Great War Roll of Honour
Faded names carved on a piece of stone, we stand in front of every Remembrance Sunday and say ‘We will remember’ but do we? Who were these men, what did they do at work and play, how did they die and where?
On the warm and sunny Monday morning of 29th June 1914 people in Belper reading their newspaper might have noticed that in some obscure Balkan country an Austrian Archduke and Duchess had been assassinated. They probably never imagined that that it was the first action in a chain of events that a few weeks later would result in the Great War.
The effect that the Great War had on a small close knit community like Belper is immeasurable, there could not have been many people, if any, unaffected by some family or personal tragedy in the town, for instance the choir of St Peter‘s Church lost in total seven of its members.
These are the stories of the men named on the Belper War Memorial who died in the Great War, it doesn’t include the hundreds of men from the Belper area who served in the Great War and survived, but who were mentally, and or physically scarred for life.
Besides the almost one million British men killed there were two and a half million wounded including 40,000 amputees.
They were just ordinary people caught up in world-shattering events.
Thirty six of the men named on the Belper Memorial died during the Battle of the Somme from Saturday 1st July 1916 to 18th November 1916.
Fourteen of the 36 died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme most of them within minutes of leaving the trenches.
The cost of Saturday 1st July 1916 was truly horrendous in one short day the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties with a staggering 19,240 killed.
On the eve of July 1st 1916 a Belper soldier, Private Walter Pepper of the 5th Sherwood’s wrote a poignant and heartrending letter to his wife back in Belper;
... I could not rest without saying goodbye, happen for the last time ... but I want you to cheer up and be brave for the children’s sake. We must put our trust in God and hope for the best - to come safely through. We go over in the morning and I am in the first line. They are giving them a terrific bombardment….. It is simply hell upon earth here.
My last thoughts will be with you at home as we are stepping over the trenches. May God watch over me and guard me and bring me safely through.
The main problem with researching the men is that they died over 90 years ago, a lot of the military records were destroyed, ironically in the blitz during the Second World War plus the ’class system’ ensured that Officer’s deaths were, in most cases, well recorded but the ‘ordinary’ Private soldier or NCO were recorded as ’Other Ranks’.
However in death each soldier of the British Empire gained the equality denied to them in life, each was worth the same be he a Lord or the Servant of a Lord he was given the same headstone 32 inches high by fifteen inches across.
The research is ongoing ...
© Belper in Wartime