyone would have access to it.

My thanks go to Martin Herrod for his patience and advice, and his work on the presentation of the project on the village website. I would also like to thank those who kindly talked to me about their families and lent precious photographs, both now and at the time of the Millennium celebration. If I have made mistakes or drawn the wrong conclusions in cases where there was little documentation available, I rely on people who know better to put matters straight.

It is a hundred years since the beginning of the Great War, when the boys and men of this village, with names that are still familiar to us, joined the army and went out to places they had only heard of in the school classroom – France, Belgium, Gallipoli, Mesopotamia.

These are the stories of the ones who didn’t come back.

We take part in this year’s commemoration not as a celebration of war but as a simple remembrance of our own particular soldiers (and airman, and sailor and doctor) who if they were alive today we would see drinking in the Working Men’s Club or the Half Moon, unloading their vans in the High Street, putting up Christmas lights in Castle Street, watching their children play football in the rec, walking their dogs on the Hill.

The ages of the men who died range from 18 (Percy Trott) to 48 (William Hann). Some were married with small children. Some were hardly more than children themselves. Several served for nearly the entire four years of the War, while one never got to leave England.

Edward Skilton, the Minister of the Congregational (now the United Reform) Church, enlisted as a chaplain and sought out his ex-Boys’ Brigade in hospitals in France. He wrote letters to their families at home, saying that so and so had been wounded but was doing well. The gloving company, Southcombe’s, offered to pick up from the station soldiers coming home on leave. Cigarettes and chocolate and socks were packaged up by the villagers and sent out to the Front. There was feeling of pride when the news came through that one of our men had been decorated for bravery. Reverend Monck wrote movingly in the church magazine about the deaths of his ex-Scouts, and with every “missing” or “killed in action” reported in the Western Gazette, there was a wave of sympathy in the village for the affected family.

Everybody knew these men, and when the war memorial on Ham Hill was unveiled on 19th July 1923 by the Prince of Wales, all the names carved on the monument would have been familiar to the villagers who stood watching the ceremony.

More and more of us each year assemble on top of Ham Hill on 11th November and look at those columns of names as the bugle sounds. Many of us know the story of our own particular “name on the Monument”, but perhaps not so much about some of the others.

I hope that the opportunity to read about the Stoke men on the village website will mean that in the years to come when we attend the Remembrance service all the names will have for us a little more of the familiarity that they had to the people of Stoke in 1923.

Simply click on the names of the men listed to the left to read their stories.

Angie (Min) Hodges
Stoke History Group