Somerset Remembers Community Archive

When the Somerset Remembers project formally ends on 31 March the Somerset Remembers Community Archive will remain the place to share your stories and research on the First World War in Somerset. 
Somerset Remembers Community Archive Homepage

Somerset Remembers Community Archive Homepage

We are looking for letters, diaries, photographs and stories of the county during the conflict, both relating to those serving abroad, but also to the roles and experiences of those who remained at home.

Did a relative serve with the Somerset Light Infantry? Did an ancestor leave school to work in a war time industry or to help with the production of food? Is there a Red Cross nurse in the family? Or have you been researching your village to mark the centenary? If so we want to hear from you.

Once the stories are uploaded to the Community Archive they will become a research resource for anyone interested in Somerset for the war years, and will help to make a complete picture of the county’s war effort.

The archive will also stand as a monument to the men, women and children of Somerset who contributed to the nation’s cause and to mark the legacy the war has had on today’s communities.

Visit www.somersetremembers.com and share your story.

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Belgians in Somerset

It is common knowledge that as the German army advanced through Belgium in 1914 refugees fled their progress, but who would have expected that so many Belgian families would seek refuge in Somerset.

During the course of the war 250,000 Belgian nationals came to the UK. Most landed at the eastern sea ports; Folkestone, Tilbury, Margate, Dover, Hull and Grimsby. In some places ‘Belgian villages’ were created, which were run by the Belgian authorities, but few communities across the country remained unaffected by the influx from Europe.

The War Refugees Committee (WRC) coordinated a wide network of voluntary relief work. Appeals for accommodation and support were published, and within two weeks they had received 100,000 offers.

Research by the Somerset Remembers volunteers has shown how the largest ever refugee influx to our country affected Somerset.

An extract from Lullington School log book, showing the admittance of two Belgian pupils in January 1915.

An extract from Lullington School log book, showing the admittance of two Belgian pupils in January 1915.

On the 10 October 1914 the Weston Mercury newspaper reported that twelve refugees had been given accommodation at The Shrubbery. Two days later around seventy Belgians arrived in Taunton, where they were welcomed by Mayor George Hinton and a Boy Scout Guard of Honour, at a ceremony at the Municipal Buildings. On 19 October a number of Belgian Refugee arrived in Wells and were housed in Chamberlain Street and at Portway Lodge. Whilst Yeovil provided homes for 250 individuals and families, who arrived throughout October.

An extract from the Burrowbridge School log book of 6 Nov 1914, showing fund raising by the school pupils for Belgian refugees.

An extract from the Burrowbridge School log book of 6 Nov 1914, showing fund raising by the school pupils for Belgian refugees.

But it wasn’t just the large towns that played host. In Barrington a vacant cottage, known as ‘Victoria’ was donated to the cause. It was painted and furnished through charitable donations and on 1 January 1915 at “only 8 hours’ notice, a family of Refugees arrived:  Alphonse Vin aged 24 polisher from Berchem, near Antwerp, his wife Josephine and their child Alphaise aged 18 months with only a small hand bag.” Whilst the Weston Mercury reports throughout autumn 1914 of the arrival of refugees, being houses in Weare, Churchill and East Brent. Other parishes who provided accommodation were Aller, Ashwick, Blagdon, Castle Cary, Chapel Allerton, Chard, Creech St Michael, Henstridge, Ilminster, Midsomer Norton, Portishead and Street.

A group collecting for Belgian Refugees at the corner of George Street and Norbins Road, Glastonbury, c. 1915.

A group collecting for Belgian Refugees at the corner of George Street and Norbins Road, Glastonbury, c. 1915.

Throughout the war fund raising continued to support the Belgians who had remained at home, but also to provide for those who had come to England. In seems that the families were maintained by charitable donation, often in houses given rent and rate free, until they were able to support themselves. This extract from the Baltonsborough parish return illustrates this:

The money-raising efforts of the village have been many and various. In the autumn of 1914 the plight of the Belgian refugees stirred the village to action. A public meeting was held, and it was decided to offer hospitality to one family. One resident lent a house rent free; others lent furniture, house linen crockery etc; and sufficient weekly subscriptions were promised to provide maintenance in food and clothing.

The first family received, father, mother, and five small sons stayed six months; but the man, who was a waiter, not being strong enough for agricultural work, and being unable to obtain work locally at his own calling, they returned to London, and a second family took their place. This family of father, mother and nine children the eldest only thirteen, had been land workers in their own country, and quickly adapted themselves to their new conditions. They were still in the village at Midsummer 1918 but had been self-supporting for nearly two years, the family having increased meanwhile by the birth of another son and daughter.

In total we know of 51 Somerset communities who housed Belgian refugees and undoubtedly far more gave monetary support to the various charities, but apart from the references to them in the archives held at the Somerset Heritage Centre, little other evidence of them has been left behind.

