On November 10th more than 1,200 people will march through Cheltenham to represent the number of people listed on Cheltenham’s War Memorial. Each marcher will be given a name (and image if available) of an individual serviceman or woman to carry.
Whilst in principal this seems like a simple idea a huge amount of research and collaboration was required to create this event. Initially each of the 1,296 men and 1 woman listed on the war memorial needed to be identified and researched. (There were 1,290 original names, 1 added after unveiling in 1921 and 6 added in 2016 during the restoration phase)
The names on the War Memorial are engraved with initials only, so the first stage was to identify the full names of each person. The 1921 roll of honour, which is now available from our website, was the starting point as this included details like address of next of kin, regiment and full name. This enabled us to start to piece together a database to work from. However at that stage it couldn’t be considered a complete and accurate list as additional names have been added since 1921. It also became apparent that some spelling variations and duplication had occurred for some entries which would need investigation.
The next step was to check other known records such as the Commonwealth War Graves database and the website www.remembering.org.uk which is work of local WW1 historian Jimmy James. This was used in conjunction with the well-known book by Joseph Deveraux and Graham Sacker ‘Leaving all that was dear’ which was published in 1997 with the aim of identifying and remembering all of the men and women from Cheltenham who died in the First World War. Additional documents have become available since its publication and local WW1 researchers like David Drinkwater have continued to record new information and update what we know about each casualty.
Some names required additional research using military records, electoral registers and census. We identified 2 names of people who had actually survived the war, 17 duplicated names (submitted twice by different family members or with spelling variations) leaving 1,278 individuals. Local historians David Drinkwater and Rebecca Sillence volunteered many weeks of their time refining the list to be as accurate as possible. Working on this type of project gives you a new found appreciation for the sheer scale and efficiency of the military administration during the First World War.
Hundreds of images of war casualties were published in the local newspaper the Cheltenham Chronicle & Gloucestershire Graphic.
The next stage of the project was to look through every single weekly issue from 1914-1919 and identify the servicemen and women listed on the war memorial. Copies of the ‘Chronicle & Graphic’ are held at Cheltenham Local History Library who have kindly given us permission to use the images for the march. Each issue had to be indexed so all the casualty images could be identified. These were then digitally photographed, named alphabetically and edited to give us images to add to the lanyards people will carry at the march. The images had to be matched to the list of names as closely as possible and cross referenced with other existing sources like Leaving all that was dear.
The names and details printed with the images in the newspaper didn’t always match the names on other sources for example misspelled surnames, incorrect initials, order of first and middle names. In many cases we had to make a guess which name was correct and usually, if in doubt, we opted for the name given on the commonwealth war graves database. Due to the time consuming nature and scale of this project it is possible there may be some human errors.
The images are now uploaded to our website and a new online mapping project Know Your Place also makes even more WW1 images from the Chronicle & Graphic readily available to all for the first time. Again this is the dedicated work of volunteer indexer David Drinkwater to map the houses of WW1 servicemen and women.
Lanyards & Banners
The next stage of the project was to design 1,278 individual lanyard templates, each bearing a bespoke name and image. This task fell to Debbie and the dedicated team at In2Print who have volunteered a huge amount time and resources to design, print and laminate each of the cards. In addition to this they have also created 15 banners bearing the same names and images, to be displayed along the railings in Montpellier Gardens and measuring around 45metres in total.
Registration & Personal Requests
The aim of the march was to visually represent the loss of the individuals named on the Cheltenham War Memorial, therefore registration was limited to ensure everyone had a name to carry.
Some people have asked why family members were not contacted regarding photos and spelling or to ask if they would like to represent their relative in the march. It would have taken many, many years of research to track down family members of more than 1,200 individuals and in many cases this may not have been possible. There are also usually several different branches of a family existing today, given the generations that have passed since the next of kin details were provided in 1921.
We have been pleased to hear from relatives who have got in touch with us to request to represent specific people in the march or have provided images from their family collections that we didn’t have access to before. It has been moving to read your family stories and we thank you for your engagement and support. Where possible names that have been requested through the appropriate channels before November 7th will be reserved for those people to collect on the day. We also invite people to carry their own images and memories (in addition to one of our official lanyards) should they wish to remember someone who died in WW1 who is not listed on Cheltenham War Memorial or if their name has already been allocated to someone else.
Every effort has been made to ensure the names and images are as accurate as possible. We are aware that there may be some errors due to the scale and complexity of this endeavour but we hope that the event will be perceived as a fitting and personal tribute to all the men and women of Cheltenham who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.