As its contribution to the commemoration of the First World War a group of Carhampton villagers has published a poignantly illustrated 32-page booklet which focuses upon the local impact of the events of 1914-18 and the contribution made by the people of the parish.
The pre-war conditions for the 385 souls (1911 census) are vividly sketched. We read of the skills and crafts (including ‘clogging’), of the heavy dependency upon farming, of Manning and Vickery’s stores, of the hunt kennels, the lack of road traffic, the railway, the building of the village hall and the importance of the church. We sense the close-knit familial relationships which would make of each wartime casualty a communal loss.
A chapter on School Life records how Headteacher Cuthbert’s wife is left with six classes to look after when he goes off to war and how the children busy themselves raising money to send gifts of cigarettes to the fighting men. In 1915 Vicar A.A. Brockington, a cultured man of cosmopolitan education, departs as army chaplain for France where he learns his son has died. His successor, the Revd A.G. Locke, who visits on horseback, sets an example as a gardener and is party to the distribution of free seed-potatoes to all and the introduction of a spraying device to eradicate blight.
Chapters about those from the villages who served and those who died are carefully researched, every known name being mentioned together with significant background. These accounts, together with over 20 photographs, coalesce into a powerful sense of the mood and atmosphere of those painful days.
Special attention is given to the remarkable Miss Mabel Sylvester Watts, born in Gloucestershire and of comfortable means, who settled in Carhampton and dedicated herself in both World Wars to the care of wounded soldiers both at the front (through regular letters and parcels) and at home in her own house. Miss Watts was presented with a silver plated tea set by the men who returned during a peace celebration in May 1919 and she received a warm commendation at her funeral in Carhampton Church in 1946.
Her distinction, and that of the other characters in the drama of this fine little book, is the way in which individual lives of self-sacrifice illuminate the reality of a woeful period of our national history which with the passage of time can too readily become a matter of statistics.
Copies of ‘A Parish at War’ (price £5, of which £1 goes to Help for Heroes) may be ordered from Janice Peters 01643 821850 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Postage where necessary £1.