Wiveliscombe hosts Commemoration Rugby Match

Pupils from Kingsmead School, Wiveliscombe, will be playing a special rugby match on Wednesday 17 December.

Following a morning of First World War themed activities at the school, a rugby match will be played on the memorial recreation ground from 2.00–3.00 pm by pupils from Years 10 and 11.

Shortly before the match at 1.45pm the Last Post will be played followed by the carol Silent Night.

The match commemorates the presentation of the recreation ground to the people of Wiveliscombe in honour of those lost during the war.

The ‘Rec’, as it is known locally, was opened on 6th June 1920, and also features a stone obelisk memorial to those who died. One of these men was the sportsman Lieutenant Ralph E.Hancock.

Wiveliscombe soldier, Lieut. R.E. Hancock, 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment.  Killed in Action 29 October 1914.

Lieut. R.E. Hancock, 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment. Killed in Action 29 October 1914.

The event is also inspired by the Christmas Truce of 1914 and recognises the power of sport to bring people together.

The Somerset Remembers touring exhibition will be on display at the Rugby Club during the afternoon and members of the public will have the opportunity to discuss the First World War with experts.

Refreshments will also be available at the Rugby Club for spectators.

The Chinese Labour Corps: A Somerset Connection

When volunteer Jan Shone brought in her grandfather’s photographs  from the post-war clear up of the railways, one photograph in particular stood out from the rest – an image of Chinese soldiers working alongside European soldiers. 

 Members of the Chinese Labour Corps working on 'A Slight Derailment'                           Courtesy of Jan Shone


Members of the Chinese Labour Corps working on ‘A Slight Derailment’                                                                                                                                                                     Courtesy of Jan Shone

The use of non-European labour in France and Belgium became necessary following heavy losses by the English and French troops due to the Battle of the Somme in summer 1916. A plan to recruit from China was put into place in August 1916 and direct recruitment begun in October 1916 when the War Office sent their representative Thomas J.Bourne to China. He had been the engineer-in-chief of the Beijing-Hankou Railway, working in China for 28 years.

Approximately 100,000 Chinese labourers were employed by the British Forces between 1916 and 1919. They were known as the British Chinese Labour Corps. An additional 40,000 men served with the French army.

Their work included unloading ships, building dugouts, and repairing roads and railways.  Some of this work continued after the Armistice, and this is evident from the photograph.

Whilst the Chinese Labour Corps were not involved in combatant service, it is estimated that 2,000 men died during the war. They are remembered in the French and Belgian war cemeteries and graves can also be found in the United Kingdom.

"Tombes commonwealth ascq 2009 lb" by Luc Beaumadier

“Tombes commonwealth ascq 2009 lb”  by Luc Beaumadier

Further information and Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Labour_Corps

http://www.1418now.org.uk/essays/xiaolu-guo/

http://ww1centenary.oucs.ox.ac.uk/unconventionalsoldiers/1470/

The Somerset Remembers Community Archive is now live!

The Community Archive is the place to share your photographs, letters, stories and research on the First World War in Somerset.

Many will recall the personal stories which have been passed down through the generations by those who took part in the conflict. Those people are no longer able to share their stories so it is more important than ever that you share yours.

The Community Archive gives everyone a chance to engage in their own history and will help create a complete picture of the county’s war effort. We hope it will stand as a monument to the men, women and children of Somerset who contributed to the nation’s cause.

Taunton resident Jan Shone has added her memories to the archive, which include a unique collection of photographs in album, medals, cap badge, embroidered postcards and a Royal Engineers silk handkerchief. Jan said: “It’s nice that our little treasures which have been stuffed away in drawers are coming out for everyone to see, and making people think about the war again.”

Do you have pictures, letters, diaries, or war records from a family member who was involved? Did a relative serve with the Somerset Light Infantry? Is there a Red Cross nurse in the family? Or have you been researching your village to mark the centenary?

You can contribute to the project or read the fascinating accounts of the lives and experiences of Somerset men and women by visiting: www.somersetremembers.com

We hope Somerset people and others will get involved with the Community Archive and help to create a major historical resource for future generations.

What’s in the Community Archive?

There is an enormous variety of material on the archive including:

  • Family memories and stories
  • Diaries and memoirs
  • Rolls of honour
  • Correspondence and postcards
  • Photographs and albums
  • Illustrations
  • Records of daily life, such as ration books, identity cards, government advisory leaflets and knitting patterns
  • Images of objects including medals, battlefield souvenirs and commemorative pieces
  • Oral histories and film footage
  • Posters and adverts
  • Newspaper and magazine articles
  • Commemorative publications
  • Research

To find out more visit: www.somersetremembers.com